December 4, 2014

Taking a chance for positive action: Humanitarian Rap Artist Jessica Disu at 35th CreativeMornings in Chicago


Jessica Disu, who describes herself as a Humanitarian Rap Artist and goes by FM Supreme, spoke at the 35th gathering of the Chicago chapter of CreativeMornings. Disu’s speech focused on “Chance”—CreativeMornings’ global theme for November 2014 and a crucial element driving her work. Her path included this trajectory: floating in darkness, seeing the light, seizing it, and spreading it. Disu—who she was, who she became—served metaphorically as a mirror, reflecting the human struggle to not live in oblivion.

Disu told of being in a dark place, provoked by a voice in her head. It was depression. An experience that helped Disu face this negative voice and give it a brute-force command to “step off” was a professor, at Harold Washington College, who instructed, “You have to keep moving, no matter what happens. Whatever you are going to do, do it seriously. Because you owe it to yourself.” This teacher’s voice of encouragement greatly helped Disu fight her depression. It was a timely spark for Disu, who did keep moving. By chance, she was asked to host and perform her music at a youth peace rally. The nature and timing of the request piqued her curiosity and motivated her to participate, something she may not have considered in her depressive state. This event actually proved eventful for Disu. It steered her to find her voice. She said, “My purpose is to lift up the voices of young people.” Since then, she has used and advanced her voice—through language and song—to positively influence generations of the young all over the world.

Children, adolescents, and teenagers all represent an opportunity for listening and guidance. Disu’s application of her art also reminded me of another CreativeMornings talk by Vanessa German, a mixed-media artist who is making her moves to positively influence the young of her local community in Pittsburgh. Like Disu, German’s tool is her voice, boldly used in her spoken-word performances. From German’s talk, the following declaration is aligned to Disu’s mission:
“Someday, somewhere, somehow, someone must have sense enough and morality enough to cut off the chains of hate and evil and violence in this universe, and love is the only way you can do that!”
Disu is a champion of love. Her talk was charged with metaphors: she was a supernova radiating positive energy, the audience were vessels filled up with positive messages, and the auditorium acted as a particle collider detecting positive waves.

Shakespeare dubbed the world “a stage,” and Disu took this metaphor to the max. She concluded her talk with a performance of one of her rap-songs. Through her speaking and rapping, she emphasized belief in oneself and others. In this sense, her stage was the audience’s stage.

The start of a positive legacy owes a tremendous part to people like Disu’s former school teacher who gave her the life-altering advice to “keep moving.” This person inspired progress. The author Milan Kundera wrote, “A single metaphor can give birth to love.” Disu’s teacher was a candle in the dark place of her life. Disu’s teacher happened to act as the “single metaphor” that enabled the birth of her calling. Disu’s teacher believed in her, which inspired her to believe in herself—and doing so, again.

• • •

“People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did.
But people will never forget how you made them feel.”
—Maya Angelou, Poet, Civil Rights Activist

• • •

Big thanks: to Morningstar—for hosting— Basecamp, and Gorilla Group, for sponsoring Chicago CreativeMornings #35; to organizer Kim Knoll and operations manager Kyle Eertmoed of Knoed Creative, who spoke at Chicago CreativeMornings #7, and to the Chicago CreativeMornings crew—Miguel Diaz, Benjamin Derico, Talia Eisenberg, Chris Gallevo, Keith Mandley, all—for their volunteer work in making CreativeMornings happen in Chicago.

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

• • •

My coverage: view more photos of 35th CreativeMornings in Chicago; read more write-ups about Chicago CreativeMornings.

• • •

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




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December 3, 2014

Tweeted November 2014: Food for thought


Tweet icon designed by Adame Dahmani from The Noun Project collection

“I wanted to make art that had its own internal life.”
—Chris Ware
Tweeted by @parisreview on November 30, 2014

“I feel fortunate to make a living from writing books—and I owe it to readers and myself to take some big swings while I have the chance.”
—Scott Berkun
Tweeted by @berkun on November 28, 2014

“Times Have Changed: Officer kills an unarmed Black man,
spawning National protests. When I grew up, this was just local news.”
—Neil deGrasse Tyson
Tweeted by @neiltyson on November 26, 2014

“I approach the work as though, in truth, I’m nothing
and the words are everything. Then I write to save my life.”
—Louise Erdrich
Tweeted by @parisreview on November 26, 2014

“The myth of the overnight success is just that, a myth.”
—Seth Godin
Tweeted by @creativemorning on November 26, 2014

“Last night i dreamt a fully realized imaginary Wu-Tang track. Kung fu flick samples, beat, verses, everything. My brain is so powerful.”
—Robert Shmurder
Tweeted by @bobby on November 26, 2014

“Prescription medication is sick care, but food is health care.”
—John La Puma
Tweeted by @StudyPathology on November 25, 2014

“If you woke up today, you have a purpose.”
—Jessica Disu
Tweeted by @FMSupreme on November 25, 2014

“DECOLONIZE YOUR MIND.”
—Kim Moore
Tweeted by @SoulRevision on November 24, 2014

“If your child were killed, under what circumstances would you accept there being no trial for their killer? Not just no conviction—no trial?”
—Anil Dash
Tweeted by @anildash on November 24, 2014

“People joke about the angry black woman. We have been born in
a society that is not made for us. If you were us, you’d be pissed too.”
—Jessica R. Williams
Tweeted by @msjwilly on November 24, 2014

“How do I explain this to my children? Again?”
—Ijeoma Oluo
Tweeted by @IjeomaOluo on November 24, 2014

“What you fear you attract.”
—Tina Roth Eisenberg
Tweeted by @swissmiss on November 24, 2014

“You work for your ideas. Your ideas do not work for you.”
—Summer Pierre
Tweeted by @summerpierre on November 24, 2014

“I make far less money as an author than I did as a manager.
I decided more control over my time was much more valuable
than more money.”
—Scott Berkun
Tweeted by @berkun on November 24, 2014

“Confidence is earned from others around you;
belief in yourself is a conscious choice from within.”
—Dane Howard
Tweeted by @johnmaeda on November 23, 2014

“If eyes are the window to your soul, ears are the fucking door.”
—Lulu Miller
Tweeted by @WashingtonDC_CM on November 21, 2014

“I guess I’m never sure that print is truly linear.
It’s more a simultaneous medium.”
—Muriel Cooper
Tweeted by @johnmaeda on November 21, 2014

“Workplaces too often diminish human potential,
instead of elevating it.”
—Jessica Lawrence
Tweeted by @johnmaeda on November 20, 2014

“We all have the potential inside us to make things.”
—Linda Liukas
Tweeted by @SariSohlstrom on November 19, 2014

“It’s as simple as this: The only way anything gets done is because
you choose the time to do them. Choose the best things you can.”
—Patrick Rhone
Tweeted by @patrickrhone on November 18, 2014

“Work on what is hard.”
—Tim O’Reilly
Tweeted by @DuaneKing on November 13, 2014

“If you ask people where they go to get something done,
you almost never hear them say the office.”
—Jason Fried
Tweeted by @TEDTalks on November 13, 2014

“The best critics of ideas are the ones
who actually create their own ideas.”
—Inobites
Tweeted by @inobites on November 13, 2014

“What is good is difficult, and what is difficult is rare.”
—Sadie Stein
Tweeted by @parisreview on November 12, 2014

“I have found that if you let a poem sit around long enough,
you come to see and hear it better.”
—Gary Snyder
Tweeted by @parisreview on November 12, 2014

“Real confused by girls who hate negative body image talk
but rip on thigh gaps, Kim K’s butt, etc.”
—Christin Tang
Tweeted by @ChristinTang on November 12, 2014

“An empty space is a place for questions, not answers.
What we don’t know is infinite.”
—Jenny Erpenbeck
Tweeted by @parisreview on November 12, 2014

“Gotta love that internet.”
—Carly Ayres
Tweeted by @carlyayres on November 11, 2014

“I always print each page that I finish. I need tangible proof.”
—José Saramago
Tweeted by @parisreview on November 11, 2014

“You never know when you’re going to find your next mentor.
Actively form and build your network.”
—Su Mathews
Tweeted by @AIGADC_SHINE on November 11, 2014

“Fiction is the only thing that brings me closer to the truth
that reality obscures.”
—Enrique Vila-Matas
Tweeted by @parisreview on November 11, 2014

“Never look down on anyone unless you are helping them up,
or they think the Earth is 6,000 years old.”
—Charles Powell
Tweeted by @Foodmancing on November 10, 2014

“When I sit down at this desk I am still as bashful
before the virgin page as I was sixty years ago.”
—Patrick O’Brian
Tweeted by @parisreview on November 10, 2014

“There’s room in this world for beauty to be diverse.”
—Lupita Nyong’o
Tweeted by @cindi_leive on November 10, 2014

“Relativity. Gravity. Quantum. Electrodynamics. Evolution.
Each of these theories is true, whether or not you believe in them.”
—Neil deGrasse Tyson
Tweeted by @neiltyson on November 9, 2014

“Happiness and work aren’t mutually exclusive.”
—Chris Wilson
Tweeted by @chrisleewilson on November 8, 2014

“If I started to wait for moments of inspiration,
I would never finish a book.”
—Mario Vargas Llosa
Tweeted by @parisreview on November 8, 2014

“Don’t just mean that the web is for everyone to use:
it’s for everyone to make.”
—Jeremy Keith
Tweeted by @kanakorocks on November 8, 2014

“At work, we’re often so busy ’communicating’
that we don’t have time to think.”
—Sherry Turkle
Tweeted by @TEDTalks on November 7, 2014

“Educating the mind without educating the heart
is no education at all.”
Aristotle
Tweeted by @TheSchoolOfLife on November 7, 2014

“Fiction, nonfiction—the two are bleeding into each other all the time.”
—Geoff Dyer
Tweeted by @VintageAnchor on November 6, 2014

“It is not death that a man should fear,
but he should fear never beginning to live.”
—Marcus Aurelius
Tweeted by @TheSchoolOfLife on November 6, 2014

“Dear job applicants, potential new employers
will look at your Instagram and Twitter accounts.
Your social media footprint (tone) matters.”
—Tina Roth Eisenberg
Tweeted by @swissmiss on November 5, 2014

“Patience is the companion of wisdom.”
—Saint Augustine
Tweeted by @TheSchoolOfLife on November 5, 2014

“I’m asked often now why I’m writing different kinds of books. How can you trust a creativity expert that only writes about creativity?”
—Scott Berkun
Tweeted by @berkun on November 3, 2014

“The beginning is the most important part of the work.”
—Plato
Tweeted by @TheSchoolOfLife on November 1, 2014

• • •

See: Patronage series of duly discovered


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

December 2, 2014

Patronage Package 11 of Duly Discovered



Apps

“50 Apps to Manage and Grow Your Etsy Business”
by Matt Mansfield

Books

“STAR STUFF: Carl Sagan and the Mysteries of the Cosmos”
by Stephanie Roth Sisson

“In ‘Redeployment,’ Former Marine Explores The Challenges of Coming Home by Phil Klay”
by Fresh Air

“Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People”
by Mahzarin Banaji and Anthony Greenwald

“Good Food, Great Business”
by Susie Wyshak

“Madeline, the Everygirl who never grows old”
by Faith Salie

“Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation”
by Bill Nye

“Playing Big” by Tara Sophia Mohr

Crafts

“How To See In The Dark” by Laure Joliet

“Made in the USA” by Kelsey Dake

“Paper Pencil Life: Diary Comics” by Summer Pierre

“Imperfection Pot” by Adam Buick

Films

Teaser Trailer for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”

Infographics

“Behind the Box Office: What Influences the Films We See”
by Think with Google

In Memoriam

“British Mystery Novelist P. D. James Dies At 94”
by Scott Neuman

“Volunteers search for the remains of World War II airmen missing in action in the waters off Palau”
by Anderson Cooper

“Award-Winning Director Mike Nichols Dies At 83”
by Krishnadev Calamur

“Scientist Who Invented CorningWare Glass Dies At 99”
by Doreen McCallister

Music

Tiny Desk Concert by Pat Benatar and Neil Giraldo

“Gruff Rhys Journeys into The ‘American Interior’”
by David Greene

Album “Classics” by She & Him

Album “Give My Love To London” by Marianne Faithfull

Album “The Heart of a Dark Star” by Mr. Gnome

“A Musician Writes A Soundtrack for His Grandparents’ Love Story”
by Leah Scarpelli

Album “Cadillactica” by Big K.R.I.T.

Song “Every Age” by José Gonzalez

Non-Profits

American Writers Museum

Grant for Good by Firebelly Design

The Coaching Fellowship by Jane Finette

Stories

“I’m Pretty Thankful This Year. Here’s Why.”
by Kevin Drum

“Dog Follows Athletes Through Mud and Water, and Melts Hearts”
by Bill Chappell

“Allegations of Rape Culture at University of Virginia”
by Sandy Hausman

“Upfront Costs of Going Digital Overwhelm Some Doctors”
by Annie Feidt

“What My Kickstarter Controversy Taught Me about Asking for Help”
by Amanda Palmer

“Gina Prince-Bythewood: Time to ‘Obliterate The Term Black Film’”
by David Greene

“Rosetta comet landing: everything you need to know”
by The Guardian

“Tired of Being There, Is Why Teens Broke Out of Tenn. Facility”
by Bobby Allyn

“Tech Star Wants to Make Diversity Plug-And-Play for Silicon Valley”
by Morning Edition

“An Introvert’s Guide to Better Presentations”
by Matt Haughey

“I’m 41, Single and Pregnant. Welcome to the New Normal.”
by Rachel Sklar

“Green With Envy Or Tickled Pink, We Live In A Color-Coded World”
by Elizabeth Blair

“If Literature’s Great Characters Could Text, They’d Charm Your Pantalets Off”
by Neda Ulaby

“Meet the team that moved their game to let Lauren Hill play”
by Steve Hartman

“​A treasure hunt for undiscovered American artists”
by Anna Werner

“Why Book Design Matters for Self Published Authors”
by Leanne Tremblay

“Silicon Valley to White House, New U.S. Tech Chief Makes Change”
by Elise Hu

“400 Years After Death, El Greco Receives Celebration He Sought”
by Joanna Kakissis and Lauren Frayer

“Latin Music Celebrates Lives for Day of The Dead”
by Alt.Latino

• • •

See my series of tweeted food for thought.


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November 21, 2014

Typefaces designed to enable communication: Nicole Dotin of Process Type Foundry


Elena—the typeface (above)—captured my attention. It was designed by Nicole Dotin, co-founder and partner of Process Type Foundry in Golden Valley, Minnesota. With her husband, Eric Olson, their studio originated on this intent: to make typefaces they desire to use, hoping others would too. Here, Nicole gives her opinions on making typefaces.

On being a typeface designer:

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

It was a case of finding myself more and more interested in design, then typography, then finally typeface design. Sometimes you find your interests through the culmination of small moments rather than a single blast. However, attending the University of Reading’s MA Typeface Design program was an important step for me. It gave me the time to focus on learning to design a typeface, and without that, I would have either never started, or it would have taken a very long time to arrive at the same place.

What were essential activities/steps you took to start and establish yourself as a typeface designer? And why were these activities/steps important?

I can’t say I feel established, and even if I did, I’m not sure I would admit it. Once you feel established, where is there left to go?


Getting semantic here: Do you mind being called a font designer, typographer, or a letterer?

There is a tendency in the design world to use terms related to type design, typography, and lettering, interchangeably. For example, type designers are often called typographers when those are two distinct practices (a type designer makes type, a typographer uses type). However, if professionals are going to communicate with one another, a common language is paramount. It’s not fussy or pretentious to use the correct terms; it’s being a good communicator who acknowledges the differences between related but distinct practices.


What is typeface design’s purpose 
or obligation in our society, the world?

To enable communication and reflect culture.


Who, even what, are your typeface design-related influences?

I appreciate designers—like Gerard Unger, Zuzana Licko, or William Addison Dwiggins—who create well-designed typefaces with a modern outlook. My perception of modern is that they address their era’s cultural and technological environment rather than looking wholly to the past. But further—and I’d add designers like Roger Excoffon or Imre Reiner—they march to the beat of their own drummer.

How important is it for you to follow your instincts?

I don’t separate out the idea of ‘instincts’ as special knowledge separate from my normal body of knowledge. So, they are no more or less important than other ways I make decisions.






How do you arrive at the idea of a typeface you want to realize?

Typefaces can start from just a spark or even a whim and develop from there. I started my typeface Pique (above) by trying to redraw an ‘a’ from a piece of lettering I found. Although Pique looks nothing like that ‘a’, it was the spark.

What is your process of designing a typeface, 
from notion to availability?

I tend to take my time designing a typeface—because I want to give it everything possible—so the journey is usually a long one. And, at the end, it’s hard to remember all the steps I took to arrive at the final product. It all becomes an indistinguishable blur where only the highlights remain.


Similar to a lot of other elements of visual culture, it feels 
like a typeface is birthed every moment. What is your take on the proliferation of fonts?
I have mixed feelings. I’m happy there is so much public interest in typography and type design. Some widespread recognition of our craft is heartening. However, it often feels like a very shallow interest. On a lot of levels, this is fine for the reader or casual user of type; they get to choose their interest level. I don’t think it’s as acceptable for designers dipping their toes in type design or journalists writing about the field. There’s a lot of sloppy work out there that does a disservice to users, readers, and consumers of type. On the positive side, there are a lot of great, well-crafted typefaces to use these days.


What typefaces do you judge as beautiful, even timeless?

This is a strange idea, to single out only beauty to judge a typeface. Typefaces are tools, and a beautiful axe that can’t cut down a tree is worthless.




I’m an admirer of your typeface Elena. Must ask: 
How did you arrive at the name?

Most typefaces have a work-in-progress name. Elena, for example, was called Cardigan after the street (above) I lived on at the time. At one point, my partner Eric experimented with a serif typeface he gave the working name Elena (my middle name). When I designed my own serif typeface, I reclaimed my name and called it Elena.

Whether in a bookstore, physically or online, 
do you judge a book by its cover design?

Somewhat. It gives me some sense of what the publisher and author want me to know about the book before I read it, in design language. But other than that, no.




On your Website, there’s mention of a “rural studio experiment.” Can you elaborate what this is, how and why it was done?

There was a period of time when Eric and I where in-between houses, because we sold ours in preparation for moving to England so I could attend school. The opportunity presented itself to live and work about two hours outside the Twin Cities. Since we can choose to live wherever we want, we’re always curious about what might suit us best. So, we moved to a cabin on a quiet lake (above) where the loons were our closest neighbors. This was just when social media was starting up and we didn’t yet have a constant tether to the outside world. It was springtime, then summer, and it was as idyllic as you could imagine. The experiment ended, however, when we moved to England in the fall.


How would you describe your business’ work culture? 
And why is it important?

The core of our studio is two people, so it’s pretty laid back. However, we take our work fairly seriously and that permeates everything we do. What we decide to work on, we give 100% percent, and if we can’t do that, we simply don’t do it.


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

Since my business partner and I are married, we have a detached studio that sits about ten feet from our house. I don’t know that it has a big effect on our work, but it has a huge effect on our life. Our commute is about 30 seconds, and the time we save not driving to work helps us keep our lives balanced.


How do you get the word out about what you 
and Process Type Foundry do?

We use the normal channels and also rely quite heavily on word-of-mouth. More importantly, we try to make typefaces that are worthy of people’s attention.


How do you attract custom work and clients?

We work on custom projects when it seems like a good fit for our talents and the client’s goals. But, at this point, we let the clients seek us out.

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

We worry less about growth, and more about sustainability. We don’t have a natural interest in business and what would come of business growth, but we love what having a business has enabled us to do and be. So, we keep the business healthy but have little interest in the idea of business growth.

On creativity, design, working:

How do you handle disagreements while you’re working?

Very directly. My partner is not only my partner in business, but in life as well. This allows us to cut to the chase on issues pretty quickly. And when all else fails, we usually try to lighten the mood with a joke, usually at the other’s expense.

What part of your work is particularly trying, 
and how do you deal with it?

Dealing with professional designers who use our typefaces but decide not to pay for them. We want to get paid for our work like any other designer.

What tools do you use and recommend to work on ideas 
and make them grow, to collaborate and get things done?

Tools are very personal, but my toolset is pretty basic … a little email, some pen and paper, a shared calendar. Most organization and collaboration software is too complex for our studio’s needs. Plus, most issues can be easily handled by a quick face-to-face conversation.


How do you stay creative? 
What are some of your sources of motivation/inspiration?

When my mind is bored, I tackle a new challenge usually instinctively. That’s the great thing about running a business, everyday brings a new challenge.

What is your definition of bad design?

A thing that has no purpose, no reason for being. A thing that fails to meet the needs of its reader or user. A thing that adds nothing to the conversation.


If you were asked, “Nicole, I want to make a type foundry?” What’s your response?

I might try to talk you out of it.

Any other aspects of your work that would be interesting to creative practitioners and aspiring product/business makers?

Probably.

How does the city of Golden Valley, Minnesota, 
contribute to your work? And what makes it special for startups/business/creativity-at-large?

The Twin Cities has a well-established creative culture, including a thriving design scene. We’ve gotten a lot of support from local designers and agencies that have purchased our typefaces and from institutions, like the Walker Art Center or the now-defunct Design Institute, that helped promote our work in some way. Plus, there are actually other typeface designers living here, a rarity. It’s a great city to be a typeface designer.

• • •

All images courtesy of Nicole Dotin.

• • •

Related: Looking at Letters and Designing Them: Laura Meseguer, Type Designer—my Interview.

• • •

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


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.

November 18, 2014

Pride, Work, and Necessity of Side Projects: Sophia Richter’s Hello New York



What are you working on—on the side?

Hello New York is an explorer’s guide to a New York less traveled.

New York fascinates me for many reasons, but largely because it is all at once so many things to so many people. The Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, Staten Island, and Manhattan are each home to an infinite number of unique worlds of peoples, cultures, and treasures that not only coexist, but thrive because of each other.

Hello New York is a project to celebrate some of this diversity of people and place that is so core to what New York is today. I hope to bring to life some of the wonderful places that are less talked about, make a 4–6 hour visit there more accessible, and maybe even encourage a bit of out-of-the-comfort-zone exploring.

With guides from Jackson Heights to Gowanus to Snug Harbor, you can expect a day of guided wandering from notable food carts, to beautiful street art, to speakeasy drinks and back. Plus, of course, a healthy dose of NYC-neighborhood history!

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

One of the beautiful things about New York is its seemingly endless sense of opportunity. Even if I had the time to wander every crevice of the city across its 5 enormously diverse boroughs, my starting place would have entirely re-invented itself by the time I got back to it. New York is a city for the restless, the perpetual traveler, the constantly curious.

I’m one of these people—always traveling, always reading the first 2 minutes of a hundred different articles, always moving around somewhere, and likely photographing something in the sky from the middle of a sidewalk (don’t tell Mom). For this reason, my side projects and especially Hello New York, are what I would do on weekends anyway. But now, I have an excuse to document and share my wandering so that, if I’m lucky, a few more people will be able to enjoy more of this wonderful city. As for the writing and editing and all the rest of it, I’m a bit of a night owl and coffee addict, so consequently, also not much of a sleeper.

Why have side projects?

Side projects give us the space to identify and experiment with our passions, both creative and professional. Risk-free, expectation-less, and without deadlines, they allow and encourage us to try new things and fail without the burden of consequence. If I’ve worked on something for a month and still think it’s a good idea, I’ll go for it. If not, I abandon it and take the learnings onto my next project. While I was a management consultant working for large companies, I started Hello New York to explore my passion for cities. Now, almost a year later, I’m a consultant for New York City.

• • •

Diptych courtesy of Sophia Richter.

• • •

Read more about the joy of side projects.


This debut series is provided in affiliation with 50,000feet.


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November 5, 2014

Crossover of possibility: Neal Sales-Griffin at 34th CreativeMornings in Chicago


One person. Many roles. Neal Sales-Griffin shared his diverse, intersecting fields of interest in his talk at the 34th gathering of the Chicago-CreativeMornings community, whose October theme was “Crossover.” Griffin’s personal experience spans a number of areas: video games, music, investment banking, venture capital, and consulting. In his life, Neal has crossed over into many disciplines, having their distinct language and tools.

One of his significant crossovers was diving into software design and development. Its language: Ruby. Its tools: apps and infrastructure of the Web. Like he had done before with other disciplines, Neal immersed himself. The difference this time was the grand effect of possibility he observed and witnessed. “Digital,” let alone “being digital,” is a term that is bandied about a lot. Such descriptors have an exotic air. They pan the landscape and point up, to an aerial reality of transmissions and waves. The natural metaphor of the cloud has been claimed, poetically and productively, as an ideal to engage. In his talk, Neal dispensed with digital fanfare. His take on the Web, with its languages and tools, was straightforward, without any sneezes about innovation, no big-data cheers. Instead of a buzzwordy algorithm, a timeless driver of allegory was shared, simply and directly: Happiness. He proudly repeated, “My happiness is not derived from money. It’s from helping people.”

It’s easy to tout technology’s wares. But it’s hard to steer technology toward people’s actual long-term understanding and use of it. In finding out how to code and navigate the circumstances surrounding the Web’s languages and tools, particularly its influence on people, Neal turned his learning experience into one for others. This, in turn, became his source of happiness. If there’s one clear variable—crossing over from one chapter of life to another, from one set of certainties (whatever the type) to another, it’s happiness.

The brave set of possibilities that Neal desired to help make for others evolved into The Starter League, where people who want to make Webapps to help solve a problem they care about—learn how to design, code, and ship an idea, from start to Web-based reality. Neal, with his co-founder Mike McGee, found a way by creating a structure and space for people to learn and practice the pliable medium of the Web toward something meaningful to them.

When Neal acknowledged those (below) who currently completed a course of classes at The Starter League, it was a monumental portrait of crossover. Each participant in The Starter League made a change in order to bring about change to a specific slice of living, whether it’s finding great gifts for loved ones to keeping track of what’s happening with close friends.



Joining The Starter League is a commitment to intensive learning-and-doing. Rigorously applying the pursuit of a dream to the grindstone, over a period of months. Crossing over from one quality of life to another takes continuous effort, which Neal made and keeps advancing, as The Starter League has recently expanded to being supplemented with the launch of The Starter School, which provides a program to make a Webapp as the seed for a business.

Neal’s persistent self-discovery and effort toward realizing The Starter League speaks to the longing for happiness, specifically a happiness felt when making something—that article, that book, that drawing, that film, and so on—and putting it out there, for other people to potentially reap a level of benefit from it. Seeing this capacity to feel happy beyond oneself, and contributing to other people’s experience of happiness is truly epic. As designer and “Design Matters” podcast host Debbie Millman believes, “If you want to offer something to the world, then it’s important that you help others do that too.”(1)

Out of anything that assumes the factor of “scalability” pertaining to the language and tools of the Web, Neal demonstrates something that is worth scaling: Help—it scales. Its hearth is the family, cascading into living and working, forward into areas in-between. Throughout, when a level of help is given, a degree of happiness is felt. People can have such motives and act on them.

A critical bond, for survival, is composed of help and happiness. I felt this to be the kernel of Neal’s insistence, concerning his co-founding of The Starter League and The Starter School, that “It’s more than just learning how to code. Not a code movement.” Giving help and happiness, facilitating their cause and effect, are innate objectives. To Neal, help and happiness comprise a natural investment that compounds in satisfaction.

The Web is heralded as an equal-equity medium. It is open to learn and apply to a dream. Neal knows the Web in a way that is accessible to everyone. A bridge-builder, not a gatekeeper. From my interviews with makers, Neal greatly persists in creating a fulfilling pattern of people taking their creative medium of choice and helping others to behold it, furthermore, benefit from it, whether it’s woodworking, improvisational comedy, designer-career advice, parenthood, and numerous other specialties.

Crossover essentially means a change, in dictionary-speak, a change in “category.” Neal, through his efforts of The Starter League and The Starter School, is not expanding people’s categories. He’s expanding their possibilities. Crossover within reach.


(1) From episode “How to Create Meaningful Work” (October 20, 2014), an interview by William Channer with Debbie Millman.

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Big thanks: to The Department of Design at Leo Burnett—for hosting—Braintree, and Basecamp, for sponsoring Chicago CreativeMornings #34; to organizer Kim Knoll and operations manager Kyle Eertmoed of Knoed Creative, who spoke at Chicago CreativeMornings #7, and to the Chicago CreativeMornings crew—Benjamin Derico, Talia Eisenberg, Chris Gallevo, Keith Mandley, Neftali Morales, all—for their volunteer work in making CreativeMornings happen in Chicago.

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

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My coverage: view more photos of 34th CreativeMornings in Chicago; read more Chicago CreativeMornings write-ups.

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




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November 3, 2014

Pride, Work, and Necessity of Side Projects: Bethany Betzler of the Artifact Makers Society



What are you working on—on the side?

Artifact Makers Society is a project I created to promote quality craftwork and contemporary design of local origin. We do this online through our site and in real-life through retail partnerships, gallery exhibits, and studio visits. We also connect retailers, gallery owners, collectors, and architects/designers directly to the makers we represent, in order to help them find the best of what is made locally. Our focus is on consumer goods for the home and other environments.

We’re native to Detroit, and right now, our primary concern is with promoting the works of Detroit-based designer-makers, but “local” to us means provenance, a sense of place, and an authentic connection between object and city. So as Artifact grows, it will begin to represent works from people in other cities throughout out the world. That’s our dream—to build a site where people can learn about what is being made where and why it matters. We are also in the process of developing more in-depth content about designing and creating quality objects that are ethically and sustainably made, so that people can get a sense of the big picture of why these types of makers matter. For us, it’s not just about cool craft wares or trendy design, but how designers can invent new ways of designing that lends itself to more mindful production and consumption.

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

I don’t watch TV, and limit my time browsing the internet, furthermore, unfortunately, probably don’t sleep or exercise as much as I should. I work with another company full-time, so my time to work on Artifact is limited to my week nights and weekends, or in the morning before I go into the office. I hope to begin involving others in the project as volunteers or interns so that more brains and hands can be involved in moving Artifact forward.

Why have side projects?

This side project was created not just to have a side project, but to do something I feel is important for the world, something which is not driven solely by the need to create revenue, but by a desire to see more people being more mindful of the objects they buy and how they impact the planet. I think that, in time, Artifact will become a fully fledged business, but in the meantime, it is important to me that we play and take the time to experiment with the way the project is received. Working on Artifact on the side right now means that I won’t unintentionally push the project forward in the wrong direction, just because I am trying to make a living from it.

• • •

Diptych courtesy of Bethany Betzler.


This debut series is provided in affiliation with 50,000feet.


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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.