MPA photo

The Client:
(MPA) Mounds Park Academy is a private school located in St. Paul with a mission to “teach students to think independently, communicate effectively and act with respect and integrity in a diverse community that models intellectual ambition, global responsibility and the joy of learning.”

The Constraints:
MPA came to Martha Garcés and me to design their 2007-2008 annual report. They had recently rebranded the school with a new campaign centered around the idea of “spark something.” They had a style guide, hundreds of professional photos of the school, and a new logo and some new phrasing, and were now looking for designers to help them create an piece that would help introduce this new feel to their alumni and donors.

Martha and I sat down with them to discuss the context and use of their annual report, both as it was and as they hoped it could be. One of the biggest challenges they faced was the fact that as a non-profit, much of their text was centered around different fundraising campaigns and lists of donors, with additional disparate information: financial data, program updates, and reports on smaller fundraising initiatives. They told us how generally readers would open to a list, look for their own name or a few others on the page, and be done reading. Their desire was for a piece that would be a “page-turner” as much as possible.

The Processes:
Martha and I brainstormed ways to make even the name-search-in-donor-lists aspect of the annual report more dynamic. We experimented with breaking information up into different pieces, or grouping it in different ways. We familiarized ourselves with the strongest photos from the great selection MPA had produced, both for specific text and to contribute to a narrative. We sketched out an order for the pages and identified the pieces that were hardest to fit in.

We created a typographic style guide for internal consistency in the piece to clarify when we would use each member of the two font families and the MPA colors. This was particularly important because of the constraints of the text; we wanted the feel of the text to work intuitively for readers, cuing them in on a subconscious level to what they were seeing and how it fit in to the larger picture, as well as separating out and highlighting some multi-page “storylines.”

The Product:
We decided to take the longest of the donor lists and dedicated the bottom 2″ of the majority of our interior pages to these. We used their cornflower blue as our background color to set it apart, with text in white. This allowed us to treat large quantities of non-narrative text as a graphic element.


In the top nine inches of the pages, we worked to craft a narrative. We bookended this with the two letters, one from board of trustees and the other from the head of the school. Between those, we sought to balance the short articles we had with additional lists, and pulled photos to create a forward flow. We used a slight tint for the financial pages, to highlight that information to serve as a visual cue for those interested (or those who wanted to skip past it!).

Additionally, as we worked intimately with the text and the long donor lists, we also served as de facto copy editors, catching those occasional typos or transposed letters that are virtually inevitable for organizations pulling together lists of thousands of names.

The finished piece was a 24-page 8.5″x11″ full-color matte report that showcased the new look and feel of MPA.

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MPA 24

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