Interview with Shannon Harvey

Shannon Harvey grew up spending summers in rural Saskatchewan, a thousand miles away from her home in Victoria, British Columbia, to farm her family’s land. Twice a year, the family traversed the Canadian Rocky mountains in a Volkswagen van, to seed in spring and harvest in fall. This vivid image, of space and wildness, perfectly serves Harvey’s narrative.

The acclaimed designer, who now runs the L.A. studio, IN-FO.CO, with partner Adam Michaels, is perhaps best known for her work at the now-disbanded Project Projects, whose print and interactive work in the cultural sphere lived, for many years, at the forefront of contemporary graphic design, particularly in New York City.

“The impetus for moving to L.A.,” she says, “was to return to nature, it was my return to the west coast. We were looking for more expanse and space to think. [Growing up] I learned to love a variety of landscapes, and journeys across those landscapes.”

Shannon Harvey and Adam Michaels

Harvey and her partner at IN-FO.CO, Adam Michaels.

Harvey initially studied architecture in Ontario, then moved back to British Columbia to attend the graphic design program at Emily Carr. “I was always interested in the communication of architecture … and in L.A. there’s a lot more interaction with the architecture here. There’s so much variety and different spaces, that all contribute to new ideas.” Because young architects aren’t immediately tasked with designing new buildings, she explains, “they spend time developing ideas and images, drawings, texts, and books. These are the ways concepts manifest other than architecture itself.”

As Seen book cover

Book cover for As Seen, published by The Art Institute of Chicago and Yale University Press.

After working at OMA in Rotterdam, designing exhibitions, Harvey returned to Canada to earn a master’s in Urban Design at McGill University. For Harvey, “it’s all design. It’s a question of scale. I’ve always been interested in multiple scales, being able to convey that in a serious way. Convincing someone of something. The power of graphic design in relationship to conveying big ideas.”

In June, Harvey will be speaking at Typographics about space, architecture, and its cross-sections with the typographic landscape, a sort of sweet spot that deeply informs IN-FO.CO’s working process. A decade, a studio, and a cross-country move later, typography, of course, still drives much of Harvey’s work, both at IN-FO.CO and at the publishing imprint she directs, Inventory Press.

Dimensions of Citizenship design

Design for “Dimensions of Citizenship”, the US Pavilion at the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale.

Describing their “fluid” process, Harvey says they rely heavily on “an initial, fairly specific typographic impulse.” Because so much of their work involves spaces – IN-FO.CO and Project Projects were both always heavily involved in exhibition design – the typographic focus is often about scale and interaction. “It’s very challenging to evaluate letter spacing, let alone see the spatial impact of typography without a human, bodily scale for reference, so we continuously print things out to scale. The process is one of constant printing, tiling, adjusting, printing again, tiling, taking a step back, changing one’s angle of view, adjusting, and printing and tiling again.”

This thorough process, and deep respect and consideration for space, are hallmarks of the quality of Harvey’s design work. Recent interests in augmented reality and the role of typography in space ignited in her a curiosity about legibility, depth, and how to look at type in the world around us, because, as she says, “fine details of typography can make an idea stick.”

See Shannon Harvey talk about “typologies of exterior and interior topographies of typography” during her presentation at the Typographics conference this June.

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