200 2020 days

As we head towards the end of 2020, I predict many write-ups will state it was a year like no other. I’ll hold judgement on that—we haven’t had 2021 yet, after all. December is, however, the time of year when annual round-ups happen, and for me, one of the most interesting projects I have seen in the last 12 months has been by Becky King.

King is Creative Director at the London office of branding agency Dragon Rouge, and has spent much of this year sharing her responses to being in lockdown on her Instagram account. While this itself has been hugely engaging, where I felt the real impact of what she was producing was in publishing a newspaper collecting together most of her experiments.

Titled 2020 XXXX, and wrapped by a cover of photographs taken on her #coronawalks, the inside is a 60 page visual riot of graphic design with King responding to events daily through type, colour and shape. Although she claims that this is a ‘short visual diary’, the word ‘short’ seems misjudged given the extent of the explorations that follow.

“What can I say?”, King rhetorically asks in the newspaper’s opening pages. “2020. It’s been emotional. Antibacterial. Irrational. Mental. Physical. Political. Antisocial. Dysfunctional. Unnatural. Controversial. Economical. Visual. Inspirational.” That such a statement starts this document is entirely appropriate, given the fact that word-play is at the heart of much of what follows. Focussing in on specific aspects of the language evolving out of Covid-19, pushing the textual and visual possibilities of specific phrases, King leaves no word unturned.

Claiming this collection as: “200+ posters of thoughts, emotions, mumblings, experiments and graphic sketches”, King has used well chosen descriptors. 2020 XXXX is all of those, and I particularly like the phrase ‘mumblings’. The frivolity of such an adjective, coming directly after the word emotion, lightens the tone, but King’s emotions are in plain sight throughout. The visual over-load in itself reminds the viewer of what we have, and continue to, collectively live through. The ‘new normal’ is a moniker I have come to despise, but if we all relaxed as we get used to our new normal, this is, collectively at least, a powerful reminder of the reality of our circumstances.

There is fun and light within these pages as well, though. In this, what King has achieved is to highlight the humanity in a desperate situation. We can laugh and dance in dark times, and the punctuation of this within our lives is visually punctuated throughout 2020 XXXX as well. The fact that word-play is at the heart of this exercise, whether exploring positive or negative emotions, prevents this paper being over-bearing as wit is ever-present.

What strikes me as incredible though, and it is something that only as a collected publication rather than individual posts on Instagram can demonstrate, is the drive King had to create this work. There was much talk on social media in the early stages of Lockdown 1.0 that being furloughed might lead some artists and designers to create more, with so much free time on their hands. The reality of the situation though is that many found this very difficult. The weight of what we were living through was simply too much, and self-expectation, along with the imagined expectations of others, was a burden for many and they felt creatively bereft. Becky King however, ploughed on through this, and 2020 XXXX is remarkable in its scope and a testament to the benefits of experimentation. That, and I suspect, it served a purpose as a personal coping mechanism.

Looking at some of this work now with the April Lockdown seemingly another age, (2020 XXXX was published just as we were going into Lockdown 2.0 in the UK), is a sobering and important reminder of what we have experienced, as well as what we continue to experience. The current lockdowns may be different for those living outside of Tier 4, but it is a timely reminder that we are all potentially heading back to what we experienced back in Spring, but with worse weather.

There is criticality within this as well, veiled as it may be within playfulness. The odd biting graphic comment cuts through, but humorous satire is never far away. In this King doesn’t allow herself to wallow in loathing, or to finger-point, but instead responds with what many will be collectively feeling, evidenced through the likes of the face-palm emoji / Hands Face Space graphic below.

For any student of graphic design what should impress is the sheer exploration on show. Becky King has demonstrated how you can take one theme and push it to see where it goes, not aiming for something finished, and letting the experiment be the outcome—this is a lesson to learn. King’s thinking is writ large across all that is showcased here—her thinking is on show, it is identifiable, it is explicit within the work; thoughts happen and the result is apparent.

That this work sits equally comfortably on Instagram as it does on the printed page, is also something worth studying. The immediacy of social media to capture the zeitgeist has a power that is different from that of seeing a collection published as a newspaper, even if the work is the same.

Becky King’s 2020 XXXX is many things. For me, its power above all else, is that it is a document of humanity that photography could not do justice to in the same way. It is profound because of its visualisation between what is realised in the mind and actualised on the page, without any figurative or pictorial representation. It can not be misinterpreted in the same way, and as a result has a directness. That King’s photographs are only reproduced on the front and back cover is fitting—this isn’t about what is happening in the world outside, this is about what is happening in the mind inside. 2020 XXXX is an astounding work that I will be returning to again and again.

Thank you, and stay safe Becky.

Published by Nigel Ball

Senior Lecturer in Graphic Design

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