June 26, 2017

Enjoying the iPhone as a Tool for Creative Expression: Elise Swopes at the 64th Chicago Chapter Meetup of CreativeMornings


Of the many uses of the iPhone, its utility as a powerful piece of the creative individual’s toolkit is undeniable. At the April 2017 gathering of the Chicago chapter of CreativeMornings, Elise Swopes affirmed her fascination with the iPhone, especially as a camera. Specializing in photography and design, Swopes, who calls herself a mobile artist, adopted the iPhone as her go-to tool for self-expression. Her massively followed Instagram feed is a rich diet in magical realism, covering the amazing diversity of terrain, from nature to the built environment—in several instances, an element of the curious is imaginatively inserted. While writing this recap, I tended to spell her last name as Swipes, considering the gestural mobile interfaces of our times.

The first generation of the iPhone was launched on June 29, 2007. In January of the same year, Steve Jobs made a rippling announcement:
“This is a day I’ve been looking forward to for two-and-a-half years. Every once in a while, a revolutionary product comes along that changes everything. And Apple has been—well, first of all, one’s very fortunate if you get to work on just one of these in your career. Apple’s been very fortunate. It’s been able to introduce a few of these into the world. 1984, introduced the Macintosh. It didn’t just change Apple. It changed the whole computer industry. In 2001, we introduced the first iPod, and it didn’t just change the way we all listen to music, it changed the entire music industry. Well, today, we’re introducing three revolutionary products of this class. The first one is a widescreen iPod with touch controls. The second is a revolutionary mobile phone. And the third is a breakthrough Internet communications device. So, three things: a widescreen iPod with touch controls, a revolutionary mobile phone, and a breakthrough Internet communications device. An iPod, a phone, and an Internet communicator. An iPod, a phone…are you getting it? These are not three separate devices, this is one device, and we are calling it iPhone. Today, Apple is going to reinvent the phone…”
The iPhone has both democratized and diversified access to photography and its craft. Swopes represents one of the billions of people who find prolific play in the iPhone’s ease of photography. With each new model, there are improvements—increased megapixels, additional sensors, robust software, better lenses, and more. By its iterative design and engineering, the iPhone naturally (and expectedly) ascended to the status of “the world’s most popular camera.” Swopes recognized the privilege to be born into an era that included the invention of the iPhone, a device whose major affordance was to incite creativity. There are rants here and there of mobile phones wildly killing creativity. But Swopes remains positively defiant in perceiving and practicing her usage of the iPhone as a means to follow her creative instincts—having fun in taking advantage of the creativity-charged toolkit of her time. Cheerfully declaring herself as an iPhone Photographer, not an “iPhoneographer.”

In Swopes’ case, as with countless other users, the iPhone is the most delightful tool in her world. A tool to create, no different than a stone, a tree branch, in one’s primordial hands. Most of all, an instrument that equips her, even encouraging her, to make the time to look and take a picture—something made that was worth making.

• • •

In her article “How Apple’s iPhone changed the world: 10 years in 10 charts” for technology news publisher Recode, data editor Rani Molla wrote, “The iPhone transformed photography from a hobby to a part of everyday life.” Check out too Apple’s Web-based series, consisting of less-than-a-minute videos set to chillaxing beats, about how to take optimal photographs with their iPhone 7.

• • •

Big thanks: to AgencyEA, Entertainment CruisesOdyssey Chicago (who hosted), Green SheepLyft Chicago, for being Partners of Chicago CreativeMornings #64; to new organizer Jen Marquez who accepted the chapter’s hosting responsibilities from Knoed Creative who spoke at Chicago CreativeMornings #7; to the team of volunteers for greatly helping to have CreativeMornings happen monthly in Chicago.

Especially big thanks: to Tina Roth Eisenberg—Swissmiss—for inventing CreativeMornings in 2008.

• • •

Read more CreativeMornings coverage.

• • •

2011 was Chicago CreativeMornings’ debut year. Download the entire collection of selected insights.




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June 9, 2017

Pride, Work and Necessity of Side Projects: Industrial Designer Carmen Liu’s Explorations to Create Immersive Experiences



What are you working on—on the side?

I don’t have a particular side project right now—although I’m planning for one. I’m always on the lookout for ways to create an immersive experience and change the perspectives of those who participate.

Regarding past side projects, my favourite one is the “100 in 1 day” event in Toronto, where we placed mini trampolines into the ground, so when people walked along the path (photo above), they could opt to do it a little differently and jump along the path! On the day of the event, we sat across the trampolines and watched people cautiously approach them with curiosity, and then a crack a smile when they realized they can jump on the trampolines. “100 in 1 day” encouraged small scale “interventions” within a city.

Other side projects were smaller explorations like how can I send a high-five virtually to my friend? And how do I create a jig for ½-scale bicycles?

How do you manage to work
on your side project(s)?

It’s hard to have a full-time job that requires your attention and intellect, and then a side project on top of that—so there’s a fine balance, as if working and making dinner wasn’t keeping me busy enough! At times, it feels like I’m having two full-time jobs, except one pays me in money and the other pays in feelings of satisfaction. However, I love doing both types of work. I keep a calendar that monitors open calls for proposals and events that I would be interested to be a part of. This way, I can somewhat plan ahead with regards to having interesting work to submit.

Why have a side project

Side projects keep my day-to-day life exciting! Working on side projects allows me to stretch my imagination and learn new things I wouldn’t do on a regular basis, and is both fun and rewarding. Expectations set around money and time become secondary (within reason) to the discovery and creation of the imagination. It also gives me agency to make change in the world in a very quirky way. Side projects become a space for exploration that can be shared with others.

• • •

Diptych courtesy of Carmen Liu.

• • •

Read more about the joy of side projects.


This series, devoted to side projects, is delivered in association with Chicago creative agency 50,000feet—dedicated to helping brands and businesses soar.


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June 5, 2017

At the 63rd Chicago Chapter Meetup of CreativeMornings, Leah Ball Creates Art with Unabashed Sensuality


At the March 2017 gathering of CreativeMornings/Chicago, artist and home-goods maker Leah Ball began her talk with a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke:
“I live my life in widening rings
Which spread over Earth and sky
I may never complete the last one
But this is what I will try

...I circle ten thousand years long
And I still don’t know if I’m a falcon, a storm
Or an unfinished song…”
It was an introspective introduction to her talk, which felt at times like a tone poem. Lyrical like Rilke’s prose. Romantic in reverie. Transcendental at heart. Like Rilke’s poetry, Ball’s talk spoke to wayfinding—the human quest of identity and for meaning. The two intertwine. Bell’s quest for self-discovery and self-fulfillment come together as a range of products for the home, from ceramic ware to apparel. Two currents running throughout her work: human sexuality and sensuality. These, as Ball put it, are “themes of life—of information to research and work from.” The (to borrow another phrase of Ball) “unique motifs” feeding her worldview can be rooted in her inspiration: the pleasure principle and the practice of it. Ball is not shy to declare and embrace the residually taboo subject of human intimacy. The simplest (and formidable) tenet that I saw translated in Ball’s straightforward work is: I am. Ball shared two of her realities: I am a survivor of sexual trauma; I am queer. Through her work, Ball reclaims herself—her identity, ultimately, her life. Rilke’s corresponding advice in moving forward:
“Make your ego porous.”
Ball’s ego proactively involves pleasure, but not in an exclusively self-serving way. In addition to enjoying the pleasures of the world, Ball strives to improve it. Her handcrafted objects support artistic activism. One manifestation of this dynamic is Shop Sensual, which she co-founded. It’s a weekend-long creative market, exhibition and series of workshops that explore sensuality as a vital channel for wonder and expanding its scope with regards to the unexplored and unexpected. The overarching condition is the pleasure found in self-expression with the potential of change in outlook, even perspective. The romantic poet Rilke again matches with a tip:
“Go now and do the heart-work on the images imprisoned within you.”
 Ball keeps taking this life cue—to heart.

• • •

Big thanks: to AgencyEA, Braintree (who also hosted), Green SheepLyft Chicago, Palmer Printing, for being Partners of Chicago CreativeMornings #63; to new organizer Jen Marquez who accepted the chapter’s hosting responsibilities from Knoed Creative who spoke at Chicago CreativeMornings #7; to the team of volunteers for greatly helping to have CreativeMornings happen monthly in Chicago.

Especially big thanks: to Tina Roth Eisenberg—Swissmiss—for inventing CreativeMornings in 2008.

• • •

Read more CreativeMornings coverage.


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June 3, 2017

Pride, Work and Necessity of Side Projects: Carissa and Paul Hempton Fix Their Attention on Small-Format Print Design



What are you working on—on the side?

We developed Print Prologue nearly two years ago. It is an ongoing series of print and digital products for the growing community of creative thinkers. Right now, the products have a central theme of informing, educating and celebrating the process of small-format print design and the details that make it special, but we’re excited to explore more concepts in the future. Currently, it includes a series of limited edition notebooks, a yearly wall planner and a web guide to design for small-format print.

When we first started the project, we just set out to design a bunch of notebooks. Then during the initial weeks, we naturally began discussing all of the design considerations in relationship to their production aesthetics, budget and timeline. The exploration of process led to the creation of the content in the Print Prologue web guide. Our hope is that the notebooks and guide help serve as tools for emerging designers, small business leaders and even experienced designers. The information included in the guide is a compilation of 10+ years of experience designing for print. Much of it comes from mistakes made and lessons learned.



How do you manage to work
on your side project(s)?

A Civil Fox is our graphic design practice in which we design brand identities and marketing tools for creative businesses. Initially, we started working on Print Prologue during the down time we had from client projects. That became more difficult when we started having less downtime! Now we integrate work for Print Prologue into our schedule more consistently and try to plan the bulk of printing and launches during portions of the year with a lighter client workload. As for the day-to-day, we’re very passionate about this project (and design in general), so it trickles in all the time. Many times, we’re discussing or working on it during hours when we’re “off the clock” which is after we put our kids to bed and before we go to sleep.

Why have a side project

As a designer, I (Carissa) am always thinking of new things I’d like to design in addition to client work. It’s just habit. And now, the flexibility of running our own business allows for the ability to do so. It’s a way for us to make something for people to use and enjoy. It’s still design, so there are a lot of restrictions. But it’s fun, and it seems relatively useful. It has also awarded us with a vehicle to learn and develop into better thinkers, problem solvers, marketers, etc. Selling a tangible product is very different from selling a service. And as a result, we’ve gained a better and more empathic understanding of our clients’ processes. So it’s a full circle!

• • •

Diptych courtesy of A Civil Fox.

• • •

Read more about the joy of side projects.


This series, devoted to side projects, is delivered in association with Chicago creative agency 50,000feet—dedicated to helping brands and businesses soar.


Please consider supporting Design Feast
If you liked this lovingly-made interview, show your appreciation by helping to support my labor of love—Design Feast, which proudly includes this blog. Learn more.

May 8, 2017

The Power of Listening: Improv Comedians Susan Messing and Rachael Mason at 61st monthly CreativeMornings chapter in Chicago


January 2017’s monthly gathering of the CreativeMornings/Chicago chapter was the second time improv was the central theme. The talk by improvisational comedians Susan Messing and Rachael Mason, who comprise the duo The Boys at The Second City, advocated the power of improv as a tool for creative work.

Susan and Rachel described the popular art form of improvisational theater as: “Listening to respond or listening to listen.” Artist Cheryl Pope, who spoke at February 2017’s CreativeMornings/Chicago gathering, claimed that “Listening is the most political act.” To The Boys, practicing improv is the act of conscious listening.

Einstein believed, “Creativity is intelligence having fun.” This concept applies to improv that demands being collaboratively agile in the present—in “why not” mode and having fun in the process. Playing with ideas. Playing well with others. The creative worker’s affinity to improv is apparent. When anything is creatively possible, listening is thinking without quickly judging.

Similar messages have been delivered on the monthly CreativeMornings/Chicago stage. In April 2015, sketch comedian Steve Waltien equated improv to “conscious humility” (read my write-up). In improv’s unplanned and unscripted situation, performers don’t conform to the ego of their own work or the script, but deftly steer their performance based on the input of both their group’s players and the audience. In our climate of “strategic patience,” Waltien’s emphasis on conscious humility can also be viewed as strategic humility, for improv excels when people come together—when everybody contributes, when everybody is present. Sound strategies (pun intended).

An example of the power of improv was told by Charna Halpern at the 7th annual Cusp Conference in Chicago (read my write-up). Charna is a co-founder of the ImprovOlympic, known as iO, and collaborated with Del Close, a pioneer in modern improvisational theater. She was called to help settle the heated debates among the scientists and engineers involved with the the world’s largest single machine in the world—the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) beneath the France-Switzerland border near Geneva, Switzerland. It is the most powerful particle collider and most complex experimental facility ever built by humans. (These are some of the reasons why I prefer its alternate name: the “Large Hard-On Collider.”) Though the LHC physicists and engineers were initially resistant to Charna’s discipline and role, Charna eventually helped them “to listen and be in the moment.” As a result of teaching some of the greatest minds (solving the greatest mysteries) about the greatness of teamwork through the social techniques of improv, she helped facilitate a solution—or as she put it, “saving the world.”

With paying attention as a hallmark of creativity, I’m compelled to reiterate the conclusion to my write-up about artist Cheryl Pope’s CreativeMornings/Chicago chapter talk: Still listen.

• • •

Big thanks: to AgencyEAGreen SheepLeo Burnett Department of Design (who also hosted), Lyft Chicago, for being Partners of Chicago CreativeMornings #61; to new organizer Jen Marquez who accepted the chapter’s hosting responsibilities from Knoed Creative who spoke at Chicago CreativeMornings #7; to the team of volunteers for greatly helping to have CreativeMornings happen monthly in Chicago.

Especially big thanks: to Tina Roth Eisenberg—Swissmiss—for inventing CreativeMornings in 2008.

• • •

Read more CreativeMornings coverage.


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April 27, 2017

The Art of Listening: Cheryl Pope at 62nd monthly CreativeMornings chapter in Chicago


February 24, 2017: Cheryl Pope’s multimedia projects are composed with a sensitive mix of words, spoken and visible, situated to provoke interaction from her audience. But in her address to the Chicago CreativeMornings chapter, the focus was not on expression, but listening, claiming that it is “the most political act.” Her personal manifesto starts with:
“The role of the artist is to make the invisible felt.
To help a people understand their experience.
To document this search and understanding.
To challenge, question, and ask.
To shed light in dark places.
To listen.”
Her adjacent influence is, as she put it, “the physicality of language.” One of the best, and most formidable, unions of listening and language, to my recent recollection, was Marina Abramović’s “The Artist is Present”—performed from March 14 to May 31, 2010, at the Museum of Modern Art. For 736 hours and 30 minutes, Abramović sat in front of 1,545 sitters across from her. Hi-fi. Lo-fi. Listening without losing.

After being present with Abramović, Yazmany Arboleda, also an artist, shared this account:
“Walking around the museum, people on different floors stop to ask me how it felt to sit with her. ‘How long did you sit for? How was it? How did it feel?’ My friend, who had come to document the entire ordeal with her camera, turns to me and exclaims: ‘It’s as if paintings could talk.’”
And when paintings have something to say, it’s a chance to glean what the message could be. To Pope, art offers space—a listening room for one’s mood, even state of mind, to be reached. To be “the channel,” as the poet Gabriela Mistral practiced:
“I write poetry because I can’t disobey the impulse; it would be like blocking a spring that surges up in my throat. For a long time, I’ve been the servant of the song that comes, that appears and can’t be buried away. How to seal myself up now?…It no longer matters to me who receives what I submit. What I carry out is, in that respect, greater and deeper than I, I am merely the channel.”
Joining the pursuits of Abramović and Mistral, contributing to the artistic ledger of meaningful transactions, and reinforcing the advantage of art on the side of the vulnerable, Pope’s work and talk urged CreativeMornings attendees to endure this challenge: Still listen.

• • •

Pope’s artistic practice includes boxing. The soundtrack while writing featured prominently rapper LL Cool J’s hip-hop hit “Mama Said Knock You Out” (1990):
“Don’t call it a comeback
I’ve been here for years…
I’m gonna knock you out
Mama said knock you out…”
• • •

Big thanks: to AgencyEASavage Smyth (who also hosted), Green SheepLyft Chicago, for being Partners of Chicago CreativeMornings #62; to new organizer Jen Marquez who accepted the chapter’s hosting responsibilities from Knoed Creative who spoke at Chicago CreativeMornings #7; to the team of volunteers for greatly helping to have CreativeMornings happen monthly in Chicago.

Especially big thanks: to Tina Roth Eisenberg—Swissmiss—for inventing CreativeMornings in 2008.

• • •

Read more CreativeMornings coverage.


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April 23, 2017

Pride, Work and Necessity of Side Projects: Amy Papaelias Co-Founded Alphabettes.org to Promote Women’s Work in Type Design, Typography and The Lettering Arts



What are you working on—on the side?

I help run Alphabettes.org, a network and blog that promotes the work of women in type design, typography and lettering. Alphabettes is very much a collective and collaborative effort. Members of the network run different initiatives such as developing ideas and articles for the blog, organizing events and activities at conferences, and organizing and maintaining the mentorship program. Our lack of structure can sometimes be chaotic, but it also allows for more flexibility and spontaneity. Despite being hardcore craftspeople and unabashed nerds, we also try not to take ourselves too seriously.

Other recent projects include co-editing (with Jessica Barness) “Critical Making: Design and the Digital Humanities”—a special issue of “Visible Language,” and I am currently on the organizing committee for the upcoming AIGA Design Educators conference “Converge: Disciplinarities and Digital Scholarship,” June 1–3, 2017, in Los Angeles.

How do you manage to work
on your side project(s)?

These projects happen in between teaching, family and everything else. I’m also a serial collaborator. I love working with really smart, kickass people. These days, I find it’s a lot more difficult for me to be productive when I’m the only author on a project. Collaboration, and the fear of letting down people I respect and admire, forces me to make time. Also, thanks to having had two kids on the tenure track, I’m pretty tolerant of existing in a constant state of sleep-deprived multi-tasking.

Why have a side project

In my talk at the Type Directors Club last year, I made the comment that I don’t have side projects, I have a research agenda. I see my work with Alphabettes as part of my scholarly interests at the intersections of culture, typography and technology. For design educators, the line between side projects, scholarship and practice are blurry. I thrive on the ambiguity and feel very fortunate to, whenever possible, bring this work into my teaching.

• • •

Diptych courtesy of Amy Papaelias—Portrait by Tom Smith.

• • •

Read more about the joy of side projects.


This series, devoted to side projects, is delivered in association with Chicago creative agency 50,000feet—dedicated to helping brands and businesses soar.


Please consider supporting Design Feast
If you liked this lovingly-made interview, show your appreciation by helping to support my labor of love—Design Feast, which proudly includes this blog. Learn more.