Inside the Designer’s Studio with UncommonGoods Creative Team
Some of the most talented, creative minds we know are closer than we think, so this month we wanted to share the creativity within our own walls to help inspire you. The team, headed by Associate Creative Director Gaby Germaine is responsible for our catalog, emails, home page and everything else UncommonGoods sends out into the world.
UncommonGoods co-founder, COO and Creative Director Thomas Epting loves working with our Creative team. “I’m so proud of this group of absolute creative rockstars. Thrice weekly I get to hear them pitch and show innovative ways to present our product and delight our customers. They are unafraid to call me or each other out about how to improve our collective work. And while laughter is the most frequently heard sound in the studio, they are a crazy-hardworking group, who care deeply about our customers, our brand, great writing, photography and design. More than any creative group I’ve ever seen, they push their collaborators in marketing, merchandising and purchasing to help them react to the numbers behind our business.”
We interviewed Gaby and some of the other team members jumped in. Welcome to the studio!
What are your most essential tools?
The camera is the most obvious and regularly used one for me. It can feel like an extension of my arm at times. But also plain white paper. I need a spot to get the thoughts and images out of my head and down into a visual, tangible item. That can mean sketches, lists or even just scribbles of color and shape. My mind can be chaotic and I adore order. The lists and sketches provide that order.
Nathan, copy writer: My tools aren’t too fancy. All I need is a word processor and my imagination to do my work. But because I’m located in Oklahoma, I also need Skype and instant messaging to interact with the rest of the studio in real time.
Hanna, graphic designer: My Wacom tablet! I can’t work without it. And, of course, nothing beats a #2 mechanical pencil and some graph paper.
Adam, photographer: My most essential tools are the Canon 5D, Broncolor lights, Apple computers, Photohop, and the power of Gray Skull.
What was the toughest lesson you have learned working in the creative field?
The toughest lesson for me was to learn to embrace the concept of a cutting room floor (to steal a term from the film industry). It is one that I still struggle with. Sometimes the best way to get to a great idea or end product is to be willing to spend time making a lot of less-than-great work. It can be a fun process of testing and playing, but it can also be stressful when you tie in a deadline and obviously wanting all of my work to be at a high level of quality. It is a lesson worth learning though as some of my favorite work that I am the most proud of has come through this editing process.
Where does collaboration come into play with your craft?
It is pretty much involved in every element of it. It can range from talking over a photo shoot idea with the Creative Director, or being on set with him to shoot covers, to working with the designers and copy writers to come up with the best photo/copy/design elements for an upcoming email. We brainstorm and plan together on all the emails we send. I also love how when we are shooting covers for the catalog everyone is involved. Everyone gets called over to look at set and the photo to give feedback on the image and copy. Sometimes I agree or disagree with the feedback and sometimes changes are made due to other suggestions and other times not. I just think it is a good practice to listen and think about how the customer might respond to the images I am presenting. Best way to figure that out is to be willing to present the images to others and work on any solutions needed.
Where do you find inspiration within this space?
I love the front of the studio. The big conference table right by the bay of windows. The light is beautiful, and the space itself is open and airy. There is loads of room to craft, have a natural light photo shoot, brainstorm with the group and of course the studio favorite – a game of Apples to Apples!
Hanna: Hahaha. But seriously would not turn down a game of Apples to Apples in lieu of the catalog meeting.
How do you set goals for yourself and the team?
We make a yearly plan as a studio that aligns with the companies over all yearly goals and then break that down into work by quarter with what we can get done… and then we adjust as new projects and goals come up. It is really important that we assign ownership also to keep projects moving along. It is really about breaking everything down into smaller easy to manage steps.
Where does down time fit into a day in the studio?
Down time… I should get me some of that. No seriously, I think down time is a hard thing for anyone in the creative field to understand. I think just so much of our thoughts wander back to our projects be it work, or personal. We do have some really talented bakers and cooks in the studio though, so inevitably each week someone has brought a treat in to share. We will often gather around the table for a taste test and chat. And of course Pinterest research has a special place in all of our hearts.
How and when do you decide to celebrate a victory?
We all pretty much love anything involving confetti and glitter. You can always tell when it is someone in the studio’s birthday by the loud explosion of a confetti cannon (popper).
In college I was in a visiting artist lecture and the speaker told the class that it is not the most talented artist that make it in this industry. It is those who don’t lose interest due to work that is needed. Those that are willing to work the hardest and longest. Like most in a creative field I struggle (and especially in school with the daily critiques that compared me to some really talented student in my program) with seeing my worth and vision as an artist. I remember sitting in that lecture and thinking, “Oh, I can totally do that! I know I can work hard and long.” It was a great moment for me. It was the first time I really felt like there was potential for me to succeed not just a hope for it.
What are some new skills you are trying to acquire to perfect your craft
I feel like I am constantly working to improve my styling for photographs. How to lay objects down and have them look beautiful and not too organized that they don’t look natural, but still can tell the story of the items clearly. It seems so simple, but there are hours that can go into a shot to make it look effortless. I try to keep up on “research” by looking over blogs with great photography, Pinterest, magazines and sometimes even how sets from some movies are styled. I also have some friends who are stylists and I will trade my photo services with them for their styling services. When we work together on a test shoot I end up learning so much about how to lay down fabric to show motion, or how to stack blocks or plates so they are a little less than a perfect tower, with some shape and motion to draw you in.
Hanna: Currently I’m on a mission to become a web development guru. I’ve been taking classes at NYU and working towards getting my certificate. So far, they have been great! Being in school makes me feel nostalgic and presenting to my classmates keeps me on my toes design-wise. I have to bring my A-game to class!
How do you recharge your creativity?
I have to walk away at times. I have to have interest and goals outside of work and creativity… although they all seem to find a way back into creativity somehow. I was prepping to run a 10k for my birthday last year (a bunch of my friends in the studio ran it with me also. So I went running while on press to print the Holiday Catalog in Wisconsin. I was running to train and recharge from work and was totally pulled into the amazing beauty of the landscape. I ended up having a terrible day as far as running was concerned, but some of the best photos as I would run 10 ft then stop to snap a shot of another amazing view!
Other times I just need to learn something new or create something just for me. I love knitting, embroidery, bookbinding, cooking, decorating, etc. And I love learning about people who do these things. I live in a great city that gives me the opportunity to go to loads of lectures or meet artist at street fairs. Sometimes hearing someone else talk about something they are passionate about helps me to refocus on my passions.
Adam: Lunchtime walks through the industrial district. And playing ukelele while I wait for files to load.
Nathan: I make sure that, outside of work, I use my creativity for the things I love. I write musical theater, play violin, do craft projects, and whatever else that I can so that I don’t ever feel like my talents are just limited to use at work.
What advice would you offer the you of 5 years ago?
Oh man! That advice is probably the same advice I need today…. lol. Worry less, play more. Seriously, I spend a considerable amount of time concerned and focus on missing a press deadline- or any deadline really. Things generally work out. Even if we go with a back-up plan, we all work hard and find a way to get the job done.
Hanna: You don’t know it all.
Adam: Try to get an internship during college. Work as much in your field as possible, especially with people who are good at what they do.