Designer Louise Fili may not be a name New York City subway riders are familiar with, but her work certainly is. From Artisanal to Metrazur, she’s created logos for many of the city’s most beloved eateries, and when chef Marcus Samuelsson introduced a line of imported teas, he came to her. Last month her latest design went up on some 400 subway platforms around the city, and it’s already a hit with urban gardeners like Manhattan’s Dana Wyles. “Growing up, the annual arrival of seed catalogs and then seed packets was always an exciting time after a dreary winter,” she said.
A faculty member in BFA Design, MFA Design and the summer Arts Abroad program in Rome, Fili wowed designers and commuters alike with her 2011 subway poster, an homage to the underground mosaics that were the city’s first public art. And on April 25 in New York City, Fili was awarded the AIGA medal, the design profession’s highest honor, for “impeccable craftsmanship, elegant use of typography and designing with a passion and focus that is the envy of every designer.” SVA Close Up caught up with Fili by email recently about the honor, the poster and other projects.
How did this project compare to your last SVA poster design?
For the mosaic poster, the concept and copy came quickly, but the execution was long and painstaking.
Which came first, art or copy?
The art came first. I collect seed packages, and I always wanted to do something graphically with them. When I did this poster last July, I expected we would probably be suffering another endless winter, and that by April everyone would be craving a big dose of spring.
How did you get from the sketch to the final copy?
SOW didn’t read well—and I wanted to focus on the idea of growth. That is, after all, what SVA is about.
You work deftly on many scales, from book covers to product labels to outdoor signage. How does the poster form guide your choices?
It is easy to forget the importance of readability on a subway poster. It really needs to communicate from a distance, so bold is always better.
What are you working on now?
I have a new book coming out in September on Italian shop and restaurant signs, which I have been photographing obsessively for over 30 years. I’m currently finishing up the next one, on Parisian signs, and at the same time I am updating a guide to Florence.
Many fans know your work through the books you’ve put out with your husband, MFA Design Co-chair Steven Heller. Do you have projects together in the works?
Of course! Following the S-series of type books (Scripts and Shadow Type), the next will be Stencil Type.
With all that you have going on, why are the subway posters interesting to do?
I love seeing my work from a passing train!
Images: Louise Fili’s sketch for her new SVA subway poster and seed packets from her collection.