‘This should be about design being more than a beauty pageant or merely a utility of business. It’s about the power of design to tell compelling stories, capture imaginations, and build communities around common drives.‘
– Bob Zeni, Chairman, Society of Typographic Arts.
This project was a collaborative effort:
CLIENT: Society of Typographic Arts (STA) + Chicago Design Archive + AIGA Chicago
STUDIO: Junglecat | DESIGN TEAM: Nick Adam + Matt Wizinsky | STA CHAIRMAN: Bob Zeni
The STA Archive competition is an annual occurrence canonizing regional nowness of Chicago communication design. It's artifacts that date back to 1869, comprised of work from László Moholy-Nagy, Man Ray, György Kepes, John Massey and more recent masters such as Rick Valicenti, Bart Crosby, Cheryl Tolwer Weese. Having work in the archive means gaining a direct connection to the deep history rooted in Chicago’s legacy of impacting the world of design. Over the past few years, Archive's recognition grew and led to the 2013 partnering of the Society of Typographic Arts (STA) + AIGA Chicago.
Building on work that has solidified its reputation, Matt Wizinsky and I teamed up to define the 2013 voice and identity with the goal of demonstrating that the Archive has arrived. We felt it was Archive’s moment to take the stage, to be bold, and to set itself apart.

To live up to its history, we asked: “How do we tell a story about creating, appreciating, and celebrating greatness?” Rather looking to the past to pay homage, we created a voice and presence that attempts to embody nowness and stand with a point of view. We took a critical look at what it means to celebrate great design in a manner that addresses all of history while demonstrating what it means to be practicing today, in an era where ones ability create their own tools and knowledge is only limited by ones inquiry. 

Matt created a custom image manipulation software that would enable us to quickly appropriate low-resolution images from the web. I built a custom titling typeface based on aspects of all major visible language systems.
We looked to history for success stories that have stood the test of time and asked the following: “What is similar? What can we learn? What does this mean for a community of designers?” 

We saw that every society creates its own culture and develops its own mythology. Mythology is found in the symbolic codes of the community including its visual representations, pageantry, and rituals. We also found that it is only through a belief in, a commitment to, and a shared understanding of the common culture that a community will thrive. 

Here is where we discovered a likeness to the Archive competition, as it is a yearlong series of rituals, rich with meaning and metaphor, that fulfills its purpose by selecting and celebrating outstanding Chicago design. These rituals align with those of any civil or religious society and follow certain archetypes: Sacrifice, Judgment, and Worship.
We established that the first phase (or act) of the Archive ritual is Sacrifice: a call for submissions, designers to submit their work to be considered. Spring began the campaign, materials declared, “Greatness demands sacrifice. Heart and soul. Blood, sweat, and tears. So many hours of precious time. It takes a lot to go beyond good or decent. What do you sacrifice to create work that is exceptional, transcendent, timeless? Offer up your best work— in fact, offer up yourself—to face the cruel scrutiny of judgment. Is your sacrifice worthy of praise? What will you sacrifice?” 

Can you believe we pitched this to both the AIGA-Chicago and STA’s board?! Some people were very excited, others critical, but their feedback helped to elevate the work.
As for imagery, Ziggurats, once a place for sacrifice, here are mixed in z-space with directional triangles to form a background in which red is the dominant color. A nod to the access that contemporary life has to historical information and its nature to be plucked from the sky. Assembled from the same triangles is our glitched and reassembled Sacrifice of Isaac, from Pedro Orrente 1616 painting sourced through Wikimedia Commons. This is perhaps the most successful story history has on the topic of submission. 

The dagger that awaits Isaac’s neck, the ‘Sword of Damocles,‘ floating in reference to the ever-present peril to perform without going over budget or running out of time. Also depicted, the blood, sweat, and a tear, all hours of a day, all days of the month. 

Verso side of each poster present the radical constructivist side. For sacrifice, the Sword of Damocles returns, here it stands as the precarious nature of the human condition, the false sense of power and the trade-off between risk and security.
Second act, Judgment: a call to the community to attend Judges’ Night. The start of summer began this conversation: “The sharp line of judgment neatly divides the best from the rest. Put your best foot forward, place your hat in the ring, and step up to be judged. Find out whether you measure up to the best. Will you be canonized in the book of greats? Will you join the ranks of those often-spoken names that came before you? Or will you be left behind and forgotten by history? Are you prepared for judgment?” 

Sure this is a fairly serious tone, but this is serious life’s work. After all, what does it take to have a body of work that your studio, clients, and their audience’s love? And then to submit it to the likes of Dana Arnett of VSA, Marian Bantjes, Jon Forss of Non-Format, Franklyn’s Michael Freimuth, and Kim Knoll of Knoed for their opinion?
We told the story of Judgment through imagery assembled from the fairest shape, a square accompanied with white and yellow demonstrating innocence and age. The focus here is the weighing of the heart as shown in the Papyrus of Ani — 19th Dynasty, (sourced through Wikimedia Commons). This version of the Egyptian Book of the Dead depicts an ultimate moment of judgment where fate is determined by one's heart weighed against a feather. Offer another critical jab, perhaps the game is rigged. 

Verso of the Judgment poster, solely consisted of the ‘Feather of Maat,‘ the measure from the Egyptian Book of the Dead that determined whether departed souls would reach the paradise of afterlife.

The third and final act to this annual Archive ritual is Worship: where we gather to celebrate our community and decide how this moment will be remembered by history. The end of summer, the start of autumn, our material’s conversation went like this: 
“Heroes, villains, icons, and idols. The revered saints and notorious sinners whose tales we pass from one generation to the next. We all walk in the shadow of those greats who came before us. But, who are the heroes amongst us? Whose deeds will be remembered? We gather to praise and rejoice in the greatness of our whole community. How will our moment be written by history? How will you worship?” 
The shadow of Moholy-Nagy, the shoulders of Kepes, on our best days we look to a mirror’s reflection of John Massey.
As we close the series of expressions, here the circle constructs our imagery and represents the oneness expressed throughout spirituality. Upon our field of blue we complete our nod through primary shape and color to the New Bauhaus while representing safety, honor, and the heavens above. Here circles assemble the seminal image of worship, Nicolas Poussin’s 1629 painting titled Adoration of the Golden Calf, depicting a beautiful object and the worship it receives. 

Here, our story is not about a god, it is a humble one. It focuses on the made and the celebration of it, absent is artisan, designer … maker. It reminds us that while a maker of form may be brilliant, it is the act of client approval or audience response that the form can reach its height.
Depicted in a sketch on the poster is the salah, one of the 5 pillars of Islam. It is a ritual prayer pattern that seems to have existed since the start of history. Constructed of repetitious actions and words, it is practiced as a means to transform an individual to their greatest self. For us designers, it speaks to process, a methodology in which we repeatedly strive for greatness.

Verso here is a conversation spanning day one of history to this moment. The calf’s head from the recto is now the ox’s head, the greatest human creation. Carved into surface, the ox head was our first example of visual language, it is the predecessor of the Alphe that led to the Alpha and today’s letter ‘A.‘ 

From the ox’s head, history was born. Paired with our pixelated pen tool, we are both reminded of the power of forms and the question: what are you about to make?
Project Credits
This project was a collaborative effort:
CLIENT: Society of Typographic Arts (STA) + Chicago Design Archive + AIGA Chicago
STUDIO: Junglecat | DESIGN TEAM: Nick Adam + Matt Wizinsky | STA CHAIRMAN: Bob Zeni
PRINTER: Active | PAPER: Neenah through Unisource
Project Deliverable:
Branding, Identity System Design, Research, Strategy, Creative Direction, Software Building,
Type Design, Poster Series, Competition Catalogue, Print and Digital Collateral, Graphic Design
One of my highest honors as a Chicago designer was the opportunity to collaborate on the direction and design of the STA's Archive Competition. Working directly with Studio Junglecat designer Matt Wizinsky and Archive Chairman Bob Zeni we designed an identity and a year's worth of materials that brought in the most amount of entries the Archive had every received.