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Partnership / Dropbox: Call for Collaboration

Actual Source works with Margot Lévêque to co-create a series of graphic stamps

Call for Collaboration is an It’s Nice That x Dropbox Paper project connecting creatives from across the world to collaborate on fun, fully commissioned creative projects. Each month we’ll spotlight the projects on It’s Nice That and show how Dropbox Paper helps these great ideas come to life.

Working out of its base in Provo, Utah, publishers and graphic designers Actual Source operate a multi-faceted design practice where collaboration is key. “We work with many talented people,” its founders JP Haynie and Davis Ngarupe tell It’s Nice That, simply for the fact that “it makes the work better and more enjoyable”.

The studio’s practice is one the pair describe as “one large collaboration” between JP and Davis, its wider team of Katrina, Gunnar, Dalin and Anna, and many others who contribute their talents as collaborating designers, illustrators, and photographers. In turn, Actual Source considers “any output from Actual Source / Apparel a collaboration”.

Considering this, Davis and JP were keen to expand their pool of collaborators a little further, working with us on an entirely new project with an entirely new collaborator on the other side of the world. Reaching out to our audience for a graphic designer or illustrator interested in creating a project that would visualise “a collaboration of two cities,” Actual Source planned to co-create a series of graphic stamps representing both its city and the city of its new collaborator, culminating in a poster.

One designer who caught the studio’s eye was Margot Lévêque, a freelance designer based in Paris who has recently completed a master’s degree in type design following a bachelor’s in graphic design.

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A designer with a fair few years of experience in the industry now, Margot caught the attention of Actual Source for her ability to draw letterforms and her eye for composition. “We felt that she would be great at recreating elements from her city and at helping us design the poster,” JP tells us.

​​“An admirer of Actual Source’s work from across the globe, Margot says the opportunity to work with JP and Davis “was a real motivation for me.” Alongside admiring the studio’s work, the project was also a chance for Margot to try something new and learn from the greats.

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To kickstart the project, Davis from Actual Source shared their research around visual landmarks representing Provo on their Dropbox Paper thread. As designers, Davis and JP showed Margot the city through the lens of typography, highlighting logos of local businesses they walk past daily and admire. Some of their favourites are Titos Salon, a local family run salon next door to its studio, the logo of the Provo Book Bindery and The City Power tower. The pair also shared natural landmarks in the area such as waterfalls and a rock with the typographic wordmark of Sundance chiselled in at the Sundance Mountain Resort nearby to the city.

Margot then responded by similarly looking at her home city of Paris through significant typographic landmarks. She began by heading out into the city and taking photographs of lettering on the storefronts of bars and boulangeries, as well as checking out historical references such as a typeface for a Hector Guimard exhibition in 1900. It’s here that both Margot and Actual Source found common ground, their love of type becoming obvious through comments to each other about the certain shape of a number or letter.

On reflection, this was Margot’s favourite conversation during the project, noting how “it was very nice to post pictures on Dropbox Paper and see the reaction to each of them,” she explains. “Sharing your local type treasures was also very fun to do.”

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This process then went on to inform Margot’s further research. A city such as Paris is so well known on a global scale that she was keen to not reimagine typical landmarks as graphic stamps. Instead, Margot looked for the details that only locals may recognise, such as the figure atop a statue in Bastille just around the corner where she lives and a symbol taken from a crypt inside Notre Dame.

“If I had drawn a Tour Eiffel, it wouldn’t have great interest,” she notes on this decision. “In this project we wanted to represent the city of our daily life, what surrounds us.” In turn, there are “no stamps that people will recognise on first sight,” says the designer, “it’s just what we meet everyday”. Consequently, both of Margot and Actual Source’s stamps act almost like a graphic design interpretation of eye spy in their respective home cities.

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With several images to choose from, the designers then went away and reimagined them as illustrations that could be transformed into stamps. Once reformatted and shaped just in black and white, it became even more difficult to choose which motifs would work within the final design. However, making these decisions, tightening up typographic details and collating a visualisation of a city through graphic design was a highlight for Actual Source during the project. As JP notes, his favourite part of the project was once “we all presented the final drawings and were able to choose what stamps we wanted to make," he says. “Actually, the whole experience has been very satisfying.”

Making these final decisions and choosing the poster’s final design layout was also particularly easy to discuss via Dropbox Paper. Using its comments section heavily throughout the project, Margot told us how “I found it very easy to use. You can have several people on the document, all of us can react, comment and put in files. I found it handy!”. Also, with time difference being an obvious issue considering the collaborators were based in France and the United States, Dropbox Paper was “pretty perfect for this kind of long-distance collaboration”.

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Following this, Actual Source got each of the chosen stamps physically made in Utah, stamping them by hand before scanning them back into a poster with Margot collaboratively. Even for Margot all the way in Paris this was an exciting process to watch on the Dropbox Paper thread considering how “you can’t anticipate what the final outcome will be”. "I couldn’t wait to see the results of the stamps on the paper. Merging organic stamps with a digital typeface and layout was a great idea” and also allowed the group to work collaboratively while using physical materials.

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For JP and Davis, this process was also a turning point in the poster’s final design. By working with their designs by hand the pair added a level of serendipity to the project, as the impressions the stamps made “affected the way we used them” in a digital context.

Printing their final design with a metallic ink between orange and rose gold, Actual Source’s hands-on approach is obvious through the cut-out elements surrounding each stamp, leaving in textural details that surround each print. In their final design, the collaborators haven’t separated the stamps which represent their respective cities. Overall creating a design which leaves it up to the viewer to investigate and learn something new about Paris and Provo, just as Margot, JP and Davis learned from each other.

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