Good design doesn’t have to be complicated. Sometimes the best ideas are the most straightforward, says designer Vince Frost, the man behind the new identity for Sydney Dance Company. Fittingly, the idea behind the new look for the 30-year-old troupe came to Frost in the most clichéd of moments – as he stepped out of the shower.
‘I spent quite a bit of time trying to work out what their identity should be,’ says Frost, 41, sitting in the conference room at his studio in inner-city Sydney, as he flips through the Sydney Dance Company stationery and other aspects of the identity that Frost Design put their mark on. There are posters for the performance, an annual report, bold interior graphics for the café, and even set design for Cut, one of the three pieces the company is performing during its 2006 season. “An identity can be more than just a logo or a typeface; it can also be a colour, composition, a photographic style or a format, or textures. Identity can be all these things,” says Frost.
Frost Design is well respected in international design circles, having won many awards and attracting big name clients such as Nike and ING as well as cultural institutions like the Barbican and the Victorian & Albert Museum in London and Object Gallery in Sydney. Billing itself as an ‘ideas studio’ with an interdisciplinary approach, Frost Design was founded in London in 1993 by the Canadian-born Frost and relocated to Sydney in 2003. Ideas are what Frost likes to talk about most of all. ‘I’m always interested in trying to find the ultimate idea you can have for any opportunity or problem to solve. An idea that kind of clicks for you and you think this has got to be it, this is the one.’
With Sydney Dance Company, Frost struggled at first to find that element ‘ some ideas, he says, take longer to unearth than others. Plus he wanted to find a solution that was workable not only for their new season, but for many seasons to come. Frost, an accomplished graphic designer, often uses words and typefaces as a starting point and this case was no different.
“I came out of the shower and wrote out Sydney Dance Company for the final time,” says Frost. He was set to meet with the company later that day. “It was then that I realised that by adding two letters to Sydney you can make it dance. You probably can’t do that with any other dance company in the world and so I tried with different fonts and different ways of doing this. In the end it’s quite playful and I really like the idea that by adding two little letters to Sydney, you can make it dance because it’s kind of what they do. It gives them a distinctive identity that’s not reliant on a cliché visual. And it’s a performance.”
Working with dancers and photographer Stephen Ward, Frost has also used dancers’ bodies to create the company’s identity and further send the message home. In the cafe one dancer’s arms wrap around the bar (the cafe can write the daily specials on her hands) and in the posters for Cut a dancer, bleeding, hangs off the C, his legs forming the shape of scissors. It’s as if the dancers are just as free to play with the words and the fonts as the designers are.
‘It’s the body in its pure form I suppose,’ adds Frost. ‘Just by shooting the dancers on a white background and letting their bodies say and express what’s going on works.’ But Frost remains unpretentious about his approach to design. “If I say too much more it makes it too complicated. I like ideas that are straightforward. People look at that [the Sydney Dance Company logo] and wonder what it is at first and hopefully they get a bit of a smile in the mind and they get it.”
You can see the graphic identity Frost created for Sydney Dance Company in the new exhibition In your face: contemporary graphic design, 5 August-5 November at the Powerhouse Museum for Sydney Design 06.