Our graphic designer, Savanah, shares her exploration of young people, neurodivergence and graffiti through her honours
design project.

My honours design projectA young child is standing, facing a brightly coloured mural. They are wearing a yellow t-shirt and patterned shorts. Another child is crouching down, adding to the mural. They are wearing a white t-shirt.

In 2023, I completed an honours design project at Monash University called GRRR. The project centred around helping young people communicate their feelings in a safe and expressive way.

This idea grew from the final outcome of my bachelor's degree; a campaign that intended to humanise people in the prison system and advocate for supportive re-integration back into community. I’ve seen young people close to me get caught up in damaging lifestyles and come out the other side, because they have a supportive network around them. Many people don’t have access to supportive networks and lose their lives to crime.

Through my project, I wanted to actively listen and understand the root cause of this kind of behaviour. I also wanted to inspire community support to prevent our youth from falling into these lifestyles.

The focus of my research

A young man is holding a small paintbrush and painting a brightly coloured mural. They are wearing a white t-shirt.A large portion of this project was spent researching the school-to-prison pipeline. It explains the life-long effects of a disruptive education. Many young people with undiagnosed learning difficulties fall through the cracks of our school system and move on to a life of crime. Professor Pamela Snow (La Trobe University) and Professor Martine Powell (Deakin University) have led research on young male offenders in Australia. They found 46% to 52% of young male offenders who had a previously undiagnosed learning disorder, were often dismissed as being disengaged or having bad behaviour. This trajectory is attributed to not having an outlet that didn’t result in punishment, such as suspension, during their school years. The Australian Institute of Criminology frames suspension as a 'push out tool' (Hemphill, Broderick and Heerde, 2017, 2), as students who are not achieving academic success are encouraged to explore other options instead of entering their final years of schooling. These findings took my research into an interesting space – I wanted to learn about what these young people did instead.

My own interest in art as a form of expression led me to young people who use graffiti as a non-confrontational way of hitting back at a world they feel is knocking them down. After gaining an understanding of the many reasons why young people behave in this way, I wanted to hear from the point of view of youth in my area.

You can read more of my research on my project website.

Putting research into practice

A young child is standing, facing a brightly coloured mural. Their hands are held above their head, pressing a sheet of bubble wrap against the mural. They are wearing a blue t-shirt.

My research highlighted how important it is to draw from a young person’s world.
I explored the medium of graffiti art as a way to demonstrate this. Instead of interpreting graffiti as vandalism, I saw it as a young person wanting to express themselves freely, without direct confrontation.

This helped me design a mark making workshop to engage young people in creating a large graffiti artwork. Mark making is the creation of lines, dots, patterns, or textures.
It is a common art practice that allows someone to explore their emotions in an expressive way. 

Through these workshops, my intention was to compare how our experience of expressing emotion changes as we grow. This was achieved through using a
double-sided canvas. Children aged 11 to 17 years old used one side of the canvas to express themselves and young adults, aged 19 to 30 years old, used the other side.
The outcome was a collaborative and comparative artwork that documented the experience of expression.

Working with young children

One side of the canvas was completed by younger children who are still in school and have ADHD and Autism. They had access to paints, brushes, bubble wrap, squeegees and many more materials designed to stimulate their senses. Given the prompt to just express themselves, these children had no hesitation in doing so. They had a lot of fun throwing paint at the biggest canvas they had ever gotten to paint on. They also loved getting their hands in the paint. Working with these children was inspiring. Seeing how open their minds were when presented with a task free from the limitations that they experience at school highlighted the importance of nurturing this ability to express through making as our children continue to grow.

Working with young adults

A young man is holding a small paintbrush and painting a brightly coloured mural. They are wearing a camouflage patterned cap.

The other side of the canvas was completed by an older group of young adults. They are all out of school now but reflected on their schooling experiences as challenging because of perfectionism, disengagement and anger-management issues. It was really revealing to see how challenging they found it to express themselves through mark making. It did not come naturally to them, like it had with the younger children. They did not want to make a mess or paint the wrong thing. They were very particular about what they wanted to paint although struggled to get started in the first place.

The observation that drove home the importance of this project was with the oldest participant in the workshop – a tattoo artist who has been on a long journey of finding their form of expression through art. They used their hand as a palette for paint, loving the feeling of paint on their palm, just as the younger children did.

You can see more photos of these workshops on my project website.


How this project shaped my mindset in my role at the Information Access Group

While these observations were drawn from only a small sample of young people, this project revealed to me the importance of the graphic design work we do at the Information Access Group. Sometimes words are hard to understand and to use. Having a visual aid makes information a lot more accessible and opens the conversation to more people. If I had asked young people to write about their experience, the outcome would have been very different. Using a visual form of expression such as mark making, made this conversation a lot more accessible and the findings richer.

What’s next?

Outside of the Information Access Group, I have had the privilege of continuing to work with young people, through assisting in private and primary school art classes. It is an exciting space in which I get to apply what I have learned about creating safe and supportive spaces for young people. I also recently had the honourable opportunity to do some branding design for Wayne Holdsworth’s not-for-profit organisation called S(MAC)K Talk, raising awareness for youth suicide prevention. From here, I hope to continue volunteering more of my time to supporting and empowering young people.