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Case studies: Columbia Maison Française centennial

Read more on the Centennial website here.

Read more about this Centennial Commemorative book here.

An influx of funding helped pave the way for significant renovation of the CMF. This included the kitchen, which was christened by Jacques Pépin, who gave a cooking demo to guests.

CHALLENGE

Columbia University’s Maison Française has served as an educational and cultural hub between the English- and French-speaking worlds in New York for 100 years. Through two world wars and a number of physical relocations, the Maison has flourished as a landmark for interdisciplinary collaboration between America and the French-speaking world. Visitors have included Dwight D. Eisenhower, Edith Piaf, Nicolas Sarkozy, and Chef Jacques Pépin to name just a few.

To celebrate the Maison’s first century and usher in the next, the organization launched a year of events including lectures, films, music, and other offerings across multiple platforms. A dynamic visual design program was needed to give voice to a variety of communications pieces.

PROCESS

The centennial would comprise three main components: a commemorative book, an exhibition, and a website. I pulled together a team to help execute the campaign — exhibition and graphic designers, a web developer, and copy editor — and led the campaign's visual design. I also advised the CMF's Director on curatorial issues, helping her and her staff adapt the content for each component.

We designed the visual identity, consisting of a logotype, a palette of bold colors, a font system, and an approach to image handling, all of which we used across multiple applications. The development of the book — a history of the Maison — was the first stage. The physical exhibition followed, residing in both the Maison’s Buell Hall and Columbia’s Lowe Library. Ephemera from the CMF’s archives and historical information were displayed, along with interactive highlights of the new centennial website.

The pièce de résistance was the website, an expanded online version of the gallery exhibition. It provides a wealth of rich, immersive content. A media and archives section includes a living repository of the Maison’s photographs, documents, and audio and video recordings. There are also two special features: a Centennial Highlights section and a selection of pages from former director Eugene Sheffer’s photo album. The site’s design offers multiple access points to many layers of content through a clean, user-friendly interface. One can skim through the narrative on a cursory level, delve further into the online exhibition, or lose oneself in the minutiae of the archives. With a single click, Francophones can toggle to an all-French version of the site.

Finally, the Maison took this opportunity to begin an annual tradition of honoring notable figures. I designed and produced a series of bronze medals for the first in a series of honorees, François Delattre, French Ambassador to the U.S. This honor was bestowed by Dr. Paul LeClerc, the Maison’s Chairman, at a ceremony held at the French Embassy in New York.

RESULTS

Visitorship to both the web and the Maison itself increased exponentially. In its first 3 months, the new centennial website saw traffic increase more than 700 percent.

Our work increased awareness of the Centennial among corporate and individual donors alike. An influx of funding helped pave the way for a significant renovation of the CMF’s kitchen. To christen it, Jacques Pépin gave a cooking demo to guests.

The centennial website received kudos from the design community, including two spotlight features from Communication Arts.

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SERVICES

Creative direction & design | Exhibition graphic design | Website design | Interactive signage | Curation guidance

TEAM

Creative direction & design: Marc Blaustein
Exhibition design: Stephen Saitas. Additional design: Suzanne Doig. Web development: Alex Smoller