Quite often when meeting someone for the first time the conversation gets around to “What do you do for a living?” my response is “I arrange things!”
Back in my college days at the University of Northern Iowa (UNI), it became very apparent to me where the “starving artist” concept came from. Surrounded by potters, sculptors, painters and the like, it was clear to me that while they were creating wonderful art, it was for themselves and only a very small percentage would be good enough to make a living at it. For most of them, making a living at it wasn’t part of their motivation to create.
At the time, the graphic design program at UNI was still embedded in the fine arts program. In its infancy, it struggled for any legitimate recognition by students and most professors as being “fine art.” Artists that embraced the idea of selling someone else’s product or service as part of their art… well… let’s just say occasionally the word “prostitute” entered into the discussion with the fine art tribe.
But, I could see a career path in graphic design and wasn’t that the reason I was going to college in the first place, to find a career? I was mentored by an adjunct professor named Duane Wood who would later become my employer at his design firm. He taught me most everything I know about design and all the individual components to be considered.
Graphic design is a myriad of decisions about how headlines, copy, photos, colors, textures and other graphic elements get integrated together. In the DNA of these elements are the branding and messaging components that serve to prioritize them. So in the world of advertising, graphic design is the thoughtful organization of pertinent components.
A sculptor at heart, I all but abandoned my third dimension when I went into advertising. For many years my world was 8 ½ x 11, sometimes 11 x 17 if I was lucky. Once in a blue moon a packaging project or tradeshow exhibit would come our way and I immediately lit up at the chance to work in three dimensions.
Fast forward to 2006 – after working on the branding for Platinum Long Term Care Insurance in Dubuque for over a year, I was given a unique challenge: how I would showcase their company’s philosophy of “preserving heritage” (that is, not having to sell the family farm when dad had to go to a care facility) into the century-old, five-story brick building they were about to gut and turn into their new corporate headquarters. The answer? Preserve and present the history of this Dubuque landmark in a way that reflected Platinum’s priority on the preservation of heritage.
This opportunity changed the trajectory of my career and created a unique niche for J.W. Morton. As mentioned earlier, in the world of marketing every element is carefully thought out and crafted. So, part of what is different about the historical displays we work on is the content of the displays is often times “whatever we can get our hands on.” Most companies don’t have a strategic plan to gather, preserve and catalog their history. They have a bunch of boxes of stuff in the back room and a row of filing cabinets full of papers.
This is where the “fine art” begins to creep back in. While I’m always charged with telling a story, the pieces of that story are about as random as they can get. For our University of Dubuque historical display, I was given the founder’s 200 lb. headstone and an 8 ft. propeller. My job suddenly became putting together giant 3D collages of artifacts and photos – of which I had no control – and combining them with text panels and other graphic elements to tell a story.
Midway through my career my two-dimensional training and experience in the world of advertising had an opportunity to blend with my love for sculpture and three-dimensional space. And so…at the end of the day that’s what I do for a living… I arrange things. And show off your company’s rich history in the process.
Every business has a story to tell
Whether your organization’s history is over the course of a century, or an action-packed decade, we can bring it to life. An engaging historical display provides a unique first impression for visitors, instills a sense of company pride for employees, and can create an instant sense of trust for potential customers.
Take a look at the historical display projects we’ve done for other companies and organizations in our free large format book. Request yours by messaging us on Facebook at JWMortonCR.
Then start thinking about how we can help tell your story, too.