The National Association for Interpretation’s annual gathering of interpreters, the NAI National Workshop in Las Vegas, is over, and the holiday season is upon us. This means one important thing: I will be asleep for the next week. Please do not call.
For most attendees, the NAI National Workshop is a once-a-year professional development and networking event. For NAI staff, the National Workshop is like final exams. Everything we do all year long builds up to and is affected by the event. Then, once we’re there, we work 27 hours a day—mostly carrying boxes of books—and eat a lot of fried food.
My responsibilities as the visual communications guy at NAI mean that I am particularly affected by the Workshop all year long. Everything I produce includes the next Workshop’s identity somewhere within. I’ve had years when I couldn’t wait for the Workshop to happen so that I could stop looking at a logo that I hated. This year, I’m sad to see the Las Vegas event go because I liked our Vegas sign logo.
For the next year, I’ll be working with this identity for NAI 2011 in St. Paul, Minnesota. I’m using the word identity rather than logo this year because I don’t think the above really fits the true definition of a logo. It’s more a collection of visual elements than a single composition.
To me, unsuccessful logos try to do too much. When I create a logo, especially an event logo, I want to seize on one concept and play it up. The NAI 2011 identity supports the Workshop slogan (which comes from the volunteer Workshop committee), “Heartland Homecoming: Great Places. Great Minds. Great Times.” The idea is that one of the biggest values of NAI Workshops is the conversations that we have outside the sessions and the official functions. To me, two mugs of hot chocolate are emblematic of those moments.
We had these two mugs made at zazzle.com and will auction them off next November in Minnesota. To get the photo of the mugs that I’m using, I went with our mysterious and reclusive third author, diehard Texas Rangers fan Lisa Brochu, to the local Dazbog coffee shop, where cheerful baristas artfully crafted the whipped cream and chocolate sauce sculptures you see pictured atop the mugs. It was a race against time to get the photos, though, because warm whipped cream loses its form quickly, and Lisa loves hot chocolate. In the photo, we lined them up so that the slogan and workshop information can be read from one mug to the other.
In terms of the color, we chose a soothing, analogous blue scheme, which represents both the crisp, cool weather of an Upper Midwest November and one of Minnesota’s notable natural features, its preponderance of lakes.
Speaking of the lakes, my first sketches for an identity for NAI 2011 featured these 10,000 blue dots (go ahead, count them), a reference to Minnesota’s slogan, “Land of 10,000 Lakes.” Although according to Friend of IBD and Minnesota resident Chris Evans, Minnesota is actually home to 11,842 lakes. I think they should change the slogan on the license plates to “Land of at Least 10,000 Lakes.” I like the dots because they create a visual texture based on a meaningful concept, though they don’t really work for a logo. (Imagine trying to embroider them on a hat.)
Everyone I showed the dots hated them, and one person thought it was one of those trick posters with the hidden images that you see if you can unfocus your eyes. (That person stared at my computer screen for five minutes, then took a four-hour nap.) So I did what any responsible graphic designer would do: I muttered under my breath and hid the dots in another composition. Then I vowed silently to myself: It took a long time to create a composition of exactly 10,000 dots and, dammit, I’m going to use them.
That’s why if you look at the magazine ad for the workshop pictured here, you’ll see the dots behind the type at the top of the page. While the main identity for the workshop will be the mugs, which will be supported by type set in varying thicknesses of Helvetica (because that worked so well for the Gap), I’ll also use the 10,000 dots as a supporting visual element in the Workshop website and promotional materials.
I’m aware that the NAI 2011 identity is a departure from a typical event logo. I’m not sure if I explored something nontraditional because I’ve been doing these logos for eight years and wanted to do something a little different, or if it’s because a design opportunity presented itself and we went with it. Mostly, I think we just seized an excuse to get hot chocolate at Dazbog.
Though as I wrap this post up, I’m becoming aware of an inherent danger in this little NAI 2011 experiment: I am craving hot chocolate.