“Her work is identifiable for its impeccable visual structure”
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.