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After 31 years, the design practice Thirst is closing.


Renowned Chicago design studio, Thirst, ends 31-year practice.
New studio, Span, opens January 1.

Thirst founder Rick Valicenti will begin again outside the current office with a network of local and global collaborators, while his former partners, John Pobojewski and Bud Rodecker, create a new design practice Span.


CHICAGO (December 30, 2019) – Chicago-based design firm Thirst is announcing it is closing on December 31, 2019. Thirst is a communication practice providing design and immersive environments for high-profile clients in the architectural, performing arts and education communities.

Effective January 1, 2020, Valicenti, recipient of the 2011 White House Smithsonian Cooper Hewitt, National Design Award for Communication Design, will evolve his practice as a new consultancy under the name Rick Valicenti, to engage in more challenging collaborative opportunities and widen his creative output by producing and directing more independent projects.

Also effective January 1, 2020, John Pobojewski and Bud Rodecker, trusted partners and collaborators, will continue the energy of Thirst as co-founders and design directors of a new studio called Span. They will be advancing their well-honed approach to design, typography, and technology within the same Thirst location with most of the same creative team. The two partners confirmed that their current client relationships will continue with the transition to Span.

The decision by the three partners was in the name of each evolving their design focus forward. “As a design practice, Thirst has fulfilled its ultimate goals, and by stopping work under the moniker Thirst, its moment in time can be captured… a recognition of lightning in a jar,” said Valicenti. “New opportunities exist for each of us that could not exist under the business model of Thirst.”

Pobojewski and Rodecker commented, “The Span business model will be familiar to clients and fans of Thirst … we will be leading projects that continue to have a focus on design, the pursuit of big ideas and projects that are experimental in nature. We’re looking forward to building a new reputation for our team that reflects the incredible talent in this studio. We’re excited to take this great collection of some of Chicago’s best emerging designers to create the work of tomorrow.”

Thirst will mark this significant moment by archiving its 30-year legacy of award-winning work at prestigious, national arts and research institutions. Among them, The Newberry Library (Chicago); The Ryerson and Burnham Libraries, The Art Institute of Chicago (Chicago); The Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Library (New York City); The Herb Lubalin Study Center, The Cooper Union (New York City); and Letterform Archive (San Francisco). Valicenti notes, “The curators of these archives recognize the importance of Thirst in the history of graphic design … a studio that traversed the analog to the digital. Thirst has been an integral part of the international design discourse—contributing work on five continents.”

Rick Valicenti founded Thirst in 1988 to better define the essence of what was emerging as a forward-leaning design practice called R. Valicenti Design. As Thirst, Valicenti, along with over 100 collaborators, served highly visible clientele in the design, civic, and cultural communities. Valicenti invited Pobojewski and Rodecker to the firm in 2004 and 2008, respectively. While at Thirst, Pobojewski and Rodecker designed visible projects in collaboration with Valicenti for clients including Studio Gang, IIT College of Architecture, SOM and the Chicago Symphony. Over the years, Thirst received virtually every international design award recognition, and Valicenti accepted the AIGA Medal (2006) and the Smithsonian Cooper Hewitt National Design Award (2011).

Valicenti will have a presence in the Span studio through 2020, and the three former partners see the potential for future collaborations. After 39 years of practice inside a studio setting, Valicenti said, “I am looking forward to maximizing my creative independence towards the more challenging projects and curiosities ideally suited to my approach and vision.” Valicenti plans to make a more dramatic announcement defining the scope of his new practice on April 1, 2020, a date that marks the 40-year anniversary of opening his first design firm.


About Thirst/Rick Valicenti

Rick Valicenti was most recently former founder and design director of Thirst, a communication design practice providing design and immersive environments for high-profile clients in the architectural, performing arts and education communities. His work has been exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and resides in permanent collections of the Newberry Library, Columbia University Rare Books Library, Denver Art Museum and the Art Institute of Chicago, and has been published in The New York Times along with a mid-career Monacelli Press monograph. The White House honored Valicenti in 2011 with the Smithsonian Cooper Hewitt National Design Award for Communication Design. In 2006, he received the AIGA (American Institute of Graphic Arts) Medal, the highest honor of the graphic design profession, for his sustained contribution to design excellence and the development of the profession. Valicenti is a former president of the STA (The Society of Typographic Arts) and is a member of the AGI (Alliance Graphique Internationale) since being invited to join in 1996. In 2004, he was recognized as a Fellow of the AIGA Chicago. From 2011 through 2015, Valicenti served on the Art Institute of Chicago Architecture and Design Society under curator Zoe Ryan. In 2014, Valicenti curated CHGO DSGN for DCASE at the Chicago Cultural Center, the first exhibition of recent graphic and object design. For the past two years, Valicenti has been an adjunct professor at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. In 2017, he was appointed Artist-in-Residence at Loyola University of Chicago. Annually, he conducts design initiative thesis critiques at the Rhode Island Institute of Design, Bowling Green State University, and in previous years, Cranbrook Academy, California Institute of the Arts, University of Illinois/Urbana-Champaign, Northern Illinois University; in addition, he led a two-year Moving Design initiative at the Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology on the lack of fresh air, Deep Breath in 2014-2015. Valicenti has publicly presented his work through lectures, workshops and critiques on the design industry to more than 100 professional and college audiences on five continents including the Chicago Humanities Festival.

About Span

Span is a studio crossing the boundaries of communication design in all mediums. Its practice is focused on challenging expectations with wit, logic, and a playful spirit. Span believes in the bold pursuit of exploration, thinking beyond expectations through imagination and visual experimentation. Blending typographic discipline with fearless expression, their mission is to elevate the role of the visual message in both culture and community. Span takes the long view—in every gesture and every project. Co-founders John Pobojewski and Bud Rodecker have 25 years’ shared experience at Thirst shaping brand strategy and award-winning design for high-profile clients in the design, cultural, and civic communities. Pobojewski focuses on intermedia and the blending of brand, interactive, sound motion and environments. Rodecker, an adjunct professor at DePaul University, explores the space between logical constraints and formal play, balancing form with meaning. He is interested in systems and processes with the potential to create design. The Span co-founders are joined by a team of uniquely talented designers, photographers, 3D animators, illustrators, programmers, musicians, typographers, and educators. In addition to client projects, Span prioritizes the cultivation of new ideas through self-initiated, conceptual work that bridges different ways of thinking and challenges expectations about the role of design.

Remembering Stanley

Thirst was saddened to hear that Chicago’s famed architect and provocateur Stanley Tigerman passed away at age 88.

We had the tremendous privilege of working with Stanley and Margaret McCurry, his partner in both business and life, on an online archive of their shared portfolio and a recognition video for his AIA Lifetime Achievement Award in 2013.

Stanley offered us so much more than we offered him. His countless stories always entertained us. His challenge to stay "restless" always inspired us. His infamously sharp tongue always challenged us. We are grateful to have shared his gift of time and creative energy. Chicago will simply never be the same.

Photo shown is a portrait of Stanley Tigerman by renown Chicago artist Roger Brown, taken by Rick Valicenti during his last visit with Stanley.

Reviews are in... Macbeth was a hit!

Macbeth and Thirst’s John Pobojewski were recently featured in reviews by both the Chicago Tribune and See Chicago Dance for Chicago Repertory Ballet’s production. Both reviews were positive, calling the ballet "infused with heart, curiosity and fearless ambition" and "freakin’ great"! See Chicago Dance’s Joanna Furnans described Thirst’s digital projections as providing "the essential macabre tension in the work..." and "excellent... effectively relentless." Check out more in the reviews!

Photo by Todd Rosenberg

Macbeth featured in Communication Arts

Thirst’s John Pobojewski and our digital projections for the Chicago Repertory Ballet’s Macbeth were featured in Communication Arts. The ballet was recently on stage last weekend at Chicago’s Athenaeum Theatre in Lakeview. Check out the article to learn a little bit more about the thinking behind the piece!

Hall of Famer

For the first time ever, Newcity's Design 50 list includes a Hall of Fame — "the cornerstones of the Chicago design scene who’ve already made this list year in and year out, and without whom it could not stand." We are excited to announce that our Rick Valicenti is honored and with good company.

Macbeth returns to the Athenaeum Theatre March 29

Chicago Repertory Ballet's original production of Macbeth returns to Chicago at the Athenaeum Theatre beginning March 29th! Thirst's John Pobojewski will be adapting the digital projections from the 2016 production for a new stage and a new era. See our work that the Chicago Tribune called "especially potent".

The Athenaeum Theatre

March 29 & 30 at 7:30pm | March 31 at 2:00pm
Get Tickets

Two Chicago restaurants branded by Thirst win the Jean Blanchet Awards!

The Pizzeria Bebu Team at the 2019 Jean Blanchet Awards
Jeff, Rachel, and Zach from Pizzeria Bebu at the Jean Blanchet Awards. Photo by Pizzeria Bebu.

Congratulations to Pizzeria Bebu and Temporis for both winning 2019 Jean Blanchet Awards. Bebu was awarded as the best neighborhood restaurant, and Temporis received an award for best service.

Visit them both and check out our case studies for the graphic identity of Pizzeria Bebu and Temporis.

Pizzeria Bebu Logo
Pizzeria Bebu Logo
Temporis Logo
Temporis Logo

Satoru Nihei: 3st Artist in Residence 2018

We are pleased to announce Satoru Nihei as our 2018 Artist in Residence. 

Through the 3st Artist in Residence (AiR) program, we create four quarterly projects in collaboration with an emerging Chicago artist/designer. We place great value in the works of the artists in our community who delight our imaginations and open our minds. During the year we indulge ourselves with the creative stretch that these collaborations bring to our studio.

Full Post

Thirst is one of Newcity’s Design50


Thirst's Bud Rodecker, Rick Valicenti, and John Pobojewski (L to R) are honored to be part of Newcity’s Design50 — Chicago's annual survey of design leaders who shape our city. We are thrilled to share this year's list with all fifty luminaries, especially our collaborators Jeanne Gang, Iker Gil, Matthew Hoffman, Tim Parsons & Jessica Charlesworth, John Ronan, Alberto Vélez, and Tanner Woodford.

Photo by Nathan Keay

Lecture: John Pobojewski at MAS CONTEXT: ANALOG

John Pobojewski recently presented at MAS CONTEXT : ANALOG this past fall. His presentation, entitled Design of Music, was the first focused on his work in sound, as well as a brief, somewhat silly primer on the role of design used within music composition. Check it out here.

MAS CONTEXT: ANALOG is the annual conference of MAS Context, a quarterly journal created by MAS Studio and Iker Gil that addresses issues that affect the urban context. Each issue delivers a comprehensive view of a single topic through the active participation of people from different fields and different perspectives who, together, instigate the debate.

Rick Valicenti has welcomed John Pobojewski and Bud Rodecker as partners

We are thrilled to announce that Rick Valicenti welcomed John Pobojewski and Bud Rodecker as partners on 01 Jan 2018. We look forward to many more exciting collaborations.

We're worldwide something... Big in Korea!

Taek Kim and Thirst are featured in CA Korea magazine from Seoul!


Wired Magazine on AMIE

The AMIE project, designed in collaboration between architects SOM and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, is featured in Wired Magazine's online edition. The article features animations created by Thirst from our profile film that we created for the project. 

A Moving Future

This Fall our studio produced two short films for SOM’s City Design Practice. Created by John Pobojewski and Kyle Green, the work showcases our passion for shaping stories of innovation through design in motion.

A Vision of AMIE

The first film highlights a prototype for the future of cities: a 3D-printed house and a 3D-printed car that share energy both on and off the grid. This entirely new way of thinking was designed by SOM in collaboration with Oak Ridge National Laboratory and over 30 industry partners. View Project

“[The film] feels like Charles Eames for the 21st Century…”
Philip Enquist, Partner-in-charge, SOM City Design Practice

City Design Practice

The second film outlines SOM’s principled approach to urban design. The film premiered at the Global Cities Forum in Chicago among an extremely influential audience of mayors, governors, and other civic leaders. View Project

Taek Kim featured in ETHEREAL magazine

Taek Kim, designer at Thirst and MFA graduate of the School of the Art Institute, is featured in the recent issue of ETHEREAL, a collection of art and design interviews published by Columbia College, Chicago.

In his interview Taek reminds us that "attitude is everything" and is featured along with Matthew Hoffman, Indo, Gallerie F, and other exceptional local talents.

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