[Alyson Kuhn] When I was in Los Angeles last month, I checked in with Felt & Wire friend Mick Hodgson. He told me he was about to leave for a midnight press check. I asked if I could invite myself over to Ph.D, A Design Office the next day to see what he had fresh off the press.
When I arrived the next day, the fruits of Hodgson’s press check at Typecraft Wood & Jones were taped to his office door, which provided a lively background. I wondered why this poster for the University of Southern California’s School of Architecture was taped horizontally, and Hodgson was delighted to explain. “The poster is ‘ambidextrous.’ I once attended a great talk by Roger Black entitled ‘Flat Architecture,’ and his premise was that graphic design is flat architecture. I’ve always remembered that. On this poster, the typography echoes the downtown Los Angeles skyline in the foreground of the cityscape. I hope that some people will ‘experience’ the poster horizontally.” He added that the poster folds tidily into 12 panels … and trims precisely into five brochures.
This was Ph.D’s first project for USC, and I thought it might be interesting to talk about it with Lee Olvera, director of Communications for the School of Architecture at the university.
What is your role at the School of Architecture?
I oversee and evaluate all of the printed matter the school produces, including book projects. As faculty, I also teach — design, drawing and theory.
Tell me about the design brief for this project.
The School of Architecture has five graduate programs, the newest of which is a Ph.D. The other four are Masters — in Architecture, Landscape Architecture, Historic Preservation and Building Science. And each department has a different recruiting strategy. Our charge to Mick was, we have five distinct programs, but we have to represent ourselves as a unit — a family.
In the past, we’ve always had a two-sided poster, with one side generally lower on content — primarily an image or type, but not content rich. The other side contained all the information. When we had four programs instead of five, it was easy for the designer to divide the poster into quadrants, one for each program. But [with five programs] this meant the Ph.D program would have to have a separate poster.
How did Mick present his solution?
Obviously, out went the quadrants! Mick immediately did a sketch. And his instinct — the brilliance of his solution — was to split the poster into five bars, each of which would become a stand-alone brochure.
I also wanted the image quality to be really high. We send this piece to all of our peer institutions and to design schools and those teaching other creative pursuits. For it to work as a tool to attract students, it has to look really good. We had recently done a book with Michael Maltzan [No More Play: Conversations on Urban Speculation in Los Angeles and Beyond], who had gotten the photographer Iwan Baan to take these incredible photographs of Los Angeles. I thought, “There’s no reason for us not to use images of this quality for our poster — and for everything we do.” Knowing that Iwan’s images are so compelling, I asked his permission to reuse some of the photographs from the book. He generously agreed. I went through the book with each director, to select pictures they thought would be interesting to represent their particular program.
Do I understand correctly that this piece was your department’s first use of the new university logo?
Yes. The university recently finished a rebranding. The “superbrand” was designed by Pentagram. The School of Architecture asked to receive our wordmarks early, because we had projects that were ongoing, and we didn’t want them to be dated by using the old logo. The university is particular about graphic identity — the administration takes it very seriously.
What has been the reaction internally to the poster and brochures?
That it’s an amazing thing — truly. The program directors are so happy to take their brochures to lectures and symposia. That Mick figured out how to grid out the poster into the brochures — nobody had anticipated that. Posters around here are really serious business, and everybody always has an opinion. This time, it’s unanimous, from the dean on down: fantastic.
Later this week, Felt & Wire will take you to the printer, Typecraft Wood & Jones, where we learned about producing the poster and brochures on Mohawk Options Smooth 100% pcw White 80# Text.