Finalist 2023

IM-PERMANENT

Ellis Jones / RMIT Industrial Design

Developed by Ellis Jones and RMIT Industrial Design, IM-PERMANENT was an innovative exhibition spotlighting circularity through experiments in mycelium design.

IM-PERMANENT was a 9-day exhibition that spotlighted the impact of circularity in design; showcasing contemporary explorations in mycelium. Part of the 2023 Melbourne Design Week, IM-PERMANENT featured diverse works from leading researchers and proponents of the material, including packaging, furniture, lighting and more.

IM-PERMANENT amplified the role of circularity in addressing our climate challenges, while also inspiring people, businesses and government to embrace circular practices. IM-PERMANENT was a collaboration between Ellis Jones and RMIT Industrial Design. Ellis Jones led the branding, marketing, PR and communications. RMIT Industrial Design delivered rigorous subject matter expertise, artist liaison and exhibition management.

Design Brief:

With the circular economy (CE) at the forefront of the sustainability discussion and also central to our mission, we wanted to raise awareness of circularity – through a visible, engaging and tangible medium.

After deciding on our response – an exhibition spotlighting circularity through mycelium design, in partnership with RMIT Industrial Design – we had to decipher how to best engage the community through the exhibition’s name and brand.

To develop the visual identity for IM-PERMANENT, we started with the brief: ‘how might we grow a logo?’ This was informed by a hallmark feature of mycelium: its inclination to proliferate.

In solving these problems, we sought to:

  • Increase awareness of and engagement with circular ideas
  • Elevate brand awareness of Ellis Jones
  • Build new, and strengthen existing, partnerships that are aligned with our values
  • Create a compelling case study of an effective public installation that we can share with and create for our clients

This project was developed by:

Design Process

The design process was highly collaborative, with Ellis Jones and RMIT Industrial Design working closely together to realise this project.

The name spoke to the duality of both material and exhibition. A ‘pop-up’ during Melbourne Design Week, with a number of exhibits grown for – and with a life cycle corresponding to – the dates of the exhibition.

The process for creating the visual identity for IM-PERMANENT began with asking the question, ‘how might we grow a logo?’ The team developed a 3D typeform, with the letters from IM-PERMANENT manually growing through a 3D simulation. The colour palette was deliberately bright and artificial, representing colours not found in nature, and therefore juxtaposing the earthly, raw aesthetic of mycelium.

The process of designing the works for IM-PERMANENT involved briefing artists, academics, industrial designers and mycelium practitioners on the vision for the exhibition. Exhibitors worked both independently and collaboratively, with some pieces developed with the input of up to six practitioners. Working with mycelium is a process that often takes place in a lab and is not easily conveyed in a gallery space. Ellis Jones worked with the RMIT exhibition team to create a wall of process images that conveyed the behind-the-scenes techniques required to develop mycelium artefacts. The RMIT team also created an educational video that featured exhibitors explaining their processes, outcomes and why mycelium could be a valuable ‘new’ material in creating a circular economy.

Due to the slow, temperamental nature of growing mycelium, a long lead time was required, with flexibility needed around grows.

The project surpassed our initial expectations of developing a single creative activation with one mycelium designer, and instead, resulted in a 9-day exhibition, premiering at the Abbotsford Convent, a key program hub of the 2023 Melbourne Design Week, featuring more than 20 mycelium practitioners.

Design Excellence

The design of our exhibition, IM-PERMANENT, exceeds the criteria for good design through its salient and urgent societal (and planetary need), best-in-field curation, practitioner involvement and work surveyed. Presentation of the event involved an innovative, versatile and digital-first visual identity, timely commentary on circularity and sustainability through PR and media, and diverse programming and knowledge sharing as satellites to the exhibition proper.

Sustainability:

New, biomaterials and planet-centric cycles of manufacturing and consumption are critical to combatting the climate crisis and driving the sustainability transition. Mycelium as an emergent biomaterial, ready for elevation to consumer consumption, provided an ideal metaphor and subject for an exhibition extolling circularity.

Functionality:

The exhibition provided a platform for both ‘supplier’ and ‘consumer’. Through partnership with RMIT Industrial Design, we were able to surface the most salient and inspiring contemporary experiments and design practice with mycelium as a material. By leveraging the network of Ellis Jones, we were able to bring an audience from many of Australia’s largest companies in circularity, waste, product and packaging manufacturing to survey the future.

Aesthetics & quality:

From the aesthetic sensitivity of the exhibition curation through to the activation of the event identity through creative and communications, the approach was to test the boundaries of what was possible through ‘hacking’ emergent process and technology. Hence ‘growing a logo’, and creating an augmented reality vehicle to place it in situ.

Safety:

Partnering with Australia’s largest (and likely most diverse) arts precinct, and addressing a true cross section of emergent material practice, our intent was to create a ‘safe space’ to explore and inhabit all facets of the exhibition theme and relevance. Access and knowledge sharing without prejudice was central to the delivery of the concept.

Design Innovation

IM-PERMANENT addressed our problem in a distinctive and creative way. A traditional response to raising awareness of the role of circularity might have taken the format of a campaign or developing ‘content’. Instead, we opted for an exhibition, which allowed us to engage and challenge people on the concept of circularity through material innovation and sustainable design. The works featured in IM-PERMANENT were experimental and emergent, showcasing the depth and breadth of mycelium as biomaterial of the future. Prompting interest in, and growing a commercial appetite for, mycelium design, and the broader sphere of circular production and consumption it inhabits.

The exhibition experience left viewers feeling inspired, curious, motivated, invigorated and challenged. It also helped people understand the crucial role of circularity in solving the climate crisis and the importance of community in facilitating change.

The visual design practice that informed the identity for IM-PERMANENT was equally innovative, as the inflated 3D logotype was inspired by the process of working with mycelium. As part of this process, artists and manufacturers create moulds for mycelium to grow into its desired form. This method holds a degree of unpredictability. In creating the inflatable, we used 3D modelling and physics simulations to place letterforms from the word ‘IM-PERMANENT’ and inflate them within a rectangular container. The result is an abstract form that can adapt to fit any container. Like with mycelium, it was a process of trial and error, adjusting parameters, bounds and positioning to get the perfect result. The rest of the visual identity was constructed around the inflatable. To accompany it we produced a more legible secondary wordmark, a vibrant colour palette, typographic selections and a set of devices and layouts for social media content. The colours are striking and selected to directly contrast the muted earthy tones of the exhibits.

Design Impact

At its core, IM-PERMANENT was an exhibition of impact. In a short period of time, we engaged a broader cross-section of the community on the topic of circularity, and spotlighted its role in addressing global challenges like climate change.

In summary, we reached the Architect and Design community, manufacturing and packaging industries, senior government representatives in sustainability, tertiary and secondary educators, educational institutions and students, as well as the general public and festival goers.

Of note, after seeing IM-PERMANENT, international design academics, Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby from London-based design studio, Dunne & Raby, pivoted one of their works to be made from mycelium for their upcoming collection of works for NGV Triennial. Josh Riesel, our key collaborator from RMIT Industrial Design, and exhibitor in IM-PERMANENT, is producing this work for them. It’s being developed in partnership with National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) and will also be exhibited in Switzerland next year.

Some of our key statistics which highlight the impact of IM-PERMANENT include:

  • An attendance of 250+ people at the exhibition’s Opening Night
  • A total event attendance throughout the exhibition of 1,206 visitors
  • A sold out Circular Matters panel, which featured exhibitors discussing the future of circularity and challenges of moving to a circular economy through embracing biomaterials like mycelium
  • A reach of 66,135 accounts reached on Instagram during the promotional period
  • A total of 1,500 profile visits on Instagram during the promotional period
  • Coverage on IM-PERMANENT in 6 different publications (Architecture and Design, Habitus Living, InDesign Live, 3RRR, EcoVoice, Australian Circular Economy Hub), totally 9 stories

Circular Design and Sustainability Features

The very nature of the exhibition, as a catalyst for wider consideration of circular materials, production and consumption behaviours was circular. Beyond actively promoting circularity as a concept, the exhibition design, marketing and communications had a focus on embodying sustainable practices.

For example:

  • Works within the exhibition were drawn intentionally from the outputs of existing experimental research and design practices, where possible, as a method of mitigating avoidable waste
  • The remainder of the works and exhibits were purpose grown around the lifespan of the exhibition itself, with planned biodegradation of the mycelium components, returning to raw materials and closing the loop.
  • The marketing and communications for the exhibition were developed as digital-first - minimising any printed materials, instead prompting users to access rich content through QR triggers to online content.
  • Event branding and experience design was largely achieved by use of lighting and layout, rather than significant material use or intervention with the fabric of the gallery - reducing need for work in make good and hence need for additional materials
  • Event opening used rented glassware, and served (where possible) local and locally owned produce and beverages. Additional implements and place settings were re-usable, recycled or bio-degradable.

So in concept, curation, communication and execution, IMPermanent represents and exemplary exercise in amplifying the importance of circularity in achieving the sustainability transition and reducing the impacts of climate change.

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