#tbt: Films First Friday, 2004

#tbt is a feature where we revisit and reflect on our early work. Here Namdev looks at the first piece he designed as an intern at Intermedia Arts in Minneapolis 10 years ago. 

Films First Fridays was a monthly movie event at Intermedia Arts and this particular chapter was part of a series featuring stories about new immigrants. A decade after designing this folded flyer my criticisms of it are pretty mellow—I wish there was more pure black boxes similar to the “cover” or at least higher contrast amongst the large boxes on the interior and the type could be more clear, though that’s actually a copywriting problem and not a design issue. Looking at this now what I’m struck by most is how little my thinking has changed about how to layer meaning into content.


I don’t recall the specifics about how I designed this but I think I started assembling visual materials based on what they represented for me, so, for example, the LEAVING HOME FINDING HOME logo was based off of the signage on a store that served the immigrant community and I liked the raw unconventional stencil style. It felt immediate but also of the milieu that the film spoke about. The tree branch “frames” were a way to address domesticity in a way that spoke to both movement and growth. Lastly, I had an OK photo to use (it seems this always the case).

Once I had all my visual elements then I would just start building something from the pieces—letting the elements do what they “needed” to do. You’ll notice that the family’s feet are cropped at the bottom of the photo but then continue on the back. That symbolized the idea of geographic dislocation  and your roots being somewhere else but what I don’t remember is how that idea came to be—did I always know I was going to do that with this image or was it an idea that I stumbled upon after inadvertently cropping it? Likewise the idea of a flyer having a “cover”—its my favorite aspect of this but I have no idea how I got there. Again, was it planned as a way to respond to context and make something unexpected or did I just pop the art into InDesign and it landed in such a way as to make me say “Whoa, that’s dope”?

The things that most surprise me about this, though, is the production. The brief for this flyer almost certainly had a line that said “Budget: $0” which meant that I had to print them in-house. It also means that I cut and folded these by hand which probably sucked at the time but it was important that I make something that stood out from every other laser-printed flyer produced by non-profit art centers. 

The only real issue I have with this piece is the copywriting—there’s simply too damn much of it and its either extraneous—no reader cares about The New Americans steering committee (if its truly necessary to appease the partners’ egos then it should’ve been a sponsor’s note on the website)—or is the classic non-profit mistake of trying to sell everything all at once such as with the “Join us for future screenings…” blurb that takes up a ton of space. Its like, no, don’t join us for future screenings; join us RIGHT NOW. Just removing those 2 elements would have allowed for a more impactful explanation of just what the hell this flyer is selling, which right now, isn’t clear unless you read the whole damn thing. But in those days I had a trust in other people’s abilities to know what their projects were about. Today I operate with the fundamental mindset that you can’t be trusted to know what is best to sell your project. This isn’t because I’m some kind of genius expert its just that I discovered that everyone else knows even less than I do (a disturbing development indeed).  If I were to be given this same assignment today I would be a complete pain in the ass about the copy—requesting changes, deleting things, and rewriting it all while hammering one idea home to the client, “We want them to come to a screening. That’s it. Everything else is a distraction from that goal.”

I tend to dismiss my early work (especially from school) but I’m surprised by how much I still stand by this piece and I think its because there’s no bullshit involved. Every idea came of and through the content. There’s no preconceived notions of style and no trend-jocking and no ego. And those are 3 values I try to maintain with every project I begin to this day.