Japanese Study Tour Guide 2023



Study tour diary magazine cover – spiral bound published book

As part of a school overseas trip to Japan we were asked to create a diary for the Students to be able to document their travels. Usually when traveling overseas there are plenty of photos taken as well as lots of souvenirs brought back home. However, we find that after a few years it becomes difficult to remember the name of that one location you visited that had that thing you wanted to go back to. Sometimes good intensions are had if you take a generic notebook with you, but these are mostly left blank if not organised properly. It made sense to us to design and create a tour book specifically for the journey the students are about to embark upon, with specific organised sections to fill out.


Japan trip diary general information pages – traveling Japan

As the book is designed specifically for this trip it can also contain all the itinerary information with it, which is helpful if the students don’t have access to electronic devices or the internet. It can also contain more helpful information about the trip they are on relevant to the experiences they are going to partake in. From here, the content of the book only grew with information about packing lists, Japanese customs, etiquette, nuances, and addresses. It got bigger as spaces for emergency contact numbers and what to do in case of an earthquake was included. Finally some activities for the Students to fill out, and a scavenger hunt to complete during their travels was added.


School trip Japan Scavenger hunt – Japan tour group activities

The last big chunk of information was about the nuances of the home stay portion of the trip. Information about how to resolve issues that may occur, with further etiquette and expectations that may be faced while living with a family for a week. Most importantly it contains pages to log a journal entry for each day of the trip, with suggested spaces to write down place names, contact details, and weather information.


Japanese tour book – shrine and temple guide pages – school tour

The books were handed out to the students to go over it with their parents a few weeks before the trip, to help answer questions they may have and alleviate any concerns. Full of information-graphics, pictures, and colour coordinated for each section of the book to help make finding information easy. The styling and cover of the book was intentionally made cheerful, bright, and unique with the hope that this will become a keepsake for the students on the trip to help remember their journey and make their first experience of Japan an exciting one.


Creating an animated in-progress button for Elgato Stream Deck


In this video we demonstrate how we created an Elgato Stream Deck button that animates for a specific duration when pressed before returning to a static state, without needing any plugins or third-party apps. This is useful when triggering something like an animated lower third, by showing a looping indication animation while the om screen animation is active and stopping us from accidentally pressing any other buttons. By default, the Stream Deck doesn’t offer any native solution for a button that, when pressed, plays a looping animation and returns to a static picture.

By manipulating the multi-action switch and combining it with a back-to-front animated GIF, we can give the appearance and functionality of a button that looks to be in an animated holding state while an action is performed, and then returns to a static image once the action is completed. The button gives the appearance of having an off state and animated on state, which is helpful when running a live stream that uses screen bugs, lower thirds, and other one-shot animations.

#powerpoint #design

Arcade Control Panel Printable Plans



Arcade Cabinet Control Panel sticker with finished acrylic top and joystick buttons installed

With the design of the Arcade Cabinet Control Panel finalised and tested. It is time to share the printable plans online for you to use in your own project. Available below are printable plans at a 1:1 scale for the Arcade Cabinet Control panel.

These are the plans we used to precisely cut out the panel and drill any holes for components. The plans should fit in a 1:1 ratio on a A0 (1189mm wide x 841mm high) sized piece of paper and can usually be printed at your local office supply store in Black and white for a reasonable price. This makes it very easy to transfer the designs to your material without having to scale or convert any measurements.
The guide hole sizes and potions of the arcade components precisely fit most arcade hardware. We specifically used ‘classic dimple top’ buttons and ‘zippy joystick’ control for our build, so check your component size in case you need to drill holes in different sizes. Features of the Control panel are either a two player or four player arcade setup, or a transformable version where the player three and player four wings can be removed, and added, as needed. This feature, and a complete guide to the arcade cabinet build, will be the subject of a future video and live stream series.


Arcade cabinet control cabinet plans stylised 2 to 4 player setup

The two player version (middle square layout) is also designed to fit through a standard door frame. One of the features of our overall arcade cabinet design, and one that has come in useful when moving the cabinet around the workshop and final resting place inside the house.

This was the main reason for making the three and four player pads removable, but not a necessity when designing your own cabinet, you will have to alter some of the guide lines if you choose to keep your control panel two player, or want a complete board for a four player set up. The plans also feature Front and Side views of the panel, with specific details of the three and four player extensions. The green lines represent the panels to be cut out to scale. The purple lines are the panels assembled from their respective projections.

Click here to view and download the plans for your own use.

#arcade #design

The game is afoot



Study Planner first hidden puzzle treasure hunt

Just before the Study Planner was sent out to be printed, there was a final opportunity to run through and test the game, to see if all the puzzles were in fact solvable. When hiding clues in a book that is written in code and backwards, the one thing not wanted is a spelling mistake.

One lucky staff member was, with allot of hints, given the final version of the study planner and told of the clues within. They were, with some helping nudges, a first and only real test case of the game before it would go off to print. It was a nervous few hours as we watched them discover and solve each cypher hoping that everything was spelt correctly, and that all the number trails lead to the correct pages. The real-world test was a success, and the book went out to print that same day.


Study planner school diary treasure hunt secret message

On the first day of school each student was, as every year, handed a copy of the study planner. With no notice, announcement, or hint given as to its extra special purpose. It wasn’t until two months later, inconveniently on April 1, that a message was left in the morning bulletin that would hopefully encourage some curious minds to begin discovering that a game is afoot. On the last day of the school term and the Thursday before the long Easter weekend. The notice read “Best of Luck: There is more than one Easter Egg to discover this year. A puzzling treasure hunt to the key and a $100 gift voucher for first place. Make sure to Plan your Study and are ready player 29?”.

While the timing wasn’t great it sparked the interest of almost every student who was hoping to solve the puzzle by the end of the day. While a handful of students had found and deciphered the first clue before the announcement, the message in the daily bulletin sent hundreds of students in all directions around the campus as each one came to a different conclusion.

The bulletin message itself needed to be solved, while not overly difficult, we needed to show that this was a puzzle to be completed and not simply a “follow the breadcrumbs” path. The cipher in the message laid out a few different bits of information; the phrase “ready player 29” is reference to Ready Player One, a book/movie about a video game having a long hidden quest to a prize. Again, reinforced with the wording “More than one Easter Egg to discover”, which is also reference to a secret hidden inside visual media. The wording “Plan your Study” was in refence to the Study Planner, and the “29” was the page number that contained the first puzzle and start to the quest, and a deliberate mistake of the ‘ready player one’ title.


Student Diary background page hidden number treasure hunt

The daily bulletin message kick started the entire school’s interest in the secret game included in the Study Planner, even in ways we didn’t expect. The most satisfying of which were those students who pooled their knowledge and worked together as a group. This was completely unexpected considering only one major prize could be won. Seeing that the journey of discovery, solving the puzzles, and finding the clues was something that was bringing people together completely exceeded our expectations.


Study Planner message translation student diary hidden message cypher

As time went on, the openly public hunting and solving of puzzles in the planner subdued. Those seeking the solution to the riddle and wanting the prize became less and less vocal about it. We received messages on occasion asking for hints, or wondering if a theory was correct. While nothing was ever given away, we relished in the knowledge that students were wanting to seek out and find the treasure. If they could actually solve the puzzles and get to the end was a mystery to even us, one that only time would know.


Laying Out The Quest Challenge



Treasure Chest pixel art hidden easter egg in student diary study planner background

How do you layout a series of puzzles into a book that you want the player to solve in sequence when you cannot prevent them from flicking through pages and discovering the final puzzle? Traditionally treasure hunts with multiple puzzles or objectives involve a gate keeper or locked box that prohibits the player from progressing until they have an answer or key. When hiding riddles in a book they may not discover the first puzzle first, and there isn’t anything physically stopping them from trying to solve another clue they may have found.

As previously mentioned there are a number of ways the Study Planner treasure hunt mitigated these issues. What it all came back to was a solid game design and lots of play testing. Even for a hidden Easter egg in a College Study Planner there still needed to be a layout of how the game ran and how the objectives would be met to lead to the final location. The design layout also detailed how players would be prevented from solving puzzles out of sequence.

The Treasure Hunt had three riddles hidden in cryptic puzzles in the Study Planner, and one further puzzle at the treasure’s location. This last one was to prevent a player or passer-by from claiming the cash prize even if they stumbled across the treasure by mistake. All of the puzzles and flow of the hunt was designed in reverse, by this, we started knowing we needed a physical location each player needed to find as a goal. We then created a puzzle based on the requirement of that solution, and so on, and so on working backwards. More or less asking ourselves, what do we want the player to do in order to get to X.


College Diary Study Planner hidden Cypher design on term page layout

Each puzzle in the Study Planner further involved a cryptic phrase that lead to a riddle, that in turn lead to the next cryptic phrase. The cryptic phrases all required deciphering, written as symbols as they were easier to hide amongst the pages of the planner. Intermixed with the actual symbols and clues were false symbols, marks, and messages. Each of these simply translated to nonsense or lead to dead end pages with no further puzzle. The encryptions weren’t overly difficult as it was aimed at 13 to 17 year old’s, however the riddles became the crux as each player’s interpretation of the solution was more often incorrect. This was intentional as the aim of the Treasure hunt was that it should take time to solve, rather than be found within a few days or weeks.


Easter Egg hidden number design College Diary Study Planner game development

While the first puzzle was laid out in the book using a simple cypher and required little effort. The second and third puzzle were related, both used a similar fashion to be discovered and both used the same deciphering method, which was part of the second puzzles solution. If you found and deciphered puzzle two you could instantly decipher puzzle three without any further trouble. This would normally be troublesome as puzzle three is the last puzzle who’s solution determines the physical location. However the trick was that puzzle three required puzzle two’s solution in order to progress. This was done simply by having puzzle two’s solution follow a sequence of numbers (pages) that lead to puzzle three. Puzzle three required this exact sequence of numbers as part of its solution, therefore gate keeping any player who skipped ahead. In practice this worked as puzzle three and two were both discovered by players who hadn’t yet solved the first puzzle. However this left them with dead ends as when discovered out of sequence they each didn’t make sense.


College Diary Study Planner Pixel Art campus Map and Hidden treasure text

The puzzles were play tested to ensure that out of sequence solutions weren’t possible yet they were clear if you followed the correct order. Only three people working at the college knew of the treasure hunt located within the study planner during development making sure it wasn’t leaked out before its time, and that as many people as possible could take part. With all puzzles in place and Study Planner designed the final piece was to distribute the book. But how do people know there is a game afoot?


Adding A Hidden Quest



Pixel Art Design Kardinia International College Reception Morongo Girls College building

The College Study Planner for 2021 contained hidden puzzles and riddles within it that would lead a user to a physical hidden treasure located on the college campus, and a cash prize for first place. But how do you hide something you want students to hunt for without it being  impossible to find? How can you also make it challenging enough that the puzzles aren’t solved too quickly? All of this needed to be solved and tested without spoiling the surprise.


Student diary Study Planner Easter egg Treasure Hunt Winning Prize Key

From all the mock ups of the Study Planner design that were printed for approval nothing seemed amiss, or was picked up by proof reading as being strange. It was important that only minimal people knew of the forthcoming Easter egg before it would be distributed as it would give everyone on staff as well as students the opportunity to take part in the hunt. In late 2020 while the Study Planner was in development another set of plans were carefully laid out on how to secretly overlay a treasure hunt into the book without compromising the design, function, or the calendar layout. Any extra pages would add to the production cost, and any existing pages taken up with a puzzle should not compromise the actual information already on the page. Finally it all needed to be hidden in plain sight, not impossible to find or discover, and importantly, should only require the Study Planner to solve.

With the ground rules set, how do you add a series of puzzles into a 146 page book that leads to a physical location while ensuring that all puzzles need to be solved and the user cannot simply stumble onto the answer. The intension of the treasure hunt was to let it stretch out for the entire year, and not simply be solved over a weekend. This lead to looking at allot of reference from other media that has added Easter eggs like this into it. One thing that stood out from most treasure hunt reference is that there is a lock, gate, box or some other means of preventing the player from jumping to the last step without passing the first one. In a book it is allot harder to do, but not impossible.


Hidden number 66 on student diary study planner background pixel art image

One way to prevent a user from solving a puzzle to early is to use a cypher, another is to create multiple paths that lead to dead ends for which the original puzzle’s solution only gives the correct direction. Both of these methods were used in the treasure hunt. One more issue remained, the physical treasure, it needed to be at a location on campus in an area that both staff and students had access to that wasn’t private, it also needed to be obvious if discovered but due to the cash prize it needed to also be un-claimable unless you followed the clues and solved all the riddles.

It was time to knuckle down and lay out the entire hunt by creating a game design for it to function, and be test-able.


College Study Planner 2021



Kardinia International College Senior Study Planner 2021 Cover Student diary

The College Study Planner for 2021 contained more than meets the eye as far as the graphical design of it was concerned. The theme for the planner centred around 8bit graphics, which fit well with the limited two colour printing process used. It was also a cumulative conclusion to a challenge that has been in the making since the 2020 planner design had been worked on a year prior.

The choice to use video games as a theme for the Study Planner came from two main decisions during pre-production, first was the planned gamification of the book, and second was the style of the College Map. The college map pages contained within the Study Planner have always used pixel art resembling a 1980’s 16bit top down adventure game. With each passing year the map was usually updated with more detailing, like trees and gardens, while also accounting for the changes in the buildings on the college campus. The map drawing updates for the 2021 planner were given some extra time to include the aditional artwork for the outsides of the main buildings on campus, to be used as background images.


Senior Study planner student diary pixel art design college campus

The rest of the Study Planner’s design went smoothly and without delay, various pixel art backgrounds for the ‘calendar week’ pages were created, and the duotone colours used for the book print were settled upon. Minor design changes were made to the layout of the ‘calendar week’ pages and some of the homework planner pages from the previous 2020 edition. For all accounts, the planner content was put together rather quickly, and without any concern from the College about use of a video game themed design.


Senior Study Planner student Diary design two colour printing process mix

However this wasn’t just any ordinary Study Planner. One titbit that is common throughout video games and their development is the inclusion of hidden treasures, more commonly referred to as Easter Eggs. The short development cycle for the Study Planner’s main content intentionally left room to add into it a hidden quest. That would hopefully garner more interest of the Study Planner’s use and give it some extra life, and mystery, outside of classroom homework notations.


Senior Study Planner Student Diary page design weekly calendar layout

With the preparations laid down it was time to add something extra into the College’s Study Planner for 2021.


A Diary Full Of Colour



Diary page college term artwork

The approach taken to design the student study planner for 2020 was allot more elaborate and ambitious than in previous years. With a very elaborate theme, new layouts, and experimenting with some gamification. Overall it was well received, with allot of people having strong opinions about what they did, or did not, like. Let us guide you through the design's successes and the valuable lessons learned along the way.

To colour or not to colour that is the $10,000 question. Adding an unlimited amount of choices and appeal to any student diary book, it also comes at a cost both for the amount of time it takes to prepare the graphics and the extra charge of the ink that is used in print. This year's Study Planner was experimental as much as it was an update to all previous versions, one question the College wanted to know was "what would give the book the best appeal for the students?". Is there anything this book should try that has not been done before in order to see more use of it from the people who use it each day?


Study Planner page layout colour chart

Before any design decisions were made surveys were created, to ask about the features the students want to see the most. One recurring answer was to have more separation, a way to help better navigate the diary, find specific weeks or months, and also to visually define each day. From a graphical user interface point of view, the ability to utilise more colours would help break up the repeating nature of the book into easily identifiable sections and sub sections.

The biggest change to the planner was put into motion, use a full colour print throughout the entire book, and use it to break up the sections visually. Each page template was designed to be able to have a colour palette swap both to the page as a whole and to each of its own sub sections. This was used to give each month a separate colour while also overlaying stripes of colour around the page to tie it back to the term, and interior blocks of designated colour for the days of the week. As the user held up the edge of the pages blocks of colour along the side help define the month, while a blot of colour at the bottom separates the terms. Opening the page shows ribbons of colour to help define the days of the week.


Student planner college diary colour sections

The colour palette was chosen using soft colour tones, this was to ensure that any pen used to make notes would still be easy to read, while also allowing white text to be used over it. Six base colours were chosen Cyan, Pink, Lilac, Peach, Orange, and Green each separated with enough contrast to stand apart when butted up against each other. From this a lighter and darker shade was added to the colours to create the variances. The lighter variance was used as the base colour of the background page art, and the darker used for text displayed over the top of it.

The bulk of the book was sorted, however with full colour to be used on every page, it would be a wasted expense to not take advantage of it. Using medieval heraldry, and the college houses as the influence to include many more colourful pages, the study planner was onto its next challenge of creating the artwork of a theme.


College Study Planner 2019



published spiral bound college study planner

The Kardinia International College study planner and study planner junior 2019 were published in January 2019. Giraffe and Elf had a hand in the layout and design work of both versions with a lot of work put into the cover illustrations.

The theme of the Study planner Junior cover was based on the idea of the electronic devices a child in the 1980’s would carry around with them to gain a similar experience to a modern day mobile phone. The insides of both planners were printed using a two colour spot process with converted versions of the junior cover illustration.


concept study planner cover design

The senior school cover was a muted version of abstract bright and vibrant coloured shapes, of which the original concept is shown above. The end result was darkened down to better match the official college colours for whom the planners were to be published. The original concept was to match the 80’s theme with more abstract imagery suited for senior students.


college study planner inside page examples

Together a total of 2,100 copies of the study planners were printed and distributed to the college. Five different covers were designed and created before the final two were chosen, with the junior cover originally intended for the senior book. Further information on the variations and the processes behind the cover illustrations can be found at


Designing a Custom Arcade Cabinet



Custom Arcade Cabinet Plans with arcade button

Very few projects evoke the multitude of skills that personify the phrase “Jack of all trades, master of none. But always better than a master of one.” better than designing and building a custom arcade cabinet.

A project that has been talked about since before Giraffe and Elf was established has finally moved into the development stage with a very big project scope and allot to do.

The outcome of this project has also expanded to become a extracurricular course for a high school. The plans, methods, and components used to create the cabinet need to be easily followed and replicated by a small class of students with clear directions. This differs from a regular build in that plans need to be referenced and instructions followed by a group of people rather than from notes scribbled on scrap paper intended for a once off piece.


Custom arcade cabinet plans isometric illustartion

Currently the project is in the pre-production phase as plans are drawn up and problems with production are addressed. As the project continues we’ll be sharing more updates, including specifics about some components, the hurdles we encountered, and solutions that were used.



Cover Illustration Design



College Study Planner Cover Illustartion

A college study planner doesn’t follow the same design rules as books or promotional materials. There are more considerations to keep in mind with a publication like this. Giraffe and Elf was given the opportunity to develop a college study planner and covers for the school year 2019, and a fantastic amount to freedom with the types of imagery to be used in the final design.

Before delving too far into the design process of a cover like this, there were some factors to take into account with how a study planner is treated compared to other publications. First and foremost, a study planner is taken to and from school every day and into every class, this means that allot of time is spent staring at the cover. Second, with all that time a study planner sits in front of students in class there is allot of opportunity to graffiti and doodle over it when the class begins to drag.

Both points were tackled with a similar solution, a cover can remain interesting longer if it takes longer to observe the details it contains, which also helps graffiti in that it can be more difficult to detect if the image is already detailed. From this we adopted a macro detail approach to the image, from afar you notice some things, and up close you notice others. Each level doesn’t obscure the last and overall there isn’t one shade or colour that stands out over another.

The cover contains allot of elements that each add something to the overall image but individually contains its own details. Within the image fake stickers were included as a way to further break up any large flat areas, add details, and obfuscate any graffiti that may be added. The idea isn’t to prevent things from being added but rather to not have them able to stand out from the rest of the image.


College Study Planner Cover Design

The theme was chosen and concept was designed with the resurgence of eighties pop culture and fondness for retro aesthetics in mind. The final image’s motif was based around the idea of the electronic devices a child in 2019 would need to carry around to gain a similar experience to today’s mobile phone. The opportunity has been an amazing experience through each part of the development, to holding the final print.


Illustration using photoshop effects



Retro Casette Tape cover illustration

When the concept you are imagining is a little more complicated than the time you have allocated. Or maybe you need a concept to be more finished in order for it to be better presented? Layering and finishing effects can be a way of quickly adding detail to an otherwise flat image.

Sometimes a client won’t know exactly what they are looking for until they see an example or two. These occasions don’t come around all too often and are the best opportunities to put a little more thought and exploration into a concept piece.


Casette tape line art

Many times when asked to create and graphically design a booklet, brochure, or document there are rules that follow in regards to colours, branding, and style, this can limit options available and become a challenge when trying to make something stand out among the crowd.

Recently Giraffe and Elf was given the task of designing a cover image for a college dairy, without any restrictions placed on brand identity or conforming to previous designs. With the end result going through various iterations and looking different from the initial designs, it was still a perfect opportunity to use the time to explore some new illustration techniques and layering filter effects in Photoshop.

The technique used for the cassette image was created by drawing a single cassette using vector lines and separating out each flat panel as a ‘shape’ layered on top of each other. Each of these panels was taken into Photoshop as a ‘shape layer’ and using a combination of filter FX like drop shadows, bevel highlights, and gradient overlays the flat shapes appear to have a three dimensional look.


Casette Tape Illustation exploded view

By balancing the size and opacity of the highlighted rims and shadows on top of other panels it gives each flat shape a little depth. The technique is helpful when details like a little highlighted rim or shading would help separate foreground and background objects or adding dimensionality to something flat.


Pop Art, cartoon photo styling


What does it take to turn a photo into a cartoon, we hope this video helps explain some of the processes involved.

After seeing the awful result of an online service promising to 'make a cartoon of your pets' a friend received, we took on the task of drawing and styling a photo of man's best friend into a cartoon with a worthy tribute to Lichtenstein.

The process is very straight forward and with this time lapse capture of the pop-art styling we hope to share some of the techniques used.


Is Subtle Branding Under Stated



Giraffe and Elf Logo T-Shirts

Simply adding a company logo image to every item available makes everything look same same.

While this supposedly increases brand awareness, does repeatedly flashing the same image at someone really promote it, or should it first and foremost be something cool whilst making the brand secondary.


Giraffe and Elf Coffee Cup Design

When we started developing Giraffe and Elf and finalised the company logo we put together some silk screens to try out the logo on different apparel.

As we've investigated further products and promotional items we've come to realise than simply having the same logo image across a range of items begins to look repetitive. We live in a world where printing has advanced to the point where every type of surface can have an image on it. Having that same image constantly repeated simply diminishes the impact it has.

Giraffe and Elf's mantra involves designing and developing, simply copy-pasting the company logo onto item X Y and Z seems like a shabby way out. Why not take something that still identifies the company and include it into something that on initial inspection isn't noticed.

This could add value to each style of the company logo while keeping it fresh, individualising a simple branded promotional item.

Tailoring a design to suit the items on which it is presented is often attributed to a product line but overlooked when the company logo is involved. This is most obvious when a long rectangle logo is shoehorned into a square or circle shaped item.

Graphic design is to be used to an advantage, adding a statement of quality, care, texture, tone, and more to anything that is being produced. Having someone take a second look at an item, because it isn't simply a repeated image, is going to leave them with a more memorable impression.