Madi Chan & Rachel Holt


Madi and Rachel spent their summer break participating in the D&AD New Blood Briefs. It was a chance to push themselves out of their comfort zone, tackle a global brief, all whilst working alongside prominent designers from the industry. When I first saw their submission Blackout, I was so in love with not only the visual identity but also the message the submission was conveying. I don't want to reveal too much about their project before you read about it but what I will say is, Blackout is a damn good talking point for anyone interested in reducing their carbon footprint, and being more environmentally conscious.

Madi and Rachel welcome to the Probation blog, I’m so thrilled to have fellow UTS x D&AD participants showcased on here. Firstly a massive congratulations for the newly announced Yellow Pencil at the 2020 New Blood Awards, you both must be so thrilled. The awards were held a little bit different this year due to the pandemic, how did you find out you had won an award and what was your initial reaction to winning yellow?
Thank you for having us! We’re absolutely stoked to win a Yellow Pencil, so it means a lot to be featured on the blog! We knew the D&AD New Blood awards ceremony was to be held online at 3 am Sydney time, as it’s hosted in London, so we were prepared to miss it…but at about 9 pm the night before, we both received an email saying we’d won a pencil with a link to an Instagram filter which revealed the level pencil you won. Madi saw the email first, and called me in a frenzy - we were both shocked! We were not expecting a yellow pencil! Our Instagram stories captured our reactions!

As someone who has also experienced doing the D&AD New Blood briefs, I know just how much time and energy you would have spent on your submission. Choosing a brief isn’t easy because there are so many to choose from, what made the Connect4Climate brief stand out to you?
We knew we wanted to work on a brief that would create a positive social impact - designing with a purpose, with meaning. We’re both incredibly passionate about climate change, especially our personal contribution to carbon emissions and the impact we will leave on the world. It’s fair to say we experience a lot of eco-anxiety about the future of our planet. The Connect4Climate brief sounded difficult, as it had a lot of constraints attached to it, but we felt we couldn’t surpass it. We saw an opportunity to create heightened awareness around the issue and encourage substantial social discourse, and we grabbed it!
Your focus point or the issue you identified to base your brief on was incredibly relevant as a lot of Australians were impacted by the 2019–2020 bushfires. Was it a no brainer at the time to focus on the impact of the fires because they were so prevalent at the time, or did you have multiple themes you were tossing around before settling on the fires?
You’re spot on - the fires were a no brainer. At the time, before COVID-19 had taken flight, the Australian bushfires were at the core of everyone’s discussions and we both knew people who'd been directly affected. The difficult task was creating a solution that was related to the fires! We didn’t know why the fires were happening, just that it was a result of global warming…so it took several weeks of hardcore research to find a correlation between how young Australians were behaving and the bushfires.

For a while, we were considering tackling the issue of animal agriculture, and the demand for animal products as one of the leading causes of environmental destruction worldwide. And, while that is incredibly important, we came to realise there is already a lot of information about that readily accessible. When we realised the issue of one’s digital carbon footprint, we could not believe the disconnect that we were experiencing: we simply didn’t know that constantly consuming 3G and 4G data was so damaging! We knew that would be shocking information for many, and that we, therefore, had to get it out there.

Let’s get into the nitty-gritty details and talk about the making of the idea, Blackout. Can you run us through what Blackout is?
Sure can! BlackOut is a carbon-neutral app that helps you track your data usage, so you can take control of your digital carbon footprint. BlackOut is a set-and-forget app: just onboard, and the app runs in the background. The app adapts the settings of your smartphone for optimal carbon emission - that is, it makes sure your phone produces as few carbon emissions as possible.

To help you keep more on top of your data usage, the app also sets a customisable daily data allowance. When you reach your daily limit, your phone screen will shift to black and white to save power, energy and data. The data that you save by using BlackOut is donated to Australians in need!

Primarily, BlackOut is a super convenient way for individuals to lower their carbon emissions on a daily basis. You’ll be making a difference, but it won’t disrupt your life.
I can imagine there were numerous iterations of the concept before you finalised it. What were some of the pivotal moments that changed the direction of the project?
As is usual in the New Blood program, the turnaround was tight. This meant that coming up with an idea was crucial. To be honest, majority of the 6 weeks was spent coming up with and refining an idea…the visuals came later! That approach worked well for us, as once we had our idea 100% sorted, we could picture the exact visuals we needed.
The breakthrough moment for us in terms of visuals was when we decided to work solely with black and white: to represent carbon, the destruction caused by the bushfires, and to lower data consumption by nullifying colour. This informed the name of the app, the language and tone of voice we used to promote it, as well as deciding for us that our designs were to be high contrast!

So you’ve researched extensively, worked hard on the concept, presented ideas and applied feedback. You’re now starting to refine your visual language and develop the look and feel more. How did you play to each others strengths? Did you both work on every element or break the workload up somehow?
We have worked on projects together before, which is why we went into D&AD with confidence that we’d suit each other well. However, we were simultaneously scared to undertake this project just the two of us! Usually a New Blood team is 3-5 people. Luckily, we’re both extremely hard workers who truly thrive off of one another’s personalities.

Once we had decided on BlackOut’s visual identity, the majority of the visual assets were created by Madi and the majority of the copy and speech was curated by Rachel. We always signed off with one another before finalising any assets, as we acknowledge that the other person’s feedback is bound to improve the design! To be honest, the best part of working together was how mindful we were of one another’s wellbeing: we’re such good friends, that we both made sure the other person was watching their sleeping and eating, which made a world of difference to our productivity! When we collaborated, we worked so much better than we did when alone.
What was it like working alongside studios like For the People and Design Studio, and of course having Nicky as your support system?
The tutors for this project were insanely helpful - we learnt so much from them, in just 6 weeks! James Gilmore and George Adams from Design Studio were incredibly enthusiastic about our idea, providing us consistent encouragement and egging us on. They were particularly helpful with helping us form a visual identity. Mel Baillache and Kinal Ladha from For The People were our guiding forces in pushing us to do better - every time we had an idea, that analysed it and made it just that bit better! We felt their persistent encouragement was an awesome experience of women empowering women, which made us excited for our future ahead. Don’t even get us started on Nicky. She is a constant source of positivity, wisdom, resourceful knowledge and nothing but a total joy to learn from! She has completely changed our mindset on design.

For the next cohort of D&AD participants, what would your advice be?
A few things:
  • Start with thinking big, and hone in on the small as your progress.
  • No idea is a bad idea, the worst ideas can lead to the best insights.
  • When problem-solving the brief, through your research aim to find one key ‘insight’ that you want to address and fix.
  • Use the design thinking methodologies that have been ingrained into you through uni to your advantage, here.
  • Conduct survey after survey after survey.
  • Take it seriously from Day One, and you’ll never be underprepared.
And, most importantly: don’t be disheartened when an idea gets shut down, even if you’ve worked on that concept for weeks. The idea that will arise after it will be better, we promise!

I’m so thrilled that I could have Madi and Rachel on the blog. As someone who has gone through the same experience, this interview brings back all the feels. To support them, you can do so by checking out their Instagram accounts and @by.rachel.holt

contact            follow