October 31, 2021

Design Feast’s Makers Series—114th Interview: Digital Product Designer Michela Graziani Relentlessly Pursues the Iconic

Particularly in the world of computing, icons are common elements. An on/off-screen icon blends aesthetics, symbolism, accessibility—all elegantly confined within a small-to-tiny finite piece of visible real estate. The challenges here are twofold: facilitating the ability to comprehend and enabling efficiency to accomplish this intuitive experience. Here, Product Designer Michela Graziani shares both her passion and process in making pictographic collections which are prolific, comprehensive … iconic!

1. How did you arrive at what you do as an Icon Designer?

As a product designer, I had to handle icons every day in the making of understandable and useful interfaces. Finding an appropriate icon is time-consuming, can be changed tons of times during the course of visual design. For these reasons, I turned to creating tailor-made icons purposely designed to fit a precise action for specific situations—an integral task here was gathering feedback from my teammates to help inform and refine the iconography.

2. Being the founder of Symbolikon and more symbols-based libraries, what were a few first steps/activities you took to start these projects?

The initial input/idea was determining an area of interest—unexplored in the icon-industry. This is the main road to take during the whole icon-product-development process. Once the road is in focus, I do a lot of research in order to define topics and categories. Research is crucial. It sets the stage for directing the entire collection while informing these steps: create a list of categories, understand what is to become the main category, figure out the features of each subcategory, along with determining common traits that each single icon should contain. These actions help contribute meaning and functionality throughout the whole icon-collection’s composition.

3. What icons are truly iconic to you? How do they reach the level of iconic?

An ‘iconic’ icon is a visual element that’s easy to remember. Sticks in your mind the first time you see it. There are many strong icons: shaped in relation to a specific object for describing action, imbued with meaning that’s one-way.

In one of my new Ikonthology compendiums, the “Extreme Horror” category is visibly iconic, because both objects and characters possess unmistakable graphic elements which can be readily perceived as simple and unique in their meanings.

4. Is there an icon-driven/inspired creation that you readily admire—What is it?

Regarding art, the public-facing images by 


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Learn more about Ikonthology.


“With all the various genres and subgenres available, it’s hard to find any one place to gather inspiration. Taking cues from the most popular works of fiction, these icons are designed with a modern aesthetic.” Support the Ikonthology project at Kickstarter.


This interview, within the Design Feast series on Makers, was sparked into possibility-turned-reality by Cole Stevens, a brilliant Copywriter, avid Street Photographer and Creator of timely clothing brand Omegazeta—where you can align yourself with cosmic contemplation and grace your physique with uniquely existential style. Wholehearted thanks to him for introducing me to Michela Graziani and her narrative-spanning iconography.

August 15, 2021

Typeface Designer Chantra Malee Pays it Forward through the Malee Scholarship for Empowering Women of Color as They Pursue a Career in Type Design


What are you working on—on the side?

The Malee Scholarship is a not-for-profit organization that I started with Sharp Type, a boutique NYC type foundry that I co-founded with my business partner and husband, Lucas Sharp. Each year, the Malee Scholarship grants a $6,000 USD scholarship to a woman from an underrepresented ethnic group in the type industry, who is passionate about type design. Our goal is to empower these women, give them a platform to show their work, and through our mentorship program, teach them the ins-and-outs of designing type and running a foundry.

In addition to selecting and awarding an annual scholar, we also recognize 3 finalists who were top contenders for the scholarship that year and also announce a small selection of Women of Typographic Excellence who demonstrated incredible skill in type design. 

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

It takes a village! The development of the organization was challenging and incredibly fun. Throughout the process, we made sure to work with individuals whose work we greatly admired. We first commissioned Tien-Min Liao to develop the logomark, which Sharp Type designer My-Lan Thuong later evolved into a sans and serif type system, which we use as the primary typefaces for the brand. What The Studio came in later and developed our branding, and designed our website, later developed by Default Value.

Our team at Sharp Type all contribute, and I’m so grateful for their participation and hard work. Florence Fu and My-Lan Thuong have been integral to the running of our institution, and Lucas Sharp plays a big role in the mentorship program, meeting with the recipients weekly to critique their work. Together with Connor Davenport, Calvin Kwok and Justin Sloane, we’re able to pull it off.

Why have a side project?

I am from the United States of Thai, Spanish and Native American descent. I, myself, was a recipient of the Urban League’s Student Scholarship Program, which provides financial assistance to students from minority groups who are pursuing higher education. From a financial aspect, the grant was huge for me, but even more profound was being seen, and recognized by their institution. I’ll never forget their generosity. Now that I’m in the position to do so, I am paying it forward.

What I wasn’t prepared for when starting The Malee Scholarship was how much I would learn from the experience and the applicants whom we’ve met since we began. They’ve opened my eyes to global cultures and social issues around the world that I wasn’t quite familiar with. Many of our applicants have not only a passion in type design but in social justice issues as well. It’s awe-inspiring to read their stories. They encourage me to be better and I’m very thankful for them, and can’t wait to see them reach great success in type.

• • •

Diptych courtesy of Chantra Malee.


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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—starting at $1 per month. Starting your patronage today matters—it’ll help Design Feast continue to be an exceptional service, integral to the creative community.

August 7, 2021

Freelance Designer Daniela Covarrubias Adores and Advocates Plants for the Home


What are you working on—on the side?

“How Many Plants” is a plant-care resource for anyone interested in houseplants, whether you’re a seasoned enthusiast or just getting started. I found a lot of the plant-care information online to be all over the place and often contradictory, so I wanted to build a robust resource that would be fun to engage with and genuinely useful!

I mean, why waste time googling in circles and opening tab after tab only to be more confused than when you started? For this reason, I was intent on creating a “go-to” resource that would not only fully elaborate on the care of specific plants, but also dive deep into larger topics like propagation and dealing with pests. And as a bonus, I wanted to position the whole thing through the lens of design and interiors since that’s my field of expertise. For me, greenery is an essential part of any designer’s toolkit—equal to any piece of furniture or paint color. Plants have the power to transform a space from something pretty good to something downright magical. Often, they’re the missing piece that will make a space come to life … literally! I’m continuously amazed by what a versatile design element plants can be. They can play the role of sculpture, anchoring a space or filling an empty corner. They can bring in heaps of color and texture, playing off other patterns in the space or standing out against solids.

And while I clearly love how plants look in real life, I wanted to take a fresh approach for this project. I found that a lot of plant photography can make plants look somewhat unattainable in either their lushness or setting. Or they are photographed with retail/shipping in mind which usually means they are young, fresh out of the greenhouse and it can be hard to envision their growth. I believed a bit of abstraction would go a long way to inspire and get people excited to imagine plants in their own space. So I was super-lucky to connect with a wonderful illustrator, Evie May Adams, who was willing to dive into this big project with me and take on everything from the illustrations of the plants themselves, along with icons, interiors and tons of one-off vignettes and diagrams for the long-form articles. Truly, the site wouldn’t be what it is without the illustrations.

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

To be honest, I was quickly overwhelmed by the scope of the project. What I thought would take 5 or 6 months to get off the ground, ended up taking closer to 9 months. I just had such a specific (and ambitious) vision in my head of what I wanted “HMP” to be, and I was a bit stubborn about the need for it to be fully realized before putting it out into the world. I don’t necessarily think this is the best approach to a side project, but for me, it worked to keep the momentum going strong upfront so the project could then take a bit of a backseat going forward. Also, having something fully baked gave me a more complete picture of how my audience was experiencing the site, which helps me understand what people are liking or missing before building out any additional features.

It’s still a fairly new thing for me, so I can’t say for sure, but it’s my hope that the project will continue to take on a natural rhythm of lulls with more intense activity. Especially as a freelancer, this would nicely mirror how work tends to flow in my day-to-day!

Why have a side project?

While I’m passionate about the topic of plant care, this project was ultimately a way for me to learn a bunch of new skills. I’m trained as an architect and have been working in interiors for the past 6 years, so I had super-minimal web experience before creating this site. I had to learn everything from how to design around breakpoints to how to structure content for CMS and everything in-between.

I was originally inspired to create “How Many Plants” both by circumstance and by my husband, Moe. The circumstance was the pandemic, and Moe happens to be a skilled web developer that has been pursuing side projects since we met in grad school (his career was born out of a side project!). Moe and a bunch of his friends had recently started using a tool called Webflow to quickly build websites without code. And witnessing that work gave me the confidence that I could make something myself. It was also quite exciting to be able to take full creative control of a project—there was no design director, no client, no budget, no external deadline driving my decisions. This freedom was such a huge contrast to what I had experienced in architecture and interior projects. In some ways, it was daunting, but mostly it was just so satisfying. And it created an unexpected feedback loop to my day job that reinvigorated my design thinking and helped me reevaluate my approach to limitations.

• • •

Diptych courtesy of Daniela Covarrubias.


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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.

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—starting at $1 per month. Starting your patronage today matters—it’ll help Design Feast continue to be an exceptional service, integral to the creative community.

July 8, 2021

Data Leader Kerstin Frailey Emphasizes the Need for Quality Data


Kerstin Frailey, who leads data science at market research company Numerator, recently participated in data analytics school Promotable’s webinar series. While presenting concepts such as Machine Learning and the overly propagandized “Big Data,” there was this sign-of-the-times statement from her:

“It’s hard not to care about data quality when you see what happens with data. Because data underlies every algorithm that is automatically approving or denying you a mortgage, that is automatically dismissing or accepting your application to go on to a recruiter to see. It underlies all of the automated admissions that next or current generations are having … That is all built on data. As soon as that data starts to get a little sticky, oh, the world we create in there.”

Data and the modern era do stir wonder. One constant is that data keeps accruing—becoming its own multiverse where the possibilities of use are grand and endless. In the startup ecosystem, “data-driven” is a popular prefix to distinctly qualify a product or service. When elegantly executed, it demonstrates how business, design and technology can be systematized. The emphasis by Kerstin on data’s “underlying” nature feeds into visualizing data as a shifting, sprawling tectonic layer (which, no doubt, it is) influencing everyone and everything. In its composition and expanse, data (for all its content, support and magical potential) is infrastructure.

The last line of Kerstin’s proclamation includes this poetic phrase: “the world we create.” In context, it sparkles with analytics aspiration, coupled with prospective capabilities—for the better. The wellspring here is data—running through several, practical, important applications she noted: mortgages, hiring submissions, school admissions, among a great many processes. The data-propelled world, shaped humanely, co-exists with a world energized by data that’s steered toward inflicting alternative effects—when viewed through a literary lens, they can be characterized precisely as Kafkaesque, even Orwellian.

Though not surprising, it is refreshing to hear Kerstin speak about the importance of critical thinking. Working with data makes it a must-do (as opposed to a no-brainer) for Data Quality to undergo rigor in how it’s managed. From Kerstin, this body of scientific disciplines consists of these principles:

  1. Accuracy
  2. Timeliness
  3. Validity
  4. Consistency
  5. Completeness

If quality of data suggests the quality of decision-making, then critical thinking is essential. More so, when data faces duality, exacerbated by cross-generational disparity uncovered by these pandemic times, which exposed data-driven systems not behaving as data-driven solutions. From breakages in delivering public education, to filing unemployment claims, to receiving healthcare, to booking a vaccination appointment, and so on.

Kristen's focus on Data Quality hones in on making reality an honest one—these days, a collective movement reinforced. With the beauty of objectivity in mind, here’s to the people having at it to create a world—where data helps bring out the best in everyone.

Thanks again to Promotable who pair their virtual workshops with talks organized regularly online! Explore their channel on YouTube.


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July 6, 2021

Design Feast’s Makers Series—113th Interview: Mabel Ney’s Sensibilities as a Designer, Her Springboard to Further Grow as an Artist


It was on a poster for Munich’s Die Neue Sammlung (considered to be the world’s oldest design museum) that I discovered this memorable quote: “Design is art that makes itself useful.” Mabel Ney embodies the substance and spirit of this statement, for she’s both a UX Designer and Painter. The former naturally feeds the latter and vice versa. Here, Mabel tells more about her evolution—in design and art:

1. You’re a User Experience Designer turned Artist. What were top convincers here?

Drawing has been a way of processing research, user flows and requirements. I felt I was missing drawing skills—and started taking classes and going to art meetups. My husband and I had gone to art school in our college years, and felt the art meetups helped keep us motivated to draw again. We both wanted to find more time away from tech and more time with traditional art.

2. You made what’s called a “career pivot”! When did you start having this idea? And how did you commit to realizing it?

My pivot was part of my retirement plan. I wanted to paint and draw more, and take more classes to improve my skills. As my husband and I worked with our financial planner, we expressed how important it was to us to travel and take art classes. 

3. What were a few critical to-dos, from the emotional to the practical, you did when embarking on your new career?

I tried to put in 6–8 hours of drawing a week. I started with Post-its in meetings, at home, or in coffee shops. I moved on to sketchbooks and a plein air setup or home studio setup for pastels on the weekends. I attended as many meetups as I could and got hooked on portrait sessions. I was fortunate that the other artists at the meetups where very supportive and willing to share their process as well as where to find shows and more meetups. I definitely had days I thought I pretty much sucked but tried to find something I learned and move on.

4. Is there an artistic encounter or creative event that you keep recalling, even inspiring you?

An instructor said not to treat every drawing as a …


Thanks for reading so far this Design Feast interview.

Read this full interview and more by supporting Design Feast on Patreon. If you’re able to, please become a Patron of Design Feast today from $1 and up—it only takes a minute. Your monthly contribution will give you full access to this interview and those upcoming with extraordinary creators and their perspectives. Stay both informed and inspired.



What will stay free to completely explore at Design Feast are the 346 insightful interviews with an incredible range of Designers, Bloggers, Makers and realizers of Side Projects.

June 6, 2021

Type Crit Crew Founder, Juan Villanueva, Harnesses the Appreciation, Education and Diversity of Typography


What are you working on—on the side?

In April of last year, I founded Type Crit Crew, which is a free resource for type design students to meet 1–1 with experienced type designers for virtual critiques. Our goals are:
  • To make type design and type designers more accessible and approachable to students of all levels from anywhere in the world who are serious about honing their skills
  • To do our part in making our field more inclusive and diverse
  • To spread our love and passion for type
This initiative started during the pandemic at a time when education was making a huge shift online. As someone who is deeply interested in education and aware of the obstacles that exist to get into the field of typeface design, I saw an opportunity to make education more accessible, to connect people and to make a positive contribution to my field. Type Crit Crew is a very simple idea, it’s basically a spreadsheet, and its power comes from the community. Its existence is a statement that the type design community wants to be more accessible, inclusive and supportive of up-and-coming talent from all over the world. This is something I wish I had access to while I was studying type. I’ve been able to connect with so many students from all over the world through Type Crit Crew. I’m really grateful to the students that use the platform to reach out and to the instructors that continue to volunteer their time.
 
Another side project is the Display Type BIPOC Fund which is a fund that offers scholarships for BIPOC students to attend my Display Type Design class at Type@Cooper. I started this fund when I began teaching at Type@Cooper, where I’m an alum. I’m very grateful for the experience and the education I received there. My teachers and mentors had a huge impact on the way I teach and work as a designer.
 
I started teaching type design in the summer of 2020, during a global pandemic and daily protests fighting for racial justice. I did it not only because I wanted to share my knowledge in type with others but also because I saw an opportunity to do things differently. As a BIPOC type designer teaching type, I want to see more type designers of color and change the landscape of the field by giving BIPOC designers a seat in my class. But that’s only part of it. Through my syllabus, I want to reframe what an education in type design can be by bringing in the human component of the practice and showing how the skills can be useful and empower people to express themselves. Shameless plug → Check out our class website at displaytypedesign.com
 
The last side project I started at the end of April of 2021 was Typefaces as Cultural Objects which is a collection of typefaces by Latin American Designers that honor and preserve Latin American culture and heritage. As a person from Latin America living in NYC, there is almost no Latin American representation in design education, and even less so in type design education. Through this side project, I want to make visible the work that Latin American designers have been doing in the area of type design, so that students today have more diverse references and designers to look up to and engage in conversation with. I’m starting with 11 projects and have a few more to add to the list and the goal is to make a resource that others can contribute to and use.
 
All of my side projects are part of and inspired by the larger group effort from the global community. Because of this I want to highlight initiatives like BIPOC Design History, LetrĂ¡stica Communidad, Times New Woman, TypasType, TypeThursday (Bogota, Barcelona, Mexico, New York and others), the Alphabettes Mentorship Program, and my friend Lynne Yun’s own Type Design School BIPOC scholarship, to name a few.

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

Before I launch any project, I’m very conscious of the time-commitment these things might take and, in theory, I strategically plan for them to be not so high maintenance. In practice, I put in hours mainly on the weekends but sometimes during the week in the evenings as well.
 
Even though the team at Monotype, where I work full-time as a type designer, is remote and the hours are somewhat flexible, I try to have a clear division between my job and my personal side projects. This is really important, since apart from my side projects, I also teach and volunteer on the board of the Society of Scribes.

Why have a side project?

For me, it’s a way to give back to the creative community that I’m a part of. Ultimately, all of my projects are the types of initiatives I would’ve liked to see when I was a student, or the types of things I want to see happening now. They’re about highlighting other creatives, uplifting designers, opening doors and hopefully creating a more inclusive, collaborative future. I’m an introvert, but I know that making oneself visible and being vocal can help others feel seen and perhaps inspire them to follow their own paths.

• • •

Diptych courtesy of Juan Villanueva.


❤️ Donating = Appreciating: Design Feast is 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.

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—starting at $1 per month. Starting your patronage today matters—it’ll help Design Feast continue to be an exceptional service, integral to the creative community.

May 23, 2021

Christina Li is Forging the Current-to-Future Advancement of Mentorship and Leadership in UX Design and Research


What are you working on—on the side?

I have two side projects. They are uxmentor.me and Leading Research.

I co-founded uxmentor.me with my friend, Chris Mears, over 8 years ago in 2013. It’s a User Experience (UX) mentoring program. Our aim is to help designers and researchers to transition into the UX industry and support them in their first UX jobs.

It has evolved over the years and we now offer 1:1 mentoring services (with a monthly subscription).

Over our 8 years of experience, the biggest gap we see is the transition period to your first UX jobs. You might have taken a UX course, but the support and resources drop off when you finish. This is where uxmentor.me comes in. We developed a tailored mentoring canvas. This is unique to each of our mentee so we can  chart progresses together.

My second side project is Leading Research which I started with Swetha Sethu-Jones. We started this initiative out of necessity.

In 2019, there was a get-together for the ResearchOps community in London. In the get-together, half of us were towards the top end of the career ladder in user research. And we were asking ourselves questions, like: How do we progress further? Some of us are practitioners who don’t want to be a leader, but then your practitioner role runs out at senior level. As a leader, we also asked: Why is research always under design discipline, could it be a separate branch? Can user research discipline get a seat at the table as Chief Design Officer? Or Chief Research Officer?

For this community is about providing support and networking for leaders. It’s a chance for us to forge a path for the user research discipline. What does the future of user research look like? There are still a lot of unknowns; research as a specialism is grey but we haven’t had time to define it. So, this is an exciting opportunity to answer some of those sticky questions!

Our first meetup was in January 2020, in a small group discussion format to discuss impact. We deliberately wanted an intimate setting. We wanted everyone to be comfortable in sharing their successes and lessons. Our plan for 2021 is to continue to run small events online and curate relevant content for the community.

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

Be super-organised, use suitable tools and delegate where needed.

My approach to time management has changed over the years. The main lesson is that if my time is a pie, how big would the ‘side projects’ wedge be? I am a lot more focused and stopped procrastinating once I know how much time I can commit to it.

We have a model that works well for us now for uxmentor.me, it is a lot easier to manage my time on that. I know what I need to commit to to provide a good mentoring experience for my mentees. With Leading Research, it’s still a young community we do have to put a lot more time into it. There are some intense periods of engagement as we plan for events or curate content for the blog, followed by quiet periods. So I guess it all balances out at the end!

Trello is a great planning tool. For example, in each of my side projects we use four columns: backlog (ideas we have and want to do), to do (the next things we have to do), doing and done.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help! Learning when you need help and ask for it is a healthy thing.

Why have a side project?

To me, it’s about giving back to the communities I am part of. With mentoring, it is like holding up a mirror to yourself and asking how you are performing. But it also makes you think on your feet and I quite like that.

As you accumulate knowledge and experience, you may think that some things are so obvious. But, they aren’t simple to others and that becomes useful to someone else. It's also a nice challenge to think about how you communicate complex ideas in a simple way. We want people to digest the information easily!

• • •

Diptych courtesy of Christina Li.


❤️ Donating = Appreciating: Design Feast is 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.

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—starting at $1 per month. Starting your patronage today matters—it’ll help Design Feast continue to be an exceptional service, integral to the creative community.