Above: promotional poster art for Oak Park Public Library by Tom Deja
The Bossman Cometh
Tom Deja is a freelance designer and illustrator out of Oak Park, Illinois (a village in the suburbs outside Chicago, famous for Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture), where he operates as Bossman Graphics. Tom has worked for two decades as a designer, and a few of those years were spent working for Oak Park Public Library as their first in-house graphic designer. As Tom describes it, he ended up on staff at the library somewhat by accident, “my neighbor is a librarian [at Oak Park Public Library], and through her I met some other people on the staff, all of whom were really cool and creative people. I’m a freelance graphic designer, but when I was told that the library was going to start taking design and marketing more seriously, and hire a part-time designer, I jumped at the opportunity. I could walk to work, I could serve my community, and I could work with all these cool friends I had made. I was really happy to do it”.
In a similar sort of happy accident, I stumbled upon Tom’s work while browsing AIGA’s member portfolios, and was immediately drawn in by Tom’s style: his art seems ripped out of another time, drawing on vintage pulp and advertisement, comics. science fiction, and punk rock. It’s also really fun to look at it. To be honest, it’s not an aesthetic I see very much in graphic design coming out of libraries. I asked Tom how he approaches designing for the library: “…pretty much the way that I approach any client. I just try to communicate their message as quickly and cleanly as I can, though with the library, and with the type of work I was doing–largely event posters for the first few months, but then logos (see below), and larger campaign graphics like their Summer Reading Program–I was able to also be really creative”.
Logo work for Oak Park Public Library. Clockwise, from top left: a logo for a curated book bag program; Genre X logo, a reading group for 20 and 30 year olds; the updated logo for Oak Park PL; a logo for the self-explanatory book bike, a logo for the discovery kit, where kids can check out themed kits for studying astronomy and entomology; a logo for an annual reading event for the community.
The View from In Here
Having now spent some time on the ‘inside’ (of the library), Tom has made connections, and has more insight into how funding (and the lack of it) can easily trickle down to outreach and marketing: “…a good friend I made while (at Oak Park Public Library) told me that libraries tend to have an inferiority complex because they are often sorely underfunded, and, especially where it comes to design and marketing, usually have to rely on non-professionals to create works and programs that would be a challenge to seasoned designers. The way she put it was, ‘we end up having to say ‘that’s good enough for a library’ a lot‘. It was my goal to never do anything that was just good enough.”
Summer reading campaign “20,000 Reads Under the Sea” at Oak Park Public Library. A comprehensive campaign featuring posters, a pamphlet, reading logs, a bookmark, and a t-shirt for program winners. This campaign tied for Best of Show Reading Programs / Children & Family at the ALA/LLAMA PR Xchange Awards 2014.
Love Your Library campaign for National Library Card Sign-up Month at Oak Park Public Library. This campaign included newspaper advertisements, posters, a brochure with stand, and a take-home card. Local businesses were involved in this promotion, which included discounts and other specials when customers displayed their library card.
Love Your Library
Tom Deja no longer works for Oak Park Public Library, but he still has an abiding fondness for libraries from his time there, “I loved being able to help raise the level of design for the library, and for libraries in general. I worked with some incredibly bright, talented, and creative people, and I learned a lot. …I met some really thoughtful librarians and had some excellent conversations about the inner workings and thought processes that shape their world. It was fascinating, and any chance I have to work on library projects now, I take.”
You can see more of Tom’s work at Bossman Graphics. Many thanks to Tom for taking the time to answer my questions.