Mapping New York’s design community

New York creative agency Athletics and the Cooper Union’s Herb Lubalin Study Centre are launching an exhibition mapping New York’s graphic design community, inspired by urban planner Kevin Lynch’s 1960 study The Image of the City.

New York creative agency Athletics and the Cooper Union’s Herb Lubalin Study Centre are launching an exhibition mapping New York’s graphic design community, inspired by urban planner Kevin Lynch’s 1960 study The Image of the City.

Image of the Studio, which opens next week, will feature original work and studio portraits from more than 75 design studios, as well as infographics addressing what graphic design in New York looks like and how living and working in the city affects contemporary studio practice.

The project was inspired by Lynch’s five year study of how we perceive urban landscapes: examining people in Boston, Jersey and Los Angeles, he concluded that we make sense of our surroundings by forming mental maps of five elements: paths (sidewalks and streets), edges (perceived boundaries such as buildings and shorelines), districts (sections defined by a particular character, nodes (focal points) and landmarks.

Lynch is widely credited with introducing the terms wayfinding and imageability and his research on the importance of visual communications has had a significant impact on urban planning. Athletics says his work is also a study of graphic design “and how we translate the visible world into tangible forms in order to grasp a sense of the whole.”

“Image of the City was a crucial inspiration in that it helped us frame the nature of graphic design within the parameters of NYC. The idea of cognitive mapping – of a mental representation – was the basis of how we approached the exhibition to try to grasp a sense of the whole graphic design community,” explains Athletics co-founder Matt Owens, who curated the show with colleague Allison Connell and Herb Lubalin Centre curator Alexander Tochilovsky.

Infographics featured in the show are based on the results of an online questionnaire filled out by participating studios in June, documenting the history and culture of each company. Athletics has also arranged a series of accompanying talks, debates and studio tours, looking at design in five New York boroughs. After the exhibition, submitted work will be archived at the centre and uploaded to

Athletics has been planning Image of the Studio since late 2012, after Tochilovsky invited Owens to take part in a panel discussion of Unit Editions’s book Herb Lubalin: American Graphic Designer (1918-81). “We were captivated by the recollections of all of the panelists as they discussed Herb, his studio culture, creative working style and the real challenges of being a practicing designer.

“After the panel, we discussed with Alexander the unique dialogue that occurs when fellow designers are face to face, exchanging opinions and professional experiences, as well as how the notion of the design studio changes across people, technology, time and culture. We agreed it wasn’t something that could be fully captured in a singular medium – be it print, online or in motion or live. Thus the idea of the exhibition was born,” says Owens.

“I have long been thinking of a way to shed more light on the design studio model, especially as a teacher. For students, there is a lot of mystery to the way studios operate or how they began,” adds Tochilovsky. “I’ve also been curious to see more of designers’ faces – not many show portraits of themselves on their websites. So when Matt came to me with this idea it seemed like a perfect match for our vision at the Lubalin Center – we aim to produce exhibitions which are educational and illuminate some aspect of graphic design’s role,” he adds.

“For us, its been a great deal of work but as a studio it’s been our love letter to both New York and the graphic design industry. It’s also an excuse to throw a big party for our fellow designers and involve our community and peers in a meaningful way,” adds Connell.

Image of the Studio opens on October 1 until October 26 at 41 Cooper Gallery, Cooper Union. To find out more visit

Images (from top): original work and studio portraits submitted by Demo, the Office of Paul Sahre and Ro and Co, and infographics produced by Athletics for the show.

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