Profile – Sarah Boris

Sarah Boris was always keen to work for an arts centre – a dream she realised at the Barbican and, currently, the ICA. Anna Richardson speaks to the French graphic designer about inspiration and the perfect font

There is a confident pluckiness about French graphic designer Sarah Boris. Her thoughts on typography and design bubble forth in an eloquent stream, and she has certainly achieved a couple of milestones in her career.

Always interested in visual arts, Boris studied typography at Paris’ Estienne School of Art, before doing an MA in graphic design at the London College of Printing. She was always keen to work at an arts centre, and failure to secure an internship at the Barbican in London only made her more determined when she later applied for an in-house position, which she won. She worked as part of the design team there, as well as freelancing for different arts organisations.

Although Boris loved her time at the Barbican, it had its limitations for her. ‘The Barbican had big budgets, so they commissioned many external designers,’ she explains. ‘When you’re in-house and they give the more glamorous jobs to the big consultancies it feels like you’re missing out on creative development, so I decided to move.’

Leaving the Barbican determined to work for a design studio, Boris saw a job at the Institute of Contemporary Arts. ‘I hesitated, because I wasn’t keen on the [2006] rebrand,’ she says. ‘Taking an in-house position, the identity is part of the package.’ She still gave it a go and secured the job.

The ICA provided closer working relationships with programmers and other creatives. As the senior designer – with only the occasional intern, junior and freelances for support – Boris’s responsibilities include creating exhibition identities, invites, catalogues and campaigns. This year she got the go-ahead to reshape the ICA identity. ‘Employees and audiences didn’t seem to identify with the [old] brand and the logo wasn’t usable,’ remembers Boris. ‘I had been talking about how impractical it was and Ekow [Eshun, ICA artistic director] was very open to [a redesign].’

Where the previous identity was complex, with a wide colour palette, the new brand is more neutral. ‘The idea is that we will only have colour if there’s something that requires it from the programme,’ says Boris, who wanted to return to a brand ‘that allows the artistic creativity of the programme to be juxtaposed next to the logo, without the logo taking over the whole’. The aim was to create ‘something adaptable that has longevity and is more tuned in to what the ICA is and will be [in the future]’.

A vital element of the identity was the new ‘dream come true’ font, Theinhardt. ‘It comes in nine weights and sits well next to other fonts,’ she says. ‘I was looking for the perfect font, which feels familiar to the eye, but isn’t something like Futura or Avant Garde, and that works on everything from signage to catalogues. Part of the ICA’s mission statement is that it is artist- and communities-led, so you want to create something that can sit well next to the most creative artists or designers.’

The identity as a whole is logical. ‘It’s not visually unexpected,’ says Boris. ‘The ICA is meant to be ground-breaking. But recognising that the logo needs to be something legible and functional, before being ground-breaking, is maybe more ground-breaking than doing something too cutting edge that you can’t read and apply.’

Working in a tiny in-house team can be a challenge, but Boris loves working for the arts. ‘Discovering artists’ work is inspiring,’ she says. ‘I’m lucky to work with people who are passionate.’

There is a minimalism to Boris’s style, but she appreciates visual exploration and photography. ‘I experiment a lot with created visuals and I love collecting things and seeing what they can bring to a visual,’ she explains. She wants to do more collaborations, and found that working with Will Holder on the ICA’s new periodical, Roland, was a great experience. ‘When you’re working on such variety, getting input from external designers is amazing,’ she says. The ICA is also thinking of launching a regular ‘design think tank’ to promote dialogue.

Boris is also looking to get personal sculpture, product and publishing ventures off the ground, and is keen to meet more designers. Maybe she’ll move on to a design consultancy, but at the moment she seems to have plenty to get excited about.

Hide Comments (4)Show Comments (4)
  • JMB November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Bravo, Sarah, et mrci de m’avoir envoyé ce mail
    je t’embrasse

  • Nick Garrett, China Accent HK November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    It isn’t always the font that makes for great typo but the right spacing… I had a look just now at the new ICA logo and I just have to say as a typo pro it really doesn’t do much other than roll to the next css tab… sorry but this font shows a kind of ‘quassi minimalist’ creative wobble rather than a clean jump, (albeit with scrolling clarity) that reflects the myriad of inspiration the ICA play home to. It’s flat and awkwardly spaced. Great fonts die with awkward spacing.

  • Sarah Boris November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Hello Nick

    Which logo are you talking about as the new logo is not featured in this design week article visuals?

    You can see the new font and the new logo in use only on the January bulletin which has only just arrived in the building. If you wish to comment on that I will be happy to send you a pdf of it.

    It would be great if design week could amend the visuals to illustrate the article accurately….

    Thank you

  • Grit Hartung November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Hello Sarah, I’d love to see the new logo as well. I agree the visuals illustrating your profile are a bit confusing. Best X-mas wishes

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