Case Study

Paperless Posters

by Wendy Jedlička on Thursday, January 6, 2011 in Features

A few years ago, Spunk Design Machine was trying to help their client, the Seward Co-op in Minneapolis, to find a colorful window graphic that didn’t use traditional vinyl but still communicated the vibrant “fresh” look the co-op wanted. The dominant solution for direct application was, and still is, vinyl graphics. Not only is the vinyl not collected for recycling (window graphics for grocery stores are typically changed several times a year, generating waste), but the off-gassing of the vinyl window treatment would have impacted the Seward Co-op’s indoor air quality and overall LEED points.

Jeff Johnson, owner of Spunk, wanted a non-toxic option, but visual impact was also crucial. An award-winning graphic artist with a strong background in screen-printing, Jeff turned to this medium as an option. In the end, Speedball’s nontoxic water-soluble inks, though not endorsed for window applications by the manufacturer, held up well while being a more environmentally responsible choice than vinyl for the same job. Graphics applied to windows in this way are easily removed with a common scraper to get ready for new image application.

Picking up on this idea, reDesign (a sustainability focus program of AIGA Minnesota) members Craig Johnson (who had also worked on the Seward Co-op project) and Hunter Marcks used the screen-printing technique to create a Paperless Poster for the Twin Cities Green Drinks. The poster concept is by AGENCY F Design in Minneapolis, and was applied to the window of the January 2011 Green Drinks venue, Ginger Hop Restaurant/Honey Bar in Minneapolis.

Craig Johnson notes that at first the venue was hesitant to do this type of direct graphic on their window, but in the end relented. The result was a clean and elegant solution that played well with the look the restaurant was trying to maintain, while still allowing them to highlight new events that might be of interest to people who had never tried their place (and encourage return visits). Integration of information in a unique but also forward-looking way was the goal, while not creating the usual visual and physical clutter (and paper use) of traditional bulletin board or tatty taped-in-window options.

As we move further down the path of making a more sustainable society, it’s not enough to just make the same old things a bit less nasty. We have to challenge ourselves to find completely new ways of getting things done. In the case of the paperless (and vinyl-less) poster, the designers asked themselves: What is the goal here—to make another poster (even if it’s printed on eco paper with eco inks), or to communicate information? When we allow ourselves to step back and look hard at what it is we’re trying to do, rather than starting with how to do it, a whole new set of options opens up to us. When you set out to design a printed poster, in the end you’ll have a printed poster. When you start with the idea of communication, anything can happen!

Looking to use this window display technique? Here are the specs:

Inks: Speedball Water Soluble Ink. Screen: Use a fairly fine mesh screen (220). Printing: Play with the consistency of the inks until you get the image quality you’re looking for. Experiment, experiment, experiment. You can easily test-drive this technique in the comfort of your own studio on a piece of scrap glass. Once you get the results you like, reproducing these results on site is fairly easy.

Wendy Jedlicka, CPP— Jedlicka Design Ltd., o2 International Network for Sustainable Design, Minneapolis College of Art and Design’s groundbreaking Sustainable Design Certificate Program. Books: Packaging Sustainability and Sustainable Graphic Design.