In 1916, the Prairie Provinces were the first in Canada to give women the right to vote in provincial elections. What was unique about 1916 in the Prairies? How did the physical and cultural landscape of Alberta create the conditions for women’s suffrage to flourish? With this monumental 100-year anniversary coming up, we were tasked by the Legislative Assembly of Alberta as the design partner for this exhibit design. How could we use design & interaction to help answer these questions?
We partnered with the LAO and the exhibit curators on the project, and we were directly responsible for creating a wide-ranging visual identity system, print components, installations, and interactive components for Voices for the Vote. Marrying historical design elements like photography and era-influenced typography with technology, we helped created a system that worked in every medium and helped contribute to the education and entertainment of the thousands of visitors.
Key Project Features
- Visual Identity
- Custom Illustration
- Didactic Design
- Exhibit Design
- iPad Application
- Responsive Microsite
- Print Design
- Map Design
When the LAO Visitor’s Centre team approached us about their upcoming women’s suffrage exhibit, we were intrigued. This wasn’t a project that would only require a portion of our skills – say, identity design or website development. It would require the entire cumulative skill set of our team to pull off. Further to that, the objectives of an exhibit design are entirely different than the objectives of, say, a corporate website or a web application design. And while exhibit design wasn’t something we had specifically done before, we were confident in our ability to pull it off. Luckily, we had a great team at LAO as well as the exhibit curators to collaborate with.
The curators and LAO set the stage for the learning objectives and general direction of the exhibit. To be set up in the new Visitor’s Centre Borealis Gallery, we wanted the exhibit to be driven by geography and place instead of the standard timeline-style. With that in mind, we knew a few of the core deliverables would be various map designs / illustrative cartography, illustrations of key members of the movement like Nellie McClung. First, though, we needed to sort out the visual identity for the exhibit itself.
Pulling from the Past
We started down the visual identity path by researching the era itself. How could we give a nod to that period of time, but not be super heavy-handed about it? Research quickly led us to discover messaging design from the original movement, particularly in the form of buttons that helped spread the “votes for women” message. Eventually, that led us to a visual identity driven by a circular-style badge mark, paired with historical typography influenced by newspaper clippings of the movement from the era itself.
The final piece of the identity system, once we had sorted out colour palettes, logo, and typography, was historical photography. At the end of the day, women’s suffrage was about recognizing women as people with rights, just like anyone else. The best way to do that? Show the actual faces of the people who helped make this happen. We dug into historical archives and licensed photography from the era as the final piece of the identity puzzle. It all came together – with actual buttons! – in the form of marketing material, invites, and more.
Cartography & Portrait Illustrations
As mentioned, part of our myriad responsibilities included illustrative maps of Alberta, Edmonton area, and Calgary area. Each map was hand-drawn and plotted multiple points of interest related to the suffrage movement in Alberta. The Alberta Map was also built out as an digital one, for display on a giant screen in the space.
Complementing the maps were 8 custom portraits, illustrated in-house. One for each of the key women involved in the suffrage movement, these illustrations were paired with short bios and applied to the pillars in the Borealis Gallery.
Interactive Components: iPad App & Responsive Microsite
One of the primary reasons we were chosen for this project was the breadth of skills required. It wasn’t just a traditional identity or graphic design job – there was a considerable technological requirement as well. Luckily, the pairing of design and technology is right in our wheelhouse.
The first piece of the interactive puzzle was a responsive microsite. Showcasing the exhibit, the programs, and the art itself, we knocked that out on WordPress. It’s a straightforward, on-brand microsite that allows users to learn a bit more about the art and exhibit itself, while encouraging them to go see the exhibit in person.
The second piece was an iPad audio app, for the Oral Histories audio station. Basically, the iPad app allows users to navigate through various sound clips / oral histories licensed from the Provincial Archive. The iPads were mounted on walls, with headphones – users tap in to a specific topic, which can have multiple audio tracks for them to listen to. While listening to a track, the user can read supporting text, or navigate to other areas within the application without stopping or pausing the audio stream. It was a huge hit and a fun use of our skills, too.
The exhibit opened to great success, with a reenactment of the suffrage rally to help set the stage. Everyone then moved in to the Borealis Gallery to interact with the Voices for the Vote exhibit. The exhibit itself ran from June 6th to August 14th, with thousands of visitors from all over Alberta coming in to learn about women’s suffrage. For us? It’s one of the projects we’re most proud of, and it couldn’t have happened without the help and dedication the LAO team and the curators provided.
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