May 2015's best art and design projects

From the political to maths-based art, this summer's palette and fashion piss-takes - find some great inspiration here.

While the election is all but over, some of the most inspiring art and design work that should influence you this month – and influence the actions of others - are political projects that aren’t centred around elections.

Campaigning against injustice and raising awareness through design is something that can reach much further than pure party politics. Take RightsInfo, a new site designed by digital agency Hikkendry, which unpicks the various international conventions and what they mean and debunks popular human rights myths.

Based on a template that is akin to news sites like Buzzfeed and the BBC, it focuses on bite-sized, digestible information that's is easy to share. Custom illustrations and infographics were developed by IIB Studio, to make information both easy to understand and more poignant.

If there ’s one project from the election that ’s worth being inspired by – rather than the mainstream political party’s alternately insipid or inflammatory works – it’ s Pentagram’s ‘I Give an X’ , which like RightsInfo is easy and swift to understand (and designed for sharing).

The project saw Marina Willer and her team develop hundreds of different ‘x’ marks to encourage people of the importance of voting on May 7 – whichever way they choose to vote. The non-partisan idea came from the fact that only 65% of the country voted in the last election, a figure much lower among younger people, which led the team to make a film asserting the importance of hitting the polling booth.

All of the assets are downloadable, with the hope that people will download their favourite ‘x’ and use it as their profile picture on social media channels to show their support to the campaign. This project is a great example for designers of how to distill an idea down to its very essence – in this case the simple act of marking a cross – and create a powerful, graphics-led campaign around it.

Raising awareness can come in many different forms, even commercial ones. Last month Elana Schlenker, the founder of Gratuitous Type, tried out a radical sales model in a pop-up shop in Pittsburgh.

The shop, which only sells work by female creatives, aimed to draw attention to the wage gap between men and women across the world by charging female shoppers 24% less than male customers – a figure that represents the latest figures on global pay inequality between the genders.

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It’s a hard-hitting model, and one that received a lot of criticism, but a tactic that not only raised awareness of a real problem within our society but also gained greater PR exposure for the shop and the artists involved than if it had just been a shop selling the work of female creatives. Impact and ‘shareability' are the key things to remember when tackling political projects.

Just as the run-up to the election has been filled with polls, demographic break-downs and infographics, data more widely has been the inspiration for a number of projects this month, showing the exciting potential of numbers. At the Milan Expo 2015, a temporary architecture festival just opened in the Italian City, architect Carlo Ratti has created Future Food District, a high-tech supermarket which explores how projecting information about the food on sale onto ‘digital mirrors’ above affects visitors purchasing decisions.

Information such as the journey of items from production to shelf, how much water and CO2 it has used and produced, and nutrition information is available for the screens. The data behind purchasing habits of visitors is also being collected and used to spraypaint giant infographics on the exterior of the pavilion using huge robotic arms. Making data more human, by having a live element in this case, is an important factor to consider to prevent your project feeling too academic.

Very different in scope but also using data in a creative way, artist-composer Ryoji Ikeda’s new project Supersymmetry, which is on show at London’s The Vinyl Factory Space until 31 March, explores the intersections between music and visual art through mathematics, quantum mechanics and logic.

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The project was born from Ikeda’s residency at particle physics research institute CERN and uses 40 projectors and computers to translate the data produced by the institute into forms and patterns. The result is an engaging, immersive piece that also shows the importance of researching the numerous residency schemes available to creatives.

But data needn’t be explored in a serious manner, take The Beautiful Meme’s ‘It’s Ok, We’re All Friends Here’ happening at the Design Museum. Based around the idea of privacy and sharing, the event was entirely money-less and guests could only earn tokens to buy drinks and food by filling in revealing questionnaires via iPads around the room.

The statistics, which covered everything from drug usage to revealing questions about sex, relationships and body hair, were then drawn live onto boards around the room by a number of calligraphers and sign-writers. This fun event also made a point, that the trade-off between reward and giving away personal data is something we do daily, through the likes of free email platforms like Gmail, Twitter and Facebook, and more old school marketing mailouts.

Not only does the project show the potential of using data to do something fun, it also shows the natural ability that design studios have as events organisers – what with their experience in creating conceptually strong and well-executed projects. Check out Studio Hato’s Cooking With Scorsese culinary workshops if you’re after inspiration for a similarly fun, designer-led events series.

Whatever field you operate in, self-promotion is a huge task for creatives – especially bigging yourself up in a way that doesn’t feel too obvious and try-hard. Two recent ‘copycat’ photography projects have towed this line very well, working as vehicles to promote the creatives involved but also provide the audience with new interest or a smile.

Stylist and fashion journalist Nathalie Croquet unleashed a series of fashion campaign spoofs on her Instagram account last month, perfectly mimicking campaigns by the likes of Lancome and Givenchy but replacing the models with herself.

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The result is a good-humoured piss-take of the bizarreness of the fashion industry – a world Croquet is heavily involved in so the spoof doesn’t feel malicious – and, because of its gentle self-deprecation and the perfect execution, has been picked up by style blogs the world over.

Similarly, Belgian photographer Alice Smeets perfectly mimicked scenes from a deck of Tarot cards, with the help of Haitian artists Atis Rezistans. The project called Ghetto Tarot, was part of Atis Rezistans’ “Ghetto Biennale”, where the group invited Western and non-Western artists to come to Haiti and create art in collaboration with them.

You can see more of the project in video above.

The cards are beautiful, vibrant images in their own right – in fact anyone that’s working on colour palettes for summer projects should closely study Smeet’s uses of contrasting hues at opposite ends of the colour wheel for inspiration – but also show the power of taking something familiar, distorting it and making it your own.

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But self-promotion isn’t always about showing your best work, as new site Recently Rejected proves. This ‘curated graveyard’ of unfinished, unpolished and unused work is a showcase of the projects that, for whatever reason, didn’t quite make it.

The quality is high – take this pattern by Leslie David (top) or Micah Linberg’s unused t-shirt graphic (bottom)  – and is a good ego boost for anyone whose cherished idea has recently been overlooked by a client.

New York-based illustrator Ping Zhu posts both the murky palettes she’s used to create her gouache paintings but also sketches – which she calls Ugly Drawings – where it all went wrong.

Zhou thinks keeping your work, however bad, is important to see your progression as an illustrator. Reassuring to see that even the very best illustrators and designers still have off days.