Year One

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One year ago today, after some long nights, Rena and I threw open the doors of Makeshift Society Brooklyn on Hope street—and then we collapsed onto the sofa.

We propped the door open and let the breeze blow in. We chatted with people who dropped by to peek in. We enticed passers-by to say hello. And we ended the day with a bottle of prosecco in the company of Hardhat, who did our branding, and Dash Marshall, who designed the space. May 1, 2014 was great.

But May 1, 2015 is even better! One year older, we’re now a community of about 100 creatives who are making shift happen. The front door is still propped open when the weather’s nice, and you’re still welcome to peek in and have a look around or quiz us about what exactly is going on here. You’re likely to meet Cait and Emma at the front desk, keeping things running with aplomb and charm, as they have from day one.

One year zipped by. We…

…received rad gifts from friends

…waved at friendly kids

…thew some fun events (including one that involved ice cream sandwiches)

…drank a lot of coffee with our neighbors Frankie and Lee at 66 Hope Cafe

…got a super futuristic wall installation

…watched some movies

…printed some newspapers and a zine

…were featured in newspapers and magazines

…held some special classes

drew some stuff

…got tired

…got excited

…ate some donuts!

OK, that last one is a lie. We ate a lot of donuts.

Thanks to all of our members, friends, backers, and that one guy who rollerbladed right through our open doors in a single smooth arc to ask, “what’s going on in here?” Makeshift Society wouldn’t be what it is without all of you.

Soon we’ll settle our plans for an official party. Until then!

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Working Late: Project Breakdown

This autumn we’ve been hosting a series of evening events called Working Late in collaboration with Adobe Typekit. Each evening was an experiment aimed at fostering a conversation about the how and why behind design projects. How did this thing come about? Why does this thing exist?

To cap the series, we invited Kelli Anderson to share a single project by breaking it down, talking through the struggles and laying the pieces out to show how they do (and sometimes don’t) connect.

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All photos by Tim Gibson

Never one to do the expected, Kelli used the opportunity to share a confidential, yet-to-be published project and get feedback from the assembled peers. I can’t talk about the specifics of the project, but the lines of inquiry she led us down are worth reporting nonetheless.

Both the content and visual design of the mystery-project are deep and complex, but Kelli has worked and reworked them without being reductive. “Distillation” was the word that kept coming to mind as I listened to her talk. The project she showed is about essences; Kelli is designing interfaces that help people grapple with essentials.

Such a thing does not come easily, and Kelli generously showed dead ends as well as some successful experiments that will be in the final publication. With complex content, the visual design should probably be simple, she contended, so a lot of the struggles were to “pare everything down to get to the aesthetic analog for this [content].”

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Being reductive brought other challenges, though, as it puts a lot of weight on just a few choices — is this the right typeface, the right two-color palette? Kelli made the case for the role of a designer in guiding such choices:

It’s my job to help people make decisions based on cultural reasons… “This has to be blue, and not just any blue, but this particular blue!”

This devotion to finding. the. right. answer was evident in the careful exploration of design proposals throughout Kelli’s presentation. As much as she was able to make a strong case for the expertise of the designer, she did not discount other factors, such as commercial concerns.

That’s why “distillation” kept coming to mind: seen as a set of constituent parts the creative process is messy, often confusing, or even tense, but it ends in something singular and great.

Huge thanks to Kelli for being open with her process, and this project, and to Adobe Typekit for helping make all of these events possible.

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You can be part of discussions like this too. Makeshift Society is a coworking space for people who are as serious about their creative practice as they are about making it pay the bills. Drop by for a tour, sign up for the newsletter, or check out our events calendar to say in the loop.

Working Late: what you missed at Type & Tacos

Last week, as part of our ongoing collaboration with Typekit, we kept the lights on late and invited the typography nerds of New York to come hang out, have a bite to eat, and get some work done. Members of Adobe’s Typekit, Behance, and Creative Cloud teams spent the evening chatting with people about the various products, answering questions, and sharing tips.

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All photos by Tim Gibson

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Our next and final Working Late event (sad faces!) is on 11/11 with Kelli Anderson. This one is already sold out, but if you’re really hoping to make it, we do have a waitlist on Eventbrite!

Crit Night Roundup

One of the central rituals in the education of a designer is the “crit”, the critique. It’s something that happens almost exclusively in design fields, and it goes like this: you do some work, you pin it on the wall for everyone to see, stand up in front of your peers and professors, explain why and what you did, and a discussion ensues. When done well this can be a fantastic, discursive, illustrative way to learn, for the presenter and everyone else.

But a funny thing happens after you finish school. The crits often disappear too. If you work inside a large office, similar group discussions sometimes happen, but for freelancers and small teams the working discussions are often less frequent and harder to come by. We wanted to change that.

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All photos by Ryan Essmaker

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A week ago we welcomed 50-some people for the second of four events with Typekit, and this one was organized as a crit night. We gathered together a group of fantastic designers (more on that in a second) and asked them to each bring a project to share. Their fellow presenters and the audience all gave feedback and asked questions.

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James Victore showed a poster and book he did for an exhibition called Pop-up. Someone suggested that the cover looks like shit, but eventually the rancor settled into a debate on the nuance that separates “childish” from “childlike”. Good stuff.

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Rob Wilson, a brave soul who raised his hand to show his work publicly in front of his peers, showed a multi-piece project celebrating rotkhol (red cabbage). After some discussion about whether the poster, a part of Robert’s project, was working well or not, Ellen defended posters as a grad school conceit. “It’s a place to put your brain.” And your cabbage, in Rob’s case.

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Bonnie Siegler showed her studio’s design for the rebranding for the Brooklyn Public Library including, importantly, two options that were not selected.

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Ellen Lupton kept things moving at a steady clip as our able moderator. A huge thanks to her for gamely taking on the challenge of threading a structure through a conversation as meandering and lively as this.

(Originally Jason Santa Maria was going to be there too, but he was not able to make it).

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James and Martin Gee.

“Your goal is to get paid to be Martin.”
“I do!”

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If this sounds like fun, please consider joining us Tuesday, October 14th for the next Typekit event, a night of typography and tacos where Makeshift will be open late and we’ll be joined by members of the Behance, Creative Cloud, and Typekit teams to help people out with their projects. Also: tacos.

Hamburgerfontsiv and other discoveries at Working Late

Last week we held the first of four Working Late events, a series we’ve put together with generous support and collaboration from Typekit. As you would expect, the subject of the events is typography and design.

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All photos by Ryan Essmaker

Design conversations can be so dominated by the what, the outcomes. Here I made this thing, isn’t it beautiful? But with these events we are putting the creative process. We want people to share the how and why of designing with type.  As designers, how do we make decisions? How can we learn from the way others work?

With Jen Mussari, known for her hand lettering, and Frank Chimero, known for digital and print design, joining us for the first event, Tim Brown of Typekit led a discussion that started with a simple question: “what’s the difference between type and lettering?” Both use letters and letterforms, but type involves typefaces, mechanical or digital, and lettering is done by hand.

This was an easy introduction, and a embodiment of the accessibility of the evening. I appreciate typography but my training is in architecture, and architects are pretty lousy graphic designers (despite what most of them think). I was pleasantly surprised to find that the discussion remained intelligible even to untrained ears. Don’t ask me what “hamburgerfontsiv” means, but other than that it was down to earth — specific and detailed, without being jargony or off-putting. The best kind of expert discussion is one what invites the newbies in.

Frank shared a secret: “I don’t read the text before I typeset it. I just put it on the page.” (Though he does read it before!) According to Frank, the first go at typesetting is more about how it sits. Printing it out afterwards, reading, and making notes in the margins is more interesting. At that point you can see how it makes you feel.

Feeling! What an curious thing to bring up in a discussion of type. How does a particular typeface make you feel? Frank was refreshingly candid about the role of emotion and preference in designing with type. “We want to believe that things are explicit processes, when in reality they’re gut choices” developed and reinforced over years of practice.

Here’s a way you can test it at home, using an exercise Frank does with his students. Typeset the word “party” and then try to figure out what kind of party it is. Use an Edwardian face and the party probably involves people wearing white gloves. Set it in Comic Sans and you’re at a different party, right?

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One of my favorite moments was a discussion of the “straight forwardness” of typesetting versus hand lettering. On first glance, the idea of setting type digitally seems as though it should be easier and more straight forward than literally writing out every letter by hand as a unique composition. Yet digital design now generally exists across a range of devices, and must look good on all of them.

Frank spoke about his strategies for coping in this situation. Local design cues can make something appear consistent even as the overall layout changes “differently on 10 different devices.” Consideration is a more useful strategy than control.

Jen spoke about flexibility in her work from a different angle. Clients who commission her for lettering projects do not always have the final format nailed down, which means she needs to build in a certain degree of flexibility. Designing with black text on white creates opportunity here. The white space can always be finessed to accommodate a format that is not nailed down yet. Her clients don’t always know what they’re commissioning, so she puts effort into managing expectations up front. “You’re not going to get a front from me. It’s not going to look like it came from a machine.”

Ideally more about the context of the final product is known, of course. “Context is the most important thing, “ Jen continued, “especially when hand lettering is so hot right now.” Why? Because the way a designer responds to context reveals the difference between a designer that applies a rote skill and the one who adapts to the situation at hand.

“The world around your work changes,” Frank and Jen said in unplanned unison at one point during the night. Stay contemporary in your understanding of the world, and your work will be better for it. Part of that changing world is the linking up of various roles into networks of collaboration. Here’s Jen:

“I draw, someone next to me vectorizes it, then someone animates, another person turns it into 3d, then someone is doing lighting [in the 3d program]… and then it’s on during the Grammys. This kind of thing only comes from collaborating with people who have other skills.”

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Join us for the next three Working Late events if you also want to learn about typography, both from the great lineup of speakers and from your peers.

For the next event we’ll be learning from Ellen Lupton, Jason Santa Maria, and James Victore. See you there.