Back to School with Greg Dubeau RGD

Many of us have one project from school that we're particularly fond of, that reassured us of our creativity and career choice or that reminds us of our how far we've come from those earnest but unseasoned efforts. In this new series, professionals revisit a school project and critique their own work. We kick off with Greg Dubeau RGD's typography using live worms.


I attended Vancouver Island University (VIU) from 2009 to 2012 as part of the inaugural year of their four-year Bachelor of Design in Graphic Design program. Before that time, the school was called Malaspina College and their two-year design program awarded a certificate. The opportunity to join a new school was alluring to me so I packed my bags and left Ontario for British Columbia.
The final assignment for my ‘ARTG 130 - Page Layout’ course was to take everything we learned about page layout over the semester and apply it to a self-directed multi-page project. The parameters were quite loose as long as we worked within Adobe InDesign and we followed the basic design principles of typography and page layout. 
Design Process
During the time that the project was assigned I had started reading philosophy. Philosophy challenged some personal paradigms so I wanted to somehow express that through my work. I chose to design a magazine named, Of Empire, which interpreted short essays by the philosopher Sir Francis Bacon. 
At the time I remember being inspired by the exploratory typography of Stefan Sagmeister and Marian Bantjes, as well as the avant-garde compositional layouts of Neville Brody and Quentin Fiore. I made a list of different ways to use typography to illustrate pull quotes from each essay. I challenged myself to make things I’ve never experienced before as a designer. This approach led me to use a range of unorthodox materials such as ketchup and mustard, playing cards, cigarettes, beer bottles and more.
The most fun I had was using live worms to make an alphabet of letterforms. I collected the worms off the sidewalk on a rainy night and brought them back to my desk. I placed them on a wet shingle to resemble asphalt and gently manipulated each worm with a Q-tip to find each desired letterform before taking a photograph. The final design of the pull quote was assembled in Photoshop so I could adjust the shadows, highlights and nuanced details, then placed in InDesign as a decorative full-page spread.
Working with living creatures was incredibly time-consuming and monotonous. My patience and dedication to the original plan was constantly tested, but I knew that I needed to be ethically-responsible when handling the worms. They cooperated to the best of their ability and afterwards I returned them to the wet sidewalk from where they had been recruited.
I passed! And I’m fairly certain I received a good grade for the project. However, I don’t remember any specific in-class feedback I received because I was pretty burnt out by the end of the school year. Completing the lofty goals I set for myself was satisfaction enough.
In the following year, I submitted some typographic spreads from the magazine project to award annuals and competitions. My work was published in a couple of them and I also received a student scholarship for my final year of study at VIU.
I look back on the project fondly because it was so much fun to make. I challenged myself to do something I’ve never done before and I accomplished that—so it feels good to reminisce. However, the Art Director in me would challenge my younger self to make the composition feel less busy and find a way to limit the amount of worms used to express the message.
If I were to approach the same project today, I would focus on using motion instead of static photography. Worms as a medium move subtly enough to catch the eye, but don’t move enough to lose the readability of the quote. A full alphabet of wiggling worms could be used for any range of typographic applications across all mediums.
Greg is a freelance graphic designer who has lived and worked across Canada from coast to coast. He runs a small design studio in Halifax, Nova Scotia where he collaborates with agencies, organizations and entrepreneurs to make their businesses look and work a little bit better than they did yesterday.