August 20, 2017

To achieve high-quality photography of products that’s both affordable and without the drama, Photographers Erika Dufour and Renee Gooch co-founded Snip Snap Go

Photographers Erika Dufour and Renee Gooch are making professional-grade product photography more accessible and affordable for the small-to-mid-size business owner by offering their recently launched DIY system Snip Snap Go. Here, they share their story on how this invention was realized, where they want to take it and how it applies to the desire of driving traction to an idea.

What is Snip Snap Go?

Erika: Snip Snap Go makes it easy for you to take professional and affordable photos. We provide a ready-to-go photo studio and you take the photo! It’s a perfect solution for those in need of professional photos of product or people shots—in a flash. All the elements are in place, tested and on: lighting, computer, camera, tripod, software and sweep. We also are on site to help solve rigging problems as well as adjusting the lighting if its not working. We have found that people learn a lot about photography and lighting when they are shooting, which is an awesome unexpected bonus.

Here’s a video showing you how Snip Snap Go works!

Appreciate how you arrived at the idea of your photography system. It’s an epiphany: you experienced the issues of a photo shoot with a client; so you went ahead and made a solution. Similar to Chicago-based Basecamp not finding a web-based project management tool that fit their needs—therefore, making their own. All done without asking permission. Just picking yourself. As you were “mulling over and over,” how did you capture your idea and visualize it? And how did you hone in on the condition of lighting, that this is the constant?

Erika: I thought about how people were shooting their own photos for their website, which were goodish, but not great, and knowing that the main thing missing was the lighting.

I also thought about how to make photo shoots more affordable to smaller companies, but also how do I not exercise too much energy on a photo shoot for people who can’t afford regular rates, a.k.a. How do we all get what we need? What was the commonality of smaller shoots that I had for startup/small companies—what did they need? Most shoots were shots of companies inventory, a.k.a. basic product shots.

I then thought that the lighting and camera settings rarely change for simple product shoots, and for a photographer, it’s a very mundane shoot, without much photo knowledge needed after everything is set-up. On a lot of shoots that I have done in the past with regular clients, sometimes the clients snap the photo from the computer on their own if they know the command key.

With all of those elements together, along with thinking outside the box, created the lightbulb moment of Snip Snap Go.

Two heads—and hearts—are better than one. How did you connect as co-founders? What makes your working together actually work?

Erika: We were meeting to talk about the photo industry in general and talking about how the business is changing. We have actually known each other for about 14 years through a mutual friend, and we had always exchanged thoughts about the industry throughout the years. Renee had several ideas on different types of photo services, and I kept thinking that the services that Renee was presenting could be linked to Snip Snap Go, and I knew that I needed a partner, so I asked her if she was interested in working with me on Snip Snap Go and she very enthusiastically said, “YES.”

Renee: Erika and I have known each other for years. Earlier this year, we were regularly getting together to collaborate on some future photo projects and also provide each other with business advice on our side businesses—one of which is Snip Snap Go. Randomly or not so random, she asked me to join her with Snip Snap Go, and it was in that moment, I knew this partnering up with Erika on Snip Snap Go was exactly what I wanted. While both of us have similar backgrounds in the photography industry, together we bring very different strengths to the table that work well together—I’m the dreamer, full of “crazy” ideas, Erika keeps us on the ground, I like to move fast, and Erika is a little more thoughtful.

How did you make yourselves decide to start Snip Snap Go? Because “Just do it” is easier said than done.

Erika: I had a client hemming and hawing about price and after I had the lightbulb moment, I figured I just try it out to see how it works. In this case, there was no other option than to “just do it”—I had to see if the idea held water.

Did Snip Snap Go officially launch this year? What were essential activities/steps taken to start and establish your company? And why were these activities/steps important?

Renee: Erika had established clients literally asking for this service before it even existed. It was a simple implementation for her, considering she had the necessary equipment and expertise to quickly get the ball running.

Erika: The lightbulb moment happened in 2012, and I have had a few false starts over the years, but I am now more dedicated to see what Snip Snap Go’s full potential is to see how far we can take it!

What was the first thing you did when you embarked on getting Snip Snap Go real?

Erika: Simply put, just set up the equipment and let people use my camera to see if it was doable.

Who and/or what are your consistent photography and/or business-related influences? This is a conglomeration of many things come together at the right time.

Erika: When I came up with Snip Snap Go, I was noticing the evolution of the digital age, I was intrigued by Louis CK’s way of making his work accessible and easy to clients as opposed to making people jump through hurdles and having them pay more. I was listening to the “Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders” Podcast a lot, which helped me think about photography in a different way, and being less attached to the ego of being a photographer. I also met Jason Fried, and he and I chatted a lot about business and asked him about how his business came to be. I liked his way of thinking about things and how defying the norm is a good thing, if you have a good reason to do it.

Renee: Working in a creative field and helping others are two important main features of any new venture I would embark upon. Joining Snip Snap Go provided me with the opportunity to embrace this. With that said, I’m always in search of inspiration, listening to podcasts that focus on startups and reading about successful business savvy speakers to glean inspiration and knowledge for whatever comes next. Also, keeping an eye on current trends and exactly what gets me excited in my day to day.

In running Snip Snap Go, what are some true and/or emerging “best practices” in working well, in working as best as possible?

Renee: Lots of communication and understanding the mutual goal for the business. If we’re on the same track with the same mission, there’s a mutual understanding between us that we’re aligned, even if not agreeing on something.

Erika: I agree with Renee about the communication. Also, I find that meeting in person at least once a week helps us keep on track with keeping Snip Snap Go going and discussing ideas and ways to market ,and discussing experiences with clients, as well as our growth going forward keeps us excited about where Snip Snap Go is going.

What is the size of your team? Do you have remote team members? And what size of company do you prefer?

Erika: Right now, it is Renee and I, but I am excited at the prospects of expanding the business nationwide to make affordable photography accessible to everyone! I am excited to see how this grows and expands over time.

Renee: As Erika mentioned, we’re a thriving business of two now, but see the need to expand very soon to accommodate for growth and customer development. We envision the business growing in all large economic sectors in the US within the next 2 years.

What is your definition of growth, as it relates to business?

Renee: Expansion and profitability, but also creating an inspiring work environment that helps our employees and customers grow.

Erika: I see growth in that society finally sees the need for your company. It seems as if a lot of the successful innovative companies started very small with an idea that initially feels too different for people to understand, and then there is a switch moment when people understand the need for that company and are excited to share it with others.

How important is it for you to follow your instincts?

Erika: Very important, I feel like with startups, so many people have opinions on how it’s going to fail, so following the gut feeling of knowing that it works is very important. It’s good to listen to advice from others, but to stay true to your gut/idea and not let yourself be ping-ponged by others’ opinions.

Renee: I’ll second Erika’s answer on that. Trusting your gut instincts is usually sound practice.

How do you handle disagreements while you’re working?

Erika: I feel like we are very open with our feelings and we express our opinions. If we don’t agree, we marinate and see if we can compromise or figure out what is the best solution to move forward. I tend to be very stubborn, so I have to watch out for my bullheadedness and make sure that I am not resisting just to resist. Self-awareness is key.

Renee: Communication! Always communicate openly and honestly. Holding anything in, whether it’s an observation or a criticism will only backfire in the end. I fully trust in our business partnership, and know that we both value and respect each other’s opinions. We won’t always agree on everything and that’s actually a good thing. There needs to be regular back and forth to grow.

How do you get the word out about Snip Snap Go, build awareness and attract customers?

Renee: Tell everyone you know about Snip Snap Go. There’s no shame in being excited about something! Other obvious funnels: utilizing social media to it’s capacity (which to be frank, we’re still getting our feet wet here), installing pop-ups, throwing mini-launch parties, cold emailing, cold visiting businesses, regular contact with people we’ve connected with in the past, networking at events.

Erika: I believe that talking to people and explaining how the business works in person is key, especially at this starting point, people have reservations and fear that they can’t use our photo equipment, so I think that making it clear on how it works is best. Social media, and doing events like our August 27 headshot promotional event, are a good way to expose people to how easy it is to use Snip Snap Go.

Must say, your company’s name is snappy. When and how did you arrive at the name for your business?

Erika: Originally, I was mulling over calling it Snip Snap and different interactions, I have to give credit to Jason Fried about adding the GO part, it made sense, his reasoning was that it sounded like Tic Tac Toe, which makes it more memorable and singsongy, adding the GO also resonates to how you just get the job done and go without hassle.

What effect do you strive to achieve with Snip Snap Go?

Erika: SO MUCH! I want people to realize that they can take photos of their own products and feel empowered when they do, I get very excited when people love their photos using the Snip Snap Go service. I also hope that people realize that photography itself isn’t as easy as you think and that they still find value in hiring a photographer for more complex ideas and concepts. What I have noticed with our current customers is that that they realize how important the lighting is and that that is the key to great photography.

Renee: To empower business owners and others with a tool that enhances their product, image or branding to a new level, all while doing so in an affordable way. We’re accessing a middle ground with regards to photography, which hasn’t been offered yet, and solves the problem many new business owners have with featuring a product in the best light.

Erika: HA!

If a person approached you and said, “I have this idea for a product/service and want to pursue it,” what’s your response?

Erika: Nike coined it best: “Just do it.” You wont know until you try something if it works or not. I cant tell you if it will or won’t, because as we know Airbnb was told it would fail, Whole Foods was told it would fail, Uber, Lyft, Dollar Shave Club, all these new inventive companies that were outside the box were told that it would never work until they proved that it could!

Renee: “Just do it”—I don’t think that’s cliché at all or misguided. Prove your idea or concept, test the market, build, ship and see what happens. It’s not that complicated. Go online, Google what you need to know to get started and do it. Take the baby steps or leaps needed to get it going, and make it happen. One can think about something endlessly and think they’ve made progress, because they’ve thought it out, but until you start taking some real initiative, all you have is an idea.

How does the city of Chicago contribute to your work? And what makes Chicago special for startups/business/creativity-at-large?

Renee: Because Chicago has vast growth in all sectors of business, whether established or new up-and-coming. It offers a plenty of opportunity for a business to flourish with available quantifiable resources and appropriate people to connect with.

Erika: Chicago makes it easy to connect with people face to face, and its affordable to host a space to have Snip Snap Go. I feel like Chicagoans are a friendly bunch as well, and there are a TON of startup companies that need photos whether it be headshots or product photography! We can help!

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Images courtesy of Erika Dufour and Renee Gooch of Snip Snap Go.

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Read more from Design Feast Series of Interviews
with people who love making things.

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August 17, 2017

Blogger’s Quest(ionnaire): Lisa Charlotte Rost Creates and Talks the Value and Beauty of Data Visualization

Lisa Charlotte Rost is a Data Visualization Designer. The elegant quality of her infographics, amplified by her writing about current affairs through the lens of visualizing data, piqued my interest. Here, she elaborates on the making of her blog Views about the world and data visualization. She can be found on Twitter: @lisacrost

Why did you create a web site of regular entries?

A. Curiosity. I want to think about things. Questions like: Why is that? Should it be like this? What happens when? Also, I want to think about many different things and don’t know how they’re all connected yet. That's why I'm writing blog posts and not a book.

B. Clearer thoughts. Writing helps me to structure my own ideas and to think through arguments. Does my super genius opinion about how stuff should work actually make sense? Every time I need to translate my blurry thoughts into concrete words, they get their first reality test.

C. Feedback. Almost every time I push something in the world, I get something back. People build on my ideas, coming from their own perspectives. Or they argue against my ideas out of reasons I haven't thought about. Both is beautiful and makes me grateful: It makes me humble to look at comments to my articles. Writing my blog definitely made me held my beliefs less tightly and keeps reminding me of the complexity of this world.

D. Giving back and pushing forward. The world gives me a lot of ideas, so I want to return the favor. I do believe in pushing a field (data vis/data journalism in my case) forward together; in figuring things out together; in constructive arguments and collaborations. It's beautiful to see that happening over many years and across many countries; seeing people come and go and get excited and change the mindset of people in the field, baby step by baby step, with every blog post they write and every talk they give. I want to be one of these people.

What web-based solution did you select and why?

Back in the days, I’ve used Tumblr and I enjoyed its convenience. But now I use Jekyll, because convenience is overrated…or at least not as important for me as the following three reasons:
  1. It’s simple. It doesn't have tons of features I don't need.
  2. I’m in full control of all the files that build the site, and can actually understand what’s going on.
  3. Jekyll forces me to write in Markdown and to use GitHub, and I wanted to get to know both technologies better. 
What is your definition of a good blog
and what are three good blogs that you frequently visit?

A good blog inspires me on a periodical basis. I don’t think that I can give a more detailed definition, since what happens within the limits of this term can be quite different:

Tim Urban’s Wait buy why is definitely at the top of the list. This blog educates me deeply about things, it builds arguments beautifully, makes me change my mind and supports the concepts it explains visually. And boy, I loooove visual concept explanations.

Nathan Yau’s FlowingData and Andy Kirk’s Visualising Data need to be named as blogs that keep me and thousands of other data vis enthusiasts informed about what’s happening in the scene. I especially enjoy the posts that offer an opinion about the quality of a data vis work, instead of just stating that it exists.

Brandon Stanton’s Humans of New York, because it opens my eyes for the situation outside of my privileged filter bubble and lets me understand how people got to where they are right now.

How do you create content for your blog?

The pipeline from “quick idea” to “tweet-able blog post” is long and wonderful and distressing. The perfect path would look like that:

1. Ideas. Often, ideas come out of conversations that I keep thinking about, out of an own pain point or out of a question.

2. Research. Once I’m curious about things, I do research about it. The time for that ranges from a minute to a week of googling, reading books and scientific papers. Indeed, I discovered my love for reading papers! Once you want to answer a very specific question, searching for the most precise answer is tons of fun. Like my little brother, I just keep asking "But why? How?" until my curiosity is satisfied.

3. Structuring the post. When I’m happy with the information I gathered, I try to communicate it in the best possible structure. I use a tool called Workflowy for that. It lets me move around my thoughts until I find a flow that doesn’t make me want to cry anymore. To understand causes and effect better, I often visualise them with pen and paper in the process.

4. Writing. Once I have the structure and decided what I want to communicate, the task of actually writing the post becomes far less daunting. I write in markdown, using an editor like iA Writer, Sublime or Atom.

5. Add images to the post. I’m a visual thinker, and images will result out of the process of writing a post anyway. Often, I include these illustrations into my articles after refining them with Adobe Illustrator and a drawing tablet.

6. Publishing. After writing the article, I publish it to my blog. I read it again there, find tons of mistakes, fix it, republish it, formulate a tweet, proofread it, take a deep breath, send the tweet, read the article again, find more mistakes, fix it, republish it an x-th time, and then distract myself from looking at my Twitter notifications with food or so.

How do you stay organized
and motivated to contribute to your blog?

One answer is: I don’t. I aim for one article a month, but if that doesn’t happen, then that’s ok with me.

Another answer is: I give talks at conferences! I like to submit talk proposals about things I’m curious—but have no idea about. Then I have a deadline to do the research. Posting a transcript of my talk is the easy part at the end.

For those aspiring to make a web site composed of 
regular thoughts and/or images, what is your advice?

Get a second blog.

“Whaaat,” I hear you gasping, “I can’t even fill one.”

I hear your gasps. But think about it: Why is it that you can’t fill your blog? Maybe because you think your thoughts are not worth to be published. Or maybe because you posted that one crazy good article two months ago and you can’t think of anything better. So get a second blog. A trash-blog. For the bad articles. Just start writing them. Several of my articles were born on my secret trash-blog. Works really well for me.

What is your quest in blogging?

To teach and to learn.

• • •

Photograph and illustrations courtesy of Lisa Charlotte Rost.

• • •

Read more of the Design Feast series Blogger’s Quest(ionnaire).

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August 14, 2017

Cusp Conference Celebrates 10 Years

Whatever the scale, holding a yearly assembly, from a class to a summit, is an intense effort. The people behind its planning, organization, marketing and everything else are to be commended. This year marks the 10th anniversary of the annual Cusp Conference, hosted in Chicago by strategic design firm Multiple. I described my first attending Cusp as “an annual gathering of creative types with a penchant for the eclectic.” Each subsequent conference has wonderfully reinforced this strong first impression. Cusp is a multicultural and multidisciplinary confection—intellectual taste buds activated.

At my first Cusp experience, I encountered presentations by a pair of digital storytellers, a sword swallower, an arctic astrophysicist, an architect of space (that of low-Earth orbit) and a medical doctor behaving as a human-centered designer. This is a smidgen of the day-and-a-half strategically plotted with presentations, which cycles through the Venn of humanities, sciences and advocacy, all centered on current circumstances, collectively speaking.

Constituting a professional blend—from artists and designers, to business consultants and nonprofit leaders, to students and educators, the strong variation in presenters are reflected by the attendees. The latter go to experience the former, a line-up curated to be diverse in composition and effect. The benefit is twofold: the emotional sensation of receiving a holistic boost to one’s awareness and worldview, coinciding with the practical drive to nurture one’s creativity and sharpen one’s critical thinking over time.

For the past four years, I’ve had the privilege to offer Design Feast coverage on Multiple’s Cusp Conference. A continuity through my write-ups, from 2013 to 2014 to 2015 to last year, is the applied wonder by humans to discover a condition, existing or emerging, learn about it, study it and be inspired to face it, even engage it, for the sake of informing a curiosity and perhaps to realize change—for the better.

Wholehearted congratulations to the team at Multiple for 10 years of galvanizing Cusp gatherings. Here’s to the next decade of perspectives—delivered from the Cusp-charged platform.

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August 9, 2017

Pride, Work and Necessity of Side Projects: For Illustrator and Designer Anna Raff, “Things Are Looking Grimm”

What are you working on—on the side?

My most recent side project is a series of illustrations based on the fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm, called “Things Are Looking Grimm.”

I work in children’s publishing, and have a number of books in different genres under my belt. Earlier this summer, I found myself with time to spare in between projects: one book was in a state of first sketches; another was in the final art stage, awaiting approval; and I was writing/sketching a picture book dummy that I’d been bouncing back and forth with my agent. I felt the need for a new illustration project where I could create my own content. I teach narrative illustration at the School of Visual Arts, and what I assign my students is basically what I assigned myself: a series of images from a narrative of my choice, in this case, “Grimms’ Fairy Tales.”

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

I do a lot of the reading and sketching for each piece in the evenings and weekends. If I have a gap in my schedule during the week, I fit in as much painting and imaging as I can. Some weeks, I can finish two images—in others, I may only have time for brainstorming and sketches. I try not to impose too much pressure on myself, but I did set an end goal of a self-promotional piece that I’ll send out in late summer/early fall.

Why have a side project?

Aside from giving a much-needed creative diversion, having a side project has worked well for me in the past. When I started out as a freelance illustrator ten years ago, I was right out of graduate school, and my only work experience was in graphic design. Art directors didn’t know me as an illustrator—if they knew me at all—so I decided to create a side project that would serve multiple purposes: I’d keep exercising my illustration chops as I had in school; I’d build up a portfolio of images; and ultimately build a client base. That first side project was a daily bird illustration blog called “Ornithoblogical.”

For the first year of the blog, I posted a bird illustration everyday. What began as warm-up drawings and doodles evolved into an examination of the richness of bird imagery in the English language using visual puns. The whole thing ended up showcasing my sensibility and humor well, and led to my first picture book assignment.

Earlier this year, as I began hankering for another side project, I remembered how well the bird blog had worked in getting my art and thinking energized. It allows for experimentation with new techniques, media, etc., that I can to apply to my commissioned work. I always tell my students to never underestimate the power of a good side project.

If you’d like to follow my progress with “Things Are Looking Grimm,” I’m sharing sketches, process photos, and finished art on Instagram with the hashtag #ThingsAreLookingGrimm. Meanwhile, I’m also gradually adding the finished illustrations to my portfolio site.

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Diptych courtesy of Anna Raff.

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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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August 1, 2017

Typography and Technology in Play throughout Designer Carolyn Porter’s debut book “Marcel’s Letters: A Font and The Search for One Man’s Fate”

Graphic designer Carolyn Porter’s debut book Marcel’s Letters: A Font and The Search for One Man’s Fate epitomizes a “page-turner.” Her search for inspiration to design a distinctive typeface led to discovering a batch of endearing correspondence in a Minnesotan antique store. They were written by a man, Marcel Heuzé, during the Second World War. Using his lettering for inspiration, Porter’s curiosity was agitated to learn more about Marcel, his life upended by chaotic events—ultimately leading to the question incited by reading the tender letters (of which she had a portion) sent to his wife and children: Did Marcel survive to arrive home?

As she scrutinized and navigated Marcel’s life, his handwritten messages to his loved ones—during the violent chaos of World War II—became a portal into another period and place. The poet William Blake gave the romantic cue to “find a world in a grain of sand.” Marcel’s letters, both their handwriting and prose—inseparable, constituted Porter’s grain of sand, steeped in human will—exacerbated by the brutality of the times.

With its narrative showcasing the integral role of typography, Marcel’s Letters was published at an ideal time when typography, particularly typeface design, has more visibly joined mainstream conversation. No longer the domain of design geeks, typography is more widely viewed and discussed as a tool to help realize accessibility, branding, legibility and identity.

The alignment of technology and typography also makes the book a relevant and compelling story for the modern era. Font-authoring software played a vital role in Porter’s storytelling. To borrow a typographic term, the font software is a character, whose behavior challenges not only Porter’s patience, but more aptly, her mission of piecing together the extraordinary tapestry of Marcel’s life.

In giving Porter a means to focus on the letterforms of Marcel’s handwriting, honing in on their nuances and subtleties, the software helped spark and steer Porter’s search for the meaning and context of Marcel’s voice in his mailed messages, as she states: “My Marcel.” Technology as both a panoramic and magnifying lens on visual matter turned subject matter. This is another prime demonstration of the marriage between the aesthetic and the artificial, championed by Apple co-founder Steve Jobs who put it this way: “Technology alone is not enough—it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the results that make our heart sing.”

As a designer, I’m interested in learning how design—specifically graphic design—is a thematic and rhetorical element in Porter’s book. There’s the visible anchor of typeface design in the author’s inspiration found with Marcel’s cursive of letters, mailed to his loved ones, that segues into a wholehearted and tireless attempt to extend them into a digital font. Then there’s (and the SEGD would dig this) the role of environmental graphic design when Porter exhibited her collection of Marcel’s correspondence for friends and colleagues, especially those who contributed to the author’s research, to engage an intimate reading of them—line by line, date by date, moment to moment. Overarching is the permeation of social design, where Porter’s translation of Marcel’s letters and their use as specimens in her typeface design and production, serves to bridge the past with the present by discovering (and rediscovering) human relationships, mining Marcel’s genealogy, pushing the fact that family is really everything. Togetherness is a by-product that design helps to experience and helps endure—only time will tell.

“Empathy” is declared a lot in designerly circles, especially by the Sapient/Razorfishes and IDEOs of the professional design world. Meticulous research was done by Porter, from Marcel’s circumstances at forced labor camps to martial occupation during World War II. The in-depth research led to endearing interactions (the book’s “Acknowledgments” is made more sweet by reading Porter’s story) across age, profession, media and the Atlantic. In our contemporary society, when the selfie is the relentless phenomenon, Porter’s story is a benchmark of pure unselfish empathy—achieved by a designer.

Regardless of your disciplinary tribe, I recommend reading Marcel’s Letters to learn more about designer-driven empathy in action. All design educators, whatever academic department, should add this book to their reading recommendations, even make it required, to provide a well-covered insider account of design as object-making adjacent to design as giving a damn.

Enthusiasts of typography and hand-lettering should read this book to further cherish the inventions of ink and paper to communicate thoughts and feelings.

Everyone should read Marcel’s Letters as another timely reminder to reflect on your roots, remember them and never take for granted what stability affords, like this time-honored tradition that Marcel never gave up on reclaiming: No place like home.

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July 30, 2017

Pride, Work and Necessity of Side Projects: Illustrator Lori Richmond Runs and Draws

What are you working on—on the side?

My side project combines my love of running and art-making. It is called #viewfrommyrun, and it’s a timed drawing series on Instagram. I draw something I see on my run, in the same amount of time as my run.

I’m a freelance designer, and I also write and illustrate children’s picture books. After a very intense half-year of delivering art on three separate books, my brain needed a creative reset. One night, during a training run for the Brooklyn Half Marathon, I was struck by a gorgeous sunset I saw from the Manhattan Bridge. With the intention of painting it for fun, I snapped a quick photo on my phone and kept running. As I checked my pace on my Apple Watch, I had a lightning strike moment: why not try to paint the sunset in the same amount of time as my run? And thus, my project was born! This has become a visual journal of my training. Completing each drawing in the same amount of time as the run connects them as one experience for me.

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

Timing the drawings makes it more manageable for me. I set a timer for the same amount of time as my run. When the timer goes off, I stop drawing. As a working mom of two, time management is everything, and I know I can only commit to something that I can (somewhat) easily jam in to my already hectic schedule. The timer has really helped!

Why have a side project?

I’m notoriously bad at keeping a side project—#viewfrommmyrun is the first one I have committed to and kept up with. So far, it has led to some amazing opportunities, like getting a feature in Runner’s World! You just never know who is going to find your work, so having a side project allows you to open yourself up to entirely new audiences.

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Diptych courtesy of Lori Richmond.

• • •

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.

July 16, 2017

Fascinated with Letterforms: Freelance Designer and Calligrapher Bella Schilling

Her hand-lettering, dabbling in typeface design, with a fandom of Ru Paul, piqued my interest in Bella Schilling and her letterform-driven work. Here, she shares her attitude and practice of every day being national writing day.

How did you arrive at what you do as a calligrapher and designer? Was there an initial encounter of lettering/design/typography that played a role in your path toward becoming a typeface designer? 

I studied Visual Communication at AUB [Arts University Bournemouth] which was a mix of graphic design and illustration. Back then, my work was heavily illustrative, but it wasn’t until my final year where I got accidentally obsessed with calligraphy. My classmate and fellow type nerd, George, had a copy of “Calligraphy in the Copperplate Style” by Herb Kaufman and Geri Homelsky, and he let me borrow it, which was a bit of a mistake on his part, since I never really intended on returning it. I spent all my time after class, and time during class, going through reams of graph paper, practicing Copperplate and Blackletter. Calligraphy and lettering became an escape for me, but I didn’t think it would lead anywhere. However, at the end of year show at the D&AD [Design and Art Direction] awards, I met my tutor’s best friend, Tom Foley, Type Developer at Dalton Maag, who looked through my lettering sketchbooks and advised me to move to London and apply for a Type Development internship at Dalton Maag. So I did.

What were essential activities/steps you took to start 
and establish yourself as a calligrapher and designer?

Just making sure I kept practicing all the time and honing my skill set. I ensured that I remained focused on my goal, and continued to push myself even when I didn’t feel like it sometimes. For the first few years living in London, I had to balance working a full-time day job with freelancing, as well as working on my typeface and other personal projects. I reached out to Victoria Rushton for some advice on getting my foot through the door, and she introduced me to the wonderful Alphabettes network, for which I am ever-grateful.

How do you keep up with your lettering discipline? 
Do you have a lettering regiment? 

I wouldn’t say that I have a regiment per se, but I did take part in 36 Days of Type for the first time this year which was so much fun! I didn’t plan how I wanted to do it—I just wanted to see what I would come up with on a day-to-day basis. Towards the end, from the letters to the numbers, you can see that I figured out a distinctive style. But it was so exciting to develop new type design ideas I had wanted to experiment with, and 36 Days was a good excuse for that.

Do you also practice writing and mailing personal correspondence? Easy to make this assumption. Feeling you make more handwritten messages than emails. If not, surely derive pleasure from pen and ink than keyboard and pixels.

Yes I absolutely do! Where clients and projects are concerned, everything is discussed via email, of course. But my best friends and I write to each other on a regular basis. They are both teachers (Alice in London and Anna in Paris), and they share my love for stationery and handwriting. I’ve found that it’s a very cathartic activity, but it’s also so much fun picking out various papers and inks, and adorning them with decorative stamps, tapes and so on. Highly recommend!

How is typography, from drawing letters to designing typefaces, 
a coping mechanism in these turbulent times? 

Typography has always been a problem-solver, and it’s there to serve a purpose—from being able to navigate your way around the airport, sending a text…the list is endless. But it’s also a great tool for expression of thought and protest. One example that comes to mind is the signage that was used for the Women’s March—several ’Bettes used their fierce lettering skills to make some great signage. Another example is Resistenza’s (Giuseppe Salerno and Paco González) “Love Wins” font, which is a collection of hand-lettered phrases designed to celebrate diversity and spread the love. It’s free to download, and you can use it to create signs and banners for the Pride celebration (or any other day of the year).

How did you arrive at the idea of making your Dita Display 
(ace name) typeface? What was the process in getting it real?
Is it available to buy? 

I created Dita Display during an extended internship at Dalton Maag. I had no experience in type design whatsoever when I started, and I began by sketching these Bodoni/Didone-inspired letterforms. I made a display face without even realising it, since it’s super high-contrast and has asymmetrical serifs. Working closely with Ron Carpenter, I then went on to develop text, italic and bold weights. A couple of years later when I began learning Russian, I designed a Cyrillic weight too, with Krista’s (my mentor’s) expertise. Dita isn’t available to buy, because it was such a steep learning curve, and, knowing what I know, there are a lot of design decisions I wouldn’t make now. But I do have another typeface I’m slowly working on that is very different to Dita, and I’m excited about it! (Fun fact: I called my typeface after Dita Von Teese, in case you didn’t guess already. I’ve admired her since I was about 14 years old).

How did you get to work on writing invites and envelopes 
for Hermès Paris? 

As of about two months ago, I am now a contracted freelance designer and calligrapher for Lamplighter London (founded by Chiara Perano) which is a lovely boutique design and calligraphy studio. Chiara has a mad VIP client list (such as Mulberry and Nike), and a couple of weeks ago she asked me if I wanted to write the invitations and envelopes for Hermès’ Autumn/Winter Womens’ Wear Collection. I would have been a fool to have said no! It was an intense two days—I was super nervous not to make too many mistakes, and my calligraphy had to be meticulous (letterforms as on point as possible, all writing had to be completely central, with an equal amount of spacing between lines and words), and everything had to be completed by the end of the next day. I think they came out pretty well, though, and Chiara and the client were pleased, so that’s all I could have hoped for.

What is your workspace like? How does it contribute to doing
the quality of work you want to do? 

At home, I have a small desk next to the window in the living room. It’s a little cosy but I manage to work efficiently. I am a bit of a neat freak and it certainly helps my workflow to be organised. At the Lamplighter studio, there’s lots of great working space—it’s really light and I have access to lots of other materials, and Chiara’s advice/critique of course.

What is your vision of satisfaction, as it relates 
to your chosen career?

My vision of satisfaction is to have enough good, exciting work to keep me going, both financially and creatively speaking. I’d love to work on more high-profile clients, take part in more collaborations, and continue to learn new skills and meet new people. I’d love to have my own studio one day, or a creative partnership. All that being said, it’s really important for me to take time out and go travelling. I love London, but it is very exhausting at times, and I feel as though I need to take time out and re-charge when I can afford to do so.

Who and/or what keep(s) you going? 

My amazing partner, who is so encouraging and continues to push me to be better, as do my wonderful friends. I’m also very lucky to come from a family of artists, so creativity has always been a huge deal. Being part of the Alphabettes community is invaluable—I have my mentor, Krista Radoeva, as well as a huge network of other brilliant and supportive women, who are always willing and able to provide technical and emotional advice. And I also have this huge driving force within me, that I often forget is there, because it’s wrapped around anxiety and self-doubt, because I can’t and won’t do anything else.

How does the South London contribute to your work? And what 
makes it special for startups/business/creative community?

I think it’s funny that London gets compartmentalised—despite being the same city, people identify with being East, South or West etc, whereas I think the whole of London is special when it comes to being a creative—it’s full of amazing, supportive people. When it comes to South specifically, I think there’s a tight community of people who are all trying to do similar things creatively. Often they understand that you have the same worries and stresses that you do, so they help you however they can.

Being a fan of RuPaul, do you have a favorite animated GIF? 

Haha! Hmm, that’s a tough one. It’s hard to pick a favourite. I think maybe this one where Ru is in hysterics whilst being roasted by Coco Montrese. I think it epitomises who Ru is; she never takes herself too seriously and…if you can’t laugh at yourself, how in the hell you gonna laugh at somebody else, right?!

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Majority of images courtesy of Bella Schilling.

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Read more from Design Feast Series of Interviews
with people who love making things.

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Explore too my Designer’s Quest(ionnaire) series interviews with Type and Graphic Designer Krista Radoeva and Type Designer Victoria Rushton, plus Side Projects series interview with Amy Papaelias, who co-founded, a network and blog championing the work of women in type design, typography and lettering.

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