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Why this designer worked through his dream vacation

After designing a logo for every city he visited on his four-month trip, Will Roth aspires to be “the graphic designer version of Anthony Bourdain.”

When most people go on a cross-continent vacation, they take Instagrams. But designer Will Roth, who went on a four-month trip across Europe with his wife, Lisa, through cities like Paris, Belgrade, or Sofia, decided to document their trip in a new way. Roth practiced his creative skills by developing a logo for a fictitious company in each of the cities–and publish a book of the results called A Designer in Europe.

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[Image: courtesy Will Roth]
“I decided that I would challenge myself to design a logo for each city we visited, inspired by projects where someone branded the 10,000 lakes, or someone designed a logo for each of their state parks,” says Roth, who works as a freelance graphic designer in Savannah, Georgia, focusing on brand and identity design. The duo had dreamed about their grand adventure for years and patiently saved the money to pay for it, and the idea for the side project came from his desire keep himself sharp.

To achieve that goal he brought pens, pencils, a notebook, and a 13-inch laptop. Lisa is an artist, and they both managed to find the time to sit down in cafes, buildings, and plazas to sketch what they saw around them. “I would start with the logo for each city right after we left,” he tells me via email. “In Paris, I was working on Amsterdam where we just came from, and so on. I only had a few days for each before I needed to start working on the next one. Some logos are for fake companies I dreamt up or a brand for the city itself. Some logos simply act as a jewel for my experiences.”

[Image: courtesy Will Roth]

For him, the logo for each city was a mash-up of all the experiences they had there. “After visiting many museums in Greece, I knew I had to do something involving Greek ceramic art,” he says He says that in Amsterdam, inspiration came from a countryside bike ride and the style of Dick Bruna, a Dutch artist, author, and designer. Roth visited a Bruna exhibit at the Rijksmuseum the day before they left Amsterdam. Paris became a mash-up of Invader–a French urban artist with an 8-bit style–and an outdoor cafe they loved. In Istanbul, his inspiration came from a cooking class and the omnipresent tiles featuring Islamic patterns in the city’s architecture.

Sometimes, Roth says, the design came less from a mash-up and more from a eureka moment. “I would know immediately what the logo would be,” he says. “In Piran, for example, I saw a sailboat in the distance that formed the shape of a P and knew that’s where my logo would come from.”

[Image: courtesy Will Roth]

Eventually, the logo exercise became a distillation of all their experiences in each city. The book serves as both a travel journal and a design process diary, since it contains his notes and sketches showing the genesis of each of the logo. “I don’t just show people the logo, but add anecdotes about our journey and include commentary and photos to supplement my reasoning for each logo,” he says. “I think the book does a great job of showcasing my process and personality and have been using it as a portfolio piece while applying to creative agencies.”

In the future, Roth would like to be “the graphic designer version of Anthony Bourdain, mixing regional design inspiration and travel.” In fact, Lisa and Will are already preparing their next adventure–with a book to match.

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About the author

Jesus Diaz founded the new Sploid for Gawker Media after seven years working at Gizmodo, where he helmed the lost-in-a-bar iPhone 4 story. He's a creative director, screenwriter, and producer at The Magic Sauce and a contributing writer at Fast Company.

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