Operation Condor

Once upon a time there were worlds never explored and never tread. Ingrained in history, these worlds were written up and retold as legend. Lost to many until now.

Today marks the release of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 9 Beta, their latest and greatest — a browser that encapsulates some of the best that web pages and sites can offer audiences. Most notably, it now supports the Web Open Font Format (WOFF). Nishant Kothary and the MIX Online team gave Jason Santa Maria and Mighty a task most appropriate: showcase typography on the web along with other creatives and studios at Beauty of the Web.

Jason Santa Maria, Head of Mighty, had been commissioned for a top secret mission by the IE9 team. With task in hand, Jason went west to Portland, Oregon, to recruit the deft swordsmanship of Frank Chimero, then down the coast to San Francisco, California, for the bowed-and-arrowed arms of Naz Hamid, then back east a little to Austin, Texas, for Trent Walton and Dave Rupert, master weapons-makers (and nifty handlers of said weapons themselves). Henceforth, they were called The Friends of Mighty.

With a stellar team united by Jason, we set on the path of how we could conceive a concept and method that would make type absolutely sing on the web. Various ideas were bandied about: magazine articles, art-directed posts, a book — but these were too text-heavy, too straightforward.

Operation Condor was born: to find the posters that marked the Lost World’s Fairs. Three posters from three legendary locales needed to be found. El Dorado, the lost City of Gold and said to be located in the deep rain forest and jungles of the Amazon, was first — its World’s Fair occurred in 1924, during which it boasted some of the riches of the Western world. Atlantis, the underwater kingdom ruled by Poseidon, held its unique fair that brought rapid and new technologies to aquatic matters for humans in 1964. Lastly, but never least, the Moon, whose future and fair holds the key to Earth’s survival, will hold its event in 2040, an event that has already happened but whose knowledge was known to the IE9 team by their time travel division.

We conceived of various concepts as well: personal histories, current locations and things of the here and then. We liked the idea of hope, growth and creativity, and the concept of World’s Fairs that never were was born. In times and places that aren’t, we could imagine and reimagine a history and future that might have been different. We could tell new stories. And we could tell it beautifully with typography.

The Friends of Mighty didn’t set out to divide and conquer — they worked together as much as possible until their specific charge required it. They banded together to come up with a plan on how to find these posters.

The Plan

Since Jason, Frank and I were tasked with a broadsheet each, we all sketched out how these might possibly look. Here, pencil and paper were the essential tools:

Initially, we were afraid that we’d somehow pigeonhole each designer into a specific time and place, somehow relying on comfort levels. The remarkable thing was that the strength of our collaboration and the ideas that were swirling around, fast and furious, made every single one appealing. It became hard to choose one, but we buckled down and picked a path each.

Trent and Dave would provide the heavy development skills as well as a lovely home page that houses all three broadsheets.

The Posters

Frank dove into the depths of Atlantis, a mid-century imagining of a kingdom underwater, while Jason flew into the stars and a time beyond to the tranquil Moon. I saddled up and headed deep into the jungle and the past to find the lost treasures and City of Gold that is El Dorado.

We didn’t want these to be just static things: why waste the beauty that is the web? And so, you’ll find little items of interest, some more subtle than others. A hint: move things around, slowly.

The Type

But the type, that’s what we’re showcasing, right? We’re amazingly fortunate to work with a browser that has such a cutting-edge feature, but also with Typekit, which makes using fonts on sites dead simple. Typekit is doing the heavy lifting on that end, making these posters look great.

We chose type that was appropriate — for El Dorado, I wanted to stay with type that was close to the time period or was directly inspired by it or the style I was after. Frank is right on the money with his type, and here’s a little fun fact: Hellenic Wide, one of his choices, is likely named after Greece, which Hellenic is a synonym for. And given Atlantis’ history, well, it makes even more sense. Jason’s retro-futuristic Moon Fair uses one of my recent all-time favorites: Klavika, from Process. Setting it large and echoing the exuberance and lighting of the very moon itself is sheer brilliance that I hope people pick up on.

The type we used is included in colophons from the Lost World’s Fairs home page.

Mission Accomplished

It’s not often you get to collaborate on projects with people whom you admire and respect greatly. Jason has been absolutely gracious and performed a rarity by gathering unique people whose talents run deep. Both Jason and Frank are friends, and it’s always amazing to get to work with friends, while Trent and Dave — internet friendquaintances — are now firm friends.

It’s also rare but a goal to be able to work on forward-thinking projects, where the solution isn’t entirely known, if at all. Regardless, the problem exists, and, from client to creative to audience, you know well enough to allow the people whom you’ve entrusted the issue with to do their thing. The trust isn’t with the technology or the tools; they are merely what they are. It’s with the appropriate people making smart, conscious decisions about the task at hand.

And so it must be said that we all thank Nishant Kothary, the MIX Online team, IE9 and Microsoft, and for having faith, trusting us and letting us deliver something we’re all proud of. When it’s like this, it feels less like work and more like play. With a little art thrown in.

Jason, Frank, Trent and Dave, it’s been a pleasure working with you. Hope we get to do it again. Soon.

Go check it out!

Read what The Friends of Mighty had to say: Jason, Frank, Trent and Dave.


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