Huddle is a new approach to the peer-to-peer advising group. An in-progress project, Huddle is taking a more conversational and interdependent approach to an old model of business advisement. We designed an identity for them that is bold and bright, encapsulating this modern and creative focus.
The icon, two talking bubbles, represents the conversational nature of Huddle, that it is a place for “real talk.” Also, it hides an H in its negative space.
This is just the beginning of our work with Huddle—more soon!
November 18, 2016
Method + Madness Recap
Method + Madness
Method + Madness is a conference put on by AIGA Arizona chapter every year during Phoenix Design Week. It is, by far, the design highlight of the year here in Arizona. This year, we had the opportunity to emcee the conference, which went well. We didn’t even pull any of the stunts we joked about.
Instead, we immersed ourselves in the conference. We heard people speak about their strengths and the things they have learned throughout the course of their careers. We listened to designers ask practical questions about the business of design. Most importantly, we spent the weekend with our community, talking about the work we love doing.
We took some notes during the presentations, and we thought we’d share them with you.
Great Moments of Method + Madness
“Designers are heat-seeking missiles looking for imperfections.” – Julie Anixter
“I’m interested in occupational imagination… We should be encouraging students to choose missions, not majors.” – Stephen Tepper
“Education is a battle for what young people will know.” – Rick Griffith
“You have to not lie. Which means you have to work with people you trust.” – Rick Griffith
On paper, Brandon Barnard is a cinematographer and editor based in Phoenix, Arizona. In practice, Barnard is a creative in pursuit of new ways to move audiences through visual storytelling, connecting the dots where dialogue alone cannot. From personal projects like his Audience Choice Award winner, “Paint Life Beautiful,” to National American Advertising Award winning projects at Kitchen Sink Studios, where he is the Director of Film. Barnard navigates the world of modern film with relentless creativity, fresh perspective and wonderful execution.
Could you tell us a bit about your background? What got you into filmmaking?
My background is kind of a mess. High school was a struggle and the only place that I really applied myself was in Mrs. Henschen’s photography class. It was the only time in my life that I felt good about something that I had made or done. Once I moved on to college, I decided that I wanted what everybody else who was successful had: a business degree. I was very wrong. After a few years of dropping classes and failing, I had only a handful of credits and no certain direction. I had to make a decision.
I boiled down my remaining options to x-ray technician school and film school. I thought about this for weeks and really stressed because I knew that it would change everything I did going forward. My father is a physician and so I am familiar with the environment of medicine, but ultimately, I chose film. I chose film because that was the direction I was heading anyways. X-ray technician school was just another way to take pictures and it took me a while to realize why I looked into it.
After choosing film, I had straight A’s through both of my degrees.
What was your process like for making “Paint Life Beautiful”? How did this project come to be? What did you learn from it?
“Paint Life Beautiful” was an idea that came from my good friend Mark Susan. He and I spent a lot of time in downtown Phoenix really absorbing it all. We were looking for something, and at the time this seemed to be it. He found this incredibly talented and humble person who was sort of ok with us following him around for a few months. It was a funny relationship between the three of us (myself, Mark, and Sentrock) because Sentrock didn’t know us and probably didn’t trust us. Picture this, a crazy Asian guy and a big bearded white guy want to follow you around for a few months and dive into your life story. Would you be skeptical? It took a few months, but Sentrock finally realized that we were just trying to tell his story without any bias. We wanted to showcase how special he was and really just build a film that was relatable to everybody in this nation growing up disadvantaged.
All in all, this project taught me way more than I could have imagined. I learned that if you want something, you have to go for it regardless of your situation. I could have easily not been a part of that film had I not been proactive. Simple as that. This whole project also taught me that there is this wonderful community in downtown supporting creatives, and when we premiered the film at Film Bar, it could not have been better. We were in post-production for a while with a few remaining shots still needed and it was starting to drag on. Then one day, we learned that Sentrock was moving to Chicago to pursue an art degree, and he was moving in two weeks. We decided that the film had to premiere before he left Arizona. We worked a deal with Kelly at Film Bar to premiere in a week. Mark and I edited and shot every night leading up to the premiere. We anticipated that we would get about a hundred people to show for the single showing. When five hundred showed up, we were in awe. The night was a success and I was officially going in the right direction.
What filmmakers have had the most significant influence on your work? Why?
I am the type of person who really doesn’t pay attention to big name directors. I find myself attracted to smaller creatives/filmmakers who have shown that they can match the level of creativity of those big name directors on non-existent budgets. There is a huge relatability factor for me when it comes to influencers. While Darren Aronofsky is my favorite feature director, I would be better prepared to talk about the work of people like Salomon Ligthelm, Anson Fogel, Brandon Li, Matty Brown, Skip Armstrong, or even collectives like Super Top Secret, Big Lazy Robot, MK12, Gnarly Bay, Sherpas Cinema, Brainfarm, and Forge just to name a handful. These are the guys that are truly pushing the industry in my eyes and I am always eager to see what they cook up next.
How do you negotiate time between personal projects and work you do for Kitchen Sink?
Kitchen Sink Studios is my personal work. I try to incorporate all of my personal projects into the pipeline here at Kitchen Sink because it is beneficial across the board. I work with a team that pushes the boundaries further than I could alone. Erick Lashley and Kyle Gilbert are my main guys and there is no project that we can’t handle together. With this mentality and the openness of KSS accepting pro bono work as a mainstay of what we do, it seems we are constantly producing amazing pieces. Of course, when we are super packed with paid client work we might have to dial back on other projects but for the most part, we are constantly working on other films. If you don’t continually push yourself, you won’t get better.
What is it like being a creative professional and a dad? How do these two parts of your life overlap?
Being a dad is the absolute best thing that has ever happened to me. My son Jack has taught me so much about life and what’s important and I am only just beginning to incorporate my newly gained perspective into my work. The balance of hours is the tough part and I know that it will always be hard because I just really want to spend all of my time with him. I am beyond excited to start teaching him everything I know and I can’t wait to see a camera in his hands.
What sort of films are you interested in working on in the future? Any grand concepts?
Cinematography has always been one of my biggest passions. Naturally, I’m driven to push the way viewers experience a film based on the visual elements while trying to remain proactive on the audible elements as well. Since so much time is focused on the technical side of filmmaking, it is often tough to keep the story in mind. In the last couple of years, the team at Kitchen Sink and myself have really been putting emphasis on driving the story. Ultimately, story is what holds a lot of the weight. Without a solid story, you are just making pretty pictures that won’t capture emotions. As far as upcoming projects, there are a few good ones on my radar for the future and there are a couple solid ones that I am currently working on. I can’t wait to share them, but right now they have to stay secret.
Could you tell us about “Vermillion”? What was the process of making that film like?
Vermillion was a trip. Nine days on the river in the Grand Canyon and I loved every second. Our Creative Director, Doug Bell, approached me wanting to shoot this film that explored both the brotherhood of good friends in a really special place and also the spiritual side of the river and the environment surrounding. We had a really good idea for how we wanted the film and story to come out, but we also left a few elements to be determined by what we encountered while we were out there. In all, we walked away with some really amazing footage and a ton of stories. We wound up transporting all the gear in these tiny little aluminum boats that could barely hold all of the pelican cases and I totally thought that we were going to wind up ruining something, but somehow all of our gear survived. This film was a really awesome experience to make, but it was even cooler seeing how much other people like it.
What’s it like being a creative professional in Phoenix? What does this community have to offer?
Phoenix is an awesome environment to grow in. There is so much support in the local community and I am only still here because of that support. Before starting at Kitchen Sink, I was in the process of moving to LA. I really wanted to surround myself with creatives that I looked up to and I had no idea that this whole community in downtown Phoenix existed. I even moved to Phoenix from Chandler so that I could really immerse myself. At this point, I could not imagine a better place to be.
October 14, 2016
The Advice Question
Since the rise in popularity of long-form interview publications like The Great Discontent and Design Matters Podcast with Debbie Millman, the interview has been widely regarded as a worthy-of-our-time content format. It’s no surprise, really. Compared to articles, listicles, blog posts, etc., the interview is more genuine. It’s personal, not argumentative. We can glean insights from interviews that are resourceful, whether they be personal or professional.
Interviews are not a new form of content, by any means. However, in the era of the internet, they are more accessible now than ever, especially if you can simply pop in your earbuds and listen while driving home from work.
Since we started our own interview series, we’ve been doing a lot of research. What makes an interview good? What is it about this content form that is so engaging? What questions elicit the best responses? What makes an interview worth reading?
The majority of the interviews we enjoy are ones that focus on craft, process, and career development. The interviews that tend to focus on highfalutin theory and critique can seem disingenuous, and are not practically helpful. The interviews that we find ourselves engaged with are the ones that share practical wisdoms, humor, and genuine life stories. That’s the key feature of the interview, compared to the article: the intimate human element.
There are many traditional questions asked in design interviews over the eras. One that often yields an interesting response is the advice question: “What advice would you give someone new in the field?” The answers are often strikingly diverse, some brief, some long, some sarcastic, some inspiring. Though we have avoided asking cliché questions in the past, this one is reoccurring for a reason: it is often both personal and practical. The answer to this question reveals something about the interviewee on an internal level, while also sharing a hard-earned piece of wisdom for the readers.
So, we decided to share with you some of the responses to this question that we’ve found interesting. We wouldn’t necessarily give this advice ourselves, but these are the responses that made us stop and think.
When I was asked by a Japanese publication what advice I would give to design students, I said I would write only 3 words.
Those are: Work – Think – Feel.
Since the editor was not content with an article of only 3 words I was asked to flesh it out a bit by indicating why I have chosen those 3 words. Here it is.
1. Work No matter how brilliant, talented, exceptional and wonderful the student may be, without work there is nothing but potential and talk. Although observing and listening may be helpful, one learns by doing. Learning is an active process! I have never known a successful designer who was not a worker and the best students always seem to be those that work a great deal. It seems clear therefore, that work is an essential ingredient of accomplishment.
2. Think Design is a problem solving activity. I take this to mean the use of intelligence and knowledge to achieve a desired end. Thinking is the application of that intelligence to arrive at the appropriate solution to the problem or to evaluate it if arrived at intuitively. I cannot conceive of the design process without thought.
Work without feeling, intuition, spontaneity, is devoid of humanity. Feelings are the bridges we use to connect to each other, one to the other. So there is my advice – work – think – feel !
I am a great believer in authenticity. Each designer must find their own voice and path. It is the only way to have any sense of fulfillment and gratification in one’s work.
I always tell students to make work they believe in, they shouldn’t feel like they have to produce a certain kind of work or try to fit in with whatever is fashionable at that moment. It’s important to develop your own individuality both as a designer and a person. Your own experiences inform your personality, we all have different slants on things. It’s boring when things begin to look the same. Do your own thing and find your own voice.
I think it’s very important for young designers to do two things. One: spend the first one to five years learning how to design and present design from somebody who is terrific at it. Having that basic understanding will carry you through the rest of their career. The second is this: develop the ability to explain, defend, and promote your work. Those are the two most important things.
If a young designer’s software skills are spectacular, but they’re assisting all the time, then they won’t get anything out of it. They have to be able to take that next step, which might mean going out on their own. The danger is getting trapped as a technologist. You need to be able to ride past the technology by understanding what it can do, who you are, and where you want to take it. You don’t want technology to lead you; you want to lead it, but it’s very hard to do that when you’re in the middle of it.
My best advice is to find out who you are. Hold on to your passions and dig deep while trusting your instincts. Step outside of what is expected. Embrace accidents and know that eventually you will discover the perfect solution to a creative dilemma and be very joyous while doing it. Understanding the changing dynamics of what’s happening in the world today allows you to dare; and as my idol Zaha Hadid said, “Who dares, wins!”
I try to remind people that being a graphic designer is fun. Sometimes people complain about clients, but my advice is to use design as a secret disguise to infiltrate whatever world you want to go into. If you do that over and over again, and then translate that interest and curiosity into the work that you’re doing, you’ll do great. If you do it right, you can use the excuse of graphic design as a way to go places you’d never go otherwise, learn things you never would have learned, and find yourself in situations where you wouldn’t normally be.
Don’t look to the design press or books for inspiration.
Have a point of view.
Don’t be arrogant.
Be prepared to fail, but learn from it.
September 15, 2016
An Interview with Jon Arvizu
Jon Arvizu is a local artist, designer, and screen printer. He was kind enough to let us intervene on his busy schedule to ask him some questions. In this interview, Jon talks to us about his interest in midcentury modern architecture, why he loves silk-screen printing, and what he appreciates about Phoenix, as an artist.
Monomyth Studio: Could you tell us a bit about your background? When/How did you know you wanted to be an artist?
Jon Arvizu: As long as I can remember, art has been at the top of my mind. Certainly by 3rd grade I was heavily into drawing and making things. I’ve never been the best, most talented, or top of my class. Dealing with adversity has always pushed me toward improving, learning new skills, and getting better.
MS: A lot of your work draws from midcentury modern architecture, pop art, and Southwest/West Coast culture. What about these aesthetics interest you?
JA: Mid-century design is part of our shared experience living in the southwestern US, so it’s something I can relate to. In Phoenix, we don’t have a long history of architectural styles to draw inspiration from, and this is something unique to the area. Postwar architecture has solid roots functionality and clarity of purpose; I’ve always admired those qualities and aspire to implement that character into my own work. In addition, beautiful sunsets, a laid-back lifestyle, and a unique environment give us so much beauty to draw from. Inspiration is all around us.
MS: What do you love about the process of silk-screen printing? How did you get into it?
JA: I always wanted to try it as a student, but never got the opportunity in school through classes or workshops. So as an adult, I sought out an education in the basic workings of the medium. I achieved creating a few small format prints in my studio with a very basic setup. I separated the art into screens and had a local print shop help me with the materials. Those test prints had varying levels of success but were not as exciting as I hoped the process could be.
When a friend turned me on to a Mono-screen printing workshop at the Mesa Arts Center, it led to a whole different approach to screen printing. Combining elements of the mono-printing technique and the immediacy of mixing inks with handmade stencils, it allowed me to craft a unique style and produce art in a way I found exciting and inspiring.
Contract work is my bread and butter, it pays the bills and sometimes provides me enjoyment. I have learned over the years that client projects are not the same as making art for myself. I WANT to make prints, I have a NEED to make them. It’s very satisfying for me to complete a design that works for me. As an artist, it keeps me going: complete a design that makes me happy, and move on to the next thing.
MS: What artists have had the most significant influence on your work? Why?
JA: No artists in particular, I love the fine arts and art history. I also love graphic art and design and try to incorporate all media and influences into my work as I see fit.
MS: Could you tell us a bit about Trapdoor Studio? How did it come to fruition?
JA: I worked at corporate and in-house graphic design jobs out of school with varying degrees of success for my first several years out of school. I learned a lot about what I like, and more importantly, what I don’t like. In 2002, I left my last corporate job and started freelancing with design firms and ad agencies to make my way.
I’ve always told myself, “I’ll work on my own until it doesn’t pay the bills.” Plenty of ups and downs come with owning a business, but throughout the last 14 years, I’ve managed to carve out a career doing what I enjoy. Over time the “career” has expanded to passion projects, extended education, risking, failing, and applying that knowledge to help make a living. The efforts I’ve made over time have allowed me to express myself as a creative and an individual.
MS: How do you negotiate time between personal projects and work you do for clients?
JA: Making my own schedule helps a lot.I write DAILY checklists: projects to deliver to clients, passion projects, skill-building, experimenting, production design, paperwork, self-promotion. There is no clear path or standard rules to follow.If I’m inspired to finish a project, I allow that to take priority over everything else.
I set reasonable deadlines with clients as much as possible and that allows for more flexibility in working creatively. There are always exceptions, but creativity isn’t a science, so allowing proper time for multiple takes on a project is key.
MS: What’s it like being an artist and business owner, and also a dad? How do these parts of your life overlap?
JA: All things are inter-related. I have young children, so I love being able to share art with my kids at home and at school. Art Masterpiece projects at their elementary school is a great way to interact with all the kids and impart some practical arts education on a personal level. As a family, we work on art projects together for their birthdays, holidays, and encourage them to experiment and get their hands dirty.
It goes without saying that young families are VERY time consuming. There is never enough time, but taking care of family, work, and my health are top priorities at the moment. I occasionally come up for air and spend time with friends to balance myself out. Just keep chipping away at life as best I can.
MS: What’s it like being an artist in Phoenix? What does this community have to offer?
JA: I have always been independent and driven to create, so I don’t ask a lot of the community. I would say being an artist in Arizona is challenging: there’s no correct path to walk for creative or financial success.
Many people here don’t have experience viewing art as a valuable resource for building culture and community. The art scene is historically underdeveloped, but there are MANY individuals making great strides toward bridging the divide. I am inspired by the efforts and growth of our community in the past 15 years, feel privileged to have created a place for myself, and enjoy some recognition as a creative talent.
Illustrator, Designer and versatile Artist Jon Arvizu has been professionally involved in the graphic and fine art industry for over 17 years. His illustrations and design work have been featured a variety of publications and has worked with a myriad of clients including Netflix, Popular Science Magazine, Red Robin, Frito Lay, Quaker, Oreganos and The National Football League.
Jon has recently collaborated with his talented wife Jenn to create a line of thoughtfully designed graphic t-shirts and accessories for thoughtfully designed people.Take one illustrator, add one witty project manager, toss in two spirited minis… and you’ve got a whole bunch of certified boisterous fun.
Liz Magura is a native Phoenician. One of the few, perhaps? With an undergraduate degree from Loyola Marymount University and a lifetime of swimming under her belt, Liz has a knack for being resourceful, looking at the bigger picture, striving to solve problems on the daily, oh, and bringing a smile to a meeting or two. She strives to create engaging user experiences and visual design is her expertise. Her experiences extend across many verticals and brands including the Phoenix Suns, Aetna, Ryland Homes, PGi, LOCTITE, Valley of the Sun United Way, and most recently, University of Phoenix. Liz is going into her second term as President of AIGA AZ and is a member of the Phoenix Design Week planning committee. When she isn’t living and breathing design or managing projects and teams, she enjoys spending time with family, friends, her boxer pups, traveling, gardening, country music—live concerts at that—or enjoying a nice glass of champagne.
Monomyth Studio: So, you recently changed jobs, and we’re curious, what are you doing now?
Liz Magura: Yes, I did! I am a Senior UX/UI Design lead with University of Phoenix. The position is really unique in the sense that they’ve been without a UX team for a small amount of time and are now beginning to implement this design practice back into the organization. The cool thing about working in this type of industry is the chance to improve the experience for students—helping them navigate through applications and websites in simplified ways. Not to mention the building I work in has a brand new UX Lab where we have the ability to do all kinds of studies to validate designs we’ve created or that are currently in use. Score!
I also have the chance to lead a small team, work closely with UX researchers, product managers—overall, an entirely new experience. I’m looking forward to getting my hands far into the products and experiences that are in place and helping to design new ones through the summer.
A lot of your work is focused on UX/UI work. What about this facet of design interests you?
I think this sums up my interest nicely:
“Never forget the WHY: why you’re designing this product, why people will use it, why you made the design decisions you did. Document the Why. Explain it to whomever will listen. Put it in your wireframes and in presentations. The Why should drive everything, because it’s what gives the product meaning, a story, a theme.” – Dan Saffer, VP of Product at Mayfield Robotics; designer and author
I think ultimately my drive to focus on UX/UI design comes from the desire of wanting people to have great experiences. Functionality is the key to great design. If the beauty of the design trumps the functionality of the design, chances are you will end up with a frustrated user. I want to know their pain points and how we can make them better, with their help. Through my career I have become more of a people person: I enjoy entertaining guests at my home, going to dinner, happy hour, parties, festivals. I have a way of connecting with people and making them feel welcome. I think this plays into my outlook as a UX/UI designer.
We can only imagine how much work it is to be the president of AIGA AZ. Why is it important to you to volunteer your time in this way?
Oh, gosh. Well, I’ll have to tell you my journey of AIGA for it to all come together. So here we go!
I started as a member of the Los Angeles chapter when I was in college at LMU. One of my professors pretty much ingrained it into my head that this was something that all of us design students should join and be a member of. I attended maybe one or two events throughout the two years that I was a member of the LA chapter, only because of how intimidating the design scene was. I may not have been as much of an extrovert during those years, as well.
Once I moved home to Phoenix after graduating from LMU, I was doing my best to reach out to anyone and everyone I could to get some sort of design job or internship. Through that process, I also made sure to follow AIGA AZ and keep up with what the chapter was doing.
I think it was within the first year that I was living back home at my parents’ house that I’d noticed a call for board volunteers with AIGA AZ. I can’t specifically remember if it was on Facebook or if I’d signed up for the e-newsletters, but regardless I reached out to see what joining might take. I emailed expressing interest, sent my resume along (boy was it short) and I remember Jim Nissen interviewing me for a programming chair position—what my design experience was, why I wanted to join the board. It was definitely intimidating, but I made sure to speak strongly and attempted to remain enthusiastic (which wasn’t hard) about Jim inviting me on board. And here we are, going into my 7th year on the board. How crazy is that?!
So why is it important that I volunteer my time and currently serve as president? I may not have known this when I joined the board back in 2009, but now that I’ve come this far, I can see it more clearly now. Design has a loud voice in pretty much every aspect of what we do in life. As a designer and leader, it’s my duty, responsibility, and honor to lead our design community as president. What a lot of people may forget is that AIGA is a national organization—there are connections that can be made beyond your local chapter and that’s pretty darn cool! There is a whole network of people that you can reach out to and pick their brains about anything—design, experiences, the good companies to work for, the most frustrating part of financing for a freelance business, client mishap stories—the list goes on and on. With technology at our fingertips these days, Slack for one, we can ask someone a question 3,000 miles away who will respond in a matter of seconds. And now you have a conversation happening and quite shortly thereafter, a new Facebook friend or Instagram follower.
Overall, my role as president is to empower others, especially those on the current board. Ideas don’t need to come from presidents and vice presidents, decisions don’t need to be made by presidents and vice presidents. I’m not a dictator, but a cheerleader and supporter. Helping each board member make their own decisions and providing guidance when it’s most needed. It’s always the team that makes the president role rewarding.
What do you see as the biggest need for the Phoenix design community? What would you love to see?
That’s a hard one. I think the best thing to see is people believing in the design community that’s here. I think continuing to spread the passion, noticing the fun, the ability to build meaningful relationships, the constant desire to showcase talent—all of those things play into our design community being great and continuing to be great. It’s interviews like you all are doing to showcase the talent we have right in front of us. So for that, thank you!
Maybe one of the things that always sticks out is how last minute our community seems about things. I’m curious why that is. Work and life always get in the way, but is there a time when we can just commit to something and make sure we’re there? Perhaps we need more confidence? I know we have a great support system within our design community, but maybe we need to hold each other more accountable.
How do you manage your time between your full-time job, side projects, and being the president of AIGA AZ?
I have always been a busy person and have enjoyed being involved in every which way, whatever the thing might be. It can make me insane sometimes and I can occasionally feel like I’m in over my head. Being an athlete for most of my life has taught me a lot of what it means to manage my time, work efficiently, and strive to be a better person. I think the discipline of being an athlete has helped me lead my career, pushed me to continue to learn, granted me heightened experiences and always reminded me to be the best that I can be. So I thank my parents for that!
A lot of the time, I attempt to prioritize, but sometimes, I might be feeling the need to do one thing over the other.
Dedicating the early years of my career to all of these things can only help me in the long run. There are so many people within our community that have way more things in their lives to manage and that’s entirely more impressive.
What has your experience been like as a woman, being such a prominent community figure in a male-dominated industry?
Being a woman can definitely have its challenges, but I feel like I’ve learned to rise up and embrace it. I’ve worked with many talented women and men, and it’s hard to really ever feel like men dominate this industry any longer. Perhaps their voices become a bit louder in a conference room. I remember my mom saying to “speak up!” throughout my younger years, and it’s definitely applied to my life.
We have a new Executive Director of AIGA who’s a woman and the current president of AIGA is a woman. I’d say there are some pretty great figures in the industry right now that solidify this shift and create confidence in women rising in the industry.
What does Phoenix, as a city, have to offer its design community that is unique?
Phoenix has a lot to offer. There are these statistics out there that college kids, here, graduate and move away to get experiences in places like LA and NYC. Don’t get me wrong, I love both of those cities, but when it comes to feeling at home, making connections, having great job opportunities available, and getting valuable experiences for life and design, Phoenix has those things. We somehow are able to uncover these unique aspects that make up the design community and it continues to thrive and get better each year, simply by the people who make this place what it is. Sometimes you just have to put yourself in the mindset that this IS a place for you. Make Phoenix your home and create in it the life that you want. You have to do this anywhere anyways, why not do it here?
August 10, 2016
An Interview with Safwat Saleem
“Cheaper Than Therapy,” an Interview with Safwat Saleem
Safwat Saleem is a graphic designer, an artist, an illustrator, a film-maker, a writer, and is just a generally awesome at things kind of guy. Much of his work is satirical, politically charged, and forces us to take a look at subject matter that might be uncomfortable through the accessibility of humor. He met with us recently to talk about his art, his role as a TED Fellow, and how creating functions as a cathartic act. He was incredibly gracious with his responses, and it was a sincere pleasure to spend the morning with him. Then we all ate breakfast food together. It was pretty great.
I say graphic design because essentially that is what I do as a job. That is my skill-set. That’s how I earn most of my living. It’s also a term people understand. Artist is a really vague term thatcan mean anything at all. So, it’s the easiest way to describe what I do, but I know it’s such a loaded term. I’m an artist, but let me tell you more.
I became a TED Fellow in 2013, and then I became a Senior TED Fellow in 2015. So, the Fellows program is essentially where every year they choose about twenty people to come to TED and speak on the TED stage. They’ve got astrophysicists and they’ve got researchers; they’ve got people doing amazing things that I don’t even understand, but they’re cool people. The biggest thing is that you get to be with this group of twenty people who are doing incredible things and you get to learn from them. They become your lifelong friends. Some of my closest friends are people that I met at TED.
“And Everything Was Alright” was essentially what I considered the very first creative project that I did. It was a project about the day in the life of a lonely bear who wants to travel to space. It was a picture book, a short film, and a gallery exhibit as well. That project was the first time that I thought of myself as an artist because it was one of the very first times that I did a project where I was the client. I come from a graphic design background, and no matter how good the work might be, how satisfied you are with it, at the end of the day you’re always working on someone else’s vision. It’s never as satisfying as working on your own vision. My work is my voice, and when I do projects for myself, I’m speaking. So, in hindsight, that project was the most important thing that I did for myself. It’s cheaper than therapy.
Art is a very cathartic process for me because it’s how I make sense of what is happening in the world and what is happening in my surroundings. It’s the act of processing something that might be beyond me, that I can’t immediately make sense of. Like the attacks in Paris happened, and I was not sure how to process this. So, I just started writing, I started illustrating, and what came out of that was a long, illustrated essay about how I process something like that being a Muslim in America. It’s just me trying to figure out how I feel about this, and how I can make sense of it.
Being an artist in Phoenix is incredible. Because it does not have such a big name on the national level, I think people are more open to trying things, and that helps. I’ve seen Phoenix change and evolve. It’s just incredible. We have such thriving art scene now. I’m excited to see where it goes. I’m excited to be a part of more shows, work with more people, and make more art.
I’m Safwat Saleem, and I’m a graphic designer and an artist—I think.
June 30, 2016
An Interview with Kym Ventola
“Creating Boundaries,” an Interview with Kym Ventola
In the midst of wedding season, local photographer, Kym Ventola, was kind enough to answer some of our questions about her work and what inspires her. She talks to us about the choices she’s made regarding her career in photography, how she sets boundaries in her life, and why it’s important for her to be as waste-free as possible.
What was your first exposure to photography? When/How did you know you wanted to be a photographer?
I was always interested in photography as a kid. I had a Kodak 110 with a cube flash. Do you remember those? I’m getting old. I think those are from the 70’s. In the mid 80’s, my parents surprised me with a Polaroid. I didn’t love it as much as my 35mm (I love the element of surprise when you pick up your prints from the lab). I picked up a more mature love of photography in my first year of college. I was super quiet about it; no portraits, no events. Street photography, I guess it was. Dang, I wish I knew where those negatives were.
I dropped out of college to travel and go on small adventures (best decision for me, not necessarily others!). It was so helpful to find myself and photography. I struggled with anxiety and I think having a creative outlet really grounded me.
Could you tell us a bit about NINE retreat? What inspired you to start it? What successes have you seen?
Definitely! This is my new baby!
“Other women are not my competition. I stand with them, not against them.”
That, right there, sums up why I started it. I’ve always had an unshakeable pull to bring women together in a safe, supportive, uplifting, educational, healthy, and peaceful place.
I acknowledge that things are better for women today than they were decades ago. Women are more independent, and though we are still fighting for equality, we are more vocal and have new tools to escape abusive relationships and workplaces. But in some ways, things are going backwards. I am deeply concerned with this new trend of using social media for validation. There’s too much emphasis placed on the number of likes and followers we have. WHO. CARES.
After a lot of conversations with women about social media, I hear that they feel depressed, lonely, and develop self-hate talk after comparing themselves to what they see on Instagram or Facebook. “Comparison is the thief of joy,” right?! It is, one hundred percent.
I’m also concerned about the number of women burning themselves out today. Women with or without children. It doesn’t matter. So many of us are trying “to be everything to everyone” and we can’t sustain that forever. In the past, I have mentored women in trying to find the “balance.” I’m the first to recognize that there’s no answer to a perfect balance. But having an outsider help you evaluate all that you are responsible for, all that you have taken on, all that you are anxious about, all that you’re afraid to try, and all that you dream of doing is invaluable. It’s hard to do alone. At NINE, these are the things we address. We want women to arrive with honesty, humility, openness, and the willingness to hear truth and solutions.
How do you negotiate your time between personal projects and work for clients?
Six years ago, I was humbled by the reality of putting too much time and energy into my business. I was neglecting my marriage, family, and health: it was not the life that I had intended to live. I knew that I didn’t want to go back to my old job, sitting in a windowless office, but I needed to work less. How the hell do you do that? I realized that I needed to outsource the things that I didn’t have time for and raise my prices. I was so scared that this would all backfire and I would lose business.
I re-wrote my business plan. I created a spreadsheet that allowed me to evaluate all of my responsibilities, and from that I had a clear picture of what I needed to outsource. Once I created that list of things that I no longer had time for (or passion for), I saw a new job position: Studio Manager.
I hired my first manager one month later. That was 6 years ago. I’ve had a total of three since then, and they were all incredible! The first two have moved on to new careers, but left on excellent terms! We still keep in touch. In fact, one of them helped me purchase our home last year. My current studio manager, Kimberly Goeman, is the greatest human ever. Seriously, our couples love her, too. They send her gifts in the mail. She’s a dream. We work beautifully together because we both created boundaries in the beginning and have clear expectations of our work-life. I’m also really flexible when she needs to take care of her family. We created a space for her to be able to work from home anytime. That was very important to me. I mean, isn’t that what I get to do? She deserves the same opportunity.
Has your style changed over the course of your career? If so, how?
The biggest change was narrowing down the projects that I accepted.
I evaluated all options: families, food, products, weddings, portraits, lifestyle. There’s so much to photograph.
I rated each one and weddings came out on top. I decided to only accept weddings (and engagement sessions) to be happiest. I do take on some lifestyle and product shoots here and there, but those relationships were born from weddings (couples and vendors) and I feel a connection to them.
What are you most interested in right now?
First and foremost, this is our choice and is in no way something that we judge others about. It’s a challenge we wanted to accept.
Back in December of 2015, my son and I watched a documentary on trash and we just stared at each other afterwards with our mouths open. My 9 year old said, “WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO?” He was counting on me to teach him how to reduce unnecessary trash in our lives, reuse whenever possible, and recycle items in more ways than just throwing it in the recycle bin. The next day, I researched “zero waste” and discovered a woman that reduced her landfill trash down to a small mason jar for an entire year. For a family of four.
Her motto is “Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot (and only in that order).”
This is not an easy thing to commit to. It was a source of contention in our house for quite a while. I had to ask my family to stop buying anything with plastic. That means: our usual loaf of bread, the organic strawberries from Costco, the jar of almond butter, produce wrapped in plastic, plastic toys and supplies, the list goes on. Seriously. You have no idea until you start looking around (your home and store).
I donated most of our plastic containers to charity and purchased glass and metal containers. I also purchased cloth produce bags that I take everywhere I go. At the grocery store, I focus on the bulk area and fill up my cloth bags and glass jars. Now, I make our bread from scratch or I buy them from the local bakery and bring my cloth bag to save on plastic. I also make my toothpaste, lotion, lip balm and hair conditioner. I switched from lighters to matches. Pretty simple, right?
The biggest change, thanks to my incredible husband, is our compost bin and garden. It’s so nice to step outside and grab the herbs and vegetables that I need for our meals! And by having the compost bin, we have reduced the landfill waste by more than 80%. I think we take our trash can out to the road once every 5-6 weeks now.
We are not 100% zero waste. Not even close. But the few things that we have done are now just a part of our lives. We don’t think twice about it.
Oh! Three simple things for your readers to do today if they’re inspired?
Buy a bamboo toothbrush! My favorite is Brush With Bamboo. “Over 4.7 billion plastic toothbrushes that will never biodegrade are dumped in landfills and oceans every year worldwide.”
Turn down plastic straws and to-go cups at restaurants and cafés. It’s okay to say “can I have that in a glass cup with no straw?” or ask for your coffee in a ceramic mug if you’re sticking around. If you’re really motivated, carry around your own coffee mug and mason jar. Problem solved!
Buy reusable bags. Bring them everywhere you go so that you’re prepared when you run by the market! Pass on the plastic produce bags. Just put your produce in your reusable bag as you shop. They’ll survive without being sorted in plastic.
What is it like for you to be a creative professional and a mom? How do these two parts of your life overlap?
It is so great. It wasn’t always, of course. I worked really hard to get here.
For the first 2 years of my son’s life, I don’t think I slept more than 3 hours each night. I was a walking zombie. I’d be home with him during the day, trying to do work in between laundry, dishes, cooking, cleaning, nursing the baby, shopping, and getting a little exercise. Then, in the evenings and weekends, I’d schedule photo shoots: as many as I could fit in to make enough money.
Finally, in 2010, I made a change. I hired a studio manager, outsourced much of my work, focused on getting more sleep, make my family a priority and simplified my life. I lowered my expectations, too. Less is definitely more when you own your own business. At least it is for me.
Today? I have so much more free time and I get to do more things that I love. My studio manager has taken over all communications with clients and vendors, everyone. She processes payments, creates my schedule, handles our business Facebook page, and pays the bills. She designs, orders, and ships all of our albums and prints, too. All that I have to do today is meet with couples for coffee, shoot their wedding or engagement session, and edit their images. That’s it. I chose this business structure. It may change one day, but it works for the lifestyle I want right now.
In my personal life? I’ve been the Class Rep of my son’s class for the last 2 years, and next year I’ll be a Co-Chair on Parent Council. I volunteer at St. Mary’s Food Bank 2-4 times a month. I really needed this balance of being a business owner and a volunteer. It’s something that I crave, having worked with homeless kids years ago.
I’m also much more present in my marriage. My poor husband put up with a lot when I started my business. I was so stressed out. My husband is pretty much the greatest person on the planet and I can’t believe he freaking chose me.
I feel like I’m the mom I always wanted to be. I get to take my son on adventures (sometimes work-related) when he’s out of school and I’m crazy patient with him. We have a great relationship and I love the person he’s become. I respect him, he respects me.
How do you pick the projects you want to work on?
I am all about boundaries.
I mentioned earlier that I started evaluating all of my “responsibilities” and asked myself if each thing genuinely made me happy and if I had time for it.
When it comes to photography, or being in the creative field, how do you do that? You don’t take every inquiry/project that comes through your email. Ask yourself, “Do I connect with this project/the client?” “Do I want to work/shoot outdoors in the middle of the summer in Phoenix?” “Do I want to shoot very large weddings or small, intimate celebrations and elopements?” The list goes on. Each artist should take time to define their ideal projects: what they look like, what inspires you, what you have time for. Trust your instincts.
For me, I burn up when the temps are over 80 degrees in Arizona on a sunny day. I just love the cold, the rain, and the clouds. So, I decided to turn away all (full day) weddings from late May – August in Phoenix. I save my international and out-of-state weddings for the summer months, for the most part.
Also, I’m a huge believer that you will attract the type of work you want by putting that type of work out into the world. Does your portfolio reflect your true style and what it is that you want? Does your social media feed reflect that as well? If not, you have to take responsibility to either change that or accept the work you’re not connected with.
We’ve noticed you do a lot of traveling with your work, but is there anything in particular that you notice about being a creative in Phoenix? What does this city have to offer a photographer?
I have loved being a photographer in Phoenix. There is an incredibly supportive and talented group of artists here. There seem to be fewer egos here, which is fantastic. I’ve heard sad stories from wedding photographers in other cities. They feel lonely and competitive in an unhealthy way.
In Phoenix? You can be friends with your “competition.” I refer them if I’m booked and vice versa.
I love getting together with them when wedding season is over. Have you ever hung out with a large group of wedding photographers when there’s alcohol and music?
OMG, watch out.
June 7, 2016
An Interview with Julieta Felix
“Designing for Change,” an Interview with Julieta Felix
Julieta Felix is a visual designer at PayPal and founder of Busy Vegan, a plant-based food blog. She has lectured about design at creative conferences and universities, and has been named one of the Top 100 Creatives in Phoenix.
Her work has been featured in numerous blogs and magazines and her clients include: American Airlines, Disney, Pepsi, Subway, Bucketfeet, Phoenix Design Week, among others.
Monomyth Studio: What was your first exposure to design? When/How did you know you wanted to be a designer?
Julieta Felix: I have loved computers since day one, but I think it all started with Bob Ross in the ‘90s. I was obsessed! I would watch back-to-back episodes of The Joy of Painting and I even got my own Bob Ross kit one Christmas. After that, I moved to Mario Paint for Super Nintendo which came with a little mouse and mouse pad. From there, I moved to my grade school’s MS Paint, which then turned into Photoshop, so on and so forth!
What are some differences you’ve noticed between working at a creative studio and as an in-house designer for PayPal?
I worked at two creative studios before joining PayPal, and there is a world of difference! As an in-house designer you have the luxury of time. You can really get deep into a design problem and explore all routes we can take to solve a problem without pressing deadlines. At PayPal, the designers are exposed to user testing, which is one of my favorite things to witness—a real user interacting with your design and getting real-time feedback.
Another good thing about PayPal is the fact that you have literally millions of eyes looking at your work. That means our job as visual designers is to be trend-setters, not trend-followers, which is always challenging and exciting.
How do you negotiate your time and energy between personal projects and the work you do at PayPal?
I like to do it all! I can’t help it. I’m big on multi-tasking. For example, I’ll get ready in the morning while I listen to my audio books. I’ll drive to work while I make a voice memo to friends and family that live far away. I listen to podcasts or new music while I work, and come home and cook dinner while I watch my favorite YouTubers (I’m big into YouTube). By 7:00pm, I’m done for the day and I can spend time with my boyfriend, my dogs and still have time for side projects I’m working on.
PayPal is big on work-home balance, so our managers make sure we’re not overloaded with work, that we have our evenings and weekends free, and that we can take vacations regularly!
What artists/designers have had the most significant influence on your work? Why?
I’ve always loved Salvador Dalí. His work spoke to me at a very young age and I think it has shaped the way I approach brainstorming when faced with a design problem. I love to escape and push the limits of what’s been done before.
What has your experience been like as a woman in design?
I’m going to be completely honest here. In past job situations, there has absolutely been a double-standard for women. I’ve heard horror stories from my women designer friends struggling to get the same amount of respect (and salary) as their male counterparts. Women in end-of-year reviews keep getting the words “friendly” and “organized” while men get “assertive” and “leader.”
Luckily, at PayPal it is the complete opposite. I’ve never felt more appreciated and encouraged to think big. It’s refreshing to find a team in which both women and men are equally appreciated, compensated and are encouraged to be the best they can be.
Coming from Mexico, how does your background influence the work you do now?
I try to think of other languages and cultures when I’m designing. I have witnessed poverty in my country, and now that I’m in the US with so many opportunities, it makes me want to make meaningful work, be involved in projects that can make a difference, or improve people’s lives.
A lot of your work is focused on health, diet, and animal rights. Could you tell us a bit about how design can function as an agent of change?
I am the founder of Busy Vegan, a plant-based food blog. We’re all put on this Earth and we can choose what to do with our precious time here. I chose to use my skills as a designer to bring attention to factory farming. Let’s face it, no one wants to hear about the awful practices of the meat industry and how animals are slaughtered. My solution was to show the positive side of the equation so I share recipes for delicious, satisfying meals that happen to be plant-based. This way, we get to save the lives of cows, pigs, and chickens while eating healthy, tasty food!
I also try to use my photography skills to make the recipes look appetizing, and share super easy, fast recipes that people who are busy like me can do in less than 15 minutes. With my video knowledge, I also film short YouTube videos with vegan meal ideas, and I’m working on releasing my first e-book, the proceeds from which will go towards my favorite animal sanctuary. I do what I can, and so can everybody else! Imagine having 6 billion people working towards solving some of the problems in our planet. It would be a very different world, right?
What’s it like to be a designer here in Phoenix? What does this city/community have to offer an artist?
The cool thing is that it is such a tight-knit community, that most designers know each other and you can see them grow and explore different styles and techniques throughout the years. I try to go to local events, or give back to Arizona State University when I’m asked to guest-review the Visual Communication finals, or just hanging out with designer friends who share the same passion as you. We’re all rooting for each other!
May 24, 2016
On Avoiding Creative Pitfalls
We were brought up with a romanticized notion of creativity as the personality trait of painters, musicians, and writers. However, Sir Ken Robinson defines creativity as “the process of having original ideas that have value.” It is merely a state of critical thinking. These ideas come as a result of a problem that needs to be solved, whether it’s tangible, like Uber’s solution to expensive, stinky cabs, or if it’s a little less tangible, like re-approaching a client interaction that didn’t go as well as it could have.
Solving a problem in a creative way (i.e. originally and with a valuable result) requires conscious effort. It requires thought and intention. And like any creative craft (we’re referring to those painters, musicians, and writers again), it is not completely based in talent. A masterpiece doesn’t just fall out of someone’s brain. It is nurtured over a lifetime. It is practiced.
A valuable idea is not just an idea that makes a lot of money (though if it can, that’s cool). It is an idea that solves a problem in the most beneficial and complete way.
Here are some ways to keep yourself thinking about problems in a creative way:
We started asking “why?” when we were toddlers, when the part of our brain that makes logical connections started to develop. Over time, we either had this curiosity beaten out of us, or we simply lost interest. However, we need this curiosity to be truly creative—we need it to look at problems in a three dimensional way.
Noreena Hertz, in her TED talk about our addictive reliance on experts, talks about a study in which volunteers’ brains were monitored in an MRI scan while they were listening to experts speak about different subjects. While they listened, the researchers noticed the independent decision making part of all the volunteers’ brains literally turn off.
(We understand the irony of citing a source that is an expert telling us not to trust experts. We’re running with it, regardless.)
If we are not continually questioning the way we do things, why we do those things in the first place, and what we want out of those things, we will never have solutions that are valuable. We need to be able to understand why things are the way they are before we can change them.
Creativity is a direct result of idea exploration. Do not take what you’ve been taught as gospel. Be the toddler. Exercise your curiosity.
Look Behind the Problem
It is important to consider what the problem really is, where it came from, how it got here.
For example, we’re reassessing our creative brief right now, and while we were discussing user experience, development of the form, and creative ways to engage our incoming clients, it occurred to us to ask, “Wait. Why do we even have a creative brief?” Do we have one because everyone has one, and that’s just how it’s done? What is important about having a creative brief? What questions must be answered? What answers are usually irrelevant?
So, we’re taking a step back. It’s not just about a better user experience, it’s about focusing on what information is pertinent and necessary to the project, and how we can best harness trust for our team.
Often, behind the problem you are trying to solve, there is a larger, more difficult problem looming. Taking on that more complicated one not only allows you to solve the problem you had, but prevent more in the future.
Constructive conflict is a key to true problem solving. You need people that poke holes in your ideas, and you can provide other people a service by poking holes in theirs. Margaret Heffernan describes this “a fantastic model of collaboration: thinking partners that aren’t echo chambers.” She describes this conflict as a form of critical thinking, a cooperative method of problem solving.
Part of killing complacency is not just asking questions, but being a whistleblower when questions need to be asked. It’s about playing devil’s advocate to fully understand a problem.
Often, people are afraid to take this constructive conflict model seriously because there is a chance they might be wrong. According to Robinson, however, “If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.” This is difficult because only very rarely do companies have a culture of constructive conflict. We live in a society where mistakes are penalized. Where being wrong is embarrassing. This is a completely hindering mindset to have. We need to accept that we are often more wrong than not, and that failures are “early brushes with success.”
It is important to realize that, wrong or not, the thoughts that lead people to these places are what makes constructive conflict effective. These thoughts are the meat of creative problem solving.
Be Aware of Your Blind Spots
Willful blindness is a legal concept that, Heffernan explains, declares you responsible “if you could have known, and should have known, something that instead you strove not to see.” This concept exists outside of a legal context, and is an unfortunate psychological condition of humanity.
“Whether individual or collective, willful blindness doesn’t have a single driver, but many. It is a human phenomenon to which we all succumb in matters little and large. We can’t notice and know everything: the cognitive limits of our brain simply won’t let us. That means we have to filter or edit what we take in. So what we choose to let through and to leave out is crucial. We mostly admit the information that makes us feel great about ourselves, while conveniently filtering whatever unsettles our fragile egos and most vital beliefs. It’s a truism that love is blind; what’s less obvious is just how much evidence it can ignore. Ideology powerfully masks what, to the uncaptivated mind, is obvious, dangerous, or absurd and there’s much about how, and even where, we live that leaves us in the dark. Fear of conflict, fear of change keeps us that way. An unconscious (and much denied) impulse to obey and conform shields us from confrontation and crowds provide friendly alibis for our inertia. And money has the power to blind us, even to our better selves.”
Be aware of the fact that you have blind spots, that you will never truly be able to look at things in an unbiased way. Simply the act of knowing your blind spots creates the humility you need to look at problems in a holistic way. Not only should you question the people around you, but you should question yourself. Why do you do things the way you do them? We can no longer do things a certain way simply because it’s how it’s always been done.
Creative problem solving isn’t a method to be followed or a technique for better business. It’s a more complete approach to looking at the world around you. If you can solve problems for people in a way that is valuable to their lives, and you’ve done it in a way that is well-rounded, you are a creative problem solver. It doesn’t have to be Starry Night to be creative, it just has to be a valuable solution to a problem. It isn’t a step by step process, but merely a way of thinking.