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Wisconsin is famous for many things - most notably beer, cheese curds and the Green Bay Packers - but what makes the state's more than 1,200 individual towns special? Josh Cox and Doua Vue are exploring just that question. They are the team behind Project Wisconsin, a blog dedicated to branding one Wisconsin town for each day of 2012.
After meeting through their work at Kennedy Communications three years ago, Madison-based graphic designers Cox and Vue began Project Wisconsin in January as an after-hours way of honing their skills. Their goal was simple: Capture the unique spirit of 365 Wisconsin towns through design.
"Most Wisconsin towns have something they think is really cool or something they're known for. We found a guy who collected pop tabs his whole life in Rome, a giant chicken in Marinette and giant ball of twine in Lake Nebagamon," Cox says.
Cox and Vue have serious fun with what they do. Their designs are cheeky and well crafted, and they highlight memorable or unusual traits. From Janesville's General Motors-inspired design to a hand-drawn homage to Warrens' annual cranberry festival, Project Wisconsin is playful tribute to all things Wisconsin.
Cox and Vue use sketches, hand-drawn illustrations, computer-assisted design and typography, so each logo looks different. Inspiration comes from pop-culture references, national brands and local history. Each logo takes from one to five hours to complete.
But with 365 days and well over a thousand communities, how to choose?
"If something pops out to us about a town, we'll pick that one to design," says Cox, who was inspired by Wayne, Wis., in Washington County, to craft a Wayne's World-style motif. If either he or Vue knows the particular history of a town, that will move it up the list. "Oh, and requests!" Cox says. "We get a lot of requests from people."
Wisconsinites started taking notice of Cox and Vue's work early in the year. Their audience is a loyal one, with many followers commenting daily on the blog and joining Project Wisconsin via social media. Cox and Vue also try to contact local towns and officials to share the branding work they've done. Even though many of the logos are tongue-in-cheek, the response has been overwhelmingly positive.
"People love seeing their town and what we've come up with to symbolize where they're from, where they've grown up, where they live," Cox says.
In August, Project Wisconsin teamed up with Taste of Madison, and its logo appeared on the official festival coozie. More recently, their work was included in a Kickstarter-funded Wisconsin photography book by author Kelly Maddern; it will be released next year.
Project Wisconsin has become bigger and more time-consuming than either Cox or Vue expected. "The process started getting tiring in the middle of the year. We used to be specific about getting one up each day, but now, we may put six up at once. We try to remember that this is just a side project and not worry about it too much anymore," Vue says.
As young designers, however, logging those extra hours post-work has been good practice for refining their graphic design skills.
"I'm getting pretty quick at coming up with a design concept, creating logos and crafting a completed design. Now I definitely do things much faster, using different techniques than before," says Cox.
They kicked off 2012 with Orfordville - Cox's hometown - and hope to end the year with the most hotly requested destination: Madison. Some of their favorite designs include Milwaukee (beer-label inspired), Florence (Brady Bunch-inspired), Nelson (think the twin rock duo) and Hustler (yes, that Hustler).
With Project Wisconsin nearing the end of its run, they have a few last design goals in mind.
"We've got beer, we've got cheese, but we don't have enough cows! We gotta work on that this month," Vue says with a laugh.
While they have no plans to continue Project Wisconsin in 2013, they hope to wrap up with a gallery show of all 365 featured towns. They're also looking at different outlets to sell prints.
With less than a month left in 2012, they agree the most important thing they've learned from Project Wisconsin is the pervasiveness of state pride. "No matter how big or small it is," Cox says, "every town has something special, and everyone has real Wisconsin pride in where they live."