Every year, Seattle Central Creative Academy graduating class designs and hosts Portshowlio, a two night event showcasing our work for the design community and celebrating all we’ve accomplished with family and friends. Students are responsible for all aspects of the show and work within different teams to complete their tasks.
Exhibit Team Lead
Approx. 38,000 SQFT
The exhibit team was tasked with transforming the 5th floor of Seattle Central’s main campus (~38,000 sq ft) into a gallery displaying the individual work of 44 designers in a variety of formats while also featuring a strong cohesive brand, all on a tight budget and timeline.
We transformed the entire floor into a gallery that allowed student work to shine while be supported by the event’s brand. The space included areas to observe, engage, mingle, rest, interact, and have a few snacks. We also put in place an effective wayfinding system to help guests navigate from the street to the event, and from each project to its designer.
Our first task was to design a layout for the the event. We traced a floor plan of the building onto a whiteboard to talk through where different elements should be located.
During this session we discussed how to solve a number of issues including: multiple entrances, a massive entrance way, activating “dead” areas, multiple target audiences, guest flow, accessibility, power/lighting/technology capabilities and restrictions, food and beverage spaces, rest areas, student work vs branded elements, interactive elements, video projections, storage space, and accommodating large exhibits.
We focused on finding the right layout and amount of used space to make the event feel full – not too crowded and not too empty.
The show’s brand, designed by a team lead by Nina Wesler, was inspired by New Memphis, and Pop-Art. Visually this included stacking, color blocking, patterns, bright colors and thick strokes.
We prototyped a variety of concepts and materials to extend the brand into the physical space – ranging from giant built pieces to color fields on walls to lighting gels. We ultimately found resourceful ways to create a cohesive collection of elements.
One of our biggest challenges was color matching across materials. We tested a variety of materials – vinyl, wallpaper, colored paper, lighting gels, plastic film, balloons, paint, plastic table cloths, and matte artists tape to find the right colors.
To to the large team size and variety of projects, I broke the exhibit team into 3 smaller project focused teams: Wayfinding, Brand Extensions, and Student Exhibitions.
We had one dedicated day per week to work on this event. We would start with an all team meeting to give updates and feedback. Then spend the rest of the day working in smaller teams on specific projects. I would check in with each group every week to offer feedback and make sure we stayed on target. I would end the day in a team leads meeting giving updates and discussing anything that required another team’s input.
Ultimately, I spent most of my time working with the Exhibition team. The four of us planned the layout and structure for 7 different spaces all meant to highlight and showcase student work in a variety of ways while also incorporating some event branding to supplement but not distract from the work.
One of the staples of the show is that every designer has a desk station that includes a headshot, name tag, their portfolio website, and space for them to show their personality.
We first worked to find a layout that represented the collaborative nature of the program while still giving each designer a thoughtful individual space. Through sketching and prototyping in physical space, we found a 3 desk configuration that encouraged people to hang out around a pod of desks and created nice flow in the room.
A key component of the brand is modular color boxes and the logo has one box that changes pattern. We decided to treat the desks as brand boxes, covering the sides with color fields and patterns – using plastic tablecloths and matte artist tape to create the black stroke – and allowing the top surface to be the element that “changes pattern” to suit each designer.
We then carried the brand into the rest of the room, adding some modular color blocking and patterns to the built in bookcases and walls, and installing color gels corresponding to the main color of each room.
Another staple of the show is turning the photo studio, the largest room on the floor, into a gallery space featuring mounted pieces by each designer and often a handful of small exhibits.
This year we had very high interest in physical exhibits, about half of the cohort had at least one project to display physically! To accommodate this, rather than mounting images on the walls, we instead hung them from tracts in the ceiling throughout the middle of the room. This allowed us to keep the walls open for exhibits while also forming smaller areas making the large space more inviting and encouraging attendees to slowly wind through the variety of work.
It required a great deal of math to determine the size, quantity, and layout of the mounted work. We settled on allowing each designer to have 4 pieces of various sizes, that could be broken up into a collage if desired. We also designed “branded boards” – mounted color fields and patterns that we interspersed with the work to help tie in the brand and give the attendee’s eyes places to rest.
This year there was a record number of exhibits – 27 in all. To accommodate all of them we started by creating a detailed spreadsheet that included the scope, size, and equipment requirements for each. I worked with each exhibit’s designers to ensure it all issues were considered and required materials were obtained.
The exhibits sorted themselves into 3 main groups: Large, Table Top and Other. Luckily the numbers ended up working out so that all the large exhibits fit perfectly into the main Gallery space, and the table tops became a nice addition to the 3 portfolio rooms.
For the remaining exhibits, that were not a good fit for the Gallery, we created an additional room, the Media Lounge. This room housed 2 VR exhibits, a DJ/Poster design exhibit and several others that were either too small or quite to stand up to the large open space of the Gallery. We also created a reading lounge to highlight the magazines each designer had made as part of the program. This was a huge undertaking for each designer and we wanted to create an inviting space for attendees to sit and spend some time flipping through them. This fit in well with the other exhibits in the Media Lounge.
We also were able to use an additional classroom to feature the Superhero Academy Exhibit I created with two classmates earlier in the year. Mara, Cole and I had to reconfigure the exhibit to fit in the new space and do a little bit of planning to make sure the entrance was visible and inviting from the main open area
The common area team was a delight to work with. They came up with a number of concept driven installations to make the large space feel inviting and cohesive. This group was largely self sufficient, I mainly provided encouragement, and some minimal art direction. They found ways to brand built in trophy cases and bulletin boards, give a sense of place to both the primary and secondary entrances, create a clear flow, and created a few interactive doodling areas that were very popular with attendees.
One of their largest pieces was a visual representation of the design process shown with branded elements and icons that pulled attendees through a very long hallway into the core of the event.
In the main open area there is one particular a long wall with a very damaged paint job, it was scheduled to be painted before the event but ultimately wasn’t. At one point we had decided to plan a Saturday to come in and paint it ourselves, but then we were stuck with a much better idea. As part of the curriculum we took a fast paced poster class where we each had to create a new poster every week. There was some beautiful work that was made but much of it was not getting featured in our portfolios.
We decided to make that wall a poster gallery. We gave a maximum size requirement, and an attribution template but no other parameters. We printed these and taped them (with drywall safe tape) to the wall and presto – an engaging additional way to show off our work that not only covered an eye sore but encouraged attendees to flow through the space the back rooms. It also was slightly visible from the back entrance which allowed anyone coming in the “wrong” way to know they were in the right place.
The event was located in the top floor of a confusing building in the heart of Seattle’s Capitol Hill. The building itself is easy to find but navigating to the 5th floor is difficult. People can get there in three main ways – driving, walking or on public transportation – and each affects which part of the building they would arrive at.
We decided on 3 main starting points for our wayfinding: the parking garage, the main entrance of the school and the North East corner of the building facing the light rail station.
I helped the wayfinding team pinpoint key spots where a sign or marker should be placed anytime someone coming from these three directions would need to make a decisions about which direction to go. Our goal was to lead everyone to the main elevator bay located in the middle of the building. From the parking garage, for example, that meant crossing a street, going around the exterior of the building and walking past 2 sets of doors to find the right entrance.
Once the key points were decided on, the team set to work on visual ways to draw attention to the right direction. They used a combination of modular posters, balloons and spray-on chalk paint with stencils to create a very successful wayfinding system that immediately expressed the brand of the event and gave guests a clear guide to navigate through a rather confusing space.
Once everything was planned, we knew setup would be a huge undertaking. We had 4 ½ days to flip the space (including a much needed deep clean of some areas). About 2 weeks before the event, the team leads met for a multi-hour meeting, lead by Kira Shea, to plan out the order of setup and how many people each task required.
From there we were able to determine how many shifts each designer needed to volunteer for, and which projects needed detail setup instructions. As is tradition, the first year students volunteer to help setup (and learn from our mistakes for when it’s their turn) so we had about 120 people available to both setup and run the event.
With Kira in charge, setup went extremely smoothly. She setup a base camp complete with snacks and a whiteboard so she could quickly delegate tasks and volunteers as needed. Everyone was most than willing to jump in and do what was needed to pull all this off. We wisely worked in a buffer so there was enough time to run out for extra supplies and deal with some rain delays. Once it was all said and done we came in on time and under budget and everyone had a great time sharing our work with the local design community and celebrating an amazing 2 years learning and growing together.