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Get to Know IBPA’s Brilliant Design Team at Abacus Graphics

Thursday, February 27, 2020   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Christopher Locke
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IBPA’s graphic design team Abacus Graphics (Francesca Droll, left, and John R. Webster, right) are pictured at the far right with some of the many projects they've created for IBPA over the years.

IBPA has been incredibly fortunate to have the team at Abacus Graphics (Francesca Droll and John R. Webster) working with us for over 25 years creating stellar design work that is both eye-catching and sophisticated. They have created everything from the design of the current IBPA logo to the IBPA Bookstore Catalog and so much more. Since they work behind the scenes they may not be known to our membership, so we wanted to take the time to celebrate the stunning projects that they’ve done over the years, and get an in-depth look at the thinking behind their design work.

IBPA: Can you tell the story of how Abacus Graphics began working with IBPA?

John: Back in the early 90s, we were working with Leigh & Lindsey Cohn of Gürze Books. Leigh had been a past president of the board of Publishers Marketing Association (PMA, what IBPA was called at the time). He and Lindsey introduced us to PMA and Jan Nathan (PMA/IBPA's founder) in 1994. Jan tried us out with a project. We found we worked well together and soon after we started doing more projects until we were covering most of the graphic design needs of IBPA.

IBPA: How did Abacus Graphics come to be?

John: I started Abacus Graphics in 1979 and we just celebrated our 40th year in business! I had always been interested in art, studied art in school and privately, and decided to purchase a fledgling graphic design business and become self-employed. I taught myself everything I needed to know to take over the business and started to build my design skills and client base over the next few years. Francesca, fresh out of design school, joined me as an intern in 1987 and became a full-time employee a year later. Together, we made our history.

IBPA: What were your professions before you started Abacus Graphics?

John: Growing up, I worked in a variety of typical odd jobs. Before I started Abacus Graphics I was working as a draftsman and model builder for a company building commercial office buildings. I had studied commercial art and mechanical drafting in school and these skills became the foundation for my career in graphic design.

Francesca: I had a strong retail background in a family business before attending the University of Oregon as an art major. I also pursued calligraphic study and hand drawn letterforms which was an additional asset to Abacus Graphics.

IBPA: What are your job titles at Abacus Graphics?

Francesca: We are partners in Abacus Graphics. We found that we worked best together with clearly defined responsibilities. John handles client relations, creative concept design, website design, and maintenance. I take care of the print and web graphic design projects and production as well as project management and administration of the business. We work together as a design team combining our creative talents and skills to produce our designs.

IBPA: Can you share the various projects, graphics, etc. that you create and design for IBPA?

The Winter 2019 IBPA Bookstore Catalog designed by Abacus Graphics.

Francesca: We handle the majority of the print and web design projects for IBPA each year. That includes branding, ads, IBPA Bookstore Catalogs, signs and posters, brochures, web advertising graphics, and more. We act as an extension of the IBPA marketing team and quickly respond to whatever graphic design needs they have as they arise.

IBPA: Do you have other employees at Abacus Graphics?

Francesca: At one time, Abacus Graphics had 4-5 other employees in addition to the both of us. However, in 2015 when we relocated to Montana, we decided to downsize and become a more intimate design studio. We loved the design aspect of the business and wanted to return to that business model where it was just the two of us creating the designs.

John: Francesca and I have always been the creative directors and design team of Abacus Graphics. For larger projects, we have the capabilities to resource and manage the necessary team of professional subcontractors as needed.

IBPA: Is there a specific look that you adhere to when creating the materials for IBPA?

Francesca: In 2000, we worked with the PMA to develop a new logo for the association. To more accurately represent its mission, the board renamed Publishers Marketing Association to Independent Book Publishers Association. We created a new brand that reflected a more contemporary look with colors that distinguished it from other organizations in the industry.

Left is the old Publisher Marketing Association logo and right is the new (and current) Independent Book Publishers Association logo.

The brand includes the colors of teal and magenta. Teal represents the strong, confident base of the independent publishing industry. The magenta represents the innovative spark that is indicative of independent publishers.

The logo incorporates a unique iconic “i” providing continuity from the old PMA logo (the shape of the “i” in the new logo is taken from the book graphic in the original PMA logo) as well as representing the individual independent publisher. The logo was strategically designed to reproduce at high quality in all media of any size, in color, or in black and white.

For imagery, we strive to show as many photos of the membership as possible throughout the marketing materials, as IBPA celebrates their members who are the foundation of the association.

We adhere to consistent use of these IBPA Brand Design Standards throughout all media and marketing materials to consistently enhance and build the brand identity and recognition.

IBPA: Can you give us examples of how the graphics for IBPA materials have changed over the years?

John: In the early years working with PMA, the computer was just starting to become the valuable tool that it is today. With the evolution of software for layout and image creation, our designs evolved to take advantage of the most current and powerful improvements in the software. We elevated PMA/IBPA’s brand using sophisticated, complex, eye-catching imagery with books central to the motif. In the past few years, we have simplified the designs with a tighter focus on content and images featuring the members.

IBPA: Are there any projects you’ve worked on for IBPA about which you’re particularly proud?

John: There have been many enjoyable and successful design projects. One project that illustrates the potential power of having a great cover design was the Membership Resource Directory.

Various IBPA Membership Resource Directory covers designed by Abacus Graphics over the years.

The Membership Resource Directory is no longer being printed but it was an elaborate publication the association produced and distributed at trade shows. At the time, Executive Director Jan Nathan lamented that the Membership Directory was being passed over at trade shows. Our task was to create an eye-catching cover that would make people want to pick it up and take it home.

Brainstorming with Jan, we came up with the idea of putting a colorful image on the cover that people would recognize. Like an old masters’ painting but something original. For our first Directory cover we created original artwork in the computer emulating the style of Van Gogh. It featured a colorful, painterly image of a book with a computer mouse connected to it representing the merging of old and new book publishing technologies.

It proved to be a very successful strategy and the newly designed Membership Resource Directory flew off the shelves at trade shows. Jan had us continue this marketing strategy and we designed a series of Directory covers for subsequent years that were inspired by other artists’ work including Warhol, Dali, and Keith Haring.

IBPA: How have things changed with the programs you use to create your work over the two decades?

John: Technically speaking, things have changed quite radically and continue to rapidly change. It is much easier and more affordable now to create the graphics digitally then it was 20 years ago when we were on the bleeding edge of technology with all the trials and tribulations that design software and hardware put us through. We have managed to continually re-invent ourselves and transition from designing with old-school analog tools and techniques to using new digital tools and techniques as they have evolved. One thing that hasn't changed however is that creating successful graphic design takes talent and skill regardless of the tools.

IBPA: Can you share design tips for independent publishers?

John: Develop a look that is cohesive throughout your marketing materials. Use the elements of design: colors, shapes, fonts, images, and present your image in a way that you can repeat across a wide range of sizes and layouts. Those elements will become recognizable as your look and consistent use of them will build your brand. Pay close attention to the details of your image and always maintain the highest quality standards possible.

IBPA: Why do you think it’s beneficial for independent publishers to be members of IBPA?

Francesca: IBPA offers a comprehensive service to its members. IBPA provides stellar education in all aspects of publishing from the novice to the expert. They have negotiated discounted services from industry providers. They provide many affordable programs to market indie titles. The most valuable benefit is the staff and board who are constantly advocating on behalf of independent publishers and bringing the latest information and tools to the membership. The staff is always available to answer questions and provide support for the challenges indie publishers face.

IBPA: What has been your experience working with IBPA all these years?

Francesca: The leadership of IBPA has always been a joy to work with which attests to our 25 years of collaboration. The current staff, led by CEO Angela Bole and COO Terry Nathan, is an extremely productive and effective team and has brought innovation, growth, and resiliency to the association.

IBPA: What other projects does Abacus Graphics work on?

Francesca: In addition to the publishing field, we have designed graphics for a wide range of industries including financial, medical, recreation, real estate, and retail. Website design has become a strong aspect of our business. It continues to be an exciting and rewarding time to be working in the design field.

In addition to our design work, I have been pursuing a fine art career in painting and showcase my art at ArtFusion Gallery in Bigfork, Montana and at francescadroll.com. At a fundamental level, it is an extension of the design principles that I have worked with all these years. At a passionate level, it addresses my desire to be more expressive in my art making.

John: I’ve made music for most of my life. I’m an avid guitar player although I also play piano, drums, and Native American flute. I’ve just recently begun pursuing another dream of designing graphics for garments and have started woodysbay.com where I showcase my designs.

IBPA: Is there anything else you want to share?

Francesca: John and I are both avid readers. I was raised in a home that strongly encouraged reading. My parents also took me to bookstores, new and used, throughout my teens and we created a family library of rare books together. If I hadn’t become a graphic designer, I would probably have pursued a career as a rare books librarian.

The dissemination of information through publishing is such an important aspect of civilization. It has been an honor and a privilege to be involved in the publishing industry and we are grateful for our many years of working with IBPA in their mission to support and strengthen the independent publishing field.

We encourage all those interested in publishing to pursue it with passion. It is a worthy and gratifying endeavor.

IBPA: Thank you, Francesca and John, for sharing your insight into design and for all your extraordinary work for IBPA over the years! It is a true pleasure to work with you.

Click here to learn more about Abacus Graphics!


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