Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Graphic design

I thought perhaps I should explain why it is that I am in charge of graphic design here at the museum.

The first reason is simply because I love to do it!

The second reason is no one else on staff loves to do it.

No, seriously, we all wear many hats here -- probably more hats than most staff at museums our size. We do a heck of a lot with only a handful of people. Since I have a background in design from my days on the high school and college newspaper staff, it naturally fell to me.

It isn't so far fetched for a curator to also do graphic design, because I do all the exhibits, and everything is closely related. The principles of good design are universal, whether you are creating exhibit panels, newspapers, flyers, or posters.

I have all the equipment in house to produce whatever any department needs, in full color, in any size. I have an HP DesignJet 500, which can print up to 42" wide and as long as a roll of paper. I have a large scale laminator that will apply adhesive to foam core (effectively turning it into a giant sticker). After mounting the printed paper to the foam core, I laminate the entire piece.

With humidity fluctuations, particularly in the summer, my paper was peeling off the foam core before the exhibit was ready to close! I contacted the Heinz Pittsburgh Regional History Center, where I interned in grad school, because I knew they had one and I wanted more information about it. Turns out, they were looking to sell theirs! So I actually work on the same equipment here that I used as an intern. Kinda cool.

Here is an example of the panels I designed for the new 1920s exhibit:



It is the first time I have ever used a dark color with white lettering. It was a bit more challenging to mount, because the color saturated the paper and made it "crinkly" in some places, which made it tough to get it to lie flat. I had to go extra slow!

In addition to exhibit design, I handle the graphic design stuff on our marketing committee. Out in the lobby, I take care of 4 large posters and 3 small posters. The large posters are in a free standing holder. The small ones are in a flat wall case near the elevator. Occasionally we also put posters around the building, usually either for a Keller Gallery exhibit related program or a cooking program in the Street of Shops. I have also done posters for the Museum Shoppe, Planetarium, and Discover World.

When we need a special invitation for an event, I use the graphic design program InDesign, because it is compatible with commercial printers. For in-house jobs, I still use the home design program PrintShop, mostly because it is simpler to use and I am more familiar with it. If there is a chance that I will need to convert anything into a PDF, I always use InDesign, because it doesn't screw up files in the conversion process like PrintShop does. But I love PrintShop because it has hundreds of thousands of clip art graphics integrated right into the program. It is easy to find what I want and apply it. I do cut and paste clip art from PrintShop into InDesign, but it is a bit more cumbersome.

So, in a nutshell, that is how graphic design works here at the museum. I like to call the workspace near my office my "sign shop." I work with every department of the museum to produce their signs and marketing pieces.

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