Portrait of the designer next to a sketched portrait of the designer, 2014.
I’ll take the photo above as an opportunity to talk about the changes that you might have noticed in my studio over the past few months.
This shot was snapped by my pal Dickon Isaacs—a design director at Motorola Mobility—shortly before I spoke at their new Merchandise Mart studios. Dickon invited me to come out as part of their new speaker series, just launched alongside Motorola’s move into their gorgeously appointed penthouse digs atop the massive Merchandise Mart building in Chicago.
Up over my shoulder is a talk called “From Maker to Making-a-Brand”—which essentially delivers the punchline before the story: Craighton Berman Studio was the universal outlet for my independent creative output for the past decade, but it’s changing fast.
One of the things I’ve been most proud of about my practice is the broadness of the work I create. Products, illustrations, concepts, strategy, live drawing—I do a lot. And while this sort of variety expresses a voracious curiosity that resonates with those who are interested in the way I think, for those interested in what I make, it might come across as a mixed story. And while I think my dilettante-leanings are less about a lack of focus and more about a broad interest in pursuing ideas of any shape and form, ultimately I needed to think about how I want my practice to grow.
Firstly, my creative direction and strategic design consulting work will continue with the great partners I already collaborate with, as well as some exciting new relationships that will be pushing my practice into some new territories of defining new products and services. Much of this work is based in workshop facilitation, but I’m excited to return to some longer engagements this fall, that harken back to my “innovation” consulting days.
Secondly, I'm looking to push my illustration/storytelling practice to be more personal, more focused on authorship and POV, and with a more distinct personal style. Due to my background in industrial design, I think I too often view illustration as merely a tool I use to bring ideas to life. I’d like to push back against that again, and focus again on my craft of illustration. I’ll be looking to post more experiments on my sketchblog, which has gotten much more quiet as of late. This summer I started to push my illustration work into the animation space much more, which has revealed some interesting collaboration opportunities. I’ll also be pushing myself much more into the narrative space, through the publishing of some zines and comics on the Riso I now have access to. (It’s amazing how access to tools can inspire)
Finally, I’m scaling up my product design work. I’ve enjoyed creating conceptual projects and finding ways to bring these ideas to life, but now I’m interested in creating a cohesive line, talking to a larger audience with a brand, and creating from a idealistic philosophy. You’ve probably noticed I launched a new brand called Manual back in March at the Housewares show, simultaneously launching my largest Kickstarter project yet, shooting me into global manufacturing and brand building. With this big change, my product work is likely to become a lot less about personal authorship at the object level, and more about supporting the new brand. It’s exciting to consider how Manual will keep growing, especially the idea of truly becoming a creative director and commissioning products from outside designers. There’s also something very refreshing about the specific focus of “designing for the way we interact with our food.” Things become much more clear on what to spend time on, and what to save for a “side project.”
In addition to those three directions, I also accepted an adjunct teaching position, which I mentioned here in more detail. Although I certainly don’t need more to do right now, it was the perfect class for my current interests, and it’s been rewarding (and a lot of fun) to be sharing everything I’ve learned about hustling in the design world—not to mention having an excuse to have guest designer-entrepreneurs come in/Skype in/open their studios every week. I’m learning as much as my students are. Maybe I should write a book afterward.
It may still seem like I’m trying to swallow a lot at once, and that’s probably true. But I’ve always believed having many different projects going at once helps to keep my mind fresh through variety, while also allowing for the “adjacent possible”—ideas that could only come from being stacked next to something seemingly unrelated. Creating some boundaries between practices—no matter how artificial that may be—helps me to clearly define the type of work I want to be doing next—even when it feels like it’s waiting just around the corner.