Museum and educational design at Discovery World
Milwaukee’s iconic science and technology museum, Discovery World, unveiled two new exhibits to mark the start of the summer season. Shaping the visual landscape of the museum is Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design (MIAD) alum Lily Johnson ’22 (Illustration). As the museum’s graphic designer, Johnson had a pivotal hand in the creation of both “Block Party” and “Me, Undersea.”
“I love that my work has an educational focus,” says Johnson. “I get to figure out how to make learning fun and attention-grabbing. It’s such a rewarding feeling when you get to see a lightbulb go off while a kid is enjoying the exhibit.” Since both exhibits are intended mainly for young children, Johnson’s eye-catching designs are a vital part of the experience. “Me, Undersea” is particularly striking, featuring glowing deep sea creatures like anglerfish. In addition to numerous and luminous aquatic designs, Johnson recreated iconic Milwaukee buildings and structures like the Hoan Bridge to decorate the walls of the “Block Party” exhibit.
Working as a graphic designer at a museum has been rewarding for Johnson. “When I started, I didn’t want to get my hopes up and expect much creative freedom,” she explains. However, she was surprised to discover that most event and exhibit projects take place in-house. In addition to designing exhibit elements, Johnson’s work spans everything from a recently completed rebrand of the museum to a refreshed and colorful new parking garage. With Jodi Schomaker ’09 (Illustration), Discovery World’s Senior Manager of Creative & Design and a MIAD alum, Johnson takes production projects all the way from concept to creation.
Johnson also enjoys working in an educational setting. “Kids can be unpredictable, so it’s interesting to see what they do when we open a new exhibit,” she says. “For example, our new exhibit Block Party features an interactive foam playground surrounded by several benches intended for guardians. We hoped that our placement of the benches would corral the blocks into the middle of the room, but the kids had other plans! They started working together to combine the benches with the blocks to create stronger structures. I like that my designs can continue to evolve as the kids respond.”
Although Johnson studied Illustration at MIAD, she also minored in Communication Design. “Before I went to MIAD, I felt very insecure when trying new things,” she says, noting the supportive environment created by the college’s faculty who helped Johnson build confidence and trust herself. “Now if you give me something I don’t know how to do, I take that as a challenge,” she notes. Professionally, this attitude serves Johnson well: “On any given day at Discovery World, I’ll do at least one thing I’ve never tried before.”
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Three MIAD Communication Design students received 60th anniversary American Graphic Design Awards from Graphic Design USA (GDUSA) magazine. The students were selected from over 8,000 entries, and judged alongside professional design work. Fewer than 10% of entrants received an award.
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The Milwaukee Art Museum (MAM) selected the design of MIAD alum Debbie Sajnani ’16 (Communication Design) for its 2023 annual ornament. The ornaments are recreated each year by artisans using a reserve painting technique, according to MAM.
For decades, Milwaukee has hosted an annual Holiday Lights Festival. To commemorate the festival’s 25th anniversary, Milwaukee Downtown will also host the new Ornament Trail this year. Five Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design (MIAD) alumni and one instructor, who teamed up with both students and alumni, produced giant ornaments for the event.