NYU Stern Orientation Program — inspiration by Erik Nitsche

(Update: photos of the printed booklet are now up.)

New York University’s Leonard N. Stern School of Business engaged with three steps ahead this summer to create a set of program booklets to be distributed to incoming students at Summer Orientation. Our work for Stern thus far (NYU Stern CACE Poster & NYU Stern IBEX Poster, for example) has leaned towards classic mid-century design meets The Naughties, when compared with designs we’ve done for NYU’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study. I’ve felt that Stern evokes a more streamlined, straight-shooting feel than the more expressive and eclectic nature of Gallatin. For this project, however, I wanted to branch off in a slightly tangential direction. The design needed to evoke feelings of: orientation; summer in New York city; a first time visit to the most overwhelming of all American cities; business; and a sense of edginess and fun.

I was particularly inspired by the work of Erik Nitsche, a modern graphic designer whose understanding of form and palette helped him to create some of the most iconic designs of the 20th century. I obsessively pored over the Flickr pool devoted to Nitsche’s work, trying to discern exactly what it was that made his work resonate. In my eventual concept sketches, I was influenced by Nitsche’s use of certain typeface pairs (Akzidenz Grotesk + Bodoni, for example) and graphic motifs, but I did my best to make it my own and keep things feeling of-our-era, rather than co-opting the 1960s zeitgeist completely.

The client had requested that several initial concepts be presented. The first set of ideas that I sketched were less related to Nitsche’s work than they were to some of the 1964 World’s Fair pieces I’ve come across, as well as mid-’60s record album art. These initial concepts had a very playful feel and a color palette that evoked New York City. I also really wanted to specify French Paper’s Dur-O-Tone in Butcher Orange as the cover stock. It’s fantastic. I created two different covers, one with a line-art illustration of Stern’s headquarters, and one with a motif evocative of a New York city manhole cover, a vinyl LP, or a stylized depiction of the summer sun (à la Rocky and Bullwinkle).

My next set of designs, which would form the foundation of the final pieces, moved more in the Swiss modernist Nitsche direction. I liked the idea of a diagram depicting a literal interpretation of “orientation.” I liked the associations with the summer season and the earth’s axis being tilted at 23.44°. I also liked the concept of a Little Prince-like planet with New York City as a major topographical feature. The colors I had chosen for this group of sketches was a lot more subdued, in contrast with the orange-and-blue palette of the previous concept. The feedback I received indicated that the perfect compromise was to combine the geometry and basic form of the modernist concept with the brighter, happier colors of the World’s Fair concept.

After selecting from a handful of colorways, we arrived at the final palette and polished the design to completion.

Interior spreads include several photo-illustrations based on the photography provided by NYU along with an extension of the arrow motif from the cover design. The inside cover also includes a map of the Washington Square Park NYU Campus area with important orientation locations highlighted by color for quick reference.

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2 Responses to “NYU Stern Orientation Program — inspiration by Erik Nitsche”

  1. Joey Schmit September 17, 2009 at 11:58 am #

    Beautiful and very thoughtful work, as always!


  1. NYU Stern Orientation Program print photos | three steps ahead — perspectives - December 5, 2009

    […] project has been previously detailed, but I recently photographed the actual booklets for posterity. Here’s how they came […]

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