With Bookmarks, Boston Preserves the City’s Past

As one of the oldest settlements in the United States, Boston is rich with a history that touches nearly every street corner and houses iconic relics of centuries past. Time-honored houses, parks, churches, and monuments stand proud in each neighborhood of the city as tributes to pivotal eras and decisive moments in the history of the nation. These landmarks halt the turning of the pages of history in much the same way a bookmark holds the place of a significant point in the narrative—both are reminders to revisit a compelling moment.

This link between the role of landmarks in a city and the conventional purpose of bookmarks was the inspiration behind one of Boston Landmarks Commission’s most popular Preservation Month projects. The Landmarks Commission worked in collaboration with the city’s digital team to design bookmarks, and later tote bags and posters, for each of Boston’s nine historic districts, the Landmarks Commission, and the Archaeology Program.

The project found its roots in line drawings of landmarks created for tote bags by city archaeologist Joe Bagley a few years ago. The widespread popularity of the tote bags acted as the springboard for the bookmarks designed for this past May’s Preservation Month, as the Landmarks Commission found itself searching for a way to give each of the historic districts—Aberdeen, Back Bay, Bay State Road, Bay Village, Beacon Hill, Mission Hill, Fort Point Channel, South End, and St. Botolph—its own individuality.

“We really needed to come up with some way of identifying the various districts because we have nine districts, the Boston Landmarks Commission and the Archaeology Program. They all needed an individual identity,” said Kathleen von Jena, Assistant Survey Director of the Landmarks Commission.

Each of the nine districts, the Landmarks Commission and the Archaeology Program has its own bookmark featuring an illustration that highlights its distinct architectural style. To arrive at the final iterations of the line drawings, von Jena’s team sent designer Caroline Stjarnborg photos of landmarks and architectural elements from each of the neighborhoods for inspiration. One of the chief challenges Stjarnborg and the design team faced was finding landmarks that would fit the elongated shape of a bookmark. Some trial and error was necessary to overcome this obstacle, but with so many historical sites in Boston the team was still unable to explore every detail.

Using the photos and walking the streets of the districts for ideas, Stjarnborg operated within the brand guidelines for icons used by the city’s design team to create illustrations that remained consistent with the overall look of other graphics produced for the city of Boston. Rather than creating exact depictions of each landmark, Stjarnborg wanted each illustration to have “a little more unique spark to it.”

Brand guidelines for elements such as color, typography, iconography, photos and landmarks ensure that all content created for the city of Boston has a cohesive look. The bookmarks had a dual purpose in spreading the new brand and increasing awareness for different historical landmarks and districts within the city.

“We already have a great brand that we are building off of, and it’s a new brand that people seem pretty hungry for. I think that by proliferating it in this way, it drew some needed attention to some great landmarks within the city,” said design director Sebastian Ebarb.

The design team is striving to give a unique flavor to each of the city’s departments while remaining within the somewhat rigid guidelines of the new brand.

The brand guidelines protect the uniformity of materials and digital content created for the city, but allow for the creativity necessary to accentuate the goals of each department.

“It’s everything from landmarks to the snow brochure you get to remind you to shovel your sidewalk,” Ebarb said. “We utilize the new brand and hopefully give a cohesive message and visual identity that gets people excited and hopefully loving their city government a little bit more.”

The design team and Landmarks Commission attribute the success of the bookmark project to the simplicity of the illustrations created by Stjarnborg, who Ebarb called “a force of nature when it comes to design in general,” and the way the bookmarks honor the history of the city.

“One of the great things about Boston is that everybody is interested in the history and where this all comes from, so it’s kind of tying together this new brand that people are celebrating from Boston and the rich history that everybody loves,” Ebarb said.

According to von Jena, the project “fulfilled the goal beautifully.” Both the design team and the Landmarks Commission hope to use more artistic elements in the future and are already preparing for this May’s Preservation Month, during which a new commemorative bookmark is poised to make its debut.

Featured Image by City of Boston