Chicago Literacy Alliance: Creating a Golden Illusion

Case Studies

A Windy City literacy nonprofit offers a unique spin on light use to design a first-of-its kind center with jaw-dropping graphics.

Stacy Ratner, the co-founder of the Chicago Literacy Alliance (CLA), knew her organization’s new space was going to get attention. The Literacenter, located in the Windy City’s West Loop neighborhood, is the first shared nonprofit workspace in North America that is specifically devoted to literacy.

As a model she suspected others would examine and try to emulate, Ratner wanted the Literacenter to be a vibrant, creative, and colorful space that supported literacy. In thinking about the space, she also needed to address some issues unique to the literacy center. First, some of the people using the space would be adult learners with varied reading ability. So, she wanted colored doors to give them a straightforward way to find their way around, since the literary puns that the organization uses to identify different rooms can be hard to read or understand for new readers. She wanted the stair risers to be designed as book spines, along with various graphics and mission-themed murals in various areas throughout the space.

Finding a team up to the challenge

As Ratner looked for a provider who could fulfill such a tall order, Partners by Design, an interior design firm, suggested she connect with Cushing, a Chicago marketing and graphics installation company. The team looked at the multiple elements and challenges and said, “No problem,” Ratner recalls.

“The team is made up of problem solvers and never backs away from a challenge. This was an opportunity to be a part of something special,” says Jon Davis, Cushing marketing manager.

They immediately went to work on design, choosing book spines for roughly 50 stair risers. As the CLA settled into its space, Ratner says that they discovered an extra room in the basement that was “sort of a hidden conference room.” Because of its location, the team nicknamed it “Roomplestiltskin” and thought that a gold foil door would be appropriate, to tie in with the gold-spinning element of the beloved children’s story, Rumpelstiltskin. There was just one problem: There wasn’t a known way to print gold foil.

Creating gold from light

The production team got to work mimicking the look of gold using light and dark areas to provide a sheen that looked like shiny gold. The creative team tweaked the original file Ratner provided, adding and arranging the areas of lighter and darker “gold” color to create a finish that looked metallic. Mission accomplished.

The team used 3M™ Controltac™ Graphic Film IJ180C, which was also used for the wall graphics. They used 3M™ Scotchcal™ Graphic Film for Textured Surfaces IJ8624 film for the star risers, and 3M™ Scotchcal™ Graphic Film IJ40 for the classroom mural. Altogether, the look was solid gold. And while Ratner can’t say there’s a direct correlation between great décor and learning to read, the colorful, whimsical designs do have their benefits, she says.

“All of these elements help the space speak for itself,” Ratner says. “When we said we were going to create a literary-themed space, people thought we were just going to hang posters. This is so much more than that. The design makes the Literacenter a great place to be.”

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