A graphic design handbook reinvented online to support creatives worldwide

Seeking to be inspired by exceptional design work? Us too. It's why we're big fans of The Indigo Design Award, a global contest that aims to reward rare talent in the fields of graphic, digital, mobile design, design for social change and branding.

In a series of articles, we plan to bring you an in-depth look at some of the most exciting work from this year's 2021 winners. And we'll start with a look at a fantastic example of digital design from Shillington Education.


Shillington was founded in 1997 by Andrew Shillington, who ran a busy design studio but kept coming up short on his hunt for junior designers. He found most graduates weren't prepared with high-level technical skills and the ability to work efficiently to tight deadlines. So he founded Shillington: a new type of college for design students to fast-track their creative career.

Twenty years later, Shillington has expanded to six international campuses in London, Manchester, New York, Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. Along the way, they've accumulated a huge amount of supporting material and wanted to make it easily accessible and searchable for students and alumni.

The result is an online platform known simply as The Guide.

Described by its creators as 'The graphic design handbook reinvented', it pulls together over 20 years of content created by hundreds of teachers globally, including over a thousand printed handouts, technical tips, industry best practices, case studies and career guidance.

The client as creator

Key members of the team include three Shillington designers, all based in New York: Anthony Wood, global MD of Shillington, founder of House of Mockups and an award-winning designer; Emily Comfort, an award-winning artist, designer and teacher; and Shanti Sparrow, an award-winning illustrator, designer, studio founder and educator.

They were joined by Standing by Co, a Brisbane-based team of designers, technologists, content creators and strategists, focusing on digital experience.

"The project was unique," recalls Anthony. "Shillington acted as the client, creative and art director. We were attempting to transition a much loved, critical and very well used part of our teaching method to a brand new system. We needed to get it right."

That meant, above all, taking their time. "Shillington was tinkering away behind the scenes for almost a year, delving into data and UX research, before bringing on any developers or even seeing any visual output," says Anthony.

With the preliminary research complete, the brief went out into the world to companies both large and small. "Standing By Co. was ultimately selected because of their dynamic and collaborative approach," says Anthony. "It also meant we could support an amazing small business in one of our six campus cities."

Discovery and working concept

To kick things off, they held a discovery session, and a working concept for The Guide was created, namely: 'A beautifully designed student resource with great user experience at its core.'

"The UX and UI of the project came to life through working with Standing By Co," Anthony continues. "As we got close to launch, we then delved into how the branding would work and how we would promote The Guide."

Shanti, Anthony and Emily were the key drivers of the creative vision. "Being the first creative project that the team worked on together, they were each able to bring diverse experiences and approaches to the table. The creative session was modelled on a design sprint, with an intensive focus on idea generation, experimentation, prototyping and realisation, all happening in a finite amount of time.

"As creatives, the team were a fortunate mix of big picture thinkers, fluid experimenters and parameter-focused problem solvers. This fusion was incredibly beneficial: it allowed for quick brainstorming and, more importantly, decision making that pushed the idea forward. By the end of the session, we were able to lay out a clear vision of how we wanted to bring The Guide to life."

Research and build

Translating hundreds of pages of educational content into a digital platform came with obvious challenges and opportunities. "We first needed to explore and redefine the needs of our students across the world during the course and after graduation," says Anthony. "This research took the form of qualitative and quantitative interviews over six months. This gave us valuable insight into the users' needs. These insights were the core of every decision.

"It came clear to us very early on that we were going to need a custom build: there were no existing platforms that were going to fulfil all our needs. This gave us a really exciting opportunity to create something truly unique with our UX. Though obviously, this came with some awkwardness too.

"There were many pain points in the process. We wanted to make The Guide as user friendly as possible for both our students and teachers, which required frequent testing and evaluation. This meant, though, that we were able to secure the best approaches to layout, hierarchy and navigation."

Working in digital provided some major advantages, he adds. "We were able to transform written lessons into animations and videos, evolving the content to be interactive and dynamic. Another incredible benefit was, unlike a printed textbook, The Guide is fully searchable, meaning users can find the answers they need exactly when they need them."

Award-winning work

Finally, to make sure the platform was ready, Shillington beta released The Guide to one of its campuses. "This gave us invaluable feedback and the chance to iron out any problems before the global launch. This launch involved orientation training sessions for all our global teachers, in-class asset creation and, finally, a campaign to make The Guide available exclusively to Shillington alumni across the world."

Anthony was thrilled to see the Guide honoured as Graphic Design of the Year 2021 by the Indigo Award 2021. "Getting recognition for all of the hard work and generous efforts of the entire team is incredibly rewarding, especially since our goal for the project never involved winning awards," he enthuses.

"We are proud of The Guide and how it has allowed us to evolve how we teach, especially in the last year when being online suddenly became very important. To see the project celebrated by the wider design community is incredibly fulfilling and humbling."

Enter the Indigo Design Award 2022!

Fancy entering for next year? Then you'll be pleased to know the Indigo Award 2022 is now open for submission. You need to enter your work by 30 September 2021 and can find all the details you need at indigoawards.com.

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