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Here London / Here 2017

From there to Here: graphic design studio Triboro

In the run up to Here 2017, It’s Nice That’s annual symposium, we are introducing our speakers with an overview of their career to date. We asked David Heasty and Stefanie Weigler, founders of graphic design studio Triboro, to share a piece of work created at the outset of their careers, and a more recent project, while reflecting on the creative journey between the two.

Triboro is a Brooklyn-based studio, founded by Texan David Heasty and German Stefanie Weigler, which never fails to impress us with unexpected and challenging work. Whether in publishing, art, music, fashion, or cultural institutions, Triboro continually push emerging and established brands into new territories.

With an incredible client list that includes the likes of ESPN, The New York Times, Nike and Vanity Fair, to name but a few, Triboro’s work has picked up countless awards for its ingenuity. Even the rejected work that Triboro publishes on its website, under the title of “leftovers”, remains a rich seam of creativity and inspiration.

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Stefanie Weigler
Lachenmann Poster Series, August 2005

What is the work? Why was it created?
This was one of the first projects after my graduation. The client, the Konzerthaus Berlin, needed a poster campaign to promote the concerts of composer Helmut Lachenmann. Lachenmann has developed unconventional musical techniques that sound very experimental and alien. To visualise his music I made a sketch of strings that would have an organic, unpredictable mass, like some kind of alien life form. The only way I knew how to realise this was to make it out of paper strips – twisting the strips to create different forms – and photographing them with specific lighting.

What did you learn while doing it?
The focus on analogue methods reminded me why I went into design in the first place. Some people asked me why I didn’t use a 3D program. It would have taken longer to produce and probably with worse results. You just can’t plan out all the subtleties; the unpredictable compositions, the interplay of the shadows, the shifts of focus, the physicality and realism of the paper. I prefer the richness of reality.

What do you think of it now?
Considering my experience at that time, it turned out well.

How does it relate to your current work?
Whenever possible I try to dedicate some time for analog experimentation on the projects where it makes sense. The happy accidents that occur when I’m off the computer are priceless.

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Sauvage, July 2016

What is the work? Why was it created?
This is the visual identity for Sauvage, a new restaurant in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn. Because the owners knew our previous work with restaurant identities for The Standard, they gave us carte blanche to create something surprising that would set themselves apart from other restaurants in New York. Their openness to ideas, and the fact that we had a lot of time, made for a great opportunity to experiment.

We were inspired by the name Sauvage, (French for savage, wild, untamed) so we thought that we should use a primitive technique to design with. I cut up sheets of paper and experimented with different compositions. Then I paired those abstract shapes with photos of colourful paper environments that I built. So there is this tension between a paper 2D world and a paper 3D world. The typography is a mix of my handwriting and Grilli Type’s Walsheim, because some geometry was needed to contrast the handwork. The final decision was to print all the materials with an alternate CMYK breakdown, switching the yellow and magenta with their neon counterparts. When printed on the warm uncoated paper, it gave the materials a gentle punch.

What would you tell your younger self about this work?
Never start a project with preconceptions. Experimentation, persistence and keeping an open mind, will lead you to unforeseeable results.

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David Heasty
MoMA Tape Card, 2002

What is the work? Why was it created?
The project is one of the first I completed out of school, when I was working under Alexander Gelman at Design Machine. In 2001 MoMA had asked the studio to create a series of holiday cards. My impulse was to completely avoid any of the usual holiday card symbology (Santa, trees, gifts, ribbons), and instead try to find an alternative icon that could represent the holiday experience. I thought about the hours people spend wrapping gifts, and felt that a tape dispenser would be a surprising abstraction of the gift giving ritual we experience. Since the context is MoMA, I liked the idea that a humble 3M tape dispenser becomes pop art.

I was satisfied with the concept, but the breakthrough came with the realisation that we could sell the card along with a series of clear “tape” stickers with printed messages. Inspired by those magnetic poetry things, the stickers not only made the card more interactive and engaging, it also offered an alternative method to making greetings. Usually you can either write what you’re feeling or rely on the message the cardmaker has printed. This process gave someone freedom of expression, but within the tight limitations of the range of stickers provided. It became a challenge to develop a greeting – it was more like a game.

What did you learn while doing it?
I think what the project reinforced was that I should try to be true to an initial idea, and then push it as far as I can. Once the tape dispenser idea came, the stickers grew logically from that, but you have to be open to following the project to wherever it may lead and not quit at your initial idea. I was also a little surprised that MoMA approved the design and promoted it as much as they did. This taught me early in my career that you shouldn’t self-censor a radical idea because you think a client won’t go with it. You never know what they might be willing to embrace.

What do you think of it now?
I’m still happy with it, and the experience certainly had an influence on the way I viewed my process later on. The card also still feels fairly fresh and timeless, at least to me.

How does it relate to your current work?
I think with a number of our projects over the years we began with a similar question – how can we hack the status quo, and retool clichés in new and unexpected ways?

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Wrong Color Subway Map, 2016

What is the work? Why was it created?
Our recent Wrong Color Subway Map, and its predecessor, the One Color Subway Map, was an example where we wanted to challenge sacred dogma. Every subway system around the world is colour-coded. Apparently, at some point, everyone agreed this was the best way to graphically represent a transit system. So the obvious question becomes what happens when you subvert this? Our first idea was to remove the colour coding completely, which led to a map (the One Color, 2010) that relies on visual hierarchy and light and dark shading in order to convey information. Last year we released a multicolour version (the Wrong Color), which offers the viewers a multitude of blinding colours that are all incorrect.

With the maps we wanted to rethink everything about how the subway system was represented, building an entirely new map from scratch. We developed a series of bespoke fonts, drew every line, and tested numerous graphic approaches until we ended up with a design that we were satisfied with. Overall we made the geography of our map much closer to reality than NYC’s official map, which distorts landmasses of the city in significant ways. We also focused on improving visual hierarchy and aesthetic harmony. I like to think that our maps not only subverted dogmas, but also offered some constructive ideas on information design, suggesting pragmatic and aesthetic improvements as well.

What would you tell your younger self about this work?
I would probably avoid mentioning the project. No doubt my younger self would ask me how long it took me to draw all those subway lines, streets etc. If the younger me had known how much work it was going to be, he may never have started.

Alongside Triboro, this year’s speakers include fashion designer Christopher Raeburn, artist Ryan Gander, graphic designer and illustrator George Hardie, photographer Juno Calypso, graphic design agency Triboro, graphic artist James Jarvis, graphic designer Astrid Stavro, art director and photographer Carlota Guerrero and artist (and one of It’s Nice That’s Ones to Watch 2017) Marguerite Humeau. More speakers will be announced in the coming weeks.

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