Work

Strive for excellence, not perfection.

June 22, 2016 – by Tyler

Over Memorial Day weekend, four of us Fireballers made the trek up to Two Rivers, Wisconsin to attend a workshop at  Hamilton Type Museum. Two Rivers, or T’Rivers as it's known locally, is a small lake-side town that just so happens to contain the only museum dedicated to the preservation, study, production and printing of wood type. The museum is a 45,000 sq. ft. facility, maintained solely by director Jim Moran, assistant director Stephanie Carpenter, and a slew of volunteers and enthusiasts, some of whom worked at Hamilton in its heyday.  We had no expectations for what the workshop would entail, but none of us could have imagined it turning out the way it did.

Jim Moran, the museum's director, first guided us through the rich history of Hamilton. Founded in 1880, the shop found its customer base in the plethora of newspapers published throughout the midwest, each of which needed Hamilton's type to set their headlines. Hamilton eventually bought out all of his competitors and soon had a complete monopoly on the wood-type game in the Midwest.

Jim showed us how the wood type is born from raw slabs of maple. First, technicians cut the maple into workable pieces known as half-rounds, which are then sanded down to the proper height known as “type-high” (.918” for those of you following along at home). From the type-high maple, the workers would cut the half-rounds into workable pieces depending on the dimensions of the typeface they were cutting. Those pieces were then routed by a technician, who followed scalable-patterns designed by the Hamilton staff. Then, the type would be refined further by hand to take care of those pesky counter-spaces. Finally, the sorts (a typographer’s term referring to the individual characters of type) were then subject to an intense burnishing, polishing and a very thin coat of lacquer. Jim proudly stated that Hamilton still produces wood type today if the project is right.

The Shipping Department

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Half-rounds waiting patiently to be made into letters.

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Ogling all the sorts.

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Ever heard someone say “I’m all out of sorts?” That comes straight from the pressman’s workshop when they ran out of a certain character.

After a brief introduction to letterpress printing, and a healthy dose of inspiration by resident artist Jim Sherraden (master printer at Hatch Show Print in Nashville), we were let loose to print what we pleased. We were all given the same setup and materials to work with: one table-top press, a few colors of ink and 20+ full cabinets of wood-cut characters and a few lead, photographic plates. Anything beyond that was up to us — we quickly got to work. Some of us had concrete ideas for our prints, but ultimately we were all there just to play with all that beautiful type. 

A selection of prints we made.

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Gettin' funky with some italics.

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Split-fountain experiments.

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Team work makes the dream work.

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In the midst of printing our posters, Mr. Sherraden invited us beyond the yellow rope of the museum to watch the re-striking of a mid-1900s poster for Reefer Madness. Tom and Ross were chosen to pull one of the prints, which was quite the challenge considering the sheer size of the print (more than 4' x 3') and the fact that we were surrounded by printers with some 90+ years of letter-press experience. No pressure...

Jim S. inking the plate.

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Blind registration ain't for the feint of heart.

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Note the mix of concentration and sheer terror on their faces.

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"Horrible?" Jim uttered in reference to the registration. We replied with a collective "Not at all!" As he was talking about the challenges of re-striking old plates like this, with no reference print, he uttered that we were after excellence, not perfection.

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We also learned that Matt carries the same phone as Jim Sherradan, who both prefer the old-fashioned flip over the new-fangled smart.

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...and that Fatso's makes awesome sandwiches.

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...and we're all very serious bowlers.

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Overall, we couldn't be more pleased with our experience. The workshop itself was far and beyond what any of us expected, and we all came back to Chicago with a new reverence for the craftspeople that preceded the era of graphic design. As designers and developers, we wear a lot of hats, but back when Hamilton was producing type people had specialities. Our jobs now demand that we are fluent in multiple programs and platforms, skillful in setting type, designing logos and developing websites, and the list goes on and on. I can't help but wonder if this is a good or bad thing, but I'll leave that debate for another time. One thing I can say for certain is that when I walked out of Hamilton on Sunday afternoon, I carried with me a renewed sense of pride and responsibility as a designer and maker.

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Goodnight, sweet prince.

Fleeting Moments

April 20, 2016 – by Matt

I'm sitting at my computer at work, listening to one of my favorite songs of all time: the live recording of Led Zeppelin's Since I've Been Loving You that appears on the live triple album How The West Was Won. It has been one of my favorite songs since I was in junior high. I went through a Led Zeppelin phase at the time, so I'm sure once I discovered this recording I listened to it over and over again — it has remained one of my favorite songs of all time. I think one of the reasons it remains special is because it is a song I don't hear very often. This particular recording doesn't come on the radio (nor does the studio version either), and it wasn't used in a car commercial campaign. If I ever hear this song it's almost certainly because I wanted to hear it and I put it on myself.

I recently started using Spotify, and I started a playlist called "Songs for Vibes", which is just an ever-rotating collection of the songs that I'm really digging at the moment. A couple weeks ago I put Since I've Been Loving You in the playlist, so I've heard the song at least several dozen times since. This is probably more than I've heard it in the past several years. It's still awesome, and it's still one of my favorite songs of all time, but it did just occur to me that listening to it for the thirtieth time in the past couple weeks didn't feel quite as special as it once did. I'm familiar with the experience hearing a song that you like and then getting burnt out on it by overplay on the radio/tv/internet, but this was slightly different in context. It felt strange.

This reminded me of another recent experience. This past Friday night I went to see Ben Allison play at the Green Mill. I was excited because I've been listening to his music since I was in high school, but I've never seen him play live. The show was incredible. The band was hot, the atmosphere in the Green Mill (somehow that was my first time there) was fantastic, and I lucked out on some seats right in front of the stage. To my great pleasure he played a few songs from my favorite album, the album that introduced me to his music, Cowboy Justice . It was really great to see these tunes I've been listening to for years finally played in person, with all of the variations and interpretations that happen when jazz is played on stage. Then they played a rendition of the Buffalo Springfield song Expecting to Fly . It was fantastic. I had never heard the original song, but this was something special. It was the song that stayed with me as I left the venue, and still as I lay in bed that night.

The next morning I promptly did some googling to try and find a recording of it — was it on a record somewhere? Was there a crappy phone-recorded version of it on YouTube? Nothing. Finally, I settled on listening to the original song by Buffalo Springfield, and it was also excellent. I liked it, a lot even, but it wasn't the same as that beautiful, simple arrangement that Ben and his group had performed the night before. I can still hear it in my head if I try, and I imagine I will be able to do so for a long time. This fleeting moment, the performance of this song that I might not ever witness or hear again, was singular. As much as that performance affected me, and as badly as I wanted to hear it again, maybe it's better that I don't.

Maybe there are some things that don't need to be, or maybe even shouldn't be archived. On the internet, or anywhere. There are certain moments that impact you in ways that go beyond what a record of that moment can convey. Maybe it's better they remain fleeting. This is not a new concept to me, but somehow in this new context it felt especially profound, and I'm trying to use it as an opportunity to remind myself that it's okay. That performance of Expecting to Fly will remain a special memory for a long time, but would it if it were in a playlist that I listened to every day? I doubt it.

I've removed Since I've Been Loving You from my "Songs for Vibes" playlist. I'll spend some time away from it, and return to when I really need it.

I wondered whether 
I could wave goodbye, 
Knowin' that you'd gone.

- Neil Young, lyrics from 'Expecting to Fly'

clarity

March 21, 2016 – by Kristin

We love to learn around these parts.

It's true. All manners of wild things. 

For instance: Alibaster recently learned to make beautiful benches with their own bare hands with a little help from our pals at Rebuilding Exchange.

Regard!

Nate's been tinkering with game development, you know, for mobile devices. (Ask him about Cats vs. Zombies.) 

Just last weekend, after 6 hours of listening, stirring and simmering, Dawn mastered the art of making decadent sauces.

Our lust for knowledge is powerful and all-consuming. So naturally, we've instituted regular "Lunch-n-Learns" at the studio. Every month, one of us leads a lunch-time workshop on any topic of our choosing. Could be related to our work, our passion projects, our pets , whatever!

Lunchin-n-Learnin, Showing-n-Growing

When it was Tom's month, he took us through the strange birth and evolution of political ideology in the Western world. Will schooled us in the terrifying and awesome power of Creative Cloud libraries. Tyler gave us a handy-dandy guide to clean living, including homemade recipes for all-natural cleaners and toiletries. 

Last month, it was MY TURN.  

As someone who spends all day every day thinking about words and the best possible way to mash them together at any given moment, I used the opportunity to talk about writing. More specifically, I wanted to give everyone some quick, easy tips for writing more clearly and confidently. 

I'm not trying to put myself out of a job or anything. Everyone here writes. Everyone everywhere writes. You write emails every day, I bet. Sometimes you fire 'em off, no problem. But maybe other times, it takes you an hour to phrase a question just right, you're not sure if you're making sense, or you get hung up wondering if you're using too many—or not enough!—exclamation points.

If that latter bit got you nodding along, good news pal. I've got some slides for you. 

Go forth into the week ahead and write like the wind, my doves.

Great Ideas of Humanity

January 6, 2016 – by Nick Adam

Every step is an opportunity for an experience, a chance encounter. As we step into public spaces, these opportunities increase exponentially.

At home and in the studio, I take walks with others to work through details of a project. As we walk, we’re at the same time responding to our surroundings. Walking keeps our minds sharp; it improves my ability to think, to problem solve, and to develop ideas as they take shape. But I don’t think of walking as an active process of gathering thoughts, but rather extending a thought. It feels much like solving a maze.

Stanford researchers have proven that walking boosts creativity, suggesting that a person's creative output may increase 60% on average while walking.

Short Walks on Long Tangents 

Lately, I’ve been walking two and a half miles to work. The slightest smile from a stranger fills me with joy, hope, and rejuvenation. My return smile is often met with increased acknowledgment—a widened smile revealing teeth, a kind greeting, a quick nod. I am so gratified by these quick exchanges that I’m always looking for more interaction.

Moving through public space can be transformative, and so these spaces have power, they are sacred and in need of mindful consideration.

While on these walks I come across neighbors, friends, and strangers, dogs, birds, squirrels—all things that can provoke me to think and act. I also come across various forms of communication, that fall into the categories of signage and advertising; both help guide me through my day, but they don’t often provoke me.

Provocations Lead to New Associations

Here is where I see an invaluable opportunity. Our public spaces—where our minds are the most active—need more ideas. Diverse ideas, sans agenda, that can provoke new thoughts. Perhaps change our actions and thereby our lives. Perhaps change the world.

Design can and should play a larger role in shaping our cities. Certainly through the first order of how things look and appear, but more profoundly the second order, the cultivation of an increasingly mindful public.

This isn’t exactly a new idea, just one the contemporary American metropolis has forgotten or under-prioritized. Most EU countries have regulations to avoid the unaesthetic effect of poorly-made public communications. This in turn creates increased opportunities and responsibility for more skilled practitioners to build the visual landscape. Case in point: Chicago’s sister city Lucerne, where the public poster is prized as the most relevant way of communicating. This is not due to the shape, but the contents and intention.

This can happen here. It is perhaps a very American approach to public space.

Freedom Within Vision

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To quote Woodie Guthrie: “There was a big, high wall there that tried to stop me / Sign was painted, said "private property" / But on the back side it didn't say nothing / This land was made for you and me.”

The most poignant interpretation of this line comes from Chicago artist Lindsey Dorr­-Niro: “A moment of freedom within vision, a structure and field filled with potential.”

This is what I see for great ideas in the public space, freedom within vision.

This summer, I took on the role of Lead on the Great Ideas project at the Chicago Design Museum. With permission from John Massey, and collaboration with the Museum's Matthew Terdich & Tanner Woodford we have been charged with renewing one of the nation’s most historic, landmark advertising campaigns.

For 25 years, the Container Corporation of America commissioned the day's avant-garde creative to visually interpret quotes by leading scientists, philosophers, and academics. These works were then circulated through traditional media channels. The general public was seeing the likes of Paul Rand, Herbert Bayer, Saul Bass, and René Magritte conveying the thoughts of Mark Twain, Alfred North Whitehead, and Theodore Roosevelt.

Great Ideas Original

And they called it Great Ideas of Western Man.

Great Ideas of Humanity

Our revival, entitled the Great Ideas of Humanity, acknowledges globalization and celebrates the cross-pollination of ideas, philosophies, societies, and culture. We are connecting contemporary artists with important thinkers to bring continuation to this monumental series in serving the public interest.

The first two panels of our Great Ideas of Humanity campaign can be seen in situ in Chicago, at the intersection of LaSalle and Washington streets at the new Bus Rapid Transit station. Six more Great Ideas posters will be installed over the next two months.

Great Ideas of Humanity

002, Hugh Dubberly on John Dewey
001, Ivan Chermayeff on Oliver Wendell Holmes

Great Ideas of Humanity

The posters will remain up for the entirety of 2016.

Typeforce7, a Kit of Parts

December 16, 2015 – by Nick Adam

In the contemporary culture of graphic design, an identity is commonly understood to mean much more than a logo. An identity is in fact a system, often built in response to a form, generally a logo. Though a logo can be a powerful tool that can immediately convey meaning, it’s only one piece of the kit that makes up an identity. Identities can be established lacking this piece.

Graphic designers may accept this, but many outside of the discipline think of the logo as the whole identity. At the studio, we use this difference in understanding as a teachable moment, an opportunity to illustrate to a potential client how a holistic systems approach to branding through graphic design is key to strengthening an organization’s image.

Curious Perspectives, Unanticipated Discoveries

When and where appropriate, I explore these curious perspectives through what I do best: making things. 

Our 7th annual Typeforce exhibition takes place on February 26; creating its identity offered a perfect opportunity to explore the idea of identity as a kit of parts. This wasn’t necessarily at the top of my mind when beginning the project, but I arrived to it in a manner that Cranbrook’s Elliott Earls might classify as post-facto rationalization. This is where the process, specifically the design making, is an act of research and yields unanticipated discoveries.

Lucky Number Seven 

The work started in my usual manner: scouring semiotics for significant, dramatic meaning. Where better to look than a number with known recognition: seven. Beyond being the lucky number, it too symbolizes the deadly sins. These capital vices inspire a wealth of imagery and could make for a system with legs—here, toads represent greed, snakes depict envy. Lions portray wrath, snails illustrate sloth, pigs come to stand for gluttony. The goat constitutes lust, and the plumage perfect peacock personifies pride. Meaning, visual play, energy that has been around for nearly 1800 years, and who doesn’t want an opportunity to explore ‘wrath’ in their work?

I’m certain we can make a fantastic exhibition identity based on sin, (I’d love to), though this did not feel right for an event that historically has served as a welcoming and safe place for people’s creative expression.

So, it was back to the books and to sketching. Emerging near the same time in history as the sins, the seven virtues: chastity, temperance, charity, diligence, patience, kindness, and humility. It is said that practicing the virtues protects against temptation from the seven deadly sins. Wow, full circle!? Where else did I go? All over the place. I’ll let you google the significance of the number seven in a tarot deck, because all of this dark, heavy meaning is really starting to be too much for me.

Making as Guilty Pleasure

What about making as exploration, as pure fun. Making not out of requirement, but because we have a mind, hands and tools? Making for the love of design and achieving something pure, something that elicits aesthetic pleasure?

Scrapping everything, pushing around shapes and colors, fun emerged and I had little idea where it was going. It felt guilty. Like how you feel after leaving school, entering the design profession, starting to make kick-ass work for friends and clients, telling your family—this is what I do. It’s a good guilty feeling, one I wanted to share with others, by way of shape play.

The Typeforce 7 identity doesn’t have many deliverables, but perhaps the responsive and interactive nature of the site could allow for this.

Creating a Kit of Parts

This idea began to put the first lines on the paper. With letters returning to their geometric roots; this geometry could shape the composition and then be defined digitally by viewport height, where the horizontal attributes are determined by a responsive expanding and anchoring of angular elements.

This build can translate across all devices, to mobile and just as easily to print. This idea takes the responsive nature and need for all things and puts it in the forefront, but rendering this graphically means there is no final form. It was this act that brought about this idea of our sans-logo identity as kit of parts. By designing variant styles and sizes for the shapes that represent consonants, the identity became something ever-changing, influenced by user interaction.

In this is a hyper post-internet framework for an identity, we built this with straight CSS, no assets (no SVG, JPG, PGN) other than two font files for a black and regular cuts of GT Haptic from Grilli Type, chosen for its mono-linear geometric build. Keeping it internet-ie, I went with light-based bright, bold colors taken directly from Adobe's default RGB palette. Seven colors allow us to show depth via gradient blends and serve an historical nod to Isaac Newton's defined rainbow spectrum.

Internal projects like this one must move quickly. With neither road map nor specific destination in mind, I’m particularly proud that we landed on an identity that has no logo, no final form and a minimal/manageable amount of parts. The kit of parts as they exist today includes:

• set shapes and variants that spell S E V E N
• color palette that can mix and blend as desired
• noise texture to add slight tactile qualities
• GT Haptik for its geometric harmony

With a system like this, I think it's important for each deliverable to change and evolve. So what’s next with these works? I’m excited by the ability to bring physics into the system, be that gravity, increased depth and light. I think we can all see how it may turn towards Maholy-Nagy, Kasten, or El Lissitzky's constructivist compositions. Perhaps it shapes into something entirely different, is it time to look to tangrams again? What can I say, I'm excited by it all.

I believe success of Typeforce is due to the range + quality of work and the different backgrounds of our exhibitors. We're hoping to see your names in this round of Typeforce submissions. And if you spot any rising talents, let them know we want to see their work too.

The Typeforce site has launched with all submission details.
The facebook event page also has the details.

Important dates:
– Submit by Jan 15
– Doors open Feb 26

Important notes:
– Group entries & international proposals are welcome
– Awardees must be onsite to install the week prior to the opening

All submissions should be in the form of PDFs sent to Typeforce@FirebellyDesign.com

The Reason for the Season

December 12, 2015 – by Kristin

Why give? 

Because it's winter, and it's cold, and we can help keep people warm. 

SleepOut Tents

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Photos from Sleepout Chicago by Tom Tian

Because every child should believe in Santa and in the generosity of strangers.

RTG Holiday Girls 2014

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Photos from Reason to Give Holiday Party 2014 by Kyle LaMere

Because we can. 

If you're looking for a way to give back to the Chicago community and brighten some lives this holiday season, have we got some ideas for you. 

Reason to Give is hosting their annual Christmas Party and Toy Drive on Saturday, December 19. We're raising money to buy gifts and collecting new toys and gently used coats for Humboldt Park kids and families. 

And we're still raising money in support of the Broadway Youth Center, which provides a safe haven, as well as material goods, resources and free services for Chicago's marginalized youth. 

Every dollar counts, if you've got one to spare. Spread a little joy this season. 

Office Dogs: A Primer

November 20, 2015 – by Kristin

Sometimes, we bring our dogs to work. 

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This is Josh. Josh, if you can believe it, is a Very Good Boy. 

He's also a foster brother.

Lt Down And Josh The Pit Bull Kissing

Maybe you recognize Lieutenant Dan from the internet. He's kind of a big deal.

He also responds to "Frog," "The Frog," "Frogman," "Froggy," or "lookit him go!" 

FrogMan

And this?

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This is Mimsy. She's a little bit blind and descended from wolves. One must take care to avoid stepping on Mimsy. 

And then there is this big beautiful baby.

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Computer: ENHANCE.

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Neko is stone deaf and DTGP (down to get pet). 

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And of course there is Rufus, who is perfect. A touch gassy when he naps, but let they who are without sin cast the first stone, you know?

Have you pet a dog today?