Breaking Bread with Patricia Cué | Mingei International Museum

Professor Emeritus of Graphic Design at San Diego State University and Board Member of Mingei International Museum, Patricia Cué has been instrumental in guiding the Museum's rebrand.

Her own work explores the ways in which design defines the cultural identity of public spaces and is inspired by the tradition, colors and textures in vernacular forms of design. She is also the author of Mexican Wall Painting: Bardas de Baile, and her studies were completed at the Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico and at the Basel School of Design in Switzerland.

When did you first connect with Mingei, as a visitor and a Board Member? What attracted you to the Museum?

Mingei was one of the first museums I visited when I moved to San Diego in 2008. The top floor was covered with these unusual mud sculptures created by an Indian woman. There was also an exhibition about Scandinavian design. Every nook, every wall, every case surprised and delighted me. The whole atmosphere of the museum was serene and intimate yet somewhat whimsical. It felt close to my heart with its focus on my two passions: craft and design. I was hooked!

My participation as a Board Member came later, in 2011, when I was initially invited to serve as a liaison between the San Diego State University (SDSU) School of Art and Design and Mingei. Not unlike my first visit to the Museum, I have found much to engage with. In my eight years as a Board Member, I have participated mostly in Education and Marketing initiatives although now I am also Chair of the Capital Projects Committee, and that is an exciting challenge. I love working with the Museum staff, and my fellow Board Members have become a second family for me.

Mingei has truly been, for me, the best way to make an impact in San Diego, my hometown.

How were you were introduced to the prospect of guiding the rebrand project?

Academically, branding has been my area of expertise. For a long time, I taught an advanced branding class every semester and also conducted research projects in the field. I am interested and fascinated by how branding responds to culture, technology and audiences' expectations and behaviors.

In thinking about Mingei as a brand, I found that its name, mission and subject matter posed a unique challenge: a Japanese name for an international museum that shows Art of the People. I couldn't resist turning the complexities of visually representing Mingei into a class project. In 2014, in collaboration with Alexis O'Banion now the Museum's Creative Director, my branding class designed a series of speculative branding systems that sparked a larger conversation. At the same time, the renovation project for the museum was starting. With it, new concepts and an expanded vision presented the need for a rebrand.

"In thinking about Mingei as a brand, I found that its name, mission and subject matter posed a unique challenge: a Japanese name for an international museum that shows Art of the People."

How has the iterative, or prototypical, process unfolded for you? What were your favorite influences throughout the exploration?

My participation in the rebrand project has been as a consultant and mentor to the talented design team at the museum. It is such a pleasure to work with Alexis and Paige Landis. They expand my views and expectations of design every time we meet to look at their work. We make a good team because the three of us bring complementary skills and views to the design process. They are part of a generation that is exposed to huge amounts of visual information, very comfortable with accessing culture through technology; I am a seasoned designer with knowledge and experience in design principles and typography. I have thoroughly enjoyed sharing with them process binders and books from when I was a graduate student at the Basel School of Design like Wolfgang Weingart's experiments (his typography and use of space), exploring ideas the old-fashioned way (on a grid-paper sketchbook) and having heated discussions about how much green an indigo blue should have.

The temporary closure of the Museum allows the design team to develop the new brand through a constant process of experimentation that has led to weekly meetings where a multitude of options, within clear parameters, are discussed. Sometimes we spend most of the hour looking at different type alignments or the way a box responds to its space. It's been a luxury to be able to do this. Thoughtfully and in a very organic manner, Mingei is finding the right fit for a “new dress." When all our stakeholders agree, we will move on to establishing guidelines for the full Mingei team to play with. The idea is to have a brand that is kept alive through flexibility and collaboration.

What prompted you to bring artist Yomar Augusto onto the project as typographer and designer?

Yomar was the ideal candidate to bring into rebranding Mingei for his impeccable craft in designing typefaces and for his visionary approach to systems. The new research and concepts informed the direction. Rather than than just a logotype, a typographic solution would be the most appropriate and flexible to represent the attributes of Mingei.

"It is the beauty of the tools, simplicity of ingredients, patience in the process and often the unseen craft involved that for me are so 'mingei.'"

You retired as Professor Emeritus from SDSU just this year. What’s next on the horizon for you personally and with Mingei? (I heard something about a Mexico City trip.)

Yes! At the moment, I'm enjoying more free time and feel like we say in Mexico, "Como un niño con zapatos nuevos (like a kid with new shoes)." I plan to continue serving as a Board Member and supporting its different initiatives through active involvement, from the rebrand and co-leading with Raquel Rudoy this year's Mingei trip to Mexico City. The trip will be focused on craft, design, architecture and ideas around renovation.

I am letting time, my talents and exposure to people and places tell me what will be next for me.

Do graphic design, teaching, and baking bread relate to your interest in the mingei aesthetic? If so, how? (Or what is the thread that runs through all of your work?)

Absolutely! Thank you for asking this because I am certain that it is this thread that will lead me to my next professional endeavor. In design, as in teaching and in baking, it is a process that starts with basic principles that achieve beautiful and complex results. I am fascinated by how different cultures shape ideas, and bread, to satisfy the need to nurture. It is the beauty of the tools, simplicity of ingredients, patience in the process and often the unseen craft involved that for me are so mingei.

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