Travel with a scrapbook to open your designer’s eyes
Last Spring, I spent 3 months in the United Kingdom. Every week I was on foot in any city that I could buy a train ticket from London. As this was part of my English Literature Study Abroad program, I had to balance between studying, finding time to travel and discovering myself. London is an amazing city for a designer because it’s vibrant, innovative and always full of life. I knew from day 1 that I only have 3 months here so I had to make the most out of my experience. And so… I started to collect things… literally everything. Most people like to take photos or record clips for their Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, but I prefer to collect artifacts of my memories because they seem more ‘real’ when I look back at them.
So what did I collect in London? Literally anything I can find from leaflets, tour guides, restaurant cards, price tags, samples, candy wrappers, train tickets… whatever I can stick in my mini scrapbook. I felt bad trying to throw these artifacts away because some fellow designer out there made a living illustrating these things. And so, I made good use by storing them in my scrapbook, which I got at Paperchase (the British Papersource).
This is one of my favorite pages, in which I call the fashion page. On the left, I have a leaflet from Victoria & Albert (V&A) — Britain’s leading art and design museum. It was showing a clothing exhibit about the effect of fashion on the environment. Next to it is a Topshop price tag, just to give a nice contrast between museum and reality. On the right page is a Store Guide of Harrods which is overloaded with flowers to add flair to their spring collection. The little bits underneath are Dior’s perfume sample, Charlotte Tilbury’s moisturizer sample and a business card from Duck and Waffle (restaurant). Luxurious isn’t it? Despite not being able to afford anything there (except for their chocolate), I still want to see how design shapes the branding of ‘London Luxury.’
I collected anything from theatre tickets, train tickets, book catalogues, ice-cream punch cards and user manuals. It won’t seem important to you at that time but trust me… just keep it! You’ll learn a little something about design when you look back.
It’s wonderful how memory works. On the bottom right of the picture below is a Gelato punch card. I remember stopping by this place in Covent Garden — it was a crampy shop but the smell of Italian Artisan Gelato was delightful even at their doorsteps. Looking back at the creamy pink background and the cursive typeface of the card, I was brought back to being the excited, fashionable, hungry young girl-on-the-go in London. (I got my 10th scoop free — please don’t judge me).
If you take pictures, print them. In London, printing a picture at Boots was as low as 10 pence a piece. We are too obsessed with the number of ‘likes’ on our social media that we seem to lose track of the vivid, self-reflecting and educational experience of traveling. Printed photos make everything dearer to the heart.
Always ask yourself why things are designed the way they are. What is the branding of this bar, shop, or business? What was the designer’s motivation? I had great fun hopping around pubs in London (oh, great fun) to the point where I stole menus from them! The page below shows a menu and ‘pub guide’ to a gin and whiskey pub respectively.
But look at the way the menu is designed. Despite not displaying the price tag, which turned out to be exorbitant, you could almost taste the gin like a food platter.
Don’t forget to write and read. Write at the moment as much as you can because time is contingent, fleeting and unrepeatable. Capture literally everything. When we travel, it’s not easy to take a seat and craft the most beautiful words. But your words don’t have to perfect, because perfect writing comes with million hours of edits and you don’t have time to do that. It’s more important to write what really happened, and what really was felt.
Designers are also great story-tellers
Also, read about the city. For London, I suggest Virginia Wolfe’s ‘The London Scene.’
Since I was also taking an Architecture class, I loved reading about historical buildings. I learned that each building is based on an architect’s perception of the culture and the social scene.
If you are a word-nerd as I am, read actively! I come from an English Literature background and annotation is what we’re made to do. The combination of words is like a design — a design of beautifully crafted words that are intended to create meaning and to evoke an emotional response. One of my favorite practice is to have a pen and underline/annotate whatever thought that comes in my head. Once again, thoughts are also fleeting moments, you might discover something new when re-reading your memories!
Artifacts don’t have to come in small squares. They can be big, thick, 3D or they can be made out of wood, plastic But just keep them in a treasure chess because design can be inspired by real-life products.
Here are some photos of pages in my scrapbook:
And finally, some photos of Great, Amazing, Magnificent Britain that’ll always have a place in my ❤️:
Next time you’re traveling, bring yourself a scrapbook, double-sided tape, pens, and actively collect things wherever you go, even if it’s worth stealing a well-designed drinks menu! It’ll be worth the memories and the design inspiration for the future.