Poetic research takes into account the factual with the formal, the universal with the outsider, the sacred, the mystical, the cerebral prophet, and the fool. Let it be lofty, let it magical and ancestral, let it be sensory, let it be funny with a divine kiss of queerness. It holds the space of a project searching for the details in archives, footnotes, and marginalia within the great force of history. Finding the tone of voice and incorporating form as a mode of thought—true, but it also just comes down to us wanting to make cool shit. Our poetics unearth and amplify; remember connections and lineages; shapes grids, structures information, and clarifies content. It is not all woo woo, sometimes it asks how many words fit, what is a realistic timeline, or how to save money. Research guides Polymode and its clients in making with a question.
The sculptural and sleek forms of the box echo the materials and cantilevered aesthetics of the new architectural home for The Studio Museum designed by David Adjaye and Associates. The display typography, ITC conduit, set by the f SHOW brand takes on a new permanence foil stamped in a black iridescent finish. The box is accompanied by a printed pamphlet with a new introduction by Thelma Golden, an artist list from all shows, and matching iridescent foil-stamping. Portfolio View →
Materiality was a driving component when designing an archival box because touch can elicit specific responses. We went through a series of material studies where we focused on tactility, tangibility, and overall feel of the box.
Mechanical sketches of the archival box, taking into consideration the experience of opening and showcasing the box.
Rendering showing early studies of the materials, reflections, and experience of opening the box.
The report captures a series of recommendations to help Los Angeles, so long in thrall to its reputation as a city of the future, engage more productively and honestly with its past—especially where that past is fraught or has been buried or whitewashed. This report and website are typeset in three typefaces by two generations of Angeleno type designers. Headlines are set in Maria of Los Angeles (MOLA) by Roberto Rodriguez. Rodriquez took inspiration for MOLA from the ubiquitous murals of our Lady of Guadalupe in Los Angeles. Rodriguez began photographing sun-faded and graffiti-tagged murals across various neighborhoods, including Boyle Heights, Wellington Heights, and East Los Angeles. His research led him to lettering on the 1811 battle flag of Mexican Revolutionary Miguel Hidalgo Bandera whose inscriptional lettering references Catholic missions and Barrio walls in palimpsests of tagging. MOLA pays homage to murals that are honorable pieces with a cultural connection from the past to the present day LA. Cahuenga and Fabriga, both designed by Greg Lindy of LuxTypo, are used for body and navigational type. As Rodrigeuz's mentor and teacher, Lindy is also interested in expressing LA's history through typography. Lindy chose Cahuenga, which carries an Indigenous name, as “emblematic of many who make their way via car through the Hollywood area of Los Angeles. As in many parts, the driving route is convoluted to get from point A to point B. However, it seems more often than not that when in the Hollywood area, one usually ends up on Cahuenga Boulevard at some point.” The type system is completed by Lindy's typeface Fabriga—a structured and warm typeface that uses a visual ensemble metaphor. According to Lindy, ”Fabriga sets out to take a supportive role as a font family, understanding that one of its great strengths is through its diversity in application and composition.” The integrated trio of typefaces speaks in a call and response to the layers of the historical and contemporary in Los Angeles. Portfolio View →
Since the Report and Recommendations of the Los Angeles Mayor’s Office Civic Memory Working Group was emerging out of California, we took inspiration from all kinds of ephemera. Specifically looking at the past that has informed the future. Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies inspired the color palette as well as the way we approached the project. In the 1930s the Olmsted brothers wrote a report about public spaces in the Los Angeles area, Eden analyzes those reports.
Knowing that the report was addressing land, architecture, monuments, public spaces, and how they relate to social injustices, we looked to multiple old maps of the area to understand the ways in which the built infrastructure wiped out areas, relocated people, and created a bigger divide amongst groups.
The highway became a focal point during our conversations, often relating it to the undercurrent of a river. The highway became a metaphor for the visible structure and the invisible forced decay and removal of what came before it.
The report covers multiple complex ideas and thoughts on monuments, problematic histories, land acknowledgments, (add more), which required comprehensive type treatments and systems to reflect that information.
Maps reveal both what is visible and what is invisible to the eye. By highlighting and extruding the highways, this map reveals the inequalities created by infrastructures that separates and divides communities.
Part of the report touches on the plurality of narratives, which we translated into interactive footnotes. These are a series of earlier sketches and concepts for both web and book form.
Black Design in America class topics include the ancient origins of African alphabets, innovative mathematics in African architecture, systemic racism of the transatlantic slave trade, W.E.B. Du Bois’s innovative information diagrams in 1900, the aesthetics of Eugenics and its science of racial profiling, the Harlem Renaissance and other queer Blackness, the grassroots network of Victor Hugo Green’s Motorists books, urgent Civil Rights protest movements, the rise of hip hop’s graphic language, histories of Black liberation from Afrofuturism to the Black Lives Matter movement, and methodologies of Black design education. BIPOC Design History creates a learning environment that flattens the existing American economic hierarchy of higher education by offering sliding scale tuition, scholarships, and free lectures. This economic model created a diverse and accessible community of over 2000 students with access to previously unexplored knowledge in the existing graphic design system. Our participants ranged from design students in their 20s to educators and professional designers, and industry leaders in their 60s. The students attended from all around the globe, representing a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds, races, and gender identities. Portfolio View →
BIPOC Design History Black Design in America Homepage
Tasheka Arceneaux-Sutton CalArts Design 2006–2007 Genealogy Project was an inspiration for the course content and structure.
Silas Munro’s Major/Minor Graphic Design History 2015 was an inspiration for the course content and structure.
BIPOC Design History Black Design in America Kelly Walters Blackface and Minstrelsy Tradition Lecture
BIPOC Design History Black Design in America Silas Munro and Jason Forrest Black Data Lecture. Guest speakers are leaders in design history, and most also bring lived experiences as BIPOC designers and scholars. The classes’ range of educational experience recreated a 21st-century “one-room schoolhouse” where lecturers, students, and professionals shared collective resources. These resources are organized, compiled, shared on the website, discord discussion forums, and students outside the classroom.
BIPOC Design History Black Design in America Collaborative google doc in fall 2020
BIPOC Design History Black Design in America Class Discussion in Ziddi Msangi and Silas Munro Slavery and White Supremacy Lecture
Southern California is a complex, multilayered place, connected to its ecological and geographical features – the sky, ocean, trees, and architecture. OCMA's visual identity redesign reflects the complexity of the light and space found in SoCal while also taking inspiration from the strong collection at the museum that defined the contemporary art ethos. People experience time differently where geographical location, altitude, and an individual's body factor in how fast or slow time flows. The pandemic has shifted our experience of time and space; the new website considers this notion of traveling through the ether, providing an alternative move across space. The ephemerality of time and space is made permanent through digitizing interactive gradient skies. Portfolio View →
We wanted to understand how light moved through space and time in California to help situate the viewers traveling the ether into OCMA's website. We mapped the sun's movement on a specific day, following the sun's position at sunrise, meridian, sunset, and moments in between. By analyzing the sky through photo studies, it helped us attach colors to specific moments in time.
The color palette is a series of complex choices influenced by the vibrant California skies through different moments in time.
The color gradients capture a specific moment in time in Southern California's vibrant sky. The color shift is visually represented as a dynamic component on the website to reference the dynamism that OCMA embodies.
The new OCMA building by Thom Mayne of Morphosis Studio.
Kent typeface inspired by Sister Corita Kent.
The relationship between the architecture and the typeface.
Membership cards reflect the color shift depending on the time of day, making the ephemeral permanent.
What could an app look like that truly cares about you? Amid a global pandemic, Polymode was approached by the Behavioral Health Intervention & Support Services (BHIS) of Orange County, California, to help deploy support services for over 150,000 at-risk students within Orange County. With the help of a substantial grant from FEMA, BHIS, Phoenix House California, and UC Irvine, in collaboration with Polymode, developed an entire suite of deliverables to assist youth (K-12) in understanding, mitigating, and processing the Covid-19 pandemic. Harnessing scientific research, data, and user focus groups, the brand identity came about in the realm of cell division and a notion of processing the simple to the complex. Color is also anchored firmly to scientific study and representation, which translates into the different levels. These levels appear in the app and website through 6 videos covering a range of topics. The digital materials pair with a printed workbook distributed by the school system and connect to the community with a social media strategy and an out-of-home campaign across Orange county. Portfolio View →
The use and selection of colors for the Youth Resilience Project (you and) played a huge role, especially due to the psychological color associations. Here we are comparing marketing analysis to scientific color studies.
Each color reflects a specific emotion and feeling relevant to practicing resilience. The transition colors are used as secondary colors in the app.
Sacred geometries play a big role in you and’s logo, representing the evolution of an individual circle that multiplies and expands through each lesson. The you and logo morphs into different shapes as the students progress across levels. The progression between one logo to the next is seamless, evolving, expanding, and adapting alongside the students.
The prototype of the app shows the complexity of the content but gives a simple informational interaction. There was a lot of care and user research that went into creating seamless interactions for the students.
Conceptually, the identity comprises a set of fundamental elements: verticality; Smith’s cutting-edge designs; the ghosting of memory and the collective loss of potential mentors to AIDS (as expressed by the grey tones); New York’s architecture and broad avenues; and the proportions of the standing, the human body. This theme flows seamlessly through all forms of the identity’s typography—from the catalogue’s front matter to the headlines displayed throughout the galleries, and other related exhibition content. Also incorporating the design identity is the web archive launched by Cooper Hewitt to house stories submitted by members of the public who remember and have documentation of Willi Smith, his collaborations, and his creations. Designing the exhibition in collaboration with James Wines of SITE and Sam Chermayeff Office — within the historical landmark of the museum’s building, the famed Carnegie Mansion came with particular limitations but also contrasting design solutions. Portfolio View →
To accentuate its vast amount of fashion images, the book’s size is based on the proportions of the human body; the human forms feel both welcome and in alignment. This is an initial sketch of a cover concept we really
Experimenting in the TOC with a sense of play.
Sketching essays with Willi’s marketing photos as the background.
In the beginning stages of our research, we were especially drawn to WilliWear’s collaborations with Dan Friedman and Bill Bonnell. Friedman was one of the few queer designers referenced by the largely heterosexual faculty of our design school. His dynamic typographic experiments reflected both the rational lineage of the Bauhaus and an upstart postmodern approach, while the wild graphics and interior designs he created for WilliWear upended societal expectations of corporate branding and space by embracing a queer sensibility.
Designing the exhibition within the historical landmark of the museum’s building, the famed Carnegie Mansion, comes with certain limitations but also contrasting design solutions. Conceptually, the curatorial team envisioned adapting the look and feel of Smith’s flagship store on 200 Fifth Avenue, which was designed by James Wines of SITE Architects. The design direction brings the literal, monotone greyness of the city, and built that urban landscape inside the store. This renders the clothing in stark contrast to the toned backdrop of deconstructed elements of New York City—particularly from the Christopher Street piers that Smith would frequent. Metaphorically the grey tones also speak to Smith as a ghost emerging into visibility in the discourses of art, design, and fashion.
The exhibit Great Force gets its name from an essay written by James Baldwin about the force that racism has on the American psyche. The identity design remixes graphic data visualizations made by W.E.B. Du Bois and his team of Black students from Atlanta University for the World’s Fair in 1900. The exhibit Great Force gets gets its name from an essay written by James Baldwin about the force that racism has across a progression of time and its implications on the American psyche. The design for the identity is based on graphic data visualizations made by Du Bois and his team of Black students from Atlanta University for the World’s Fair in 1900. Polymode used a custom font created by Vocal Type based on stenciled lettering used in the poster series. This features a regular, bold, italic, and a back slant italic that is used to show the inordinate force of racism in America within the design. The color system of the book is based on the color palette of the diagrams referencing skin tone, colorism, pan-African colors, and a graphic abstraction used to attempt to transcend race and historic oppression. Each of the book’s sections consisted of a different colored paper; bright white, off-white, and natural white to question whiteness as a default state. The Great Force of racism and its implications on the American psyche are still with us. Portfolio View →
Both Brian and Silas are from Virginia, they are very aware of the complexities that came with colonization of the new world. We began by researching printing in the Commonwealth and what it meant to be “allowed” to print by the King, what did this printing look like? What were its characteristics and formalities? This also led further research into “print as property.”
Knowing that Great Force was going to reprint key Black writings, looked for self-representational, Black, American typography; one of the first being newspapers. Frederick Douglas’ “The North Star” was foundational as his essay “The Color Line” was being reprinted in the catalogue.
Early cover renderings considering James Baldwin’s full quote regarding the great force of history.
A concept sketch of the title wall and mimicking the book’s use of the gutter as a force in the design.
The show’s artists used extensive research and data to inform their work. At the behest of the curator, we created a series of “Other Devices” which borrowed from this research to add another layer of awareness and Polymode’s own take on the data visualization.
The grid of the identity and book flexes with the variety of text styles and lengths and gives considered form to a copious amount of process work from the artist. Harnessing the typography to graphically reference the urban grids of Los Angeles and Venice in a fusion of neoclassical and modern structures that is harmonized with the artist’s mythic vision. The typefaces Portrait Inline Sans and Portrait Text by Commercial type are contemporary typefaces that point to a past lineage of typography connected to Venice, Italy. Portrait text has a humanist serif with sharp construction that point to the edges in Bradford’s compositions as well as the intensity of the social justice issues connected to the abstraction. Founders Grotesk by Klim Type Foundry is a san serif typeface that is a complex revival of early 20th century gothic types that echoes late 1960 editorial and newspaper type that coincides with Bradford’s early life and influences. Portfolio View →