Laura Coombs

“Her work is iden­ti­fi­able for its im­pec­ca­ble vis­ual struc­ture”

Computer Arts - - SPECIAL REPORT - FOR­EST YOUNG, HEAD OF DE­SIGN AT WOLFF OLINS

Based in New York, Laura Coombs is a graphic de­signer and art di­rec­tor cur­rently work­ing as se­nior graphic de­signer at the New Mu­seum of Con­tem­po­rary Art and a vis­it­ing pro­fes­sor at Pratt In­sti­tute. “Her work is iden­ti­fi­able for its im­pec­ca­ble vis­ual struc­ture — her com­plex grids and ef­fort­less ty­po­graphic nu­ance,” says For­est Young, fel­low game changer. “The un­der­cur­rent of her vis­ual ex­pres­sion is one of con­cep­tual con­ci­sion and un­ex­pected for­mal play.”

Coombs, who grad­u­ated from her MFA in 2017, didn't take a straight­for­ward path to the world of graphic de­sign. “I can see now I was al­ways in­ter­ested in de­sign — I edited and de­signed a news­pa­per as a kid, en­dear­ingly called the Laura Re­port,” she says. How­ever, be­fore study­ing graphic de­sign at Yale, she first took a five-year un­der­grad­u­ate de­gree in ar­chi­tec­ture, and spent three years work­ing in a fab­ri­ca­tion shop in Brook­lyn. This means — as is clear in her work — she con­sid­ers the phys­i­cal­ity of her grids, colours and type­faces, as well as their 2D ap­pli­ca­tions.

Along­side her role at the New Mu­seum of Con­tem­po­rary Art and her teach­ing, Coombs free­lances for a num­ber of pub­li­ca­tions and cul­tural clients — her work united by a con­cep­tual un­der­pin­ning and strong en­gage­ment with the pos­si­bil­i­ties of type. She uses only the type­faces she's drawn her­self or mod­i­fied, or those cre­ated by friends; of­ten us­ing sev­eral ver­sions of Times, Arial or other sys­tem fonts that she's added glyphs to.

“Type is about voice,” says Coombs. “My voice is fairly mys­te­ri­ous and sub­tle, but by draw­ing the type­faces I use, or parts of type­faces I use, I am us­ing my voice in my work holis­ti­cally. I cre­ate con­cep­tual ty­po­graphic sys­tems that emanate from an idea, not just an aes­thetic.”

She sees “cre­at­ing struc­tures and sys­tems that play them­selves out over time” as the heart of ed­i­to­rial de­sign. “Pub­li­ca­tions are worlds unto them­selves, with their own real­ity and logic,” she says. “I love that a pub­li­ca­tion is also an ob­ject with its own ma­te­rial po­ten­tial and real­ity; there's so much beauty pos­si­ble. A pub­li­ca­tion is craft­ing lan­guage into form — an in­tel­lec­tual idea be­comes tan­gi­ble.”

Above right: De­sign for the New Mu­seum pub­li­ca­tion ti­tled Nathaniel Mel­lows: Pro­gres­sive Rocks.Be­low: Cover de­sign for Palimpsest 8, Yale Grad­u­ate Lit­er­ary andArt Mag­a­zine.

Clock­wise from top: Soft Touch au­dio­book de­signs; in­ner spread of Palimpsest 8, Yale Grad­u­ate Lit­er­ary and Art Mag­a­zine; Soft Touch book spread; Tall­boy bas­ket­ball, 2018, de­signed in col­lab­o­ra­tion with An­drew Kuo.

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