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22nd September 2017

Infectious Disease: Q&A with PATTERNITY

Infectious disease as a subject matter isn’t exactly sexy. With drug-resistant pathogens estimated to kill 10 million people a year by 2050, it’s a topic that’s hard to prettify

On 23 September, London’s Wellcome will unveil a pattern-heavy creative campaign masterminded by London-based studio PATTERNITY. The multi-platform campaign comprises bold window displays, rich in 3D shapes, graphic optical effects and storytelling typography; a film, interweaving fact, playful pattern animation and case study; and a series of hands-on workshops. The point? To increase public awareness of the patterns underpinning the structure, spread and societal impact of infectious disease.

The Wellcome has spent close to £300m on work to eliminate drug-resistant infections. PATTERNITY’s bold, graphical installation gives the charitable foundation a means to shout about it’s work, as well as raise public awareness of one of humanity’s biggest threats.

Ahead of the install, we caught up with PATTERNITY founders Grace Winteringham and Anna Murray to dig a little deeper into the project. In the interview that follows the pattern-obsessed duo discuss humans as pattern-seeking creatures, the power of pattern when it comes to hard-hitting subject matters, and why Wellcome has always been high on the studio’s list of dream collaborators.

Why did the subject matter of infectious disease feel like a good fit for PATTERNITY?

Everything we do at PATTERNITY is focused on how we can use pattern purposefully to tell worthwhile and unifying stories about life. The subject of infectious disease is fascinating because it’s something that affects all of us in some way. One of our core mission statements is “how can visualising the unseen drive innovation?” By working with patterns, in this case bold window graphics and moving image, we can visualise the unseen patterns of infectious diseases – how they spread both within the body and within society at large. It’s been such an honour to work on this project and work with pattern to draw awareness to such an important cause.

What’s the appeal of working with the Wellcome?

We have long felt an affinity with the Wellcome as, like PATTERNITY, it is an organisation underpinned by research and was founded to positively shape health and wellbeing. It is a pleasure to work on a collaboration that allows us to use our expertise in pattern design to find simple and creative ways to highlight scientific issues and make it engaging and accessible to all.

Have you been aware of the Wellcome for some time?

We’ve been aware of the Wellcome and its public arts and cultural arm, the Wellcome Collection, for many years now. Both have been on our dream collaborators list since we founded PATTERNITY in 2011!

PATTERNITY installation at Wellcome

Tell us about the infectious disease window display, what can we expect?

The window will look recognisably PATTERNITY! It will unite large-scale graphic shapes with bold typography and dazzling textures of microscopic repetitive patterns which show the spread of infectious disease. There are four windows in total, each 12 metres long. Each window tells a different part of the story: the spread of disease, the disruption caused to social and internal systems, the positive power of research, and the mission of the Wellcome. The film will also be displayed in the window and shares historical facts and case studies, as well as the progress that has been made by the Wellcome over time. We wanted to create something striking that would grab people’s attention as they walk by. We firmly believe that if we want the world to listen to important messages we need to make them beautiful!

Why are simple, bold patterns such a powerful tool when it comes communicating hard-hitting subject matters such as infectious diseases?

As humans, we are naturally pattern seeking creatures. Detecting patterns is how we make sense of the world and find safe ways to navigate our environment. Whether looking through a microscope or zooming out to look at the earth from above, patterns are everywhere. They shape our lives whether we notice them or not. Our original brief was to draw attention to the important work that the Wellcome does in the field of infectious disease. We have taken our understanding of pattern, texture and shape and used it to simplify complex factual information. We hope that translating our new understanding of the topic into a window display and experiential project will make use of the magnetic power of pattern and bring a lightness and playfulness that will inspire people to find out more.

What research did the project demand?

At the start of the project we were fortunate enough to have a conversation with professor Mike Turner, head of immunology at the Wellcome. We sat with him for several hours as he shared his passion for research and the power of pattern recognition in finding solutions to many of the problems in the field of infectious disease. We learnt about the various patterns involved in the process of infections: there’s behavioural, the different ways in which diseases can spread including via water and human contact, and societal, the impact diseases have on communities, systems and cultures at large. We also talked about the internal impact infectious disease has on our bodies, even discussing the strange beauty found in the patterns of certain diseases when seen under the microscope. We’ve used a lot of imagery based on this in our film and window display.

Working closely with the Wellcome, we have also learned about the historical patterns of infectious diseases, the changing rates at which they spread, and how research and design powered by the Wellcome can help minimise the spread of diseases and create new patterns of health and wellbeing. This includes everything from new vaccines to design solutions like insecticide imbued mosquito nets. Being able to bring the visual and non-visual aspects of pattern together to create something really stimulating and educational makes it a wonderful project!

PATTERNITY installation at Wellcome

Did you know much about infectious diseases prior to the commission?

Not really! We were aware of more recent disease like Zika and Ebola. We hear about those on the news and we often associate them with developing countries which can seem far removed from our daily lives here in the West.  However, as soon as we were approached with this project we wanted to know more and see what part we could play in spreading awareness and sharing important messages about infectious disease. It is a subject that is part of all of us, infectious diseases have shaped our history and will shape our personal and collective futures. It’s important we all take time to learn more.

Why was it important that the project was multi-platform?

It’s important that this project is truly infectious and reaches as many people as possible! We wanted to make sure that it connects with people who perhaps aren’t aware of the Wellcome or from a science background. As with everything we do, the project is about the wider message being communicated, rather than the individual components. The window design, the moving image and the hands-on public events all help to support each other in communicating the overall story. People busily walk past the window display on Euston Road so we only have a few seconds to communicate the work that the Wellcome does. The other aspects of the campaign –  the events and the film – help people dig beneath the surface and enable them to find out more. We love the idea of this project spreading virally and creating a pattern of awareness to all it reaches.

Tell us a little about the install, will it be the first time that you see the windows fully assembled or is there an opportunity to build them off-site first?

The windows are so large that they will be built on site along the Euston Road over a four-day period leading up to the launch on 23 September. They will then be on display for six months.


PATTERNITY installation at Wellcome

This is a hugely public installation: more than 5,000 people walk past the Wellcome Collection’s windows each week. How does being aware of the project’s large and diverse audience affect how you approached the commission?

It’s important that the projects we work on are accessible and meaningful to all. We hope that everyone can take inspiration and learn something new from the Infectious Pattern installation, whether they are a science professor or a fashion student. Hopefully, the multi-platform approach will help it to be as infectious as possible and create greater awareness for the Wellcome and the work they do in positively impacting global wellbeing.

Want to find out more about PATTERNITY? Head over to our client page!


PATTERNITY installation at Wellcome
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