Travis Stearns

Posted inDesigner Profiles
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TravisStearns mixes sharp-angled geometry with fluid curves and funky swashesto create typography and illustrations that seem ready to dance off thepage. The wordplay and sexy texture of his work bring type and imagerytogether in what feels like a blind date gone incredibly, surprisinglyright. Inspired by forces as varied as hippies, Vikings, folklore, andagates, Stearns has a wide-ranging curiosity, and is always looking fornew inspirations.

“You have to be aggressive with yourideas,” he says. Though Stearns cites icons like Jan Tschicholdand Emil Ruder as inspirations, he also pushes against them, preferringto see their designs as starting blocks rather than sacrosanct edicts.“Modernism informs my work, but what comes out is moreschizophrenic. I embrace those ideas even though they conflict withmine,” he says. “If I picked up crocheting next month, Ifeel it would be appropriate. You have to keep an open mind today, interms of process and materials. I’m not interested in being injust one school of thought.”

A small handbook titled“Minnesoahta Ligatures” reveals Stearns’s Modernistunderpinnings, his Minnesota roots, and his ability to transform Futurainto something fresh. “I developed new characters that express theway we talk and that would make it easier for others to understand ourstories,” says the native Minnesotan. The Minnesoahtan ligaturesare a graphic representation of the state’s famous accent, aproject Stearns describes as an attempt to understand “howModernist ideas might fit into a contemporary context seemingly filledwith anomalies, hybrids, and provincialism.”

The project beganas a tongue-in-cheek exploration, but it ended as a wonderfullydistinctive collection of new letterforms. Stearns adds that ideally, atape recording of his mother’s voice would be included with eachbooklet.

Today, Stearns, a 2006 graduate of North Carolina StateUniversity, is a staffer at YouWorkForThem in Minneapolis and takes onfreelance projects as well. He is especially inspired by the work ofHort, a small firm in Germany, as well as the Dutch firm ExperimentalJetset, whose designers he calls his “heroes.” “Theirwork is so simple, but so well done. It’sapproachable—it’s not high up in some white tower ofdesign,” he says. “Our office just redrew Helvetica, toloosen up the perception of the font and give it new meaning. Why alwaysdo things the way they have already been done? I’d really prefernot to.”

His biggest lesson since graduating has been learningto not be obsessed with where his work is going next. Now, he simplyfocuses on each job and makes that one the best it can be before movingon to another. He does, however, muse dreamily about opening a studio inthe north woods of Minnesota. “I think there is an innate desireto live close to the earth around these parts,” he says. WhetherStearns is teaching tourists to speak like the locals or advertising thework of the area’s DJs, his work is rooted in his Minnesotanidentity. “I think there is this really unique psychogeographiccall of the wild here, [a desire] to be a part of it rather than apartfrom it. As a designer, I find myself drawn to organizing these wildforms.”