AIGA Takes a Fresh Look at Sending ♥ Through the Mail
Let’s say you want to show some designers how much you appreciate them. Not just any designers, mind you, but designers who are true advocates for design. In fact, designers who are the presidents of the 72 AIGA chapters across the U.S.
Julie Anixter is the executive director of AIGA, the professional association for design. She wanted to send AIGA’s chapter presidents a real valentine from the national staff, via real mail. Something recipients might keep. Not bonbons—but a different sort of eye candy. She enlisted my help, and I proposed including a tactile surprise inside the envelope: three actual stamps designed by the legendary Bradbury Thompson in the 1980s, chosen to delight a design audience.
Thompson served on the faculty at Yale for over 30 years, inspiring generations of designers and art directors. He also designed over 90 stamps for the Postal Service, greatly influencing the look of modern U.S. stamps.
We ♥ Bradbury Thompson. I collaborated with Trenton Kenagy, AIGA’s Creative Director, so he could design around the tiny glassine envelope (size: #1) of stamps that would be tipped on to each valentine. The text provides design details about the typographic finesse Thompson lavished on these tiny pieces of paper.
I quickly acquired the vintage Thompson stamps from two dealers, and then charmed a pair of friends into helping me tear the stamps apart and arrange them in their little glassines. (The friends are very epistolary—not only prolific, but also adventurous. They have successfully mailed each other: a post card whose message was stitched, with its spool of thread still attached; a glove with a stitched on address tag; and vinyl 45 records.)
Aldine, a specialty printer in Manhattan, embraced the production scenario and timetable. The valentine fronts are letterpress printed in two colors on Strathmore Impress 100% (luscious) Pure Cotton Wove Ultimate White 104 cover. Aldine printed the backs digitally, on a separate press sheet, and then duplexed the two sheets together. This ensured that there’s no impression on the back of the valentine from the two letterpress passes on the front.
The AIGA logo is tucked on the back where a stamp would go. And, even though recipients won’t see the front and back simultaneously, we note that the digitally-printed red and the letterpress-printed red match beautifully.
“We also ♥ hearing from you.” The back of the valentine invites the recipient to send a note, postmarked by February 14 (That’s today!), to AIGA. “Tell us something you ♥ about receiving (or sending!) Slow Mail.”
The America’s Libraries stamp (1982) is a gem of typographic elegance, not only in the A-B-C and X-Y-Z, but also in the denomination. Zero in on it, and you’ll see what Thompson did to make the 20 look balanced.
Each president’s valentine includes the stamp for his or her chapter’s state. Thompson’s set of 50 State Birds & Flowers (1982) neatly accommodates names of dramatically varying lengths. He angled an ampersand in the lower right corner, running the bird name along the bottom and the flower name up the right edge. This treatment works perfectly whether your state bird is a robin (Michigan and Wisconsin) or a black-capped chickadee (Massachusetts), and whether your state flower is a rose (New York) or a saguaro cactus blossom (Arizona).
The envelopes we mailed the valentines in are also part of the Strathmore Impress line. Each recipient received an A7 Strathmore Impress envelope either in Light Pink, Light Grey, or Ultimate White, with current 1st Class postage, effortlessly ordered at usps.com.
Kenagy also designed a return address “cancellation stamp,” which was made for the project lickety-split at Casey Rubber Stamps right in Manhattan. Stamping the return address in the upper left adds a bit of branding, while visually balancing the postage stamp. It also provides some anticipation for recipients who have signed up for Informed Delivery from the USPS.
Anixter comments, “AIGA is committed to bridging the physical and digital realms in all forms of communication. Informed Delivery—a major innovation from the U.S. Postal Service—enables designers to do just that via the most personal and tactile of media: real mail.”
Here’s the grayscale preview of my valentine as seen in my Informed Delivery Daily Digest. And if you aren’t informed yet about Informed Delivery (or even if you are), check out Thoroughly Modern Mail, an AIGA webcast conversation with Bob Dixon, Director of Product Innovation for the USPS; AIGA Fellow Alyson Kuhn (a.k.a. the Maven of Mail); and Julie Anixter. We hope you’ll ♥ it.
- Client: AIGA National, New York, NY
- Creative Direction: Alyson Kuhn, Carmel, CA
- Design: Trenton Kenagy, AIGA National
- Printer: Aldine Printing, New York, NY
- Paper Stock: Valentine – Strathmore Impress Pure Cotton Wove Ultimate White Digital with i-Tone 104 Cover (2 sheets duplexed) / Envelopes – A7 Strathmore Impress Pure Cotton Smooth Light Grey, Light Pink, and Ultimate White
- Printing: Valentine front, letterpress Pantone Red 032 and Process Black; valentine back, printed digitally on an HP Indigo 7000; duplexed.
- Finishing: Glassine envelopes affixed with single strip of double-stick tape. Red-bordered Dennison gummed address labels (No. 31-207) typed on an IBM Selectric II. Return address rubber stamped with gusto.
An envelope is a simple and familiar form. It requires no power source or special reader to be held, read and understood. Equal parts function and first impression, an envelope has all the right elements to make any project exceptional.