A Q&A with Design MMoCA Exhibitor Jerry Chapa

The graphic designer discusses craft beer, his work style and the design scene in Madison versus San Jose

PHOTO BY NOAH WILLMAN

Jerry Chapa is president and creative director of graphic design and brand identity firm Chapa Design.

What brought you to Madison?
A curly-haired girl from Madison—now my wife of ten years, Brie Chapa.

How does the design scene here differ from that in Silicon Valley, where you used to live?
My graphic design education from San Jose State University was based on mentoring, experimenting and heavy critiquing of concepts. Our instructors always asked us to answer the question of did we use a specific shape, font or color in trying to solve the overall communication challenge. [This remains a] foundation in critiquing at my office to this day.

During my schooling in the mid-’90s, I lived in downtown San Jose. This was during the [height] of the dot-com era. I was able to freelance on many startup companies’ brand identity systems, which gave me my first taste of what it feels like to run my own company.

How do you describe your approach to design?
Listen. Think. Design.

What’s the first thing you do every day?
First, I get woken up by my two boys (Oscar, five, and Bennett, three). Then I attempt to brew myself the best pour-over cup of coffee with my Hario V60.

What do you consider a great thrill?
Within work and life I get my thrills in solving problems. Professionally, I get thrills when we take a client in a new and undiscovered direction. In life, it’s figuring out how to dovetail in my wood shop.

What’s the best thing you’ve ever eaten?
My mother’s tamales. Even days later I can reheat the tamales and they are still amazing.

Why are you participating in Design MMoCA 2014?
Our participation in Design MMoCA is an outlet for Chapa Design to solve another visual problem, with our only criteria being the artwork we select.

What did you choose as your inspiration artwork and what are your plans for your submission?
Texis by Peter Saul [a 1985 satirical lithograph of a man riding a horse]. We were drawn to its attitude and overall exaggerations. It reminded us of how packaging design needs to do the same in capturing the attention of a consumer. Plus, taking fine art and translating it into a design piece is the challenge, while expressing who we are as a design firm. This piece lent itself well to our process. 

Your project from Design MMoCA 2012, a clever play on brand logos, seemed popular with viewers.
Yes, we had lots of great stories from last year’s exhibit, from kids knowing what the Apple logo was to an older lady who did not understand our entire exhibit. Then someone pointed out to the lady the covered Morton Salt Girl logo and it hit the right visual memory to open her eyes to the entire exhibit.

Another interaction with our exhibit was on the opening night. People made viewing the exhibit a game and challenged each other on how many brands they could recognize, which was not part of our plan but it sure made people think. We were very pleased with the community’s experience with our exhibit and the response that we got and still get.

What’s top on your bucket list?
I don’t have a bucket list, but I do set goals that I strive to achieve. The last goal I achieved was to run the Madison Marathon. It was a success, but my body disliked me for the next three days.

How do you unwind?
Beer! I love craft beer. Hence, some of my clients are breweries.

What’s been the key to your success?
My wife’s understanding of my passion to own my own company and her encouragement to seek it out. Also her insights in many areas of the business have been crucial to the overall success of the business. Having someone to support you in your dreams and having the ability are key.

Chapa is president and creative director of graphic design and brand identity firm Chapa Design. He’s also one of seventeen participants in Design MMoCA, the biennial showcase of design talent inspired by works of art at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. The event runs April 25–May 4. For more information, visit mmoca.org.

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