Rocket fuel, Wonderland and Type

New Arrival from Manchester

Written by Callum Jackson
Creative Intern at VBAT

Hello, I’m Callum one of the new creative interns here.

I’m originally from Manchester — where it rains almost as much as Amsterdam. Manchester will always have a space in my heart but its time to experience a new city/ culture. It has been almost two weeks since I’ve moved over and I now enjoy riding everywhere after getting over the original heart-wrenching fear of riding in rush hour.

Here’s a little about my design background and what I’ve been working on before joining here at VBAT…

I graduated in summer from Leeds Beckett University with a degree in Graphic Arts & Design. Throughout my degree typography has always played a role in my practice but it was in my final year things stepped-up a notch. One of the most important projects in my progression in my degree was for the ISTD (International Society of Typographic Designers — not a venereal disease) student briefs. Each year the society release a set of briefs for students to submit work for, to gain membership-alongside some of the big names in design such as Erik Spiekermann, Wim Crouwel, Margaret Calvert, Alan Kitching and many more.

Callum Jackson: ‘Writing Women into History’

The brief I undertook, ‘Writing Women into History’, asked for the life and achievements of a woman from history, whose story had otherwise gone unknown, to be typographically represented. For the brief, I produced work based on Mary Sherman Morgan — inventor of Hydyne (a liquid rocket fuel which powered the Explorer 1 satellite during the US/USSR Space Race and was never credited during her life). The brief required strict specifications on the handling of typographic detailing, but above all content was vital for successful acceptance into the society.

One of the criteria which the society looks for is the use of a grid — not only for aesthetic purpose but rationale must be provided. I researched scientific documents and pharmaceutical inserts, these helped inform the grid system but Mark Farrow’s music packaging for ‘Spiritualized’ — in which the layout and typesetting reference this, as well as being packed under strict pharmaceutical conditions. In the early stages of development, I based grid system around the insert which Farrow supposedly convinced the band to ‘cut several minutes off their album running time so that it looked better typographically on the packaging’. This was continually adapted and became more intricate due to the complex nature of science.

To represent Mary’s life I took inspiration from the visual language of chemistry. Some visual motifs have been used throughout the publication; including hexagons, commonly used in molecular chemistry to indicate structure, arrows, frequently used in equations, diagrams and blueprints and the outline of a square, as a reference to the periodic table. When choosing a colour, a deep red is the most commonly used colour throughout and is a direct reference from the 1975 NASA Graphics Standards Manual.

An aspect which made this brief successful was the attention to detail on minor elements which may go un-noticed but reward the viewer when found. An example of this is the countdown — the publication cover is a satellite image of Earth, throughout the inside of the publication numerical folios had been replaced with an eclipse outline.

The back-cover of is an image of the moon, signifying both the arrival in space and the end of the story.

The formatting of the book was something which took much consideration. The final format is a split into three-sections, each representing a different part of Mary’s life: a wrap-around cover/ poster which on the reverse has her early years printed on Fenner shiro echo paper for its similarities to the paper used in pharmaceutical pamphlets, the second section being about how she came to create the Hydyne — printed spot white and black stock adding to connotation of space and final being a secret letter Mary had written, which is hidden between the folds and also printed with influence of pharmaceutical pamphlets.

After many months of intense work I submitted and after a few tense weeks of waiting four of us passed! To which I’m also very thankful for the tremendous tutorial guidance we had. The awards ceremony was a fantastic evening held later that summer in Pentagram’s London office.

I feel ISTD has been the most pivotal project to me as a practitioner to date, as it taught me an immense amount and the importance of paying attention to detail.

My final major project was a collaborative (with Eleanor Wenham) exhibition based upon Lewis Carroll’s novel ‘Through the Looking Glass’, this choice was due to the nature of the exhibition setting — an opticians. The exhibition was a typographic exploration of the twelve poems written in the novel; each piece is designed/ produced in a way which connects with content or analysis of the poems and displayed around the store.

A key visual reference and a turning point in the project was John Warwicker’s ‘The Floating World’ a fantastic piece of typography, it was this reference that changed our approach to the designs.

I wanted to portray the key themes of perception and things not being quite as they seem.

Using anamorphic type, I felt tied well with the ideas of perception. I created an anamorphic type mural at the end of the exhibition with the text reading ‘Checkmate’, chosen due to Carroll basing the book on the game chess and checkmate meaning the end of the game, from this the anamorphic mural was the final piece the viewer audience arrives at.

The exhibition began with the preface poem which is cut vinyl onto a mirror; this is done due to the book starting with Alice stepping ‘Through the Looking Glass’ therefore I wanted the audience to be Alice and to walk ‘through the looking glass’ before viewing the other pieces. Another exploration of the ideas of mirrors and reflection was the promotional posters — the posters were printed in reverse so when displayed in the lifts to read the content the viewer must look in the mirror.

Continuing with the idea of the audience being Alice, we created a ‘mad hatters tea party’ serving gin and tonic from ‘drink me’ vials and with teapots, teacups and saucers.

The final poem in the book is acrostic, which Carroll uses to spell ‘Alice Pleasance Liddel’ whom the character of Alice was supposedly based upon.

From this, I created a poem typeset to be reminiscent of a Snellen chart which was then placed a light display box, due to the optical nature of the piece it camouflaged its self into the exhibition.


After graduating I worked for the agency Thinking Out Loud, based in Manchester where I have been assisting on designs for the Club Individual restaurant chain. As well as this I’m currently in the final stages of a stop-motion animation project for a new sleep-technology company called Levitex. This has been another learning curve for me as throughout my degree (bar one/ two projects at the beginning) the emphasis of my work has been on designing for print, so it was a new challenge for me but I enjoy a challenge and after some initial technical hiccups it has been a fun project to work on.


I have been very excited to start my design career with VBAT. I’ve really enjoyed my first two weeks here and look forward to working with the team here in the future. I will keep you posted about my adventures in Amsterdam. In the meantime, if you are looking for a creative internship, check this out:


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written by Callum Jackson , Creative Intern at VBAT
edited by Connie Fluhme, PR at VBAT