July 6, 2022

'Futureproofing' graphic design with The Children's University of Manchester

I've just completed work on the Childrens University of Manchester learning platform. As a freelance graphic designer, I was first brought in to work on these projects they were created in Flash around 12 years ago. Today, in what's now the final iteration of the website, all the content has been converted into either HTML5 or PDF. The goal has been to take the old, still valuable, learning content and convert it into a (hopefully) future-proof format, so it can live long and prosper.

Some of the original modules were designed by myself, and other older sections by other designers, with all content being created and written by students and staff at the university.

The HTMLs sections didn't need any attention and still work fine.

Making PDF's from old Flash files

The first task was 'harvesting' the original content from old flash files. For content I created I could go back to my source files. With designs not created by myself, I had to be a little more resourceful with only access to SWF files.
With flash now deactivated on all web browsers, I used Adobe debugging tool to open the SWF's, and experimented with a few different ways to extract the graphics. From importing the SWFs into an old version of Flash to the rudimentary method of using a high res 2k monitor to screen grab and isolate elements, reduced them, clean up, and even re-traced back into vectors from pixels. This was time-consuming but also offered good results.

Harvesting the text was another challenge. In some cases I got lucky and text from the flash file was being loaded externally from an XML file. The worst case was screen-grabbing text and running it through an OCR program (optical character recognition). This converted graphics into text which then needed proofing to check for things like letter 'o's not showing up as zeros. Again time-consuming but worthwhile.

Once all the content was gathered the new design work could begin. Creating layouts and new graphics where needed to glue together the continuity, or make clear elements that were previously motion graphics.

I was given the flexibility to come up with some new cover images. It's been a bit like being a design archaeologist, unearthing the past. The staff at the university were really pleased with the results and I'd like to think if you came to the website fresh today, You'd just see the learning content, which I hope will be evergreen.

John is a freelance graphic designer based in Manchester with clients around the world. If you have a project or need design advice, contact him here;

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    Manchester based freelance web design and graphic design agency with worldwide clients.
    john@johncooperdesign.co.uk
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