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A graphic design firm generating its own projects, initiatives, and content while taking on limited client work. Run by Bryony Gomez-Palacio and Armin Vit in Bloomington, IN.
Hosting the conference in Chicago provided plenty of interesting elements to reference and mix. This is how the identity and materials came together for the 2014 Brand New Conference in Chicago.
The concept behind the logo is explained in detail here but for the benefit of this post I will quickly summarize the ingredients that played into its execution:
The main element of the logo is the use of the two versions of the Chicago font: the 1984 bitmap version designed by Susan Kare and the 1991 smooth version designed by Bigelow & Holmes, both for the Mac OS. We then mixed in a variety of influences: the patterning of Holiday sweaters from the cold Midwest, the trendy use of random wiggles, the density of the trading floor at the Chicago Board of Trade, and the grayscale-meets-red color palette of the posters of CHICAGO (the musical).
Using the two Chicago versions and mixing in the weird influences mentioned above we built a modular logo that could have multiple configurations.
No surprises or big thinking here: five shades of gray and red, taken from the CHICAGO musical posters. It looks cool, so why fight it?
Because at the end of the day the Chicago fonts are not really the most pleasant typefaces in the world we needed a supporting typeface that would do most of the heavy lifting for all the text that we wanted people to, you know, read. Monotype had just released Burlingame by Carl Crossgrove when we started working on this so we jumped on it for its rugged yet quirky personality. We used the Condensed version for headlines, and regular (all caps faked as small caps) for subheadlines.
Despite knowing how time-consuming it would be to typeset the name of 21 speakers in the two Chicagos and the wiggles it’s something we knew we just had to do. So we did.
Once we had the names and patterns we could use those for stage slides for each speaker, building in the color palette and typography and starting to develop the system.
The first element we tackled this year was the tote bag. We had the cool pattern and knew that we wanted to do a full coverage fabric instead of the usual small print area that most vendors allow for silkscreening. So we went to the source and had fabric silkscreened first and then turned into a tote bag. Yes, it was expensive (printing 5 spot colors will do that to ya): $8 per bag instead of the more typical $3 or $4 you would pay. To help us make this tote bag a reality we tapped our long-time supporter, MailChimp, for some additional financial support which they did and that’s why there is a chimp on the bag. (And because there is not enough chimps on stuff). The red shoulder strap also brought an extra oomph, while the gusset of the bag (the sides) are black for a respite from the pattern.
Our initial idea of doing a thick rubber badge was scraped because industrial rubber stinks. So, as they say, we pivoted and went with a layered approach, using Neenah’s PLIKE paper which has a rubbery feel that made us feel better about foregoing the initial idea. The trick with badges is that whatever we did once, we would have to do 800 times over so in hindsight this multi-step, multi-piece badge was probably the worst approach but they turned out cool. Each badge consists of a red piece of PLIKE bound with a piece of custom tape to a white piece of PLIKE where we printed each attendee’s name and then trimmed with a “wiggler“; that lays on top of a gray piece of paper with the schedule for day one and has another piece of custom tape at the bottom; this one lays on top of a last sheet of black PLIKE with the schedule for day two. All those pieces of paper have to be punch-holed and placed on a string. So, yeah, that was a lot of work.
Based on the layered and PLIKE-d approach of the badges we did the program in a similar fashion, with a half cover in red and a full cover in black PLIKE. The black cover was gloss-varnished with the pattern and then the red cover was completed by hand-placing a strip of branded tape that completed the sentence “2014 Brand New Conference”. These strips could be placed anywhere on the cover and they would always be readable. Our volunteers placed all 800 pieces of tape on the day before the event. Close call? You betcha!
We kept the t-shirt dead simple: It just says Chicago, set in Chicago. Figuring that post-event it becomes a design-nerd t-shirt for those in the know. The logo is printed on the sleeve as well.
We printed the pattern on a 53-by-72-inch piece of this thing called “Suave Super Smooth 13oz Indoor Banner” which is a plastic-y material that bends and folds very nicely and then we wrapped the venue’s existing podium like a gift.
One of the last things we worked on was scenery. We realized the stage was huge and that it was going to feel a little desolate out there without anything on it. Our first idea of cobbling together “pixel” letters from cardboard boxes was shut down by the venue because they are a fire hazard. So, again, we pivoted! (I just love using that word). We had some yellow plexiglass left from last year’s badges and decided to give that material a try and generate laser-cut letters out of it. The first test was successful and we ordered giant sheets of red plexi to have laser-cut at MakeATX. Check out the file we sent to laser-cut to make sure we bought the least amount of plexi.
Once cut we put basic Home Depot brackets behind the letters and fastened them with tape. Then the fun began: kerning the letters in real life by hover-art-directing three of the venue’s stagehands as we weren’t allowed to touch anything that went on the stage. Union rules. They sure learned their lesson. Probably went home and told their significant others, “You are not going to believe what I had to do today at work”.
These letters were probably the best part of the whole identity, they really signaled that this was our conference and for at least two days, this was our — attendees, speakers, volunteers, and us — house.
They also made for great framing devices to shoot speakers through.
Hopefully, as you can tell, we really enjoy doing this because we know people enjoy it and appreciate the attention to detail and handiwork touches that make all these things a little more lively and human. When we start out with the logo in February or March we have no idea where we are going to end up, there is no master plan for the identity nor do we set a course for how things will come together, we just go element by element and start to build consistency and string ideas together as we go along with one thing influencing the next. It might not be the ideal workflow but we like this process that allows us to improvise (or freak out) as needed. We have a few months to not think about this so that we can start freaking out about what in the hell we’ll do for 2015.