Fort Collins Reads is a non-profit literacy program serving communities along Colorado's northern Front Range. The program provides a unique opportunity for residents to educate themselves, meet people beyond their everyday contacts, and participate in a shared positive experience. Founded in 2002, its' goals are to promote understanding, diversity, and tolerance by breaking barriers between people and cultures through reading.
Fort Collins Reads
In the spring of 2013, members of Fort Collins Reads approached the graphic design program at Colorado State University with a need. They wanted the students in the Advanced Typography and Design Systems class to help them market their summer events series and design a new logo for their program. Fort Collins Reads was growing rapidly and wanted to update their image from a small, amateur group to a more professional organization.
The brief from the client was that they wanted a logo that was professional, contemporary and mature. It was important to them that it did not use any cliché imagery (books, hands, figures) and that it not appear childish in any way as one of their ongoing goals was to differentiate Fort Collins Reads from other youth-focused programs in the community.
My initial research into their organization brought me to their website. It was a haphazard array of links and images confined within a simple table structure. There was no clear information architecture, had poor readability, many of the links were broken, and it was nearly impossible to view, let alone navigate, on a mobile device. When I brought up the need for a new website the client explained that the current one was built by a friend of a friend's nephew and it was maintained sporadically when he had the time. After some persuasion they relented and allowed me to submit a design a new website, with the caveat that I still provided a redesigned logo and marketing materials at the end of the semester with the rest of the class.
At the time I had no real experience in web design and only a very rudimentary understanding of HTML, but I felt that it was an important skill to foster and that it would help me secure a job after graduation. I went to the library and checked out several books on HTML, CSS and responsive web design and set to work. I completed the website over the course of two weeks, learning as I went along (often breaking but eventually fixing my code).
By this point in the graphic design program, I had completed several projects and was feeling more confident with my design skills. However, despite sketching nearly a hundred different logo ideas, I found it exceedingly difficult to devise ideas that were not cliché in some way. Inspired by the process of hand-lettering, I eventually settled on a design that used flowing organic ligatures to connect simple abstract letterforms which represented the program's initials.
The process for my poster design was somewhat more complex. The client wanted to highlight the summer's main event, a reading and book signing with Erik Larson, author of In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin. This book was a non-fiction account of William Dodd, the American ambassador to Germany in the years leading up to WWII, and had been chosen as the summer reading.
The poster is a mixed media piece, inspired by telegraph messages sent during WWII. I spent some time researching the design of telegraphs from that era, and found an example of an actual Western Union telegraph that had been scanned. Using the image as a template, I removed the message content in Photoshop and printed several blank messages. I wanted to create an aged, worn, and yellowed patina for the telegram. The messages were tea-stained at various strengths and baked in my oven at home. Each line of text on the newly fabricated telegrams was similarly printed and subjected to the same staining and drying process, before being meticulously cut out and glued to the telegram for an authentic ticker-tape appearance. Finally the message was folded according to the Western Union guidelines before being photographed and brought into Adobe Illustrator for the final text layout. I chose to rotate the content on the poster by 30° and crop the edges of the telegram to add a dynamic quality and convey a sense of urgency. At the request of the client, a photo of the author was added after distressing it in Photoshop. The poster design was then adapted to the smaller rack card size with the reverse featuring a summer event schedule.
Being my first foray into web design and information architecture the site was functional and responsive. There is much that could be improved on the site, but given the time constraints and my lack of coding experience, I was very happy with the final product at the time. The design impressed the client and I learned some valuable new skills. Unfortunately, my logo and poster designs were not selected, and the client organization lacked the will move forward with replacing their website at that time.