October 17, 2018

Positively Engaging Communities and Putting People at the Center of the Design Process: Director Libby Cole of The Work Department


The pioneering urban thinker and author, Jane Jacobs, expressed, “Design is people.” This embodies the people-centered design approach practiced by The Work Department, directed and owned by Libby Cole. Here, she shares her opinions on the benefits and ultimate value of participatory design, harnessing grounded collaboration, especially the experience of doing good work with good people for good people.

How do you and your team make
your design process “people-centered”?

The Work Department started using the term “people-centered” as a way to differentiate our process from “human-centered” design. The “human-centered” design approach seems more about observing your audience and putting yourself in their shoes and then making guesses or assumptions about their needs. Our approach is very different than that. We use a participatory or co-creation process—meaning our audience participates in the actual design process. We invite the audience and stakeholders to be hands-on, quite literally, through brainstorming sessions, workshops, feedback, ideation and sketching. We know people are experts in their own lives, so we simply listen to them and the end-result is better aligned with their needs.


Project: Detroit UNESCO City of Design initiative

I remain curious about the term “design methods.” Admiring 
your collective practice of them. Though practiced a lot, 
it’s not popular to say, even claim, such as the term 
of “design thinking.” How do you select which design method 
to use per project?

We have a “toolbox,” so to speak, of methods we can use and choose them based on the project needs—that being said, the broad strokes of our process stays the same. We start with research and discovery every time, we then begin an iterative design and feedback process, and then finalize or implement the design. Audience and project goals, as well as time and budget, determine the specific methods we use. A public engagement where we gather feedback from hundreds of people may be appropriate at times, or a small gathering of neighbors workshopping language and sketching might be more helpful to the process.

Your company works on “wicked problems”: education, the 
environment, more. How do you cope with the constant 
of complexity? What’s your mindset in facing complexity? 
How do design methods play a role in engaging complexity?

Complexity is definitely a constant, our strength and differentiator is breaking down complex problems with others. We do this through allowing ourselves time and space to learn from reading research and from subject matter experts in an ample discovery phase. Iteration is also key when facing complexity because rarely is your first draft going to be the last. Feedback loops, testing and small incremental changes allow you and your audience to make the best design decisions.

Working with others is also a way to guarantee complexity! It would be much easier to design in a bubble by myself, and pat myself on the back at the end of the day, but that doesn’t make sense! We have had to gain experience in facilitating conversations among groups, practice empathy, learn to let go of preconceived notions, put our egos aside—most of all, do more listening than talking.




Project: Foodlab. Photography: Bree Gant.

When you and your team create a workshop to gather and 
galvanize human thoughts toward informing/inspiring ideation, 
what are some of the steps taken in making this experience
productive? For example, what was the step-by-step journey
to realize the series of workshops in working with the FoodLab?

Simply put, we work backwards and collaboratively! As an organization, FoodLab wanted to create a set of guiding principles, member expectations and a self assessment for member food businesses. So we knew the goal, and together with FoodLab decided the best way to create this content was to tap into the knowledge of their member businesses who have been a part of the organization for a long time and who have found success. They were like the elders teaching the younger, newer businesses, stemming from their own successes and hardships. From there, we invited a small but diverse set of people and businesses in order to get a variety of perspectives but still have enough time and space for everyone to meaningfully participate.

So we had less than 15 people in the room. We paid them a stipend for their time (something we always push for in a budget, by the way), we ensured there was food, coffee and water, and we reserved a beautiful, comfortable space for the conversations. Basically, by creating space that is comfortable physically and emotionally, people are more likely to share openly. We met for a few hours on a few different days, a few weeks apart, all purposefully so not to overwhelm anyone and take up too much of their time on any one day. We then used a strategy that we frequently use, that is, we start very broad in our conversation and write down all the thoughts everyone has and together discuss each idea—together narrow down, combine and eliminate similarities, until we have a list of ideas that everyone can feel good about and also feel ownership over.

Prompts for conversation were carefully considered and written. For example, when wanting business owners to talk about “good food and good jobs” we asked them to share with the group a story about the best meal they ever ate. The conversation was much more personal, descriptive and warm than if we were to just ask them about a job in their business.

What is design? What’s at the core of “design thinking”—How 
has this term and concept become popular?

Design is a word that can be very intimidating. When working with Design Core Detroit on the UNESCO City of Design designation this was a problem we worked on overcoming. It can imply expensive, high brow, exclusivity. I do not believe that you need a degree to design, it simply means strategically thinking and planning to solve a problem. Design thinking is just another way to describe this. Graphic Design, for example, is strategically using visuals and language to communicate an idea. Everyone, everyday, designs their daily schedule or their outfit based on their unique needs or desires. When working with Detroiters to determine what we would prioritize as a City with our designation, we asked folks to describe the “good life” or what a good quality-of-life looked like to them, because a well-designed city is what facilitates most people’s description. People ended up talking about public transportation, eating healthily, diverse groups of people or experiencing a beautiful landscape.

How did you arrive at doing the kind of design work you do?

I have always been passionate about social justice and have felt an obligation to use my skills to support worthy, value-driven causes. I started out working for traditional design firms straight out of college but found myself unhappy being pushed to use my skills to create ads and other materials for companies selling things like subprime mortgages, for example! I soon quit and started working freelance because around the time the city went bankrupt and just before there was a huge need for communication tools for nonprofits and other groups serving the community in ways I could feel good about. A few friends had started to work together doing the same thing, one of which was a developer, and shortly after, we all started working together instead of separately. And the rest is history, as they say. It has never been easy, but feel it has totally been worth it.





How would describe The Work Department’s work culture? In 
doing the purposeful and collaborative work you do, how do you 
maintain your creativity, critical thinking—your sanity?

I have always felt strongly about The Work Department being different than the stereotypical studio environment—long hours, working nights/weekends, feeling underappreciated and unable to think creatively. Also, I want to point out that we didn’t start out as all women and we didn’t purposefully become an all-women team, but when we found ourselves there, something clicked and we realized it was really special. When we took stock of what was different, we started being more conscious and purposeful about our culture and values.

These things contribute to us maintaining creativity and sanity. We pay ourselves well. We each have other interests and allow ourselves the time and space to pursue these things including but not limited to: taking on freelance work, pursuing residencies, serving on boards and commissions, or running a separate business or artist practice. We are constantly checking in with each other and communicate candidly about what is going right and wrong in each project and as individuals. We sometimes cry at the office because of work and sometimes for other reasons. We make a point of constantly learning from others—people whose lives don’t look like ours through conferences, books, conversations and other experiences. We don’t take on projects that aren’t set up for success, i.e. projects that have unrealistic budgets, timelines or goals. This allows us not to work weekends or long nights (most of the time.) Vacations are required—we close the office several weeks every year to ensure this.

What’s your media diet like? Who and what do you recommend 
to help be aware of current affairs/culture/your community 
and the world?

I recommend being aware of current events in any way that works for you, because knowing what others are experiencing locally and globally helps make better decisions at work and in general. Personally, I consume media of all kinds (radio, TV, podcasts, Instagram, newsletters) for a global and/or special interest perspective, but I highly recommend talking to neighbors and getting involved with a community for your local perspective.

Who and what are your influences related to 
creativity/design/facilitating? That help hone your toggling
between being a team director/leader and a designer?

My team! We constantly take stock of what is working and what isn’t and are in constant communication about it. We are always learning from each other and each client, and we help each other become better.

In these politically-charged times, how are you coping 
and channeling what’s happening into your design work?

The personal is political and everyday choices are meaningful. At The Work Department, we work on projects that prioritize accessibility, equity and shared respect. Turning down work can also be a political decision. Before we take on a new client we discuss as a team how it aligns with our values and how it might affect us personally and professionally. There is a lot of money being spent in Detroit right now and so opportunities come up all of the time that don’t align with our values, and though it can be tough to turn down income, it is necessary.

Who and what are your influences related to design,
especially people-centered design?

Long-time client and partner, Allied Media Projects’ work at the intersection of media, technology and social justice is a huge influence. The Center for Urban Pedagogy is very inspirational for literally everything they do. Jae Shin and Damon Rich and their work at [“urban design, planning and civic arts practice”] Hector is also on this list, we have looked to them for inspiration many times.

In your creative work-kit, what are your go-to tools, the ones
you love using because they prove reliably effective?

My analog tools are always changing because there are so many cute notebooks and special pens out there to try. Digitally speaking: Slack, Google Apps and Teamwork keep us going! Sounds boring, but organization and communication allow us the space to be creative.







How does Detroit contribute to your work? And what makes it special for startups/business/creativity-at-large?

I was born and lived most of my life in metro-Detroit and Detroit proper, so it is hard for me to speculate what makes it special for newcomers. But personally, growing up here and being educated here, I felt a responsibility to stay and work in the community I came up in. Detroit is not always an easy place to live, but working in a place where I can see the direct effects of my work and help to build community through various aspects of work is very rewarding.

• • •

All images courtesy of Libby Cole, except for my photos—albums one and two—of Detroit, Michigan.

• • •

Read more from Design Feast Series of 102 (so far) Interviews
with people who love making things.


Donating = Appreciating: Design Feast is now on Patreon!
Lots of hours are put into making Design Feast—because it’s a labor of love to provide creative culture to everyone. If you find delight and motivation from the hundreds of interviews, including event write-ups, at Design Feast, please consider becoming a supporting Patron with a recurring monthly donation.

Please help keep Design Feast going and growing by visiting my Patreon page where you can watch a short intro video plus view my goals and reward tiers, from $1 to $12—between a souvenir and a satisfying brunch.

September 11, 2018

Pride, Work and Necessity of Side Projects: Digital Transformation Consultant Sally Lait Turns Her Admiration of Japanese Details into Animated Art



What are you working on—on the side?

My side project is natsukashii.art, which is a site that houses my ongoing quest to capture some (quite niche!) beautiful Japanese details that I’ve encountered over the years—specifically train station stamps and manhole covers—in digital form.

Both of these items have a bit of a cult following, with many people going out of their way to collect photos. Before knowing this, on an early trip to Japan, I ended up being struck by the wonderful design and the care that had been taken to enhance the manholes—something that in the UK we don’t do at all. In addition, I loved the shameless nerdery of being able to collect stamps at train stations, and how each one was completely individual—again, it was a beautiful creation in an unusual setting. This stayed with me, and I started to collect more, weaving them into future trips. The photos and stamps then became synonymous with happy memories from time in a country that I love.

“Natsukashii” (懐かしい) is one of those great words that doesn’t translate well into English. You’ll find it commonly explained as related to the concept of nostalgia, but it’s a warm yearning, prompted by something that you’ve seen, heard or felt. I started the site because I had these photos and stamps, and they would always give me this good feeling when I looked through. I wanted a reason to do something with them, and to spend some time in the memories. As I work in digital, I’m also always looking for an excuse to learn new things and improve my skills, so I decided to use this as an opportunity to teach myself about creating vector-based illustration and to animate them. At present I’m only using CSS to do so, but for some of the more complex pieces I’m thinking about exploring some of the JavaScript libraries that are available.

My last trip to Japan was in July and I managed to collect an enormous amount of new source material, so much that I’m not sure which ones I want to focus on next!

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

With great difficulty! Even the more simple designs take a very long time to vectorise (especially with my lack of experience), and then it takes me ages to get the animation to a point I’m happy with. The first couple were relatively simple, but I’m currently working on one that feels like it’s taking forever! In between my work and other hobbies, I don’t have a huge amount of time, so progress has been slow, but that’s OK because this is for me rather than anyone else.

My work requires a very different kind of head space, and so it’s sometimes difficult to flip into a mode where I’m feeling more creative, and less technical and analytical. However, I enjoy that the mindset for this is very different to other things that I do, and I tend to find myself gravitating towards it whenever I need something relaxing and satisfyingly repetitive.

Why have a side project?

Part of the motivation with this project is to be able to get better at playing with new things (both around design and technology), and creating with absolutely no pressure from external factors. I’m able to explore areas that are interesting to me at any point in time, and take it in a totally different direction if I wanted to. Even if things remain unfinished, I try not to give myself a hard time about that, because I know that I’ve enjoyed whatever time I have spent working on it. It’s incredibly satisfying to work with a subject matter that I love, and which always makes me feel happy whilst doing it.

• • •

Diptych courtesy of Sally Lait.


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


Donating = Appreciating: Design Feast is now on Patreon!
Lots of hours are put into making Design Feast—because it’s a labor of love to provide creative culture to everyone. If you find delight and motivation from the hundreds of interviews, including event write-ups, at Design Feast, please consider becoming a supporting Patron with a recurring monthly donation.

Please help keep Design Feast going and growing by visiting my Patreon page where you can watch a short intro video plus view my goals and reward tiers, from $1 to $12—between a souvenir and a satisfying brunch.

September 3, 2018

Pride, Work and Necessity of Side Projects: Copywriter Janelle Blasdel Creates Comedy from the Page to Stage



What are you working on—on the side?

My side project is comedy, both performing and writing, which is a pretty broad arena to be working in, but that’s one reason I enjoy it so much. Comedy attracts a range of voices, talents, styles and approaches, so there are a lot of opportunities for crossover, collaboration and moving into a new medium that you want to explore.

More specifically, I perform improv across Chicago, namely at iO Theater with my Harold team ’66 Mustang (below) and with The Improvised Twilight Zone at The Annoyance. I also play at CIC, The Crowd and Bughouse Theater with indie teams and as part of variety shows. And I make guest appearances on podcasts like “These Parts” and “Humanoid Resources.”

For my writing, I work on video scripts for the iO Comedy Network team Deep Stretch and have published satirical articles at McSweeney’s. I’m also working on a two-person sketch show and am kicking off work on a new web series.


Source: Joe Gallagher Film/Photography

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

I work full-time as a senior writer during the day, so I use my nights and weekends to write comedy and perform. It can get overwhelming running from a rehearsal to a show to a writers’ meeting to a video shoot, but some of my favorite days are those that have me biking all over the city working on projects that I love with my friends, who are also hustling their butts off. These are passion projects, for sure, and there’s a special kind of reserve energy that accompanies those, but when I do have a night off, I do absolutely nothing and it is GLORIOUS.

Why have a side project?

I love how improv frees up my mind—the idea is to say “Yes, and” to your scene partner. It’s very much about listening to, connecting with and supporting your teammates in-the-moment, building on an idea rather than presenting roadblocks. And I love how comedy writing lets me be more reflective and try out different forms, from video to sketch, to see which one works best to express an idea. What I love about both is that, while the content can be silly and playful, the commentary can be smart and moving in its message—definitely not an easy thing to accomplish, but when I see it happen, it’s really inspiring.

Most of all, it’s so much fun. Improv and comedy writing keep me energized and thinking in different ways, and it’s also how I’ve met many of my closest friends. It keeps me from running on autopilot, pushing me to evolve and grow my voice and perspective and not feel stuck, or—if I ever do feel stuck—it unsticks me. What I do in comedy finds its way into my personal and professional life and, dang, I just don’t think I’d have as good of a time without it. 

• • •

Diptych courtesy of Janelle Blasdel—portrait by Charlie Simokaitis.


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


Donating = Appreciating: Design Feast is now on Patreon!
Lots of hours are put into making Design Feast—because it’s a labor of love to provide creative culture to everyone. If you find delight and motivation from the hundreds of interviews, including event write-ups, at Design Feast, please consider becoming a supporting Patron with a recurring monthly donation.

Please help keep Design Feast going and growing by visiting my Patreon page where you can watch a short intro video plus view my goals and reward tiers, from $1 to $12—between a souvenir and a satisfying brunch.

August 20, 2018

Pride, Work and Necessity of Side Projects: Katie Puccio and Liz Wells Advocate Inclusiveness in the Creative Industry Through Their Desk Lunch Newsletter



What are you working on—on the side?

Desk Lunch is a weekly newsletter for women and non-binary folks to share experiences of what it’s like to work in the creative industry. We’re here to celebrate, support and project the stories that often go unheard.

Desk Lunch is a contribution-based platform on which a different person every week shares a short essay on a theme of their choice. In addition to our weekly newsletter, we use Instagram to feature work by female or non-binary artists, designers or other creators that inspire us.

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

We work together at our day job, so it’s easy to grab a few minutes here and there when it’s slow to put each week’s issue together. If one, or both, of us is particularly slammed, we work around our normal hours and put things together first thing in the morning or later at night.

Liz is charged with the design and layout of the issue, including formatting everything in MailChimp and creating the graphics used in the issue and on social. Katie is responsible for editing submissions, identifying key themes, and managing our Instagram and Twitter accounts.

Why have a side project?

Desk Lunch began as a project to address the lack of representation of women and non-binary people in the creative industry. We realized that few platforms adequately represent stories of what it is like to be othered in our industry. We wanted to create a platform that supports, uplifts and normalizes these stories.

A key priority of our mission is to be inclusive. We welcome all who identify as non-binary, queer, lesbian, bisexual, asexual, intersex, transgender, genderqueer or gender nonconforming. This also includes people of color, and people of all ages and abilities. We wanted our community to be as open and accessible as possible, and we see digital culture as instrumental to disruption and change, so we chose to make Desk Lunch a newsletter that’s available every week to whoever signs up online.

We believe that change starts from the bottom up, and we hope this is the first step in switching up the narrative to include more diverse voices. We’re so honored to be able to tell the stories of women and non-binary folks who are making space for others to follow in their impressive footsteps.

• • •

Diptych courtesy of Katie Puccio and Liz Wells.


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


Donating = Appreciating: Design Feast is now on Patreon!
Lots of hours are put into making Design Feast—because it’s a labor of love to provide creative culture to everyone. If you find delight and motivation from the hundreds of interviews, including event write-ups, at Design Feast, please consider becoming a supporting Patron with a recurring monthly donation.

Please help keep Design Feast going and growing by visiting my Patreon page where you can watch a short intro video plus view my goals and reward tiers, from $1 to $12—between a souvenir and a satisfying brunch.

August 10, 2018

Pride, Work and Necessity of Side Projects: UI/UX Designer Shauna Keating Galvanizes the Creative Community of Hudson Valley and Upstate New York



What are you working on—on the side?

I would say that my side project is facilitating the design and tech community in the Hudson Valley and Upstate New York. This takes on a few different forms and takes a little juggling. 

For the last two years, I have been a Co-Organizer of the Hudson Valley Tech Meetup. We are a organization of over 2,500 members that operates out of a meetup.com page. We strive to connect the people in our region doing cool work related to technology. It’s really focused on bringing people together to share the things they are passionate about. Speakers range from students sharing their thesis projects at local colleges, to founders of nationally recognized tech companies sharing what it was like to get to where they are. These gatherings are not just about seeing people talk, though. It’s where the tech community in the Hudson Valley comes together. It’s how a professionals in the area can form a network and see how many people nearby share their interests.





Also in this time, I have helped organize Catskills Conf, which happens in the Hudson Valley every October. This year will be my third time on the organizing team, and the fourth time the conference has run. I attended as a volunteer at the first event as a college student and fell totally in love with it. This is not your average conference. It has the talks about design, development and entrepreneurship that you would expect, but we also have activities like blacksmithing, letterpress and foraging. It’s unique because you get the opportunity to network with great people, but you also get to stay in a cabin with everyone and toast marshmallows around the fire every night. You get the opportunity to get to know people, and skip over the stress that would normally come with attending a conference. The second year, I led the volunteer team and did all the design work for the event. Last year, I tried my hand at emceeing and taking over more responsibility, and am continuing with that this year.

As of a month ago, I am the Co-President of AIGA Upstate New York. AIGA is a national organization with 72+ chapters all over the country. We are the professional association of design, doing work to advance design and designers all over the country. Our chapter focuses on all of New York State that is not New York City or Long Island. I lead a remote team of over 20 people, all of who live in our state. We run events in the Hudson Valley, Capital Region, Ithaca, Syracuse, Binghamton, Rochester, Glens Falls and Buffalo. What drew me to AIGA and why I have stepped up to lead the organization for the next 2 years, is the people in our chapter. Upstate New York has a truly special design community. Through our events and Slack community, we are connecting employers to local talent, helping emerging designers get started, and making it possible for all of us to build a local network we can collaborate with. Through being involved, I have made friends who also work in the design field all over the state that I would have never met otherwise.

Prior to becoming Co-President, I served as Programming Director for a year. This meant I was leading our team of programming coordinators—the people on the ground in all the locations listed above—and helping them run design-focused events. These include our monthly coffee and cocktails meetups, our annual Design Crawl (think bar crawl, but design talks and studio visits mixed in!), and our emerging designers’ portfolio reviews. Since I am in the Hudson Valley myself, I also help run our local events, and go to them.



I also periodically speak at conferences, mostly on the topic of inclusive design. Most recently, I traveled to Charlottesville, Virginia, to participate in a panel about the topic, as well as to be a keynote speaker at a diversity-focused hackathon, hacking.digital. I think it is important to share my research and hear other people’s perspectives on this topic.



This is the part where the person I am talking to says, “Wow! You’re really busy!”

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

I would not be able to do any of this without the complete support of my partner, my friends and co-workers. Many people try really hard to keep their career and their personal life completely separate, and while there definitely isn’t anything wrong with that, (everyone has a right to lead their life in the way they want!) that approach just isn’t how my life has gone. The people I spend my free time with are also the people I get to work alongside, which can be a really special thing. Knowing the people you work with can result in much more meaningful work, and better understanding of one another overall.

A lot of the time, I will stay at my desk for an extra hour or two after my work day is complete, sending emails to speakers for the Catskills Conf or chatting with our board members for AIGA, making sure they have the resources they need to be successful. Occasionally, a weekend will get sacrificed here or there. It’s not the easiest thing, but my take on it is if you want something to exist, you can’t wait around for it to happen. I care a lot about the place where I live—and I want it to be somewhere that people can feel like they can be successful in their careers. I really believe I live in one of the most beautiful and kind places in the world, and I want more people to have the opportunity to do meaningful work here.

 I’ll also say, none of this would be possible if I were trying to do it alone. All three of these organizations that have members, sponsors and organizing teams that make it all happen!

Why have a side project?

Working on something you are passionate about and getting a lot of creative freedom with can make such a big difference. It is a great opportunity for personal growth. I learn new things all the time that I would never learn at work that are really beneficial to me in the long run. I am developing the leadership skills I’ll need someday when I’m a Creative Director, as well as just learning the ins and outs of how organizations really work.

 A side project can be such a great opportunity to find your people. This is especially true to folks who might not be at their dream job, or who just aren’t finding their day-to-day very fulfilling. This is how you can get to do exactly what you want, and even open up important doors for yourself later by building the right network.

 Also, it’s just really great to do what you want! A lot of what I do is collaborative and team-based, but lots of people do their side project on their own or in a smaller group. While critique and constructive criticism are crucial to our design processes, it can be really empowering to just make something because you want to and don’t have to go back and change it for someone else.

• • •

Diptych and photo of the Catskills Conf courtesy of Shauna Keating—portrait by Jen Thomas.


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


Donating = Appreciating: Design Feast is now on Patreon!
Lots of hours are put into making Design Feast—because it’s a labor of love to provide creative culture to everyone. If you find delight and motivation from the hundreds of interviews, including event write-ups, at Design Feast, please consider becoming a supporting Patron with a recurring monthly donation.

Please help keep Design Feast going and growing by visiting my Patreon page where you can watch a short intro video plus view my goals and reward tiers, from $1 to $12—between a souvenir and a satisfying brunch.

August 8, 2018

Pride, Work and Necessity of Side Projects: Woodworker Katie Thompson Highlights and Advocates the International Community of Woodworking Women



What are you working on—on the side?

Women of Woodworking is a multimedia project focused on sharing the stories of women in the woodworking craft. I write essays, take photographs and engage the community on social media, mainly Instagram. I plan to expand towards videos and other opportunities to grow this project.

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

This project fits in nicely with a lot of things that I love to do and am fortunate enough to do for a living. I love taking photographs, mainly portraits, but I’m rather new at that. I have always loved writing, meeting new people and telling their stories. I also design and make products for a living, so it’s relatively easy to talk about my colleagues who are doing fantastic work.

Why have a side project?

My short answer is that I’m a workaholic with a lot of interests and I’m obsessed with creating things myself. I also think it’s good to have passion projects, because even if you love your work, it can still be “work.” Some people just need more than one creative outlet to explore their curiosities.

When I started Women of Woodworking years ago, it was because I felt there wasn’t a thriving space on the Web quite yet for women in the craft—but we were out there, making our own space. I took a sabbatical from the project for a few years but it would never stop completely, because people from around the world would reach out trying to find a woodworker for a job, share a story or a photo, or simply to chat. I observed that this online community, appreciative of woodworking, had grown and was thriving, and it made me realize that the seeds a lot of us had planted a few years back, especially the woodworking women who came before us, were now flourishing. When I say we’re making our own space, we’re literally taking buildings and opening their doors to give women and minorities access to the craft of woodworking like never before, through schools, symposiums, studios, co-ops and retail spaces. I wanted to document this evolving moment for us, and saw that there was still a need to help continue the woodworking community’s passion and conversation.

• • •

Diptych courtesy of Katie Thompson.

• • •

Katie Thompson, with her woodworker-husband Joseph, also shares her thoughts on launching a handmade product-based business as part of my interviews—101 so far—with independent Makers. Furthermore, they give their point of view on design and designing in my series Designer’s Quest(ionnaire). And read more about the joy of side projects.


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


Donating = Appreciating: Design Feast is now on Patreon!
Lots of hours are put into making Design Feast—because it’s a labor of love to provide creative culture to everyone. If you find delight and motivation from the hundreds of interviews, including event write-ups, at Design Feast, please consider becoming a supporting Patron with a recurring monthly donation.

Please help keep Design Feast going and growing by visiting my Patreon page where you can watch a short intro video plus view my goals and reward tiers, from $1 to $12—between a souvenir and a satisfying brunch.

July 1, 2018

Pride, Work and Necessity of Side Projects: Graphic Designer Belinda Kou Cultivates Her Hand-Lettering Craft



What are you working on—on the side?

For the past year and a half, I have been challenging myself to hand-letter on a regular basis. It began as random doodles that I would draw here and there, in the margins of the day, until I decided to really focus and commit to a 100-Day Project of daily lettering. It challenged me to practice consistently and embrace progress over perfection, which was my biggest hurdle at the time to create anything outside of work. I ended up creating an Instagram account to house all of my drawings as a form of accountability, and it has since grown into a lab space where I can experiment with different styles, refine existing ones and connect with the greater lettering community out there. It has also sparked several ideas for new lettering series, so stay tuned for future project launches!

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

I fill up my time outside of working hours with lettering, mostly in the evenings and on the weekends. The kind of lettering I do is very different from the work I do during the day, so I find the creative challenge fun and motivating enough to commit to those extra hours outside of work. Completing the 100-Day Project has opened my eyes to how much more time I actually have, if I just committed to it, and even a few minutes a day can be so rewarding in the long-run.

Why have a side project?

My side projects are driven by personal passion and provide a creative outlet to what I do at work. I’ve found that combining side projects with challenging work projects has been a sweet spot for hitting that creative high, where you not only feel a sense of accomplishment in the contributions you make but also experience a ton of growth in skills. Taking the time to refine my hand-lettering craft also helps me to approach my creative strategy at my day job with a different eye, and I am able to hone a keener eye to grid layouts in typography and quick concept sketches. Essentially, side projects help me to build up skills outside of work and add fuel to my creative fire. I would recommend anyone who is feeling burned out or stagnant in their career path to pursue a side project to reignite their creative spark.

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Diptych courtesy of Belinda Kou.


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


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