Wallpaper Project: Part A

5 lessons


This project introduces the field of wallpaper design and encourages learners to tap into their own creative heritage to create personalised wallpaper for a specific context.

Lesson menu

Project Outline

In this project you will design and make wallpaper working through the following milestones:

  • Developing an understanding of the context of how wallpaper is designed and produced
  • Using observation to critically analyse examples of historic and recent wallpaper designs
  • Establishing what interests you about this field to help guide your design work
  • Extending your understanding and use of the elements of design
  • Hunting and gathering your own stimulus
  • Developing ideas based on your selected space and personal design heritage
  • Experimentation and testing of ideas
  • Resolution of ideas based on the results of experimentation
  • Construction of wallpaper designs (digital or analog
  • Printing, installation, and promotion of your finished wallpaper


  • Internet
  • Projector (if showing to a class)
  • A device with a decent display (if distance learning)
  • Access to a library (physically or digitally)
  • Notebook (physical or digital) to jot down your thinking as you go

Guiding questions

  • What IS wallpaper - can I push past the obvious understanding?
  • What is digital wallpaper?
  • How long has wallpaper been around and how has it changed over time?
  • Why was the Arts and Crafts Movement so important to this field of design?
  • Does the design and use of wallpaper differ depending on culture and geography?
  • What effect does wallpaper have in a space?
  • How are the patterns selected to be used?
  • How is it made?
  • Who is doing the designing? What are their motivations? How has this changed over time?
  • How does wallpaper connect with the idea of murals and storytelling?
  • Who is currently  represented in this field of design?
  • What can designers bring (of themselves) when working with clients and what do they have to leave?
  • What are the arguments around the environmentally friendliness of wall paper?
  • How is wallpaper disposed of now? 
  • How safe is wallpaper glue?

Background Info

  1. Humans covering walls with images and text is certainly nothing new. Applying patterns and motifs for the walls in which we dwell and occupy is an act that can be traced back to some of humanity’s earliest forms of design. The content, application, understanding, and tradition of these markings has evolved alongside the society and technology where they are found.

    When you start digging it is interesting to notice how the architecture and societal customs of any specific groups has impacted development of wallpaper over time.

    It is even more interesting (to us) how readily available information is for some groups (French, English, German, Japanese), and how little there is about others (Pasifika, Indian, South American). The word ‘wallpaper’ may be part of the issue if we take it only to mean rolls of printed paper that are hung on walls...and then taken down again when that pattern is ‘out of fashion’. However, when you push past that definition, all cultures have some form of pattern or motif that is used within the home and public spaces that are significant.

    Block One

    The Kai Art Centre in Tallinn reveals layers of history. Photo: Harriet Thorpe

  2. It’s important to be conscious that your understanding of wallpaper today (literally right now as you read this) has been informed and influenced by your interactions with it, including our memories and lived experiences. For example, did you wonder if this project would be about designing a product that would be used digitally such as a phone or laptop wallpaper? If so, this indicates your possible age and experience with digital technologies. Are you aware that the design of digital wallpaper is quite a big business? Or perhaps the word wallpaper makes you think of the houses of your parents, grandparents or wider relatives?

    It’s hard to believe that anyone growing up in Aotearoa over the age of 30 hasn’t got a memory of some wild vintage wallpaper from a member of the whanau or a childhood friend’s place.

    Block Two

    A yet to be restored villa in Auckland's Herne Bay

  3. We challenge you to broaden your mind and your search to include products outside of your personal time, space and culture.

    This means consciously thinking outside this era, the buildings and architecture you live and dwell and about different cultures from within Aotearoa but also across the globe.

    A few basic starting points might include; tapa cloth, tuku tuku panels, traditional wall paintings and murals from around the world, tiled works such as mosaic and byobu dividers. The links we have provided are purely a starting point for your own journey. It is pretty surface-level stuff; it is our hope that you use it as a springboard to gather rich and meaningful information for this project.

    Block Three

    Isabel Hodgkins 1st prize winning designing - from 1885

  4. History

    Manufacture and Production

    Note: this video is loooong - but it's interesting ... 

    Design, designers and companies

    Blogs, articles and websites:

    Fornasetti Collection (article in Wallpaper Magazine)

    Colour and confinement (short feature)

    A history of wallpaper's deception (article) 

    William Morris and wallpaper design (article)

    Not your mother's wallpaper (company profile)

    12 classic wallpaper design (article)

    Samsung Denzeen wallpaper competition (blog about the competition)

    Flavor Paper (interesting company)

    Wes Anderson wallpaper (OMG)

    Specific to Aotearoa: context and design models

    Further (and quite intense) Readings

    For the Harry Hardout's:

    The conservation of heritage wallpaper (Winston Churchill Fellowship report)

    More than a koru (article in Idealog)

    Listings in the National Library of New Zealand (literally just listings) 

    Adolf Loos' 'Ornament and Crime' (academic article).

    WARNING: this article presents views that seem at odd with our worldviews today. However, it presents an important perspective and thus is still widely used in tertairy study. Please read it with that understanding

Let's do something!

  1. 1

    What am I doing?

    You need to get your head in the game! You do this by exploring and forming an understanding of the context of wallpaper design. This means re-reading the information provided in this lesson, including the design brief. Use the questions as a starting point to help guide your initial research and investigation. You will need to write your own questions inspired by your research findings as you go.

  2. 2

    What's worth remembering?

    Note down all the key points you come across while doing your research. There is no right ‘key point’. The things you are writing down will be where you do more research, so they need to be both interesting and relevant to you. Sometimes what you write down IS a question that comes in response to the information you are investigating.

    You can not separate design outcomes from the society and time in which they were created. Do you feel you understand enough about the development of wallpaper design through history to be able to comment on what it’s like today? How/ why is it different to design wallpaper now than, say, in 1926 Germany? And do you understand how place and culture affect the design of wallpaper? How does the design of spaces affect how wallpaper is used?

    If you haven’t dug into peoples, places and spaces (especially outside of your own culture and geography) - you aren’t ready for the next step so keep DIGGING.

  3. 3

    Developing an initial position

    So, you’ve done some digging, learnt a few things and now have a basic understanding of context - we hope. From here you need to establish what you found the most interesting about that information. You need to clarify your position (this may change as you learn more and develop your ideas) within the world of wallpaper design.

    Basically, what are you interested in pursuing that will inform your practice?

    Create a simple bullet point list that brings together the most important bits of information you found.

    Demelza’s example:

    • Issues around traditional wallpaper and sustainability 
    • The tension between pattern, ornament and modernism
    • The loss of entire visual languages when people started pulling down paper in favour of ‘clean’ white walls
    • The tension around visual diversity and those creating the outcomes (who is represented visually and who is not/ who is represented in industry and who is not)
    • Modern wallpaper design and a feeling of soulnessless
    • Wallpaper can have many forms/ interpretations

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