This week’s #MOYAVoices edition takes the form of a conversation with Adrian Saunders and FedericoGüi,respectively Project Manager and Graphic designer for Moya Design Partners. Federico and Adrian join MOYA to talk about MOYA’s collaboration with the DowntownDC Business Improvement District to design and create the BLM Plaza Banners. They also talk about racial justice, the power of symbols, and global collaboration.
Q: Adrian,you worked for six years for the DowntownDC Business Improvement District (BID), and overall have 15 years of experience in the D.C.area. Can you share some details about the MOYA and DowntownDC BID’s working relationship?
Adrian Saunders: MOYA has been working with the DowntownDC BID for a long time; the first project was when Paolawas at her previous firm (Marshall Moya Design). She did the officedesign project for us – this was back when I was an employee at the BID. Paola andI worked very closely on this very comprehensive interior design project, which also had quite a few environmental graphics. Both the interior design team and the visual design team worked together on some of the interior environmental graphics.Thereare even some architectural elements in this project. For example, in the front lobby, there is a map of the BID area that was created in an architectural way with tiles and reveal.This project had a lot of multidisciplinary interaction.
That was probably one of my last projects before I left the BID. From this moment, the relationship was just really good between the two companies; MOYA and the BID are really in sync with each other on a lot of things. One thing MOYA really likes to do is workwith clients that have a cause, such as a social cause or an environmental cause, and the BID is one of those clients.
MOYA’s renovation of the Downtown Day Service Center recently won an award. This is a testament of the successful collaboration of MOYA and the DowntownDC BID.
Adrian: TheBID and MOYA also worked on the Downtown Day Services Center (The Center), which is anotherbig project. The project converted an old church basement into a place where individuals experiencing homelessness could come and do everything – from having a place to hang out during the daytime, to finding a spot where they can read a book,or receivinghelp with getting their ID back.Patrons can also meet with The Center’s staff about potentially getting housing, and use the facilities to wash clothes. It is a place that is trying to return dignity to homeless individuals, and MOYA was instrumental in developing a design that enhancedthe project to something complete and beautiful.
Paola and the team’s vision were to really make this a space that elevated the dignity of the end-users, instead of anondescript substandard space,which unfortunately is what you see sometimes. For The Center, we still completed itin a very cost-effective way. You can create materials and use environmental graphics to really make it work visually, and full of color yet also relaxing.
Q: From your local perspective and your involvement with the community and the district, how do you see Mayor Muriel Bowser’s endorsement of the Black Lives Matter(BLM)Plaza?
Adrian: It was very important for the District. DC has a very diverse population and this is a very important issue nationwide. Considering the stance of the White House, I feel a lot of the citizens of the District probably weren’t feeling that it was being treated with the urgency required.
The Mayor wanted to be really clear and affirm that the District does support this important matter, and make clear that Black lives matter as much as any other life out there. It seems we keep reading about these cases happening in the news, and while they might not be widespread, they are happening, and appear frequently in the media. It definitely emotionally affected the citizens. For Mayor Bowser to support the cause, it was really helpful to show that D.C. recognizes that black lives are equally as important as everyone else’s lives, and therefore should be treated equally, and have the same due process under law.
Q: Institutional recognition, right?
Adrian: Yes, Mayor Bowser institutionally recognized thatand took this as a huge opportunity to brand the location, choosing two blocks of 16th Street in front of the White House as theBlack Lives Matter Plaza to show that the city supports the BLM cause as much as anyone else’s.
“The silhouettes aren’t necessarily just the victims, but also the families, the whole community. This not only affects the victims, but it ripples through the entire community. This is an attempt to depict the extent of these tragedies and how they impact all black identities.”
The District usually allows the BID to put banners up along streets within the BID. Neil Albert, the CEO of the BID, wanted to find a way to use the space the BID would normally have to support the cause. He asked us to come up with some banners to be put onthe lampposts along 16th Street. Neil worked with Fede, and they went back and forth on several design iterations and design concepts to figure out what was the best way to create something that would complementthe Black Lives Matter mural andexpand on that concept.
FEDE:The design process was actually very fluid and organic. Obviously, it’s a very solemn subject and there’s a lot of investigation and research on our part to make sure that what we were doing really responds to the needs of the project. It was at the peak of the movement on the news and in the media. It was actually happening right at the same time that we were developing the design so there was a lot of information anda lot of sensitivity around it. We wanted to treat the subject matter with the gravity it deserves.
Basically, breaking it down into steps, I’d say the first part of the work was research. We informed ourselves about the movement origins, how long it had been going on, and thetotems of the movement; key phrases and their own color palette, which is this very iconic stark black and yellow. Based on this information, we decided to work along those lines anddeveloped a few concepts, some of them involving different icons, while others were typographic designs. The silhouette design appeared in these first versions and was instantly recognized as the favorite. We decided to complement the silhouettes with the SayTheir Names slogan and a list of the last 100 cases, or at leastthey were the last 100 cases when we developed the design.
We tried to be very sensitive about getting all of the names right, in the correct order, because those details are very important to people, we just didn’t want to make any kind of mistake. We checked on various sources; it was just like a design process. We also complemented it with Irene(MOYA’s Proposal and Content Marketing Specialist) helping me out with the research.Once that version was decided on, most of the work went into making sure that we were very respectful of history, the names, and the sensitivity.
The silhouettes aren’t necessarily just the victims, but also the families, the whole community. This not only affects the victims, but it ripples through the entire community. This is an attempt to depict the extent of these tragedies and how they impact all black identities.
Something else I want to mention about the whole process is that everyone really paid special attention to detail and made sure that what we were delivering was upto the challenge.
Q: What was the reception of the banners and the design in the District?
ADRIAN: Based on what Neil told us, the banners were well received by the Mayor. I think we’ve also received some positive press;it was mentioned at the awards that Paola recently received (Washington Business Journal’s Women Who Means Business Honoree) as a standout project.
People see the banners a lot, as the banner poles are a highly visible element. Any time people take photographs in that area of the plaza, they are drawn to the banners becausethe sky is avery light blue that offers a stark contrast with the banners’ color palette ofchocolate, yellow and black. They definitely stand out.
ADRIAN: TheGolden Triangle (DC’s business district)BID is just across from BLM Plaza and they actually also gravitated toward the banners and eventually ended up getting the same design on their banners onthe other side of the street. They really want to participate, andit’s something the Golden Triangle BID wanted to be a part of as well. The BLM banners are on both sides of 16th Street, even in a different BID’s jurisdiction.
Q: We are aware of the powerof symbols; what is your take on the role of design as such a powerful tool to change and highlight certain narratives and certain visual representations?
I think part of it is that these eight different silhouettesare a mirror for people; they can see and think “that could be me, or that could be my friend”. The silhouettes are really powerful images, more than just the words as well. You have these iconic banners and they’re all different. I think it’s great that Federico showed a diversity of hairstyles – shaved heads, locks, and braids – showing there are so many different people that define themselves as Black. Symbolism shows that as well.
FEDE: The idea behind making it diverse wasbasically what Adrian mentioned about Black identities.With the silhouettesyou can’t have much detail on them, but I wanted to make sure that they suggest different ages, different styles. Talking about these icons or these banners in general, you see a process. All big social movementshave their slogans. They have their flags or their icons, and those types of things help people associate them with an image.Thisimage is something people can share, something that they can put on a shirt or on a banner when they go out and protest and itdeclares alignment instantly. Symbols are a simple way to get a message across. It’s very instant how you can see these relationships formed between a movement and their symbols.
Q: BLM‘s been a global movement, even if it’s very localized in the US. It has generated a global response. You see solidarity everywhere.
ADRIAN: Yeah! During the summerwhen the demonstrations were at their peak, you definitely saw some of the global response. It was very heartening as an American to see there were similar demonstrations in London, and other cities in Europe. It washeartening to see that itwasn’t only in the US, but that other countries also recognized thisas a global issue to bring attention to.
“I think that considering that this is a project that was highlighting the importance of and lack of diversity and racial equality, it’s great that we were able to tap into diversity to really bring this project to light. It’s just something that’s really special.”
FEDE:Besides the fact that we’re talking about violence, it also sparked a conversation about other ways that reflect inequality. I saw a lot of people talking about wage gaps and other issues where you can constantly see forms of racism, institutionalized racism. Here in Argentina, we don’t have a large African descended community, but we do have other minorities that come from different places and that have darker skin than the European descended population. This started a conversation about how we (in Argentina) also have racist or classist issues. It was interesting because people wanted to be a part of this conversation, but the way that it was felt here was different. It also had positive consequences of kickstarting conversations that people wouldn’t normally have – I think it’s immensely important to have those conversations.
Q: A final question for each of you. Federico first.
How doesit feel to have an impact on what’s happening in another community from Argentina?
FEDE: On my side it was super interesting. The moment I got that email requesting these designs, I instantly felt called upon to do something that was very special, out of the ordinary.I did try to get as informed as I could and take it very seriously because this is a very significant issue. I thought it was a huge privilege to take part in this conversationthat definitely interested me, even though I’m a million miles away. This was a very special opportunity and I was elated that I was considered for it.
Q: Adrian, what’s your take on thison a global collaboration like this, that brings talent from other parts of the world to your local community andimpact it positively?
ADRIAN:It’s great to have global talent.MOYAis really built upon global collaboration.One of the things that is essential to MOYA’s identity is diversity, and it’s brings the artistic style we have. It brings worldwide scale to different artistry from our graphic design team and even our own architectural and interior design teams. I think considering that this is a project that was highlighting the importance of and lack of diversity and racial equality, it’s great that we were able to tap into diversity to really bring this project to light. It’s just something that’s really special.