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5 years, 5 posts, part 2. Highlight reel.

2011 March 29

Modern Alchemy LLC, established 2006. 5 Years!

As I’m a designer, and this “5 years, 5 posts” series is about the fifth anniversary of my design business, I should probably include some designs, no?

So here’s a five-project “highlight reel” from Modern Alchemy’s first five years. I haven’t really employed any strict criteria in selecting these five projects, other than choosing one and only one project from each of the five years we’re celebrating, here. The result is a bit of a curious assortment, with some items already included in Modern Alchemy’s “official” portfolio and other things which are definitely not. But then it’s sort of a curious business/life/world.

Year One: Cover design for Tradition & Transformation

Dust-jacket for Tradition & Transformation

Click on the image for a big version!

I’m probably going to consider this a highlight of my design career for as long as I live, to be honest: the cover for the 150th anniversary commemorative book for dear auld ISU. It still floors me that out of all the designers, even all the ISU-educated designers, who might have been selected for this project… it went to Modern Alchemy, and me. Talk about being in the right place at the right time.

I gave this design a 100-plus-percent effort, naturally, and five years later I’m still satisfied with it. The front cover, in the end, was mostly a matter of doing a neat job with a photo chosen by the author and publisher. But any sense of making a limited contribution, there, was balanced out by my input on the rest of the dust jacket, which was considerable. In fact I’m still a bit proud of what I came up with for the back cover, just from a technical standpoint. I stared at the assortment of quotes and mismatched photos for a long time trying to figure out how in the world I could make a layout from them; aside from my pride at being involved in ISU’s 150th, “the three-column solution” is almost a highlight by itself, for me.

Year Two: Perennial Insights newsletter

Inaugural issue of Perennial Insights

Ah, paper

Obviously I’m happy with the design of Perennial Insights; I did select it as the inset photo on the homepage of Modern Alchemy’s current web site, after all. This was a pleasant and, in recent years, increasingly-rare opportunity to employ the print-publication layout experience I developed in the first half of my design career. A two-color, print newsletter, after all; a bit like bluelines and film, these were familiar sights until suddenly, one day, you looked around and wondered where they’d all gone. As this was also, in many ways, definitely a “pre-recession” project, it feels even more like an artifact from before the flood, even though it’s been less than three years’ time since the last issue I designed.

Year Three: Free Press booklets

Booklets for Free Press

I debated a few options for Year Three, but I think it probably needs to be the work I did for media reform organization Free Press. I actually had the two handbooks pictured above as part of the “official” portfolio on Modern Alchemy’s earlier site, but they were crowded out when I redesigned; the actual books themselves were definitely a project I’m happy to claim involvement with, though. Although Free Press had existing visual standards, I got to create a whole icon system for these guidebooks, which was definitely fun.

Also, the cover of the Action Guide involves a funny story. The tools behind the remote control were originally a low-resolution stock photo; when it came time to purchase the high-resolution version, however, the photo was no longer available. This was actually the second time this has happened to me, too, oddly enough. Just like the first, I managed to come up with a replacement. Pressed for time at that point in the project, I went right to work, grabbing every tool I owned and setting up a little photo studio and trying various arrangements and camera settings until I got something that worked.

These books, which you can actually get in electronic or print format via the Free Press web site, were followed-up by more fun work for their 2008 conference. (A modified version of the map I prepared for that conference is among Modern Alchemy’s “free stuff.”)

Year Four: bizedge web site

Screen shot of bizedge web site homepage

Click to visit the live site

This project actually began during Year Three, but was completed in Year Four, so I’m going to go with it.

As web sites go, this was fairly modest; it’s mostly a static, “brochureware” site, though to be honest I don’t see anything wrong with that for a lot of clients. In any event it was a relatively big project for Modern Alchemy, the company’s first full-fledged ground-up web site with our own lovely little site credit at the bottom of every page. Still happy with it. Still receiving occasional projects and referrals from the client. Life is good, eh? Next?

Year Five: Superman’s Cleveland

"Superman's Cleveland" map

This will be familiar to readers, of course

There are a lot of things I could include for Year Five. Work for 21 13, or Complete Outdoor Installation, or the Case Studies in Nursing series as well as a number of other book cover designs; I feel generally rather pleased with and confident in my abilities of late, frankly. I’m going to feature Superman’s Cleveland, instead, though, even though Modern Alchemy only received promotional credit rather than a design fee.

Because: 1) that’s still something after all, 2) I really do consider this a fantastic project and 3) I think it’s also emblematic of a big reason why I feel like a happier and more effective designer, lately, than during multiple too-large parts of my career. I wrote about this at some length in the first anniversary of Modern Ideas post, but basically I’m putting energy into design work which I enjoy, just by choice and without financial incentive, and it’s proving very rewarding.

Guess I’ll keep it up, then.

4 Responses
  1. Judy Curtis permalink
    March 31, 2011

    I am just amazed at your work…did not know any one in this family had a lick of talent in that area!

  2. Matt permalink
    March 31, 2011

    Hey Aunt Judy, thanks so much!

    A lot of practice helps. I don’t think I ever had any musical talent whatsoever, but I still made it to the All-State festival twice.

    And stubbornness, at least, IS something I know to be a family talent. 🙂

  3. Joan Husmann permalink
    March 31, 2011

    Just like a certain bulldog, we are NOT stubborn; we are persistent!

  4. Matt permalink
    March 31, 2011


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