Graphic designer uses typography and art to enhance public engagement downtown


(Nikiana Medansky/DD)
Lindsay Kinkade opened her graphic design studio, Design RePublic, after moving to Phoenix from Providence, Rhode Island. She is passionate about community building through graphic design. (Nikiana Medansky/DD)

Downtown Phoenix Voices was an ongoing series of profiles on the many diverse and inspirational voices in the downtown Phoenix community that the Downtown Devil has decided to bring back. To read the previous installment in the series, click here.


Behind a brightly painted blue door, the Design RePublic studio holds a series of contrasts.

Pastel and neon colors clash in Lindsay Kinkade’s small studio space. Computers on each of the two modern desks complement the vintage chairs. Poetry books and her grandmother’s old favorites share space on her bookshelf with books on economy and graphic design.

For Kinkade, who founded the graphic design studio on Pierce Street off Grand Avenue, her relationship with her grandmother’s books runs deeper than their presence on her shelves. Spending time in the library with her grandmother impacted both her and the work she does to integrate transportation and art in the downtown community.

“Every summer my grandmother would take us to the oldest libraries available where she lived,” Kinkade said. “We’d spend most of our time in the historic records section of the library. So I would get to see old diaries of my family and old newspapers and just old printed material.”

She recalled swimming through the humidity on a summer day in Springfield, Illinois, collapsing into the coolness of the library. Grandma led the way through the welcoming, cool stacks of old paper — an archive of sorts.

Kinkade remembered finding the diary of a relative long past. She cracked open the pages to search for her birthday among the entries and peeked into what her family was doing on a hot August day in the late 1800s.

Books like this that gave Kinkade insight into her family’s past personalized history for her.

“It helped me know that the things I did in my life might make sense to my great-great-grandkid 100 years in the future,” Kinkade said.

Other relatives took her to art museums, and Kinkade spent her time around the printed word and high art. She eventually realized her enjoyment for these trips was caused by her underlying passion for journalism and design.

As a teenager, Kinkade immersed herself in a plethora of pastimes and hobbies that have made their way into what she does today in Design RePublic. She spent time journaling, becoming handy with tools and cutting up magazines to create her own messages.

Kinkade took the resources she had and made something beautiful out of it.

“I’ve been cutting out magazines as long as I can remember,” Kinkade said. “I always cut out the headlines and the weird pieces of type. I didn’t even know what that stuff was called; I just thought it was cool.”

Kinkade’s love for typography drew her to journalism and designing newspapers for seven years. Eventually walking away from journalism, she found her true niche in design, but she couldn’t stop there.

Kinkade moved from place to place across the country and finally settled into life in Providence, Rhode Island. There, she involved herself in the community and started to see how she could work to merge her life and her work.

“I wanted to use my work to help my life and use my life to help my work,” Kinkade said. “How can I use graphic design to tell the story of a changing neighborhood?”

Kinkade worked to enhance the Providence community through design in several ways, from developing collaboration between scientists and designers to working as a faculty member at the Rhode Island School of Design. There, she developed a course in public policy and design as well.

Kinkade considers Providence a culturally rich place, she said, but after seven years of bad weather and bad economy, she made her way to Phoenix both to enjoy better weather and so her partner at the time could explore opportunities at ASU.

Again, Kinkade wanted her work to be rooted in the community, so she focused Design RePublic to be primarily local. The studio does not work on traditional business graphic design projects, though. Design RePublic is a research and development lab working toward bettering cities, Phoenix in particular, through art and transportation.

For example, Design RePublic worked with the city of Phoenix to create a temporary paper bike lane on Central Avenue to determine a user-friendly way to install a usable bike line.

Kinkade also collaborated with Jim McPherson of Downtown Phoenix Inc., a community development organization, to create a zine that catalogues the opportunities to become involved in downtown Phoenix called “Welcome to Phoenix.”

She said she hopes to bring back Phoenix’s rich typographic past as well, by combining the creative nature of graphic design with bland business signs. Modern Phoenix has come across as pretty beige compared to the city in the ‘50s and ‘60s, which had “visual noise to make your eyes pop out of your head,” Kinkade said.

Kinkade pointed to Matt’s Big Breakfast’s signage as an example of what the city needs.

“We would look like a more professional, more beautiful, more unique city than we look right now,” Kinkade said. “We need to show we are a place that values beauty in the expression of language.”

Kinkade has also worked with Joseph Benesh, the director of Phoenix Center for the Arts, to develop the city. For example, Design RePublic worked with the Phoenix Center for the Arts on a project where people could complete the sentence “We are the center of …” on neon-colored paper and tape it up.

“We’re on the way to being the best city, but (the project) also leaves room for civic discourse, public discussion, so that it can learn from itself and from others,” Benesh said.

For the last couple of months, Kinkade’s enthusiasm has been tuned toward working with Downtown Phoenix Inc.

Downtown Phoenix Inc. manages events between the Downtown Phoenix Partnership, which provides services within the business district; Phoenix Community Alliance, a business networking and enhancement group; Downtown Phoenix CDC, a downtown community development group; and Downtown Phoenix Events.

Design RePublic has been going through the history of the organization to help develop its new identity.

“Downtown Phoenix Inc. is brand new, but Downtown Phoenix Partnership is quite established,” Kinkade said. “We did an archaeological dig in their files, which was like going to the library with my grandma.”

The new identity includes redesigning the typography of the organization’s logos so the letters in each word look like windows and doors.

“We want to welcome people downtown and let them in, into the process, the collaboration, the fun and energy of downtown,” Kinkade said.

Kinkade also worked with R.J. Price, vice president of marketing and communications of Downtown Phoenix Partnership, to create DTPHX Engagement Lab, an empty, ground-level storefront-turned-office that allows people to engage with Downtown Phoenix Inc.

“This space was kind of (Kinkade’s) brain child,” said Fara Illich, content manager for Downtown Phoenix Inc.

Kinkade’s enthusiasm for Phoenix seems to rub off on those who she has collaborated with.

“She just has this unbelievable process by which she comes up with things,” Illich said. “It’s all very symbolic of the community and symbolic of the changes that downtown has gone through and where we’re at now and where we’ll be in the future.”

For Kinkade, Design RePublic is more than just work.

“I wake up and I get excited about typography, I get excited about paper, I get excited about taking pictures,” she said. “I get excited about going to community meetings and seeing what other people want to do. I’m excited about designing timelines, getting from where we are to where we want to go.”

Correction: October 9, 2014:

A previous version of this article gave the incorrect title for DTPHX Engagement Lab. It has been updated to show the correct title.

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