Creative Friends: Chad Kouri

Each month, we ask 6 questions of a friend whose creative work we admire.


This month we’re featuring Chad Kouri, working artist and designer based in Chicago. Past and upcoming collaborators include The Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Studio Gang Architects, Poketo, The Pitchfork Review, IDEO, and The Ace Hotel.

1. How’d you end up doing what you’re doing now?

Well, my early interests were in typography and design, dating as far back as middle school. In college, I always had a handmade element to my work, whether that was photo collage or hand drawn typography. Teachers and students always asked me if I’d rather be in the art department.

Art production has always been this medicinal process for me, whether it was to just get off the computer for a while or to blow off some creative steam that had built up after doing a lot of creatively unfulfilling design work. In 2013 I decided to pivot a bit and focus more time on making artwork in the hopes that it would be an alternate source of income alongside my work as a graphic designer. Four years later, I’ve had some success in keeping a steady flow of art commissions coming into the studio. It’s allowed me to be a bit more picky about the kind of design work I do. I don’t imagine ever cutting out the design work all together as it informs my studio art practice and vice versa. At the moment I’m lucky to be making both designed pieces and fine art works for clients that I share a mutual respect with, and that’s been a tremendous privilege and honor. I can’t imagine it will always be this way, but I’ll take advantage of it as long as I can!

 

 

2. Describe a typical day.

On a good day, I don’t set an alarm. That is key to having a steady and productive work day for me. My work hours are generally between 11am-7pm, with the potential of having a “third shift” of computer time after dinner. What happens between eleven and seven varies greatly. I could be answering emails all day in the studio—like today—while waiting for a package to be delivered. I could be in the studio working on some cut paper pieces or works on canvas for an upcoming commission or exhibition. I could be running errands to the framer or the post office. I could be hitting an early evening music set somewhere or playing some music with my studio mate Andy Hall. I could be working on a branding project or book design for a cultural institution locally or elsewhere. The variety of work keeps my mind fresh and nimble. I can’t imagine it any other way.

 

 

3. What are you working on now that you’re most excited about?

I’m just about to wrap up a large commission for Ace Hotel Chicago that has been nearly 18 months in the making. These are large panels of hand dyed fabric that incorporate glyphs from my jazz movement study drawings from over the past eight years or so. (See below.) I worked with cornetist and local jazz historian Josh Berman in order to put together a playlist of 12 seminal jazz recordings from the Chicagoland area over the past 85 years. These tracks were listened to extensively while doing drawings—and collecting shapes and gestures from older drawings—to create a library of shapes to incorporate into the artwork. It’s been equally challenging as it has been fun and rewarding. In an ideal world, all my projects would be that way.

 

 

4. What have you done there that you’re most proud of?

I like how this project has allowed me to explore some new materials and processes while also investigating a grouping of work that is second nature to me at this point. I also really love that this project has given me the ability to hire artists and thinkers in my community and pay them appropriately for their time.

 

5. What would you most like to work on (fantasy or reality)?

I’ve been very interested in the idea of making public art lately, whether that is a painted two-dimensional work or a sculpture of some kind. I like the idea of Art living in unexpected places and serving a purpose other than just looking pretty. I’ve got a couple of concepts in the works, but no specific opportunities quite yet.

 

6. If you weren’t doing this, what would you want to be doing (fantasy or reality)?

I’ve always said if I was to go back to school I’d study mathematics. Currently working in a field that is overtly subjective, I love the pure fact of mathematics and physics. I’d also consider music performance as it has the same theoretical fact-based grounding to it as mathematics while still allowing for expression and freedom.

Chicagotype, Greatest Hits

Our good friend David Sieren, president of the AIGA Chicago chapter, told me about a talk they have coming up that is very near and dear to my heart: typography in Chicago. For years, I kept up a blog of images of typographic signage in Chicago. Here’s a small sampling of the several hundred images over at chicagotype.com. And if you happen to be in Chicago, check out the event the AIGA is putting on in October.

Animated Covers by Henning M. Lederer

A couple years back, Mr. Lederer got in touch to say he was animating a bunch of the 60s- and 70s-era books covers we showcase over at our blog Book Worship. The resulting animation was incredibly cool—see it here. And he just let us know he did a new one with covers sourced from another design-obsessive, Julian Montague.

Creative Friends: Eve Fineman

Each month, we ask 6 questions of a friend whose creative work we admire.


This month we’re featuring architect and designer Eve Fineman. She does everything from residential and commercial interiors to furniture and product design, and is a writer and professor, to boot.

1. How’d you end up doing what you’re doing now?

I have been interested in design, and particularly furniture and interiors, since I was 7 years old. I was inspired by a picture book I had called “The Fourteen Bears in Summer and Winter” by Evelyn Scott. In the book, each bear had a summer and winter home inside a tree trunk. The bears each had unique personalities, expressed through their choice of furnishings inside the tree. I studied the interior of each bear’s tree trunk for hours, trying to decide how the spaces related to their personalities, and which ones I liked best. Even then, I gravitated toward the modernist bear. He is clearly the coolest one!

 

2. Describe a typical day.

I often say I have never had the same day twice, with the one constant being coffee! This set-up is by design, as I thrive on having many variables thrown into my days, including teaching design studio at Columbia College Chicago, working on client projects, collaborating with other artists and designers, working on speculative pieces, entering competitions, programming design events, curating exhibitions, reading, class preparation and administrative work. So instead of describing a typical day, I will describe today:

I wake up, drink coffee, take my son to school, come home to eat breakfast and gather materials together for back-to-back meetings. I head over to an architect’s office with whom I am working on a couple of projects. I meet with the architect and project manager about a law office interior renovation that is in the punch-list phase, and then meet with the architect about a kitchen renovation project that is currently in for permit. I stop back at my home office to grab acrylic and a custom concrete mixture, and head down to school to meet with a student intern. We determine the best processes for making molds to produce packaging and a new base for our lamp (below), that is being shipped off to Italy in less than 2 weeks. I eat tacos, continue to work on the lamp redesign, and then go to a studio visit with textile designer Dee Clements, as part of the programming for the League of Women Designers (of which I am a member and co-programmer). After the studio visit, I will go to one of my favorite Chicago bars, Danny’s, to celebrate a friend’s birthday and dance to music spun by my friend Damon Locks. (I will also probably eat and drink during the last 2 parts).

P.S. My son is not still at school waiting for me.

 

 

3. What are you working on now that you’re most excited about?

I am working on a residential project for clients whom I have worked with for years. Our current project involves a very modern buildout of a garage roof deck, including an outdoor kitchen and modern hot tub, wood screens and movable louvers for overhead shade. It will be all custom and very cool, like a relaxing private outdoor room in the trees.

 

4. What have you done there that you’re most proud of?

I am most proud of my teaching accomplishments. Seeing so many of my talented former students contributing beautifully and successfully to the world of design is incredibly satisfying.

 

5. What would you most like to work on (fantasy or reality)?

Reality:

Collaborate with an audio engineer to integrate sound components into furniture

Learn more about designing for production, as an outgrowth of my furniture prototypes and custom one-offs

Get back to metalsmithing and design a stylish chain for reading glasses (to solve a personal problem)

Begin a collaborative project investigating the intersection of furniture and fashion

Curate a traveling exhibition for the League of Women Designers

Design a small modern vacation home for myself!

On a more macro scale, I want to grow my business to a place where I am able to integrate all of the facets of design that I practice and love.

 

6. If you weren’t doing this, what would you want to be doing (fantasy or reality)?

Fantasy: Conduct design research in collaboration with a neuroscientist or neuropsychologist, to understand more fully the brain benefits of good design, from healing spaces to places of domesticity.

Creative Friends: Tony Ruth

Each month, we ask 6 questions of a friend whose creative work we admire.


This month we’re featuring creative director Tony Ruth. He’s worked with everyone from Coke to Microsoft and is currently Head of Concept Development at Cleveland Avenue, a food and beverage accelerator in Chicago.

1. How’d you end up doing what you’re doing now?

I went to school for product design, but it became clear in my twenties that my main skill was digital illustration. I was working on innovation projects, doing concept visualization for consumer testing and helping clients create opportunity studies around new brands and services. I spent a few years collaborating with one of my favorite clients to help her develop a corporate venture group for food and beverage startups — it was long term strategic study, lots of research, more than anything else we were designing an organization. It never launched, but she and I met some influential people and now we’re both in-house at a new organization that’s custom made to accelerate food startups.

 

2. Describe a typical day.

So I go back and forth between doing traditional creative direction — packaging design, restaurant branding, UX mockups — and this more amorphous thing that I’ve been calling concept development. Creative direction is pretty straightforward — we have brands that we own or are invested in that need immediate attention and it’s our job to get them into the next phase of growth: refine their messages, define their offerings, and build out the brand architecture to communicate with the right audience. Pretty standard. Concept development is the longer play: how do we even figure out what we should be investing our resources in? I’m in a lot of meetings with entrepreneurs who are showing us new food products and tech, with investors and corporate partners that have gaps in their portfolios or brands that are losing steam. I do a fair amount of spec work, building early concept pitches that visualize where a brand could go if we invest in it, or if we find the right partner to help accelerate it. It’s basically telling the story of what we believe is possible if the right resources are aligned, in order to get everyone who matters on board.

 

3. What are you working on now that you’re most excited about?

Literally right now I’m flying back from meeting with a company that has a radical new environmentally friendly technology that could cut transportation costs in the beverage industry by 80%, which is amazing and inspiring. They don’t need much traditional creative because their engineering is so strong, but at the same time, the impact of the product is so enormous that it merits crystal clear messaging. So that’s a highly meaningful project that’s mostly communications strategy. On the other side of the spectrum, we’re entirely redesigning a small beverage brand from top to bottom. It’s exclusively a graphic job, with no practical limitations on what we do, so it’s liberating and therefore a lot of fun.

 

4. What have you done there that you’re most proud of?

Just the fact that this place exists at all. We’ve been trying to build some version of it for five years now, and it never would have happened if we hadn’t met our founder at the right time and had this crazy alignment between what we were doing and what he was doing. More than any individual design projects I’m super excited when we get investment into a great small company with amazing founders who’ve been going it alone for too long and deserve support. Working with people who are building their own companies is a really positive experience, the enthusiasm is infectious and you really want to make their little company grow because you see how much it means to them.

 

5. What would you most like to work on (fantasy or reality)?

That’s hard for me to answer because I love working across new categories — I’m becoming a professional dilettante, looking at new things constantly, keeping a library in my head of all the things I find fascinating or viable and trying to connect the dots between them. Ultimately I’d like to be part of a roving concept design SWAT team, flying into the Aspen Institute or whatever to do concept sprints in collaboration with my favorite design buds. I’m kind of in love with the idea phase in and of itself, and with the act of collective creation. At the same time I’d love to own a brand entirely so that I can control everything and nerd out about tiny details.

 

6. If you weren’t doing this, what would you want to be doing (fantasy or reality)?

Children’s books. I have a few in the works. Every couple of years I do a goofy side project with cartoons (you can search for Lunchbreath or Welcome To BusinessTown) and one of my immediate life goals is getting at least one of these books done and out in the world.

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