Tag Archives: Graphic Design

Holiday Cards 2020

Holiday Cards 2020

As I finished up my master’s degree in December of 2019, I made a promise to myself. 2020 was going to be the year of new experiences! My family had just moved to Austin, and between work and finishing up my graduate thesis, exploring our new home was something that felt impossible. Ironically, it seems doing anything in 2020 is impossible. This year has been ridiculously difficult. COVID-19 has essentially flipped the world on its head and left us all in a passive state of constant anxiety. I’d spent the majority of my time working from home this year — feeling positively stir-crazy. Fortunately, it allowed me to get creative in my personal life. When I wasn’t working on home projects, I dreamt up an elaborate holiday photo.

My family moved into a new apartment this summer, and we truly love it. We’re surrounded by lush greenery, nature, and wildlife. It’s beautiful and something I wanted to try and incorporate into our holiday card this year. Because we’re social distancing and trying to slow the spread of the virus, we couldn’t actually go anywhere to take our photo. We had to do the entire shoot from home (or at least within our apartment complex).

One rainy morning in October, the idea for our holiday photo popped into my head. I envisioned an outdoor study with three professors wearing glasses and smoking pipes. It seemed unique while being entirely ridiculous, and that reason alone sold the idea to me. Setting the scene would be laborious in that we’d have to build a backdrop and carry the furniture to our location, but my concerns were quelled remembering it’d all be within walking distance of our front door.

We decided to take the photo on Thanksgiving morning. Everyone would be home from work, and I’d have the weekend to edit the photos and get everything together. The boys and I sat on the floor that morning breaking down cardboard boxes from our Christmas shopping and duct-taping them all together. It looked like we were building a cardboard raft in our living room. We then wrapped it in wrapping paper Austin had brought home from IKEA, and the three of us carried it to a grassy area near our apartment dog park. We carried over the blue armchair in my office and a few plants from our porch and began to set the scene to the tune of barking puppies. It was windy, our backdrop fell several times, and I absolutely stepped in doggie doo. As glamourous as our struggle sounds, the photos came out beautifully. Our matching sweaters and pashmina scarves coordinated perfectly with the backdrop.

Photo setup

After some color correcting and light photo editing, I started to work with the card’s typography and layout. I decided to do a postcard layout this year because we were all feeling a little overwhelmed, and we still needed to print and send the cards out on time to our loved ones. Simplifying the design ended up working in our favor because it allowed the typography on the front to shine, while also making it easier for our relatives to hang our photo on the fridge.

2020 felt like an impossible year, but we made it through it. I’m proud that we were able to spread some holiday joy to our friends and family this year, despite the hardships that come along with the pandemic. Putting these cards together annually means so much to me, and accomplishing it this year in particular, makes things feel just a little more normal.

Julia R. Masterman Branding & Website

During our time in Philadelphia, my partner, Austin, worked at Julia R Masterman Laboratory and Demonstration School as their Computer Support Specialist. He worked as a part-time contractor repairing technology and maintaining the school’s website. In 2018, the Philadelphia School District ported all of their website work to WordPress with a visually restrictive template. In large part, this posed a problem because schools needed to entirely redesign their websites to work within a new system with a rigid template. I volunteered my graphic design services to the school to redesign the website and create a visual identity that could be implemented across the board in their collateral.

Expanding Masterman’s Branding

Before I could redesign their website, I had to refine and expand Masterman’s brand system. A few things were already set in stone: the school’s classic navy blue, and their established logo. Everything else was on the table: from color and typography to layout and iconography.

I chose to start with typography because Masterman’s logo already had a serif ‘M’ character in it. My first concern was accessibility. The school didn’t have a design budget, so getting them to purchase the rights to a type family wasn’t in the question. Austin informed me that the school was heavily reliant on the Google Suite. This meant that using a Google Font made the most sense (I can hear the collective groans of every graphic designer). In a perfect world, I would find another option; however, the school uses Mac, PC, and Chromebook operating systems. An easy-to-download and universally accessible typeface is the most realistic solution for this school. I settled on Merriweather as the primary typeface because the ‘M’ character had a stable form. Roboto’s geometric characters were the perfect complement to Merriweather’s classical serifs. It’s also incredibly versatile in that it comes in many weights.

After I created typesetting examples with my Merriweather-Roboto match, I focused on the school’s color story. I felt a monochromatic solution would be the least confusing and would be easier for faculty to work with. I kept the Masterman’s navy color and named it ‘Slate’ for its greyish tones. I chose a medium-toned blue, ‘Sky Blue,’ and a light grey, ‘Steel,’ to compliment it. I wanted a four-step progression from the greyish-navy to white, where the two colors in the middle highlight the overarching chromatic relationship.

Building a Modern Responsive Website

Once I established the visual identity for the school, I could begin to plan the look and feel of their new website. My main priority was benchmarking what other schools around the world were doing with their websites. Rather than diving in and working only within the Philadelphia School District’s template guidelines, I wanted to get inspired by design excellence and find ways to adapt. I was particularly interested in the web design I saw from private schools in Japan. The typography felt crisp, and the layout and color palettes were clean and airy. I found that high school websites in Philadelphia were suffocating in content — packed wall to wall with words. There was an overwhelming contrast between the examples from America and Japan. I wanted to distinguish Masterman from its competitors and portray it in a new light. This design direction was the way to accomplish just that.

I started with a five-column system to keep the website airy. Adding visual cues to anchor information with a given hierarchy is the key to the redesign. I alternated section backgrounds between Masterman’s Steel and white to create visual breaks as you scroll. Icons and photography draw your eye and help distinguish important sections. Variation in typography keeps each page interesting, while also directing the visitor’s eye. By designing a few key pages, I was able to create a design system Austin and the Technology Teacher Leader could implement in the rest of the website. I stayed on as a design consultant to answer any layout questions that might come up moving forward, as well as any design integration that could help with the school’s digital switch during COVID-19.

To see the full design, visit  Julia R. Masterman Laboratory and Demonstration School’s new website today.

It was so fulfilling volunteering to help Masterman firm up their branding and expand it digitally into their website. Working with the technology team and the administration was a joy, and gave me a new respect for the work Austin does. We were even more excited to find that the Philadelphia School District loved the Masterman website redesign so much, they implemented the stylistic decisions into their own website. I felt both flattered and humbled. I truly believe good design is powerful and has the ability to spread like wildfire. I love that I could help make the world just a little more beautiful with this volunteer project.

Austin Chronicle Hot Sauce Festival

2020 has been full of surprises. I don’t think anyone could’ve predicted all of this when we were toasting during New Year’s, but it doesn’t change the position we’re in, regardless. If anything, this year may be referred to as ‘The Year of Cancelations’. I was going to see Harry Styles live in San Antonio! I was also going to attend a number of food and hot sauce festivals this summer for work. I was really excited, to be honest. I’d get to learn more about Yellowbird’s devoted customers, and it’d get to try some interesting foods. Broaden my horizons overall! With all that being said, the Austin Chronicle Hot Sauce Festival was postponed…and then something strange happened. Society pivoted and learned that we don’t have to be together to be together. Hot Ones with Sean Evans switched to video interviews, and the rest of the hot sauce community followed suit. The Austin Chronicle Hot Sauce Festival delivered sauce kits and managed to bring the festival to its fans — socially distanced, that is.

With the festival back on, albeit in a totally new way, they needed a poster and postcard design last-minute including two vital partners of the festival: Yellowbird and Real Ale. This was a really fun project because I wasn’t beholden to Yellowbird’s brand standards. It was a neutral ground, of sorts, because Yellowbird and Real Ale’s new Vamonos! had to be equally represented.

I started with a series of sketches to brainstorm different layouts and aesthetics — really running the gambit to try everything. My art director and I were attracted to a few points of inspiration. We loved the harsh form-focused nature of Saul Bass’s work. It’s timeless, minimalistic, and striking. One issue I found with going this route was that we’d have to create minimalistic iconography for our brand as well as Vamonos! and I wasn’t sure if we had adequate time to ensure we were representing their brand properly. The timeline for this project was only two days, after all. We were also inspired by old grocery store posters that incorporated heavy typography and the classic sunburst effect. The latter ended up being the winner, but it was important that we didn’t fall into any old design clichés, when we could do better.

Texture and color were the driving forces that brought this piece to life once the composition was finalized. Two things were decided for me before I could create anything, though: the products used in the piece were both predominantly green. To make the piece colorful and eye-catching, I wanted to use red as my secondary color since it’s green’s direct compliment. I also didn’t want to give the work a ‘Christmas in summer’ look. I settled on pink because it’s an offshoot of red that’ll do much of what I’m looking for, without beckoning for Santa Claus. Balancing textures was my second hurdle once color was basically decided on. Yellowbird’s product photography didn’t share consistent lighting with Real Ale’s mockup of the Vamonos! can, so I had to create a vector representation for both products. This turned out nicely, but texturally, it looked smooth and computer-generated. This wasn’t a huge issue, but it was important that I balanced it out with something rougher. I hand-painted the background to add a grittiness that wouldn’t be there otherwise, and I originally masked a sunburst inside it.

A sunburst in a poster design? How original! Don’t worry, this didn’t make the final design. Even though I hand painted the background, it was still reading flat. I needed a visual anchor that wouldn’t obstruct the objects in the foreground. That’s when I settled on fire! A perfect harmony of gradients and blend settings subdued the flame in the background — the final element that tied the piece together.

From there, it was all polishing and typography. I can honestly say, I scrolled through so many typefaces that letters shifted into abstract shapes in my brain. The frustrating thing was that the solution was staring at me the entire time. What do the Austin Chronicle Hot Sauce Festival, Yellowbird, and Vamonos! have in common? Texas. More specifically the Southwest. Once I decided on a southwest typeface similar to what Real Ale used in their packaging for the product, everything fell in to place and my head could stop spinning.

The deadline for this project was tight. I didn’t have a lot of time, but the deliverable we presented was something I was truly proud of. A tight deadline isn’t an excuse for poor quality. It’s an opportunity to exercise brilliant time management and make something beautiful and unexpected.

A Saucy Unique Selling Proposition

This year, Yellowbird has made a concentrated effort to solidify its brand presence online. This doesn’t just include its online store and social media accounts; it also includes Amazon. As a frequent Amazon Prime shopper, I’d never considered the trials and tribulations a brand faces to list their products on the platform. So many different criteria must be met, and brands go out of their way to stand out amongst their compitition on the site. One way they accomplish this, is showcasing USPs (Unique Selling Propositions). What makes Yellowbird better than your everyday hot sauce? One reason is they stuff their sauces with delicious fruits and veggies you can feel good about. Another excellent reason is that their bottles allow you to control your squeeze — ensuring you don’t accidently dump a horrifying amount of spice on your food. Don’t believe me? Even Sean Evans of Hot Ones appreciates the ‘squeeze bottle technology‘.

I developed two photo series to show the incredible control the Yellowbird bottle gives you. I created nine dishes with a wide range of complexity — from take-out pizza to kimchi nachos, and everything in between. Every dish is accompanied by hand-sauced calligraphy of the key flavors and ingredients in each sauce used. It’s meant to be a double whammy: yummy looking recipes, and impressive sauce skills.

Yellowbird Original Condiments

Yellowbird’s Original Condiments taste great on everything. From a brand standard, the culinary images created using the original line tend to taste better than they are healthy. The idea is that you’d use them in your everyday life…and the only person I know that eats a kale salad daily for lunch is Yellowbird’s CEO. The rest of us love pizza. When designing this series, I wanted to create dishes that felt Texan: real food, for real people. Brisket tacos, hot slices of ‘za, and a good American breakfast are some of the key pieces that convey this message.

Yellowbird Organic Condiments

Yellowbird’s Organic Condiments have some differences when compared to the original line. The sauces are sweetened with dates and raisins because added sugar is tasty, but it’s not for everyone. It is PaleoVegan, Gluten-Free, and Whole30 certified. This sauce means business, and its visual identity knows it. Unlike the original line, Yellowbird’s Organic Condiments are much more health-centric. The culinary images created for this line tend to be beautiful and good for you. The recipes are often Whole30-friendly and have a lower calorie count. If you see meat, it’s probably plant-based. Developing this photo series was a little more difficult for me, because personally, I’m not the intended audience. It took a lot of research to create dishes that fit the creative guidelines the organic line sets. All of the final dishes are vegetarian, but not completely vegan. Here at Yellowbird, we enjoy a good omelet, and I couldn’t let that go underrepresented.

In the end, the hardest part of this photo series was developing it in the middle of a pandemic. I didn’t have access to our in-house studio, and I had to shoot the whole thing from the comfort of my home. Going to the grocery store to source ingredients was difficult with the social distancing guidelines put in place, and I was basically trashing my kitchen daily in an attempt to plow through these recipes. Food photography gives you a small window to shoot the dish while it still looks good. If you miss that window, it starts to sweat and bleed. No one wants a particularly wet slice of toast. Once I plated the dish, I took off running into the yard to shoot in the sunlight. Most days, it was fine; other days my kale salad was rained on. I will say it was the only dish weather rebelled on. Feels like it was a sign.

Holiday Cards 2019

Holiday Cards 2019

This was my little family’s first Christmas in Texas, and we were so excited. By this point, we’d all settled into a sense of stability. We each had jobs, our lives had worked their way into a routine, and we were exploring our new home inch by inch every weekend. Every year, I try to find a way to make our holiday cards seem special. In Philadelphia, we used to run out during the first snow of the season in matching outfits and take a group photo. That kind of turned into a ritual for us the last few winters; however, we moved to Austin to specifically escape the snow. I had to come up with something a little different this year.

In October, during my daily commute, I would think about the holiday card on and off. I wanted to acknowledge our major life transition to a new city and somehow also tie in the irony that we left the snow behind us. Out of nowhere, it came to me one morning. I rushed into work and took as many notes as I could so I’d remember it later. We needed to put Christmas lights on a prickly pear cactus and throw fake snow that we ‘brought with us from Philly’. I was immediately excited, and Jon and Austin were immediately exhausted. We had to find all of the props, buy A LOT of fake snow from Michael’s Crafts, and find prickly pear cactuses that were accessible, looked photogenic, and we could spend some time with.

Finding the cactus was weirdly the hardest part. We went driving down a road here in Austin and we just kept heading west. We had to find them somewhere, right? A lot of them were on private property, or were fenced off on busy roadways. Naturally, we ended up at an abandoned Sonic. Honestly, it was perfect. We weren’t in anyone’s way, we could connect our lights to the car at the perfect distance, and we didn’t have to walk out of our way. An abandoned Sonic Drive-In was the best case scenario for us.

We strung the cacti with colorful Christmas lights and posed with our presents. Our roommate, Jon, stood on top of a wooden crate with a box filled with ‘snow’ labeled “Philly Winter 2018,” and anxiously awaited my countdown. With the camera set to burst shutter, we had to get one good shot of Jon throwing the snow in the air. We had three bags of snow, yielding three total tries. He nailed it on the last attempt. The photos turned out super cute and I was excited to share this new set of cards with our families!

The holidays are always a little labor-intensive for us. I have to schlep the boys out for an over-elaborate photo, and then we spend the next three days held up in our walk-in closet fighting with the Epson printer in an attempt to make each of our loved ones a card. Getting them out in time takes some sort of magic, in itself. The process is hard, but hearing from our relatives that they look forward to it and that they love them year after year makes it worth it.

Help Me Excel Logo Design

Following my graduation last spring, my Uncle Jamie approached me with a project. For a long time, he’d worked as a financial consultant, and he’d finally made the decision to launch his own website: Help Me Excel. There was one caveat, though. He needed a logo.

When we had started the project, there were a number of things we discussed. We wanted Help Me Excel to have a fresh appearance and feel different from its competitors. Taking a new visual approach is always risky, so I developed a number of concepts that felt relevant, but not always inspired by the financial nature of his business. First, I had experimented with cues I’d taken from Microsoft Excel since that’s Uncle Jamie’s go-to tool. I was particularly inspired by the rigid grid within the program and looked for ways to integrate its essence into a modern typographic design. I also went with an approach that was less obvious. Since the slogan for the website is, “Saving lives with Excel,” I wanted to create designs that speak to the helpful messaging, without seeming too tied to the idea of finances.

My first round of concepts focused on the idea that Help Me Excel is your ‘helping hand.’ I found that your hands could create an ‘x’ and ‘l’ shape which might act as a fun visual reference to the actual name. At this point, we were also inspired by tropical color palettes because it was unlike anything we had seen in this industry, and he was drawn to the bright nature of the colors.

Introducing a fresh color palette can differentiate you from your competition, or alienate you from your subject matter. It’s a fine line to walk, and it was important to me that we did it right.

Ultimately, there were a few issues with these designs. The pink and purple option didn’t provide a clear read on the hand gesture and its color palette felt more appropriate for a health care service, in my opinion. The yellow and teal option was funky and read more legibly, but it was at this point that we realized utilizing finance-driven imagery might convey the purpose of the company more effectively.

The second round of concepts was inspired by the grid in a Microsoft Excel document. It has a very distinctive form—made up of long cells that are immediately recognizable. These two designs were ultimately more contemporary in nature and gave the logotype a geometric modernism that was missing in the first round of concepts. It felt more masculine but still friendly.

The first design cut into the letters in a way that resembled the cells of an Excel document, without sacrificing the legibility of the name. Though I felt it was a successful design, Uncle Jamie was particularly drawn to the second option that featured an ‘XL’ shape. I integrated the grid pattern into the letters without interrupting their overall silhouette. It was a quick read, and we both felt strongly that this design had the most impact…but the color was all wrong.

During the revision phase, I worked to refine the type in the mark, tightening its overall presence. It was important to me that I made the logo versatile so that it could work within the website for any screen size. It had to be responsive — moving from a single mark, to a vertical, and then horizontal orientation.

I also fought with color palettes. I knew that the tropical color route wasn’t right for this project — it was random, and lacked any connection to the financial sector. I needed a strong green that wasn’t a carbon copy of what Google Sheets or Microsoft Excel had chosen. In the second round of concepting, I loved the jewel-toned purple I had chosen for the first logo. Obviously, I couldn’t make the Help Me Excel logo purple, but it drove me to pursue jewel-tones. In my research, it seemed that no one else had gone this route, so it felt unique to Help Me Excel. This path also helped me to develop a cohesive palette for the brand.

Once I had finalized the mark for Help Me Excel, I got into one of my favorite things: brand building. I love creating a story for the visual identity and supporting the logo with carefully chosen type living within a cohesive color system.

I’ve been saying for years that gradients are coming back to the design world—and for years my peers and coworkers called me crazy. The second Instragram rebranded and releaseed their new logo, gradients came flooding back into the mainstream. I was all too excited about this, and jumped on the opportunity to use them again.

For Help Me Excel’s brand identity, I used a deep navy and the green I worked so hard to decide on. The gradation between the two hues was beautiful, but I still wanted to integrate the grid into the color space. When I designed Uncle Jamie’s business cards, I used both the grid and gradient together. It created a high-contrast space that pushed his mark to the foreground.

I also typeset his brand in Gill Sans. The letters themselves have such a sturdy presence, and it’s honestly a classic. Not only that, but when I thought back to how this project started, Uncle Jamie made it a priority to communicate the helpful and friendly nature he wanted Help Me Excel to have. The humanist styling of Gill Sans makes his brand feel welcoming and helpful with its rounded geometry.

Developing the logo for Help Me Excel was one of the best early learning experiences I’ve had. I’m so lucky that one of my first freelancing projects was with someone I love and trust so much. It helped me understand the creative process between the designer and client much more intimately than I had experienced while working within a company. Now that I’m freelancing more, I feel comforted that I could figure the process out with my family before developing my business relationships.

Willie Fetchko Graphic Design

The transition of power at Willie Fetchko Graphic Design was a very interesting case. It’s a story following the company’s lifecycle and how its business model shifted in both management and mission. The business Mark Willie and Bernard Fetchko founded in 1985 isn’t the same studio Jenny Yip and Marcy Coffey run today; though, they’ve worked to preserve the company’s history. Willie Fetchko Graphic Design has evolved with time and new leadership, and while those in charge may have had different ways to tackle running a business, they showed how a studio can still thrive, regardless.

Mark Willie was one of my graphic design professors at Drexel University. During my undergraduate publication and book design courses, he’d talk about his experiences as a designer and how he worked his way into the industry.

Mark would laugh and say, “I ended up delivering something from a production company I worked for to this agency and they hired me on the spot. I kind of talked my way into there. I really wanted it and it was really exciting that they hired me. I thought of it as my best break ever. It was a special moment that I was able to make a career out of that.” (Interview with Mark Willie, October 24, 2018)

He started out working strictly on production but was offered more design opportunities during his time at the company and eventually held an active role as the art director. “A certain percentage of the business is proposal writing – which is something I actually really liked, I enjoyed writing the proposals as well as the design and working with clients. It was just part of the business.” (Interview with Mark Willie, October 24, 2018)

During Mark’s time at the marketing company, he also worked with his friend, Bernard Fetchko, another designer. They had knocked around the idea of starting up their own studio one day, but both felt content at their current company. That is, until one day the owner had passed. Once the dust settled, their late owner’s wife decided to take over his role and run the business. She didn’t know much about the marketing industry, and Mark felt his workload increase over time. “We were essentially running the office and the deceased owner’s widow became our de facto boss. And it ended up not being a good situation. So in about a year, I wanted to leave that office.” (Interview with Mark Willie, October 24, 2018) With this sudden change in authority, it felt like the perfect time to depart from their marketing firm and pursue their own business venture.

Typically, when you decide you want to start your own company, there are quite a few formalities you need to address before you proceed to hire staff and work with clients. Aside from deciding on a business structure, and carefully considering a business model, you need to decide what happens to your company if something unfortunate were to happen to you. There should be a designated successor to resume your position in the event of a tragedy. This individual should be thoroughly vetted and possess the skills necessary to continue toward your company’s mission. In this particular case, it would appear that Mark’s superior didn’t consider this when he formed the company, and the property was transferred to his wife legally by default. Even though this wasn’t a particularly large company, many employees and their families’ sense of financial security was threatened by his lack of foresight and should serve as a cautionary tale for other business owners.

In this particular case, the timing for Mark and Bernard to leave their current marketing company to branch out and build their own design studio could not have been more perfect. Mark had already gained experience acting in an administrative role in the design world in his previous art director position. He worked to find clients, write design proposals, advise and design numerous projects, and collaborate with printers and other contractors.

“In the end, it ended up being a really good partnership because I ended up sort of being the designer and my partner Berny was the business part of it. So, we kind of split it into ‘Marketing – Design.’ My partner’s job was to get the business and really market us as a firm.” (Interview with Mark Willie, October 24, 2018)

Most graphic design studios work as limited liability companies (LLC). In this business structure, you can combine the pass-through taxation of a partnership or sole proprietorship with the limited liability of a corporation. Today, the term partnership and LLC are used interchangeably; however, there are slight discrepancies that make a difference in the long run. Partnerships are preferable for time-specific businesses with a set termination or completion date. In this, partners manage the company and assume responsibility for any debt and obligations. Because of this, it’s important that all parties have read and agreed to a very detailed partnership agreement. LLCs are similar to partnerships but protect the personal assets of all participants. It gives flexibility in adding owners or changes in management and has higher credibility in the marketplace overall.

In their partnership, they developed a common dynamic we see today in the design industry: one founder acts as the designer and the other as a business strategist. This dynamic is called dual leadership because each partner takes responsibility for the separate functions of the same company. Mark and Bernard’s relationship challenged most negative assumptions about dual leadership including, “…Conflict is inevitable; Structured communication is required; and that managerial and artistic leaders have divergent yet complementary skill sets.” (Reynolds, Tonks, and MacNeill 2017, 89). This just wasn’t the case. The two had very similar interests because they’re both designers at heart – one just happened to be more business savvy. Their strengths complimented each other in a way that allowed their company to grow.

“…Our findings emerged, we identified a special case of dual leadership within some leadership couples: one which demonstrates a sense of equality and shared responsibility for leadership of the organization at the highest level, irrespective of the formal hierarchical relationship between the two. We identify this as an instance of collaborative leadership, a special case of dual leadership, characterized by an acknowledged interdependency between the dual leaders.” (Reynolds, Tonks, and MacNeill 2017, 90)

After making the decision to work together, Mark sat with Bernard in his home working on projects here and there. As partners, they’d split all their income 50/50 after they paid whatever company maintenance costs accrued over the course of their business. “It was certainly a shock going from a weekly or monthly salary to nothing. The funny part was when Bernie and I started actually making a salary. We used to joke and say, ‘We made money this year!’ Whatever we could afford to pay each other we would do. We’d always make it equal – always equal. So, what we would do is divide it. One month we would make $350, but then the next month we’d make $500.” (Interview with Mark Willie, October 24, 2018) It was at this point that Willie Fetchko Graphic Design was born.

Finding clients is really the main source of income for a graphic design studio. After all, it’s difficult to charge someone for design work when no one knows you exist. When Mark was departing from his old marketing company, he reached out to his past clients and informed them he was moving on to work for himself. Stealing clients is a large ethical issue in the design industry because clients are the crux of our business models. Mark made the ethically sound decision to alert his clients of a change, rather than reaching out to them in his new company so they could decide for themselves what design route they wanted to choose. Not only that but alerting them is a way of saying the partnership they once had would be coming to an end after any current projects they may have been working on. He acted in professional courtesy and found that some of his clients wanted to support his new business endeavor.

For new graphic design startups, it’s vital that you don’t earn a reputation as a client-thief. So much of the design industry is rooted in collaboration. It’s important that you don’t burn bridges, and you help others when you can.

“…As long as we bring integrity and professionalism to the relationship and stick to the simple rules of human relationships: the same ones that also apply in normal social life – empathy, understanding, and tolerance… One of the most valuable assets that a freelance designer or studio can acquire is a database of contacts.” (Shaughnessy 2010, 74–75)

There are situations when a client has a less-than-pleasant experience at one design firm and in turn, chooses another one for their next project. In these cases, the past design firm probably felt stress on that relationship on their end as well. It isn’t outlandish to think they may not be a repeat client. These situations are understandable, and typically don’t fall into unethical waters.

Willie Fetchko Graphic Design has always had a business model – even if it hadn’t been officially planned out and written down during its conception. As long as a company’s mission is clear, the model can easily follow. “A business model describes the rationale of how an organization creates, delivers, and captures value…We believe a business model can best be described through nine basic building blocks…The nine blocks cover the four main areas of business: customers, offer, infrastructure, and financial viability.” (Osterwalder and Pigneur 2010, 14-15) The model usually revolves around a company’s value proposition, or more simply put, the value they deliver to the customer. Surrounding the core value proposition are the clients and the business procedures that keep your company running smoothly. When it comes to your clients, it’s important to know who they are (customer segments), what relationship you have with them (customer relationship), and what channels you interact with them through (channels). Planning all of this out helps you cultivate closer and more successful relationships with your clients that lead to future projects with them. On the business side of the model, it focuses on the key entities that keep your organization running. It’s comprised of activities, resources, and partners. This allows you to take stock of the most important elements of your business, so you understand what you need to pay for. The foundation of any business model is rooted in money. We take care of our customers because we want them to continue to purchase our services. Their money allows us to maintain our equipment, pay our partners, and continue our mission. This portion of the model is broken into the cost structure and the revenue streams. Your cost structure is comprised of the company’s expenses while the revenue streams explain how you’re going to pay for them.

In the case of Willie Fetchko Graphic Design, their value focused on providing a quality graphic design service to local businesses in the Philadelphia area with a specialization in layout design. Their customer segment is considered to be diversified in that they were able to work for a myriad of clients from different backgrounds to create design work ranging anywhere from branding to the layout design of annual reports. “We had a large range of work, but we ended up finding our niche. Our niche ended up being, for a while, a lot of nonprofit clients. We were doing a lot of institutional nonprofit work that morphed into smaller nonprofits and arts organizations.” (Interview with Mark Willie, October 24, 2018) During the process of a project, they developed their own channels to work with their clients and ensure each party got the most from their business relationships. Their behind-the-scenes maintenance was particularly interesting. Their key activities primarily consisted of project design work, corresponding and communicating with clients, writing proposals, monitoring their books, and working with accountants to understand future growth to conduct business more efficiently. These are relatively typical for a design studio. It was an eye-opening experience to hear about their key resources.

“In the beginning, we had a very low overhead when we started because we didn’t have lots of equipment. We had pretty much physical things like drawing tables, art materials and then access to things like printers and copy machines and things like that. As we grew our materials got much more specific for what we needed to maintain the firm.” (Interview with Mark Willie, October 24, 2018)

Today creating a graphic design start-up is wildly different. Printers, among other supplies, are vital to day-to-day work. Testing color aside, designers need to mock-up projects for clients to approve the work before the finished project is sent to an actual printer.

As Mark and Bernard became more successful, and their business grew, they were able to lease proper studio space, purchase all the supplies they needed to print comfortably under their own roof, and hire staff as well. This is a direct result of their revenue stream surpassing their cost structure allowing them to grow and further develop their resources. At this stage of Willie Fetchko Graphic Design’s life cycle, the two partners felt comfortable. The company was experiencing steady growth, and they were able to bring on a couple more designers to help with the workload. “We ended up landing at the sweet spot of four of us in the office it was myself, my partner, and two designers and then, with sometimes a fifth person as a [Drexel] Co-Op. It was the most we’d ever want and the most manageable at the time.” (Interview with Mark Willie, October 24, 2018)

A successful studio is a busy studio. Mark and Bernard ran Willie Fetchko Graphic Design on their own. Hiring a couple of designers helped to make the client workload more manageable, but Mark noticed he was in a similar situation he had once experienced years ago at his old marketing agency. Mark was writing proposals often, and he often found himself working on the business end of the company with Bernard due to their popularity. In, what I’m sure was a difficult decision, Mark decided to ultimately exit his partnership and teach graphic design full-time at Drexel University.

“If I were to do it over again, I’m sure I would’ve done a lot of things differently, but I think that model of small design firms was a good one. I loved collaborating with other designers. I did well working in an atmosphere with design happening around me, and the fact that it was part of my business was really important.” (Interview with Mark Willie, October 24, 2018)

One doesn’t typically compare a business to human life. Some would argue it’s a callous interpretation that diminishes the value of life; however, they would be thinking too literally. When you create a company, you watch it grow and develop from a scrappy start-up into a mature entity that eventually, one day, declines to a terminal end – much like our own lives. Formally, there are seven stages to an organization’s life-cycle: idea, startup, growth, maturity, decline, a turnaround opportunity, and termination. During the company’s peak maturity, Mark felt that he wasn’t doing what he loved as much as he would’ve liked, and he wanted to get back to designing. As a founder, he understood that his views no longer aligned with the mission of the company, and felt it was best to step away. Because he and Bernard hadn’t previously discussed how Mark would transition out of the company, they needed to bring in an expert to facilitate the process.

During this time, Jenny Yip and Marcy Coffey worked as graphic designers at Willie Fetchko Graphic Design. They had originally met at the office, despite the fact that they were both Drexel Alumni. Jenny completed her Drexel Co-Op at the studio and was brought on to work full time. Interestingly enough, she hadn’t had Mark as a professor during her undergraduate courses. Marcy had Mark as a professor previously but saw the studio had a position open and expressed interest after she graduated. “Jenny: When Mark decided to leave, we didn’t see it coming.” (Interview with Jenny Yip and Marcy Coffey, November 24, 2018)

Mark’s transition process out of the company ended up being more time consuming than anyone had initially expected. Once Mark announced that he wanted to leave Willie Fetchko Graphic Design, Bernard decided that he would depart after a couple more years. The process ended up taking over a year to complete. In the transition, Mark sold his half of the company back to Bernard – which is standard in procedure once a partnership dissolves. Because the company had debts, clients, and other assets, the process proved to be much longer than anyone had entailed.

“Jenny: During the buyout, the initial offer was that Berny would have 50% and we would each be 25%. Things ended up shifting over time, but that was the original offer…Berny had a proposed price, and he said that it was fine as long as it was incrementally increased. We worked with the lawyer for like a year…Berny was like, ‘Oh my God, if the paperwork takes this long, and I only want to stay on for another year…. With the paperwork taking this long, why don’t you girls just buy the whole company from me? I don’t want to do this again.’ So we did.” (Interview with Jenny Yip and Marcy Coffey, November 24, 2018)

That decision led to Jenny and Marcy owning their own studio, WFGD.

Jenny and Marcy had briefly talked about owning their own studio one day together, but I’m sure they didn’t think it would happen so quickly and under these circumstances. In buying Willie Fetchko Graphic Design, they bought its studio space, supplies, (some) clients, partners, debts, as well as Mark and Bernard’s shares. Over the course of a few years, they paid Mark and Bernard a stipend after the major down payment they paid initially for the company.

The transition was a very complicated process for a number of reasons. First of which, was the fact that Jenny and Marcy weren’t experts in business. They had learned a lot from working at a smaller studio, but nothing could have prepared them for the logistics that followed. They were essentially back to the start-up phase of the company’s lifecycle. Luckily, they had more of a foundation than when Mark and Bernard had first conceived the company.

“Jenny: We had to set up a new entity for ourselves…We had to change the name of the business. In the eyes of the federal government, we are a new business. We have a different EIN number than Willie Fetchko Graphic Design. Marcy: We didn’t want to be liable for anything from the old company; in case something came up like old tax issues.” (Interview with Jenny Yip and Marcy Coffey, November 24, 2018) Registering as a new company gave Jenny and Marcy a clean slate of sorts.  Going through the set-up phase allowed them to fully understand their business structure, while also giving them an official starting point. This made them familiar with any paperwork they needed to keep track of in case of an audit or any other foundational issue. Because they had never owned a company, they wanted to make sure they did their due diligence in setting up WFGD properly while learning along the way.

After watching the difficulties unfold in the recent shift of power, they worked hard to create an air-tight partnership agreement, among other things, as precautionary measures. In moments like this, they needed to hire sound legal counsel. It is so imperative to have a good relationship with your company’s lawyer and accountant. Though it can be expensive at times, their advice (hopefully given in advance) keeps your business out of hot water. It’s always best to ask for help sooner rather than later. Jenny and Marcy felt it was a priority that the people they hired worked well with them and had the best intentions for WFGD. They were very selective about who they worked with because your key partners directly influence the success of your business. With this in mind, they made the decision to hire a new accountant that would work closely with them to put together a budget and financial plan for the future of their company. “For the fledgling design company, having a good accountant is like having a good psychoanalyst…The main benefit, though, is having someone to talk to and someone who will listen to you about business concerns.” (Shaughnessy 2010, 59)

Jenny and Marcy’s partnership dynamic is much different than that of Mark and Bernard. While Mark and Bernard split up their specialties between design and business, these ladies work as direct equals. Jenny and Marcy both work as full-time designers while carving out time to address certain necessities like pay or design proposals. Their secret to juggling the inner workings of WFGD all comes back to time management. “Marcy: We used to try and do it where Fridays were billing days, and it just doesn’t work that way. Things are just so fast-paced, and it’s like every day is different. We just kind of roll with the punches. And as we’ve been doing this a long time, we became less stressed with it, and we know we’ll find a solution.” (Interview with Jenny Yip and Marcy Coffey, November 24, 2018) Marcy laughed and mentioned that just recently she gave two weeks’ notice for her upcoming vacation because they noticed a slight lull in the work and it seemed to work out just fine. In a more intimate studio like WFGD, this type of flexible schedule works really well because there are fewer lives to manage and it doesn’t interfere with any client timetables. It allows them to get the time they need to recuperate while also tending to their client base.

One of the major challenges that came with purchasing WFGD was making the company feel like their own. In the beginning, they were still operating out of Mark and Bernard’s original space, using their equipment, and working with some of their own clients.

“Jenny: This space was very different than it is now. We had to work out where the walls would go and carpeting and windows for light…We’ve been here for three years. It felt like a brand-new space, so we made it feel like it was our own. Before we did inherit a lot of stuff like tables, so when we moved here, we could have a fresh new start. In the old place, we tried buying furniture, but it always felt like we were in someone else’s house.” (Interview with Jenny Yip and Marcy Coffey, November 24, 2018)

Moving to another floor, even though they were still in the same building, really helped them feel like they were building something new together. It was truly a turning point for the company.

When I visited WFGD, I was immediately greeted by their office dog, Scrapple, who sat in the corner demolishing a bone while I spoke to Jenny and Marcy. Their space looked so fresh and fun – you could absolutely see their personalities oozing out of every corner of the studio, especially in the conference room. We sat at an aluminum table with popcorn and candy displayed proudly in the center, and as I spoke to them, their recent work was tacked up behind them. Today, Jenny and Marcy shared that the mission for WFGD has shifted as they took over. They still deliver quality graphic design work but have more of a focus on branding and identity.

Their overall business model shares a lot of similarities with Willie Fetchko Graphic Design in that a lot of their success is dictated by the amount of client work they receive; however, there are a lot of differences it’s important to highlight as well. WFGD has shifted their value proposition to building brand identities as their specialty, while still offering other standard graphic design services as well. Their customer segment hasn’t necessarily changed, but they have noticed a decline in their non-profit sector of their clients. While I spoke with them, they shared that they don’t use traditional marketing as a channel to reach out to their clients. WFGD has experienced great success using their newly updated web presence in collaboration with their social media usage and word-of-mouth to find work. It seems this method works well for them when they went on to share more about their customer relationships. “We try to go after as many proposals as we can. We’re small. A lot of times when people meet us, if it’s clients we haven’t met in person, they definitely think there’s a whole staff underneath and that we’re just the contact. We go in for meetings and they go, ‘Oh, so who else is in your team?” and I’m like ‘You’re looking at the team!” ‘I literally thought there were sixteen people there.’” (Interview with Jenny Yip and Marcy Coffey, November 24, 2018)

The concept of using social media as a way to attract potential customers is relatively popular now, but also specific to this decade. “New technologies have opened up access to a wide range of interactivity devices: from article-assessment mechanisms (“Like”) – which content publishers can use to better target their production – to the constitution of their own social networks, exclusive to some readers. In the same vein, the creation of a page on existing social networks (e.g., Facebook) is a new option in the interaction between publishers and consumers. These interactivity devices are often supplemented with discussion forums.” (Benghozi and Lyubareva 2014, 4) Previously, social media hadn’t gained enough traction on a national or global scale; therefore, it wasn’t an effective way of reaching out to clients or companies. This isn’t the case today, with at least 81% of America’s population owning a social media account.

I noticed substantial changes in their key resources and partners that stood out to me since their activities mostly were made up of the general maintenance and design work we’d seen in Mark and Bernard’s business. Jenny and Marcy explained the importance of updating their technology and resources to keep their business running smoothly. One of the major changes they’ve implemented was the installation of a company server. Marcy’s husband proved to be incredibly helpful when it came to this because of his background in technology. The two of them shared that it made work a lot easier because they could access their server remotely from home if they needed to work outside the office, while it also allowed them all to work on a client project at once and share the files in real-time. It’s made their work a lot easier, and it backs up their work as a safety precaution as well. This has become a common staple in the graphic design industry today and in the digital age in general.

Despite WFGD’s small size, Jenny and Marcy bridge a lot of gaps through collaboration. The studio often partners with other creative specialists in the area to expand their overall scope of work.“Marcy: We always want to be small. We’re never going to be that big agency that offers all this stuff. Another great thing about being small is that we get to partner with other people like other web design firms, writers, communication firms, photographers. We’re a small firm but when we have bigger proposals, we try to bring everyone onto our team.” (Interview with Jenny Yip and Marcy Coffey, November 24, 2018) By reaching out, they’re able to maintain their smaller size without sacrificing the services they’re able to provide. When they feel that WFGD isn’t able to take on a project, they also work with the client and make recommendations to other creatives who might be able to help them. They always put the needs of their clients first, even if they may not be the best option for them. This mindset strengthens their relationship with their own clients and with other creatives in the industry.

“Jenny: I feel like part of what makes us who we are is the care that we take in design and the way that we work and listen. I don’t think that it’s necessarily replicable… You can’t just tell someone to do what we do. We’re small and custom.” (Interview with Jenny Yip and Marcy Coffey, November 24, 2018)

WFGD’s size isn’t indicative of its future. Jenny and Marcy don’t want their studio to get too big, and at the moment, they’re quite happy with their three-woman team. The three of them are able to accomplish a surprising amount of work together, and the fact that they all work so well together speaks to their enormous success. Large companies can be difficult to manage, and at the end of the day, these ladies are designers at heart. They don’t want a future where they’re burdened by keeping the company running and no longer have a creative role. Moreover, their size offers flexibility that just wouldn’t be possible with rapid expansion. Now, they can go out for lunch with other specialists and learn from them – maybe even partner with them! The design boutique experience they offer allows them to cultivate close relationships with their clients that wouldn’t be possible if they had a middleman answering all of their incoming phone calls and booking their meetings. WFGD takes design personally, and it’s visible from their business plan to every client interaction.

“Marcy: We both have lives outside of work that we need to also handle like family and kids and lives, so right now I feel like it’s a sweet balance. We have one other person working in the office and that helps with workflow and ideas and keeping things fresh. So right now, we’re in a sweet spot, but that might change so we’re very fluid. Jenny: There may come a day when your main job is finding clients and it’s no longer working on design. We want to avoid that from happening.” (Interview with Jenny Yip and Marcy Coffey, November 24, 2018)

At the end of the day, Jenny and Marcy have created a company built on a sense of balance. They’ve figured out how to manage their design passion with business upkeep and their personal lives and achieved a true sense of happiness in what they do. Their work is a direct reflection of themselves, and I’m excited to see how they transition into the next step of their business’s lifecycle.

Holiday Cards 2018


Holiday Cards 2018

Every year since I first started University, I’ve made an effort to design and produce my own holiday cards. In the past, I loved sending them out to friends and family to spread holiday cheer and show how I’ve grown as a designer. To be honest, I love sending them out because it encourages my friends and family to also send a card my way. Receiving my family’s Christmas photos makes it feel like we’re celebrating together – despite the fact that they’re thousands of miles away.

This year, I also wanted to send holiday cards to designers that inspire me. It’s so easy to share your work with the world now, and I find myself following a number of artists on Twitter and Instagram. Some live in cities I’ve never visited, and others speak languages I don’t know. Regardless, I wanted to reach out and send some seasonal joy their way.

I’ve been contemplating on and off since September what I wanted the cards to look like. I was recently inspired by the line work used in optical illusions. I didn’t want my final design to make anyone’s brain throb, but I’ve been interested in the dynamic quality the lines would often have. I knew I wanted to somehow incorporate that, but I wasn’t sure how to go about it. As I was falling asleep in some time around my birthday, I finally had that eureka moment and knew what I wanted the cards to look like. At 11:30 at night, I turned on my bedside light (waking up my boyfriend in the process), and began to scribble in my notebook. I wanted to do high contrast dynamic black and white lines weaving around bold red type with some collage work.


I started the project off by visiting my local Michaels. I dug through their faux plant section hunting for cinnamon scented pine cones, pine tree branches, and currants. Because I figured out my concept in October, a lot of foliage was a beautiful orange color…or dead. Either way, it wasn’t very reminiscent of the ‘Winter Wonderland’ spirit.

That night I shot each of the pieces individually on my living room floor and mentally prepared to cut each pine needle out in Photoshop for the next few days.

In my initial sketch, I planned on using a landscape orientation for the card. I figured I could weave the lines in and out of the text and build a border using my collaged nature. Once I had it laid out, I couldn’t help but feel unsatisfied. At the end of a project, you should feel good. You should have that prideful “I made that” moment. I knew something was wrong, but I couldn’t quite pin it down. I loved my initial concept but felt the whole thing ended up looking safe and predictable. After three years of typography and a number of years studying composition, I decided to start over with a blank sheet. I had all the elements to make a great card – I just had to use my brain.

I revisited my sketchbook and tried to disrupt my design thinking by using a portrait layout instead. By just looking at it sideways, I noticed that I liked the lines pointing upward instead of to the right. I started thinking that I could use them as a visual cue for my composition. Moving them off center helped make my composition less static, but I wanted to stagger the type to activate more of the space rather than just stacking it vertically. I also felt that using a Christmas ornament in the ‘O’ has been done about a million times. I didn’t want to follow that cliché, so I scrapped it. Pushing the foliage together and having it directly interact with the type and line work added interest to the composition and made it look less random.

The new design had something the old one lacked: purpose. The elements weren’t thrown together haphazardly anymore, they were interlocked and working together.

I knew I wanted the inside of the cards to have an unexpected pop of red that still felt connected to the exterior of the card. The inside has a candy cane stripe that is the direct reverse of the pattern on the exterior of the card. Because of this, I also wanted to show the back side of the foliage. Lines that were previously covered by branches in the card’s exterior now sit in the foreground. I did this to give the design a three-dimensional perspective.

As a student, I don’t have an endless supply of money. I knew that these cards would be sent out to family and to designers I admire. Most likely, those designers don’t want the annual holiday photo my mom looks forward to every year. It was important that the inside of the cards had a solution for both audiences. I still loved the brass bells I shot in the first draft of the card. They didn’t make it to the final draft, but I wanted to still incorporate their color and texture somehow. In cards sent to family and friends, we printed our holiday photo and attached it with brass colored photo corners. This allowed them to remove the picture to place it in photo albums while not disrupting the final design. This also meant that the printer only had one design to print, instead of two; thus, reducing the cost of the job substantially.

I think my favorite part about this project was that I was able to send holiday joy to friends and family, as well as strangers I admire, by making my design flexible.

Designer Gift Guide 2018

The perfect gift guide for that graphic designer in your life, or yourself! (You’ve been good this year.) 24 gifts to choose from – one for each of the 24 days before Christmas. Prices range from $5.99 to $196.00. Continue reading

xHeight by AIGA

The following is a program I designed as a Creative Enterprise assignment for my Master’s Program. It is, in no way, an extension of AIGA’s mission and should be viewed as an academic hypothetical. Continue reading