Design Spotlight | Designers Amy Staropoli & Kris Sharabinskaia discuss our collaboration with AICP at the MoMA

The AICP looked to the Mill Design Studio to conceptualize and create a unified branding system across motion, digital, and print for its three-day event at the MoMA. Creatively Directed by Head of Design Mike Schaeffer out of our New York studio and tapping into our global network of artists, the team crafted a brand system that spanned all mediums.
Work June 28, 2022

Talk us through the design process for The Mill Design Studio’s collaboration with the AICP.

Amy: AICP provided us with an exciting challenge to create the complete visual branding system of this year’s Awards. This year marked the return of all three shows to an in-person format, and, unlike past year’s AICP events, it’s all within one event.

Not only did AICP trust us to maintain its current brand integrity, they gave us the creative freedom to push the look and feel into a new direction. We aimed to create a bold, bright and graphic look and feel that emulated an emergence. This idea of new beginnings, with the unified format and return to in-person, provided a foundation for our design direction.

From the start of the project, our team collaborated on a daily basis and brainstormed varying storylines to weave into and drive our designs for the three shows. We explored and concepted various design languages which we felt most resonated with the visual identity we were after. Our goal was for each show to have its own unique identity while still feeling cohesive as a whole. Throughout the duration of the project we were consistently sharing our updated concepts with the AICP team to make sure we were all aligned, from overall direction down to the smaller details. It’s not every day that a client will give complete creative freedom, so this project was particularly special – we all got to really flex our creative muscles and came out with a final product all parties were all really proud of.

What is a design system and how was it implemented for this project?

Kris: Design System is a way to identify design elements and manipulate it in such a way that the feel can carry consistency throughout the storyline. Simply put, it was a challenge of distinguishing each category by its theme, color scheme, and the dynamics of typography. For the AICP we had to ask ourselves a lot of questions on how each element fits into a category and make as many intentional decisions about the design as we could.

We looked for the best footage to represent each category. For the Post Awards we used a lot of the footage of cars to reference the cinematic language of modern car commercials, which is often observed among the award winners at the Post Awards.

We used creative systems for colors and textures to push the difference between categories. For instance, we used more oily and smeary artworks to feature Post Awards, and more structural, chronological for the Next Show, where you can see a great deal of squares, grids and the artworks that follow order.

While we used different color schemes and imagery to differentiate categories, we kept consistency in typography, its hierarchy and position on the grid throughout categories.

Here, the consistency allowed us to connect all seemingly different categories and aid the design language of the AICP throughout the event.

An ‘Action Art Day’ was held both in-person at the studio and virtually. Can you tell us more about this initiative and how it tied into the design work for AICP?

Amy: As this was the first time the AICP returned to an in-person format in over two years, we wanted to emphasise a humanistic approach. This was one of our main objectives to retain in our final designs. While we were using digital means to design and animate, we didn’t want to lose a hand-made touch that would help balance out our designs. Our way to address this was to bring our team together in-person to create non-digital artwork that we could utilise in our designs. We had a blast in the office the day we were able to safely bring everyone together, spending our time creating art. Everyone had their own unique approach and used different materials which gave the variety and visual interest we were after. We got a ton of usable artwork from this day, but we needed a lot of artwork so we looked to some of our talented designers to help take the lead in creating the remaining pieces needed to bring our designs to life.

Kris: When we originally thought of the process and the way to go about making art, we decided to gather and paint textures in the studio. After that day we created many more textures and I was the designated painter and worked on the majority of the textures. Together with our art director, we would find inspiration for every category of abstract art we liked and pull the images together to better envision the mood of each category. I then would paint, inspired by the images, and later bring the raw artworks into Photoshop and color correct to fit the color schemes. Then we would tie it up with the rest of the pieces of the project by running it through the plug in engine to apply footage and make it into a title sequence.

The project was large in scope, comprising of many different elements. Were there any challenges along the way? If so, how did the team creatively solve them?

Kris: Quite honestly, that was one of the most easy going projects I have worked on in a while. Not only did our team have creative freedom, but our clients had little to no feedback most of the time. But if I had to choose, that would probably be a technicality with working with an engine that smears art and applies it on footage. We would never quite know how the product of a footage would work with an artwork. Quite often the engine would have too much or too little smear, would reveal or conceal too much. So I think the hardest part of the work was to find the right combination of both and make the program smear our art the way we wanted even though we couldn’t have full control of it.

What did you find most rewarding about creating a project like this?

Kris: For me the rewarding part of this project was the fact that the art was made in order to celebrate and bring people together as well as provide the service of entertainment for the event. Knowing that the project was seen by a scope of creatives and went out to the MoMA was something that I am really proud of. However, I cannot forget that the process of creating and working on this project was a reward in itself, which had revived my long lost love of painting but also taught me to not be afraid of experimenting and letting me trust the creative process.

Amy: Being part of a collaborative environment–working with and learning from an incredible range of talented designers and animators with varying backgrounds was by far the most rewarding aspect of this project for me. As a Designer, I came to the Mill with a predominantly branding background, so it was incredible to be part of the process from start to finish. From helping create the concept for the shows to developing the visual identity, being part of our animation process and then seeing all the different touch points come to life for such a large-scale, recognizable event was an amazing and rewarding experience.

Amy Staropoli, Designer

Kris Sharabinskaia, Junior Designer

Explore more from our collaboration with AICP here. Get in touch with our Design Studio here