Sarah Boris is a graphic designer who manages to create work with a highly conceptual bias that’s always fit for the job. Born in London and raised in the U.S. and France, her most recognizable project is the identity for London’s ICA (Institute of Contemporary Art), created in 2009 and still in use today.
Subtle, minimal and largely monochrome, the branding is the perfect foil for the organisation’s exhibition program, which looks at experimental, bold pieces of contemporary art, and performance. As all good gallery branding should, it makes a bold impact that’s recognisable whether on a huge transport poster or a small ticket stub, while still letting the artworks it promotes speak for themselves.
The designer pushed for the rebrand while working in-house at the ICA – a brave move since the institution had been rebranded by Spin only two years previously. “Often people say in house designers never do rebrands and so I always wanted to challenge that,” says Boris. “I think when you’re internal you have to prove yourself a lot more for people to see you as a good designer. The rebrand came about quite naturally, as I had to assess if there was a true need to change the branding, but we knew it wasn’t being recognized by a lot of people in the way it could be. The needs had changed a lot in two years.
“The branding gave me credentials that are still important today for people seeing how I work, and managing a project with very little resources and rolling it out to stay in place for that long.”
Since leaving the ICA’s design team, Boris has taken on the role of art director at publishing house Phaidon, which specializes in art and design-led books packed with sumptuously rich photography.
“I’d been working with photography a lot before but with Phaidon that expanded a lot and opened new doors,” says Boris. “The change of scale from producing leaflets and books in quite small quantity, then making books printed in 80,000 copies had quite a big impact.”
Since setting up her own studio in 2015, Sarah has continued to work with cultural clients and on art book design, but she’s hoping to add more food and fashion-related projects to her portfolio. She’s also working with London’s Photographers’ Gallery as a consultant art director, overseeing poster designs and image selection.
She developed a new way of presenting the gallery’s content in the form of a neatly designed, text-heavy little paperback book called Loose Associations, which replaces the reams of separate leaflets previously put out by the organization. She’s also worked on several non-graphics projects, creating a beautiful series of geometric patterned rugs and an exhibition in Le Havre, France, as part of graphic design festival Une Saison Graphique that revolved around a wordless book.
Her current project is Juicy Bits. “It’s a very Pop Art project,” she says. “I’m looking at fruit labels that have cheeky or romantic names, or women’s names, like Pamela. We always talk about design in a way that’s aimed at designers—with this I want to see how people from other backgrounds look at design—a food writer, a theatre writer… It would be lovely for people to talk about what Pamela the grapefruit is up to.”
Sarah’s work found itself all over the internet recently thanks to some high profile folk, including a designer at Apple, sharing a flag design post-Brexit. The piece was initially created last year in response to the crisis talks around the NHS. It’s a simple but powerful piece that uses “fragile” tape to form a Union Jack flag. She says: “That piece reminded me that it’s important to keep on doing these things that aren’t commissioned—it sounds obvious, but as designers we often don’t make the space for that.”