Werner Design Werks: timeless design

I've admired Werner Design Werks' design portfolio since I was a design student in college. Sharon Werner's typographic skills combined with an intelligent approach to design problem-solving makes her work seem timeless — even years (yikes, decades?) later, the projects created by Werner Design Werks that I admired back then are still appealing today.

"A Good Day for Soup" was designed by Sharon Werner and published by Chronicle Books in 1995. As a fresh design college grad, I remember admiring its gorgeous and perfectly tomato-soup-coloured red ink on uncoated paper. The book design still looks fresh!

"A Good Day for Soup" was designed by Sharon Werner and published by Chronicle Books in 1995. As a fresh design college grad, I remember admiring its gorgeous and perfectly tomato-soup-coloured red ink on uncoated paper. The book design still looks fresh!

Sharon Werner and Sarah Forss are the small team that have been the mainstay of Werner Design works. Through hard work—combined with their great deal of talent—they have built a strong body of work and set themselves as an important anchor in a design aesthetic that began regionally in Minneapolis-St. Paul in the mid-nineties.

Sharon, during our visit in 2011.

Sharon, during our visit in 2011.

In the early 90s, there was a distinctive design trend emerging from the Minneapolis area. It was a vernacular style that married a workhorse aesthetic with typographic prowess: bold type, simple colours, deliberate misregistration, butcher paper. French Paper was the trendiest stock option and retro-pop line art was being captured from the public domain by Charles S. Anderson. At the time, I was an eager visual communications student at the Alberta College of Art devouring design magazines. Before blogs and Behance, it was the print triumvirate Communication Arts, How and Print that informed the impressionable. Through their pages, I came to admire designs by Sharon Werner.

The Werner Design Werks studio is full of books, bits of signage and vintage inspiration.

The Werner Design Werks studio is full of books, bits of signage and vintage inspiration.

After six years working for Duffy Design, Sharon founded Werner Design Werks in 1991. Her work appealed to me because the designs were a little quieter and a bit more feminine that the rest of the “guys” profiled in the magazines. I remember checking out a cookbook she designed (A Good Day for Soup, Chronicle Books, 1995), not for the recipes, but to admire the perfectly tomato soup–coloured ink and the delicious typography. When I graduated from college and started my own freelance design pursuits a few years later, I continued to follow Werner Design Werks' output for visual inspiration and also as encouragement for being a female entrepreneur in what was then a seemingly male-oriented industry.

An Alphabeasties dinosaur book in progress, 2011.
Examples from Alphabeasties.

Examples from Alphabeasties.

Issue #14 is still available as a back issue and features a special section on children's book illustration. Cover by Jon Klassen.

Issue #14 is still available as a back issue and features a special section on children's book illustration. Cover by Jon Klassen.

A dozen or so years on, Sharon and I connected through email and postal exchanges. I had been sending her the UPPERCASE directory of illustration and she was reciprocating with her amazing Alphabeasties series of books. In 2011, I was thrilled to finally meet Sharon in her St. Paul office and have a face-to-face chat (and a snoop through her spacious studio). Thinking back to my 20-year-old art-student self, I could not have fathomed that a few decades later I would be publishing a magazine and featuring one of my design heroines within its pages!

Our visit was profiled two years ago in issue #14 (2012) of UPPERCASE, but I've never shared some of the photos I took of that visit—until today! I was prompted to share them in honour of Werner Design Werks' new website, one that shows off current projects, like this identity for Caryn Model & Talent Agency, but also highlights the many projects that helped define the company over the years.

Identity design for Caryn Model & Talent Agency

Identity design for Caryn Model & Talent Agency

Identity design for Caryn Model & Talent Agency

Identity design for Caryn Model & Talent Agency

Sharon admits that it was quite challenging to decide what to include in the new website: "To edit and select 23 years worth of projects was an arduously difficult task of deciding—what makes the cut?" she explains. "We’re firm believers that you're only as good as your last project! But we also believe our history and experiences make us who we are today. They inform how we think and approach a project. With that in mind we created an archive section for the oldies but goodies. It was similar to going through your closet and if you’ve not worn (or referenced) it in the last 2 years, it goes into the give-away box."

Congratulations to Sharon and Sarah on the new site—and my thanks to them both for their hospitality and support of UPPERCASE projects over the years. Cheers! 

Some iconic spirits packaging. Knob Creek was produced while Sharon was at Duffy Design Group.

Some iconic spirits packaging. Knob Creek was produced while Sharon was at Duffy Design Group.