July 26, 2016

Food, Creativity and the Unusual: Unique Dining Experiences by Midnight Kitchen Projects’ Sonia Yoon and Chef Catanzariti


When I first met Sonia Yoon, she worked as a project manager. Afterwards, she became an independent producer and designer for cultural advocates. Her current project is Midnight Kitchen Projects, a collaboration with Chef Giuseppe Catanzariti. Quickly, within three years, she transformed herself. Though the roles are different, art is the continuity. In partnership with the Chef, she explores the convergence of food, imagination and the unconventional. Together, they give memorable experiences—edible, eccentric and executed with love.

When and how did you arrive at the idea 
of Midnight Kitchen Projects?

About two years ago, I had been exploring a variety of side projects. I wanted to add creativity, play and forms of bricolage into my daily life as a means of returning to making art and building collaborations. Chef Catanzariti and I met and began to work on experiments in the kitchen. We tested recipes, improvised with ingredients, and plated for the camera. We developed enough momentum that we wanted to share these ideas with others. Midnight Kitchen Projects was formed out of our desire to bring our respective communities together in an intimate social gathering that set the stage for our culinary projects.



What were some of the first things you did in taking 
Midnight Kitchen Projects from an idea to a decision to do it?

Naming the project and writing down our motivations really made everything concrete. We were in perpetual test-mode, having long conversations, brainstorming, studying techniques, looking at art and pushing each other to try new things. Chef Catanzariti offered a lifetime of food experience and culinary inspirations, while I provided perspectives from a visual art and design thinking vocabulary. I shared images (produced from a different collaboration) with him and asked for a culinary response. A few days later, he answered with a 5-course menu! The signature “beet dish” he concepted gave us a new set of questions to answer in the kitchen, which we documented in a promo video. We fleshed out the rest of the menu, began to scout for locations, published a website and committed to a seated dinner.

One of the smartest decisions we made was to approach everything as a prototype. We were so hungry to learn from the experience. In hindsight, there was no room to overthink our decisions. Our goals were ambitious, the risks aplenty: partnering professionally for the first time, producing and editing a video, creating dishes we’d never made before (especially pâte à choux), and realizing a multi-course dinner for eight, all in a one-month timeframe. The event taught us tremendous lessons about collaboration, trust, ingenuity, creative vision and community.



How did you find each other toward becoming Co-Founders 
of Midnight Kitchen Projects? What makes you a fun 
and effective team?

The first event was a thrill and the experience cemented our roles. Our collaboration works well because the Chef and I are as practical as we are creative. We have very different points of views, skills and working methods, but we share the same vision, love to improvise, always communicate, and aren’t afraid of criticism or failure.



What still feels raw (besides the food), and this doesn’t 
mean bad nor good, from when you started 
Midnight Kitchen Projects until now?

There is a big backlog of ideas that we haven’t fully acted on yet. Time is always a major constraint—we each continue to work our day jobs. We recognize that testing an idea extensively is a luxury. We aim for each concept to be deliberate, thoughtfully crafted and polished for presentation.

What food ingredients are you fond of and why?

Chef Catanzariti: Familiar ingredients but with new techniques applied—things that I haven’t seen done before.

Sonia: Humble, basic ingredients that can be thoughtfully elevated or show a lot of potential for new forms.



How did you make yourselves committed to start making 
Midnight Kitchen Projects a reality? 

Before Midnight Kitchen Projects hit the ground running, Chef and I had many philosophical conversations with friends and family, and asked for pragmatic advice from colleagues. Receiving early feedback helped us test our resolve and prepare for what was ahead.

We both go in 100% into each event by trusting each other and our expertise. We are completely aware that we could fail, plan accordingly, and know that the experience will teach us what we need. Our objective has always been to connect with our guests, realize something new, enjoy the process and to give each other permission to let our curiosity lead us to action.

As a lean team of two, we never underestimate the power of exhaustion. We are extremely grateful for all the help people have offered and the positive reception to Midnight Kitchen Projects—it gives us a huge boost of energy and motivation to pursue our next projects.



Sonia, being a both a designer and project manager, 
how do these disciplines play into your work 
on Midnight Kitchen Projects?

Everything I know, and then some, is applied to developing, producing and promoting Midnight Kitchen Projects. As a project manager, my familiarity with planning, risk management and client services readily applies to event production. As a designer and producer, I am able to conveniently translate what we do for our marketing needs, website and social media. As an artist, Midnight Kitchen Projects is a dream formula that combines my creative interests, skills and resources in hybrid ways. This project is also an avenue for me to explore food and experience design, build on my own personal culinary point of view, and a wonderful opportunity to learn from Chef Catanzariti.

What’s your workflow in creating memorable experiences
through 
your “shared love of food, creativity and the unusual”?

1. Questions.
Every Midnight Kitchen Projects production starts with us asking questions. We begin by learning as much about our hosts and the venue as possible through conversations, site visits and listening to their stories. Our job is to collect these impressions and narratives as parameters and inspiration points for us to build a framework, structured as a menu. We share our notes on a whiteboard in our war room.



2. Visualize it.
We are both visual thinkers, so we prioritize drawing right away. An event concept may begin as a list of raw ingredients, a single word, or a fully plated entree. A typical brainstorm session includes a mix of wild thoughts and methodical processes. Everything gets sketched out or written down on the whiteboard. We also make drawings on large sheets of rolled paper that cover our work table. Both surfaces capture our ideas in different ways.



3. Incubate. 
After our initial round of conversations, Chef takes some time alone to digest and reprocess the conversation, filing ideas and concepts into recipes, organizing ingredients into lists, and sketching down details to be recalled later. I usually go hunting and window shopping to research materials.



4. Organize. 
A master list formats everything together. This document eventually evolves into our shopping list, menu, budget, decor and plating instructions, back and front of the house script, and event day dossier.



5. Test + Document. 
We push and pull on each food idea until we’re really excited about how to create them as an edible experience. Then, testing commences: we try out new techniques, ingredients and plating schemes. Each test is photographed and repeated until we start giving each other high-fives. Some of the propositions have gloriously died in the test kitchen, but they’ve led us to deeper questions and more unusual solutions.



6. Prototype.
To design the guest’s side of the food experience, we build a lo-fidelity physical prototype of the tabletop and plating arrangements as close to scale as possible.

What is your most memorable experience of the
Midnight Kitchen Projects experience so far?


Last fall, we created a main course called “Beef Leaf” with ingredients plated on a clear pane of glass. This glass arrives from the kitchen, and is placed on top of a small light box positioned in front of each guest. The beef version of this dish was presented first. The colors of the leaf and sauces bloomed over the light. A corresponding “Tuna Weed” dish was created for Dana, a pescetarian guest. When we placed her dish over the light, the tuna began to glow ruby red! The entire table hushed and leaned in… Chef and I will never forget the look of awe and pure joy exuding from Dana’s face. We both got to witness this incredibly special experience.



Who and/or what are your consistent creative influences?

Chef Catanzariti: I’m often creatively inspired by music. A huge culinary influence is Ferran Adrià of El Bulli. I have such great respect for him. He is a pioneer, so ahead of his time. I’m inspired by his thought processes. He is a true artist, making unusual connections. His dishes are very simple, but so innovative, so pure.

Sonia: Aside from being my culinary influence and link to the motherland, my mother taught me odd skills like pineapple sculpting for centerpieces that I hope one day to spring on my guests.

In running Midnight Kitchen Projects, what are 
some true “best practices” in working well, 
in working as best as possible?

We just have two principles:

1. Listening and talking—communication is our priority.
Listening is part of offering permission. We don’t edit each other very much in order to remain open. Talking keeps ideas flowing, but also keeps us in tune. We balance each other: when one is generating and expressing ideas, the other is in reception and synthesis mode. This is how we remain grounded and pragmatic. This style of communication helps us figure out how to be realistically outside of the box. We call this “being in a box outside the box.”

2. We have a “No asshole policy.” 
The rest comes pretty easy when conditions of 1 and 2 are met.

How do you handle disagreements while you’re working?

Our disagreements typically stem from not fully understanding the other person’s perspective. So the best way we work out differences is to give it a vocabulary we can agree on. Ours is to translate them into something visual or into physical materials that we can manipulate. It’s easier to ask productive questions about objects and get concrete answers. We make quick mockups with pen and paper, objects, dishes and whatever is in the pantry or fridge. Our favorite material is using pieces of colored paper to represent food. We both have pretty positive attitudes, so things get pretty silly which helps to diffuse any tension, and answers fall into place easily.



In doing work and trying to be productive each day, 
what tools do you use frequently and highly recommend?

Large rolls of paper: We cover our work table (which doubles as a dining table) with long sheets of paper. Notes are doodled anytime someone spends time at the table. I love coming back to see what the Chef has written or drawn. We trust and use analog tools as much as possible; they feel more immediate and expressive. After all, the end product, eating, is an analog experience. To sit and draw at the table feels more casual, less precious, more comfortable, and therefore, more freeing.

Our kitchen MVPs:
  • The Nutribullet: the little engine that could
  • Monkey dishes, mise en place bowls: organization and visual feedback
  • Rubber spatula: gets every last drop = less food wasted
Who and/or what keeps you going in keeping 
Midnight Kitchen Projects going?

1. Espresso (Lavazza Oro).

2. The excitement that other people get from the experience and the buzz that Midnight Kitchen Projects generates has produced so much energy for us, especially when we’ve been working on fumes.

3. We’ve met so many amazing people in a short time from this venture. Our creative network has expanded and we’re able to establish long-term relationships with vendors, advocate for new businesses, and meaningfully support what they do.

What does independence mean to you?

Being able to offer complete commitment to each project matters to us. Midnight Kitchen Projects is at a point where can be more deliberate about our choices without the need to force creativity, so it stays meaningful and fun.

What is your definition of growth, as it relates 
to your Midnight Kitchen Projects?

We’re slowly exploring where this project is headed and how we translate what we offer and can do in different scenarios. 2015 was an exponentially creative year, but it was also pretty frenetic to produce Side Door Goods, creative talks, and seasonal pop-up dinners. 2016 has been a necessary time for rebalancing, renewal and research to frame what we do for the long haul.

How do you get the word out about Midnight Kitchen Projects, 
build awareness and attract customers?

Our following was built through some tenacious word of mouth. We rely on our website and social media to showcase our work. But most importantly, to produce work in a supportive community goes a long way. Our partners, friends, advisors, hosts and guests have all helped bring the right audience to our table.



What effects do you strive to achieve 
with Midnight Kitchen Projects?

See the answer to your question asking about a “most memorable experience.” We want to provide a new and undiscovered experience for people.

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All images courtesy of Midnight Kitchen Projects.

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with people who love making things.


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July 22, 2016

Relationships are all about time: Tru Studio at 53rd monthly CreativeMornings in Chicago


Anne and Steve Truppe, married couple and the team behind Tru Studio, spoke at the 53rd gathering of the Chicago chapter of CreativeMornings, May 2016. Tru Studio is a Chicago-based photography and video agency that works with both commercial and advertising clients. Their work is distinguished by capturing truly authentic moments from their subjects through language (aligning to the client and their project), lighting (utilizing natural light as much as possible, if not available, mimicking it) and the lens (maneuvering in the rapid decision-making zone behind the camera).

During the Q&A, someone asked the Truppes how they acquired their first client. Steve said it was due to a relationship that developed over a couple of years.

This anecdote reminded me of a relationship’s nature and stature, drenched in history—especially good relationships. If a relationship is bread, then time is yeast. Relationships take time. They demand it. With good relationships, these do take their damn time.

Tina Roth Eisenberg, a.k.a. Swissmiss, the creator of CreativeMornings, recently tweeted, “Business is not just business. Business is *relationships*. Real humans! Real feelings!”

The Truppes’ chosen livelihood, from its origin to its present state, remains a turbulent trip of emotions and attempts. Because there is always so much to do. So much to face in realizing something, in maintaining the ratio of trying and succeeding. Relationships are critical in the process. They’re a means to an end. They provide a coping mechanism. Families, friends, colleagues, vendors and clients. Each plays a part in making a career the ultimate life. Relationships with tools (and their relationships with their users) included. Like people, tools also achieve the patina of use over time.

The Truppes desired the kind of work to grow into a life-long career. As their journey demonstrates and evolves, the best relationships survive the long-term.

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Big thanks: to BraintreeDigital Intent (Host), Green Sheep WaterLyft, for being Partners of monthly Chicago CreativeMornings #53; to organizers Kim Knoll and Kyle Eertmoed who both 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. The fifth chapter was launched in Chicago, June 2011—my write-ups and photos.

Read more about the people who make the Chicago chapter of CreativeMornings possible.

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My coverage: view photos of CreativeMornings/Chicago gatherings; read more write-ups about CreativeMornings.

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

July 21, 2016

Pride, Work, and Necessity of Side Projects: Event series Creative Women’s Conversations by Ari Krzyzek, Creative Director



What are you working on—on the side?

I’ve gone through so many side projects since 2011 and realized what makes great side projects, what works, how to fail fast and how to move forward with something new. My latest side project is Creative Women’s Conversations. It is an intimate environment, a safe place for creative women to be vulnerable, share stories, to learn and grow with one another, network and have quality conversations over brunch and cocktails.

Events are limited to 10 women (total including the host/co-host) in order to create such an intimate setting. I found that smaller groups have proven to provide better feedback, therefore I love keeping the guests limited in number for each event to make sure we get solid discussions and introductions. The mission of Creative Women’s Conversations is to create an inspiring and collaborative community for women entrepreneurs where they can share their goals and struggles, exchange opinions and even collaborate to lift each other up.



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

It’s really tricky. Though being a mom and designer have helped me manage my time better, sometimes I would multi-task my side project into my work schedule, and sometimes I would focus on just my side projects on weekends. I’m still slowly trying to figure out a better schedule for my clients’ projects and side projects. Because my side project has become something that I really want to grow, and believing it helps and inspires other women, I try my best to include it into my daily schedule.

Why have a side project?

To feed on the creative process. As a creative person, I want to keep doing something that I can continuously feel satisfied with. Even though I own a design company and have a range of varied design projects, I crave for something more. A side project helps me fulfill that craving and to keep on learning. ツ

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Images courtesy of Ari Krzyzek.

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Read more about the joy of side projects.


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


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July 19, 2016

Pride, Work, and Necessity of Side Projects: Writing and Teaching by Tracy Osborn on How to Build A Web App



What are you working on—on the side?

My main side project has been my book series, “Hello Web App!” I taught myself how to code Python quite a few years ago to launch a startup, and over the years of learning more and more about programming, I kept thinking about things I wish were taught better once I actually understood them. I realized that I couldn’t just wait for someone else to do it—I needed to write the resource I wish existed.

“Hello Web App!” teaches web app development using Python and Django. I am a huge fan of Django and how easy it is to create a working web app with it—without feeling like you’re a “programmer.” My goal is to help people launch web apps, not learn how to be an engineer (but that’s cool if you use “Hello Web App!” as a starting point!). The original book is a step-by-step tutorial to build a “collection of things,” a project rubric that can be updated to a lot of different project ideas. The second book, “Intermediate Concepts,” has individual chapters teaching skills and features to improve your web app, like adding payments with Stripe, an API, tactics for working with multiple models, database design and more.

It’s been a seriously amazingly fulfilling side project—I’ve been able to help thousands of people so far learn how to build web apps, and it’s actually been a successful side-project in terms of revenue as well.

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

When I’m in the process of writing a book (spoiler, I’m currently writing a third book titled “Hello Web Design!”), a lot of my mental energy needs to be devoted on the project, so it’s best if I can take a sabbatical from my full-time work while I’m writing. Though it’s totally doable to work on writing during evenings and weekends, it’s just what I prefer! I also sometimes will head to a place without WiFi and cell-reception (like a cabin in the mountains) so I have dedicated time to spend on writing on weekends.

It takes a bit of juggling, but the best thing about writing books is that they can continue to bring in revenue and career opportunities after the bulk of the work and pain is over.

Why have a side project?

“Hello Web App!” has been the best thing I’ve ever done for my career. It landed me my current job (I gave my books to my interviewers and I got a call that night with an offer), I’ve received multiple speaking engagement opportunities after someone has seen the book, it’s brought me extra cash (meaning I can work on projects that don’t make revenue), and I’m helping people learn how to code, which brings me so much joy. I encourage everyone to have side projects because they can have a huge positive impact on your career long-term.

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Diptych courtesy of Tracy Osborn.

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Read more about the joy of side projects.


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


Please consider supporting Design Feast
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July 16, 2016

Pride, Work, and Necessity of Side Projects: Charleston Travel Guide by Lauren Beltramo



What are you working on—on the side?

As a little kid, going to Myrtle Beach in South Carolina every other summer was incredible. I absolutely loved it—the heat, the ocean, the accents! And then one day, it hit me: people live here all year round. Ever since that lightning bolt realization, it seems that I’ve been heading down south. From New York, to Philadelphia, to finally Charleston! I’ve lived here for almost two years and I am delighted to call The Holy City home. I put together Charleston Travel Guide to pay homage to all the amazing local shops and beautiful places tucked away between cobblestone alleys and lush palm tree-filled parks. That’s the most delightful thing about Charleston—the promise of the unexpected just around the corner. But, as cliché as it sounds, if putting together this guide has taught me anything it’s that I still have so much more left to explore! I’m not sure what my next tribute to this wonderful city will be, but in the meantime, I collect interesting lettering finds over at My Type of Charleston.

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

I used to set very rigid parameters and deadlines for myself when it came to side projects, only to get overwhelmed and feel like there’s no hope of ever getting back on track after a few tardy days. Instead, I still set goals, but I make them much more broad in terms of months rather than weeks. After that, it’s a matter of being genuinely interested and wanting to do the work. Being freelance full-time also ebbs and flows, and it was really nice to have something to keep me focused in between projects. The truth is that this is one of the few side projects I’ve finished. I am always writing down ideas and filling a sketchbook page or two. Getting comfortable not finishing a project was actually a great relief. Whether I was no longer interested or wanted to work on something else, I’ve given myself the flexibility to continue experimenting—and that’s what’s most important.

Why have a side project?

So many reasons! Experimentation, self-promotion, simple delight. This project was great, because it gave me an opportunity to get back into writing, something I’ve sorely missed. I also hired a copy editor to proofread everything which was a new experience, and helped me see what kind of client I am. Managing this project in terms of my own time, cost and production, gave me a great perspective on pricing out similar projects for clients. Not to mention that having customers instead of clients was a whole new experience that I am eager to expand. Sometimes I have customers order a travel guide from places that I never expected, which has been so amazing. It’s easy to get caught up working away behind a screen, forgetting that actual people exist on the other side. But these guides have connected me with so many great people and seeing them hold these guides in their hands has been incredible. I feel like I am a stronger illustrator and designer for having done this project.

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Diptych courtesy of Lauren Beltramo.

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Read more about the joy of side projects.


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


Please consider supporting Design Feast
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July 13, 2016

Pride, Work, and Necessity of Side Projects: Architect Laura Thomas’ Watercolors



What are you working on—on the side?

My watercolors, the physical expression of my keen eye, are an integral part of who I am and what I do. To be an architect is to be an observer. My work is constantly informed by the art and architecture that I see during my travels abroad and in my wanderings in my hometown. Without a sense of observation and exploration, my creativity becomes stagnant; that staleness would inevitably carry over to my professional designs. Travel and critical observation are an important part of my growth as an architect. (1)

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

When I travel, I do so with my favorite pen, a small, old Windsor-Newton travel watercolors box, a collapsible camp-stool and folding table. I take time to stop, set up my seat and my watercolors (or climb on a wall!), and take in the scene. In those moments of stillness, I can see details like proportion, color, patina and light that would be lost to the harried tourist with a camera.

I settle in and LOOK. This can sometimes take a while. Sometimes I move slightly to get the angle I want. I look at the light and the colors. I study the shadows. Frequently my sketches are peeked at by fellow travelers and local children. I don’t mind the curiosity. The little kids are the best—they seem truly amazed at what I am doing and can just watch patiently and silently for minutes at a time. (2)



Why have a side project?

I LOVE to draw. I believe in the value of connecting the architect with the design on the page in a way that can’t be replicated solely through a computer. Drawing by hand is a part of who I am. I sketch daily in the office for my projects, and practice my observation and drawing skills while traveling through my watercolors. (3)

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Diptych courtesy of Laura Thomas.

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Read more about the joy of side projects.


From Laura Thomas’ blog:
(1) “Starting something new, again”
(2) “Where I sketch”
(3) “The importance of drawing”


This series, devoted to side projects, is delivered in association with 50,000feet, an independent creative agency 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 11, 2016

Pride, Work, and Necessity of Side Projects: Chelsea Lee’s Obsessive Photography of The Home Aesthetic



What are you working on—on the side?

Well, I’d really call it more of an obsession, than a side project, but I photograph houses and doors (sometimes windows too). I can’t really pinpoint the exact origin of this obsession, but for argument’s sake, let’s say it began in 2012 when I moved to Chicago.

I fell in love with the city instantaneously. It’s the architecture, and not necessarily the skyscrapers of the Loop, although those are pretty great too, but the sunrooms, and workers cottages, and deck-lined alleyways. It’s the history and the little details that often go unnoticed that really inspire me. Sometimes when I see a house that is just so delightful, I literally jump for joy, and then pull out my camera.

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

I like seeing how people live, what the architecture and design is like, and how those things change from neighborhood to neighborhood, state to state and so on. I honestly can’t walk down a street without pulling out my camera, even if I’ve photographed the thing before, there's always something new to it. It could be the lighting of the day or new plants in bloom, and it’s these little things that scream to be photographed.

I especially love my walk to the train. First, there is the pink ranch; it’s actually pretty ugly. It has pink vinyl siding, pink stonework and cement stairs that are, big surprise, painted pink. It has a typical iron hand railing going up those cement stairs, that casts a beautiful shadow across them. I have a lot of photos of this shadow.

Next to the ugly pink ranch is my favorite house on the whole street: a red brick workers cottage with the most beautiful garden and a little old lady tending to the flowers. Soon, the whole house will be blocked by the row of sunflowers set to bloom. Next to my favorite house is the two-flat with peanuts under the welcome mat. I smile everyday as I walk by and see the pigeons and squirrels scurrying away with their treats, and I smile a little bigger when I think of the old man sitting just out of sight watching them. And as I continue walking down this street, there’s the overgrown ivy, decorated like a Christmas tree, and the dog sitting in the doorway, and the kid’s toys strewn across the lawn, and the pastries in the window of the bakery, as I cross the street to board the train.

I take so many photos, and with all this beauty, the real challenge is editing. I have a rule that if I’m going to take the photos, I have to share them (well at least some of them). I feel like you have to put them out there, so they have a bit of life and others can enjoy them. And I guess that’s where this obsession turns into a project.

Why have a side project?

For me, it’s really about giving yourself the space to indulge in your curiosities. It’s about doing something for as long as you’re inspired, and then moving on to the next thing that you want to do. Before this project, I spent 365 days making designs. I challenged myself to create something every day for an entire year and post them to my blog Significant Nonsense. But after that year, I was interested in other things, so I put that down and picked up my camera.

I think it’s important to find a creative outlet that’s somewhat separate from your job; in that creative-outlet space, the work can be all about you, what you’re interested in and what you like. Hopefully that work will inspire your other work. Or maybe not, maybe it will just make you happy.

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Chelsea Lee is an Experience Designer. Read her thoughts on design and designing in my series Designer’s Quest(ionnaire), consisting of 100 interviews—and growing.

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Diptych courtesy of Chelsea Lee.

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Read more about the joy of side projects.


This series, devoted to side projects, is delivered in association with 50,000feet, an independent creative agency 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.