The animation, titled Think, Plan, Make Climate Change, aims to highlight the role that engineering has in climate change and act as a call-to-action to both students and beyond. The piece can be viewed on the website for DS7, the School of Engineering at the University of Southampton’s 2021 Design Show, which features over 50 projects by final year undergraduates.
The work features words, design and art direction by Lucienne Roberts, who was appointed as visiting professor for communication at the university in 2019, a role she describes as “someone who could help students learn how to communicate their ideas more effectively, to non-specialists in particular”. “I am there to weave communication into the curriculum and demonstrate why engineering is defined as a design discipline,” she continues. “This latter task is dear to my heart … engineers plan, test, make – they are innovative, creative thinkers, they are of course designers too.”
The decision to create a short animation was prompted by both Alastair McDonald, director of design education in the School of Engineering, and visiting professor Adrian Campbell, an engineer whose specialism is sustainable development and climate impact. “Adrian’s message is unequivocal,” explains Roberts. “No aspect of engineering design will not be impacted by climate change. Engineers need to change in terms of what they do and how they think. In the past, the planet (and beyond) were challenges to engineers – what can we do despite natural forces – now engineers are required to think in a very different way. We were keen to amplify this message, signal to new students and prospective employers alike that radical thinking is at the heart of engineering design.
“I was determined to push the boundaries a bit,” Roberts continues. “Alastair and Adrian advised and were very open. I’m primarily a typographer, and I write, so I often start with words. My idea was to produce something akin to concrete poetry that moves, something that has rhythm, is simple, direct, playful but with a serious message – a piece that could convey multiple and complex ideas accessibly.
“Everything started from the words, all the visuals and movement supports the messages. It’s minimal in that sense. Most importantly I wanted it to work on one viewing but merit revisiting too, and I wanted it to reach a wide demographic, particularly in terms of gender. I was struck when staff told me that female students are more interested in studying engineering when they understand its societal value. So, all in all this is a call-to-action and about change of many kinds.”
The minimal design of the animation has a classic quality to it, and Roberts reveals that Plowman’s style was inspired by designers Ivan Chermayeff and Tom Geismar’s 1962 booklet Watching Words Move. “We were keen that this piece was similarly simple, that it didn’t feel slick or polished. The collage sequence [shown above] exemplifies this. It’s very cut and paste and has an urgency about it,” she says.
“It’s conceived as a standalone, as well as being integrated, and content wise is the culmination of conversations with Alastair and Adrian. Aero, astro, civil, maritime are all represented; alongside the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’ of our daily lives right now. Just as Paul’s animation brings many of the ideas to life, Malcolm’s sound serves to emphasise key messages – a cow moos, wind blows, birds sing, the earth is repaired.”