Forget the conventional
wisdom about finding your niche. Jan Lorencs reputation isnt
built around a signature style, but versatility. Lorenc and partner Chung
Youl Yoo describe their firm, Roswell, GA-based Lorenc + Yoo Design, as
an environmental communication design firm. This sufficiently
broad description includes signage, sculpture, retail space, furniture
and exhibit design for an international client base that includes Sony-Ericcson,
Haworth Furniture Company, Lifetime Television, and Georgia-Pacific.
once remarked that theres no thread of design continuity in our
portfolio, says Lorenc. He seemed to be bothered by this,
yet it made me feel great, since a jobs aesthetic is determined
by the process and the client. Thats the thread. Deeply thoughtful
and introspective when describing his work, Lorenc considers himself primarily
a storyteller, someone his clients hire to reflect their culture, not
impose his own. The story is the clients mission, says
Lorenc. And their message is the key from which we create the environment.
Although his personal
nature is calm and focused, Lorencs history is a study in extremes.
A Polish immigrant, Lorenc literally left his family farm for the Warsaw
airport by horse and buggy and, upon arrival, was driven to his new Chicago
home in a pink Cadillac. A lifelong interest in art lead him to the Illinois
Institute of Technology, where he studied industrial and graphic design.
He founded Jan Lorenc Design in 1978 with his wife Barbara, and changed
the name to Lorenc Design in 1981 when he moved the firm to Atlanta in
pursuit of broader creative opportunities.
As the opportunities
grew, so did the workload. In 1995, Lorenc took on longtime staff member
Chung Youl Yoo, a Korean native, as a partner and changed the firm name
to Lorenc + Yoo Design. In 2000, they moved the firm just north of Atlanta
to Roswell, GA, where they remain today, 24 years after the firm was founded.
Jan cultivates the diversity so essential to his character by employing
a staff with diverse backgrounds and areas of expertise. Below, Lorenc
shares why diversity is crucial to his firm and how his success is all
about knowing his clients inside and out.
What made you decide
to take on Chung as a partner?
Doing a diverse range of work is what I have dreamed of since day one.
I needed a committed partner to make this vision achievable. I couldnt
have done the work weve done lately without Chung and vice versa.
My role is to serve primarily as the design director, setting each projects
tone and handling the upfront research and the spirit of the project.
Chung primarily handles the evolution of bringing the design idea into
reality, negotiating with the manufacturers, detailing the individual
pieces of the project, and selecting the final finishes and materials.
Was hiring diverse
staff intentional, or a natural consequence of the nature of your partnership
Diversity has been a goal since the firm was founded. I like to bring
on staff who are better than I ampeople I can learn from and grow
with. It would be one thing if our firm had a rigorous design philosophy
where we didnt do anything but, say, modernist work. Then a homogenous
staff would make sense. But it benefits us to have a diverse staff due
to the variety of projects we take on.
What does the diversity
of the staff bring to the firm?
Combined, our staff of 12 has experience in industrial design, visual
design, marketing, architecture, graphic design, furniture design, painting,
color theory, and journalism. This allows us to be very malleable, take
on the wide variety of projects that we do, and switch gears easily.
Also, our travels
to Europe and Asia allow us to approach projects with new materials,
design attitudes, and colors. For instance, I was struck by the visual
impact of a bright yellow boat docked in Venices murky waters
caught my eye. I brought that back and used it in our work. The Georgia-Pacific
exhibit is probably the best example of how we incorporated bold colors
to highlight the product.
Who or what inspires
The common folk of the worldpeople who create the true culture of
a place and make it what it is. This is why our recently completed visitors
center for Wycliffe Bible Translatorsan international missionary
organizationwas so exciting. We learned about their work and told
their story through graphic content supplemented with ordinary construction
materials, including materials commonly used in the third world where
many of their missions take place. We introduced textures, colors, and
ethnic textiles to anchor the organizations humble message.
that your design process primarily involves storytelling. How so?
Our approach looks at the company or environment and strives to incorporate
the richness of its culture and context. The site plan, the landscape,
the lighting, the building, the interiors, everything down to the micro
level is thought through as a unified message. We mold the environment
around the client, starting with the experience. We do this by knowing
each individual clients business and personality intimately.
With the Georgia-Pacific exhibit, our primary mission was to understand
the company history, legacy, and future. We immersed ourselves in their
product line and probably understood it better than any single person
in the company. We were then able to take their overall repositioning
story, add some bit of lightness to it and tell this in a synoptic fashion
through the exhibit space.
The purpose of the Georgia-Pacific exhibit was to introduce everyone
from internal sales staff to company trainees to Wall Street analysts
to the company. We designed the exhibitwhich is spread out as separate
pieces throughout the divisional headquarters in Atlanta and Denveras
a three-dimensional brief. Each different piece educated visitors on everything
from product offerings to company history. It provided a sort of cheat
sheet for people who want to learn about the company.
Is your approach
similar whether youre working with a sculpture client or a tradeshow
In sculpture, the message may be emotional, but it still has to be narrative.
In exhibits, the message is the narrative, but it can be a structural
vocabulary with emotional space. Each piece is still about telling a story,
so in that way, the approach is the same.
What are your favorite
types of projects?
Anything that requires me to do something totally new and fresh. I simply
love to create spaces as narratives of each companys or institutions
What would be your
Our current museum design project for the Childrens Museum of South
Carolina comes close. It has allowed us to exercise all of our varied
talents in exhibit design, retail-shop design, furniture design, interior
design, architecture, landscape architecture, theater, interactive design,
graphic design, identity design, and lighting design. Since our audience
is children, we are striving to ground the design with imagery and elements
from the local area like its historic buildings, shrimp boats, and the
coast itself to make this museum communicate the importance of place in
memory and allow children to appreciate the special character of their
Walk me through
the research/exploration phase of Sony-Ericcson.
Our process for every project is similar to that of an architectural
firm. Phase one constitutes research and planningthis is where we find
out about the project and the client and begin to imagine a person engaging
in the environment. With Sony-Ericcson, it was about finding out everything
from what they wanted to communicate to legal restrictionsspecifically,
how they wanted to present the productcell phones and accessories.
Phase two is concept design, where we come up with a series of options
that we review internally. This is our concept and planning phase. For
Sony, we created a diagram of the space, and developed the identity,
which were giant letters S + E imposed on the structure. Phase three
involves design development, where we focus on the evolution of a singular
direction. We built physical study models for Sony-Ericcson, since they
were easier to understand than dimensional drawings. This is also when
we began to add graphics and content. Phase four identifies the design
intent, and this is where the details and dimensions come in. We brought
in contractors who built off our drawings. We traveled to their shop
to check progress up until the time the exhibit was assembled, then taken
down and packaged. The last phase involves meeting with the contractors,
and negotiating the actual build. We always need to work with a passionate
contractor who is truly interested and committed in the project. With
this project, we were working right down to the wire. The exhibit opened
at 9a.m., and I think we finished at 8:59a.m.
What made this
particular job so successful?
Since Sony-Ericcson was introducing tiny products, instead of keeping
everything at ground level, we created a new floor, 18-inches above the
show floor. The platform created a stage-like destination, creating an
exciting, party-like environment. The product comes to life as communicated
by the salesperson, a performance orchestrated by the client team. This
treatment captured the attention of attendees much better than traditional
booth. This project showcased design as theater, brand launch as performance.
With exhibit design, we look for opportunities to produce unique, memorable
This project has really been the best collaboration between Chung and
me. We had such a complex program and tight timeframe. Chungs commitment
to the project allowed it to evolve successfully. His suggestions to
simplify some pieces for the sake of production schedules strengthened
the overall project, making it cleaner and simpler than it started.
What was your biggest
Moving into a corporate office space to appeal to big business clients
and narrowing our focus to a single client type (real-estate developers)
early in the firms historybetween 1982 and 1988. During this
time, we also specialized exclusively in environmental graphics, which
made for predictable design projects. But most of all, the biggest mistake
was not following my heart by searching for the most varied and difficult
projects. Ive found that our firms current diversity and
ever-changing project type has allowed me to become energized and passionate
about each challenge and to look forward to the future since it will
bring more diversity in the body of work.
If you werent
a designer, what would you be?
Considering my humble beginnings in a village in Southeastern Poland
I could be throwing rocks at goats. Or I could be a sheep herder. As
a child, I didnt have much to choose from unless I wanted to be a Communist.
Thank God I was able to come to this great country and follow my passion.
These humble connections have inspired me to turn away from my modernist
education and enrich it through texture and color. I cant think
of doing anything other than what Im doing now.
What projects lie
Well be designing more showrooms, like the one we did for Haworth.
Were finishing the childrens museum in Myrtle Beach, South
Carolina, and hope to do more tradeshow exhibits, retail spaces, and
If you were to
design a storytelling exhibit of Lorenc+Yoo Design, what would it look
I like to think our story would tell of creative passion. The exhibit
would need to be multisensory in its presentation. We would need to show
the scrawls, notes, study models, computer models, spatial videos, and
computer interactives. Through video interviews, we would also want to
tell stories from the client perspective about how we interacted and
pushed one another during the life to the project. Wed show how
these relationships led to subsequent challenges and projects, how we
evolved, and how we will embrace future challenges. It would be exhibited
at my respective alma maters of IIT Institute of Design and Georgia Tech
College of Architecture to show students the numerous options a creative
field has to offer.