Ches Perry: An American Sign Painter

I hold a special place for sign painters in my heart. It’s an art form that I have never really dove into on account that deep down I’m terrified of it. It brings back memories of art school and trying to draw these huge still-lifes on big, white, empty pieces of paper. A wall is just a bigger, more empty, white canvas of terror!

Obviously that means I’m fascinated by all sign painters and their abilities. I have spent years looking at type, learning the intricacies of letter spacing, type anatomy, type classification and the list goes on. But to try to not only design the typeface WHILE I’m trying to spell, letter space, be creative, and in a medium that does not include apple + z, well you can imagine it takes a brave soul to attempt such creative feats!

In my quest to learn more about sign painting, I came across Chicago-native Ches Perry who has been sign painting for 40 years. Now that’s a career. He co-founded Right Way Signs and while sign painting is only one sign service the company offers, it’s the part that Perry embodies. As I am finding true in many of these newly documented stories of masters in various crafts, Perry thought he was taking a commercials arts class and ended up in a lettering class and just stuck with it. I for one am very grateful he did.

On a broader view, I am so glad that videos like this one are starting to pop up. I’ve watched seemingly similar videos on people and their craft ranging from letterpress, woodworking, bookbinding, cloth makers, cheese making, and the list goes on. It’s a beautiful thing to capture the work of these people. Their dedication and mastery of their craft is a sight to behold. I also always find it amusing that an often held sentiment by the subjects of these videos is that they just do what they love and it’s not all that special. I’m glad there are people out there that recognize these people’s worth and ignore their grumblings of dismissal. Our culture is inspired and richer for knowing their stories.

Barrel + Ink: Drink up these enticing collaborations!

Yes. No. No. Maybe. Definitely not. No. Yes. No. Maybe. I guess I could take a chance…

That is my mental process when I am strolling down the wine aisles at the store trying to figure out what bottle of wine I want to purchase. Admittedly, I am only looking at the wine labels and trying to discern how much I will enjoy a bottle of wine based on the typography, interesting vineyard name, and level of cleverness present on that tiny 3 inch x 3 inch canvas. What’s worse (or better depending on if your perspective is mine or the vineyards), is that I have HUNDREDS of labels, er, bottles of wine to choose from.

But let’s be honest with ourselves here: Unless you have decided to educate yourself on the various wines, vineyards, and grapes out there, most likely you’re picking your wine based on a label. It is indeed a lot like judging a book by its cover and we’ve all been hoodwinked by that process in the past. So what is a customer to do?

Enter Barrel + Ink, a San Francisco based company that “pair designers and winemakers together to create exceptional, limited-run wines.” The idea is that winemakers and designers are makers in their own right and oddly their individual processes intersect on a regular basis, but perhaps without a ton of intention. Often the marketing of a wine is separated from the actual vineyard and perhaps doesn’t truly embody and pay homage to the winemaking process. Barrel + Ink decided that missed connection was an amazing opportunity not to be ignored again.

Barrel + Ink

The most recent collaboration is between design rockstar Jessica Hische and Napa Valley winemaker Andy Erickson. Whoa. Their 2014 White Blend is just beautiful. Not only the pale, golden wine within the bottle, but the way Hische’s design aesthetic embodies the craft, sense of fun, and taste notes of the actual wine is spot on. But this is not just a designer fulfilling a client’s design needs. It truly is a collaboration. As Hische mentions in her interview (which by the way, the website offers audio interviews with each collaborator, which is a beautiful extra touch!) she was able to actually meet and work with Andy. She visited the vineyard and was able to draw inspiration for her final design. As with any good collaboration, it was two maker experts that did 110% and created something exceptional. Other design collaborators include Erik Marinovich, Invisible Creature, and Lab Partners.

Barrel + Ink

Barrel + Ink: Winemaker Andy Erickson

Barrel + Ink: Designer Jessica Hische

Barrel + Ink is also pretty tight lipped on which designers and winemakers they’ll be bringing in on the future collaborations. Smart move. I’m certainly going to keep checking back to find out which of my favorite designers has now made a miniature piece of art aka wine label, that I have to purchase now (obviously!)

Interested in getting your hands on a bottle? You won’t be able to pick this up at your local shop. These wine + design collaborations are only offered through the website. But you can get on their mailing list and be notified as each new collaborative bottle becomes available for purchase.

From Seed to Plate: IKEA’s Indoor Gardening Kit is Arriving!

I have a confession. As a design blog, Industrial Design draws the short end of the stick when I write most of my posts. I’m not sure what’s wrong with me because there are some AMAZING products out there, and not just phones and robots that sweep my floor. Products that find a user need not being met and after some kick-ass iterative work (usually taking place not behind a computer), there is a product that I would love to have in my home.

Lea Martin, one of my close friends and incidentally an Industrial Designer (ID), thinks very different about problem spaces and it’s amazing to be part of those conversations. The affordances for users that are considered from an ID perspective makes you find a deeper connection with your users than this designer thought possible. You often have to consider anatomy, psychology, and the tactile experience even more. Love it.

So this week, I’m talking about a new product from IKEA, an Indoor Gardening Kit via Hydroponics. Last time I grew anything hydroponically was a tomato plant in the 7th grade for my science fair project! As IKEA puts it, “Water, light, and love. That’s all!” and it looks like that could be very true. IKEA put together an upbeat and beautiful video that actually walks you through all the steps of growing lettuce (or possibly some other non-deep root vegetables too?) to your plate.

As a relatively new urbanite with very little space in general, and definitely no soil to call my own, I can see the possibilities of this indoor growing kit going over very well. I believe it’s an innate need and deeply satisfying for people to grow their own food. Plus, hello educational opportunities. Everyone should know where their food comes from and this is a great start in any agriculturally rich education.

Being IKEA though, this is not an ugly kit. Everything is beautifully rendered, precision manufacturing and in true Swedish design, is streamlined and beautiful. Still unclear of pricing (as it isn’t released until April), it’s worth checking out next month. Feel free to buy one for yourself and send one my way too!

IKEA Indoor Growing Kit

Oh, and be sure to thank your favorite Industrial Designer today. They do great work and certainly don’t get praised enough! I will also do better and start introducing more blog posts on what’s going on in the ID community as well 😉

Design Your Own Parklet!

I remember when I first arrived to my Wallingford neighborhood and walked around, that every way I turned people had put in raised gardens filled with flowers and veggies in the space between the sidewalk and the road. I thought it was GENIUS! That space, often called an easement (which is usually owned by the city) always seemed like a waste of space if left empty. Apparently Seattle also agreed and allowed the space to work for its citizens and gave me wonderful things to admire while I took my evening strolls.

Easement Gardens

Well, Seattle has done it again in the form of a parklet. Supposedly originating in San Francisco (I swear Europe has been doing this for centuries, but I digress), the first parklet (or a streatery in some circles) was established in 2005 and was open for 2 hours as an installtion. Since then more long-term parklets have popped up around the city. The official definition of a parklet is “the process of converting a parking space [or two] into a small public ‘park.’ Parklets are, in effect, an extension of the sidewalk into the street, exchanging private auto space for additional public gathering space.” To be clear too, the idea is that these parkelts are truly public spaces and not just extensions of restaurants or cafes. A parklet for everyone!

The first parklet I saw was last year, just down the block from my apartment in Wallingford in front of Molly Moon’s Ice Cream. The overflow from that store on any non-freezing day is crazy! People are usually spilling out into the street, taking up parking spots anyways, just milling around consuming yummy goodness. So why not give the people what they want? The parklet felt like it appeared overnight, but obviously had been planned and well thought out. It offers up seating for two-legged and four-legged alike, lush plants, and an overall vibe of invitation to sit and chat for a while.

Wallingford Parklet, Seattle

The most recent parklet I literally stumbled upon is on The Ave and 42nd Street in the University District. If you’ve spent anytime on The Ave you know that it is not typically a place that you just hang out. Usually it is very stressed out students that are running to get food in to-go containers and then briskly walking back onto campus which is a mere block away. But the parklet is sending a different message now: It says, “Stop in, slow down, and sit for a while.” Admittedly, “hearing” that message when standing in a torrential downpour of rain doesn’t seem all that appealing, but once spring arrives, you can bet that parklet will have a waiting line around the block!

University District Parklet

Not seeing a parklet that is to your liking? Wish you had a swing or possibly even a sandbox? Not a problem! The Seattle Department of Transportation really wants to support citizens of Seattle to start building these parklets. They have made an extensive, but very accessible step-by-step guide to help you through all the stages (brainstorming, planning, construction, etc.) of getting a parklet in your neighborhood! See the full PDF here. So gather your creative peeps, download the guide, and get to brainstorming!

Not from Seattle, but still interested in getting a parklet in your neighborhood? You would be surprised how many cities across the United States already are dedicated to the idea of parklets. Google “Parklet Guidelines, [your city name here]” and you should find at least initial information to get your project rolling. Good luck!

Envisioning a spectacular future with Microsoft.

When I think of the future my mind instantly jumps to a very sci-fi view of the world with flying cars and robotic dogs. Popular movies and tv shows certainly like to weigh in on this topic (Guardians of the Galaxy, below). But if I think about it more seriously, it gets a little greyed out, creating these vignettes of possibility. Some are positive and show a world where we have overcome our differences and learned to live a more sustained and harmonious life together. Another is a little darker, considering what will happen if we don’t get several major issues figured out or stop ignoring natural crisis that could effectively end civilization as we recognize it. Then there is that zombie apocalypse version, but no one wants to entertain that idea for very long…haha

Artwork by Oliver Pron

Somewhere in the middle is probably closer to reality. But that vignette still needs guidance, a view point, a creative and innovative spirit to make its prophecy come true. Having spent several years in Seattle now, I have had some very interesting conversations with people and been closer to technological, scientific, and cultural advances than I have in my entire life. It’s exhilarating, if you don’t take it for granted.

Luckily, I don’t. Last week I had the pleasure of getting to sit down and talk with two designers from the Microsoft Productivity Envisioning team who’s job it is to envision life 10-15 years in the future (Consider the technological advances in just the last three years!). Alanna MacGowan is a Designer and Thomas Ham is an Experience Designer and they are a riot! Cracking jokes, doing impressions, and poking fun at each other as only a truly harmonious team can be. It was nice to interact with a kick-ass design team that was humble, human, and capable of any herculean task put before them.

One might think that envisioning the future needs to be people in lab coats with stern faces. Not at Microsoft. They take their responsibility seriously, but they understand that to see the future, you can’t strangle it. The Envisioning Team believes that the future will be centered around people and the technology that supports them in their lives. Want to see what that bright future might look like? Watch their vision video below!

This video is exceptional all on its own, but to be able to watch it with a running commentary by the people who created all of it and their thoughts behind their decisions? I am one lucky person. What is even more fascinating is that they were very aware that they did not want to produce a science fiction video. So much of the technology you see presented is truly going to be a possibility in 10-15 years. That is AMAZING!

The future just got a little more interesting to think about. To see the full Microsoft Envisioning website (and I suggest you take a look!) CLICK HERE.

Tipoteca Italiana Fondazione: Rediscovering the past today.

Luckily, not everything has to be hard work. In this day and age, you can’t throw a smartphone and not find a service or process that hasn’t been streamlined for supposed ease. However, there is something very satisfying about putting in a focused effort that has an equal output. A 1:1 ratio, if you will. From an early age its been my version of everyone’s fascination and expectation of instant gratification. With letterpress printing, the amount of effort I put into setting up for a print is usually damn near equal to the success of the final print. I move each weighty block of letter form to the satisfying clicking of lead on steel as I lock them into place. From materials that were once the epitome of strength, there comes a tactile interlude unlike I have ever experienced.

You feel connected to the long lineage of printers that stood in that exact spot, to do the exact act, you are about to do. It can be as reverent of a moment as standing in a church. What is even better is that I am not alone in my ability to wax poetically about letterpress printing. Some can even do it in Italian. I am obviously referring to Tipoteca Italiana, easily one of the three original cradles of letterpress printing culture in the world. Started in 1995 in Corunda, Italy to capture and sustain Italian printing culture since the Industrial Revolution, the Fondazione not only houses a museum, but a working shop that has almost every type of press you can think of and more type cases of wooden and cast type than I could begin to count.

Now, I see where the future of society is going in terms of communication. I’m a designer, I have to. If I want to continue to help shape this world then I have to be on board, which I most definitely am. But I see my extensive knowledge of letterpress printing as just another facet of understanding design, of being a designer. As a designer, how can I know where I’m going if I don’t know where I’ve been?

HOW Design Conference: Upon further consideration…

Well I’m back from my trip and more confused than ever. That sounds negative, but it’s not meant to be. This year’s set of session’s and speakers seemed very unique to me and well planned. Last year’s sessions/speakers were much more about the environment designer’s work in and practical tips for day-to-day designing. This year’s were more about the designer themselves; the kind of person they are outside of being a graphic designer and how that in turn helps them be better at their jobs. Sessions ranged from looking at all the stuff we keep on our homes and desks (toys, pencils, pens, posters, books, etc) to what inspires us. I think it made several people stop and think: Wow, there is a person behind all this work we all produce daily. Often I think designers feel like human computers that components are put into and out we spit a marketing piece or a website. We can start to feel very “unspecial” and that can affect us deeply.

For me these sessions made me start thinking of so many things and made me really question who I am independently of graphic design and then who I am with my work and how they interlock. It was amazing how so many graphic designers were baffled when asked what we draw inspiration from. It was clear that many people, including myself, hadn’t had time or even thought to ask ourselves what inspires us to come up with that new great idea. We all get so focused on the job/project/pitch/new idea that we had forgotten about ourselves.

So this is what I take away:
1. I am unique and to do my job it takes a little bit of nurturing and understanding of myself.
2. Don’t dismiss the little things: You never know when a red kick ball can change the world.
3. There usually is another person in a worse work situation than you, so keep that in mind.
4. Find a mentor if you don’t already have one. They will change your life.
5. Be a collector of inspiration. It never goes out of style.
6. Network. Even if it feels weird, you can only get better at it.
7. Be open about who you are. You’re not alone.

So my confusion comes only from looking in at myself, being intrigued, and trying to figure out who I am and what truly inspires me.

Most likely my company won’t pay to send me again next year, but based on this year’s experience, you can bet I’m already saving for next year.

Austin Letterpress

I was recently up in Chicago to visit a college chum and fellow graphic designer. She took me to the most amazing little shop called Four Sided. This store had everything imaginable when it came to print items: flash cards from every decade, playing cards from Victorian England, postcards ranging from the beautiful to the hilarious, and everything else in between. It was overwhelming, but the most amazing 2.5 hours ever spent (yes, this is what happens when you take 4 graphic designers into this shop!) I ended up buying two postcards of Gothic cathedrals and this cute letterpress piece that had different types of knives on it with numbers next to them, like if you were looking at a catalog and picking out silverware. It had a little sticker on it that said Austin Press. So I looked them up. Talk about amazing work. They’re located in San Francisco, in a shipyard warehouse, where they do wedding sets, announcements (baby, moving, etc) and calling cards. First I love anyone that calls business cards “calling cards.” Here are some people who know their history! Secondly, their ideas were fresh. Yes, every letterpress studio undoubtedly prints items with ornament and flowing flowers (which they do as well), but their postcard wedding pack and their calling cards with simple etchings really drew me in. Plus, who can resist rounded corners?

So take a look. I think you’ll like them. I know I do!

Chip Kidd: Design Genius or Comedian?

I believe the answer is both. Last week I attended a talk given by Chip Kidd at Indiana University, my ama mater. His talk elicited side-splitting laughter, groans of disapproval for examples of extremely ugly book jackets, and cheers when his locally-brewed beer was refreshed, on stage, mid-sentence. The more I listened to his anecdotes the more I realized something: He was only talking about the book jackets that were cancelled or rejected by author or publisher. Here is Chip Kidd, a man that is considered a rock star in graphic design, only showing his failures. Why?

I’m not sure of his reason, but my theory is this: Kidd stated that graphic designers are “problem-solvers.” The problem is posed to us where we are given restrictions, images, perhaps some copy and told, “Make this work.” So how do we get better at problem solving? We have to fail, be rejected, and told no. It’s at this point that we pick ourselves up, dig deeper into our creative brains, and try something different. It’s the only way, and every graphic designer goes through this every day. From a design student trying to get through a class crit to Chip Kidd, a rock star in the graphic design world, being told the publisher “the opposite of liked it.”

So I’ll leave with you a few quotes that I loved from his talk. He really is a comedian…
Q: What should go on this book jacket?
A: How about some type? Type is nice. You can reeeeaaadddd it… (Note Chip Kidd’s sarcasm here.)

Q: Do you sketch your ideas before heading to the computer?
A: I don’t have the sketch gene, the notebook gene, or the drawing gene. I just don’t. So…yeah.

Q: How do you come up with successful design ideas?
A: I rely on serendipity a lot. A LOT.

Go and see Chip Kidd talk the next time he’s near you. He’s a real hoot to see and his personality is just infectious.

Chip Kidd

It’s finally here!

I thought my first blog post should probably contain some thank you’s to those people who really helped me get this website off the ground. Thank you to Eric! You were the first person who talked about personal websites and creating one in a way that was friendly and not scary! You have helped me soooo much! Thank you to my friends Laura, Daniela, Lacy, Laura R., and Ashley. You listened to me talk about ideas through every lunch for weeks. You keep me on track and sane! Thank you to Jenny who is my friend and mentor. Meeting you has taken my life to a great place and you should know that! Lastly, to my parents. You’re always there. Always…hehehe I will always appreciate that!

So the mushiness is out there now. All my thanks to everyone! From here on out I promise to do my blogging best and find some interesting things regarding design, fonts, patterns, colors and anything else design related I come across! So stay tuned!