Charlottesville Design Week
Charlottesville Design Week is an annual week-long festival featuring events that range from meetups and mixers, studio tours and portfolio reviews to a day-long conference and an 'agency-for-a-day' challenge. The aim of the festival is not only to bring local and out-of-town designers together to learn and share about their crafts, but also to cultivate a sense of community and elevate the public perception of design.
Charlottesville Design Week is put together by Tuesday Design Society, a group of local designers who meet once a week to discuss all things design, share work, and connect with peers. I joined this group in 2018, and the following year I volunteered to participate in the planning of the third annual design week festival.
Along with 4 other group members, we set about refreshing the previous year's branding. A secondary color palette was added to the primary yellow and blue, and the street map that served as a visual motif was updated to a topographical map of the area. These topographical lines informed visual textures, typography choices, and image treatment.
One project I took on myself was creating a poster booklet map for the Firm Crawl event, where small groups would take a walking tour around downtown C'ville and visit participating studios and agencies. The poster booklet format was able to provide an easy and portable map while also providing space for additional details about each firm.
My goal was to create a graphic more visually appealing than the usual top-down map view. I was already familiar with creating 3D and isometric shapes in Adobe Illustrator—recreating the map in this way would be a fun challenge.
Google Maps and Google Earth were invaluable resources in finding the right reference photos for street maps, buildings, and custom 3D views of downtown Charlottesville. After tracing and layering the streets and building shapes, I used a series of transforms, skews, and rotations to align my map to the almost isometric 3D reference image. A many-stepped gradient blend was applied to the buildings in order to create a 3D effect.
This was the first year in which the festival had a budget for marketing, intended to attract more attendees than previous years. Fellow organizer Sarah joined me in tackling social media posts on Facebook and Instagram. We each created cards for different events in our own visual interpretation within the branding guidelines to fill our social feeds with cohesive yet varied posts.
The Forum, a day-long design conference with 7 speakers and 4 panels of discussions, was our biggest event and one of the only paid events. Not only was marketing crucial, we also wanted to elevate the experience to be comparable to other, larger design conferences as much as our small team and budget would allow. One of my favorite aspects of this was building a swag bag stuffed with sponsor inserts and printed goodies.
I'd always wanted an excuse to invest in a button maker machine, and so I took this opportunity to take that plunge and used the swag bag as a guinea pig project. Using our logo, speakers' headshots, and the topography texture in multiple colorways, I created a series of about 2 dozen designs for pin-on flair, the perfect compliment to attendees' shirts, totes, even conference lanyards.
Finally the week-of rolls around, and even with the longest preparation period and the most help in the history of the festival, our team was scrambling to finish up all the last minute details. We divided the events between us to have a point person on each running the event, while the rest of us, along with aid from free-ticketed volunteers, supported ongoing activities, documented and promoted the events through social media, and helped troubleshoot anything gone awry.
One of these last minute tasks was creating signage and navigation to events on the bustling pedestrian mall in downtown Charlottesville. Our budget allowed only 3 banner stands in which we were circulating a few designs throughout the week—swapping these out, getting them in position for each event, and keeping them upright was a challenge to better prepare for in the following years. Signage to navigate inside our main event building was another problem we solved with quick copier prints taped up by existing signage.
Despite these few hiccups and another mishap or two, we had accomplished our festival goals: bring together creatives, meet new people, and talk about what we do and what we love. The whirlwind of a week was both exciting and exhausting; I made new friends, sparked new ideas, learned new skills, fostered new connections, and engaged with a whole new community.
The third annual Design Week was a huge success, growing triple in scale from the previous year in every way, from the amount of organizers, volunteers, sponsors, budget, attendees, and events. We recorded participants hailing from the Charlottesville locale, the greater Virginia area, and even outside of VA, for over a thousand total attendees.
Tuesday Design Society board members and Charlottesville Design Week 2019 organizers, from left to right: Jim Efstathiou, Sarah Beth Martin, yours truly, Jackie Temkin, and Lucas Czarnecki.
Working with this team was one of the best experiences I’ve had in collaborative design. The passion of each of the members drove us to make the best festival experience that our team was capable of dreaming up. We played to each others’ strengths, creating an environment for each of us to work to the best of our abilities and supporting each other in achieving our goals for the festival’s vision.