The time had finally arrived, not holiday time, but the Museum of Contemporary Art – Denver VIP Gala Invitation time! Every year, EBD is tasked with designing the gala invitation for MCA’s Luminocity Gala. As one of our most anticipated projects every year, our firm is set free to let our imaginations run wild, without the normal restrictions that accompany most projects. And if our design team can dream it, we can try to produce it, a challenge I particularly enjoy.

In 2018, the Gala featured Artist Tara Donovan, an artist known for stacking humble everyday materials to create unique works of art. We wanted to design something that would incorporate her style, her philosophy of repurposed materials, and the idea behind Luminocity: light of our city.

Our design studio participates in the project by each designer submitting a design concept for the museum to select. Once one is selected to explore, print and fabricate, the fun really begins. This year, the selected concept was a light bulb with a shade or box enclosure. 

The first major decision revolved around the light bulb itself, would it be a vintage Edison bulb? An LED? Something else that could be lit? Our next task was to establish how we were going to decorate this bulb. Bulb samples were ordered and I visited several vendors that were willing to try “some options” for us. We looked into hand painting, etching and pad printing. None worked. The etching test turned out to be a dangerous undertaking considering the bulb would shatter easily and while the pad printed option worked, both options were limited in the surface area that could be decorated. We even explored 3D printing a bulb! But in the end, it was decided a decorated bulb wasn’t an option. And if the bulb couldn’t be decorated, it should at least be lit upon opening the invitation. With those decisions made, we landed on a “As Seen on TV” self-stick bulb, as this was the best option since it was battery operated and relatively inexpensive. The obstacles with this bulb were it felt cheap and it was attached to a large base that housed its batteries. We determined those obstacles would have to be addressed with the shade.

Next, we asked how to go about creating a shade that would conceal the bulk of the cheap bulb, the large base and still let some light shine thru? And can we do all this while still elevating the look of this VIP invite? To address these questions, we explored our options and materials, along with our vendor choices. Ultimately, we chose to work with someone we knew and trusted, a local vendor who had experience with creating 3D structures using cardboard. What a great humble material – cardboard. With the major decisions made, our fearless design team and I got to work to make this amazing idea a reality.

When it comes to production, the process should be very linear, so while the design team flushed out the concept for the shade, I worked on solving for all the pieces including the bulbs, cardboard sheets, invitation printing and shipping. Next, we tested. And tested again. With a flushed out drawing in hand, and armed with bulb samples, our vendor got to work laser cutting layers of corrugated cardboard to form the shade. We worked with our vendor to stack the layers, much like Tara Donovan does in her work. While the design team concentrated on the aesthetics, I focused on the durability during the shipping process. Production managers are ever the realists, known sometimes as the “Crusher of Dreams”. I didn’t want this dream, nor the bulb, to be crushed. After several iterations, we came up with a beautiful structure that transformed the inexpensive bulb into equal parts beauty and function. The stacked cardboard shade structure allowed the light to shine thru, while a translucent paper with the MCA logo sat atop the bulb and solved the need for decoration. The tiny MCA dog was laser engraved into the structure. The function of the invite was also a marvel, as the pull string that operated the bulb was concealed inside the structure. Finally, slits were added to hold the supplemental invitation materials. 

Keeping with the theme, the invitation pieces were designed and printed with the ideas of stacking and Luminocity in mind. For the invitation, we chose a frosted vellum. The sheets were die cut into shapes and layered to mimic the shape of the structure. The RSVP and return envelopes were printed on simple, humble kraft paper. The stacked invitation sat on top of the bulb and the RSVP and envelope were stored in the slots in the base. 

The last challenge concerned shipping. How were we going to mail such a large, awkward, fragile thing? Then we thought, why not use an industrial corrugate tube or core? And we aren’t talking about your run of the mill mailing tube here – we are talking about a custom 3/16” thick walled, crush resistant home for our piece of art with a metal cap that had to be applied using a mallet. Unassuming, functional and out of the box (literally!).  More testing and exploration were done to solve for the insertion and removal of the structure from the tube. Ultimately, we decided to mount the structure to a piece of chipboard which would serve the dual purpose of closing the tube, while giving the recipient something to grasp while pulling the tube off the structure. The whole thing was held together using a custom printed mailing label.

We first mailed one to ourselves to ensure it would arrive intact and to test if the bulb would still be burning (it stayed lit for two weeks!). And then, as one final precaution, we designed some light-hearted messaging labels for the post office delivery person and the recipient. The messages included begging and pleading to handle with care, place this side up and some “how to open” instructions. 

The illuminating result of all our hard work and testing? Many of the invites live on in the homes of GALA attendees as decorations, bedside lights and even as outdoor mood lighting. And brighter still? The nearly $450,000 raised for the museum.

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