Where Design Stuff Happens

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On a particularly foggy Sunday morning, we (designers and managers of designers) met at the bus outside the Moscone Center in downtown San Francisco. All of us have traveled across the United States to attend the HOW Design LIVE conference. This morning’s excursion was a studio tour we had purchased in addition to our conference registration. From 8 AM to noon we will visit five design studios within the vicinity.

Graphic design was not my career path during my high school and university years. Ever since I was a wee little girl my sights were aimed at becoming a doctor. My course load at school were heavy on the sciences and mathematics. I understood math because it was logical (and because my dad was a great tutor…after all he had a master’s degree in mathematics). I didn’t like chemistry. When I encountered organic chemistry the first time, I loathed it. By the time I realized medical school was not for me, I had already worked several years as a business analyst for a major corporation in Kansas City. I was great at my job, but I didn’t love it. I moved to Texas and was hired as a copywriter (among other responsibilities) for a nonprofit organization. I loved writing, and it was easy for me. My office computer had the Adobe Creative Suite, and I had access to our company’s lynda.com subscription. Within that first year as a copywriter, I taught myself the basics of graphic design and learned how to use Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign.

A whole new world opened before me, one that was not bogged by numbers and formulas; one in which colors and typography mingled. Serendipitously, the passion I was searching for in a job landed in my lap. After working four years as a copywriter and graphic designer, I can still say that I love what I do.

Being an in-house designer, I am super curious to know what award-winning design agencies are like. I’ve watched a bit of Mad Men, but honestly it was too depressing for me. Besides, that was set in the ’60s. (Don’t get me started on how the women were treated in those days.) When the opportunity came up to take a tour at some of San Francisco’s top design agencies, I signed up.

Our first stop was Makeshift Society, *a coworking space and clubhouse for creative freelancers of all different fields, such as photographers, graphic designers, illustrators and even a winemaker. They provide physical space and resources for your business or side project, plus plenty of office hours, brown bag lunches, workshops, panels and mixers.

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The studio is everything a hip designer would love: it’s cozy with wooden tables, mix-matched chairs, spacious bay window seats with lots of cushion and pillows, a zen conference room and a small loft for napping. It feels like a home, but looks like a cool workspace where you can impress clients.

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Our second stop was frog, *housed in a renovated warehouse in a classic brick and timber building. Their SoMa (South of Market) neighborhood is home to many of the country’s design and tech leaders, including Twitter’s home base, Wired magazine, and CNET. frog specializes in experience design, industrial design, interactive design and innovative strategy.

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The employees who greeted us where young designers in their 20’s, but very smart and very talented.

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Our next stop was Heat, *a creative advertising agency that “believes in the power of surprise to solve problems, build brands and turn ordinary customers into raving fans,” works out of an open-concept layout office right at the base of Telegraph Hill that features lots of natural light, personal touches and is designed to inspire clear thinking. Heat works with various mediums including print, digital, mobile and more, touching everything from branding to integrated campaigns.

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Natural light, indeed! Their foyer and main work space is bathed in natural light. Team members can bring their dogs to work. There were doggy beds and meal bowls next to the owners’ desks.

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Our fourth stop was MetaDesign, *an airy, open-style loft environment with floor-to-ceiling windows that offer stunning panoramic views of the city skyline and San Francisco Bay. With offices in Asia, Europe and the US, MetaDesign specializes in branding and graphical design and has created paradigm-shifting visual design systems for global brands like Apple, Adobe, Nike, Current.TV, Samsung and Sony.

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Their office space had the most magnificent views, one of which was the Golden Gate Bridge.

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Our last stop was Hatch Design, *located in the historic Jackson Square area of the city. Built in 1858, their home base is #27 on San Francisco’s historic register. Exposed brick, wood beams, lots of windows and a roof deck with a view of the city greet this staff of 14 when they arrive for work in the morning–not to mention their own wine company, JAQK Cellars, located in the same building. Hatch Design specializes in brand identity, packaging, collateral, advertising and interactive for a wide range of companies.

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*texts taken from HOW Design Live Morning Studio Tour handout

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All images © 2013 Sriprae P. McDonald

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