My recent charity project has seen me delve into the sixty nine year history of Oxfam and all the  vital work the charity does around the globe. To get me started, I created a moodboard from all of the sketchbook research I did.

I found the research quite overwhelming as they do a vast amount of work and have countless online resources. I tried to condense the moodboard by illustrating the main points:

  • They help people in countries all over the world – over seventy!
  • They raise money through charity shops as well as having an online shop.
  • They concentrate their efforts on three main areas – Emergency Response, Development Work and Campaigning.

Breaking it down like this greatly helped me when I moved onto the second part of the project – designing and writing the copy for a broadsheet. I had to choose a focus for this part so decided to hone in on the development work that they do. I chose this because I felt it was the area many people overlook or don’t see. The news is flooded with pictures of disasters and people often see volunteers helping out. The news and indeed streets are also filled with protests and campaigns. Very little media attention is given to the tireless volunteers who work directly with the poor day in day out. My broadsheet looks at the ways in which Oxfam ‘develop’ such as educating people how to grow their own food and funding the equipment that will help them do so. I chose the title and concept of “grass roots” because it summed up nicely how often this work is ‘underground’ – i.e unseen – but is vital for the ‘grass to grow’ – i.e communities.

I also talk about a little about campaigning as this is part of development work. There is no use teaching people to grow food that will be sold for buttons because of unfair trading laws and governments. During this investigation I was put into contact with Catriona Stevenson who is an Oxfam activist. She is part of the St. Andrews University Oxfam Society which has done some great fundraising events. I was able to do a mini case study using the information she gave me, this helped me make the copy a bit more personal.

Talking to activists like Catriona as well as researching what development work involves helped me to gain some understanding and more importantly empathy. If you read by blog a lot you will know this is something I am really interested in. I recently came across the d.school “bootcamp bootleg” in my course notes, it covered empathy in one of the sections:

“As design thinkers, the problems we are trying to solve are rarely our own—they are those of a particular user; in order to design for the user, we must build empathy for who they are and what is important to them”

The several weeks worth of research I did on Oxfam helped me understand exactly what was important to them. It broadened my view of education especially because it’s not just timetables and learning to write. Education in poorer countries helps people have a voice of their own, helps them farm their land and helps them out of poverty. Education teaches people skills and gives them the knowledge and thinking they need to grow.

When the time came to move onto part three of the project I knew I had to reference this idea in some way or another. I must admit to feeling a little jaded when I found out what part three was: communicate a message that relates to your charity as a three dimensional piece of typography. I took my deflation and turned to the RIP+MIX ideating method that I was given a recent lecture about by Fraser Bruce and Kate Pickering. Whilst I did not exactly use the method the way they described it to me I did employ the basic idea: taking two things and mixing them together!!

I knew I wanted to communicate the development work that Oxfam do but also suggest education. Doing a quick mind-map of each word allowed me to explore their meaning. When something develops it improves and gets better – it grows. I latched onto this word straight away as it fitted in with my “grass routes” concept Education involves training and guidance but it also involves tools and equipment. Expanding on these brought things like paper and chalk into the picture. I decided to “RIP”/take some of these words and “MIX” them up to see what I came up with. Some of my first attempts included “scaffolding and new” and “time and blackboards” but I wasn’t really getting anything exciting from them. It was when I took “flowering and paper” that I started to get somewhere. I remembered the origami flowers I made for my mum last mothers day and that was it, I fell in love with the idea! I liked how the origami was a skill in itself so also linked to education. I liked how flowers would have roots and come out of the earth so linked back to grass roots. I liked the whole organic look they had and how I could make them without a computer. They just fitted perfectly.

My original idea was to have every letter made from the paper flowers but I started to think about incorporating the idea of “development” even more. I thought about making each letter out of the various stages involved in making an origami flower.

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I soon realized that I should instead convey the idea that “growth” has roots. “Growth” in poor countries only comes about due to the large amount of unseen work put in by Oxfam’s staff and volunteers. This unseen work happens below the surface and I needed to covey that. So I decided to split the word up, it was helpful that growth had 6 letters.

  • The first three would be made from origami flowers which were not flowering. They would just be in a wooden box (flower-bed) by themselves.
  • The last three letters flowers would all be peeled down and flowering. They would be in a wooden box which was filled with compost.
  • (The wooden box was made with the help of woodwork technician Malcolm, who I would like to thank again for his help!)

The split would illustrate the idea that without something to grow in the flowers do not, well flower. This ‘something to grow in’ is of course the compost, which in real flower land would house the roots of the flowers. The split forces people to think about the compost and how it is helping the origami flourish. The empty box forces people to think about what’s missing. Nothing is there and so nothing is flourishing. Therefore in order to flourish there must be something to grow in i.e compost. Thinking about the compost then gets them thinking about the unseen roots and worms and water etc that is below the surface. Get people thinking about the unseen – that’s what I wanted to do for Oxfam.

Yes I could have tried to communicate invisible roots by cleverly doing something that made them visible but I didn’t want people to see them – I wanted to make them to think about them. I wanted people to instead see the difference they made, see the contrast, the with or without. In turn, making them see the difference Oxfam make.


My installation will feature along with the rest of my class’s pieces in an exhibition on Level 5 of the Matthew Building at Duncan of Jordanstone. The preview is today at 4pm so I am very excited about it as it’s my first ever exhibition! I decided to utilize my spare flowers for the preview…




2 thoughts on “Oxfam”

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