When it comes to 100th anniversary blowouts, Milwaukeeans would be hard pressed not to think of Harley-Davidson, a sea of leather-clad bikers, and a floundering Elton John. One 100-year-old group that probably wouldn’t come to mind would be the AIGA, the professional association for design. But this Thursday at Turner Hall, the Wisconsin chapter of AIGA will celebrate the organization’s 100th anniversary with an interactive, multi-media party paying tribute to the last century of graphic design. Dubbed “Futura Extra Bold,” the show will feature a new, one-night-only composition from John Mueller (Death Blues, Volcano Choir) and friends; a history-spanning visual presentation from UWM and MIAD students; and post-show music from tireless DJ team Kiings. All told, it’s not your typical design party.
“Some [AIGA state chapters] will undoubtedly have a great, big party and celebrate, which is one way to go, but we wanted to do something a little different,” says Hanson Dodge Creative’s Ken Hanson, who is serving as the “centennial liaison” for the Wisconsin AIGA. “We wanted to challenge the design community to look forward and consider the role of design in society, too.”
To issue that challenge, Hanson and Futura Extra Bold will combine local music with the work of local visual artists and students to create a uniquely ambitious event. But it’s that local angle—and the state of Milwaukee’s design community—that gives the night special significance. “I think a lot of designers here define themselves by the commercial work that they do, and that means the design community is largely defined by the marketplace. That’s very limiting,” Hanson says. “I think we wanted to encourage designers to take their work more seriously and to consider their roles in the broader world. Designers have the ability to go beyond the challenges of the commercial marketplace to create solutions that can make the world better.
“For me, design is really about problem solving more than it is about simply selling things,” Hanson continues. “It’s about being a good citizen and a good person. A designer’s skills can be potent stuff, critical for addressing all kinds of issues in the community. Look at what Milton Glaser is trying to do with his recent design campaign to draw attention to the climate crisis. Imagine if all designers used their skills the way he does. So, yes, we have a bit of work to do.”
While design is the reason for the season, so to speak, the centerpiece of Futura Extra Bold will be Mueller. The dynamic drummer and percussionist will be joined by some of the city’s finest musicians, including Chris Rosenau, Nathaniel Heuer, Ken Palme, Hal Rammel, Todd Umhoefer, Jim Warchol and Marielle Allschwang. Together, the group will perform an original score inspired by the last 100 years of design, accompanied by over 2,000 images, progressing in 20-year movements, and culminating in a “musical illustration of the future.”
“I had seen Jon’s Death Blues at Alverno and was very moved by it,” Hanson says. “I see Jon as an experience designer who takes his work very seriously. I met him and he shared this idea of creating powerful events that really changed people. I love that idea. His work is about life and death. Marrying Jon to the world of design seemed like a way to shake things up and get people thinking about design in a new way.
“In my more ambitious moments, I hope that Futura Extra Bold might be an empowering and transformational experience for designers, not unlike the way Death Blues was for me at Alverno,” Hanson adds. “My hope is that they will walk away thinking about designing their own lives and their own communities in a new way.”
Futura Extra Bold is scheduled for Thursday, November 13, at 7 p.m. Tickets are $15 for AIGA members, and $25 for non-members. As to why the event takes its name from a popular typeface, Hanson has a simple explanation. “It’s a typeface that came out of the Bauhaus and reminds many designers about the golden age of design. But it’s also the workhorse of the present moment. It’s remained contemporary over many decades. It’s modern, bold, graphic, clear as a bell, and a symbol of optimism.
“It’s also a great name and just seemed right for a project with ambition.”