A sign designer rarely begins a project with a “blank slate.” There are always parameters, constraints, existing logos or color schemes to deal with.
Obvious limitations such as budget or local sign ordinances always have to be factored in from the very beginning. But the “invisible hurdles,” designers deal with, such as unrealistic deadlines and personal constraints, pose a much more dangerous threat to a sign’s success.
Reasonable time to create, and a creative space free from distractions, are among a designer’s most precious commodities. When time is short, we are tempted to cut corners, limit creativity or just go with the first idea that comes to mind. This temptation is particularly risky to a design project; the first solution is often derivative or cliché, not very nuanced and, functionally, a hot mess.
STUCK IN THE PAST
A perfect example of thinking outside the box is the 2015 redesign of the George C. Page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles.
Beautifully preserved fossils from mammoths, saber-toothed cats,
bison and dire wolves have been collected there for more than a century. In 1977, philanthropist George Page built his namesake museum. Since then, the facility has been one of the world’s most visited fossil sites, attracting millions of fascinated tourists.
But a lot has changed since the ’70s and the graphics at La Brea had become “the pits.”
The project wasn’t hopeless; designers inherited a gorgeous mid-century building complete with an intricate bas-relief sculpture depicting the ice age creatures that previously had congregated at this site.
The obvious design choice would’ve been to adopt some kind of “stone age” visual system that somehow played on cave paintings or other hackneyed Flintstones fonts.
Thankfully, the designers went the other direction. A stark, graphic, approach, consisting of an understated sans-serif font and clean, architectural compositions, was devised instead. This formula reveals the value of thinking beyond the obvious.
California in general, and Los Angeles specifically, are constantly reinventing themselves. Tastes evolve, and times change, but creative thinking is always in style.