Skip to main menu Skip to main content Skip to footer content


Letterform Archive and AIGA in Minneapolis

Archiving AIGA Medalists exhibit
The Archiving AIGA Medalists exhibit at the AIGA Design Conference in Minneapolis, October 2017. Photo: Frank Aymami Photography, courtesy AIGA.

Our local and global audience is growing steadily, but Letterform Archive is still a fairly young organization, and this year offered many opportunities to introduce ourselves to new audiences beyond the Bay Area. The last few months were particularly eventful, with a whirlwind of collections projects, hosting visits, planning exhibitions, and sending our team off to represent the Archive and show our collection at conferences all around the world. I had the pleasure of working with our curator, Rob Saunders, on a pop-up exhibit for the 2017 AIGA Conference in Minneapolis.

AIGA Medalist Louise Fili
AIGA Medalist Louise Fili.

After meeting in New York this spring, AIGA’s Executive Director Julie Anixter and Rob put their heads together and came up with the idea that Letterform Archive should do an exhibit featuring the work of AIGA medalists. It was a pretty great idea, and I was really excited to help out. Before we started on this project, the Archive’s collection already had over 70 of the 194 medalists. Now, thanks to donations from medalists, we have 86 and counting.

It was incredible to dig through the work in our stacks and flat files to help select which items would travel with us to Minneapolis. Rob suggested a piece by Leo Lionni that I had never seen before. Let me tell you, I love this little book. It remains one of my favorite things in the collection.

Leo Lionni, What can you expect advertising to do for you?, designed while Art Director at Fortune, 1948–60.

As exciting as it was for me to pull out all of the posters, identity manuals, books, and pieces of original artwork that live here at the Archive, what made the exhibit such a success was the support and donations of the attending medalists. Fourteen designers contributed works to our permanent collection and for show in our exhibit. Visitors had the opportunity to meet attending medalists while seeing their work on display.  In some cases, they were meeting the men and women who inspired them to become designers.

Rob Saunders (Letterform Archive Curator) and Julie Anixter (AIGA Executive Director) with AIGA Medalists John Maeda, Steve Frykholm, Rebeca Méndez, Tom Geismar, Steff Geissbühler, Sean Adams, Michael Beirut, and Dana Arnett.
Rob Saunders and local AIGA members with exhibit designer Mike Haug (right).

This was the first exhibit I’ve worked on since coming to Letterform Archive, and also the first time the Archive has worked with an exhibit designer. Mike Haug of Engrafik is the best. In addition to designing an exceptional viewing experience for visitors, he showed up early and stayed late to make sure everything went without a hitch. It wouldn’t have been half the exhibit without him. We’re also grateful for the support of Monotype who sponsored the show, along with Neenah Paper, and supplied their wonderful exhibit vitrines.

We met a lot of designers, illustrators, students, and educators over the four days we exhibited in Minneapolis. One visitor took a picture of a poster, telling her friend she’d done a similar project in graduate school — only to realize the poster’s creator was her former professor, Nancy Skolos. We talked to hundreds of people about the work they were doing and the work in the pop-up that influenced or impressed them. I saw people meet for the first time and others reunite. I watched people take pictures of design work they’d only seen in textbooks. And I saw every one of those people walk away inspired by the work and the people around them. I couldn’t have asked for a better first exhibit experience at the Archive.

AIGA Exhibit

This collaboration with AIGA embodies a critical part of our curatorial vision. One of the core reasons Letterform Archive was founded was to meet a very basic need in the design community: students, professionals, and enthusiasts are hungry to see the work of graphic designers who have shaped our visual world, but who are often overlooked by other museums and special collections. We’re thrilled to have AIGA’s support in taking on this challenge, elevating graphic design by making it accessible through a world-class collection.

Kate Long, Assistant Librarian