Today’s Object of the Day celebrates the winners of Cooper Hewitt’s National Design Awards. Honoring lasting achievement in American design, the Awards take place annually during National Design Week, with festivities for all ages celebrating design creativity and innovation.

Today’s blog post was originally published on March 29, 2018.

As design director for her alma mater, Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California, from 1991 to 1996, designer and artist Rebeca Méndez (b. 1962, Mexico City; active Los Angeles) played a key role in re-envisioning the school’s visual identity.[1] From event posters and program advertisements to course catalogs, Méndez experimented with innovative layouts, characterized by translucent layers, the illusion of depth, and organic transitions.[2] During her tenure, she and her staff produced over 300 projects a year, all of which were intended to embody a spirit of “transition,” echoing the institution’s shifting cultural identity. This translated into designs that, in critic Veronique Vienne’s words, developed a “fractured, hybrid and deliberately non-linear visual language.”[3] The posters and publications often foster close looking through their use of distorted text and evocative photographs which flow fluidly from one plane into the next. At the helm of a re-design for a school of design —no small task—Méndez understood the importance of stretching and re-configuring the discipline’s boundaries, thereby drawing attention to the full potential of typography, digital production, and book design.

This poster for the Environmental Design department, produced in collaboration with Tara Carson, was intended to attract potential students to the program. Its dynamism pivots around the tornado-like element at center, which is composed of a variety of found and natural materials, reminiscent of a bird’s nest. Juxtaposed with the architectural models at the bottom left, these scrounged supplies hint at the program’s focus on blending nature and technology to create sustainable structures. To endow the poster with energy, Méndez and Carson relate all other elements of the composition to the twirling focal point, from the undulating headline, which emulates the revolving motion, to the colored planes and text passages, which gesture back towards the center. On the poster’s lively play with depth, Méndez explains, “We created the typographic headline from one plane stretching almost beyond its capacity to make contact with another plane and be forever altered. In the tension created between the severity of an x and y axis grid and the ethereal depth of the z axis is where we hit formal design bliss.”[4] From its animated quality to its intimation of three-dimensionality, this poster exemplifies Méndez’s approach to revitalizing the Art Center College of Design’s brand, a look that she credits with shaping her own design identity as a then-emerging professional. The poster’s topic, moreover, parallels Méndez’s interest in the environment and the natural world, themes which animate her current design practice through her studio, Rebeca Méndez Design (fd. 1996), as well as her ongoing artistic ventures.

Maeve Coudrelle is a Curatorial Assistant in Latino Design.

[1] Pat Kirkham, ed., Women Designers in the USA, 1900-2000: Diversity and Difference (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000), 378.

[2] Donald Albrecht, Steven Holt, and Ellen Lupton, Design Culture Now: National Design Triennial (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2000), 50-51.

[3] Veronique Vienne, “Designing from Skin to Screen,” Graphis 52.306 (Nov. 1, 1996): 48.

[4] Quoted in Vienne, 53.

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