Old Town School of Folk Music

Graphic design, brand management, custom illustration • Old Town School of Folk Music

Since 2011, I’ve had the immense privilege to work as the graphic designer for the Old Town School of Folk Music, the largest community arts organization in the United States, founded in Chicago in 1957. Before hiring me, the School had just finished a massive rebrand with an outside consultant, and I was brought on board as the first full-time – and only – graphic designer, to maintain the standards that were the result of that project. Over time, my workload expanded as I was given more responsibility, as well as more opportunities to stretch the brand and help it evolve to reach new and different audiences.

When the brand was first handed to me, the templated designs were largely photography-driven – a great way to make use of the decades of phenomenal photo assets the School had accumulated over the years. However, the layouts and colors were a bit too traditional and staid to accurately represent the vibrant, evolving organization it was becoming. I quickly expanded our color palette to include bright, saturated hues, which paired well with our signature warm, welcoming messaging.

Today, the brand continues to feature photography, but has also grown to accommodate fun, approachable illustrations that represent the wide range of folks who teach and learn within our walls. I have been the driving force behind creating a robust and growing illustration library, a ‘nice-to-have’ that turned into a necessity when the pandemic hit and we needed to be able to accurately reflect and promote the new online class catalog. An essential part of expanding the illustration library has been focusing on representing as many ethnicities, ages, and abilities as possible, so that the widest range of people can look at the School’s materials and feel considered and welcomed in. The end product is a brand that feels confident, inclusive, friendly, and familiar, and I make sure to lead with these values with every new design project I approach.

The three main Old Town School buildings. Two in
Lincoln Square at 4544 and 4545 N Lincoln Ave, and the
historic Lincoln Park location at 909 W Armitage Ave.

The types of programming presented by the Old Town School are as diverse and varied as the student body, so I have shepherded the main brand (which encompasses classes for adults, kids, and teens, plus concerts and workshops, and internal wayfinding across three campuses), as well as many sub-brands, including Wiggleworms (the storied early childhood music education program), merchandise and promo for the School’s in-house Music Store, multiple major fundraising events, and Square Roots, the annual summer street festival that regularly draws 30k attendees to Lincoln Square. I’ve grown adept at juggling the marketing needs of all these programs, as well as developing individuality while maintaining cohesion and consistency across the board.

Old Town School has given me the opportunity to design and art direct a huge range of projects, from 360 advertising and awareness campaigns, to streaming concert video titles and watermarks, to large scale event signage and even a custom etched ukulele. I’ve worked on thousands of unique designs since 2011, so here’s just a small collection of my past work.

We created an education-focused primer to help new adult students better understand the School’s course offerings as well as the range of potential paths they can take through the catalog. The cover of the guide is on the left, while a few select interior spreads are on the right. The guide ended up being a 40-page, full color perfect bound book – a treat to think through and design. Originally printed for Old Town School’s 60th anniversary year in 2017, the book has since been updated and reprinted many times, and the cover and interior information design remain accessible with each edition.

Examples of marketing collateral for adult programming (from left to right): internal class registration poster, 2-sided postcard promoting a new studio dance program, World Music Wednesday postcard for internal distribution, full season concert catalog that is mailed out to more than 13k regular concertgoers.

Kids camp landing page header from 2021, individual web headers and an internal marketing poster from 2020, and a collection of illustrated clips we used across multiple pieces of camp-related promotion.

Cover for the official Wiggleworms Facebook page, featuring the logo I reworked, and a handful of custom illustrations routinely used on Wiggleworms-specific collateral.

A sample of a poster promoting Wiggleworms classes at the Evanston branch with variable class data, a sample of a double sided postcard with a discount for classes at the Lincoln Park location, and the design for the Wiggleworms 30th anniversary t-shirt (closeup included in my logo roundup).

Some Instagram Story-sized graphics for a variety of seasonal and partner-presented Wiggleworms programs, featuring bespoke illustration as well as photography from the archive.

In an effort to keep Wiggleworms top-of-mind for families stuck at home during the pandemic, we developed a coloring book that drew language from the Wiggleworms song library and took inspiration from a world of diverse instruments and music-makers. I illustrated and laid out all 26 pages, and colored a few in for the education team to post as promotion on social media.

Two sample public transit advertisements that featured custom illustrations paired with adjusted language reflecting the new at-home nature of the School’s pandemic-era programming. The top ad is for online adult classes, while the bottom ad focuses on online Wiggleworms classes.

Digital advertising campaign drawing from the same library of illustrated assets to promote classes now offered in-person.

Holiday-specific digital advertising and social media graphics for the annual push to sell gift certificates. These pieces pulled from the custom illustration library, and used some fun hand lettering.

The first few pandemic era illustrations I created to reflect Old Town School’s online-only programming. The goals were to represent a wide range of folks, and evoke the fun of in-person classes being accessible right from students’ personal devices. These illustrations were used on digital advertising, social media, email, web landing pages, and eventually in the 2020 annual report.

A few illustrations created for the updated website that I am designing with the web team. These pieces help bring the How Do Our Classes Work? section to life.

Three t-shirt designs sold in the Music Store. Souvenir swag designs are developed and sold seasonally.

A few sticker designs. The top three are sold in the Music Store and depict the historic Armitage Ave/Lincoln Park location (yellow), the marriage of electric and acoustic (green), and a classic acoustic guitar headstock, the original instrument and style taught at the Old Town School (red). The second row of stickers show two simple logomark-based designs, created as giveaways for educational conferences and events.