Alex Finney’s parents don’t get all that excited about graphic design; neither do his grandparents. “They’ve never showed much interest in the work I make, to be honest, and I think that’s fine. It’s a generational thing, and they’re not particularly arty.” But the former Leeds College of Art and Design student wasn’t going to let them come to his graduate show without providing them with some kind of entertainment.

“I’ve always been aware that graphic design can be quite a closed-off area,” say Finney, “so I wanted to make something that wasn’t aloof and above anyone, something that would include people of any age. I was looking at creating interaction in my work—playing with glow-in-the-dark paint and UV light—but it was all a bit clunky and I wanted something a bit more immediate.”

Then Finney stumbled across a company called Bare Conductive, which specializes in electric paint and arduino-style circuitry. He began to experiment with a selection of their products, ultimately creating Wall of Sound, a large tactile synthesizer painted across his graduate exhibition space. Guests were invited to use a keyboard and a pair of theremins to play tunes on the unusual instrument. “It sounds like a cliché, but music is such a universal thing, and playing a little tune was a nice way to involve everyone,” says Finney.

“It was just about making people have fun and engage with the work. You can do a nice print, but it doesn’t really get the same response”

Purists might argue that Finney’s work hardly constitutes graphic design, but he’s got a whole portfolio to prove his branding and typographic credentials, and in the cut-throat environment of graduate shows, the top priority is getting eyes on you. “There’s a slightly selfish aspect in a degree show,” says Finney. “You’ve got to think about what’s going to do well. It got a crowd, so I was happy about that, but that wasn’t the main goal.”

Goal or not, Finney’s garnered plenty of attention for his work these past few weeks, and internships at Love and Dust have followed. Later this summer he starts work at Only, a small studio in Leeds, as the fourth member of the tiny team. “I’m excited to be going somewhere small and working my way up.”

Alex Finney, Wall of Sound
Alex Finney, “Wall of Sound”