August 25, 2013

Urban Renewal: Chicago CreativeMornings #21 with Greater Good Studio

Photo by Nate Burgos. View More.

August 2013: This year’s eighth Chicago CreativeMornings gathering featured Sara Cantor Aye and George Aye, the married co-founders of social design group Greater Good Studio. They spoke at the workspace of architectural firm Gensler.

August’s CreativeMornings global theme was Urbanism. The Ayes shared their joint perspective on celebrated bootstrapped business making—both the stresses and benefits. They especially emphasized the importance of practicing design toward solving social problems.


Instead of “should,” the verb could have been: must. But being a business owner is not an every-person fit. Our current pattern of employment reflects a growing variety of work environments: in-house, freelance, contract, and co-working(1). These are in addition to being an independent, self-sustaining, legally acknowledged worker or work group—whether as a small business or a large one.

Complementing the range of workplaces is the pick-yourself movement(2). In his article “The Next Big Thing in Design Is …”, Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO, expressed, “The decade-long evolution from Design to design thinking to democratized design to designer-founders has been lightening-fast in Darwinian terms. And I’m sure we’ll see several more iterations 10 years hence, because if there’s one constant in design, it’s that it’s always keen for a redesign.”

Many creative practitioners (and not only designers) are taking advantage of the Web—its toolkit and the services it seeds and cultivates—to start and solidify a business. The digital character of society is enhancing the ease of establishing a business entity and facilitating a drive to continually improve it. This aspect was demonstrated by the Ayes’ creation of Greater Good Studio, and the restless and rewarding adventure it set in motion. Creators keep motivating themselves to make ideas escape flatland.

A wholehearted serving of reality here. Echoes what Knoed Creative’s Kim Knoll and Kyle Eertmoed stated at Chicago CreativeMornings #7: “No fear!” Making something real—whether it’s a business, a poem, a website or any other creation—is accompanied by fear of the unknown. George Aye folds fear into his day-to-day routine: “I’ve become more tolerant of how much fear there is.” As one’s desire to make scales, so does the fear scale. What the Ayes reinforced was the ability to cope with fear and thrive in its midst.

“Partner” readily means spouse, but marriage can also be viewed as a metaphor. Jake Nickell, founder of Threadless and speaker at Chicago CreativeMornings #4, encouraged making with friends. There’s the inheritance of familiarity, trust and rapport. These qualities comprise a platform from which to recognize and steer toward realizing a creative goal.(3)

Greater Good Studio’s projects, from “sustaining early literacy” to “designing Chicago’s next transit app,” remind me of urbanist Jane Jacobs’ definition of design: “Design is people.” Designing is helping to make people’s lives better—even a little counts. This is true of Swissmiss’ feature of designer Chris Glass: his redesigned barber’s sign was a small creative assignment that realized big satisfaction. From large to small civic projects, creativity is essential to making a positive and potentially lasting, neighborly change.


Deal with fear in all of your creative pursuits; share your journey with like-minded people—and create like a good neighbor.

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Urbanist Jane Jacobs (1916–2006): “Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.”

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Big thanks to: Gensler for hosting, Grind and CafePress for sponsoring Chicago CreativeMornings #21; organizers Kim Knoll and Kyle Eertmoed of Knoed Creative, and all of the Chicago CreativeMornings crew—Liz CookIsaac SteinerErick De La Rosa—for their great work on making CreativeMornings happen 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.

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Lovingly written in Editorially. Typeface of quotes is called Massive designed by Shawn Hazen, who also makes wonderful typographic illustrations for Design Feast series Creative Roles.

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Read more CreativeMornings coverage.

(1) Read my Interview with Rena Tom, founder of former coworking space Makeshift Society in San Francisco and Brooklyn.
(2) From Seth Godin: “The opportunity of a lifetime is to pick yourself.” Read more.
(3) Speaking of creative duos and making with friends, view Portland CreativeMornings talk by Duane King and Ian Coyle.

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

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