A year ago at this time, I blogged about starting my own company. As I pursued this dream, I not only gained valuable insight into running my own business, but I also gained a newfound sense of self. It is incredibly empowering to set high goals for yourself and to systematically achieve them… And I found myself changed by the experience.
Bringing design into every aspect of life: from diy culture to working in the design field
If you follow me on twitter, chances are you saw my announcement mid-March that I would be leaving Thermos to pursue my own business. It was a difficult decision: made after a lot of thought and planning. But I knew this was the right choice to make when the pieces started falling into place. So after working on my own for the past month, here are four observations on flying solo.
This past summer, I attended the HOW Design Conference and, of course, raided the conference bookstore. Of all of the great books I picked up, Shel Perkins’ Talent is Not Enough: Business Secrets for Designers has single-handedly become the best reference book on my bookshelf. Over the past 9 months, I have found myself returning to this book again and again.
If you haven’t already heard the news, I have spent the last half of this summer working on getting the little Golding Pearl no. 1 letterpress I recently acquired back into working order. She’s a great little 5×8 platen press, but in definite need of some TLC! If you are interested in following my efforts to restore her, or just like looking at nicely letterpressed objects, check out the Tumblr page I set up over at Thrill of the Chase Letterpress.
This past winter/spring season I made good on my New Year’s Resolution to get out and be more involved in the local design community once again. One cannot live and work in a vacuum, and Chicago has a great community: due to it’s large size, there are always events or show openings going on. By far the best event, or rather program, I have discovered so far is AIGA Chicago’s Mentorship program.
If you spend any length of time around me, you’ll soon find that although I can bake up a mean coffee cake or numerous other desserts, I’m basically pants at cooking. This summer, I’ve been slowly attempting to change that by trying new recipes, reading food blogs, and testing out new recipe apps on my iPhone. All of that pales in comparison to Kitchen Oddity, food blog to one Hannah Hayes.
A good friend to my little sister, Hannah is currently a journalism student at Mizzou. She has an excellent sense of humor and an impeccable taste in concert posters. She also happens to have restaurant reviews and excellent recipes complete with snarky commentary, cute aprons, and music suggestions for when you are dicing the cilantro. Now That’s how to get me into the kitchen. 😉
As summer draws to an end, so too does our Summer Interview Series. Last, but certainly not least, we bring you our conversation with Mike Fretto, whom I met this summer at the Camp Firebelly Wrap Party. Mike is a full-time freelance print designer that lives in one of the oldest cities in the United States. When he’s not designing for his clients, he is screen printing t-shirts for a business he runs with his father. Mike spends his sparse spare time volunteering for a non-profit organization he co-founded called ROSA LOVES.
You and your father run a screen-printing business together. How do the two of you balance business and family?
I certainly have learned that operating a business with family can be challenging, but my dad and I have a great relationship that I believe contributes to successfully balancing both aspects of our lives. Good communication while working together helps get things done, and hopefully when that happens, we can leave it all at the print shop when the work day is over. There are times when business-talk or actual work makes it way into personal time, but we take each situation as it comes.
Earlier this summer, you helped mentor this year’s class of Camp Firebelly campers. Was there anything about the experience that you’d like to share?
Camp FB was a great experience for me. It was an honor for me to be among Dawn Hancock and her talented team, not to mention all of the amazing campers! As you know, there were continuous activities and workshops taking place at camp, but I was specifically responsible for helping with one in particular. In partnership with Reason to Give, we split the campers up into small groups, and visited three families in the Humboldt Park neighborhood. Each group spent about an hour with one of the three families in their homes, hearing about their families, their jobs, and life around Humboldt Park. Each group of campers recounted the stories they had heard from the families to the rest of the group. From there, each camper worked on a t-shirt design that somehow told the story of the family they met. It was fascinating to see the variety of interpretations from one story within each group of campers. After a few crit sessions and late nights, each camper finalized their designs, and we all hand screen printed each of them (despite some last minute technical challenges). On the last night of camp, we raffled off all of them at a big party that the Firebelly crew threw. I think we raised somewhere around $450 for the families, which was spent on stuff like school supplies and clothing for their children. Overall, it was quite a moving and enlightening experience for all of us. There was much learned, so many great human beings that we encountered— and I was pretty impacted by all of it to say the least.
Everyone has a favorite (or lucky) shirt: what’s yours?
No one has ever asked me that before, ha! Years ago, as a joke, I stole a t-shirt from one of my best friends (and roommate at the time), JP. I know you’re probably thinking that stealing is not cool. I’ve never stolen before, and I certainly do not condone it—but this was sort of a joke. You see, this dude has a TON of t-shirts, so the whole joke was to see if he’d ever notice that it was gone. It’s a super-soft navy blue t-shirt, probably made in the eighties. Fits me like a glove! It was funny when he noticed it on me one day, but even funnier that I never gave it back to him. I fell in love with it, and couldn’t find the strength to hang it back up in his closet. I still wear it sometimes. Well, let’s be honest… I wear it constantly.
Do you have any big plans for this fall?
Since the folks behind ROSA LOVES have been super busy with their full-time jobs and families during the past year, we’re long overdue for releasing a line of new tees. We’re in the process of putting some new ones together and are planning on releasing them sometime this fall. Stay updated by following us on Twitter or Facebook, and of course on our website at: www.rosaloves.com.
All images © ROSA LOVES and Mike Fretto
As many of you know, last summer I embarked on a new phase in my life by moving to Chicago…and the catalyst was participating in Firebelly Design’s Camp Firebelly. While there, I was able to work with/learn from Antonio García, and we’ve since stayed in touch. Antonio is a storyteller and design strategist who is currently working with the interaction design team at gravitytank, a Chicago-based innovation consultancy. He loves hip hop, horror movies, sushi, kawaii illustration and staying in hotels, but he’s also got a wicked sense of humor and is generally an all-around great guy. You can catch him at this weekend’s Wide Open at Rodan. But first! a little chat:
If I remember correctly, you grew up in the Chicago area: how did you get involved with the local hip hop scene? And how has DJing influenced your work?
I grew up in Arlington Heights (a northwest suburb of Chicago). But thanks to family friends who lived in city, I started listening to hip hop when I was just ten years old. This was ’89—rap’s golden era—and through those connections, I was exposed to all of hip hop’s elements: rapping, graffiti, breaking and DJing. In junior high and high school I started rapping with friends and buying drum machines, samplers and keyboards so I could make my own beats. When I started college at the Atlanta College of Art (now SCAD), I started writing graffiti. In the late 90s, Atlanta had a lot of “free” walls where graffiti artists could paint in broad daylight—which was fun, but I still liked bombing better…!
I didn’t actually start DJing until just a few years ago, but I’ve always loved sharing music with people and looking for sounds people haven’t heard yet. In that way, selecting music for other people—shaping the mood, making people dance/smile/feel good after a long week—is very similar to how I like to design. Both mediums are about discovery, delight, a call to action. People like soulful music because it resonates with them on an emotional level. And people are naturally drawn to emotive design because it’s authentic and provides meaning and clarity.
You recently started at gravitytank. What is it like working at an innovation consultancy as opposed to a small boutique design studio?
Working at gravitytank has been really interesting. I love it. My exposure to people with deep expertise in areas of ethnographic research, quantitative analysis, business strategy, industrial design, etc. has completely expanded the way I look at design challenges. And the level of experience there is so broad. Working collaboratively in multidisciplinary teams I’ve learned so much, so quickly. The firm has an truly global point of view and the scale and scope of the work is certainly bigger than anything I’d done prior which is exciting. The pace is different too. Most of our engagements last 6 to 8 weeks and team members remain dedicated to one project until it’s done—which is really refreshing. We have the resources and capacity to dive deep into our client’s problems and really immerse ourselves in understanding people’s needs. We also work very iteratively—using lots of techniques for rapid prototyping, storyboarding and agile development—which is a really smart way to make things clearer, faster.
Last time we talked, you and I were discussing the strategy behind design and how it factors into producing work for clients. How can designers start thinking more strategically about their work?
Strategy is really about thinking beyond the design itself. When you’re in school, things like budget, delivery channels, business models, market analysis, viability, competition and positioning don’t really factor into your thinking, learning, work or grades. Students aren’t generally held accountable for those factors until graduate programs. No one asks how a design will be distributed, what segmentation studies have been conducted, if the packaging is biodegradable (or necessary at all). So young designers enter the real world (a.k.a. the business world) where all that stuff matters to clients, and suddenly the people paying you to design for them want proof you’ve considered all the angles.
For lots of designers, making “good” design means creating something original, meaningful and compelling. And I strongly believe all of that matters and should be present in everything we make. But when we can offer clients a point of view on why our design will help their business/organizational needs, we demonstrate that what we do—our expertise—is so much more than just making things look better. Design thinking can have as big (or bigger) an impact on the bottom line as business thinking can. As companies, foundations and entrepreneurs continue to recognize design as a strategic advantage and powerful differentiator, they’ll pay more for it and include designers in their planning and thinking from the very beginning instead of as an afterthought, when it’s that much harder for design to make a real difference.
I know you’re a huge horror movie fan: do you go for the ones that are just plain comical or the purely terrifying?
I can probably find something to like in just about every horror movie I watch, but I get the most satisfaction when the gore looks real, the kills are inventive, the scares are solid and the ending is brutal. The easiest way for me to talk about why I love horror movies is a breakdown by country:
- US – In general, we suck at the genre. American filmmakers get too caught up with the antagonist’s backstory. Wasting too much time explaining and justifying evil origins and behavior is boring. Unexplained ghouls and incomprehensible sadism is terrifying. Too much reason and rationale = not scary. For a while, we just remade J-horror like The Ring (Ringu) and The Grudge (Ju-On) and regurgitated European successes like Spain’s REC but we always dumb it down and prop up the weakened stories with familiar American actors. Some recent exceptions include the Hostel series, The House of the Devil, Orphan, The Last House on the Left and Rob Zombie’s work.
- Japan – It’s all about the slow build in J-horror. And Japan favors two things most: traditional ghost stories (which require some additional cultural understanding to really appreciate them) and extreme, over-the-top violence. Favorites include Tokyo Gore Police, Audition and Three… Extremes (which also features films from China’s Fruit Chan and Korea’s Chan-wook Park.
- Scandinavia – lately Sweden and Norway are all about hot, young kids getting killed on holiday. I really liked Rovdyr, Cold Prey, Dead Snow and of course Let The Right One In, which is quite possible the best vampire movie I’ve seen in a really long time.
- Italy – The classics. No one does zombies like Deodato, Romero and Fulci and no mixes operatic lighting, vixens and violence quite like Argento and Bava.
- France – French horror films are my favorite. They’re actually more survival terror than anything else. The plots are tight. They’re told in real time or are extremely well-paced. Time isn’t wasted explaining why, the viewer is just dumped into the most raw, terrifying situations. There is nothing supernatural about the stories, human beings are being hunted by other human beings and the gore is so real and extreme. The best examples are Martyrs, Inside, High Tension, Trouble Everyday and Frontier(s).
Do you have any personal projects that you are currently working on?
I just found out some of my t-shirt graphics are going to be featured in an upcoming Index Book called TypoShirt One so I’ve been hustling on redesigning the website and online store for Good Night TV, a t-shirt company I started with my best friends back in 2005. Other than that, I’m busy training for my second Bank of America Marathon on October 10th and DJing here and there for fun.
Although I’ve been a long-time fan of Letterform‘s work, it wasn’t until last spring’s Typeforce event and a another subsequent gathering that I met the duo behind the company: Andy and Julie. Visiting with them, you’re just as likely to discuss letterpress printing as home-brewing beer and a good dinner recipe…which is convenient as they also produce a cute and witty line of greeting cards for foodies called Nourishing Notes. Today, Julie shares a bit about what goes on behind the scenes.
How has moving to Chicago from Michigan affected the way you’ve approached design?
I don’t know that it’s affected our approach to design, but it has certainly opened up a number of doors for us. The creative community here is so welcoming and willing to not only share their knowledge but continues to inspire and push us creatively. The only feeling of competition has been a healthy one — it urges us to do better. So if anything I think the move has allowed us to grow much more and in a lot of different directions than we ever imagined. (PS we still love Michigan though!)
Your Nourishing Notes stationery line caters to a foodie sense of humor: which one of you is the foodie, and what’s your favorite recipe?
I definitely brought the foodie gene into the Letterform family, although Andy is quickly gaining on me. He says I have inspired him to be curious about food… that’s about the best I could ask for! We are definitely known for taking extended “breaks” from work to research a new recipe online, go on a hunt for a mysterious new food product, go morel mushroom hunting, or start prepping an extravagant meal just for the fun of it. Technically that’s research for new cards…. right?
Favorite recipe…. anything made in a kitchen full of friends and plenty of home made beer.
Artifacts & Interactions, your recent installation at the Post Family We Are Family show, showcased your finds from traveling around the country. Do you have a favorite story from your travels to share? A favorite city?
Yeah, if we’re not cooking we’re traveling, even if it’s to hop in the car and drive to Milwaukee for the afternoon. We don’t sit still very well. One of our more recent trips was a road trip from Chicago to St. Augustine FL, and back again. We camped the whole way down and back. We had so much fun driving through the back-roads of America and searching for the perfect BBQ, that every single night we pulled into the campground well after dark. We got pretty good at setting up our tent with our car headlights. You can see pictures here.
Our favorite city… so far it’s Montreal. Hands down. We spent three days there (half of it in the middle of a snow / rain storm) and had the BEST time. Andy found his most favorite bagel ever, we ate smoked meats, poutine, the best cappuccino ever, the best croissant ever, I ate kidneys for the first time (and liked it!), the best maple syrup ever…. the list goes on. A trip back is definitely in the works.
You recently moved studio locations: what’s the best thing about your new space?
Not working in our apartment!! When we first started Letterform we immediately got a studio space in Ravenswood. It was a great way to kick us into gear and give us the fire, so to speak, to make some money so we could pay rent on it! It was also nice to have a dedicated space for clients to come in for a meeting and not trip over our laundry. After about a year and a half we decided to save some money, and move Letterform into our apartment. Our tiny, one bedroom apartment. It was a true test to our relationship and luckily, it went really well. However, we soon learned the downsides (there were many!) of working from home. The search was on for a new studio space and we (serendipitously) were contacted by Dawn at Firebelly Design to check out the space right beneath hers, that she was taking over. It was perfect, and just what we needed. We moved in a few weeks later and here we are! We are sharing it with some amazing folks (Andrea of Owly Shadow Puppets) and Chad (of One Tree Forest Films), and of course our friends at Firebelly drop in from time to time. It’s a really great vibe in here, as cheesy as that sounds.
You’ll be showcasing Nourishing Notes at the DIY Trunk Show this November. Any other plans in the works where fans can catch up with you or buy your work?
Fans can always buy our work! Nourishing Notes is available on etsy and we’re in the following amazing stores here in Chicago : Green Grocer, WolfBait & B Girls, Four Sided and Anjenu. We even recently got one of our cards into Paper Source! We’re also in various stores throughout the country, now if we could just get our website updated… you would be able to check those out! That’s definitely a 2011 goal.
All images © Letterform