Branding Kansas City through Graphic Design

Sharon Gochenour explores the ways in which the evolution of graphic communications – from building signage to official logos – represent various aspects of Kansas City's identity.
March 18, 2012, 11am PDT | Alesia Hsiao
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Although shaped by the subjective tastes and motivations of graphic designers and their clients, past and present, graphic communication can be seen to cumulatively representing the ethos of a common time or place. In cities everywhere, extant public advertisements and graphic representations that arose organically out of historic socio-economic conditions often convey what can be considered a city's "authentic" character. And, using Kansas City as a case study, Gochenour argues that these "authentic" and unique historic images exert a strong power on the city's contemporary identity and its graphic communications, as "[h]istoric advertisements become the layered background of the present, and the character of the past becomes the publicity of the present.

"In the case of Kansas City, the modern city and its image were largely produced by an industrial boom in manufacturing, warehousing, rail traffic, and stockyards in the early part of the 20th century." Today, many graphic creators still focus on the city during its formative years and, as Gochenour's accompanying photographic examples demonstrate, their designs are showcased throughout different neighborhoods in Kansas City.

As the City government and other economic organizations look to rebrand the city as a place of intellectual commerce with sleek logos and websites, their top-down efforts create an interesting tension with the "layered reality of the street," observes Gochenour.

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Published on Friday, March 9, 2012 in This Big City
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