Bringing the Constitution to Life through Interactive Exhibitions with a Modern Design
John Pugh ’10
John Pugh ’10 decided he wanted to study graphic design his senior year in high school. In his Advanced Placement art classes, he noticed that his drawings were simple doodles compared to that of the other students. In his other classes, he realized he excelled at class projects and presentations and preferred them to writing papers. An English teacher took notice and began talking to Pugh about graphic design. By the end of his senior year, Pugh was designing T-shirts and banners for the school’s pep rallies. It was then that he realized that graphic design was the industry he wanted to pursue.
PhilaU provided Pugh with a strong design foundation which has allowed him to succeed in his field. Pugh’s graphic design professors not only taught him necessary skills but also provided him with the wisdom he needed to produce quality work. Their approach to teaching felt personal and students like Pugh noticed that their professors wanted them to be successful. Pugh admits that the curriculum was demanding, but it prepared him to be a designer. “This is evident in the number of talented designers PhilaU has produced and continues to produce each year,” explained Pugh. “A solid foundation is essential in order to succeed.”
According to Frank Baseman, AIGA Fellow, Program Director and Associate Professor of Graphic Design Communication, Pugh was an excellent student. “John is a very talented designer, a good thinker and a gifted image maker,” noted Baseman. “But more than that, he is a great person; a very nice guy, very genuine, honest and direct.” Pugh was talented enough to be hired directly out of school. His boss attended the Senior Design Show at PhilaU and essentially gave him an interview on the spot. Three weeks later, Pugh began working as a designer at the National Constitution Center.
This spring will mark Pugh’s fourth year at the Constitution Center. He loves what he does but never pictured himself working in exhibit design. Pugh, along with four young designers that graduated from local colleges, work on exhibitions ranging from a variety of topics, sizes and across multiple forms of media. The first exhibit Pugh worked on was Art of the American Soldier and most recently, American Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition. Prohibition is the first exhibit fully designed in-house that will travel nationwide. It is scheduled to travel to seven venues across the country with more venues being added to the list. This exhibit received praise from museum consultants, local and national media. Pugh is proud of the work he has produced. Seeing the exhibits in full display and visitors interacting with his design is rewarding. “When a show travels and venues are lining up to take it, it is just the icing on the cake,” said Pugh.
American Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition is Pugh’s favorite exhibit. “The twenties were such a fun and rich time that working on it was a blast.” The exhibit had interesting artifacts such as flapper dresses temperance propaganda, gangster memorabilia and a 1929 Buick Marquette. One of the flapper dresses was loaned by The Design Center at PhilaU. Designers recreated a speakeasy where visitors could learn the Charleston and explore the fashion, music and culture of the Roaring Twenties, a video game allowing visitors to serve as federal agents and his favorite, the Amendment Machine. Pugh describes it as a mix between a Rube Goldberg machine and the board game, Mouse Trap, which traces how the Amendments got passed.
Pugh has seen positive results in the work he produces but struggles with the stereotype museums tend to fall under. Some people label museums as boring and after working at the Constitution Center, Pugh has learned that they do not have to be unexciting. The Constitution Center’s goal is to educate visitors. The team produces exhibits that not only inform visitors through modern design but also help break the stereotype that museums are just stuffy old buildings. As a graphic designer working in exhibit design, Pugh has learned that content is key. “Good design can engage a viewer, but interesting content will keep them reaching and thinking past the headline.” Pugh conducts extensive research about each exhibit topic before he begins the design phase.
What he finds most exciting is the ability to collaborate with various disciplines. Each week and with every project, Pugh is given the opportunity to work with architects, engineers, media developers, industrial designers and fabricators. This is Pugh’s chance to pick their brains and learn something that may influence future designs. It is what PhilaU would see as Nexus Learning – a signature learning approach offered that is active, collaborative, “real-world” linked to industry and infused with the liberal arts. Pugh is taking the approach taught at PhilaU and applying it in his work as a designer.
Pugh is an active member of the alumni association. He visits campus frequently and tries to catch baseball and basketball games when he is able and depending on the season. Baseman said Pugh has become a regular at his weekly Friday morning pick-up basketball games. He participates in critiques and will be part of “The Real World 2014”, a graphic design panel discussion of recent PhilaU graduates. “John Pugh represents all that is great about a Philadelphia University education,” noted Baseman. "I’m very proud of him, and pleased that I consider him to be a friend.”
Pugh advises everyone to become indispensable by expanding ones talents. His advice to fellow graphic designers, “The design world is changing every day. Any opportunity you have to evolve, do so. Never stop learning.”