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West Side Story

On the creative process that went behind the visual identity for West Side Fest

Images: COLLINS

One of the loveliest projects we’ve had the pleasure to be part of these last few months was West Side Fest. On September 30th, the West Side of Manhattan was taken over with art-making, workshops, dancing, crafts and other special programming. It was conceived and organized by The West Side Cultural Network (WSCN) - a group of more than 20 museums, parks, performing arts centers, and cultural institutions along the West Side of Manhattan. This new festival brought New Yorkers free admission to the best these institutions have to offer.

As residents of the West Side as well, Wix Playground was called on board and we were delighted to join as partners in making this vision come to life. The beautiful identity and website for the event—designed by COLLINS—was created on our brand-new platform, Wix Studio.

As always, we are interested in how the design was created, developed, and implemented, and invited the COLLINS team members for a chat about the project. We were joined by Creative Director Joseph Han and Senior Designer Kristina Bartosova, as they shared their side of the West Side Fest story.


The Project

On taking new challenges

Joseph: “The West Side Fest project sits at the very heart of what we love about our work here at COLLINS. As a transformation consultancy, we’re focused on helping organizations evolve and grow on national and global stages. But in this case, it’s a local organization in our hometown asserting itself, its community and its leaders to make the best, biggest brightest impact they could have in their event’s first year. That’s what made this project exciting for us.”. Kristina:“Advancing the arts in our own communities is important to us. We use the creative freedom to experiment and explore new ideas in these projects that we always bring back into our other work.”


On how it all began

Joseph: “Ola Baldych, from the great team at Poster House, reached out to Brian Collins and told him all about the festival. When she asked if COLLINS might be interested in helping mold the vision for the festival, Brian said “absolutely, yes.” So, we all immediately jumped in. Both Kristina and I started working on sketching and creating options for the design before the end of our first conference call.”


On running a multi-organizational project

Joseph: “There are over 20 stakeholders involved in West Side Fest - The Whitney, The Shed, The Highline, and, of course, Poster House, to name a few. They all have their own unique energy, voices and ambitions. They're very different entities with their own visual identities. We knew we had to make something that would not lean towards one institution or another, but rather connect them all through the spirit and ambition of the festival.”



The Design Process

On taking inspiration from history

Joseph: “We always look to history to see if there might be a story relevant to the problem we’re solving. Usually, there is. In this case we wanted to learn about how cultural networks are formed at community levels, which led us to dive into the interplay between urban planning and the West Side. Our research uncovered a compelling story.

Urban planning and Robert Moses are synonymous. The man was responsible for almost every infrastructure project in the city during the mid 20th century in New York. He championed the idea that the city of the future would arrive on wheels and revolve entirely around the automobile. To support that vision, massive new networks of motorways, tunnels and bridges would be needed. By the 1950s, Moses had made huge progress and, though his colossal undertaking was initially celebrated, public opinion began to shift as more noisy motorways and ruthless overpasses began to plow through some of New York’s most vibrant, beloved neighborhoods.

By the time Moses announced plans to put a freeway straight through the middle of Washington Square Park, the citizens of Manhattan’s West Side had had enough. They gathered to mount a fierce battle to save their neighborhood’s iconic, central hub. Led by urbanist and writer Jane Jacobs, the coalition fought heroically for seven years. Ultimately, they won - saving the West Side, its spirit and the neighborhood that today houses all the incredible members of the West Side Cultural Network.”


On taking inspiration from the streets

Joseph: “That incredible story led us to ask: What visual metaphor might capture the spirit and resolve of Jane Jacobs and the West Side? We posed a question to ourselves: what's the most atomic unit at the core of the West Side neighborhood? What sprang to mind was the iconic cobblestone streets of Chelsea and the Meatpacking district. They are instantly recognizable markers of the West Side as those cobblestones aren’t found commonly in other parts of the city–and all of them would be gone if it weren’t for Jane Jacobs and the West Side residents holding the line.

So, this image of the cobblestones felt like a fitting starting point for us. This design direction was what we and the WSCN moved forward with.”



On branding that feels organic to its surroundings

Joseph: “We decided to create an entire identity based on the idea of cobblestones - connecting all these different cultural entities and becoming a journey and a pathway for festival-goers. Kristina and the team created typography that uses a cobblestone language. We were intentionally trying to create an identity that held a certain element of, say… quirk. So it wasn't perfect.

We wanted you to feel like you're walking down the street, in a spontaneous manner. Every module has its own unique qualities, but when you connect them all, it becomes very clear and readable. The resulting identity aims to balance boldness with playful energy, and hopefully become something memorable for the West Side.”


On choosing the right palette

Kristina: “The inspiration for colors came from bright, cheap, neon-colored posters that you can find hanging everywhere on the city’s street for various billboards, ads and promotions. We wanted a visual contrast to the brutal forms of the cobblestones. The neon color palette provided exactly that, lightening everything up and guaranteeing people would SEE it. We chose three different neon colors for the posters and added pink for the printed materials. Next year, we’re hoping to use much, much more. Bring sunglasses in 2024.“


Bringing the design to life

On adaptation for different mediums

Kristina: “We always consider an identity as it translates differently across digital spaces. We avoid the ‘rubber stamp’ approach. We don't put a logo into a website the same way you might see it on a poster. We treat different mediums as very different canvases.


With the cobblestone identity, we wanted to work with the same elements, but bring something surprising into our mix. We emphasized the wobbliness of the cobblestones by making each of the individual stones move as you hover over them. This small interaction was unique to the digital experience and added a little moment of surprise. As for colors, we played with three intense neons on the website that shift as you scroll through.”



On typography that delivers a message

Joseph: “We wanted typography to mirror the imperfectness of the cobblestone in all parts of the system. For example, if you look at the more functional information, the most common way for designers to approach that would be to keep it all simple, aligning all of the paragraphs - super straight. We were trying to inject a little quirk even where the information might need to be very functional. We decided to give it a sense of directionality and spontaneity throughout the experience of scrolling down.”

Kristina: “The typeface we used in the website - Oracle - was kindly donated by our friends at Dinamo. It worked perfectly with our identity as it has its own odd imperfections and rhythm. When you see them next to each other it creates a good dialogue.”


On achieving the goal of a visual identity

Joseph: “At COLLINS, we love identities that have broad expressiveness, but held together with a tight sense of discipline and structure. Design that is bold and memorable; but also adding something that creates a twist. That is what makes work feel alive and, hopefully, unexpected. We could have gone for a far more reductive, well-behaved solution, but instead we opted for a weirder approach. Even though it may have created some challenges in terms of, say…overt legibility, we stuck to it in order to maintain that uniqueness of the visuality so it could live on the street. So, what it might lack in traditional legibility, we think it makes up for in instant readability.

The way we see it, the role of an identity for any cultural event is to hook people's excitement and grow new audiences–bringing energy and vibrancy through design, while not sacrificing any utility, whatsoever. I hope we did just that for everyone we love on the West Side.”


Thank you, Joseph and Kristina, for sharing the process of this beautiful project!


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