Molly Ampersand: Part 2

by | Dec 28, 2011

Welcome back! If you’re just joining us now, we are talking with Molly Ampersand, a graphic designer and font designer in the Pioneer Valley of Massachusetts. This is a continuation of Part I.

Clara: You made a type-based mural on your wall out of masking tape and created a time lapse video of the process. What was the most challenging

Molly: My first tape mural came out of a frustration of working on a computer screen all the time, and I just wanted to make REALLY BIG LETTERS in REAL LIFE. I knew I wouldn’t be able to eyeball it very well, so I used a projector to project and trace my design on the wall with tape. The most challenging part was the amount of time it took – I spent three full days making it. But I just marathon-ed This American Life [podcast], and got into the zone. I recently made another tape mural on my stairs, and did it without the aid of any comp designs or a projector, very proud of myself!

View a time lapse movie shows Molly’s process in creating a wall-sized type-based mural here.

Clara: You design games in addition to fonts and visual design. Let’s talk a bit about Co-opoly. How did it come about?

Molly: In Co-opoly, players collaborate to found and run a democratic business. In order to survive as individuals and to strive for the success of their co-op, players make tough choices regarding big and small challenges while putting their teamwork abilities to the test.

It started as a part of a joint thesis at Hampshire College with my friend Brian. I was doing my thesis (called a Division III project) about typography for social justice, and he was starting a worker cooperative to make social justice teaching tools. He needed a designer, and I needed a client, so it worked out perfectly. I believe games are a fun, accessible way to learn about a complex business models like co-ops. I thought it would be exciting to design something with so many components, from the board and box, to all the different cards and points, to the instructions and educational material the game comes with.

The box cover for Co-opoly, a new board game designed to teach a co-operative business model.

Clara: So it’s a non-zero-sum game in which everybody wins together or loses together and everyone is on the same team. There’s no opposing team and it’s process-oriented. Tell me a bit about the process of designing a board game. What was your role in the design and construction of this game?

Molly: I started by just doing visual design, adding nice colors, icons, and a layout for what Brian had already made. But as time went on and I play-tested the game myself, I began to see how some of the problems in the game mechanics could be solved visually as well. With any product that people are going to interact with, it’s really crucial to do as much targeted user testing as possible. Instead of guessing whether people would understand a certain icon, or know which “bank” to take their salary from, we tested over and over, and made both design and mechanic changes based on people’s experience.

An icon-based playing board visually guides the players through the game.

It was also very important to us to manufacture the game ethically – everything is made in the USA (no sweatshop labor!), and almost everything is printed locally to us in Massachusetts by other worker co-ops.

Now that the game is out, it’s been very rewarding and inspiring to hear stories about it. Some people want to start a co-op, some just want to have fun with their family, some want to use it as way to learn about sustainable economies in disaster areas, and some folks want to convert their business into a co-op. So exciting!

Clara: You also ride bikes AND you participate in circus arts. You make movies, animations, designs and board games. With a wide range of interests, where and how do you find inspiration?

Molly: Everything I do inspires everything else I do! I’m a sponge. I usually get my best ideas on long bike rides in the countryside. I’ve made human acrobatic ampersands. I’m happiest when I find ways to combine all the things I love doing. I find inspiration in the colors of food I’m cooking, in shapes made by the human body when I’m doing acrobatics, in wine labels, in old letters painted on buildings, lettering on gravestones, my friends, and of course, the internet.

Plasma cut ampersands designed for the Ampersand Project.

I think my true calling is to be an art director, because I love collaborative interdisciplinary projects. When I’m working on a circus show, I love to think about not just the choreography, but the lighting, the sound, the costumes, the program and poster design, and the Web site and promotion. My big life dream is to design an adult/all-ages oriented indoor typographic playground space, where there are giant letters to climb on and play inside, and then choreograph and film a circus show within it, then teach design and media classes to community members there at night. Someday!

Thank you, Molly!

Molly Ampersand McLeod

Co-opoly

The Ampersand Project

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