Designer’s Log 9: Europe at the Crossroads

It’s been a busy few months for me, having taken on the branding of not one, but two symphonic orchestra projects. The first is the (now well established) branding for Utrecht student symphonic orchestra USConcert, the other is for their celebratory project “Das Rheingold on the Rhine”, which I will do a feature on at some point in the future.

My poster for the lecture "Europe at the Crossroads" by former Dutch PM Wim Kok

My poster for the lecture “Europe at the Crossroads” by former Dutch PM Wim Kok

Today I’m going to give insight into a smaller project that gave me quite as much satisfaction: a poster for a lecture on European unity called “Europe at the Crossroads” at Utrecht University by former Dutch Prime Minister Wim Kok. The brief for this project came to me through the history faculty study association UHSK, which I’ve mentioned on these pages before. I was honored to be given the opportunity to take this on!

Seeing as I had no information on what the lecture would be about I decided to do some searching – after all “Europe at the Crossroads” can mean many things: that the European Union reached a turning point in its evolution, or it might be referencing Europe’s geographical location at the crossroads between Asia and the Americas (and the problems and opportunities this entails). Usually when I am given a broad brief, or something that is easy to formulate in words, but dreadfully difficult to represent graphically (an all too common occurrence when dealing with university people who tend to think in words rather than images) I start out with an image search for the keyword. In this case, a search for “crossroads” turned up a rather interesting old road sign, which I think might be Polish, but in any case follows the older German road sign standards.

A road sign photographed by mzacha found on free stock photo site

A road sign photographed by mzacha found on free stock photo site

This sign is a sign to indicate in what lane traffic should queue up to move on in their desired direction, usually placed before traffic lights. What’s interesting about it though is that, while it definitely indicates a crossroad, traffic can either go left, right, or straight ahead but cannot return in the direction from whence it came: the only way to go is onwards. I found this an intriguing notion when dealing with European politics, as here too it is the case that, while many different directions may be open to us, going back on agreements already made is not a real option.

It was therefore clear that this sign would be excellent to base the poster on: it was clearly a crossroad, it had all sorts of positive and intriguing notions, and being a road sign it had got plenty of space to add information and symbols. The first step was then to recreate the sign itself; I could have used the photo I found, but I had a feeling it would be better if I could move the elements around and modify them as needed. The sign was made up using simple white vector shapes on a blue background, and it immediately became clear that I would indeed need to modify the symbols: this would be a vertical poster, so the layout of the sign had to be altered to take this new orientation into account. While the arrows are about the same size as the original, the vertical stems are slightly longer, and the whole has been spaced closer together in the horizontal plane. Also, the dashed line indicating the divide between the two lanes in the original has been extended further down in this version to help tie the next element of the poster into the symbolism: the map of the European Union. Once this simple icon had been constructed, the main part of the poster was all but finished. A simple white border completed the road sign look, and all that remained was to add the text.

Dutch road signs are special in that they are one of the few signs in the world to use the same font as US road signs, although this font is starting to be replaced by a subtly different one specifically tailored to the needs of the Dutch language. In any case, for this sign it was simple enough to find a freeware font replicating the look of the US Highway signage, as it would immediately look like a familiar Dutch road sign.

This being an Utrecht University lecture, and not a UHSK event, the logo I needed to put on the poster was that of Utrecht University. Luckily the UU is good enough to make its logos available to the public in a vector format on their website (along with strict guidelines on usage). In my time of dealing with institutions like these I’ve found this is by no means universal: the times I’ve had to reconstruct a required logo by hand to meet a deadline are innumerable. Sadly, very few organizations seem to realize that in order to use a logo in any print work, designers need a version in a resolution far in excess of what can be found online, and preferably in a vector format.

In all, once the concept had been found the design for this poster was simple and straightforward. However, I feel that the minimalist attitude of this work, along with its inherent symbolism helps to make it a clear and memorable design. Sadly I didn’t have the chance to attend this lecture, although it is a subject that interests me greatly. I therefore cannot be certain that the design does indeed portray the content accurately, but I would be very surprised to hear it wasn’t a success.


About jorisammerlaandesign

Joris is a Military History MA student who has been working with graphic design for ten years. His freelance work includes covers for several authors, as well as logos for websites and bands. He has also designed posters for the History faculty in Utrecht since he started there in 2008, and during the academic year 2010-2011 he chaired the imaging committee of the History Study Association UHSK.
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