Cubbies in Color | Mingei International Museum

Mingei’s graphic designer, Elizabeth Martinez, added flair to our Education Center’s cubbies, making it easy for young creatives to remember where they stored their belongings while also giving donors an opportunity to add their name (or the name of a loved one) next to a collection-inspired character.

"During the design process, we also thought about shapes and colors that would inspire children to be creative."

Where did the inspiration for the cubbies come from?

When I was an intern at Mingei, I created coloring pages inspired by bowls and dishes in the exhibition Art of the Americas – Pre-Columbian Art from Mingei’s Collection. The stylized animals in these objects had so much personality and ever since then, I’ve been looking for an opportunity to use them again.

Can you describe the design process?

To start, we had to decide how many animals and color variations we needed. The storage system had 4 rows of 12 cubbies, making 48 cubbies total. We settled on doing 12 animals with 4 different colors to have a variety of choices. We already had 6 animals – crocodile, serpent, hammerhead shark, crab, orca, and scorpion – from my previous work as an intern, so we chose six more to work with the ones we already had.

Then, we began looking through Mingei’s online collection of Pre-Columbian art. Once we selected a few objects, I sketched the 6 animals using Procreate on an iPad. I like to start varying the line width after my first sketch because this gives the drawing a gestural quality. The cubbies are my own graphic translations of the Pre-Columbian objects. To create consistency and unify the animals into a family, I created a system of characteristics. For example, there are four different styles of eyes, and the only differences are the size and whether or not they have eyelashes.

After sketching each animal, I went into Illustrator and used the pen tool to develop a cleaner, tighter vector icon inspired by the sketch. Once we were happy with the designs in Illustrator, we prepared the files for digital production. A local company, Glanz, Signing & Graphics fabricated the decals from adhesive vinyl and came to the Museum to install them.

Why did you choose to work with animals and colors in this space?

During the design process, we also thought about shapes and colors that would inspire children to be creative. The color palette has varying degrees of contrast to create depth and help young visitors remember where they placed their belongings. Colors and animals are strong visual identifiers. And it’s fun to remember your backpack is in the pink shark or orange crab!

The cubbies are also a naming opportunity for donors, and we wanted to strike a balance between the functionality of the icons and the donor names. Rather than facing straight on, the names are flipped on their side towards the right edge in a darker shade of gray. This placement ensures that both the donor names and animal icons can shine without conflicting with each other.

Do you have a favorite design?

The crocodile is my favorite! It was my first vector illustration for this series, and it was also the first time I had ever vectored anything inspired by our collection. At the time, I felt confident in graphically translating an object exactly as it was but nervous about developing my own style based on an object. It’s tricky, striking a balance between the original object and still having my design style come through. This is a skill I continue to develop but feel more comfortable doing now!

From a visual standpoint, I love tapered lines when designing icons. For me, it's satisfying to see lines connect at a point! This is why I always enjoy looking at the pedestal dish from Panama in our collection when it’s on view.

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