Friday, February 11, 2011

“Print + Environmental Graphic Design” — a presentation by Sarah Franken

Photograph of Sarah Franken beginning her presentation. Photograph by versluis © 2011

On Wednesday 9 February a group of us from the AIGA Dordt student group gathered to participate in the presentation by Dordt College alumna Sarah Franken. Sarah’s topic conveyed her experiences working since graduating from Dordt as an Environmental Graphic Designer.

The web site for the Society for Environmental Graphic Design (SEGD) describes Environmental Graphic Design this way:

Environmental Graphic Design embraces many design disciplines including graphic, architectural, interior, landscape, and industrial design, all concerned with the visual aspects of wayfinding. [In addition,] the SEGD is the global community of people working at the intersection of communication design and the built environment and dedicated to communicating identity and information, and shaping the idea of place.
Dordt’s adjunct instructor in web design, Matt Van Rys, graciously provided notes on Sarah’s presentation, which we are publishing here:

Sarah Franken is a gifted graphic designer with unique experience in exhibition design.

Sarah is a 2006 Dordt graduate. While at Dordt, Sarah spent the spring semester of her junior year attending Chicago Semester; looking for some interesting experiences in the big city, being a small town Sioux Center native. Many art students at Dordt who use this opportunity gain excellent experience. Shortly after graduating, Sarah began working as a full time member of the Field Museum’s Exhibition Department in the Graphic Design division.

Sarah’s work as a member of The Field Museum design team had special emphasis on gallery/exhibition environmental design. The Field Museum is part of Chicago’s Museum Campus, which includes The Field Museum, the Adler Planetarium, the Shedd Aquarium and Soldier Field. This is an active area, full of tourists, located along the shore of Lake Michigan.

Sarah shared some of the process of exhibition design. One of the main components is to understand the hierarchy of information. The curators, 3D designers and graphic designers are all responsible for maintaining this hierarchy. The hierarchy usually begins with the entrance to the exhibition, the “attractor area,” to draw visitors in. The entrance often includes a signpost of information that is repeated later in the exhibition when the visitor transfers from one gallery to another, within the overall exhibition. Changing galleries also involves other visual shifts, such as carpet color or changing other graphic elements. In addition, the planning process involves figuring out what the voice of the exhibition needs to be.

Sarah described what an exhibition team would consist of: a project manager, 3D designer, graphic designers, production manager (budget and building), developers (information/writing), builders, media team (web, video and projections); about 10 people, give or take. This group of people can end up working together anywhere from 1 to 3 years depending if an exhibition is temporary or permanent or on the size and complexity of an exhibition. Once the donors, curators, researchers and other planning parties determine the direction of the exhibition, the team begins concepting the 3D space. Using the hierarchy of information they begin the designing. Sarah mentioned that quite often much of the graphics come together in the last six months before the installation and opening of an exhibition. In addition, the graphics department is heavily involved with the additional printed and web collateral for promoting the exhibition. When she started out in exhibition design, her job consisted of about 80% production work, 20% design. But Sarah notes that this is key for building the skills to be a technically stronger designer. She suggests that if you have an internship opportunity, use your time to learn by asking questions and by being a polite nuisance.

Sarah expressed that one of the rewarding parts of exhibition design is sifting through the information while designing and then ultimately watching the visitors interacting with the exhibition; absorbing, learning and sharing with the artist and the museum. Other highlights include working with large format printing and unique substrates, working with show installers and suppliers and understanding how lighting a 3D space, such as a gallery, vastly changes the impact of the space and how the visitor perceives it.

Although Sarah doesn’t work at The Field Museum anymore, she recently began working for the Science Museum of Minnesota designing exhibitions for various institutions around the country.

Some of the exhibitions Sarah designed:

In March 2007, “The Ancient Americas” permanent exhibition opened. This was the first major exhibition Sarah worked on for the Field Museum. Permanent exhibitions are a big deal, as they often take 2-4 years of work by the design team and are kept in the museum for several years, sometimes up to 20. For “The Ancient Americas,” Sarah was primarily a production designer, taking direction from her Lead Designer, working up the graphics within the established structure.

The next large exhibition Sarah worked on was “The Aztec World”. Sarah was involved from the beginning as co-designer and played a key role in determining the overall design of the exhibition and branding elements. One of the key elements of the design was a signature color, turquoise. This color was used to it’s largest impact by creating a 45 ft wide Styrofoam “slab” of turquoise at the entrance to the gallery.

Sarah’s first solo exhibition as Lead Designer was an exhibition of The Field Museum’s Chinese Rubbings collection, called “Lasting Impressions”. The Field Museum’s collection is the largest and best outside of East Asia. One of the challenges of this exhibition was presenting the rubbings in a budget-friendly way that would allow them to be rolled up and stored later. The solution was a large acrylic frame, creating shadow boxes with magnets holding the rubbings in place.

To see examples of Sarah’s superb print design and exhibition design, visit her on-line portfolio.

1 comment:

  1. Yeesh! I would have been freaked out. I can talk to a roomful of kids, but not adults! I looked at some of your designs for your work in Chicago--amazing!!


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