Exhibition design for the European Capital of Culture

Since 1985, over 50 cities across the European Union have carried the title of the European Capital of Culture. The goal of this initiative is to celebrate the cultural diversity in Europe and support culture-driven development.

In August 2019, my hometown Tartu was named the European Capital of Culture 2024! After the champagne rivers had dried out, the next step for the team of Tartu 2024 was to make sure all the locals and tourists truly understood the impact of this title. And what better way to stand out than using the billboards on the main street of Tartu.

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How do you design billboards that tell a story, regardless of the viewing angle?

A year ago, I had designed a set of billboards for the same place. Back then, the aim was to communicate the meaning of the competition. Now, the team of Tartu 2024 wanted to focus on the significance of the victory and the forthcoming events.

The project presented a perfect opportunity and a great challenge at the same time. Although having the freedom to create something in the city centre, the challenge was that the two-sided billboards, placed four in a row, are accessible from all sides.

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Creative concept: visual dualism

Drawing maps to understand the different viewing angles of the billboards was a great way to start. It gave insight into the possibilities and laid the foundation for the creative direction.

With this in mind, taking a dualistic approach was fitting. From a distance, the billboards formed a unified whole that looked like an installation. From close by, it would give the feel of an exhibition as each billboard could be observed separately.

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As you may or may not know, catching a glimpse of sunlight is not a daily privilege in Estonia.

The layout of each billboard is unique to provide diversity. For a smooth flow and an organic touch, the pictures are combined with the text alongside the occasional diagonal layout. To add contrast and freshness to the cityscape, we chose green as the background colour.

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Victory dance!

Many pictures popped up in social media feeds, and the billboards were featured in media when Tartu 2024 Foundation launched.

In the early stages of the project, the mapping showed that when approached from one direction, the number combination would be 4-2-0. Discussing this with our client, fortunately, they found it rather funny. Later, we also got feedback from our friends who had a good laugh about the '420 situation'.

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The client said that …

"With this design project, we took a big leap forward in terms of the visual appearance of Tartu 2024. Despite following the visual guidelines, you turned a bold and attractive new page in the story of Tartu 2024. As of now, we have applied the iconic solution of the billboards to our new booklet as well. This shows that the solution is more widely applicable."

Kalle Paas
Tartu 2024 European Capital of Culture
Head of Communication and Marketing Division

Me & Them

Agency: Homne Agentuur
Role: Design Lead
Together with: Mikko Leo Selg

Photography: Kiur Kaasik

© Jakob Päll 2021