Designing ‘NGV Triennial 2017’

Featuring the work of over 100 artists and designers from 32 countries, the NGV Triennial exhibit surveyed the world of art and design, across cultures, scales, geographies and perspectives. The accompanying publication, ‘NGV Triennial 2017’, designed by Dirk Hiscock, captures the magnitude of the exhibition while offering an incredible piece of design in itself. Awarded as both the Best Designed Fully Illustrated Book Over $50 and the Designer’s Choice Book of the Year Award at the 2018 ABDA Awards, designer Dirk Hiscock shares the journey of designing this tome.

The Triennial

A free exhibition, the NGV Triennial was a celebration of contemporary art and design practice that traversed all four levels of NGV International, as well as offering a rich array of programs.

Unique across the world, NGV Triennial presented globally significant projects from across the creative disciplines. It was a multifaceted exhibition with a significant physical footprint. Its array of large-scale presentations immersed audiences in a sensorial, provocative and entertaining world of art and design.

The Brief

When first briefed on the NGV Triennial publication there were only a handful of elements that were relatively bedded down – the format, stock – and judging from the schema it was likely to be a lengthy offering. The briefing was an exciting prospect; both exhibition and publication were larger and more ambitious than previously offered by the NGV. Although the publication would accompany the exhibition, it was not in the conventional sense an exhibition catalogue, with the selection of contributors in the publication as carefully considered as the artists. With both visual and textual contributors at the forefront of their practice, there was a definite desire for the publication to share the same ambition. Early on, I began to consider the physicality of the publication as an object in itself, and as a result, I felt that a significance should be conveyed in the sturdiness of the final physical object.


Structurally the text commissioned for the publication varied immensely. From interviews and reflections to shorter texts and major essays, it was equal parts exciting and daunting to respond to graphically. With a substantial page extent and varied contents I wanted the layout to be loose and adaptive, anything too structured would become monotonous, and too repetitive. I chose a brother/sister combination of serif/sans serif fonts from the Swiss foundry – Suisse Int’l and Suisse Works. The rationale behind these typefaces was to position them in a way in which they are responding to the content and yet remain fluid in much the same way as the grid. I also began to introduce the ‘T’ motif to the layout to establish a conduit to the exhibition campaign.


We were still working with a handful of titles for the publication at this stage so a decision was made to concentrate on the cover treatment. It soon became apparent that a single image on the cover would never be able to convey all the themes and artists encapsulated within the exhibition. I looked at options where I used multiple typefaces, illustrating the diversity of the content. I felt this was somewhat successful, however I wanted to distill this idea further and something began to click when I started to shift to using the motif on its own.


The thinking was the layout needed to be pushed further, the genuine consensus was that the illustrated cover options, although aesthetically pleasing, were possibly not the right direction for this title. I was steering towards a minimal cover utilising the ‘T’ motif, however this would definitely be a departure for the NGV. Perhaps for that very reason it made sense in this instance.

Second concepts 

During this period content began flowing in, and it was encouraging to start playing around with actual imagery and text. The ‘T’ motif developed and translated effectively into the layout, with pages beginning to take on a rhythm. I focused on developing a colour palette that could be used to navigate the publication and work as an identifier for each of the chapters; Movement, Change, Virtual, Body and Time. These relatively minor contributions gave me the confidence that within the 700 pages a sense of structure would be maintained while keeping the layout fluid. The cover concept was further distilled and I introduced an idea of releasing five colour ways for the cover. A relatively intensive period of testing would follow.

Final concept

The finished product was an experiment in addition and subtraction. The cover was stripped back to bare essentials, while the interior pages expanded and contracted in direct response to the content. We eventually chose to proceed with the cream cover, and while I was still reasonably attached to the idea of five options, some of the combinations were not translating when screen printed onto linen. The black and cream serendipitously tied into the marketing campaign and I especially liked the way it highlighted the coloured tabbing on the foredge. When I look back and consider the amount of work done in the best part of six weeks it makes me grateful for the trust instilled in myself and the publications team.

Select imagery used in draft cover concepts is shown here for the purpose of education and review only.