Detangled Roots

Thumbnail images and title of detangled roots

As part of a Graphic Design Book Publication class, I conceptualized and designed a print illustrated book including the full cover, interior spreads and binding.

The theme of my publication takes inspiration from the art installation un/settled by Otoniya J. Okot Bitek (poetry) and Chantal Gibson (portraiture) displayed at the Belzberg Library of the SFU Vancouver Campus during Fall 2021. At the end of the term, the final printed books were displayed at the Belzber Library alongside the installation and my project was selected for an in-depth article in SFU’s student run newspaper The Peak.

Final Designs

Why Black Hair?

Black hair is often misconstrued or mysterious, and almost always underrepresented. Based on the gorgeous imagery on the art exhibit un/settled by Otonyia J. Okay Bitek, Chantal Gibson, and Linda Kanyamuna’s review on the impact of displaying Black womanhood. I truly believe that hair is one of the most expressive forms of beauty, and I wanted to explore how Black hair is both expressive and restricted. The concept of my publication is to embody the beauty of Black hair while educating readers on issues of hair-based discrimination.

Detangled Roots furthers the embodiment of Gibson and Okot Bitek’s work illustrating Black bodies, more specifically regarding Black hair and how it is weaponized against the Black community. Linda Kanyamuna writes in The Peak, SFU’s independent newspaper, about her experience seeing Black womanhood depicted in the artwork “through the strands of braids, representing her crown, her history, her heritage, her protection, and her identity, all the while acknowledging her inner void through the dark, empty space on the inside of this art.” Furthermore Linda emphasizes that un/ settled “…reminds us that Black bodies are allowed to occupy space, in a world where they are so confined.”

My approach is to artfully meld type and images together in a creative manner, using scribbly illustrations as strands of hair and a metaphor for the notion that natural hair is messy. The narrative of the book is around the history and culture of Black hair, as well as modern practices of discrimination. This is juxtaposed with the aesthetic of the book which aims to accentuate the beauty in Black hair despite society’s assumptions of natural hair.

Hair Based Discrimination

In preparation, I researched the artists to which this publication is in response, as well as further research into topic-specific details and genres.

Chantal Gibson is a professor at Simon Fraser University’s Interactive Art and Technology program, and a recognized author/artist. Gibson’s work focuses on the intersection of literary and visual art, by bringing light to the absence of BIPOC voices within cultural production and consumption (Gibson, n.d). Chantal’s work on visual poetry and altered books reimagine historical texts to visually represent the silence of BIPOC narratives (Gibson, n.d). Her medium extends beyond the bounds of books, using black thread to emulate afro-textured hair and braids. I find the focus on black hair as a metaphor intriguing because of its simplicity yet powerful ability to speak volumes at the same time.

Inspired by the interpretation of black hair and braids, I want to focus on how black hair is being weaponized against the black community.

There is no doubt that society favors white beauty standards, which leaves the black community at yet another disadvantage due to white privilege. However while the simplicity of the issue seems to imply its harmlessness, nothing could be further from the truth. Black hair is but another vessel for discrimination aimed at keeping the black community from equality. Many Black employees are forced to change their hair to comply with dress code standards or feel the invisible pressure of naturally being unprofessional. A Black person’s hair impacts much more than how they express themselves, from losing out on employment, getting kicked off of sports teams, and the humiliation of derogatory comments.

The genre of the publication is a combination of a Nonfiction Illustrated Book, within humanities and social sciences, and also an art book. The content itself focuses on non-fiction issues of hair-based discrimination while the design should emulate an art book – showcasing Black hair as a form of art. This publication is not a textbook or reference book on Black hair. Instead of relying on facts and history, the emphasis is expression and culture, and therefore the design should enhance the artistic vision.

BIPOC Audiences

The primary audience is the BIPOC community who feel the weight of society’s white beauty standards to feel represented while the secondary audience is people of every background to educate themselves on BIPOC discrimination. The publication targets young adults from 18 to 35 with a focus on BIPOC, while it can still be appreciated by everyone. The target audience should read, watch or listen to BIPOC stories and enjoy learning from different perspectives.

From Goldfarb’s psychographic segments, the book’s primary audience is responsible survivors, such as people within the Black community who struggle with their appearance and self-expression. This is combined with day-to-day watchers who view the world realistically when it comes to racial discrimination. On the other hand, the secondary audience is made up of joiner activists who are committed to actively unlearning rascal and are deeply interested in continuing to a better world

It is important to address the primary audience of the BIPOC community because the book revolves around their culture and their stories. I understand that I come from a different background and as a designer, I have a responsibility to address this topic as authentically as possible. The secondary audience is also just as important to consider because changing hair-based discrimination will take effort from all communities and different types of people. Therefore BIPOC community needs to rely on allies for the support of the legislature and politicians who address these issues.

Design Considerations


I intentionally choose not to use either black and white or pure brown tones because I felt they were too cliché for a book emphasizing creativity and beauty. I knew I still wanted to use warm and inviting tones, with a neutral aspect. When I came across Gabriel Silverio’s photography on Unsplash I was memorized by the artistic approach. I chose the colours to match his photography for the cover and worked backward incorporating it into the interior pages.


VTC Bayard was inspired by signs from the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, adding a historic element to the design. The font itself is quirky and some- times unpredictable, just like hair. The use of expressive typography and pull quotes are another important aspects in emphasizing BIPOC voices and their stories. Pull quotes
a driving force in having a narrative representation of the BIPOC community and allowing their words to be heard. Expressive typography is a creative tool to illustrate words as if the stories behind them are also works of art.


Relying on expressive imagery of Black hair was one of the most important aspects in communicating the concept. I chose to use creative and beautiful imagery of Black hair as the artwork of my publication. Powerful imagery is a driving force in having a visible representation of the BIPOC community and allowing them to take up space on the pages of the publication.


Inspired by Chantal’s approach using knotted thread to symbolize Black hair, I wanted to create my interpretation through line art. The illustrated scribbles visually represent tangled hairs, with knots as complicated as the issue they represent. The phrase “Detangled Roots” seeks to uncover the roots of discrimination, just as the illustrations give way to the messiness of their existence.

Iterative Process

After finding Hlonipha Mokoena’s article I knew I wanted to emphasize her message and experience as a Black woman as best I could, which lead to many design decisions regarding expressive typography and pull quotes.

I started by brainstorming and sketching different visual concepts that could be used as a theme throughout the book. For the interior spreads, I knew that white space would be a core part of designing layouts and sketched minimalist spreads exploring different grids.

From the early stages, I knew that photography would play an important part in the publication, and started making mood boards based on the imagery of Black hair. From there I developed a few different colour palettes to explore in my layout roughs. I chose to continue with the first rough because I felt it was the most striking and powerful of the three directions.

During the mockup phase, I wanted to perfect the reading experience by paying close attention to the micro typography and alignment. I used a proportional baseline grid of 3pt with a body copy of 8.5/12 and captions of 7/9 which helped the type feel cohesive. Because the book relied heavily on pull quotes I made sure to triple-check the optical alignment of quotations.

I also decided to re-design the cover of the book to align with more design elements used in the interior spreads. I changed the cover title to match the format of the title page and included the scribbled background also used on chapter opener spreads. The image of beautiful Black hair conveniently covers the messier realities behind it. The previous cover felt out of place as there were no full-bleed photos used anywhere else.

There was a slight miscommunication with the formatting of InDesign files, but the employees were patient enough to help guide me through it. I picked up the printed pages and started to bind the book together using Coptic stitching.

Print Production and Binding

I struggled with a way that I could introduce materially to the physical production to enhance the experience. Originally I had the idea of using die cuts or spot gloss, but they were not visually or conceptually strong concepts. After talking to my professor (Mauve) about binding I decided to use Coptic stitching to bind the book together. Coptic stitching adds an element of texture to the physical book and furthers Chantal’s idea
of thread as hair due to the braided quality. Additionally, it uses an exposed spine which represents the aim at visibility and allows the book to lay completely flat for readability. I practiced the Coptic stitching beforehand to prevent any errors on the printed copy. I poked holes using a push pin and used a needle with black thread for the binding.

SFU Belzberg Exhibition

Student work from the class was selected to be displayed in the SFU Belzberg library in Vancouver, in celebration of the art exhibit un/settled for which they were based. In addition, I was selected among a few students to receive an in-depth profile in the student-run newspaper, The Peak, documenting my experience.


Not only did I learn many new technical skills from typesetting to InDesign tips, but I also learned about how subject matter influences design. This course had a real focus on interacting with your subject matter and thinking of design as to how you want to represent your subject.

The most challenging aspect of creating Detangled Roots was introducing materially to the physical production of Detangled Roots that would enhance the experience. Originally I had the idea of using die cuts or spot gloss, but they were not visually or conceptually strong concepts. After talking to my professor about binding I decided to use Coptic stitching to bind the book together. Coptic stitching adds an element of texture to the physical book and furthers Chantal’s idea of thread as hair due to the braided quality.

The most rewarding aspect of creating Detangled Roots was pushing my creativity to design expressive typography and imagery. Designing the illustrations and blending them with the typography was a fun challenge, and I think it added a lot of personality to the book.

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