Dark Materials

In today's Case Study we take a closer look at Patrick Fry’s stellar exhibition graphics for Made in Space, a recent show at Tycho Brahe Planetarium, Copenhagen, which explores the story of our cosmic history and the materials that form the building blocks of the universe...

Large 52d93482 c112 4f3a b211 f8c119100c17

Photograph by Kirstine Mengel

How did the project come about, and what was the brief?
Patrick Fry: I was hired by 59 Productions, the agency who created the exhibition along with many collaborators. They had a vision for the exhibition that centred around the story of the Big Bang and our universe, told through the atomic matter that makes everything. They wanted to create a highly informative exhibition that also solicits a human and emotional response to the subject. So the graphics had to walk a fine line between function and something more personally engaging. We wanted to create a visual direction that was more about space as as part of the world we live in, rather than the language of space travel, sci-fi and “futuristic” typography.

Large df4a5753 ddc2 492a b131 bd1123afb6ad

Photograph by Kirstine Mengel

Large d84bf706 bb80 4008 a815 dd3d7fc498a3

What was your starting point for the design of the exhibition graphics, and how did this develop?
The process took just under a year and we went through various conceptual stages before landing on the visual theme. The basic concept being that so much in space exists in a circular form, and that we can create a whole visual language that mirrors this. So starting with the simple circle, we developed a pattern of dots that were always placed to feel natural and a bit random – far from the more gridded, serious information that they share the space with

Large 3ddfa02e e77e 4231 8c00 382594689296

Large 735c6919 f93d 4e29 9730 3d8f1de56355

Photograph by Kirstine Mengel

Tell us about the typeface created for the project...
As a central part of the exhibition’s visuals, the typeface needed to express what the show is all about – that we are made up of the same materials found across the galaxy. So I wanted to create a typeface that spoke not just of stars and planets but also resembled something organic and molecular. The variable sizes and seemingly random placement of the dots helps express the constant flux of the universe. I drew the basic character set and then handed the typeface over to Kia Tasbihgou who refined the forms, drew a full set of characters and helped create a simpler version used in small sizes.

B7b8c035 00e7 417e ab72 ea29cf2659c4

Large 5da26a8c cfbf 4ec1 81f8 9b0c56eb67e2

Large c42c17c3 39a6 43a8 a5a5 b1f75fffbafc

What were the biggest challenges that the project posed, and how did you overcome them?
The exhibition is dual language, so every panel, every title and every diagram had to find room for both English and Danish. The difficulty here is not just in typesetting but also making sure the exhibition doesn’t feel too text heavy or daunting.

How collaborative was the design process?
Very. 59 Productions led a brilliant team of architects, motion designers, lighting designers, engineers, interactive designers… The list goes on. I was in constant contact with the team, swapping ideas and solutions for how the whole exhibition can come together.

Large 4099f7c0 1957 4bf4 9cda 1e081c8ded09

Photograph by Kirstine Mengel

Large f9c736d1 1342 4624 9b7f 25f570704304

Photograph by Kirstine Mengel

Tell us about the participatory aspects of the exhibition, and how the design facilitates this...
Along with the many static panels, there are a number of interactive pieces. These range from huge screens that turn your body into the elements found in space, to touch screen controls for interactive motion pieces and more informative plinths with a mixture of text and graphics that support the many projections. The design language for the interactive pieces doesn’t change drastically, it’s a pleasant surprise that as you walk through the exhibition you intuitively interact with the information around you.

Large 2ece909e 452a 489a bc6b 0a61bc448238

Photograph by Kirstine Mengel

Large fbbcbd25 41c7 415a 940a efacf96801e9

Photograph by Kirstine Mengel

How were the exhibition graphics produced – did you make use of any unusual production methods or technologies to bring them to life?
The entire exhibition periodically plunges into complete darkness for a fully immersive Big Bang moment – this takes over every panel, projector and light source. So all the panels had to be backlit with as little ambient light as possible. We prototyped a number of different print methods and backlit panel options before production started in Copenhagen. Chasing the elusive completely neutral rich black was a challenging task! All the panels are directly printed on an acrylic sheet that is mounted onto a thin Lightbox and set into the wall. We also have a number of snazzy but much more lo-fi holographic vinyl pieces that display a natural gradient as you walk past.

What are you working on next?
I am working with an exciting sound tech company on a new identity system, a soon-to-launch range of products to support the latest Fourth Plinth sculpture and a fun book called Great British Rubbish.


98ff0383 07b8 4613 93b6 a40169cf4e97

26a0e3bb e2bf 4e57 b8f2 dce59ad12c2b

Large 03071431 2844 4ab1 831e 41557fa3ea4c

Large a3d38732 ce0b 4d73 8952 b9cac2d0918f

Large cfcf4be9 0d7c 4936 98c4 1f1ce5729956