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Unpacking after 99U: Part 2

In our Part 1 post distilling our experience during the 99U Conference, we shared what we encountered around the city and some of the interesting things we saw. Part 2 is all about our conference takeaways.

Day 1

Studio Tour: Verdes

We started the first full day of the conference at a great little coffee shop called The Jolly Goat on our way to a studio tour with Verdes, a small offshoot of the larger studio Mother NY. The folks from Verdes shared with us how to create a common language around expressing our ideas to clients and helpful tools for facilitating the discussion. A super useful topic and content and a great start to the conference.

Conference Sessions:

We made our way back from Verdes down in Hell’s Kitchen to Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center to start the general sessions.

Session 1: Ryan Carson, Treehouse

Ryan Carson shared with us a bit about his unique management and company policies (he doesn’t have any managers and they encourage lots of balance) – all of which came from his realization that we really don’t have very long on this earth so we need to spend it doing important things with the most important people in our lives. Ryan had us imagine who we want at our funeral and what we’d want them to say about us. From there we create a “Personal Mission Statement” outlining our different roles (father, business owner, son, husband, etc.) and check in on our mission statement every week and make sure our lives are still on track.

Session 2: Kristy Tilman, Society of Grownups

Kristy Tilman, in addition to having beautiful and inspiring design work, talked about not waiting to be invited to the table – to just invite yourself. She shared her own experiences where she created her own opportunity based on what she felt was needed in the world and built success around it. This is such an important idea to keep in mind: Don’t wait to be invited! Other folks out there aren’t going to wait for you and the most successful people create their own opportunity.

Session 3: Jason Fried, Basecamp

I was very excited to hear from Jason Fried who created Basecamp. Jason talked about “creative destruction” and really stepping out of your comfort zone, habits, and processes to discover new solutions. He’s challenged his teams with weeklong projects, which keeps everyone sharp but also gets the client to pay faster for example. Creating seasonal change is also important – for instance work 4 days a week in the summer and go back to 5 days in the fall. When the changes come you are refreshed and can look at everything in a different way.

Session 4: Tristan Walker, Bevel

Tristin Walker created a men’s grooming product that rethinks everything we’ve grown used to. His products are simple and refined, both visually and functionally. I mainly was inspired by his company, Bevel’s, packaging design.

Master Class: Scott Belsky, founder of Behance

Scott Belsky spoke about the journey in-between and how to keep projects alive and thriving through every cycle. Scott talked about being mission centric and medium agnostic and really focusing on the core of the project, not letting the medium drive the solution. The playbook changes over the lifespan of the project so what worked at the beginning wont work in the middle or the end so we should be aware and course correct when we need to. He discussed why projects lag in the middle – hint – it’s in our human nature! We learned to make sure we focus on new users as well as existing ones and to step out of our assumptions and step into the shoes of someone who has never interacted with our product or project.

Day 2

Day 2 started with a rainy walk to a cool little event space called Lightbox to hear Brennan Dunn discuss how to optimize our businesses. I popped in a great little coffee shop called Rex Coffee and had some yummy Counter Culture coffee and a tasty Egg & Cheese on Brioche.

Offsite: Brennan Dunn, Double Your Freelancing

This was probably the most helpful and actionable sessions of the whole conference. Brennan walked us through what makes freelancers successful, things such as mindset and knowing that you are equal to you client counterparts, not just a “vendor.” He discussed really easy ways to qualify new clients and how to provide a ton more value to existing clients. We learned about tips and techniques to help uncover the true business problem behind design projects and to become an investment for our clients, and not just an expense.

Conference Sessions:

Session 1: Dan Mall, Superfriendly

Dan Mall walked us through why and how he uses an apprenticeship model at his design studio. This was such an interesting and inspiring talk and I will be exploring ways to create something similar at Buttermilk. The most fascinating thing about Dan’s apprentice program – he only spend 30 total non-billable hours working with the apprentice over the span of the 9 month program. The rest of the hours were spent with self directed instruction by the apprentice or actual billable time on real life design projects. So something that seemed way out of reach sounds very doable for any business owner.

Session 2: Cap Watkins, BuzzFeed

My main takeaway from Cap Watkins was how he started to develop “Designer Principals” at BuzzFeed and those turned into “Leadership principals” because he discovered that really it all boils down to the same thing, no matter what your job or discipline is. He also talked about designing everything, not just design projects and to treat organizations and clients as user experience problems – a very interesting point of view.

Session 3: Yuko Shimizu

Yuko is an incredible illustrator that decided to go into the field later in life. She discussed setting goals really high and to take one small risk everyday. She also shared a lot of work and some of the stories behind it. Very inspirational.

Keynote: Tobias Frere-Jones

Tobias Frere-Jones closed the conference with a discussion about how he arrived at type design and walked us through the details and nuances of redesigning a font to be used in the stock pages of the Wall Street Journal. What I learned is that projects can always use a bit more adjusting and work before they are completely finished, but to also step away from projects for a little while too so you can return to them with fresh eyes.

Closing Party

What’s a great conference without a killer party and 99U was no exception. The venue was incredible – the vestibule of the MOMA and the music was provided by DJ Windows 98 (aka Win Butler from Arcade Fire). I had to keep pinching myself – here I was in this iconic space listening to an iconic artist with all these inspirational folks I’ve spent the last couple of days with. It was such an incredible time.

Parting Thoughts

99U was an awesome experience I will definitely consider attending again next year. I was amazed at how few traditional “designers” i encountered and the wide array of disciplines and people I learned about and met. The speakers and sessions were so varied and everything I learned makes me look at projects and my own work in a completely different way – something I think is invaluable. What makes me even more excited is all the new value and knowledge I get to share with my clients helping them solve their business problems and making them even more successful!

 

Unpacking after 99U – Part 1

It’s been a little over a week since I left for New York City to attend the 99U Conference but it feels like a lifetime. I had such a great time exploring not only the city but also the far flung reaches of the other folks who identify themselves as being part of the design/creative industry. I’ve tried to organize my thoughts into two parts  – the City and the Conference. This is only a peek into everything I took away from both but I hope it sheds some light on an amazing few days.

Part 1 | The City

I made sure to arrive a couple of days before the conference to give me a little time to get out and explore as best as I can. Some of my goals included meeting up for dinner and drinks with a great client, Ty, from Dr. Harvey’s, sitting down with Steven from Brooklyn Roasting, and wandering through Brooklyn in search of amazing shops and packaging design – all of which I accomplished.

Dinner & Drinks

Getting to know clients on a human level is so important so when you have an opportunity to unplug and just discuss life over food and drinks you jump on it. We started at Westville East – a great little restaurant in the East Village. From there we ended up at the Summit Bar, another East Village establishment. I was amazed at the creativity exhibited in the cocktails. Ingredients from all over the board. We ended the evening at The Wayland, a great little juke joint that made this southern boy feel right at home. We discussed current projects, got some work done, but also got to learn a lot about each other which I believe is helpful when I need to do my job solving problems for his company.

Brooklyn Roasting

My first stop in Brooklyn was with Steven Jewett, bookkeeper(among many other things) for Brooklyn Roasting. Steven showed me around the roastery and gave me a unique peek into the business, all while I sipped on a cortado – my new favorite coffee drink. I was able to hang around and watch the roaster run and chat with some other patrons about their love for Brooklyn Roasting. —insert pics—-These folks are beyond successful and do a great job bringing the gospel of great coffee to the masses. I was able to glean a lot of learnings to bring to my client, Virgin Islands Coffee Roasters.

Brooklyn & Beyond

After getting properly caffeinated and devising my final game plan I hit the streets in search of cool markets and packaging. My first stop was just checking out the views:

After wandering around like a legit tourist I made my way to Foragers – a really cool market with a ton of interesting products from Brooklyn and all over. I went way over my R&D budget buying up innovative coffee, granola, and chocolate packaging just to name a few. The interior of Foragers is really inspiring too with a great aesthetic and vibe letting everything speak for itself.

 

I wandered farther down into Brooklyn and found The Greene Grape – another great market. The store design was really nice and each department had its own vibe. I picked up some pretty and tasty goods and sat out on a bench in front and chatted with Brooklynites having their lunch and hearing their perspective on their neighborhood and the kinds of products they find themselves buying these days. Ginger shots kept popping up so who knows- that might be the next big thing.

 

The rest of the time in the city was spent attending the conference (see Part 2) and taking short little trips on foot – here’s a few of my favorites:

Great Coffee Shops:

Lucky Goat

Annex | The Greene Grape

Rex Coffee

Favorite Lunch Place:

The Meatball Shop

Favorite Area to Wander:

Central Park

Favorite Bar:

The Wayland

Stay tuned for Part 2 where I discuss the conference and some of the takeaways I learned.

Part 1: A little context & background: Why?

This is a series of posts about our recent website redesign. Click the links below to learn all about it. 

Every project starts with the simple words: “I’ve been thinking- we should…” or something along those lines and then grows exponentially from there. In our case it was “We should redesign our site.” To which we thought no problem! We’re designers – we can do this in our sleep. Plus it’s our own site! How hard can it be? Well it turns out quite hard.

Redesigning a site is not just a logistical decision that’s made, its also a deep down almost spiritual, inward looking path that is taken that requires some soul searching. We asked ourselves questions like: Who are we? Why do we exist? How do we present ourselves to the outside world? How do we present our work? These and many other questions are important to think about when you have this opportunity to refresh your look online.

When we started investigating who Buttermilk is we started to finesse certain aspects of our studio’s personality. We’ve always thought of ourselves as a “packaging design studio” – but what does that really mean? Well to us it makes perfect sense, but to many of the folks we met out networking it wasn’t clear what “packaging” actually is. Is it the substrate products go into? Are we product designers? Are we printers? So we tried to really dig down to the heart of what we do and that is:

“Helping brands speak to customers from the shelf.”

We really feel like this statement sums up the work we create at Buttermilk. And speaking to customers isn’t just limited to a product on a grocery shelf. All brands have “customers” and a “shelf” they sit upon and whether we’re collaborating with you to create a logo, a website, or our favorite; packaging design, we will help you speak clearly.

We also looked at how our work is presented and wanted a more uniform and elegant display of our portfolio. We pour a lot of heart and soul into our work and want to make sure we’re putting the best face out there for each piece.

So as you can see the decision to redesign your site is not one to take lightly or without preparation but if you use it as an opportunity to refine your presentation and your message it’ll be a success!

Stay tuned for next week when we discuss putting together a great team to help with the epic undertaking of a redesign!