On asking Sundance film festival’s creative director, Luis Farfán, if he has any advice for designing an identity for a mammoth event such as the one he’s now creatively in charge of, he suggests starting eight weeks before you actually think you need to. It may sound dramatic, and terribly over organised, but when it comes down to presenting the work of some of the world’s best independent filmmakers through graphic design, the pressure is pretty immense.
Luis, whose background before working for Sundance was art and creative direction in advertising and media, has a particular approach to design where his “ethos is to ‘be of service’, not just to my clients, or employers but overall in my life”. In turn, the creative director extends this ethos to the creative community, “and most of all, to those in the public that will potentially come in contact with whatever it is that I am tasked with creating or helping create”.
It’s also “an important thru-line for me”, he says, considering Luis is originally from Mexico, now living in the US and works within a sector, where often “you are the only one of your kind in an office”. “Approaching everything with a sense of humility and purpose has helped me a great deal conceptually and strategically when approaching projects.” This certain ethos makes Luis the ideal designer to lead an identity for Sundance, a non-profit organisation which aligns with his personal values: “I, of course, humbly and (incredibly) excitedly jumped at the chance.”
But from here, Luis had to work out how this identity would actually appear aesthetically. An overall aim for the design team is “always to provide the best possible experience to the tens of thousands of festival-goers and film fans on site at the festival, but also to those that can’t make the actual event” and are tuning in online. As a result, the graphic design language of the festival not only has to clearly communicate from a wayfinding perspective but “provide an enjoyably seamless and unified experience across all channels”.
To begin this, Luis and his team first established an “order to a massive suite of assets that had no organising design principles,” he tells It’s Nice That. For instance, the year’s identity encompasses a wide range of “textures, film stills, colour schemes, headlines” and so the first design port of call was “contextualising various elements and drafting a little universe for those elements to live in”. Once organised and allocated, “it became freeing for the creative teams to design and create within that universe”.
The result is an identity which visually pulls from hands-on approaches to designing, “historical origins” such as the aesthetic mistakes that arise when “making zines or flyers on an old Xerox machine and having the black ink steak down your pages, or taking pictures with old film and then later discovering that you didn’t wind the film-up right,” points out Luis. Consequently, the Sundance team’s approach visually embraced “the organised chaos of a complex visual language” and became an aspect of the identity “that the team really rallied behind and was proud of overall”.
By initially establishing a framework in which designers could then experiment within, whether they were creating “catalogues, programmes, screenwashes, trailers, out of home, super graphics, signage, emails, adverts, merchandise, tickets, credentials and an award”, conversation also became a key and necessary part for the identity to visually succeed. “All teams across different principals worked together incredibly well and were always communicating with each other – there was a great amount of trust with each other and everyone legitimately felt that we were a part of creating something that was bigger than any person on the team,” describes Luis, referring back to his initial ethos within design in general. “Keeping that level of team humility while pushing yourself and performing your task at an incredibly high level with millions of eyes possibly scrutinising your work is something that was really special to seep layout in the teams and was something great to be a part of.”
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