By Jason McDowell Creative Director Published Aug 06, 2016 at 11:36 AM

The Riverwest Neighborhood Association (RNA) released the winner of its neighborhood sign redesign competition at Center Street Daze on Saturday, Aug. 6 at 11:30 a.m. before the Cart Races began. The final three designs were submitted by David Arnevik, Helene Feider and Allison Waller, but it was ultimately David Arnevik's "House on the river" design that was deemed best by Riverwest residents.

House on the river by David Arnevik
Bicycle and tree by Helene Feider
Riverwest Coop by Allison Waller
Left to right: 1) "House on the river" by David Arnevik. 2) "Bicycle and tree" by Helene Feider. 3) "Riverwest Coop" by Allison Waller

Many neighborhoods in Milwaukee are marked by signs that define their boundaries. Often they feature buildings or landmarks, and the neighborhood names are set in Korinna, a simplified Art Nouveau typeface that was revived in the mid 1970s. The typeface and designs appear to be a nod the neighborhood posters by Jan Kotowicz that were created from 1983 to 1995.

Not every neighborhood sign follows these loose trends, and that's fine (some of the posters are more iconic and inspiring than others), but I do appreciate the sense of unity it brings to the city.

So what was wrong with the current Riverwest neighborhood sign? According to Ruth Weill, writing in the Riverwest Currents, the Riverwest Neighborhood Association felt it was dated and due for an update.

"Many residents felt Riverwest needed a new image that better reflected  the neighborhood. A new sign had been a topic at community meetings for a few years now," wrote Weill.

After asking residents to rank specific themes, the RNA put out a Request for Proposals (RFP) to artists for new design submissions. According to the results the top themes were, diversity, community, the river and art. Figureheads in the community then chose three designs and residents voted for their favorites at various block parties.

Riverwest Neighborhood Poster by Jan Kotowicz
Left to right: Riverwest Neighborhood Poster, Harambee Neighborhood Poster, North Point Neighborhood Poster

I have to say the process felt a bit flawed to me. The themes seemed to be weirdly split. Diversity was separated from community, the river was separated from parks and green spaces, art was separated from music, and bicycles were the only transportation focus (I would have wrapped that whole thing in "walkability"). Additionally, the Riverwest Family Crest was voted on as a theme, when there is no such thing. The intent was that residents would be noting that they wanted a design that could work as a sign as well a crest or logo, but this is a discussion separate from the theme decision.

Despite community, diversity, and natural spaces being the clear poll winners, the subsequent artist submissions (of which I was a judge) mostly ignored this and focused very heavily on biking (among the lower vote-getters), which made it difficult to choose among diverse themes. If you follow my writing, you know I have a love for bikes, but even I had to to admit this seemed disingenuous to the residents.

Nevertheless, the competition floated three solid designs to the top, each emphasizing elements of the neighborhood in their own way. Arnevik's "House along the river" design took the familiarity of the Polish Flat neighborhood poster, but added a long-view of significant icons (the church, river, reservoir hill, and the skyline) and then juiced the colors.

Feider took typography in a bold direction with her "Bicycle and tree" design whose letter forms reflect diversity, and coming together to form something bigger than the individuals. And Waller's "Riverwest Coop" design nods to the community, diversity, and green-ness of the neighborhood through the avatar of one of its most beloved institutions.

Still, between all three I was hoping for something a little more iconic. Riverwest's sister neighborhood, Harambee, has a street sign that is a boldly abstract design that I can see transposed into all kinds of purposes. (Considering the design was originally the logo for the Harambee Ombudsman Project, this makes sense.) The North Point poster is also uniquely graphic.

Riverwest Neighborhood Poster by Jan Kotowicz
Harambee Neighborhood Poster by Jan Kotowicz
North Point Neighborhood Poster by Jan Kotowicz
Left to right: Riverwest Neighborhood Poster, Harambee Neighborhood Poster, North Point Neighborhood Poster

Any of the new Riverwest signage choices lack that type of portability. Yes, they'll work as a sign and a poster for sure, and this satisfies the general requirements. I just wish the whole project was structured for a greater vision.

Posters of all three designs will be available for purchase at Center Street Daze.

Jason McDowell Creative Director

Jason McDowell grew up in central Iowa and moved to Milwaukee in 2000 to attend the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design.

In 2006 he began working with OnMilwaukee as an advertising designer, but has since taken on a variety of rolls as the Creative Director, tackling all kinds of design problems, from digital to print, advertising to branding, icons to programming.

In 2016 he picked up the 414 Digital Star of the Year award.

Most other times he can be found racing bicycles, playing board games, or petting dogs.