Graduate Profile, Graphic Design – Ally Carter

For our latest graduate profile, we spoke to Ally Carter about some of her most successful student projects – several of which feature in Design Research, the latest title in our Basics Graphic Design series.

A screen-printed private view invitation for a History of Art & Design course. Letterforms from different periods of history link together to form the message 'For Curious Minds'.


Hi Ally. What made you study Graphic Design at the University of Brighton?

I’d known for quite a while that I wanted to study graphic design, and it was my interview at Brighton University which made me realise that it was the right place for me to do it. As well as your portfolio they seemed very concerned about who you were as a person and what interests you held alongside your design work – a selection criteria which helped to create a fantastic and diverse group of course mates from which to learn from and collaborate with.

What’s your approach to a new brief, and how, if at all, did that change over the course of your degree?

I have always been someone to get very stuck into my research of a subject matter – I feel my most successful projects were the ones where I was able to discover some sort of unexpected hook (be it a particular process, visual link, literary reference, typeface, whatever) and that usually came through delving into strange sections of the library, persistent googling or just browsing Brighton’s junk shops. This is still very much how I’d begin to tackle a new brief, but I’d like to think that over time I’ve streamlined this process a fair bit and can get to the good stuff faster!

For your visual research project ‘Nostalgia & Berlin’, you didn’t use a computer or any digital photography. How did you make the book and what did you make of this approach?

When I set out working with my Dad’s collection of Berlin ephemera from the eighties, I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to make or what it should communicate. I used a colour photocopier to replicate the process of screen-printing – changing the colours into a single tone and running the same paper through several times to build layers, only with the added element of randomness that it was never going to line up where you thought it would. As I experimented, I began to consider more which images I was layering the paper with, and the effect I was achieving then inspired me to add my own photos and cuttings to the book, so it became a story. I guess that letting a process inform your concept isn’t always a viable approach to a brief, but I think sometimes it can be a great way to free yourself up.


Ally's 'Nostalgia & Berlin' book


The ‘For Curious Minds’ invitation you created for the art history private view is beautiful. How did you go about researching these typefaces from different eras, and which one is your favourite?

For this project I worked in collaboration with my good friend and fellow designer, Sally-Anne Burt. When pouring over some old type specimens, we both had our own (sometimes very different) ideas about our favourite styles of type design and so applying the approach of meshing various letterforms together allowed us to use these differences to our advantage and arrive at the end result. My favourite is maybe the ‘r’ in “For” — I think there’s something quite delicious about it!

Have you ever had an idea for something and realised it’s already been done?

Yes, for sure. You can argue that it’s much harder to be truly original in these times when so much of the same work is continually circulated, consumed and then regurgitated via blogs and bookmarking websites – one reason I try to look to a range of different sources when researching. However I suppose the advantage can often be a validation of what it is you are trying to achieve, but with the added opportunity to push it further and make your own outcome even better.

We’d love to hear where you go for inspiration, and which blogs or websites you think are particularly spectacular?

I think blogs are important for keeping a handle on what’s going on around you, but following on from the previous question, I think there can be pitfalls in using them to draw inspiration. I do often spend my time trawling online image archives though, for example Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, and Wikipedia Commons. There is an amazing array of raw visual content to be found, much of which is so old it is now freely available in the public domain and can often form a unique starting point to project.


The catalogue for the University of Brighton's 2011 Graphic Design and Illustration degree show, which Ally co-designed.

Brighton graduate catalogue image, Ally Carter


Tell us about the most innovative use of a typeface you’ve ever seen!

It’s not something new, but when someone told me about the yellow pages typeface (I think it’s just called ‘Yellow’) I thought that it was a genius idea! Not only is it readable at 5pt, but it was also designed with little wells cut into parts of the letters so that when printed small on cheap yellow paper, the ink would bleed into the gaps to create smooth forms rather than blobs – incredible!

If you could be a designer in any other era, which decade would you choose and why?

It sounds like a terrible cliché, but who wouldn’t want to have been a designer in the sixties, when our railways looked like this, our book covers looked like this, and the Olympic games looked like this? Maybe because it’s only ever the good stuff that gets remembered, but I’m often curious if current graphic design that we think looks really great right now will – in another 60 years or so – prove quite as timeless?

And last but not least, what are you up to now? Have you got any new work on the go?

Following a six-month stint at a Swiss design agency, I’ve recently moved to London to pursue further opportunities. I’ve been working on quite a few exciting things since graduating this time last year, and will be updating my website with some new work very soon!


To see more examples of Ally’s work, visit

Click on the link to find further information about our upcoming Design Research title.

‘In a climate where a certain six letter word search engine is fast becoming the one-stop hit for every research need, this book shows a breadth of techniques, opportunities, methodologies and suggestions that will open up your creative thinking in a way that no algorithm ever could. You don’t need to hit a search button, you don’t need to feel lucky. You need to read this book.’

– Barrie Tullett, The Lincoln School of Art & Design, UK