Q+A – Jan Lorenc

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Forget the conventional wisdom about finding your niche. Jan Lorenc’s reputation is built not on a signature style, but on versatility. The Polish-born Lorenc describes his 24-year-old firm, Roswell, Ga.-based Lorenc + Yoo Design, as an “environmental communication design” firm. This sufficiently broad description encompasses signage, sculpture and retail space, as well as furniture and exhibit design for an international client base that includes Sony-Ericsson, Haworth Furniture Co., Lifetime Television and Georgia-Pacific.

Lorenc considers himself primarily a storyteller, someone his clients hire to reflect their culture, not impose his own. “The story is the client’s mission, and their message is the key from which we create the environment,” he explains.

To tell these stories, Lorenc + Yoo employs a 12-member staff, all with different backgrounds and areas of expertise. “I like to bring on staff who are better than I am—people I can learn from and grow with,” he says. “This allows us to be very adaptable, take on the wide variety of projects and switch gears easily.”

In addition, Lorenc often travels to Europe and Asia in search of new materials, design approaches and colors. For instance, a bright yellow boat docked in Venice influenced the use of color in the firm’s exhibit for Georgia-Pacific.

And while Lorenc concentrates more on the “big picture,” his partner, Korea native Chung Youl Yoo, handles the details. This gives him freedom to make his visions achievable and search for more varied and challenging projects. “A colleague once remarked that there’s no thread of design continuity in our portfolio,” Lorenc says. “He seemed to be bothered by this, yet it made me feel great since a job’s aesthetic is determined by the process and the client. That’s the thread.”

If you weren’t a designer, what would you be doing?

Considering my humble beginnings in a village in southeastern Poland, I could be throwing rocks at goats. Or I could be a shepherd. As a child, I didn’t have much to choose from unless I wanted to be a Communist. Thank God I was able to come to this great country and follow my passion. These humble connections have inspired me to turn away from my modernist education and enrich it through texture and color. I can’t think of doing anything other than what I’m doing now.

Who or what inspires you?

People who create the true culture of a place and make it what it is. This is why our recently completed visitors’ center for Wycliffe Bible Translators—an international missionary organization—was so exciting. We learned about their work and told their story through graphic content supplemented with ordinary construction materials, including those commonly used in the developing world where many of their missions take place. We introduced textures, colors and ethnic textiles to anchor the organization’s humble message.

You’ve said that your design process involves storytelling. How so?

Our approach looks at the company or environment and strives to incorporate the richness of its culture and context. The site plan, the landscape, the lighting, the building, the interiors, everything down to the micro level is thought through as a unified message. We mold the environment around the client, starting with the experience. We do this by knowing each client’s business and personality intimately.

For example?

With the Georgia-Pacific exhibit, our primary mission was to understand the company history, legacy and future. We immersed ourselves in their product line and were then able to take their overall repositioning story, add some lightness to it and tell this in a synoptic fashion through the exhibit space.

The purpose of the Georgia-Pacific exhibit was to introduce everyone from internal sales staff to company trainees to Wall Street analysts to the company. We designed the exhibit—which consists of separate pieces dispersed throughout the divisional headquarters in Atlanta and Denver—as a 3D brief. Each piece educated visitors on everything from product offerings to company history. It provided a “cheat sheet” for people who want to learn about the company.

What’s your dream project?

Our current project for the Children’s Museum of South Carolina comes close. It has allowed us to exercise all of our varied talents in exhibit design, retail design, furniture design, interior design, architecture, landscape architecture, theater, interactive design, graphic design, identity design and lighting design. Since our audience is children, we’re striving to ground the design with imagery and elements from the local area. Its historic buildings, shrimp boats and the coast itself communicate the importance of “place” in memory and allow children to appreciate the special character of their home.

If you were asked to design an exhibit for Lorenc + Yoo Design, what would it look like?

The exhibit would need to be multisensory in its presentation. We would need to show the scrawls, notes, study models, computer models, spatial videos and computer interactives. Through video interviews, we’d also want to tell stories from the client perspective about how we interacted and pushed one another during the life of the project. We’d show how these relationships led to subsequent challenges and projects, how we evolved and how we’ll embrace future challenges. It would be exhibited at my respective alma maters of Illinois Institute of Technology and Georgia Tech College of Architecture to show students the numerous options a creative field has to offer.

Photocredits: Sonny Williams Photography (Headshot)

Rion Rizzo/Creative Sources Photography (Environmental shot)

For the Sony-Ericsson exhibit at CTIA Wireless tradeshow, designers conveyed the company’s identity by imposing the giant letters S and E onto the structure. Says Lorenc, “The exhibit opened at 9 a.m., and I think we finished at 8:59 a.m.”