But then I heard the three words that every designer pines for: full creative license. And the scope of the project changed entirely.
The client, Donald E. Moore, founded Vanquish Fencing Incorporated in 2004 about an hour downriver from me, in Morrisville, Pennsylvania. Don is a guy who’s completely reinvented himself several times over the course of an especially wide-ranging career. He landed in fencing after developing a “portable roller-top fence” that’s helped cut down on animal trespassing at electric substations, surprisingly, one of the leading causes of outages across North America. Don is also a collector of vintage signs and assorted odds and ends, so he has a keen sense of legacy. When we first met, and he described the nature of the project to me, it was clear that he was thinking about his own legacy. Young as Vanquish is, this is the endeavor that has the potential to influence generations beyond his own.
What he had in mind was three custom signs that captured different aspects of the company’s personality. After that initial conversation, I immediately began thinking of them as symbols of the company’s different eras: the past (its inception), the present (its emergence), and the future (its promise). So each has its own distinct character, though they’re all grounded in the company’s core branding. I didn’t play, for instance, with the established font for the company title or the logo, which I featured in two of the three custom signs. I also used some of the materials that comprise Vanquish’s fences, or, at least, are representative of it. That was the idea behind the mesh background in one of the signs. For another, I danced a length of barbed wire around a salvaged-wood frame. I found an old, 100-foot roll of the stuff, still bearing its original tag from Sears, Roebuck and Co., and I knew Don would appreciate the history.
I worked like a chef tasked with making a dinner that highlighted some local ingredients. Anyone could come up with something. But I didn’t want to just use a hint of this or that to say that I did. I was determined to cook some great food that made the region shine in the process. Which is not unlike how I go about crafting furniture.
Fencing’s seen by just about everyone outside of the industry as a fairly straightforward, unglamorous product. But a company is more than its product line, and I’ve found that to be especially true of smaller companies like Vanquish. These custom signs aren’t part of a larger marketing campaign. In fact, they’re hanging throughout Vanquish’s offices, largely out of public view. What they are, then, is an affirmation of its own identity. I was stoked to be granted full creative license on a project. But, for creativity to even enter into the fabrication of signs, let alone to feature that prominently, meant that Don was seeing this as something more. So I started seeing them as something more, too. And if I accomplished my mission, everyone who glances at them as they walk by will as well.