Chicago Design Milestones

Chicago Design Milestones

April 23, 2020

Chicago Design Milestones is a new media public installation that took place throughout July, 2019, at 150 Media Stream in Chicago. It brought to life the evolution of Chicago design by examining and showcasing the historic characteristics of design works from the 1920s to the present. Project material was researched and culled from the collection of the Chicago Design Archive (CDA), which holds over 3,200 works from over 1,100 designers and 400 firms. Members of the CDA, the UIC School of Design & Electronic Visualization Laboratory, and Columbia College Chicago collaborated together on this project as a team, because their underlying and ongoing quest is to spotlight the role of Chicago as a major international design center through the use of innovative technologies, including 150 Media Stream’s unique display structure, the largest media screen (over 3,000 square feet) in Chicago. 

The Chicago Design Archive is a singular organization in that there is no other like it doing this type of documentation and presentation of Chicago design work—locating, procuring, organizing, and showcasing Chicago-related design in the form of images as well as articles, essays, interviews, and videos. This includes works from the pre-digital era, with the population of works beginning in the 1920s. This is over one hundred years of Chicago design work gathered up and organized in one place. 

A significant challenge of the Milestones project was to figure out how to represent the thousands of archived works from the past ten decades. The process of curating the works was scientific in that observation was key—untold hours of patient looking. Year by year, decade by decade, each image was scoured until one hundred years of images passed in front of the eyes of the team. There was not an agenda when they first started looking, no plan of what to find, no expectations. They wanted the images to speak for themselves, to say what was significant—and they did. In each decade, the images showed the team what colors they liked, what shapes they preferred, and very interestingly, what stories they held. Some of the images spoke more than others. They were the ones that were singled out as possibilities. From this pool, images were selected based on their potential for animation and their inherent magnetism to engage, inform, and spark the curiosity of any passerby. 

Another challenge was to figure out how to best employ the distinctive installation structure of 150 Media Stream, which comprises of 89 LED vertical screens that reach varying heights up to 22 feet high and span 150 feet wide. This configuration forms a vertical pattern that is combined with extreme horizontality—interesting but opposing dynamics built into the structure. These are constructs the team intentionally utilized, by ensuring that particular images animate to traverse the unusual terrain. 

The Milestones project is out of the ordinary in that Chicago design history is rarely brought to the attention of the general public. Bringing awareness to historically-relevant creative work was central to the project’s intent and importance. The project afforded design history outside of the confines and prompting of a book, classroom or school, and it was instead framed in the context and excitement of an immersive technological experience. The completion and success of this experiential design project has lead to ideas and invitations for further work at other public venues for new media at the international scale. 

In advance of the debut of Chicago Design Milestones at 150 Media Stream, a preview gala and exhibition was held at Archeworks—a Chicago-based design lab and media outlet dedicated to using design as an agent of change in the public interest. The preview exhibition, lead by Lauren Meranda of CDA, featured the research and static images of the works selected for animation in Chicago Design Milestones. 

For the opening of Chicago Design Milestones, a catalog was produced. It contains images of all of the design works included in the project as well as related examples of work from the Archive. It was an opportunity to not only celebrate the works selected for the project but to also highlight additional CDA holdings. The catalog further documented the team’s research by including the lists of descriptive terms that were generated and used to characterize the design and themes for each of the decades. Considered to be a valuable component of the project, the Chicago History Museum acquired the catalog for their collection. 

In the end, the team hoped that Chicago Design Milestones engaged onlookers and inspired them with the city’s creative history. Perhaps viewers delighted and marveled in what they saw. Perhaps they felt a sense of nostalgia, a feeling of pride for the city, or gained an appreciation for Chicago design. Additionally, by example, the team hoped they fulfilled a role in helping to widen the conceptual space for designers, in which to explore, research and play.

Chicago Design Milestones team:
Daria Tsoupikova, UIC School of Design & Electronic Visualization Laboratory
Sharon Oiga, UIC School of Design & Chicago Design Archive
Guy Villa Jr, Columbia College Chicago
Jack Weiss, Chicago Design Archive
Cheri Gearhart, Chicago Design Archive
Wayne Stuetzer, Chicago Design Archive
Krystofer Kim (Lead Animator), NASA
Ali Khan (Animator), UIC School of Design

Grant funding support:
Riverside / 150 Media Stream
Columbia College Chicago
UIC College of Architecture, Design, and the Arts

Project presentations:
Mar 16–18, 2020 (postponed), Design Principles & Practices Conference. Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, NY.
Feb 12–15, 2020, CAA Conference / Design Incubation 6.2. Chicago, IL.
Oct 3–4, 2019, Type Tales Chicago (conference held by Type Magazine). Chicago, IL.

Project awards:
STA 100 Award, 2019
Communication Design Scholarship Award, 2019 (only 2 awarded)