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A Peek Behind the (Design) Curtain

Bree McKenna

By Bree McKenna

I'm a graphic designer by trade, but I've always worked for clients and/or editors. Which is great. But when it came time to sit down and start my own site—this website that you'll hopefully explore—I was both excited and terrified. In my daily professional life, there are usually many people who see, critique, tweak, scrap and analyze my work. But with this website, it's just me and my Middleouest co-founder, Cassie, making the big decisions. It's fun and liberating, but definitely creatively challenging—which is kind of the point! But where to start?

To begin with, we had to decide exactly what we wanted the site to be. We knew we wanted something beautiful, full of striking images and great reads about people and interesting places in the Midwest—the stuff we think is cool. Mission statements were written and re-written, and we had lots of discussions about how Middleouest would be different than other regional sites. Finally, we narrowed in on the overall tone of the site: slightly edgy, but artful. We try to capture the beauty and grit that exist around the edges of the ordinary.

As the designer of this two-woman crew, I began as I would most brand creation projects: discovery. I pinned images I liked and browsed blogs and websites I frequent, pulling photo style examples that felt right and making notes of layouts that I thought could work. Logos, colors, fonts, and photos starting digitally accumulating, and I organized them with a rough mood board. Once Cassie was onboard, I began work on the logo.

I am what I call a "less is more" designer: I wanted to create a clean, modern logo that would work well in a variety of spaces. After several versions, taking away elements as I moved along, we landed on this simple, sans serif stamp with cut-outs threaded through some of the letters. The cut-outs felt like this invisible thread that was holding the letters together, while also pulling you through the word as a whole. For Middleouest, we want to the tell stories of our region, and possibly shed some light on people, places or ideas that may typically get passed over. This logo is a nod to those motivations.

For the palette, I wanted to have some fun. Seasonally speaking, the Midwest has it all—a warm, lush summer, a vibrant fall, a frigid, icy winter and a spring that can't come fast enough. The colors mix and match to cover all these moods. Also, Cassie and I both live and work in urban Chicago: A lot of our inspiration originates from here; these colors can either stand out or recede into the landscape. And lastly, this palette has an edge. You wouldn't see a Walmart, Apple or other corporate juggernaut mixing these hues. That's just the way we like it. 

The classic Caslon Pro font combined with the very contemporary Brandon Grotesque and Opens Sans fonts created a modern vibe that has solid roots.

Photos range from gritty and urban to candid and natural to intentionally artful. We want a wide variety of stories to be told through the imagery we use, but these themes will weave them together over time, as we create more and more content.

Lastly, we'd like the visual identity of Middleouest—and the site content—to evolve over time. Yes, the overarching themes will be consistent, but we want the site to be a creative outlet for us and for our contributors. In this way, we want to keep things open-ended so we feel free celebrate the things that inspire us and talk about things that perhaps don't fit so neatly into a particular bucket.

All of that said, we hope you enjoy the site and are inspired to show us your Middleouest. Visit us on Twitter, Instagram and/or Facebook—and don't forget #middleouest.