The last samples that I'm posting are a mishmash of French Paper Company promotions collected, and more importantly, saved over the last twenty-five plus years. While they do a nice job of showing off the myriad of paper stocks that FPC produces, in reality they are a platform of the dynamic, fun, and retroactively innovative graphic design of the Charles Spencer Anderson Design Company. As with the posters, swatch books and promotions that I've previously posted samples of, the evolution of the FPC brand is on display. From it's simple, sophisticated, retro line art beginnings, to the graphic explosion of overlaid imagery that follows, the humor, smarts and all-around design excellence of the brand is on display.
The French Paper Company hits just keep on coming. Posters, swatch books, and a myriad of promotional pieces. Part 1 of the promos come in book or booklet form. To describe each and every one would be too tall of a task... and it's ironic the amount of work went into these projects, whereas I'm not willing to spend several hours to describe them. In any case, just seeing the range of design and production that has gone into this work should convey something of the enormity of what it takes to really build a brand. It's often talked about and aspired to, but rarely is brand building achieved like the Charles Spencer Anderson Design Co. has done so here.
One other note: when faced with problematic clients, design teams can justify sub-par work by stating "Even the good guys have to do crappy work some time". After sifting through these samples it's gratifying, and an inspiration to know that high standards can be applied to every job, and not just as a situational occurrence.
It was a real treat to open up a flat file and rediscover the stack of French Paper Company posters that had accumulated (see previous post). As opposed to being buried, the swatch books that I've acquired and saved over the years have always been laying about and within easy reach. I don't get a ton of opportunities to order French papers, but the swatch books have always been on a shelf, in sight. Maybe they're a form of status symbol. Although I don't often have anyone other than my wife and family in proximity of my work area, you never know when a designer in-the-know will stop by, and one wants to project the illusion of high-grade professionalism, does one not?
The posters are beautiful, but after re-acquainting myself with the swatch books, it's apparent which is the dog and which is the tail. The swatch books have a function, each contains color and weight samples of the line that it promotes. Undoubtedly another function is brand-building and radiating ultra-coolness, which is a mainstay from the earliest to the most recent designs. From the visual standpoint alone the evolution of the branding is apparent. A simple, utilitarian clip art approach slowly becomes, well, whatever someone more articulate than me would call the latest design approach.
What doesn't come across in these photos is the tactile aspect and the production value of the swatch books. The printing of ink is the baseline, but the other techniques are what make these so unique. Type, imagery and even textures are often embossed and de-bossed. Additionally, some kooky foil stamping (or perhaps super thick varnish?) is also used liberally throughout. The binding is also unique on all. So these not only look great, but the feel of them is memorable as well. It would have been interesting to listen in on the conversations where Charles Spencer Anderson and his design team were justifying the cost and the necessity of these techniques when presenting them to their client. I'll have to wait for the book and the movie to come out to get the inside scoop.
Over the last several years, whenever a French Paper Company poster was unfurled or presented to me, I snatched them up and tucked them away. I have worked in design studios and an ad agency that got regular mailings or visits from paper reps, so there's been a fairly constant flow of these beautifully designed posters available to me. Well, they were available anyway, maybe not to me exclusively, but I've got them now.
While I was doing freelance design work for Neal Zimmermann and Michael Allen at Levi Strauss & Co. in San Francisco, we received a wonderful sample package from Charles Spencer Anderson that may have been the source for some of the really early posters that he designed, quite possibly from his time at Duffy Design in Minneapolis. Incidentally, along with the print samples, CSA also sent an ice-packed box with several gallons of ice-cream (he had designed the packaging)--- what an unexpected treat. I don't know why he didn't get LS&Co work at the time, he certainly wasn't under qualified.
Below are the posters I have. It was raining here on Friday so I wasn't able to shoot these outdoors, which I would've done normally, so please forgive the carpeting background and the unprofessional presentation. That being said, it's a tribute to the design quality of these pieces that even my bad photos can't detract from the high-level design.
Yesterday I listened to an Adventures in Design podcast which featured and interview with graphic designer Charles Spencer Anderson. It inspired me to sift through my CSA and French Paper Company design samples, and sent me tumbling down memory lane.
In 1991, while traveling from Chicago to northern Michigan, my wife Candace and my daughter Sophia (8 months old at the time) accompanied me on a field trip to the French Paper Company in Niles, Michigan. We had come to Michigan from our home in Oakland, California to visit family in Chicago and then for more family vacation activities in Wolverine, Michigan.
The French Paper Company had skyrocketed to mythic proportions in the cloistered world of graphic designers. Their collaboration with Charles Spencer Anderson ( at first through the Duffy Design Group in Minneapolis and eventually with his own design firm ) had made French paper the go-to stock for elevating design projects from good to much better. Because of the high quality graphic design that Anderson applied to the French Paper Company swatch books and promotional materials, neophyte designers such as myself felt that FPC paper would make anything cool.
Of course, that may have been the case by degree, however the incredibly adept CSA designs would have been eye-poppingly gorgeous and enviable if they'd been printed on crap papers. It's important to note that French paper brings a visual and tactile element to any project, but the level of design that CSA applies is, well, unusually nuanced and better than most.
Regardless, we stopped in Niles on our way north from Chicago. It was during the noon hour, and as Candace and Sophia parked themselves on a blanket on the lawn of the FPC headquarters, I made my way inside. There was no one in the reception area to greet me, but at some point an amiable guy emerged from a back office. He was eating a sandwich. I told him I had come to see the promised land with my own eyes and he humbly introduced himself as Jerry French. Yes, the paper magnate was a regular guy, eating a brown bag lunch, and greeting a visitor because the receptionist was taking her lunch break.
Over the next half an hour or so, Mr. French took me into the sample room and loaded me up with the latest swatch books and promotional materials. I vaguely remember that he also told me a little bit about the history of the company, and let me wander around the grounds to take some photos.
My loyalty to French papers, and my fascination with their promotional materials was cemented. For the last twenty-five years or so I have been squirreling away swatch books, posters, business cards, and any other promotional materials that I've managed to get my hands on, mostly through materials sent or dropped off at my places of employment or from FPC's Eric Henckel. Over the next few days/weeks I'll post photos of my ever-expanding collection.