JUNE’S CREATIVE SPOTLIGHT: Kunal D. Patel
Sr. Interaction Designer on the Material Design team at Google, working on patterns and guidelines to help people create beautiful, usable applications. Kunal studied architecture at Carnegie Mellon University and began his career in that field, before a love of making Flash websites led him to Parsons to get his MFA in Design and Technology.
In 2018 he started Letters of San Francisco, an ongoing collection of his favorite found typography in the city, digitally recreated one letter at a time. It began as a simple drawing exercise to practice hand lettering, but has turned into his primary lens for seeing and understanding San Francisco. By isolating the letters from their surroundings and presenting stories about the places they belong to. He hopes to share that view with others and help them appreciate the city in new ways.Find out more at: @lettersofsanfrancisco
Q&A with Kunal
What does Wonder mean to you?
To me, wonder is about curiosity. When something surprises or amazes me enough that I want to spend more time with it, or learn more about it in order to increase my appreciation.
How is this concept reflected on your creative work?
Letters of San Francisco is powered by a sense of wonder for our everyday environment and curiosity for the stories and people behind it. When I moved here 3.5 years ago, I was struck by the city’s bold colors and neon signs and began taking photos of my favorite found typography on long walks around the city. I wasn’t really sure what to do with them, but I continued to scratch that creative itch as the project evolved from reference material for hand lettering to the ongoing digital collection of recreated letters and stories it is today.
Would you share a bit more about the CM/SF collaboration and how you came about developing it?
When the CM/SF team and I discussed potential themes for collaboration, “Wonder” was instantly such a perfect fit. There is no Letters of San Francisco without a sense of wonder for the city’s typography and the stories behind them.
For the collaboration, I picked letters from around the city that are in the word “wonder” and designed printed cards for each one. Every creative decision was made to inspire people to visit these locations themselves and spark their own sense of wonder for their everyday environment. I only picked letters that are still available to visit, put a single letter on each card to keep the goal simple, used a postcard size so they’re easy to carry, and ended each location’s story with a prompt to go visit.
What have you been inspired by lately?
A friend recently shared the transcript version of Jenny Odell’s talk at Eyeo 2017 about “How to do Nothing”. Her framing of the power and importance of observation and reflection, and examples of her own work in re-contextualizing found material (“making nothing” new) was both inspiring and helpful as a way to think about my own work and the fulfillment I’ve gained from it.
Randall Ann-Homan and Al Barna, who started San Francisco Neon and host neon walking tours of the city, were early supporters whose work I greatly admire. Their journey from artists with a niche interest, to publishing a book, advising on local sign restorations, to national neon preservationists is quite inspiring.Any advice for someone in our community who is looking to tap in more traditional techniques or creative pathways?
Rely on existing habits: Don’t feel like you have to adopt a whole new way of working just because the subject matter may be different. If you have preferences or routines for your profession, or activities like fitness,, try to apply the same structure here so that everything isn’t new. This wasn’t something I thought about explicitly as I began working, but as someone who creates a lot of structure to manage other parts of my life, it wasn’t a surprise that wound up being the case here.
Start really small: Set an initial goal for yourself, then cut that one in half. A week later, feel free to cut it in half again. This project started out of an interest in hand lettering, but I didn’t know anything about it. Rather than start with a goal of a sign, or even a word, I limited myself to single, uppercase letters to keep things simple.
Identify meaningful constraints: Letters of San Francisco really took off for me when I committed to publishing a new letter every day last year. Suddenly, everything clicked into place: I needed to regularly explore new parts of the city, keep track of my backlog, and set aside dedicated time to work on this. The daily deadline also meant I was learning from repetition and would dwell less on a particular day’s outcome.
Find a support system: One thing that kept me going last year during the daily project grind was live encouragement from friends and digital support from strangers who found my work on Instagram. It was motivating to know even a few people were following along, sending me signs to go visit, and sharing how their own perspective had changed. I’ve been too afraid in the past to share personal work for feeling it wouldn’t be “good enough”, but it’s been so important to my continued interest in pushing it forward.Thanks to Kunal for collaborating with us and sharing his own unique vision of San Francisco.
CM/SF’s Creative Spotlight looks to highlight local creatives by collaborating on a fun project centered around the monthly theme. There are tons of local artists, makers, and creators in our city who are doing rad things – we want to spread the world and spark our community with their creativity!Know someone doing rad things? Drop us a line or two over email at email@example.com.