Supergraph x A Friend of Mine: How to brand a graphic art fair

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Published:  March 12, 2014
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Launched last month, Supergraph was a new graphic art fair celebrating design, print and illustration, dreamt up by Mikala Tai. With a program of workshops, masterclasses, events and parties, Supergraph went beyond the normal bounds of art fair—sharing, informing and celebrating the diverse talents and contributors to Melbourne’s design community. For such an ambitious first year, Supergraph enlisted the help of graphic design studio A Friend of Mine from the very beginning. Just before the big launch, Mikala and Suzy (of A Friend of Mine) discussed their journey together.

—M. Mikala Tai of Supergraph
—S. Suzy Tuxen of A Friend of Mine

—M. Supergraph started as a little idea that I was brainstorming for quite some time. I talked about it a lot and, as Suzy and I shared a studio, she knew all the ins and outs of the project before it had really taken shape. By the time we were ready to begin branding and commence our exhibition design A Friend of Mine was our natural choice, as not only is Suzy one of the best designers we know but she also instinctively understood the project as a whole. When we sat down in our first official ‘meeting’ it was the first time that I had to – in a single sitting – articulate the concept of Supergraph and Suzy was instrumental in shepherding my ideas into some sot of cohesive concept.

—S. Yes. Mikala gave me a run down, and then I interrogated her in detail! We ended up writing down a bunch of key words like playful, industrial, approachable, flexible, fun, strong, confident and so on to get a sense of the personality of Supergraph.

Knowing that the fair was to be held in the Royal Exhibition Building, Mikala wanted to set Supergraph apart from all of the other events that they host at this venue each year. Mikala had been looking at both temporary fencing (construction site modular fences) and pegboards to potentially clad the fencing, as low cost solutions to create a strong presence in the building. We really loved the temporary fencing idea as this was such an interesting contrast to the heritage architecture. These early industrial influences were part of the brief which we formed together. We knew at this stage that it would be vital to start in reverse: instead of initially focussing on print outcomes, we had to focus on the exhibition and signage design, working backwards from there to inform and inspire the overall design concept.

Beginning ideas

—M. After my initial brain dump, A Friend of Mine came back with three concepts for us to consider. They had also consolidated all my ideas into ten key words that have become really core to how we have developed Supergraph as not only a brand but a personality. There were two concepts that I loved from the get go – one was focused on yellow and was built around the idea of pegboard and the second was blue and incorporated patterns made from perforated metal. As a self confessed pattern obsessed lady I instantly fell in love with the second concept. The ever wise Suzy told me to go home and sleep on it. In a fit of excitement I met Christian (Supergraph’s marketing man) at the pub and waited for him to tell me the blue pattern concept was ideal. He didn’t. He liked the yellow. Arguing that it was iconic and friendly he made a very convincing case for the first concept. By the time I saw Suzy in the studio the next day I was very confused and attempted to convince her that we could just swap the blue for yellow.

—S. So often it’s a complete disaster when clients ask to mix two completely different ideas together, so at first we were a bit hesitant. However when we got to the core of Mikala’s concerns it was really mainly just the colour — they were so drawn to the yellow! (Which we could understand, we love yellow too!) We had also developed some industrial typography based on a pegboard pattern, which ended up working perfectly with the patterned perforated metal concept. We were a bit worried about how the yellow would work in the logotype itself — it is an age-old rule to not use yellow typography on a white background after all… However we managed to overcome this obstacle by making the dot pattern within the logotype black, ensuring legibility but also allowing the bright vibrant yellow to have a place. It’s funny, as now we can’t imagine the colour for Supergraph being anything but yellow — so Mikala and Christian were right to ask for it! The end result of the initial concept stage was a bit of a crazy and fun mix of patterns stemming from perforated metals, bright yellow and strong typography — Supergraph is no wallflower!

Testing, testing, testing

—M. While the teams at both A Friend of Mine and Supergraph fell in love with the patterned metal almost instantaneously it became quite the task to make it actually happen. Again, after putting yellow and white together, we were now layering patterns and breaking more design rules (sorry Suzy!). Soon we had a bit of temp fencing on our teeny tiny studio balcony where one of the team would often stand measuring, testing clips, laying out possible artwork hangs and constantly testing how the perforated metal would fit onto the fence. The fact we knew that our install time would be minutes rather than hours meant that we were pretty conscious about how we were going to make it happen just as much as were were obsessed with what it would finally look like.

—S. By this stage we had a strong pattern palette of the perforated metal — which we now needed to ensure would actually work. Together with the Supergraph team and the folks at Flock agency, who are managing much of the production for Supergraph, we began contacting perforated metal companies to investigate the ins and outs. We explored what patterns would work together in a patchwork style, how we could economically and time efficiently tie the perforated metal onto the temporary fencing, where we could get things powdercoated, and how we could re-use materials for the subsequent years of Supergraph to avoid wastage. We also thought about how other signage could be incorporated: we loved the idea of lasercutting metal with typography and how we could include the patterns to create an integrated system. We made sure that our secondary typeface was a stencil for this purpose. We also are in the process of designing a 3-dimensional, 12 metre long, 1.5 metre high sign of the Supergraph lettering to sit outside the Royal Exhibition Buildings to really mark it’s place. Hopefully it is something which people engage with.

Designing an event 

—M. What I was really conscious about from the outset was that as an event that celebrated Graphic Art we had to be incredibly design conscious, and part of that  was really ensuring that A Friend of Mine were part of the production team. Suzy – and the wonderful Cassie – are both steadfastly protective over the look of Supergraph and at all times championed the design of the event and made sure that all of the decisions that the team has made have been carefully considered from an aesthetic point of view. While the production team and I were sometimes distracted (and overwhelmed) by the nuts and bolts of the event it has been very reassuring to know that they were keeping watch!

I think that creativity feeds off collaboration. The team at Supergraph comprises of vastly different personalities, backgrounds and expertise and this is no accident. We aren’t afraid to disagree with each other and some passionate negotiation tends to occur at all production meetings. It is the most exciting and rewarding way to work and Supergraph is really a product of these collaborative processes. The fact that we all love a good slice, afternoon tequila shots and calypso music also helps!

—S. The great thing about this project is that every few weeks Mikala gathers the whole team together: us at A Friend of Mine, Flock Agency and Supergraph — and we discuss the plans of how Supergraph is taking shape. This allows transparency, an in-depth look at how the fair will function, and input from different areas in order to make the fair the best it can be. This also means that we can chip in with design advice and ensure that the brand is being looked after in other people’s plans. We all have different roles and these meetings are where we all come together, help each other and discuss how to progress to the next step from there.

Branding

—M. I think one of the best things that Suzy A Friend of Mine has captured for Supergraph is a very spontaneous and flexible branding concept. While we have some set boundaries in terms of font and we throw around ideas to anchor our branding Suzy still always throws in a ‘wild card’ when we are designing collateral. While the ‘wild card’ doesn’t always become the design we go with it constantly allows us to test the elasticity of our brand and opens up possibilities of where it can evolve to. As a event that will be annual this is really imperative as we have to remain identifiable but also constantly evolving.

—S. Whilst we wanted an iconic brand for Supergraph we did not want the brand to become predictable or too regimented. We essentially created a branding palette or ‘toolkit’ which we could draw various elements from: the use of yellow, the brand logotype, secondary typefaces, our pattern collection from the perforated metal, the pattern ‘patchwork’ system in which imagery could be incorporated, and Supergraph specific illustrations. We want everything to be fun and effective in it’s own medium.

—M. This year we have really focused on illustration as we found it to be the most effective medium for our inaugural message but next year it could be screenprinting – who knows!

—S. As Supergraph is in its first year, we were conscious that there was no photography or any visuals to ‘explain’ what the event is all about on the website and in other marketing material. Mikala and I discussed the need to for illustrations. After much discussion of what activities the illustrations could include, we developed a set of illustrations attempting to portray the activities of the event and the demographic of who might like to come along.

Various patterns for Supergraph branding

The final product

—M. Supergraph is a three day celebration of contemporary Graphic Art at the Royal Exhibition Building over Valentines Day weekend next February, from 14th-16th February. We really look forward to seeing our final exhibition design in the flesh and we are even more excited to see how both the artists we are working with and the general public react to it.

—S. It’s been a wonderful project to work on and the A Friend of Mine team are really excited about the event — it’s going to be a lot of fun.

A Friend of Mine designed the brand identity, responsive website, signage system, illustrations, tote bags, aprons and various print material for the 2014 Supergraph event. 

One Response

  1. Congratulations Mikala and Suzy. A fine example of how collaboration with design professionals, from the seed of an idea, can have a valuable impact on the success of a project. We were proud to have our works form part of Supergraph Picks in its inaugural year, and can’t wait to see this event go from strength to strength in the future.

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