“An identity can become expressive through the sheer use of typography”: New York’s Irvington Theater gets a rebrand

Designer and creative director Andrea Trabucco-Campos and Javier Arizu, co-founder of design studio Pràctica, take on the new brand identity for the historic institution.

7 September 2020

Since it first opened in 1902, over 100 years ago, the Irvington Theater has cemented its place as one of New York’s cultural hubs. Located in a small village on the Hudson River with modest annual resources, it stills manages to host a range of events. With such a long and rich history, the theatre recently underwent a brand refresh, updating its aesthetic to match the diverse array of projects absorbed by the historic building. In turn, the Irvington secured the help of Andrea Trabucco-Campos, a graphic designer and art director largely focusing on identities, typography and interaction.

Designer and creative director Andrea is also part of the design faculty at the School of Visual Arts. Both are impressive roles which have also preceded previous titles such as associative partner at Pentagram, not to mention former creative director at Design Studio, New York. So when he started designing the identity for each new season back in 2015, Andrea was well equipped to take on such a culturally significant job. At the beginning of last year in 2019 however, the theatre approached Andrea with a new challenge regarding the Irvington.

A whole new identity was on the cards, capitalising the shift in the Irvington’s output. Bringing on the help of longtime friend and collaborator Javier Arizu – co-founder of the Barcelona and New York-based studio Pràctica – the two decided to tackle the project together. Andrea tells It’s Nice That on the appointment: “We both saw the opportunity to make the most of this historic theatre's pivot, doing the project on a pro-bono basis.” The two met while working as associative partners at Pentagram and have been good friends since, collaborating on several independent projects over the years.

Together, the designers embarked on a creative process which was “entirely fluid”. Holding bi-monthly meetings where they discussed and reviewed iterations of the rebrand, Andrea and Pràctica dedicated many a weekend to the task at hand. “A lot of the work happened asynchronously,” adds Andrea, stating how they shared Dropbox folders and various screenshots on iMessage to keep up momentum. And with a lot of back and forth, Andrea and Pràctica created a new, revitalising brand identity to be handed over to the theatre's newly assembled internal team.

Drawing inspiration from the visual language of old school advertisements and wheat paste posters (nodding to the history of the theatre), the rebranded identity captures the cultural energy of the theatre’s past. The design system is based on two main elements: layering and vernacular typography. The former is a nod to the passage of time enhanced through colour and stacking. Whereas the latter, a textural wood-inspired look designed by Andrea himself, captures the theatre’s vibrant cultural personalities.

Titled Irvington Modern Gothic, the custom type design is modelled on Modern Gothic, originally designed by Barnhart Brothers & Spindler around 1897. “It appears to be a modernisation of older 19th century gothics,” adds Andrea on the revival, “although it has a considerable resemblance to the much later European design, Helvetica Bold from 1957. The slightly wide proportions give it a monumental feel and it has a neutral yet solid feel which served as a perfect foundation to the expression of the display wood-inspired typefaces.”

The new brand identity builds on the long established utilitarian approach of the theatre, one that is a result from its modest and therefore limited resources. The rebrand, in turn, uses only a constrained amount of elements; simple black ink on rotating coloured layers, “reminiscent of your local shop’s flyers,” adds Andrea. As for the type, there is only one weight and style for the supporting typeface, Irvington Modern Gothic Semibold, custom drawn for this purpose alone. “The story we wanted to tell is that even with a limited set of elements,” Andrea goes on to say, “an identity can become expressive through the sheer use of typography. Our evergreen love for the history of design saw us seize the opportunity to use 19th century typography, employing the wood-inspired typefaces by The Pyte Foundry which are a nod to the rich history of wheat paste posters which littered the walls of the city in the 19th century.”

Honouring the past while constructing a contemporary framework for the theatre’s future, the identity is a celebration of its history shaped by two highly considered designers respecting the institution’s context. It’s an approach they both carry out throughout their respective practices, and with what looks like a busy year ahead, stay tuned to see what Andrea and Pràctica go on to do next.

GalleryAndrea Trabucco-Campos and Pràctica: Irvington Theater (Copyright © Irvington Theater, 2020)

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About the Author

Jyni Ong

Jyni joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in August 2018 after graduating from The Glasgow School of Art’s Communication Design degree. In March 2019 she became a staff writer and in June 2021, she was made associate editor.

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