Spirit Lab icon table 2

Icon System Design for Spirit Lab Exhibit

Spirit Lab icon system page 1While working at SDSU during my time in graduate school as a graphic designer for the Library’s Special Collections and University Archives department, I did all of the visual design work for a year-long exhibit titled Spirit Lab: New Religious Thought in the Golden State that was housed in the donor hall of Love Library. Every year Special Collections and University Archives (SCUA) at SDSU designs different exhibits that feature books, papers, artifacts and other paraphernalia from one of their many interesting collections. For the 2014-15 school year, the topic was alternative religions. SCUA has a fascinating and extremely rich collection about alternative religions, ranging from utopian and intentional communities, to neo-Paganism and New Age, to Eastern influenced religions in the United States, to UFO Groups and groups in the unbelief category. SCUA also has a particularly strong collection of materials about Scientology and Peoples Temple at Jonestown.

There were many challenges (and exciting opportunities!) to this project, which I will detail more later in a different post. The main aspect of the project I want to focus on today is the set of icons I designed for the exhibit. After figuring out the basic look and feel of the exhibit the next step was to figure out a way to visually delineate the different groups displayed in the exhibit as a way of visually organizing a large amount of material. Because the exhibit was focused on California as well, the faculty and staff at SCUA wanted to include an infographic of the state of California with the different groups demarcated on the map. I felt that color coding would be one way to differentiate the groups from each other, but also thought that individual icons for each separate group would be the best way to show where these groups would be geographically.

After I decided I wanted to create the icons, the challenge began. I wanted each icon to be representative of the group in some way, so decided to pull from their logos, if they had them. For groups that had no logos, or that were defunct and had no visual presence anywhere, it was a bit tougher. It required a lot of research and some creative thinking. For example, Lomaland, an theosophical society that began on Point Loma in the early 1900s, was notable for its founder Katherine Tingley’s desire to serve fresh fruits and vegetables every day at Lomaland, and a notable vegetable brought to California by the theosophists was the avocado. During my research I found no logo for Lomaland, so the avocado became its icon for Spirit Lab.

Spirit Lab icon table 2Similarly I based Harbin Hot Spring’s icon on the shape of some unique buildings found at that community, as well as the icon for Fountain Grove. For Holy City, a now uninhabited intentional community in northern California, I chose a somewhat ambiguous mark which I based on some sort of scope or wall used for peep shows. Why? Because I read in an old newspaper clipping that the founder of Holy City hosted numerous attractions there, including a penny peep show.

In the preliminary/unused icons section I feature a few that I edited, namely the icon for Church of All Worlds. It was too dense and needed to be simplified, which you can see in the final version. I scrapped the initial Theosophy icon for a more complex one based on a logo I found for Theosophical groups. The rest of the icons weren’t used because the faculty and staff planning the exhibit decided they didn’t want to include those groups in the final displays mainly because they didn’t have enough materials in the collections that represented them.

For the style of the icons I knew the importance of creating icons that were all similar in size with consistent stroke weights that were also the same width of the letters in the typography used in the exhibit. I wanted to use simple lines to match the overall feel of the exhibit which was drawing upon a scientific/laboratory diagram design. I wanted all of the icons to have enough white space, so when viewed from afar they would not look too dense. Many of the icons had to be simplified multiple times as they were too complex initially.
Spirit Lab icon table: preliminary and unused