Velvet Iron Ashes


  • State LIbrary Victoria
  • Anita Gigi Budai
  • Qualia Creative Pty Ltd


Part of The State Library of Victoria’s Vision 2020 redevelopment project included the Victoria Gallery with its first show; Velvet Iron Ashes. Qualia worked with lead creative and exhibition designer Anita Gigi Budai and senior curator, Carolyn Fraser. State Library Victoria was the producer of the exhibition. Additional documentation photography credited to Patrick Rodriguez.

Qualia developed the show signage for Velvet Iron Ashes and typeset messaging through the space. The typography was embellished by hand as a nod to Victorian times and the swirling calligraphic nature of branding and signage of the period.

Key Features


The signage was developed from laser cut wood that was flocked in a fire engine red to give it a velvet feel reminiscent of Victorian wallpapers. The visual language honoured the content while presenting it in a clear, contemporary way, complimenting the heritage architecture of the room. The bold interior colours were applied to the way finding and distinguishing sections within the richly eclectic show’s content. Other designed items throughout the space included a contemporary wallpaper inspired by eastern European migrant influences as well as notable quotes on the walls, sectional information panels, visually impaired catalogues, and catalogue cards.


Being a building of heritage and also an area that required strict conservation considerations choices of printing techniques, and stock choices were critical as many of the cases were closed with sectional texts being displayed in several key areas.

These environmental considerations helped inform and shape the design decision making. Many of the items were designed with the intent to reuse – the catalogue card system could be updateable each year as well as reusable display folders for the visually impaired, as were the intro and sectional panels with removable type.


This wasn’t going to be an art gallery, nor was it going to be a library, but rather something in between. Seemingly unrelated themes as broad as Ned Kelly, the origin of The Ashes, Mac Robertson Confectionery and Lady Janet Clarke were on display, and with a unique ticketing machine at each entrance (realised by the talented minds of Sandpit) people could select items that were of interest then a unique map was printed to help navigate the threaded stories and uncover more information along the way; educating while entertaining visitors (local and passing) of the visionaries and events that shaped Victoria.


The exhibition was designed to be an experience of differing yet connected themes throughout Victoria’s history – all within one room – accessible from either end of a long hall in the eastern wing. Content ranged from Ned Kelly’s armour, to the cricketing prize of The Ashes, as well as MacRobertson’s confectionery (creator of the Freddo Frog – Victoria’s answer to the rising popularity of Mickey Mouse.) This discovery and engagement experience was heightened by all items being numbered, with further information on the item (and its story and relationship to other items) being found on correlating catalogue cards. These cards were housed in closed drawers within cabinets. The cards were designed and coloured with a horizontal coloured strip for easy reference. The design of the card content, numbering and format were inspired by the predigital library experience of the Dewey Decimal System.

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