Conqueror Typographic Poster Competition: Behind the Scenes
My great friend Tom Morse-Brown and I entered a typographic poster competition with an Olympic theme. So I wanted to give a peek at our process. And if you like what we’ve created, we’d love to have your support. Vote for it by going to the Conqueror website and either tweeting it or facebook it. (The page is done in Flash, by the way.)
You may have seen the same post on the FontFeed. The competition is hosted by Conqueror Paper, owned by Arjowiggins Fine Papers, which operates from three locations: Great Britain, Scotland, and France. As Yves Peters put it,
“The Conqueror Typographic Games ask the question “What if typography was a sport”? This Olympic-style contest is open to all designers, professionals and students who think they have what it takes to win the Gold. The challenge at hand: create a typographic poster about sports, using the phrase:
It’s not what you win, but how you conquer it.
Tom and I thought this would be a fun exercise so we decided to follow a Swiss Design model of minimal elements with strong meaning. We believe you should be able to replace the word minimal with meaningful in any sentence about form or function. Minimal doesn’t mean meaningless, it means that what is left should be even more powerful and more meaningful since it is what remains. Take for instance this perfect poster by Josef Muller-Brockmann for a Beethoven concert. The simple curves have movement and give the understanding of sound waves, as well as a mimicking the shape of a music hall and the shape of some instruments. The understated type is integrated into the the overall grid along a vertical axis.
In this mode we first narrowed down what we thought defined the Olympics to just two words: best and determination. Next we created line and circle studies focused around those two words. How do you show determination or best with a line or circle?
The primary — and quite accidental — thought that came out of it was the leader board, the narrowing of the competitive field until the very best emerges as winner. The leader board inherently speaks of determination and overcoming various obstacles. This visual idea is common in all cultures, and every kid dreams of making the big score.
At first we defaulted to using the Olympic rings in our leader board sketches. But it had several problems: it was too literal, it had little emotion, it would tie the poster to only one event, and it had no movement or energy. Circles are easy, but they can be boring. Besides, it seemed most designers in this competition were using the Olympic rings, so we wanted to push ourselves further to see if we could find another route. We tried various shapes and patterns to see what would hold the weight of our expectations, and eventually we found that, when combined with the previous line studies, the triangle with a series of stripes running throughout worked best to get across the idea of determination.
Every time you fall, you get back up and push harder. Every day brings a new opportunity to do it again and do it better. Always moving forward. Determination. The circles, rectangles, and squares just didn’t have this kind of psychological underpinning, even though they could have worked for other reasons. But the overall design had to live and breathe on its own.
I love researching type for a project and this choice seemed rather straightforward. We could echo the triangularity of the design, contrast it with either harsh and round geometric circles, or choose something smooth and sedated. All the classic sans faces seemed out of place and a serif just didn’t work. So, no to Helvetica, Futura, Gotham, Trade Gothic, DIN, or any of the standard poster faces we would expect. Unfortunately, that meant that the AW Conqueror series by Jean-François Porchez, who is also the main judge for this competition, was out. (I don’t think this is the case, but I really hope we’re not judged on whether we used the Conqueror series or not.)
OurType had put out a gem just a little while ago that I knew would be perfect — Meran, in the semi-condensed, semi-bold flavor. With three widths and six weights (with matching italics), this defies-normal-categories face is a great headliner. Meran is built with contrasting sharp and curved corners and with some interior connection points taken out, so it is in perfect keeping with the angular shape of our design.
This was not an easy decision — perhaps one of the most difficult ones — which is why we kept coming back to it. In fact, it was the last major detail to get settled, but part of that was because we wanted to get it right. Should we incorporate the kind of paper as one of the colors or design elements? How will paper stock effect print registry? Do we choose the Olympic colors or go with something less expected? We went reserved, then crazy, then back to restrained in our color choices.
Even after these major decisions had been made, we still had 15–20 iterations before we landed on a final design. And we had the great fortune of having to let go of some really strong contenders for good reasons.
What we end up with is an angular leader board coming in from the left of the poster. Each column of triangles is an Olympic color for this poster competition, but the colors could have several meanings. The stripes give it a sense of speed and energy. Several of the stripes on each triangle stretch out beyond their border to heighten the mental connection with the determination to push through whatever holds us back. The yellow (gold) triangle in the center is the obvious winner, showing how the athlete fits in with the overall competition, but how they also deservedly stand apart as the best. The typeface echoes the angular design. The words are simple and speak the same message as the poster design. And it’s all done on gorgeous 300-gram (130-lb. for Americans) Conqueror Wove Calligraphy paper, using the paper as the foundational charcoal color and contrasting texture for the entire print. (This also saves on cost of ink by not having to print the background.) The poster would be printed using offset method as long as we can ensure a precise and consistent registry.
Hope you like the poster design and that you’ve enjoyed getting a peek at our process. If you think it’s a winner, let the fine folks at Conqueror know by voting and by passing the word. And take a look at the other entries while you’re there to see what we’re up against.