Q&A: Civic Designer Meng Yang and his Great Lakes States project

We had the pleasure of meeting hyper-local, Chicago-centric designer Meng Yang last year to chat about his Know Your Flag project, an homage to the historical facets of the Chicago flag with various prints.

But this year he took his talents on the road trekking across the Great Lakes states: Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin in a stunning Kickstarter project: The Great Lakes States.

We catch up with Meng to talk about the inspiration to this project, what state proved to be the most challenging and what his future plans are.

Doejo: Tell us more about the road trip you took, what prompted it and when did you feel the inspiration to design prints for these states?
Meng: My girlfriend and I had planned a ‘road trip’ of some sort for several years since way back in college in 2004-2005. So in 2011, we thought ‘forget everything, let’s do this trip.’ Well, our goal was to visit as many Midwest states as we could in a 2 week time period. We stopped at various places in Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa. And in 2012, we continued our trip traveling through Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont.

During the road trip, my girlfriend got me into antique-ing. So we would try to hit antique shops and scavenge for vintage Curtis Teich postcards, Union Pacific railroad/train ephemera, vintage travel decals, and patches. Antique-ing was so inspiring that upon returning back to Chicago, I wanted to rehash some of these classic designs into something. That something eventually evolved to the Great Lakes States Project.

Which state was the biggest challenge in concept and design for you?
Each of the states were a big challenge. Some state nicknames were a bit easier to conceptually work with (I.E. Illinois, Michigan) and some required digging thru research (I.E. Indiana). I think the most important thing that I tried to impart with each design was paying homage to the heritage but at the same time taking some design liberties.

For example, Ohio is named the Buckeye State after the Buckeye Nut and Tree. But I decided to focus on the Native American root name for the Buckeye nut, which was named after its resemblance to a buck’s eye.

But the most difficult state to design would be Indiana because I thought to myself ‘what the hell is a Hoosier?’ and how would I go about designing a ‘Hoosier.’ And, the problem lent itself to the design solve.

Also, I worked with a talented copywriter, RC Jones (twitter.com/likethecola) who helped textualize what I wanted to communicate visually.

How methodical were your choices of paper, ink and color choices for each state?
The design and the paper went hand-in-hand. I checked to see if a certain color of paper stock was available and then I would take that into consideration with the design color choices. Same with the inks, I just had to make sure uncoated Pantone chips would compliment the paper stock.

What feedback have you been getting for this project?
So far, it’s been really positive. People in the Midwest are the best. 

What other local artists’ work do you admire representing the Great Lakes and Midwest region in design?
There are so many great artists and designers in the Midwest, too many to name. In Chicago, Andy Luce (Visual Armory, http://visualarmory.com/) has some really great lettering, Mike McQuade is the designer’s designer (http://mikemcquade.com/), Laura Belle from Minnesota has some great work too (http://www.l-belle.com/).

When did you start Civic Designs and what work would you say you specialize in?
‘Civic’ launched with the Great Lakes States Project and is a natural progression from ‘Know Your Flag.’ Know Your Flag was a pet project of mine focusing entirely on my love of ‘Chicago’. The posters that I design are just an extension of my graphic design career.

What future projects do you hope to tackle? Any future shows/ displays you have coming up?
Well, if the Great Lakes States project is successful, I have the Great Plains States in my sights. Along with that, I’m working with the guys behind Baconfest Chicago with some t-shirt designs.