Modesto Design History

Modesto’s design history is anything but modest. Our city has a rich and remarkable heritage of design, innovation and invention dating back at least as far as 1873 with John F. Stewart’s design for a “duplex windmill,” the first registered patent of a Modesto inventor. This culture of design has continued over nearly 150 years with design innovations and inventions across all areas, industries and sectors of Modesto and across all design disciplines – architecture, graphic design, interior design, product design, fashion design, urban design, and design for social innovation.

Here is a series of articles highlighting and celebrating some of these Modesto design stories: 

Modesto’s Graphics Drive: A visual reminder of a graphic past

Many cities have celebrated design and iconic designers by renaming streets, squares and parks. Barcelona has the Plaça Gaudí. Rio de Janeiro has Estrada Roberto Burle Marx. New York has Fashion Avenue and Oscar de la Renta Boulevard.

Imagine my excitement the first time I came upon Graphics Drive in Modesto. How cool that we also have a street that celebrates design! Well, sort of.

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Rediscovering a Modesto Mid-Century Modern Design Treasure

On a picturesque point overlooking Oakland’s beautiful Lake Merritt, an effort is underway between the city and citizen volunteers to preserve an iconic 40-foot play sculpture from 1954 that has appeared on album covers and in countless family photos of blissful climbing children. 

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Modesto’s awesome, socially-inclusive design

In 1905, Modesto inventor Joseph C. Dana filed a patent application for “a writing-guide designed for use by blind persons.”This may be Modesto’s earliest example of “accessible design,” “inclusive design” or “universal design,” i.e., the design of experiences, places and products usable by everyone regardless of ability, age or circumstance.

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Modesto is not only a city. It’s a font.

Every letter of every word you’re reading here has been designed. Each character of every font has been meticulously drawn by a typographer to ensure legibility, to be aesthetically pleasing, and to convey a style or symbolic meaning.

If you were to design a font inspired by Modesto, what would it look like?

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Garbage Design: Modesto Invented Curbside Recycling

The first Earth Day on April 22,1970, launched the modern environmental movement. It’s also a seminal day in Modesto’s design history. The first “Survival Walk” began that day with activists walking down the Central Valley, through Modesto. The six-week walk from Sacramento to Los Angeles was organized by Ecology Action, founded by UC Berkeley student Cliff Humphrey with a group of eco-designers and activists from the College of Environmental Design to promote household recycling practices. 

Raising the Bar for Young Design Talent in Modesto

Born in Ecuador and raised in Modesto, Jordi Camps, Jr. is an exceptionally talented young designer and illustrator. Camps attended Beyer High School and Modesto Junior College (MJC) where he discovered his passion for design. He went on to receive a BFA in Graphic Design from CSU Long Beach and returned to Modesto after graduation in 2013 to be closer to family (his parents own Picasso’s Gourmet Deli on 10th Street). He’s now a Senior Designer at E. & J. Gallo Winery, creating packaging, advertising and 3D displays for Gallo’s Premium brands. 


Modesto designer pioneered early mechanical voting machine

As we head to the polls this month, it seems only appropriate to feature a pioneering Modesto designer who invented an early 19th century voting machine. I ventured out on a chilly autumn morning to the Modesto Pioneer Cemetery to find the gravestone of celebrated Modesto architect and inventor, Julian Mourot. The stone was overgrown with weedy grass but Mourot’s legacy remains unsullied as one of our city’s most prolific designers.