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.

• • •

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.

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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?
– 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.

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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
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May 31, 2015

Patronage Package 17 of Duly Discovered


“Innovative Hiring to Attract New Talent”
by Abby Cheesman

“Are You Frustrated About Frustration?”
by Richard Metheny


“Celles et Ceux des Cimes et Cieux” by Gwenn Germain

“A Visceral, Inventive Blockbuster Roars to Life
in ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’”

by Chris Klimek

“The Women Pull No Punches In Fiery, Feminist ‘Mad Max’”
by Mandalit del Barco

In Memoriam

“B.B. King, Legendary Blues Guitarist, Dies at 89”
by Tom Cole


“For Jack DeJohnette, A Chicago Homecoming
Brought A Reunion With Old Friends”

by Howard Mandel

“At 70, Keith Jarrett Is Learning How to Bottle Inspiration”
by Rachel Martin


“Self-published photo books go from last resorts to museum treasures”
by Alina Simone

“It’s Not Rude: These Portraits of Wounded Vets
Are Meant to Be Stared At”

by Elizabeth Blair

“Photos Capture The Joy on Playgrounds around The World”
by Linda Poon

“A Landscape of Abundance Becomes A Landscape of Scarcity”
by Matt Black


“Here’s what a map of the world sounds like”
by Sam Harnett

“A delightful collection of ‘Do not disturb’ signs
from all over the world”

by Eric Molinsky

“Science isn’t just ‘boys with toys,’ and these ‘girls’ can prove it”
by The Takeaway

“How to Design An Office for Maximizing Employee Happiness”
by Lydia Dishman

“Haier Launches Urban Kitchen Solutions at Dwell on Design LA”
by Haier

“Grandpa The Gardener Helped Nurture Seedling Grandson”
by Story Corps

“The Technology of Books Has Changed,
but Bookstores are Hanging In”

by Eric Weiner

“Don’t Write Off Paper Just Yet”
by Eric Weiner

“Do Touch The Artwork at Prado’s Exhibit for The Blind”
by Lauren Frayer

“On the Apple Watch Interaction Model and the Digital Crown”
by John Gruber

“What Studying Students Teaches Us about Great Apps”
by Noah Lichtenstein

“For Two World War II Vets, Friendship Endures More Than 70 Years”
by Jim Williams

“How A Bigger Lunch Table At Work Can Boost Productivity”
by Yuki Noguchi

“Biology Professor’s Calling: Teach Deaf Students
They Can Do Anything”

by Claudio Sanchez

“Deaf Jam: Experiencing Music through A Cochlear Implant”
by Jon Hamilton

“What It Takes to Lift Families Out of Poverty”
by Michaeleen Doucleff

“What’s Driving The Motor City Forward Now?”
by Michel Martin

“Documentary Spotlights Perfectly Accessorized Iris Apfel”
by Ina Jaffe

“A Long Way from Wax Cylinders, Library of Congress
Slowly Joins The Digital Age”

by Brian Naylor

“Montana Offers A Boost to Native Language Immersion Programs”
by Amy Martin

“Whiskey Island”
by Steve Kroft and Bob Simon

“At 81, The Man Behind Big Bird Sees ‘No Reason to Quit’”
by Scott Simon

“Getting To Know The Real Story Was Key
to Broadway’s ’King And I’ Revival”

by Jeff Lunden

“Watch Elon Musk announce Tesla Energy
in the best tech keynote I’ve ever seen”

by T.C. Sottek

“Is It An ‘Uprising’ or A ‘Riot’? Depends on Who’s Watching”
by Karen Grigsby Bates


“The Light Phone” by Joe Hollier and Kaiwei Tang


“My First Time” by The Paris Review

• • •

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.

Patronage Package 16 of Duly Discovered


“Paper Pencil Life #3”
by Summer Pierre

“Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life”
by Barbara Kingsolver

“Leaving Earth: Why One-Way to Mars Makes Sense” 
by Andrew Rader


Up to All of Us


“Shatter Rupture Break”
by Art Institute of Chicago


by Bill Plympton


by Andrew Rader

In Memoriam

“A tribute to Lauren Hill”
by Steve Hartman

“Late Chicago Chef Sought to Open ‘A New Page in Gastronomy’”
by The Salt

“Percy Sledge, Smooth Wailer in ‘When a Man Loves a Woman,’
Is Dead at 74”

by Joe Coscarelli

“In ‘Still Alice,’ Director Couple Tells A Story that Mirrors Their Own”
by Ina Jaffe


“Amanda Palmer on How to Fight, Meditate, and Make Good Art”
by Tim Ferriss




“​Tips on photographing Northern Lights”
by David Morgan


“31 of the Best Podcasts For Creating the Well-Rounded Entrepreneur”
by Carolyn Crummey


“Starving for Wisdom”
by Nick Kristof

“Chicago Area Nepalis Set Up Fund to Help Quake Victims
in Homeland”

by CBS News Chicago

“After 25 Years, The Hubble Space Telescope Still Wows Humanity”
by Geoff Brumfiel

“After Fan Pressure, Netflix Makes ‘Daredevil’ Accessible to The Blind”
by Arun Rath

“Cherry blossom season brings beauty and business to Japan”
by Seth Doane

“As Joan Jett Is Inducted, Women Still Scarce at Rock Hall
 by David C. Barnett

“Revisiting The Night Abraham Lincoln Was Shot 150 Years Ago”
by Renee Montagne

“Adventures in Vietnam—Street Food, Love and Taking Chances”
by Rachel Martin

“Statue Display Honors Youth Felled by Gun Violence”
by CBS News Chicago

“Video of Officer Shooting Man in The Back
Astonishes South Carolina Residents”

by Sarah McCammon

“Doctors Test Tumor Paint in People”
by Joe Palca

“Home: Recipes to Share with Family and Friends”
by Bryan Voltaggio

“When Did Humans Start Shaping Earth’s Fate? An Epoch Debate”
by Nell Greenfieldboyce

“To Alleviate Confusion, Los Angeles Officials
Give Color-Coded Parking Signs A Try”

by Sam Sanders

“Large Hadron Collider Goes Back Online after 2-Year Hiatus”
by Scott Neuman

by Morley Safer

“Here’s A First: A Self-Driving Car with No Pity for Fools”
by Topanga Abbott-Chen

“Artist Goes Outside The Lines with Coloring Books for Grown-Ups”
by Audie Cornish


UX Companion

• • •

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.

May 26, 2015

Poetic Movement in a Robotic World: Specimen Products’ Ian Schneller at 41st CreativeMornings in Chicago

CreativeMornings’ global theme for May 2015 was “Robot.” However, the focus of Chicago chapter speaker Ian Schneller, a sculptor and luthier, was on the polar opposite: the value of the human touch.

Robots can tirelessly execute rote commands and movements with superb precision. Humans can’t match this artificial might—the human touch is not 100% accurate in its precision, but rather, its nature is variable. Where a robot excels in repetition, the human touch is nuanced. Where robots excel in singular rote memory with tasks over time, the human touch is charged with unique moments over time. Robotic touch relies on energy powered by an on-and-off switch or an artificial clock, but human touch relies on natural cycles of energy. Nuance. Moments. Natural cycles. These types of movement speak to poetry and not fully replicated by a machine.

Schneller spoke like a poet in the talk, and even looked like a bard in his long coat. When describing making of custom stringed instruments, horn speakers, and amplifiers, he presented them in a poetic manner, with remarkable lyricism, evident in phrases, such as “tactile interface,” “whimsical shades,” “exotic geometry,” and “spatial soundstage.”

The most poetic quality that Schneller emphasized was emotion: “There are aspects of me that are robotic, but I do feel love.” Emotion invokes layers of meanings. It makes the human touch deepen in impact.

Being a consummate craftsperson, Schneller derided the proliferation of ephemera in the modern world. To him, mass production leads to pollution. He takes pride in having produced rare items (600 thereabouts) in his studio over his career—in contrast to the rapid machine-assemblage of things (millions of units) produced by factories in the same time period. His deliberately limited output testifies to both a one-of-a-kind approach and a lasting shelf-life.

The robot excels at making many-of-a-kind, but to Schneller, to the fidelity of sterility. To him, the robot is a numb entity: “Robots do not dream,” “Robots can’t feel anything.” These provocative claims amplify Schneller’s bias for the handmade, which result from a heartbeat, the unique (and ultimate) human factor.

It’s easy to share in Schneller’s mute reception to robots. But it also ignores (for humans excel at being dismissive) and highly underestimates the profoundly unknown changes brought on by evolution. With each of his claims that robots don’t do this and can’t do that, I reacted with: It’s only the current state. Who knows what the next millennium will technologically yield? Or the one after that? Or the one after that? Or the one after…

Who knows what technology will mark future generations? One pattern will persist: Technology evolves, relentlessly.

• • •

Big thanks: to Braintree (Host), Artisan TalentRazorfish, WeWorkGreen Sheep Water, for being Partners of Chicago CreativeMornings #41; 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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Blogger’s Quest(ionnaire): Eleanor Lutz’s Infographics at Tabletop Whale

In addition to her degree in molecular biology, Eleanor Lutz’s infographics, spanning a range of scientific topics, grabbed my attention. Here, she elaborates on the making of her blog Tabletop Whale. She can be found on Twitter: @eleanor_lutz

Why did you create a web site of regular entries?
When I first started Tabletop Whale, I wanted it to be a small online blog that was mostly for friends and family. I was planning on taking a year off after college to explore designing, and I really made the blog to record the things I worked on as I went.

In college, I helped out with an experiment that involved tracking video movements of insects swimming. I thought it would be fun to try the same technique in art, this time with flying animals like birds and moths.

What web-based solution did you select and why?
I really like Jekyll, which is a parsing engine bundled into a Ruby gem. I use Jekyll because it gives me complete control over the design of my website. I coded my website from scratch, so it’s tailored exactly to the kind of image-heavy posts I produce. I also know that no one else has anything exactly like my site, which is an added bonus.

What is your definition of a good blog
and what are three good blogs that you frequently visit?
I don’t read too many written blogs, but I do occasionally check in on the work of artists I like, and I also read some webcomics. I think the best blogs are the ones that are written by someone who really cares about what they have to say. It doesn’t matter if it’s about cars, or woodworking, or food—you can really tell when someone knows a lot about something, and that makes it fun to read for me.

I love old scientific collections, like butterfly plates and plant pressings, 
and I wanted to make a modern version for the web.

How do you create content for your blog?
I mostly publish large infographics. I make the infographics themselves in Photoshop or Illustrator, and then I’ll write a paragraph or two about my process, or about why I decided to make that particular infographic. Lately I’ve been keeping sketches and progress photos from all of my work as well, because I think it can be really fun to see what kind of ideas someone went through when making an illustration.

How do you stay organized
and motivated to contribute to your blog?
Since it’s my job to make science illustrations, blogging about the final product is more of a fun treat than something I have to force myself to do. So I’d say that organization is probably more of an issue for me than motivation. Making art for other people means that I have to wait to publish blog posts until everything is ready for production on their end. Right now, I actually have three posts lined up and ready to go, but I won’t be able to publish them for at least another month or so. It can be a little frustrating to leave my blog empty for weeks on end, but it’s totally worth it when I can finally share my work with everyone.

I’ve always liked galaxy-themed shoes, leggings, etc.—so I decided to make my own version with scientifically accurate star positions. It took a really long time to get every single star in the right place, but I’m happy with how it turned out in the end. 

For those aspiring to make a web site composed of 
regular thoughts and/or images, what is your advice?
You should just start writing! There’s so many free blogging platforms now that there’s really no excuse for putting it off. Even if the blog fails terribly, you can always take what you learned and move on to a new blog.

What is your quest in blogging?
I want to share my drawings with anyone else on the internet who might like animated infographics about science ツ

• • •

Photograph and infographics courtesy of Eleanor Lutz.

• • •

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

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