November 9, 2013

The Three Creative Women of Curious & Co. Creative, Philadelphia and San Francisco

From left: Curious & Co. Creative’s Terry Packard Baker, Brooke Forry, Maggie Mae Moore. Photograph by Alison Conklin

I discovered Curious & Co. Creative via Twitter and enjoy their work, from Branding to Web Design to Print Design. From their firm’s description, they give a shout-out to the philosopher Aristotle: “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” Here, designers and founders Terry Packard Baker, Brooke Forry, Maggie Mae Moore, give their takes on designing, making a business, and being creative—all done together in their distinct greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts way.

On being graphic designers,
business founders and owners

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

Brooke: I always loved creating things and took art classes throughout high school—I was an art nerd. I knew I wanted to be an art major in college, but didn’t see myself as focusing on painting or ceramics. I loved fine art but didn’t think it was my calling. When I was a senior in high school, I was a yearbook editor, and I really loved doing the layout work, so deciding to major in graphic design in college was just a natural choice for me. I found a great, highly competitive design program that really equipped me with the skills, principles and backbone to be successful in this industry.

Maggie: In hindsight, design seems such an obvious career path for me. However, there were no graphic design classes in my high school and I didn’t know anyone in that field. I graduated with a marketing degree and had been working as a consultant for a few years before the words ‘graphic designer’ finally hit me and made sense. And then there was no looking back.

Terry: Fresh out of college with a degree in Music, I was working at a small orchestra in Philadelphia. One of the many random tasks that fell to me was typesetting the monthly program books. My initial thought was ‘Hey, I really dig this,’ followed swiftly by ‘I have no clue what I’m doing.’ So I decided to get a clue and went back for a BFA in Graphic Design.

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

Terry: While I think we can agree that to a certain extent creativity can’t be taught, all three of us did take the steps to get some formal training. I know that the foundations in design principles and typography, that I gained in art school, gave me a confidence that I’m not sure I would have found elsewhere.

Maggie: I agree with Terry. It was important to me to learn theory and history. After formal learning, I spent some time doing mundane production work (paying my dues, as some say), freelancing, and creating my own projects. Doing is important if you have any hopes of improving.

Origin-story time: How did you discover each other?

Brooke: We all worked together at a design studio in the Philadelphia suburbs. Maggie started there in 2006, I started in 2007, and Terry in 2008.

Maggie: Is it kind of a bummer that our origin story doesn’t involve radioactive spiders?

Brooke: You’re so weird.

What sparked the idea for each of you to work as partners 
and form your business of Curious & Co. Creative?

Brooke: At the former job where we met, the three of us collaborated on a few projects, and we found that it resulted in the work we were most proud of. We all had different strengths and viewpoints, and it just…clicked. As we individually chose to move on from that job, we came up with the crazy idea of starting a business together. Thus, Curious & Co. Creative was born.

What was the first thing you did when you embarked 
on getting Curious & Co. Creative real? 

Brooke: We got extremely terrified and excited, all at once.

Terry: I immediately began work on our company logo. Because let’s get real, you ain’t legit until you have a logo.

What were essential activities/steps you took to start 
and establish Curious & Co. Creative? 
And why were these activities/steps important?

Brooke: Maggie did a really great job of spearheading the whole process—she asked the tough questions that made us really think about what kind of work we wanted to do, what type of clients we wanted to work for, and what our overall voice as a company was. That was a really integral part of getting started and staying focused.

Maggie: We approached the branding process in tandem with taking the legal and financial steps to become a licensed business. Mood boards were created to not only establish our visual branding, but to help us all come to agreement on the kind of company we wanted to be. From the beginning, we tried to establish processes: price lists, project run-downs, etc. We rewrote most of them several times and a few of them were thrown out entirely, but as we gained confidence, we found that we could really trust ourselves and each other to make good decisions. As far as establishing ourselves, that really came from getting a few clients and doing good work for them.

Who and/or what keep(s) you going in sustaining 
Curious & Co. Creative?

Brooke: Hearing from clients about what a huge impact our work has made on their business is what keeps me motivated each day. Design is such an important part of business that so many neglect to invest in it; when someone makes the investment and sees what a difference it makes, it’s extremely rewarding and validating that we are making a difference.

Waffatopia, a husband/wife team, made the investment in design and their polished look prompts customers to ask if they are a franchise of a larger company. This makes our clients (and us!) very proud. Photograph by Curious & Co. Creative.

Maggie works in San Francisco; Terry and Brooke work 
in Philadelphia. What are must-don’ts to making 
working remotely work?

Maggie: Skype definitely gets a good workout everyday. When I first moved to California, the time difference made working together a little awkward, but we’ve gotten into a much better groove since then. We make sure to let the other two know our plans, workloads, and schedules so if we need to have a voice or video chat, we can plan that into our day.

Terry: Distance makes the heart grow fonder, right?

Who are your design-related influences?

Terry: Stefan Sagmeister always comes to mind as a guy who’s constantly pushing the envelope. Jessica Hische, Dana Tanamachi and Anna Bond of Rifle are three women I really admire who have found their perfect niches.

Brooke: I agree with Terry on all accounts. I also admire how Joy Cho, of Oh Joy!, has built a thriving business with a variety of design-related projects. I was also very, very fortunate to meet and visit the studio of Alan Fletcher when I studied abroad in London in college, and his thoughtful, clean, and distinct aesthetic has always inspired me.

Maggie: Of course, I agree with all of those mentioned—they are all awesome. I’m also going to add Charles Rennie Mackintosh to the list. I’ve always been drawn to his work and I love the combination of architecture and design.

How important is it for you to follow your instincts?

Brooke: Extremely important. There have been times when we didn’t listen to our gut instinct about a project or client, and it came back to bite us later. We have learned a lot in the last three years, and I think we’ve all gotten better at following our instincts.

Maggie: So. Important. In the beginning, I think we ignored our instincts due to lack of confidence in our abilities as businesswomen. Now that we have a couple successful years behind us, it’s easier to trust that gut feeling.

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

Maggie: Recently, I set up a standing desk in my small home office and I’ve been very happy with it. I keep a modest amount of inspiration and personal mementos on my walls, but I keep an abundance of paper scraps and notebooks on my desk (I’m a scribbler and note-jotter). And right now, it’s also crowded with packaging samples. Sometimes, I work from NextSpace, a coworking office space in San José.

Brooke: We all work from our individual homes. My space is quaint but inspiring, and usually pretty messy, no matter how hard I try to keep things organized. There is always music playing, depending on my mood. Music is an important part of my creative process.

How would you describe the work culture of 
Curious & Co. Creative? And why is it important? 

Terry: Given that we work all work from our respective homes, it’s pretty casual by nature. But we are constantly connecting and throwing ideas back and forth, which is essential to our creative process. Our best work comes from our collaboration.

Brooke: There are times when one of us may hit a wall creatively or have trouble getting inspired. When that happens, there are always two other partners there to remind you to take a break and get some fresh air, tell you that you don’t suck at design, and ultimately help you find that passion for what we do again. It’s a nice little supportive sisterhood. I also say, ‘Go team!’ a lot, which Terry and Maggie may or may not find incredibly annoying.

Maggie: It’s not that annoying.

Brooke: Okay, they find it a little annoying.

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

Maggie: Growth, for us, is about constantly improving and expanding our body of work, but financial growth is important, too, of course. We do plan to expand our numbers over the next few years, with the right people.

Terry: The types of work we’re adding to our portfolio are a measure of success, in my opinion. The ability to choose the kinds of projects and clients we partner with tells me we’re heading in the right direction.

How do you get the word out about what you do?

Brooke: Social media has been very good to us—many clients have found us via Facebook or Twitter. Word of mouth has also been an important part of growing our business, and we are extremely grateful for the referrals our clients have passed along.

Maggie: Yes! Word of mouth is my favorite because it means that our clients are not only happy with our work, they are happy enough to put their own reputation behind a referral. Thank you, Awesome Clients!

How do you attract work and clients? 

Maggie: Our past work and happy clients are our best advertisements. We also keep an eye out for people and organizations that seem like a good fit and approach those folks about working together. These days, Twitter is one of the best ways to make those connections.

On creativity, design, working

Design writer Alissa Walker wrote an article called
“Women in Industrial Design: Where My Ladies At?”
Where are the Ladies in Design/Development/Strategy at?

Brooke: We have a really nice network of other female creatives who are great collaboration partners. It is easier now than it was three years ago to find female web developers to work with, which is a telling sign of how the industry is evolving. It’s encouraging and inspiring.

Maggie: Those ladies are absolutely out there. Now that I think about it, much of my day is spent reading articles by, conversing with, and working with talented women. There are a lot of great points in that article, and women do need to step up more and make themselves heard, but from where I stand, I’m seeing a lot of smart women hard at work. The number of women in these fields has grown so much in the last three years, I’m sure it will just continue to rise.

How do you handle disagreements while you’re working?

Brooke: We have a strict two-against-one policy. Having three owners works in our favor when we need a tie-breaker, and it’s how we solve pretty much every disagreement.

Maggie: Our original policy was to solve disagreements with arm wrestling, but with 3000 miles between us, it’s proven impractical.

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

Maggie: Any job has its good days and its bad days, right? Sometimes you hit a block. Maybe it’s with a logo design or with a site structure or just getting motivated to take care of invoices or return emails. I used to try to force my way through it, but it’s so much more effective to tackle certain issues when you’re in the best frame of mind to tackle them. And having people you can lean on is so awesome. Sometimes we simply swap frustrating tasks. That might seem silly but it’s freeing and helpful. Never underestimate the value of a fresh perspective!

Brooke: We’re artists, so sometimes the proposal-writing, invoice-creating and budget-balancing can get to us. We usually go through cycles when one of us is feeling burnt out with the businessy stuff, so we try to help each other out so everyone gets a little time to creatively reboot. Weekends are also helpful. And ice cream. Maybe some wine.

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

Brooke: Basecamp is an invaluable tool in keeping our projects organized and collaborative. We also use Dropbox so even if we’re not working in the same room, we can easily access each other’s files. And of course, the aforementioned Skype, where we chat constantly throughout each day.

Maggie: We also use Pinterest to help gather inspiration and create mood boards. Most importantly, like Brooke said, we use Skype all the time to talk through projects, run ideas by one another, and just generally stay connected. We’ve tried other collaboration tools internally and with clients, but this short list has proven most effective over time.

The logo design and packaging for this Philadelphia-based client was a collaborative effort carried out on both coasts. Photograph by Trevor Dixon

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

Terry: Inspiration is everywhere. Our families and friends, stepping outside, heading downtown, seeing a film, hearing some music. You never know where you’ll find a spark of an idea. On a lazy day, I just head to Pinterest. A designer’s new best friend, in my opinion.

Maggie: Playing with my puppies and going for bike rides really helps to clear my head. I find that good ideas come when you’re just enjoying yourself and not actively trying to solve a problem.

What is your definition of bad design?

Maggie: Design is about solving problems and communicating messages. Ineffective (bad) design forgets those important aspects.

Brooke: Bad design is created by someone who knows how to use Photoshop or Illustrator but doesn’t have the typography, artistry or layout education to create something meaningful and impactful.

If you were asked, “I want to start a business (not necessarily 
a design firm), but I don’t know where to begin. How do I start?” What’s your response?

Maggie: Are you sure? Why do you want to do this? If you’re looking for a laid back alternative to working for someone else, this isn’t it. But, if the commitment, passion, and expertise are there, then I say go for it. Do some research, but don’t get bogged down in it. Think big, but start small. For the nitty gritty details, there are all sorts of resources online, including theSBA and SCORE, where you can find classes on tons of subjects, like writing a business plan, learning how to read financial statements, pricing your services, marketing, and so on.

How do your respective cities of Philadelphia and San Francisco 
contribute to your work? And what makes each special for startups/business/creativity-at-large?

Maggie: While these cities are quite different, they are both filled with great creative communities. The Bay Area is very open to new ideas, no matter how wild, and finding women in leadership positions isn’t a surprise. The east coast approach to work is very much, ‘roll your sleeves up, dig in, and let’s do this.’ Personally, I like both styles.

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All images courtesy of Curious & Co. Creative.

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Typeface of quotations is Futura, designed by Paul Renner in 1927.

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