GRADUATES 2017: BEN HUTCHINGS.

A DESIGNER ON INTERSTELLAR COMMUNICATION.

On October 3, we hosted a select presentation of the Graduates 2017, the most promising design and creative recent grads from the UK – judged by the gimlet eyes of the prolific London-based graphic platform It’s Nice That. In partnership with A/D/O, two of selected – Ben Hutchings and Katy Wang – were invited to present in New York alongside more established designers – Braulio Amado and Anna Kulachek – in an overview of work styles and personal histories: From Starting Out to Making It.

Ben Hutchings, from Exmouth in southwest England, studied graphic design at Central St Martins in London. Like fellow graduate Katy Wang, whose graduate project – the animation “Contact” – explored the emotional dimensions of solitary interplanetary voyage, Hutchings’ found his early fascinations manifesting themselves in his studies: in his case, this was systems of presentation and the vagaries of communication, from identity systems for pasta packaging to the radio signals encoded for extra-terrestrials.

This was in part based on the approach of Central St Martins, where Hutchings says “the project briefs were very open ended – you get a lot of choice about subject matter and the medium through which you communicate your research.” In 2016, Hutchings spent a semester abroad at the School of Visual Arts, where the curriculum was based on an individual project: in one class, he was tasked with developing an identity for a Mozart festival: posters, tickets, app and website. The recombinant forms of the system, based on a shifting polygon and an autumnal palette echoing repeated themes or motifs, but rooted in a set grid and type program.

For his final project, he pursued wide-ranged research about space exploration – from Elon Musk's SpaceX project to the Voyager Golden Record, a twelve-inch disc encoded with grooves — like to a record LP, but made of gold. Its contents, developed by a committee led by Carl Sagan, included songs ranging from Beethoven to Chuck Berry, along with primitive digital images and metrics about life on earth (for a bonus insert, it was accompanied by an ultra-pure isotype of uranium-238).

The Voyager Disc represented perhaps the most physical manifestation of an ongoing philosophical quandary about how we might communicate with aliens – not knowing if they see the same part of the electromagnetic spectrum, or see at all, or experience time the same way. Hutchings was especially attracted to the attempts to represent mathematical constants and other signposts in digital form.

“I started by taking a string of binary data and then re-processing it,” Hutchings said. “Read from left to right, the digits create a glyph, the glyph for ‘Earth.’ I took that and laid it out in a different pattern, creating an entirely new glyph.” Inspired by artists like Sol LeWitt and graphic designer Karl Nawrot, he found the permutations of these arrangements had an aesthetic beauty all their own, like letters in an unknown alphabet or, indeed, "ancient alien artifacts."

His process, he described, was a matter of “letting the experimentation lead the way.” As he continues, whether pursuing internships at both small London studio A Practice For Everyday Life and multinational Pentagram, he says, it's still a matter of trying to find ways to “share ideas with the universe.”

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