Back in March as part of the global CreativeMornings theme “Hidden”, Portland photographer Holly Andres spoke about the complexities of childhood, the fleeting nature of memory, and female introspection.Submit your favorite quote from Holly’s talk on our chapter page! And shout out to Jason de Parrie-Turner for shooting the video.
Part of an ongoing series highlighting the amazing people in the Portland creative community.
For over a decade, Raymond Brigleb and his agency, Needmore Designs, have a been vibrant contributor to Portland’s creative culture. And it’s been to no one’s surprise: Brigleb has made a conscious effort to partner with many community members while adapting to the website industry’s ever-changing design landscape. The Minnesota native also has an ear for vinyl, an eye for local art, and a time-tested love of coffee. Back in February, Needmore Designs tweeted their thoughts of the G Cody QJ Goldberg talk.
I heard through the grapevine that you were one of Stumptown’s first employees. Is that true?
I worked with Duane Sorenson at Peet’s Coffee just before he founded Stumptown. Thinking back, he was the most colorful employee at Peet’s and seemed fairly out of place. One afternoon, we were hanging out and he suggested an interest with starting a business. I couldn’t tell if he was serious, but I told him if he was that he should hire me. Turns out he wasn’t kidding: I was, indeed, hired on as Stumptown’s first barista.
Over the years, Duane has made a conscious effort to develop strong relationships with the communities at the source of Stumptown’s coffee beans. Did his global perspective at all rub off on you?
He was keen on building relationships with our coffee farmers. I, myself, was too busy with management and being a barista that I wasn’t able to travel to where the beans were sourced across Latin America. Duane’s global interest, though, sparked my initial pitch for a Stumptown website. At that time in 1999, I didn’t feel like anyone was telling the story behind coffee. Sure, there were popular brands like Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts, but no one in between. It seemed to me having our own story online would be important for our brand’s success. What’s funny is that today’s culture is inundated with stories. Customers care only to know if a cup of coffee tastes good or not. But 15 years ago, online storytelling was a novelty.
At that point in your creative career, how long had you been designing websites?
The first website I ever built was two years prior in 1997. When I was living in Minneapolis, I co-founded a café named Rudy’s. It was my partner’s idea to only play ska music, while my pride aligned with our website being built with Gopher, a conceptual precursor to the World Wide Web and the namesake of the University of Minnesota’s mascot. I know I’m dating myself, but it’s worth noting my first computer was an Atari 400. Back in the 1980’s when my father worked for 3M, he would bring home spare electronic parts and challenge me to build a computer from scratch. A short time later in 1998, I lived in Santa Cruz and had a chance to work with computer graphics for several video games. The titles themselves were not successful, but the associated websites found some traction in the design community. These were, still, the very early days.
Returning to Rudy’s, what was the motivation behind only playing ska music? I read in your agency biography that you share an affinity for avante-garde music.
I should probably update my biography! To be fair, I have an affinity for all types of music. In the office, I’m the one who insists we have a turnable and fresh vinyl records to listen to. As for Rudy’s, I didn’t care if we were playing ska so long as we were a business who shared a story and an opinion. We had something that we stood for, but also had something we inherently stood against. In saying we were ska café who played records and sold funky cigarettes, we earned a loyal following as opposed to other generic coffee houses. And even if all of us served crappy coffee, at least we served crappy coffee while playing good music. And hey, if you were a customer who brought in a record, we would probably play it. Rudy’s was like hanging out a radio station.
When you started the coffee house, did you have more of an itch that you were going to be a barista? Or, after dabbling with computer graphics in Santa Cruz, that you were heading towards a career in web design?
To be honest, design has always interested me. I don’t know if kids still do this today, but if you grew up in the ‘80s like I did, you would draw the names and logos of bands you liked on your backpack. The thing is, I got really into it. And so, with the half-dozen coffee houses that I worked for during my early years, I grew frustrated. Each were just getting off the ground and each felt like a dead-end. I didn’t like the management side of business and, at the time, I couldn’t understand why. When I was fired the second time, though, from Stumptown — and yes, I was so bad at customer service that I could get fired twice — I decided that the thing I always wanted to do was design. And seeing as I had always been tinkering with computers, this seemed like my chance. I was on unemployment and could start a business. More or less, I asked around for projects and got started.
Did any reception from the Stumptown website lead you to believe you could start your own design agency?
Honestly, the initial Stumptown website didn’t make a dent. When you’re bootstrapping yourself, your goal is to do stuff for cheap and earn exposure. You end up working for next to nothing with a lot of artists because they also don’t have money. Eventually, I caught the eye of the illustrator for DailyCandy (a culture website growing in popularity with young women). She liked my style and wanted me to redesign her website. I said yes and, with time, people began affiliating my designs with DailyCandy. It was an impression I did nothing to dissuade because it was helpful to work alongside a company courted by brands like AOL. Things, then, took off. For over ten years, Needmore has literally never advertised. I’ve found if you do work that leaves a good impression — and maybe encourage people to tell others about you — that things will work out for the better.
I read an entry on the Needmore blog regarding your redesign of the De La Paz website, a coffee company based in San Francisco. You described there being a unique “feeling” behind a Needmore design. With the changing landscape of web design — between the new publishing platforms, new programming languages, and new trends — how has that “feeling” evolved and/or stayed consistent over the years?
I think a lot of today’s designers sell their aesthetic style as being uniquely in-house. To me, it’s no different than someone who learns how to act by only waving their arms. Instead, when working with a design, it’s important to step back and consider a project’s most important design principles. And if those principles resonate with a client, that’s an expression of style that’s much more powerful than if you were to only stick with a color, like orange. And not to diss everyone who uses orange because I’m sure we have used orange on Needmore designs in the past. As for the De La Paz site, we had to consider the landscape of coffee websites. They all seem to have a certain look nowadays, often using craft paper. I wanted to express something through design that would appeal to the larger Bay Area community and reflect the specific interests of De La Paz’s clients, including tech companies like Google. Clarity was key. When Needmore visited De La Paz, it was difficult to reduce our experience into words. Instead, we were taken by the business’ vibe. They were playing records, had funky and weird wallpaper, and showcased lifestyle imagery. And so when considering De La Paz’ website, I was interested in an experience where customers were inside photographs surrounded by information, rather than being inside information surrounded by photographs. For instance, instead of showing a bag of coffee atop a white background, we designed entire pages with urban landscapes featuring bags of coffee atop a table. In addition to typefaces and line weights and their relationship to a consistent buying experience, we hoped to invert the approach to coffee websites.
As it relates to design principles, Needmore’s portfolio includes several projects interested in betterment within the local community. How has Portland influenced your agency’s perspective on social good?
It’s nice to attend to an event at a place that you support, to see your name on a program, and hear someone say something nice on-stage about your company. But for me, it’s even cooler when I attend that same event and the speaker describes our relationship with, say, a high school and the the kids go crazy. With our Washington High School project, I had biked past the school a million times and wondered if a story lay behind the building’s faded glory. Our agency was later connected to Venerable, a local development firm. We had the unique opportunity to tour the building, take photographs, and collaborate with those responsible for the school’s historic preservation plan. We, effectively, could tell the school’s story. And that’s what’s cool — to show someone on a map that I’m in one place and being able to connect those regional dots with others who are so close. Another similar project involved Portland’s Literary Arts program. The young students had written poems that lined the insides of TriMet public transpiration around the city. I’d catch myself on my way to work scanning the bus’ ceilings and thinking, “I can’t believe this is my client!”Other times, we simply seek people out. It’s an easy win-win if a collaboration can achieve some sense of social good. There’s nothing more frustrating than seeing a cause I believe in standing behind a crappy website. For example, last year we worked with Equality House, a rainbow-painted non-profit in Oklahoma advocating for social equality. The space lives across from the Westboro Baptist Church, a group notorious for their hateful picketing. We reached out to the house, suggested that their website could use some work, and offered our help for free. As it turned out, the guy who runs Equality House was incredibly supportive. As our relationship grew, our agency grew more excited for both their cause and our redesign. In fact, one of our newest employees joined our team because of the project! And so, I’d like to believe our team doesn’t work for the money. Yes, our new espresso machine may be enough incentive to come into the office each morning. But it’s more than likely because we all feel like there’s a sense of purpose in what Needmore is doing. We actually give a crap and we’re all trying to make a difference. (Sorry! I’m trying not swear because my daughter’s sitting right next to me.)
I imagine other design studios may avoid taking on social issues out of a disinterest in possibly dividing an office. Is it difficult to unify a team around your own social interests as one of Needmore’s Co-Founders?
No, frankly, it’s not hard. I don’t want to come to work with anyone who, for instance, doesn’t 100-percent believe in what Equality House stands for. Yes, I understand I can’t fire them for political reasons, but as it goes I wouldn’t hire that individual in the first place. When you and I were talking before our interview, you brought up collegiate athletics and if I knew where certain Needmore employees had attended school. While in retrospect I should’ve asked, what I care a lot more about is whether somebody is passionate about projects in our company portfolio. And, even better, whether I think the work he or she has done is pretty rad. Because for me, our work is much more important than doing another website for a chunk of money.
Between stories of empathy, apology, gratefulness, and frustration, I was intrigued with how many Needmore employees shared personal life experiences on the agency blog. Who inspired the creative transparency?
The idea came from my wife, Kandace Brigleb. I really do work with five amazing artists— even if they’re often just writing code. And even if it comes more naturally to some more than others, each has their has their own interesting story whom I try and encourage to share everyday. One Monday, it dawned on us that we should all write stories about our own experiences related to social inequality. Funny enough, at the same time we had considered producing a short, one-minute video to promote Needmore on our agency website. Instead, we asked ourselves: How could we tell the same story more effectively through a client’s project and through their eyes? Because, for me, I’d like to be working at an agency where our employees are talking to people in the community, letting them what we stand for, and — just as importantly — that we stand for something.
Looking back on the last ten years of projects at Needmore, would you say you’re creatively satisfied?
(Pause.) Yeah, I’d say so.
Who would be an ideal client, then, who you’d like to work with in the next few years?
When you brought up De Le Paz earlier, that was something I really enjoyed working on. In fact, we’ve since been tasked with a project for their lager, sibling company, Four Barrel. During our first meeting with one of the owners to discuss preliminary details, he suggested that he liked the work that we had done. Instead, though, he proposed that we do something with Four Barrel’s redesign that we had always wanted to do as agency. “Do that,” he said simply. I thought, “How many clients tell you to do that? That’s… weird!” What he said, though, was true. I was walking through their coffee house and noticed a chalkboard hanging from the ceiling displaying prices. I assumed I was looking at a transparent piece of plastic because the backside read in reverse. And yet, the owner had me look closer. The chalkboard was, in fact, two-sided. Someone had painstakingly written each menu item letter-by-letter backwards. It was for a little sense of humor and an attention to detail. Those are the qualities in a project that I appreciate: where you can do something that is practical but, at the same time, has subtle details which people will see, think is sublime, and know that someone cared.
Speaking of client relationships, you worked with a brand, The Hunter Collective, wherein you described Needmore as wearing an “anthropological hat” during agency discussions, research, and ethnography. Is anthropology a common design approach in the office?
I would say so. When looking at their site, our design is interested in simple symbology and a color palette akin to what you might have seen at the 1972 Winter Olympics in Munich. The pages are clear and we’ve given the scholarly approach its own flavor. My partner, Kandace, is an anthropologist by training and has a Master’s degree in the field. We joke about her education from time to time because, from the outside, it looks as if she’s failed because she did not become a professional anthropologist. But in reality, the skills of anthropology are uniquely applicable to the web for a myriad of reasons. For one, Kandace is the type of person who is not afraid to put the brakes on a project and re-think our audience. Such skills carry over into user-experience and usability. A sympathetic design cares about what users are going to perceive and how a design is going to be useful to them. As such, quick and dirty user testing is important to us when making sure our design theories are correct. And then there’s Needmore employee, Elizabeth. She’s actually owns an anthropological hat. On any given day, we’ll give her a hard time when she’s not wearing it around the office.
In addition to these client projects, what role do passion projects play in your career as a designer? In particular, how has “The Job” podcast influenced your relationship with the local community?
The name, “The Job,” is deliberately generic. But the goal of the podcast is to interview people doing cool stuff around Portland, whether it be creative endeavors or clever businesses. When the idea originally came about, the office was steeped in side projects already. I was trying to network, meet more people, and have more conversations. I thought I could record these conversations — seeing as I already liked to meet with past clients to discuss random ideas. Frankly, it was an excuse to get people into our office. I had to build a website, think about marketing, and learn important lessons once the workload became overwhelming. After 32 episodes last year, we decided to stop, reboot, and do a second season this in 2014.
What’s one lesson that resonates with you most since starting “The Job”?
We’ve had to be careful of overcommitment. It’s important to focus your business and thoughts on what’s most important: design. That said, without side projects we’d go insane. “The Job” has been great for our agency because the podcasts generate their own agenda. And with each new conversation I walk away with a head-full of new ideas. Whether it be with Jaimi Curl and the evolution of her local companies, Saint Cupcake and Quin Candy. Or with Hutch Harris, the frontman of The Thermals, and his marketing’s reflection of the changing music industry. There’s seems a fascinating intersection between business and design. What’s irritating, though, is when I record a conversation and it doesn’t air for a month. I want to tell the world, “Just wait, it’s that good!”
It seems you’ve struck a balance between work and fun. If you could dial the clock back and put yourself on the hot seat, what kind of conversation would you have with a younger Raymond?
I would caution myself. Back then, I had never experienced what it was like to really run a business. Instead, I was having fun far too often during my misspent 20’s. I would have told myself to be more aware of that little, nagging feeling in the back of your head. Just because life is more boring than you’d like it to be, you know things can be much better. And, most importantly, that I should act on that feeling sooner rather than wait until you get fired twice. Otherwise, I would’ve said you’re doing fine, to enjoy the hair while it lasts, and to keep buying records.
And while we’re looking to the past, when did you come up with a name like Needmore Designs?
I was really into a band called Guided by Voices. Their music was as good as anything The Beatles were putting out at the time — and I’ll admit to being the world’s biggest Beatles fan. But Guided by Voices was also recording their music on four-track tapes in their basement and, as a listener, it was obvious. They were proudly on a shoestring budget, drinking cheap beer, and being all-around amazing. I collected their records and noted that their publishing company was Needmore Songs. I found the name to be hilarious because this band was a song-writing machine, having written at least twice — maybe ten times — as many songs as The Beatles. I saw it as a beautiful bit of irony and decided to nick the name for myself. From then on, I’d be Needmore Designs.
Finally, in the context of CreativeMornings and morning routines, you certainly share an affinity for coffee. What’s your ideal cup and and what does it say about Ray, the person?
It’s a shot of espresso pulled from a machine in my office. It’s for myself with no customer service involved — which, as we’ve come to know, is a good thing. I couldn’t necessarily say what bean it would be, but the fact that I get to pick is part of the magic. The taste is indescribable — it’s always better knowing I can pull that shot, return to my laptop or book, and keep working.
Has an espresso always been your top choice?
A double-shot? No, god no. Duane taught me everything I know regarding my taste in coffee. Before, I hadn’t a clue. I thought the best coffee was the kind that was burned the most, like a French roast. And having lived in the Midwest, people would compare an espresso’s caffeine with that of a Red Bull. But they’re not the same whatsoever. Espresso has a unique history, culture, and a function. Duane was even one of the first people to put a standing table by a coffee house’s front window. And after he hounded me for years, I’ve come to understand that there’s no better expression of someone who is passionate about what they’re doing than to have them pull a double-shot.
Part of an ongoing series highlighting the amazing people in the Portland creative community.
Darsey Landoe has attended so many of our events that we’ve lost count! We’re featuring her because she’s amazing, because she’s shown us tons of love, and because she tweeted an awesome snapshot of her notes from the Mark Lakeman talk.
You do a lot of work with non-profits and small businesses. What attracts you to working with these kinds of clients?
There’s a pulse to non-profits that can’t be matched. The grit that people have, the fight that they exhibit every day, the necessity of it all—it’s purely for the sake of the people or the mission they serve. They don’t work for sales or awards or any sort of cool factor. They work insanely hard so that the cause they’re fighting for can progress. I love that. I love helping people do that. And I do better work when I care about what I’m promoting.
Sometimes I get to interact with people that receive the benefits of the work these non-profits do. I’ve taken photos, conducted interviews and written stories about really inspiring people. It gets me out of my bubble.
Same goes for a lot of small businesses—business owners put their entire lives into their work, and they believe in it. That really comes out in the work I get to do for them. Working for good causes with people who love what they do and are changing the world is an incredible gig.
What has been your most rewarding project lately?
About a year ago, I connected with a marketing group in Portland whose main clients are Goodwills in various cities across the country. I create fundraising campaigns for those clients a few times a year. Each campaign is such an all-encompassing project—there are multiple pieces of mail with lots of moving parts, web designs, emails—and I get to create all of these pieces from scratch. The biggest challenge is speaking the language of all our audiences, which go from Millennials all the way to the Greatest Generation. So we push a more modern visual style while employing some age-old tactics with the text. It’s a really cool challenge, and I’ve learned a ton.
What brought you to Portland?
Same things that bring everyone here—creative community, walkable neighborhoods, incredible geography, food, culture, the whole bit. I grew up in south Georgia and went to school in South Carolina. I visited PDX while in college with some friends and just couldn’t get it out of my head. I had to be here. I wasn’t brave enough to make the leap without a net, though, so I worked at an ad agency in Greenville, SC, for two years while I looked for work. The ad agency was the perfect place to cut my teeth as a designer—intense hours, high profile clients, crazy-creative staff—but I didn’t have time to do much else, particularly volunteering, so that was part of my criteria in my job search.
I landed a job at Portland Rescue Mission and figured I could grow as a designer while, essentially, feeling like I was volunteering full-time. Kind of the perfect balance. I made the move in 2009, worked at PRM for three years, then went out on my own as an independent designer in 2012. My husband and I bought a house here last year, so we’re sticking around for a while.
You’ve attended so many of our events! What keeps you coming back?
It’s free education, people! I love learning from other people’s experiences and applying their wisdom to my own life, whether they’re designers or not. I’ve really begun to see “creatives” as such a broad category of people—essentially, if you’re problem-solving, you’re a creative—and Creative Mornings recognizes that and showcases such a great range of professionals. Beyond that, it’s a great way to learn about what’s happening in Portland.
I go to lots of other talks and events, too. I’ve audited art history courses at Portland State, gone to a handful of AIGA events, taken classes at ADX, hopped around during Design Week, just gotten into WeMake. There are so many great events for creatives here, and that’s part of the reason I moved here, so I do my best to take advantage of them.
Which talks have been your favorites?
Oh gosh. That’s so hard to say. I was fascinated that Camas Davis of Portland Meat Collective called herself an almost-vegetarian. I cried when G Cody QJ Goldberg talked about the inclusive nature of Harper’s Playground. I think I had a spiritual moment when Brad Cloepfil talked about Allied Works’ process for designing the new Sokol Blosser space (which is breathtaking in person). But the one that’s stuck with me the most is Liz Forkin Bohannon’s talk about Sseko Designs. She really turned my world upside down when she suggested that capitalism might have more potential to do good than traditional non-profits, simply because people like buying things. There’s less of a guilt/obligation factor that way. They’re participating. They tell their friends about it. They receive a product that others can see. Obviously, because of my work, that gave me a lot to think about. I also went to Rwanda a couple of years ago, so her work in Uganda hit home.
Part of an ongoing series highlighting the amazing people in the Portland creative community.
When Isaac Watson left his day job last April, he looked to friends and strangers to keep his passion project in check. Each week on Twitter, he compared the number of hours he worked with those billed, ending with a brief summary of how he felt. While simple in practice, lifting the veil in the public domain forced Isaac to both confront the timeliness of his project’s goals and his need to bill more time so he could survive at home. He was, in effect, tapping into his ambidextrous brain. By intertwining creativity and analysis, Isaac has found his sweet spot between project management and community organizing. And today, he’s burning the same midnight oil and has almost completed that same passion project, Maker’s Nation.
You attended Portland State University’s renowned Graphic Design program from 2004 to 2008. How do you reflect upon your experience?
I didn’t actually graduate! In fact, I ran screaming from graphic design. The moment came when I was preparing for my portfolio review. I had been going to school off-and-on and wasn’t following a typical track. Forcing myself to be creative day-in and day-out was not something I wanted to do. And yet, I still had this great appreciation for design and marketing.
And so, it got to a point where I said to myself, “Portfolio review or bust!” And I said, “Bust.”
Six months later in 2008, you started Focal Length Designs. Did you have any sense the project was on your horizon?
No, not at all. It was my outlet for creativity as a hobby business. I could do it on the side when I had the time and motivation outside of my full-time retail job. I was making the work and doing a bit of graphic design for the marketing materials. To be fair, I didn’t see Focal Length as design work so much as making, and that’s where it appealed to me.
As your first jump as a professional in the creative world, what are some lessons you learned?
To be honest, I didn’t know what I was doing from a business standpoint. That particular “Oh crap!” moment is what fueled the rest of my career development. A lot of my dilemmas included not knowing how to price my work, how to market to people who were not my friends, and how to get my business into the community and be known. And then balancing my ability to produce creative work versus it being 30 degrees in my parents’ shop, hammering away at aluminum bracelets, not having very much fun, but knowing I had a show the next day.
I also learned to not do it all myself. My best decisions were hiring an assistant for three or four months to help prepare for a show, and then hiring a professional photographer to take images of my work. Those were huge burdens I was able to pass off, and it was well worth it. Also, I dove into my community, embracing advice trading and mentorship. As I started selling my work on Etsy, I realized there were other small business owners like myself who were trying to do something creative for a living and make a go of it.
You mentioned being involved with Etsy. It would seem, then, that was a direct connection to “I Heart Art Portland,” the community project you founded?
Absolutely! In 2009, Etsy was interested in jumpstarting community programs to help local Etsy sellers, and Portland was the prime place to do it. They partnered with PNCA and the Craft Museum and decided they wanted to start a professional development program. I was involved with a group of nine other people who volunteered to put “I Heart Art Portland” together. And it was great! For almost three years, we hosted workshops and networking events.
Also during this time, you returned to an academic community by starting work at PNCA. How did that come about?
I began working at PNCA because of the “I Heart Art” project. As collaborative partners in the program, I worked with PNCA pretty closely. One month, they had an opening in their Communications Department and I was anxious to stop working at Kinko’s. It was a perfect segue into marketing work.
Sounds like you were turning connections into professional opportunities. Let’s talk about Maker’s Nation, then. When did you decide you wanted to start a new venture?
We knew that our third year of the “I Heart Art” project was going to be our last because of a lack of funding. I thought to myself, “How can we return this program to something that is sustainable?” Because when it came down to it, the program was very successful for what we were doing. We had a lot of people attending our workshops, and we even experimented with speed-dating networking events that were very popular.
Maker’s Nation incorporated in March 2012 and we formed our board. It was very slow going at first, partially because I was working full-time (in PNCA’s Communication Department) and as a board we were still wrapping our heads around what we wanted to focus on. We knew we wanted to be broader in scope and not just focus on Portland but to help makers across the country. We also knew that education was a primary component of what we were doing. I didn’t actually intend to start Maker’s Nation as a non-profit, but the more I looked at keeping prices affordable for up-and-coming makers and being able to rely on community support — like philanthropy — the more I realized a non-profit was the way to go. So over the next year and a half, with a lot of planning and rethinking and planning and thinking some more, we’re finally kicking off in 2014.
But you still had your day job. When did you know it was right to walk away?
There were number of factors that aligned magically — well, not magically — but aligned at the same time that allowed me to make a decision. One, I bought my house and completely changed my monthly financial situation for the better. Two, I was at a turning point where I knew I needed to spend more time with Maker’s Nation but I did not have the capacity to do so outside of my job. So I gave myself an ultimatum — I needed to dive into it or I needed to walk away and let it go. And I couldn’t bring myself to let it go.
Why give yourself the ultimatum?
I knew if I didn’t, I would continue to waffle. My passion wouldn’t be my primary focus and I would just drag the project out further. If I didn’t do anything different, Maker’s Nation would blow up in my face.
I imagine you could have left and started Maker’s Nation in a different city, such as San Francisco or Seattle. Why did you choose to stay in Portland?
I’m a native, for one. And I kept coming back to the idea that if I were to go somewhere else, I would have to start from scratch. Portland has what I call the “Portland bubble.” It’s why everyone is drawn to Portland, including Portlandia — that creative, collaborative atmosphere that makes it pretty easy to start something like Maker’s Nation. And yet, while we’ll be based here in town, we are hoping very quickly to expand into other cities and start training. So while I try not to focus too much on Portland, it does have that magic, pixy dust of creative awesomeness.
Is it important for other Portlanders to burst from that Portland “bubble”?
Yes! One thing that I’ve been really conscious of is to realize that what makers are doing here can be replicated elsewhere. That Portlanders are not relying on the bubble to make us successful and that maybe the petri dish of all the components that go into making the bubble can be found in other cities. I’m fascinated by other creative cities that have a maker history with a blue-collar style, like Pittsburg, Raleigh, or Asheville. These places have really interesting, creative backgrounds but maybe the communities themselves are a little more underserved. Those are the types of places that are most like Portland that would also be easy for us to go into and start hosting programs and to be a real benefit to the people that live there.
There’s a statement on the Maker’s Nation website that reads, “Find your people the old-fashioned way. Better your business the 21st-century way.” How does balancing the old and new resonate with you?
Makers are constantly self-isolating. If you’re trying to do it all yourself, you’re either in your studio, behind your computer or in your workshop. You could also be taking the photos, writing your copy or building your own website. Even though we are increasingly interconnected through the Internet, we have devalued the importance of coming face-to-face and spending time in a social manner with other people. And so “finding your people the old-fashioned way” means finding an event or a structured program where you can meet, learn and have a shared experience with others.
“Better your business the 21st century way” means taking a modern approach to what you’re doing. Whether it’s jumping on the crowdfunding train, focusing on an online-only business or using the latest technology or channels to sell and market your work, these are skills I often find makers lacking. By offering education, hopefully Maker’s Nation can attempt to bring makers as a whole up together and offer tools for being better business people in the 21st century.
On the heels of starting Maker’s Nation, is there any advice you would give to your younger self?
Think bigger! I left school very frustrated while trying to find myself and I think I was limiting myself to what was immediately in front of me. I think taking the leap into starting the jewelry business was probably the first step into thinking bigger. I often find my ideas tend to be much more ambitious than I can actually execute, but I like it that way because it keeps my mind open to different things and it helps me scheme, plan and think broader than what’s right in front of my face.
That sounds similar to a line I’ve seen on your website and your Twitter biography, “Pay attention, give a shit.”
Those are Stefan Sagmeister’s words and they’ve always resonated with me. One of my biggest frustrations in observing culture is how more and more people are taking the time to notice their surroundings. It’s one thing to complain, or to whine, or to demand for change — whether it be in politics or economics. But ultimately, it’s important to put actions behind your words. “Giving a shit” for me is a mantra that suggests I have opinions, feelings, and goals, and that I can do something about them.
Does such a philosophy relate to being a maker?
Yes, I think it does. I think the most successful makers are the ones who are not just paying attention to what they’re doing, but to how the outside world influences [their creativity] and to care enough about what they’re doing to make it amazing.
Do you consider yourself a maker?
My quick definition is someone who is an independent entrepreneur. Or somebody who is doing something creative for a living on their own or with a small group of people.
On Friday, March 14, we’re hosting Portland photographer Holly Andres, a photographer who through her camera examines the complexities of childhood, the fleeting nature of memory, and female introspection.Hosted at The Hollywood Theatre, several tickets are still available for the talk related to CreativeMornings’s global theme, “Hidden.” Grab yours now! http://creativemornings.com/talks/holly-andresThe above photo, “Sam Johnson, Executive Director of the Columbia River Maritime Museum, Astoria, Oregon,” was included in a commissioned photography series by Oregon Cultural Trust. Holly was tasked with creating a collection of portraits of Oregon icons, each of whom represent a facet of Oregon cultural life. See more from her series: http://www.hollyandres.com/The-Oregon-Cultural-Trust
Wanderlust might best explain designer Tess Donohoe’s journey to the Rose City. After meeting her husband, Ryan Donohoe, in Copenhagen during his exchange program in architecture, Tess crossed the pond to San Francisco to study illustration. A Bachelor of Fine Arts would bring Tess to Southern California and the Art Center College of Design, studying Motion Graphics and working with clients like Tom’s Shoes and the United Nations. She’s now a full-time freelance graphic designer and illustrator living in her new Northwest abode with her husband, their dog, and a turntable apt for study breaks.We picked Tess for her tweet from the Matt Wagner talk.
We heard you recently moved to Portland’s Alberta St. neighborhood from Los Angeles. Welcome!
Thanks! I moved here on my birthday on November 2nd. In fact, my family just flew in from Copenhagen to visit my husband and I. They’re in our home around the corner pulling out carpet. It’s old, so they’re helping with the renovations. Behind the home is an accessory building that at one time housed a construction business. My husband, who builds furniture, has his woodshop on the first floor and I have my studio on the second floor.
It’s funny because CreativeMornings was my first attempt at getting out. Matt Wagner’s talk was only two weeks after I moved here.
With rising tuitions and more creative outlets to build a portfolio, many students are doubting the worth of an art or design degree. How do you reflect upon your BFA degree at Art Center College of Design?
It’s a hard question to answer because I understand art schools are incredibly expensive nowadays. But for me, it was a great experience because art school taught me the most important lesson I still carry with me today: it’s not about understanding specific skills, but learning how to learn. Our semesters were 14 weeks long, and you’d often start from the beginning not knowing anything about a course topic, whether it was motion graphics, typography, illustration, or something more specific. But by the end, you’d get your head around it. There’s a certain confidence earned from finishing a full project.
Given the decline of job market in 2009, were you at all optimistic about finding projects upon graduating?
I didn’t think of it like that. I stayed focused on learning what I needed to learn, and being present in what I was doing right then. In school, you have no way of knowing if you’ll have projects in three years or one year or two months. School is such a limited time that there’s no reason to get discouraged about the future and what’s going to happen. Instead, you just have to continue getting better everyday — collaborating, getting projects done and building your portfolio.
Your interest in collaboration brings to mind the BFA Programs hosted at the University of Oregon’s White Stag Building in Portland. There’s a course, “Design Discourse,” where students from the Digital Arts, Product Design and Architecture programs share ideas about design.
Exactly! It’s a similar philosophy to projects we completed at Art Center. Often, all the school’s majors would come together and collaborate. During one stretch where I was taking classes on motion graphics, we were lucky to work on a project for the United Nations. It was an animation later shown at a conference in Cairo concerning human rights and equality.
Did you have time for any passion projects outside of school?
Because school was all-consuming, I only had enough time to work hard and take a lot of classes. But a few years ago when Ryan and I were in San Francisco, we were able to collaborate on a project called Gorilly. It was started by two guys who held different day jobs but shared an idea for a mobile showroom. They didn’t know how to get the project off the ground, so they found us. Ryan was able to design the van’s interior space and build its furniture, while I created the showroom’s logo and all complimentary graphic design. They’ve now work on the project full-time and the business is still going strong today.
What is it like for you as an illustrator when collaborating with your husband, who’s a furniture designer?
My process, especially with illustration, can be loose. I’ll get going on an idea and not have a fine sketch that’s perfect. Sometimes, I’ll allow my process to produce the project, like a happy accident. Whereas with Ryan’s woodworking, he has to plan. Between the wood being used and the cuts, it’s more of a linear process.
We’re always brainstorming new projects. It’s jut a matter of starting them in the first place.
Speaking of your illustrations, there’s a light-hearted, colorful, fun quality to your work. How do you hope people feel when looking through your illustrations compared to your graphic design portfolio?
That’s a response I’ve heard from many people — that “fun” feeling. Not long ago, I realized the feelings I held while making something were as important as my project’s final outcome. I asked myself why I should sit and feel tortured when, instead, I could create an environment that felt supportive of creativity. Maybe that’s where the bright colors in my illustrations came from, because I shifted my process towards one surrounded by bright colors. I also came to realize, quite literally, when I have to sit somewhere for ten hours a day staring at an illustration, such a time commitment also puts me in a mood. Most people might look at something on Tumblr for two seconds, but I’ll ended up looking at an illustration for twenty-plus hours. So, I’ll tinker with my process. I’ll try new things — I’ll start painting, I’ll try the texture of skin a different way, I’ll change my line work. A new process offers a new challenge.
With graphic design, though, it’s different because you’re working with a client. With start-up’s and smaller companies, it’s always fun because it’s a matter of finding out what they’re trying to say and expressing those ideas. Whereas with illustration, I don’t much consider my audience. Most of my work finds its way onto my blog or floating somewhere in the virtual universe. I’m more interested in what I want to feel. I’m able to offer more of myself, a little more “Tess.”
Really, it’s been like 24-hour business — I’ve loved doing both and I’ve refused to choose one or the other.
How would you, then, personally go about defining your aesthetic?
I like to create work that tells a story. I try to create moments and never focus solely on drawing characters. It’s about those little times of space, almost like a snapshot. And what’s unique about illustration is that, similar to photography, you’re forming a landscape. But as an illustrator, there’s a freedom to add something odd or different you couldn’t find in reality, like a horizontal half-moon. And as two different mediums, you can’t copy one or other, but you can try to capture that same feeling.
I came across a passage on your website that suggested you enjoy sketching the scenes around you while in airports and client meetings. Where does that curiosity come from?
I’ve come to realize sketching is not so much a hobby for me but something that is fundamental to my practice. And so when I was a little older than 17 and had first met Ryan, I would often fly between Copenhagen and the United States’ West Coast, a 24-hour trip door-to-door. Drawing those around me was a different way for me to absorb information and be be present in the moment. You start noticing every little detail of your environment, like the crinkle in people’s clothes or their posture and what that says about how they’re feeling. And the thing about drawing is that it can make the otherwise mundane appear interesting. What you put onto paper won’t be perfect — there will always be a little quirkiness and personality. Even more, the drawing reflects my state-of-mind. I find it fascinating.
Similarly, I read you recently worked with the Louie Awards in Washington, D.C. and took on designing the invitation cards for their annual awards show celebrating the year’s top greeting cards. I’m curious what you see the role as being for greeting cards?
For me, whether it’s for an event or a person, greeting cards are about saying something you want to say without knowing how to say it. And similar to infographics, greeting cards can take something that’s complex, amplify that feeling, and communicate it effectively.
Around three years ago, one of the first greeting cards I designed said on the outside, “Did you feel that?” and on the inside, “I was sending you good vibes.” There was a little guy wearing a space hat with radar things sending out “vibes.” The card didn’t share a profound message per say, but it included both a surprise element and a heart-warming message. Affecting people with a smile allows the card designer to think, “Okay, I’ve done something.”
Speaking of feelings, how has your experience in Portland been so far?
When I moved to Portland, it felt like I was coming full-circle from Copenhagen and that I’d arrived home. The people have been wonderful, but more importantly I’ve felt as though I could start breathing again. There’s not this race to win something as opposed to San Francisco and Los Angeles — although the pressure might stem from it costing an arm and a leg to live in those respective cities. People in Portland offer space for others to do their work. In the past, I’ve always felt as if everything needed to be done yesterday, especially for personal projects. But now, knowing I can take little more time to finish something and have it be a better project in the end has helped a lot.
I noticed one portfolio piece, “Doris and the Bear,” that stood out from your other illustrations. Is that an example of a personal project?
Yeah! “Doris and the Bear” is an example of, again, what ties all my work together: storytelling. It was part of an online class where I was asked to create a visual narrative. As opposed to a graphic novel, I chose to look into children’s stories, deciding on a woman and a bear and their relationship out in the woods. The first step was creating the front cover.
And it’s true, I take a lot of Skillshare classes because there are just so many. I’m enrolled in something like seven online classes. Right now, I’m diving into calligraphy. Take yesterday, where I spent 12 hours drawing letters in my living room while watching a movie. The floor and tables are scattered with letters. And so from a learning perspective, I don’t think I can be creatively satisfied. In the creative industry, and especially with interactive design, you’re always a step behind. That’s why I love what I’m doing — it never feels like a static career.
And so, looking back, would you have told Tess to do anything differently?
I’m not sure I would say anything differently because I didn’t leave Copenhagen with a sense of fear for the future. I left for the States feeling open-minded, not knowing what was going to happen nor having a plan. Sure, looking back there have been hard times, but I would not have warned my younger self because if I had been scared or known something difficult was bound to happen, I might not have pursued the same opportunities.
If there was something I could have told myself while in school, it would’ve been to keep pushing my craft further and further. Even if it didn’t feel like progress was being made or designs didn’t look quite right, it takes so long as it is until one’s work gets to a point where it maybe looks slightly okay. You just have to push through. Even right now, my life as a freelance designer can be super hard because I never know where the work will be next. In two weeks, I won’t have anything planned. But honestly, it’s like moving to a different country — between the American green cards and other difficulties, you don’t know how the transition will work out. Instead, it’s about focusing on those little steps.Interview by Sean Danaher, Photos by Ashley Forrette
Our chapter writer Sean Danaher took this shot of Instrument’s Public Relations Coordinator Cheryl Fuller during their interview for our Community Spotlight series back in December.seandanaher:
Southeast Portland, Oregon
For March, CreativeMornings’ global theme is “Hidden”. The theme was chosen by Creative Mornings Seattle' organizer David Conrad and his team, while Jesse LeDoux (LeDouxville) created the illustration. The Creative Mornings Portland speaker will be Holly Andres, a photographer who through her camera examines the complexities of childhood, the fleeting nature of memory, and female introspection.Mark your calendars for March 14! http://creativemornings.com/talks/holly-andres