September 2, 2015

Anticipation for Cusp Conference 2015


If there is a sensation—an urgency—that humans crave, it’s creativity. It’s a heart-thumping, mind-bending variable. Creativity is, to borrow a phrase from neurologist and author Oliver Sacks, a person’s “real inmost story.” The state and nature of this story are aspects I enjoy noticing and learning through my series of interviews, as part of my Web-based project Design Feast. I especially enjoy the story of creativity unfold at the annual Cusp Conference.

For the third consecutive year, I have been invited to experience and write about the 8th incarnation of what is simply recognized as “Cusp.” In 2013, a duo of graphic novelists, a sword swallower, an astrophysicist, an architect of habitats in space (outer space), a medical doctor (turned medical designer) and more, presented on this conference’s stage. Last year, a biological anthropologist, a behavioral scientist, a social justice activist, a cyberbullying preventionist, a sex toys innovator and more, shared their distinct focus. This year, Cusp’s cast of speakers persists the sheer diversity of human application, like 12-years-old Lily Born who invented the Kangaroo Cup for people with Parkinson’s disease, Riana Lynn who created supply chain management platform FoodTrace, Samantha White who founded Shakespeare in Detroit, and other risk-takers.

There are many ways to cultivate creativity, particularly in the workplace. The Cusp Conference is a yearly offering of perspectives and projects—deliberately different to help stimulate scenarios of possibility. It motivates the pursuit of making intellectual connections, creative connections, unexpected connections that can influence one’s imagination over time and give shape to, borrowing another apt phrase from Dr. Sacks, “a continuous inner narrative.”

• • •

See my write-up and photos of the 7th Cusp Conference in 2014.
Plus: my write-up and photos of the 6th Cusp Conference in 2013.

• • •

Read more of my coverage of events related to design
and passionate pursuits.


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August 23, 2015

Baking collaboration: Sandra and Mathieu Holl at the 43rd gathering of the Chicago chapter of CreativeMornings


Source: @beekfir

Sandra and Mathieu Holl spoke at the 43rd gathering of the Chicago chapter of CreativeMornings. The couple founded Floriole, a pastry business, whose menu later incorporated breads, sandwiches and salads. Sandra is the chef, while Mathieu is the agile generalist. Based on their collaboration as a creative couple, they offered the audience their takes on “Collaboration,” the global theme of CreativeMornings for July 2015. Two of their statements compelled me to parse them further.

“When you do something repetitively, you really start to notice the nuances, and sometimes that makes all the difference.”

Repetition gets a bad rap when it comes to work. But to dismiss it is to overlook a crucial part of the creative process. Repetition is a synonym to the mythic stature of “mastery.” Prick mastery, it bleeds repetition. Cycles of effort—repeated—is what makes creativity steer clear of monotony. Does “Artisanal Pencil Sharpening” feel boring to you? Betcha it does. You’ll judge that it’s repetitive. It is—leading to the inevitable conclusion of a person, a craftperson, passionately waiting to do the right thing on one thing, even if it’s just pencils. Or spoons, stemming from my interview with Nic Webb, who searches relentlessly for pieces of wood, reclaims them and turns each into an impeccable utensil. Or jewelry, based on my interview with Hannah Rebernick and Cara Narkun of Zealous Bee, who keep honing in on making the ideal pieces of laser-cut accessory composed of wood and acrylic. No matter how small the activity or mundane the material, repetition can yield moments of contemplation, a segue to revelation. One of the differences repetition brings, that’s particularly beneficial during the creative process, is not overthinking.

“[Collaboration] is being present and being open to see what other people are bringing to the table.”

Though poetic in instruction and tone, the prescribed twofer of being present and open, in regards to collaboration, commands a lot of attention. It’s an exhausting proposition. This is where collaborators can give practical relief on a project. They provide coverage of presence and openness, especially where one’s attention span doesn’t naturally facilitate. One can be certainly the exclusive channel of being mindful to the beat of being present and open. Yet collaboration is a viable way to do more, to be more—open and present. The author Aldous Huxley recommended to “dream in a pragmatic way.” Collaboration is a stimulant that converts dreams into practice.

Writer Caithe Whelan claims, “I have an idea I believe in. And that’s all I need to start.” Having a collaborator (or more) could prove to be the injection of both perspective and progress a maker desperately needs.

The collaborator in you and next to you

Floriole’s online “About us” section outlines an ecosystem of collaboration: venue providers, farmers, suppliers—most of all, each other. Lending a helping hand can lead to the ultimate proof of concept—teamwork.

• • •

Big thanks: to Braintree, Cards Against Humanity (Host), WeWork, Onward Search, Green Sheep WaterGarrett Popcorn Shops, for being Partners of Chicago CreativeMornings #43; to organizer Kim Knoll and operations manager Kyle Eertmoed of Knoed Creative, who spoke at Chicago CreativeMornings #7; to the team of volunteers for greatly helping to make 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-up and photos.

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

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




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July 22, 2015

Roaming Perfectionism: Designer and Nomad Kevin Lynch’s Tour at 42nd CreativeMornings in Chicago


Source: @SheSaysChicago

Kevin Lynch, a creative director at ad agency BBDO, spent more than a year living in Airbnb residences in Hong Kong. During this time, stimulated by his observations of this city’s culture, he reflected on the concept of perfection, or per his twist: “perfectionism.” With every word modified (at times insufferable) by the suffix of “ism,” the word changes in length, both visually and conceptually. “Perfectionism” poses a duality. It appears and sounds like both a perk and a pathological condition.

From the angle of a perk, perfectionism embodies an experience integral to learning and succeeding: failure. I admit adding to the fatigue of failure (a phenomenon that 2nd CreativeMornings/Chicago speaker Jason Fried spoke against), because failure is more easily acknowledged than it is applied as a tool to help steer the next outcome. Human civilization is a timeline of failures. Lessons are rarely learned the first time, but relearned over and over for as long as humans keep trying. It’s this persistence of trying, to live and love and work and relax better, that’s noble, even when the human achievement of trying disappears into the past.

As a pathological condition, perfectionism is the build-up of stress, agitation, tension, that we, humans, excel at producing, contaminating the day-to-day circulation of our lives. Perfectionism is a healthy motivator, but it can turn into a maniacal code to live and work by. If left unchecked, the build-up festers, and the results—devastating: divorce, addiction, harm, damage. Perfectionism is the recurring pimple of anxiety.

Caring about everything, but some things—not all

Lynch’s prescription to cope with perfectionism was to “stop caring about everything you want.” It’s informed by his self-initiated “Yearbnb” project, where he visited more than 100 places via Airbnb in Hong Kong. What began as an experiment became an obsession. Intensive travel like this does change a person, because one’s grasp of familiarity is provoked, wherever one is, no matter the distance.

A place is charged with layers of history. The present layer consists of someone else’s familiarity, an elusive sensation. Because a person’s familiarity with a place is different in quality compared to a person new to a place, even different compared to someone native to a place. Each adapts differently to their surroundings: the natural, the artificial. Adaptation is reciprocal, for the surroundings adapt differently to its visitors, particularly its inhabitants.

In addition to Hong Kong, Lynch lived in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Detroit, Toronto, and Shanghai. Different places in different surroundings. Different people achieving different qualities of familiarity. A common theme is what is ideal—what is perfect. What perfection means, what it looks and feels like, varies from place to place. From person to person, the image of perfection is held differently.

In some places, whether nations or regions or cities or towns, people are perfectly free. Other places, perfectly absorbed. Still other places, people are perfectly themselves. Lynch noticed a wide range of scenes where people are perfectly content. A huge portion of which may only be a surface impression. In anchoring himself to a place like Hong Kong, the focus of his Airbnb project exceeding a year, Lynch recognized changes (for a lot happens in a year) that, by most accounts, are perfectly normal. In turn, Lynch’s sense of perfection changed.

From his travels, Lynch gleaned what can be perfected. It’s a daily reminder of a daily struggle: to determine what things matter in making a few decisive things work. The cliché of “choose wisely” reigns as the ultimate trick, wherever you are. Daresay, determin(ism) toward wisdom(ism).

• • •

Big thanks: to Gene Siskel Film Center (Host), Razorfish, Braintree, Artisan Talent, WeWork, Green Sheep Water, Garrett Popcorn Shops, for being Partners of Chicago CreativeMornings #42; to organizer Kim Knoll and operations manager Kyle Eertmoed of Knoed Creative, who spoke at Chicago CreativeMornings #7; to the team of volunteers for greatly helping to make 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-up and photos.

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

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




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

July 18, 2015

Patronage Package 18 of Duly Discovered



Advice

“ReWork: Rethinking Work and Well-being”
by Arianna Huffington

“Want to innovate? Become a ‘now-ist’”
by Joi Ito

Design

“State of Design”
by 50,000feet, Founding Partner of the Chicago Design Museum

“Knoll gets an eternally modern look
courtesy of Chicago ad shop 50,000feet”

by Lewis Lazare

Illustration

“Sunday Sketches”
by Christoph Niemann

Music

“Dave Grohl can’t stop playing guitar,
even after he breaks his leg on stage”

by Dante D'Orazio

“Mark Ronson: Beyond ‘Uptown Funk’”
by Anthony Mason

Podcasts

Episode 105: “Stop The Insanity” with Ryan Evans
by “Breaking Down Your Business”

Stories

“‘Safety Truck’: Back screens on trucks
may pave way for safer overtaking”

by RT

“The Economic Impact of Bad Meetings”
by Emily Pidgeon

“Should I start a blog?”
by Jenny Dolphin

Tools

“Nix Pro Color Sensor”
reviewed by Dave Cuzner, Grain Edit

• • •

See my series of tweeted food for thought.


Please consider supporting Design Feast
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.

July 4, 2015

Pride, Work, and Necessity of Side Projects: Lamps, Go-Karts and more by Allan Branch



What are you working on—on the side?

I build lamps, build go-karts, sail, brew beer, fish, build tables (such as below) and bookshelves, and tinker on my jeep. I bounce around on projects, as I get bored.



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

I have time because I work 6:30am–3:30pm, so I get 2–4 hours a day to play with my kids and tinker on things with them. My son, who is 8 years old, has turned into a big helper (below) and seems to enjoy building things. I also have fairly open weekends, even though we have two kids, we aren’t the type of parents who let their children’s activities take over their lives. I don’t spend much time watching TV and lying around.



Why have a side project?

I have side projects because I like learning. I think side projects are a form of self-torture for me. I hate not knowing what to do, but I also don’t enjoy “mastering” one thing. I like the learning, I hate the learning portion at the same time. Most of my side projects involve some form of taking “junk” and making it usable. I enjoy finding something in a junk yard and making it worthy of using again.

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Diptych courtesy of Allan Branch, who co-founded LessAccounting.com, LessFilms.com and LessChurn.io.

• • •

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.

June 22, 2015

Realizing Big Little Businesses for Craftspeople: Arianne Foulks of Aeolidia


Photograph © Jennifer Boyle

Storyteller, idea-hatcher, yaysayer Arianne Foulks runs Aeolidia, a Web and graphic design studio that has been working with creative handmakers and designers since 2004, helping them put their best foot forward online. Here she gives her takes on finding a business and making it work.

Depicted in your “‘Big Little’ Business” tagline, I appreciate your focus on small businesses and setting them up for success for the long haul. “The Fortune 5,000,000” is a term I like a lot and use. How would you describe Aeolidia’s kind of clients? And why it’s your preferred kind of clients?
We wanted people to know they were in the right place right when they hit our homepage, so we have the text: “Helping Your Little Business Become a ‘Big Little’ Business.”


Aeolidia brand identity by Mariah DeMarco on the Aeolidia team. 
Photograph © Jen Lacey

We work exclusively with designers, handcrafters, makers, and artists.
Our dream client came up with a wild idea of a product that she wanted to make, and maybe enlisted a friend to help out, and has been spreading the word about their little business ever since! She values her own hard work, believes in what she does, is willing to invest money when it makes sense, knows when to delegate tasks, wants to increase awareness and sales without getting too big, and has a fun time doing it all! 
She shops local and small internet businesses herself, pins design inspiration on Pinterest, would fit in at the Renegade Craft Fair or Martha Stewart American Made awards, and has an appreciation for things indie, quirky, silly, upbeat. She is optimistic, open, and friendly, feeling that similar businesses are more “colleagues” than “competitors.”
We prefer this type of client because we are interested in and support what they do, and after a decade in business, we have a solid understanding of their challenges and what will help them get where they want to be.


Sketches of Aeolidia client logos by Mariah DeMarco on the Aeolidia team. 
Photograph © Mariah DeMarco

When and how did you arrive at the idea of Aeolidia? 
And how did you keep this idea? Did you write it down? 
Did you doodle it?
When I went to college, it was 1996, and the internet was finally starting to be something that regular people were using. I tried to use my name as a screen name on campus, but every variation that I could think of was taken. I was at school to study Marine Biology, so I finally tried the Latin name of my favorite nudibranch (sea slug): Aeolidia. It was available, and that’s the user name I continued to use for the rest of my online life. When I started a business, it just seemed to make sense to keep being “me” online with my business.

What were some of the first things you did in taking Aeolidia 
from an idea to a reality?
I am not a great business role model, as I mostly just let things happen and rolled with it. I started off by making Websites for friends, and then friends of friends, barely charging anything. Through one of these jobs, I made a splash in the pre-Etsy craft business crowd, and it snowballed from there. So I didn’t really have an idea that I was going to start a Website business, and I didn’t make a plan to make it happen. It all started happening, and I decided to go with it and turn it into a business.

What still feels raw, and this doesn’t mean bad nor good, 
from when you started Aeolidia until now?
I have never been a businessperson, and we’re missing a lot of that internal structure and business plan/profit goal type stuff. We just focus on doing great work for great people, and let the rest sort itself out.

In running Aeolidia, what are some bona fide “best practices” 
in working well—in working as best as possible?
– Value your clients’ success as highly as you do your own
– Value your employees’ time and skills as highly as you do your own
– Strive to make something that will work well and be a tool
 for success, rather than just being pretty
– Stay true to what is important to you, and make sure that all you do
 reflects your values and enthusiasm

What software/Web-based tools that you use and highly recommend?
Buffer
– CoSchedule
– Dropbox
– Evernote
– Feedly
– Invision
– LastPass
– Latergramme
– Mailbox
– MailChimp
– Shopify
– Slack
– Trello
– WordPress

Is Aeolidia’s “Dream Team” a distributed workforce? 
And how did find these people?
Yes! I am in Seattle, and my team is in New York, California, Philadelphia, Chicago, Australia, Spain. Mostly everyone either knocked on my virtual door and were a great fit, or they were recommended through my team by word-of-mouth. Personality, enthusiasm, and a willingness to learn are much more important than a particular skill set for me.


Wind & Rye logo and brand by Christine Castro Hughes on the Aeolidia team. 
Photograph © Laci Sandoval


Pattern Minded logo and pattern by Margot Harrington on the Aeolidia team

You made the impressive transition form a web designer 
and developer to a business owner. Do you miss 
those web-design-and-development days?
I do not. I thought I would, when I was making the transition, but I am seriously so relieved that I never have to stare down a blank white document for a client again. It is very helpful for me to have had experience in doing the work, because that means that I can have more meaningful technical conversations with my team and clients, but none of those skills are needed for my current responsibilities.

For people who are making a transition from one 
professional role/discipline to another, 
how would you advise them?
Don’t do what I did, I guess! Most every big growth move I’ve made has been made reluctantly, and it took a long time to move forward. Because I was so used to doing everything myself, it was hard to hand something completely off to someone else. Every time I added a new task, project, or idea to my plate, it had to compete with all of the other day-to-day work I was already doing. Even when I hired help, it took a long time to step out of the way, and realize clearly which things are a great use of my time versus which things someone else could be doing for me.


Posie brand identity by Mariah DeMarco on the Aeolidia team. 
Photograph © Jen Lacey

How do you handle disagreements while you’re working?
I give my team freedom to do things their own way, and disagreements are rare. When there are disagreements, I listen, because I assume a designer or developer on my team is going to have a solid reason for disagreeing. Aeolidia is their company, too, and they always have our clients’ best interests in mind. I take all criticism seriously, and use it as a chance to adjust how we do things to work better.

How do you get the word out about you and Aeolidia’s work? 
How do you attract customers?
Word-of-mouth has always been our strongest marketing method. A couple of years ago, I began a blog that covers how to put your best foot forward when selling online. That creates a strong interest from new clients, along with our newsletter, which is full of information creative businesses can use themselves to improve their online presence.


Felicette logo and business cards by Sarah Connor on the Aeolidia team. 
Photograph © Lauren Quinn Ward

Back to your business’ tagline: What was the process 
in getting this done? How many iterations 
did it take to arrive at the final version?
The “big little business” tagline sprang forth as a complete idea right away. But it was too long to be a proper tagline to go with the logo. Our logo tagline (Your Friendly Design Team) took a lot longer to come up with. We all got together as a team to think of a tagline, and spent weeks going back and forth, and considering multiple different words and phrases, and ways we wanted people to feel. We finally settled on a tagline that seemed just right (Your Friendly Design Team), and when I scrolled back to the top of our long message thread, I saw that I had suggested it as a guiding idea to get us started. This just proves that “keep it simple, stupid” will always be great advice. No need to try so hard or try to come up with something that will blow people’s minds. It should just make sense and get your point across.


Siamese Social Club brand identity by Sarah Connor on the Aeolidia team. 
Photographs © Kristen Cella

Any other aspects of your company that would be interesting 
to creative practitioners and aspiring business makers?
My creative business newsletter is timely, helpful, and includes information you may not have thought of. You’ll find tips on making improvements yourself that are simple to take action on, and can improve sales and create interest in your business. Get free help from industry experts and see more of Aeolidia's work on Instagram.

• • •

All images courtesy of Arianne Foulks.

• • •

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.

June 2, 2015

Pride, Work, and Necessity of Side Projects: Printmaking by Alex Gilbert



What are you working on—on the side?

Recently, I’ve been moonlighting as a printmaker. Over the past several years, I’ve explored various methods: serigraphy, linocut, woodcut, letterpress, lithography, and have researched a number of others. My first real love was letterpress printing, but over the past year and a half, I have come to find an equally strong attraction to screen printing. In 2014, I was lucky to be accepted for a 10-month printing apprenticeship at Spudnik Press Cooperative, where I took on a wide variety of screen printing (and a few letterpress) projects for a range of clients, including design studios, musicians, nonprofit organizations, and independent artists. This gave me the opportunity to hone my skills and be able to take on more complex projects. I’ve also identified a lot of overlap with my background as a graphic designer that has aided me in the printshop, so I’ve always thought of both practices as a logical extension of one another.

As part of the apprenticeship, I also worked on an independent project in which I created a series of screen prints inspired by my interest in Chicago’s colorful design history. This work has finally culminated into a gallery exhibition, entitled “Re:INTERPRETED”, which opens with an artist reception on June 9 at Harrington College of Design.

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

As with any passion project, I find time outside of my 9-to-5 to work on printmaking. I’m slowly working at being a better prioritizer of my “free” time. Scheduling myself specific days to print allows me to ensure I’m getting work done and making the most of my studio time. Just as with printmaking, time management involves a considerable amount of multi-tasking and problem solving. As my schedule stands, it’s definitely not ideal, but it’s a good challenge to figure out, and I’m learning a lot about myself in the process.

Why have a side project?

Forcing myself to do something tactile like printmaking is very important, since I spend such a large amount of time sitting behind a computer screen. It may sound cliché, but there truly is no substitute to getting your hands dirty and making something that exists in three dimensions. It keeps me a little more balanced, and I’d like to think a little more sane (although my sleep schedule may beg to differ). Not only that, Chicago is a fantastic place to be doing this, with such a talented, supportive community of printmakers all over the city.

I’m hoping in the not-to-distant future to be able to turn this into more than just a side project—I’m currently in the process of shaping this printmaking hobby into something more substantial, and always looking to take on new printing commissions or collaborations. There’s a lot of ideas being thrown around now, but let’s just say the future holds even bigger and better things.

• • •

Diptych courtesy of Alex Gilbert, who is also the Membership Director of the Chicago Design Museum, and furthermore, “documents typographic encounters.”

• • •

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, plus a founding partner of the Chicago Design Museum.


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.