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.
December 26th marked the launch of Thermos’ partnership with Threadless: finally! I have been dying to share news of this product line since we began developing it this past summer. Preparing for the after-Christmas debut kept us extremely busy right up until the holiday break, so you can imagine how great it feels to finally see them out in store. The products, which are exclusive to Target, include bottles and lunchboxes…with more to come later this year. Get excited.
To introduce the line, this video was produced.
We were also lucky enough to have one of the artists fly in from London to share his design philosophy and process.
Continuing the theme of long-overdue recaps, (and certainly not the least of them) is today’s review of the inaugural Two Night Stand event. At the end of September, Bright Bright Great and friends hosted 20 designers for a weekend charette. Honestly, I have been meaning to post this event recap ever since, but that weekend ended up kicking off a busy month and a half for me. I’d say it’s a testament to just how inspiring of an event it was that I ended up putting blogging on hold to instead work on numerous side projects. (more on this to come later…)
The premise to 2NS is pretty similar to Camp Firebelly: throw a handful of designers together in order to tackle a common project under limited time constraints. However, with 2NS the designers were mostly professionals, and the client this time was a start-up brewery. Circumventing any objections to spec work, no files were released to the clients: rather, the clients were free to contact any of the teams should they decide to pursue their design/strategy.
As someone who is still new to Chicago, I loved the opportunity to meet and work with so many wonderfully talented people for a weekend. There is something so energizing about working under these kinds of constraints that force you to look at a problem from an entirely new direction. In addition, it was great working for a small brewery who is as passionate about beer as I am. (Think “connoisseur” when you read that last statement…not “alcoholic”!) In the end, each of the three teams came up with vastly different approaches to Trenchermann’s branding and initial grassroots marketing strategy. It’s amazing what options are available to start-ups operating on a shoe-string production budget. Below are some of the branding materials we (Team Horseplay) came up with over the two days:
Logo was created to invoke a bottle cap silhouette. The brand name is capped by an abbreviated wordmark with a slightly industrial flair.
Bottling and labeling system was designed to be inexpensive, multipurpose, and reusable, as well as easily applied by hand to small batches.
If I have one criticism of the event, it is that I would have liked to work with more of the people there. Although it wasn’t really possible with the direction the group went with, I would have liked mixing it up even further. However, I suppose that isn’t really a criticism so much as wishful thinking. If you are in Chicago or the surrounding area, I highly recommend applying for the second 2NS event that will take place after the first of the year.
One of the best things about Twitter, is the opportunity to meet such fabulous people…that, and I seem to get more industry news through my Twitter feed than through any other outlet lately. So of course, I was excited to hear that Victoria Pater & friends officially launched their all-girl design collective, Quite Strong. Not only that, but it was great to see all of the positive reaction from the Chicago design community as well.
On September 17, the ladies celebrated in style at Edge: complete with taco bar, temporary tattoos, and shaving cream…not to mention, all of the great donations raised for Ag47. Good food, good fun, and good people: it was nice to meet so many people after following them online. Cheers!
The changing seasons always get me in a crafty mood. Luckily, I can now go to Renegade Craft Fair each year: Chicago’s event is perfect timing for some fall inspiration. This year, witty sayings, type-nerd tees, and sewing projects all really caught my eye:
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
July 15th found me once again in The Post Family’s Family Room for another show opening. This time, the show was Cantankerous Hellfighter, a collaboration between gig poster giants Delicious Design League and Aesthetic Apparatus. As you probably already know, I’m a huge DDL fan. Jason and Billy are really great people in addition to great designers, and it was nice to meet the faces behind Aesthetic Apparatus too.
As for the work itself, it was hard to see where one studio left off and the other picked up. Jason mentioned that each poster was passed back and forth with the printing split between the two studios. The result? A wonderful blend of both studios and some really awesome work.
The paper toys were fun, but I would have hated to cut up the posters myself…guess that’s when you buy two?
Those gold posters on the back wall were my personal favorites: the photo doesn’t really do the metallic ink justice.
All in all, it was a great night.
A belated post due to a busy week at work! So without further ado, our weekly feature:
I first met Jeremiah while showing work at this past year’s Firebelly Holiday shop: what an honor to be showcased in the same room! Jeremiah Chiu is a Chicago native, co-founder/partner at Plural and a musician with local group Icy Demons (that’s him on the keyboard). He received his MFA in graphic design from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Since co-founding the studio in 2008, Plural has received recognition by the Art Directors Club, AIGA, The Type Directors Club, The Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, Communication Arts magazine, Print magazine, How magazine, and The Society of Typographic Arts, among others. With a focus on typography and visual experimentation, Plural explores new ideas within the design process as they collaborate on a wide range of print, web, video, textile, and music projects.
What’s your favorite part about Chicago in the summer: any fun tips for new residents, such as myself, or visitors?
Chicago’s a great city to be in, whether it’s summer or not. It’s not too big, and not too small. You can ride your bicycle everywhere and there are tons of great cultural happenings every day of the week.
I don’t know, I’ve grown up here my whole life, so I bet other cities are great as well. If you’re visiting I highly recommend going to Millennium Park.
Typeforce was earlier this year and the Post Family show recently wrapped up: what’s next?
It’s been a great year for Plural so far: busy busy busy. I’m not sure what’s next. We’re feeling really good to be buried under tons of exciting new work right now. We’ll be pushing out some more Lumpen magazines, working on a building mural with Edmar down in Bridgeport, making books with The Stockyard Institute, working on some new album covers, curating a poster show at Depaul, missing meetings with the Chicago Printers Guild, etc… Same as it is everyday… Wake up. Make things. Go to bed.
How do your installations and other artistic endeavors influence your design and vice versa?
I definitely don’t differentiate the two. Ideas are ideas. Design is the way we think. The execution differs based on the audience, location, space, time, etc…
Most of the ideas/works that end up as installations or in exhibitions are derived from experiments in the studio, all of which are nonsense. (It’s all the stuff the clients won’t buy) 🙂 With exhibitions, it’s our opportunity to do whatever, without consequences, so we usually go with the most absurd idea and just let it be. Why not?
Playing music has helped me learn to work in different ways. It helps me approach things from a different perspective, writing a tune and composing a poster are very similar things, you have an idea, and then you organize that idea into a cohesive thought and deliver the message in the best way. If you always design your poster by placing the image before the text, next time try it the other way around.
On Humble Pied, Renata’s and your advice to young professionals was to practice and experiment. What are your favorite ways to combat creative block?
Headstands. Hands down. Try not to over-think things. Take a break.
Lately, we’ve been using the phrase “keep it funky” a lot. It’s been working pretty well. I think the idea behind that is to do something you think is wrong, or that you wouldn’t do, like use drop shadow or something silly like that, and then force it to work. You can make anything good, you just have to work through it. School made me a rigid designer, and I think only now am I starting to realize how to balance that with the other “wild” side of me. The rules are instilled, everything I make will always carry more scrutiny now than it did before, because I learned right from wrong.
How did you know that grad school was right for you, and how did you decide on a program?
I decided to go to grad school because I was ready to spend 2 years devoting all of my time to learning more about graphic design. I had been working at an art gallery and doing a lot of freelance for two years after college, and as I started looking for a change of pace, things just sort of fell in place. I learned about UIC from a friend of mine, Jon Krohn, as he was studying there. My roommate at the time, Chris Kalis (future Plural partner), was also interested in the program, so we both applied, and both got in. UIC has a great program, with the faculty there, I think it’s the best GD MFA in Chicago. Marcia Lausen heads the school. After meeting with Philip Burton and hearing numerous stories about Paul Rand, Armin Hoffmann and Wolfgang Weingart, I was sold. UIC also began accrediting the Basel School of Design at the university level, so we were afforded the opportunity to study in Basel during their summer workshops. Nothing beats hearing your teacher tell you that you’re in Emil Ruder’s old classroom.