As part of Three Steps Ahead’s new graphic identity, I’ve been working on creating a business card that speaks to where we’re at today. Branding has become an incredibly integral part of what we do for our clients, and a strong, new identity for Three Steps Ahead has been a priority for me for quite some time. With so much of my time spent at the International Printing Museum, I’ve been heavily influenced by the look of nameplates on mid-20th century machinery. There’s something so fascinating about the little metal tags, with their engraved data and machine-age trademarks. I’ve spent lots of time looking through examples of nameplates, and what I came to realize was that as much as I loved their look, there was almost always something less than perfect about their execution.1 Obviously it’s overkill to analyze such a functional piece solely based on its aesthetics. But my goal in creating this design was to perfect that industrial look; to approach a somewhat undesigned object as a designer would.
Metal name plates would remain a big influence. But I wanted to create a wordmark / logo that could stand on its own, too, outside of the context of other supporting identity bits. Another hugely influential source for me was American Trademarks: A Compendium, Chronicle’s recently published (and gorgeously designed) reissue of earlier works like Trademarks of ’20s &’30s.2 The book oozes with drool-worthy icons and lettering.
Soon into the sketching process, I started leaning towards a circular silhouette for the mark, with custom “radio” lettering for the “three” and plenty of forward motion. The circular shape lent itself well to being used for packaging. Playing off of that idea, I tried out the design on a tin can (again, heavily influenced by my time playing with ink tins at the Printing Museum). Maybe if I ever create my own brand of inks, creams, or salves, this will come in handy.
As I’ve learned more and more about the art of letterpress printing, I’ve been committed to creating a card that I could at least play a role in producing. Mike Mische—friend of the Museum, Night Shift collaborator, owner of Walnuts & Rice, and frequent commenter here—generously offered his time, expertise, and equipment to help me achieve my goals. The best part is that Mike is not only a talented letterpress printer, but a gifted teacher, and I’m learning loads of information as we work. With Mike’s advice and guidance, I finalized my business card designs, purchased the negative film, and had a pair of cutting dies made. From the film, Mike was able to create the photopolymer plates in-house.
In anticipation of the Heidelberg Windmill platen press class I’ll be taking (and Mike will be teaching) next Saturday, we created the plates, cut some stock similar to what we’ll be using for the final run, and printed some proofs with a mixture of metallic silver and opaque white ink on black Plike stock.
I’d seen the Windmill run before from a distance. But up close, it is an intimidating beast. I’ve only run a small Pearl press and some Vandercooks. By comparison, the Windmill is a battleship among rowboats. It sounds like a giant steel bull that breathes and snorts while it works. It works incredibly fast, with unbelievably perfect registration. Mike takes care of his machines, and it shows.
The proofs came out beyond my expectations. And they’re not even duplexed or die cut yet! I cannot wait to see the final prints on Saturday. To be continued!