studio catherine griffiths


Looking back on the fifth edition
Porto Design Summer School, 3 – 15 July, 2017


It was the European summer of 2017 when I was fortunate to join Andrew Howard (UK/ESAD Porto, designer, educator, curator, writer, and one of the original signatories of the First Things First Manifesto 2000) and Hamish Muir (UK/LCC London, founder of MuirMcNeil, 8vo, and editor of Octavo, International Journal of Typography) as tutor in the fifth edition of the Porto Design Summer School. David Pearson, one of the UK’s most celebrated book designers whose cover designs for Penguin Books include the Great Ideas, Great Loves and Great Journeys, arrived in the second week as guest tutor.

After the invitation arrived out of the blue, early 2017, to fill the place of US designer, author and educator Jessica Helfand, whose writings I had avidly read in the days of Emigre around 20 years ago — of course, I replied with a yes — the subsequent months were spent helping Andrew and Hamish (who was in Octavo Redux Kickstarter promo-mode) to promote the Summer School, widening the net to this end of the hemisphere. By the end of May, there were 36 applicants, out of which 22 (maximum take) were accepted.

The Summer School was a rewarding and memorable two weeks with a fine mix of participants from across the world. The average age was 27, three of the New Zealanders were shocked, they told me the final night, to discover they were the only students and the youngest, among post-graduate and practising designers, with one, Michela Palermo, a photographer from Italy. The fourth New Zealander who bookended the age demographic stats at 39, was the only academic.

photo / Michela Palermo

Alana McDonough / Ireland
Alexander Christian / Portugal
Anastasia Genkina / Russia
Catherine Wieczorek / US
Elena Loras / Spain
Ella Egidy / Australia
Holly Zeng / New Zealand
Ianthe Bato / NL
Ilaria Carnesecchi / Italy
Ilona Szczepanczky / Belgium
Jacob Harris / UK
Jake Thompson / UK
Jeram Yunghun Kang / UK
Jig Taylor / UK
Jørgen Brynhildsvoll / Norway
Leslie Cheng / US
Mia Breitenmoser / New Zealand
Michela Palermo / Italy
Mira Takeda / New Zealand
Pascal Möll / Germany
Rebecca Steedman / New Zealand
Zhihua Duan / Australia


One of the participants, Russian graphic designer Anastasia Genkina, who incidentally worked in New Zealand for a brief time, later wrote, “I enjoyed this beautiful journey walking alongside people from all around the world, who were brought to Porto at the same time by the same passion. Being able to share perspectives with them was really enormous.”.

It is this convergence of cultural diversity in a location on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, “the set of Porto, the magical place”, where a shared interest is the common thread, that differentiates the Summer School from other programmes as being of enormous value with an inescapable focus: “The time was saturated with information and experiences of designing, and a chance to have guidance of the teachers like Andrew, David, Catherine and Hamish was incredibly fortunate. I discovered so many new things about designing and received a great impact to continue on learning further in the direction I received from the teachers.”.

Anastasia’s response, together with the work made by the 22 over the two weeks of the fifth edition, is testament to what Andrew has set in motion, together with Hamish, and the support of Andrew’s family (their warmth and involvement made for quite the family affair).

She concludes, “It was wonderful how well all four of the teachers guided the group and complimented each other in their advice, addressing different sides of a whole. And challenging to put our best effort into our designs. The two weeks made me re-evaluate my whole perception of graphic design.”.

Add to this, the response by Australian designer Ella Egidy, who described her experience to me as “somewhat surreal” in a “city that feels like a rose-tinted, summer edition of Edinburgh, under the tutelage of four internationally renowned designers”. For Ella also, the experience and challenge was beyond expectation: “Throughout this process the tutors challenged our conventions and encouraged formal play. The two weeks felt like two years and simultaneously like two days. Under Andrew Howard, Hamish Muir, Catherine Griffiths and David Pearson the summer school became the base of a utopian studio environment and made you feel as though you did not want to leave.”.

Distance and remoteness offers a point of difference, and as with TypeSHED11 or typ gr ph c the compact workshop series — both are projects out of this studio — there is no easy escape.

certificates / Hamish Muir


In her contribution to the ABDA Blog, Porto Summer School: A FORMative experience, Ella expands on the notion of worth doing, a thread that, for her, underpinned the value of her encounters with the tutors and their respective practices: “Design is deeply affected by our society and doing something for good or ill is a socially transformative act. It is crucial that we remain engaged with this thought if we are to make work that is worth doing.”

To wander away with that contemplation in mind, is well worth having done, as noted in Andrew’s closing remarks, “A truly great edition of the summer school came to an end on Saturday. A huge thanks to all the participants for being so dedicated and for the memorable spirit of friendship that permeated this year’s course. An extra gratitude to Hamish Muir, Catherine Griffiths and David Pearson for their commitment and wisdom.”.

And not only. A few months later, out of the blue, an invitation to exhibit and speak at the Shanghai Art & Design Exhibition arrived via Zhihua Daun, one of our summer school students. Zhihua assisted me in the preparation of my installation, Work/Space, and hosted me in his own country that December. Between Porto and Shanghai, I felt the exchange of goodwill and generosity accompanied by an energy and drive to really make things happen.

Below is a glimpse into the two-week summer school atmosphere, and the project — a perfect formation, numerically. The 22 participants worked in two groups of 11 to reinterpret Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities. The core structure of the book was divided into 11 themes, 55 cities with a dialogue threaded through. Each participant was allocated five cities, one theme, and format-wise, one of three widths, and any height within certain parameters. Each of the final works were inserted in sequence to form two versions of the book, each with 11 covers.

/ CG, 2018


week 1 talks: Andrew Howard — Form and Content; Hamish Muir — Form Finding; Catherine Griffiths — Lost in Form
“a two-week long meandering conversation” — Ella Egidy
week 2 talk: David Pearson  
“the tutors challenged our conventions and encouraged formal play” — Ella Egidy


“It was wonderful how well all four of the teachers guided the group and complimented each other in their advice, addressing different sides of a whole. And challenging to put our best effort into our designs. The two weeks made me reevaluate my whole perception of graphic design.” — Anastasia Genkina



Alex Christian

Michela Palermo

Jig Tailor

Catherine Wieczorek

Ianthe Bato

Mia Breitenmoser

Jacob Harris

Ella Egidy

Jørgen Brynhildsvoll

Ilaria Carnesecchi

Pascal Möll

Jeram Yungun Kang

Jake Thompson

Zhihua Duan


photograph / Miguel Howard, 2017



04 writing & critique


An installation on an installation on an installation ...
Artist statement, »catherine griffiths : SOLO IN [ ] SPACE« A documentation, Pocca, CHINA
September 2021

Porto Design Summer School 2017
Looking back on the fifth edition
April 2018

Notes from ‘Designing the perfect photobook’
A short talk as part of a panel discussion, PhotobookNZ
March 2016

A meditation
Sir Ian Athfield, 1940 — 2015
by Catherine Griffiths
Architectural Centre, NZ
April 2015

The Design Kids interview
The Design Kids, Jul 2015

A Playlist : CG >> CG
by Catherine Griffiths
DPAG Late Breakfast Show, NZ, Aug 2014

Body, Mind, Somehow: The Text Art of Catherine Griffiths
by Gregory O’Brien
Art New Zealand #150, NZ, 2014

Nothing in Mind
by Chloe Geoghegan
typ gr ph c, Aug 2014

typ gr ph c in Strips Club
by Catherine Griffiths
Strips Club journal, Mar 2014

In the Neighbourhood
by Catherine Griffiths
Desktop #294, Australia, 2013

Interview by Heath Killen
Desktop #294, Australia, 2013

FF ThreeSix
by Catherine Griffiths
Typographica, Mar 2013

A note on the D-card
by Catherine Griffiths
Apr 2013

Shes Got Legs
by Lee Suckling
Urbis, NZ, Jan 2013

Truly, No Idea
by Catherine Griffiths
for Flash Forward, Desktop, Australia, Nov 2012

Look for the purple lining
by Catherine Griffiths
Eye Blog, UK, Mar 2012

The Big Idea, NZ, Jun 2011

Shots in the air
by Catherine Griffiths
Eye Blog, UK, Jan 2011

John & Eye
by Catherine Griffiths
ProDesign 110, NZ, Jan 2011

Quite a Blast
by Catherine Griffiths
ProDesign, NZ, Jan 2011

Inner-City Modality
by Mercedes Vicente
ProDesign, NZ, Aug 2010

Beautiful World of Typography
by Catherine Griffiths
excerpt from a talk, Govett-Brewster Gallery, NZ, Jun 2009

For the record
by Catherine Griffiths
Introduction to TypeSHED11, NZ, Feb 2009

Locating Our Feet
by Catherine Griffiths
Threaded, NZ, Oct 2008

Notes on Feijoa
by Catherine Griffiths
ProDesign, NZ, Apr 2007

Life in Italics
by Helen Walters
Print, New York, Sep-Oct 2006

Writing by Types
by Justine Clark
Artichoke, Australia, Apr 2003

Porto Design Summer School 3–15 July, 2017

Andrew Howard
Hamish Muir
Catherine Griffiths

David Pearson

Jessica Helfand 2013–2016
Adrian Shaughnessy 2015
Professor George Hardie 2014
Jonathan Barnbrook 2013
Nuno Grande 2013–2016
Manuel Loff 2013

Taught by leading design professionals and educators from Europe, the United States and now New Zealand, the Porto Design Summer School is a unique opportunity to study graphic and editorial design within the setting of one of Europe’s oldest and most beautiful cities.

Devised by Andrew Howard, with the support of Escola Superior de Artes e Design, Matosinhos, one of Portugal’s leading design education institutes, a unique aspect of the summer school is its international nature: US, UK, Ireland, Norway, Russia, Belgium, The Netherlands, France, Italy, Spain, South Africa, India, Thailand, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, Colombia, Brazil, Argentina and Portugal, include graduate students at the beginning of their journey, to experienced professionals and academics, looking to expand their outlook and take a break from the routine.

Core tutors are Andrew Howard (UK/ESAD Porto, designer, educator, curator, writer, and one of the original signatories of the First Things First Manifesto 2000), Hamish Muir (UK/LCC London, founder of MuirMcNeil, 8vo, and editor of Octavo, International Journal of Typography), and in past years, Jessica Helfand (USA/Yale, founding editor of Design Observer).

In 2017, New Zealand designer and typographer Catherine Griffiths replaced Jessica Helfand as principle tutor. Catherine Griffiths is an award-winning designer and typographer whose practice spans graphic design, self-publishing, installations in public and private spaces, and writing. She is active in the international design community, and an advocate for alternative thinking, and brings her unique skills and experience to the course.

In the second week, guest tutor David Pearson joined the summer school. Past editions have seen Jonathan Barnbrook, Professor George Hardie, and Adrian Shaughnessy. David Pearson is one of the UK’s most celebrated book designers whose cover designs for Penguin Books include the Great Ideas, Great Loves and Great Journeys. He was named by The Guardian as one of the 50 best designers in Britain, is a member of the Alliance Graphique Internationale, and was appointed Royal Designer for Industry in 2015.

Focusing on editorial design and typography, this intensive two week practice-based course also pays special attention to the city’s rare heritage in vintage shop signage and other forms of vernacular lettering. Benefitting from the expertise and skills of the workshop tutors, participants explore the creative possibilities of editorial design, examining topics such as narrative structure, navigation, typographic systems, hierarchy and composition, as well as editing and notions of authorship. The aim is to expand technical and conceptual skills and thus guide each participant closer to finding a unique outlook and voice as a graphic designer.

The programme includes a series of individual presentations by each one of the tutors, visits around the city, and social evenings, while setting aside time for individual project development and critiques. The 2017 edition took place in the Palacete Viscondes de Balsemão situated in the heart of the city, minutes from the historic riverside area.

The course fee includes tuition, lectures, individual accommodation, and all programme receptions. Porto Design Summer School welcomes applications from students, academics and design professionals alike.

related links

Porto Design Summer School

Porto Design Summer School — An adventure to advance / posted by TypograpHer

Neon Moire / a selection of the best Design Summer Schools in 2017



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