“That is part of the beauty of all literature. You discover that your longings are universal longings, that you’re not lonely and isolated from anyone. You belong.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald
I’m a fool for a good quote, so these eloquently expressed words, that a contributor sent me after he received his copy of Hello Mr., became the frame for my recent view of things.
Isolation is a powerful thing. At its worst, it can drive someone to doubt their purpose. At its best, it gives them purpose, and when embraced, isolation can promote creativity in unexplainable ways.
Looking back at my last year, I attribute much of the fuel behind getting Hello Mr. off the ground to isolation. Exactly one year ago, I packed up my life in San Francisco and set off for a life uncharted in Australia. Freeing myself of distraction (evidently blogging being one of them) and disconnecting from the contentment in routine, I was finally free to define the questions. My experience, juxtaposed to the stories of people I met along the way became the pieces of the puzzle that eventuated into Hello Mr.
Now that the first edition is floating around the world in the care of its proud owners, I’m preparing to take the brand to new heights by moving to New York City, where I will continue operating the business from.
Aside from the countless reasons why it will be the perfect home to grow Hello Mr., moving to NYC has been part of my larger intention from the beginning. Though my time in Australia has come to an end, I’ve accomplished what I’ve set out to achieve with issue 01, and I feel confident in this progression for myself as well as the brand I’ve built.
Everything about this first issue is universal, and because I’m still a team-of-one, there’s nothing holding me back from working in any country (especially one that I have a passport for). The quote above really says it all. No matter where we are, or what circumstance we find ourselves in, the comfort of knowing that our experience is shared by someone, or in the case of Hello Mr., by thousands of others like us truly does make us belong.
I’m so excited to get to NYC, and to continue exploring opportunities for Hello Mr. to reach more people around the globe.
The material possessions of my life fit approximately into three large suitcases. One of them (mostly cherished books, important documents, a full-piece suit worn only at weddings or funerals, and select sentimental objects that made the cut) now lives in my parent’s basement in what might as well be known as ‘the middle of nowhere America.’ The other two (clothes, toiletries, and electronics–or the things I use daily) travel with me.
Most people experience the same phenomenon in their early 20’s. We move out of our parent’s houses, sign a one-year lease, get irritated with our roommates, move into a tiny studio apartment, over-romanticize living alone which lasts about 3 months, contemplate getting a dog, find a subletter instead and move in with friends, until that backfires and we find a new place, continuing this pattern until we look back and realize that in five years time we’ve easily lived at ten different addresses, transporting our things and forwarding our mail to each new ‘home.’
Of course there are the exceptions. The friends who take the expression “take your shoes off and stay a while” a little too seriously. The ones who settle down with their high school sweetheart to raise families at one or two more addresses for the rest of their adulthood. Which is all good and fine, but I’m pretty sure this is how people become hoarders. Think about it, if you stay in one place for years on end, you’ll inevitably acquire more “stuff” than if you were forced to evaluate your belongings periodically like the rest(less) of us. And I’m not saying that I won’t ever settle, but for now, the thought of having a ‘junk drawer,’ a closet for my winter coats, or a garage that doubles as a storage unit for things I probably really definitely don’t need, not only makes me feel claustrophobic, but makes me feel like I’ve lost.
At the start of 2012 when I decided to leave IDEO (my first job), and to flee San Francisco after three incredible years, I was establishing an opportunity for evaluation and creating room for new experiences. I described my exit as a chance to explore what I was uncertain was left to explore. I’ve spent the greater part of the past three years traveling for work, which at IDEO means immersing yourself in a culture and learning how to live like a local. Singapore, Chicago, São Paulo, Mumbai, Boston, Venice, London, and New York City were each explored with the potential of becoming a future home. But the place where I felt most authentically myself was Melbourne, Australia. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that it had just been named ‘the most livable city in the world,’ but I saw myself returning as soon as I’d arrived. Not only are the people adventurous beyond belief (read: well-traveled and open-minded), genuinely friendly, and gorgeous as, but the city itself aroused my creative mind like none other.
It’s become no secret that there is a large community of graphic designers down under, and they are thriving. My trip in August/September of 2011 coincided with the 25th anniversary issue of the monthly design culture magazine, desktop, which also coincided with the opening exhibition of Diamonds in the Rough, documenting “20 years of printed ephemera lovingly (and incidentally) sourced, collected and treasured from Melbourne, Sydney and beyond.” It was my heaven. So when the time came to evaluate my personal and professional goals after a few months of unemployment, it was hard to deny Melbourne a chance at becoming my actual future home.
I’m unsure how long I’ll feel this way before the urge to explore sets in again, but deciding to ‘live with less’ gives me the freedom to change directions whenever I choose. Recently, I’ve talked a lot about the importance of vulnerability in respect to allowing yourself to grow. When we expand our radius of comfort, or shatter this convention all together, we create room for new experiences to educate and delight us. This lesson is something that’s also coming with me…I just hope it fits in the overhead bin or below the seat in front of me.
(Image by Oliver Jeffers)
Today is World Imagination Day. Download an ‘Imagine That’ worksheet and email your files or photos to ryanfitzgibbon[at]me[dot]com
“Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” Rainer M. Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet
Curious and cripplyingly naive, an even younger version of myself moved to San Francisco in May of 2009 to begin a career in design. This past August, I celebrated my 24th birthday in air on a round-the-world research tour from San Francisco to Brazil to Australia. I’ve traveled a lot of miles, seeking inspiration for answers to many complex and meaningful questions.
At the end of this week, I will be leaving IDEO with an equal degree of naivety and an entirely new collection of curiosities. The knowledge and confidence that I’ve gained from working with you has empowered me to develop and explore new questions of personal significance.
I often describe my time at IDEO as my grad school. The entirety of this education has shaped my understanding of the value of design, but more importantly, has highlighted the significant role that vulnerability plays in the process of understanding.
So in graduation, I want to thank you for teaching me everything that you have. And if you’ll allow me to leave you with one thing, I’d encourage you to embrace uncertainty everyday. You don’t know what you don’t know until you let yourself try.
Every year, IDEO welcomes us along with our loved ones to gorge and give thanks at a Thanksgiving feast and pie contest not to be missed. My first IDEO Thanksgiving experience was in 2009, and was also my first shot at designing a poster for an internal event.
Well, two years have gone by and I’ve learned that design has the potential to be far sexier when it can be touched, when it invites you to play with it, and especially when tasted. So when the opportunity to create the poster for this year’s feast presented itself, I immediately started thinking sensorially.
It just so happens that our photo studio on the IDEO Palo Alto campus is under the same roof as our food prototyping lab that we call “The Cutting Board.” So given the convenient disposal of these resources, paired with a peculiar craving for pie, it was clear that my concept was going to be touchable, fun, and delicious!
Before sourcing the ingredients, I had to square away the typography that would become the focal point of the poster. I ended up using with the voluptuous font, Gelato Script and modified the letterforms to create a more balanced composition. Once this was out of the way, the ensuing process became highly technical. First printing the “stencil,” rolling out the dough, then meticulously cutting the letter forms out of the stencil while drinking pumpkin ale and listening to tunes late into the night. It was grueling, let me tell you. But I suppose it was worth it. So feast your eyes on it, and enjoy.
Every Fall, AIGA San Francisco hosts a Gala to celebrate design and community in the Bay Area. Each Gala has a theme that is most evidently expressed through the auctioning of custom-designed objects by well-known artists and designers. This year’s theme was masquerade, and appropriated titled ‘Mask Appeal.’
It didn’t take much convincing to recruit my colleague Wilfred Castillo to help imagine what a contribution from IDEO could be. After a week or two of brainstorming, we finally landed on the concept of a wooden toy maze. Who didn’t love this game as a kid afterall?
Due the the fact that it was perhaps the most difficult concept to execute, we enlisted the help of Nathan Whipple and the IDEO Prototyping Team. The minute we heard the words “it’s definitely feasible” uttered (about a week before the deadline), we sprinted over the weekend to design the layout and graphics in Adobe Illustrator so that we could move the rest of the production along. Anthem Printing in SF burned a screen for us Monday morning, and the graphics were applied to the natural wood surface by nightfall.
Tuesday morning, I passed the baton over to Nathan and Peter in the shop to begin working their magic. Like an impatient child on Christmas Eve, I passed through the shop in Palo Alto every few hours to “see how things were going.” I’m sure they loved me.
By Thursday November 10th, the day of the Gala, our shared vision was realized and was ready for its big debut. Of course we all had a quick go on the game but, after many failed attempts, it was time for me to throw on the old skinny tie and jump on the train back to the city.
Mask contributions came in from designers of MINE, ASTRO, Public, SMART, Apple, Wymouth and many more awesome studios and independent creatives. Bidding was competitive and intense, but when the clock ran out, our mask had the highest bid of all the masks, selling for $200! Not bad.
Huge thanks to my good friend Jacob Hennessey-Rubin for the screen printing help. And again to Nathan, Peter and Wilfred for their help making this left-field concept into a stunning piece of art.
If you can think it, you can do it.
(Branding for Impact by the IDEO Bay Area Communication Design group)
The 2011 Brand New Conference brought together designers from across the world, for a full day of inspiration and storytelling in San Francisco. The conference embodied all the virtues and qualities of a stimulating blog: humor, surprise, carefully executed aesthetics and an air of ‘connectedness.’ The speaker lineup represented the true diversity of our industry, and the work illustrated the many dimensions of a contemporary brand agency. We saw sheer variety (Frost*), depth (Mine™), alluring expressiveness (Wolff Olins), semantics of branding (Bruce Mau Design), playful remixing (Brand New School), authenticity (Infinito), experimentation (Facebook), and brutal honesty (Mucca). If there was a central theme running through each of the presentations, it was the importance of storytelling as a cornerstone of strong brands.
Marina Willer of Wolff Olins London declared, “It’s not about consistency, it’s about creating stories that make sense.” Stories are the way we connect with people and create relationships. If we think of brands as people or personalities, they need to be magical storytellers. As humans, we thrive on all of the emotional connections we have. We get passionate about them. It’s the stories we tell and hear that trigger those connections.
When brands fail to relate to consumers that’s when we [brand strategists] are called in, to take on the challenge of connecting real human needs to authentic business values. This is a dimension of the Human-Centered Design process, which is a shift in the conversation from ‘our’ needs to theirs. Vince Frost retold a valuable lesson from Alan Fletcher, saying, “The solution is in the brief; you just have to find it.” If we start to think about consumers as our creative briefs, then yes, we completely agree.
It is time, well past time in fact, that we start to recognize people’s needs in the world as the key to any successful brand. We can paint a nice picture for our clients to help them steer the ship, but the consumers are the people that really decide the fate and future of a brand. Ultimately it’s for them, so shouldn’t it also adapt to them?
Brands are becoming increasingly more open-ended, flexible, and scalable then ever before. Take, for example, Wolff Olins work with RED, Aol, Tate Modern, or Bruce Mau Design’s solution for OCAD. Building flexibility into the expression of a brand permits participation from the most important stakeholders in a brand existence: the consumer. The result is a more active, inspired and serendipitous brand experience.
From the smallest details of a Vietnamese sandwich shop in San Francisco, to the vast considerations of the world’s social network, branding is all about building experiences. And no matter the audience, we’re all in the business of branding for the same reason, to translate the message of our clients to consumers. If we start to think of the real value of our craft as communicating stories, it’s far easier to draw a connection between what inspires us as designers with what resonates with people, and ultimately creates impact in the world.
It’s difficult to summarize our life experiences when we’re constantly trying to make sense of them. So, I suppose three months in Singapore was…long enough. Long enough to just get comfortable making my way around a new city. Long enough to pick up the local idioms (that, I would add, gain you a great deal of respect, lah). Long enough to need legal recognition that I was in fact there to work and not on some expensive holiday (like the dozens of Aussie families I tripped over on a daily basis). And it was just long enough to miss everything I had, forget everything I had, and then miss it all over again for completely new reasons.
Traveling gives us a completely refreshing perspective on “things.” And, in the same way flying across multiple time zones really messes with your body, relocating your LIFE, for ANY period of time, is a damn rigorous mental workout.
But alas, “wherever you go, there you are” right?
I’ve been using this as a motto for my life recently but, to be honest, I find it extremely hard to do. To live in the NOW. The thing about traveling is that you meet people. People with experiences. Similar or differing to yours, they enter your new-found connection with ideas and aspirations that, if you’re open to it, may alter the way you see the potential of your life. You’ve had these conversations. They’re exhilarating. They’re full of optimism. And, if you take them seriously, they scare the hell out of you.
We love imagining ourselves in new conditions, in new places. We started doing it after our first big fight with our mother in junior high (earlier for those of us who tried running away from home before we could even tie our own shoes). For others it may have been the first episode of MTV’s Real World that made us long to live “there.” And for those of us that came out of the womb curious, Dr. Seuss was the only person who really ever understood our restlessness. “Oh! The Places You’ll Go!” he assured us. Oh! If only we believed it all back then. Oh! If only life was as simple a Dr. Seuss book! Instead, it reads more like a newspaper; different headlines with the start of each day, cluttered with panic and persuasion, and the threat of becoming irrelevant ever impinging the way we once knew things to be.
As much as we wish to hold on to the way things were, the way things ARE, we deeply depend on the potential of what COULD BE to propel us forward. The pragmatist in us tells our restless soul to settle, get comfortable, and maybe even smell the roses in front of you. But the adventurist in us wants nothing to do with the word settle, loves sitting on hard surfaces, and knows that there are plenty of pungent things out there worth sticking our noses into (like the subway in Little India, or the durian stand in Chinatown).
All this to say that the past three months in Singapore was clarifying. For the first time, I can begin to articulate this sense of restlessness that I’ve always felt inside me. While the making sense of it all is definitely still in progress, I’m more at ease with my uncomfortableness than I ever was before. And though Dr. Seuss wasn’t one of the people I met on my latest adventure, I’m open to allowing his experience and ideas about life influence mine too. So to quote this fellow dreamer;
You’re on your own.
And you know what you know.
And YOU are the guy who’ll decide where to go.
I think I’ve just found my new motto.