Eye on Evanston: Thoughts on Design | Local proponent of good design keeps focus for over 50 years

Graphic designer Jack Weiss moved to Evanston in 1967 and continues to live in his “favorite town” after more than five decades. His design firm, Jack Weiss Associates, was established in Evanston in 1977. As a graphic designer, his work includes logo and communication materials, wayfinding signage, donor walls, books and murals.

Jack Weiss. (2017 photo by Bill Smith/Evanston Now)

While nationally prominent in his field, Weiss is remarkable in that his work output has dovetailed so often with his community interests. He has worked on more than 400 major projects, ranging from printed communications and visual identity programs to signage and wayfinding systems, many of them with a connection to Evanston businesses, government, not-for-profits or community groups. He has used his design skills to support the Evanston school board as well as City Council and mayoral candidates and has taken occasionally on the broader role of community organizer. Weiss received the Mayor’s Award for the Arts in 2014 from then-Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl.

Three of Evanston’s gateway entrances are marked by 12-foot-tall brick and limestone pylons that Weiss designed in 1989. Weiss said the materials, which are often associated with Evanston’s architectural styles, were chosen to convey a sense of civic dignity and permanence.

Sheridan Road Evanston gateway pylon. (Photo by Jack Weiss)

The upper limestone portions have incised letters informing viewers that Evanston was founded in 1863. Their typeface is Optima, a flared serif classical typeface, “like what you see on Greek columns,” Weiss said.

At the time it was suggested that the lettering be filled in and darkened, but Weiss rejected that idea and says that it is the shadows that defines the letters. The budget at the time provided for up-lighting the signs, but only for minimal landscaping. The overall intent, he said, was to create an image of Evanston as a desirable destination.

In 1997 Weiss designed the city’s comprehensive wayfinding signage program, which also included some “Welcome to Evanston” signs. He said that the program involved anticipating what was needed to help residents and visitors get where they wanted to go. He said the biggest challenge was not the design of the signs, but rather managing the design constraints dictated by the scope of the project.

A lengthy research and planning process was needed to determine the number and locations of signs, and their specifications and content. Wording, length of words and type size were all designed to ensure ease of reading by drivers going by at varying speeds. More than 250 signs were designed for over 40 locations. Critical to the project’s success was Weiss’ collaboration with city staff and multiple civic organizations.

Ridge Avenue Evanston “Welcome” sign. (Photo by Jack Weiss)

In 2001 Weiss designed the signage and donor wall at the Levy Senior Center. Weiss believes that graphic artists (and book designers) should consider readers’ eyesight challenges when they design. He thinks about readability, line spacing, line lengths, type size, consistency of letter spacing and contrast.

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