Archive for the ‘Interviews’ Category

Introducing Debbie Labedz!

debbie labedz

Beyond excited to announce this lady who is helping me with design, development, and writing!

After reviewing close to 20 applications, Debbie stood out because of her existing experience with the trials of self-employment, but with a flexible enough schedule that it would be easy to find time to work together. I immediately felt comfortable around her, she has a trustworthy and calm demeanor, plus a can-do vibe. My badass 85-year-old aunt gave me some whip-smart advice at the start of this process: make sure who ever you hire, that they are better than you at whatever their role is. Amazing! In this case, Debbie possesses more writing experience, more investment in code, and better eagle eyes for those fine details that make or break a project. Especially under deadline! Already we are both benefiting from her fresh energy and support and can’t wait for more in 2016. Without further ado, here’s more about Debbie!

Let’s start with your background and where you’re from:
I’m a writer and web developer based in Chicago, and I build WordPress websites through my studio, Bibliofille Creative. I studied art history at Michigan State, and upon deciding the traditional PhD path wasn’t for me, slowly taught my self how to code until it became my job. I’ve lived in the Midwest for 12 years now, but I’m originally from Virginia Beach, VA.

How did you get into self-employment?
I’d never even thought about self-employment until it stared me right in the face! After college, I bounced around in several jobs that I enjoyed, but that were never quite the right fit. Finally, it dawned on me that I would never be happy in a traditional 9-5 job, and that I’d have to create this “dream job” that didn’t exist.

Without too much pre-planning (whoops), I made the leap in June 2014 as an independent web designer/developer and never looked back. It certainly hasn’t been an easy road since then, but I’m happier than I’ve ever been!

What’s your home office set up like? What sorts of tools do you use?
I work primarily from my home office, a sunny den right off the living room that’s painted a fresh mint. I’ve got the usual Ikea desk and mid-century Steelcase chair setup, floating shelves, and LOTS of books. My hardware setup is fairly simple: MacBook Pro, wireless keyboard, laptop stand for ergo purposes, nothing too fancy. For web development, I’m a huge fan of Sublime Text, CodeKit, MAMP (for local development). For general life organization, Evernote, Google Calendar, and Wunderlist keep me sane. I also read a lot of blogs/websites, and Feedly is my new favorite RSS reader (RIP, Google Reader).

What’s something unique or specific about you that we should know about?
That I’m half Filipino! My mom is from the Philippines and I was actually born there, and we moved to the US when I was three (Navy brat!). Sadly, I don’t speak much Tagalog, but I’d like to work on that. There’s a pretty robust Filipino community in Chicago and I’ve definitely got my favorite places like Isla Pilipina and Unimart when I’ve got a food craving!

Like many people who work independently, you have a dog. Can you introduce her and talk about how she affects your day and helps you stay focused?

SadieThis is Sadie, my four year old Wheaten Terrier. She’s teddy bear soft and has quite the spunky personality! Since I work from home a lot of the time, having her around forces me to get out of the house and get some fresh air several times a day, which is awesome. Some of my best ideas appear during her bathroom breaks!

Sweet or salty snacks?
Both! I’m a huge fan of the salty/sweet combo, like chocolate covered pretzels, sea salt caramels, etc.

What did you want to be when you when you grew up?
A paleontologist! I was obsessed with dinosaurs as a kid. I was, and still am, a nerd at heart.

What are some of your favorite self-care practices?
I’m an introvert, so self-care is a huge priority for me. I’m a huge fan of bubble baths with all the fixin’s (scented candles, oils, soft music, glass o’ wine). Massages are great too. I also exercise as well, usually hot yoga, kickboxing, or spinning. That’s my 100% me time. My work is so mentally focused, that I try and treat my body really well to counteract that.

What made you want to work with me?
I could tell right away that, on top of being an awesome designer, you were a straight forward and kind hearted person, which I appreciate so much!

What are a couple of your favorite podcasts, newsletters?
Podcasts: “This American Life”; The New Yorker Fiction podcast; “Longform”; “Death, Sex, and Money”; “Being Boss”.

Newsletters: Quartz Daily Brief is great for keeping up with current events; The Report from Jen Myers is great for tech ladies and general internet awesomeness;  Ann Friedman’s newsletter makes me laugh AND think on a weekly basis.

Thanks, Debbie!!

Peculiar Bliss Magazine Interview

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Oh, my dears. I’ve missed you. Thank you for being patient with me during my extended quietness here. I’ve been experimenting with my schedule & my billable hours, trying to find a better structure & schedule so I can bring home both the bacon and the blog. It’s been a tough process. And I’m slowly working out a re-design. This site’s been the same for almost four years now and I think that is a major part of my reluctance to write. The internet is different now than when I first created this site and doing some restructuring around here will do a lot in terms of re-investing my time. Never fear, I’m never going to pull the plug entirely, having a growing internet presence is too important to me personally & too important in terms of growing my business for that.

It’s funny, this process is so specific and personal. It’s like a ritual of sorts. I’ve been thinking a lot about the rituals of making things ever since my friend Vaughn Fender asked me to participate in the ninth issue of his online magazine, Peculiar Bliss. The theme of which is creative rituals. I didn’t even really think about what mine were until this topic came up, but now I can’t stop, and in some ways that’s kept me from producing here. Navel-gazing has diminishing returns after while…So here I am, consider this me getting over it. Jumping back in again, with a bang.

Vaughn’s done a lengthy interview with me on my process, background, and yes my rituals. The article also includes a whole bunch of my work that’s never been published anywhere, and my friend Julia Stotz was kind enough to take all the pictures of me. Ellen Hunter of Word Couture Consulting made sure I did my commas and grammar right. I owe major thanks to them for their hard work, you’re only as good as your fellow collaborators and these kids really threw down. Thank you friends, from the bottom of my heart.

Flip through the digital pages on ISSUU, Cargo Collective, or PDF. My piece starts on page 17, and there is plenty of other gorgeous illustration and photography on either side of the article as well. If you can take a few minutes to kick back and take this in, inspiration is sure to follow.

Have an excellent Friday! Next week is going to be a doozy over here. We’re talking WMC Fest, stories from our trip to Detroit, and a giveaway – which I never do, but this one is a unique one so I don’t think you’ll mind. :-)

It’s good to be back.

BitBlogger: Northcoast Zeitgeist

You know sometimes when you visit a blog and its author’s (or in this cause, authors’ plural) personality gallops off the screen and sticks in your brain like a stubborn earworm? Such is the case with Northcoast Zeitgiest, a blog I’ve been following since 2010. Joseph & Casey have things to say dammit, and they waste no time unabashedly putting themselves out there. I applaud how Joseph manages to connect politics & design, a gusty & compelling angle, especially coming from the charged battleground state of Ohio where Casey & Joseph live. Joseph is responsible for answering these questions, and it’s no accident that he’s the first male design blogger to participate in this feature. I just knew interesting things would come of it and I wasn’t wrong…

What was the first blog that hooked you?
It depends. Several years ago, when I first started blogging, I ran a progressive political site, doing so from just before the 2004 election to just after the 2008 vote. In those days, I was inspired by sites like AMERICAblog, Feministe, Feministing, and Pandagon, whose authors are all united in their passion and ease in combining wit and intelligence.

The first design blog I clearly remember bookmarking was Aaron Draplin’s. Apart from his talent and perspective, I was instantly drawn to his willingness to use his portfolio site to talk about whatever he wants to. He doesn’t just show off his work and call it a day. There’s a real person behind it, one I had a great time meeting at WMC Fest this year. He’ll talk about music, his city and his after-hours life with as much gusto as he will his latest project.

We hear A LOT about big bloggers but not so much about the little guys. In your words, why are small bloggers important?
Specialization and personality. Think about it like retail. You’ve got big-box stores and you’ve got neighborhood shops. Both have their value but you go to each for different reasons. Typically, mom-and-pop stores offer things you may not see at their larger counterparts. There’s also the human touch you get at smaller stores that keeps you coming back. You know the owners. They know you. They become a part of your life.

Small bloggers offer the same potential. The best ones specialize in ways big-time bloggers may not have the time or ability to do. There’s also the potential for more interaction between reader and blogger. Because my audience is much smaller, I’ve got the time to think about and respond to just about every e-mail that comes my way. We might have a smaller readership, but I’ve found they’re really dedicated to the site and enjoy interacting with us as we share our work and our lives.

I think this interaction is key to keeping things interesting. As a bonus, I’ve found that the more you have a conversation with your readers, the more likely you’ll be to get content – and jobs – out of it. All of these attributes can be true for the big bloggers, I’m sure, but I think the design blog world thrives when there are more (and varied) voices. Plus, without smaller blogs, you wouldn’t see as much interesting stuff rise to the point it gets on the radar of bigger blogs. So, in that way, we depend on each other.

Blogging is a TON of work and rarely pays the rent. Your family think you’ve lost your mind … so what drives you to blog?
To know me is to know that I’ve always got something to say. Plus, I’m a bit of an extrovert – albeit a shy extrovert, if that’s possible. On top of that, there’s quite a bit I’m passionate about. The things we write about – design, photography, our town, etc. – are things we both care very deeply about. So, in my case, it’s hard for me to separate caring about things like this from writing about them and sharing them.

Plus, writing is something I’ve always loved. It’s actually what I went to school for (my undergrad and grad degrees are both in journalism). And though I’ve found my passion in design, writing is something I’ll always do. In fact, my most fertile and creative times as a writer have come when I was working during the day as a designer. The itch to create will always be there, whether it’s pushing me to design or write.

And though I’ve found my passion in design, writing is something I’ll always do…The itch to create will always be there, whether it’s pushing me to design or write.


Blogging means putting part of yourself into the world for others to see and react to. How comfortable are you with being “out there?”
It varies. When I was writing the political blog, I wasn’t very comfortable with putting myself out there at all. Now that I’m writing about design, however, that’s changed. Creative people are all very passionate about what they do, and I’m no different. I try to inject as much of myself and my personality into my design and my writing as possible. I love hearing from people about our work or something that’s been on the site. And I’ve enjoyed the chances I’ve had to meet some of our readers. I’m trying to be better about blogging more and more consistently, which is hard considering I do it when I’m not at my day job. And, as much as I love doing it, it will never take precedence for me over my private life, so I’ve gotten better about managing my bursts of inspiration and scheduling posts several days out.

Do you follow your stats? How are they useful to you?
I’ll glance at my stats from time to time when I’m in the content management system moderating comments or preparing to post stories. Honestly, though, they really don’t matter that much to me. I only really take notice when there’s a big spike if one of our stories gets picked up by a larger site, but I refuse to let the ups and downs of them govern what I write about. If you ever find my stories loaded with search engine-attracting keywords or other optimization trickery, you’ll know I’ve been kidnapped and replaced with a soulless SEO-Bot. Let’s hope it’s a benevolent SEO-Bot. Only time will tell.

…women have better taste and are better writers than men. It’s interesting, when I think through the creative people I know, most of the sites run by women are both portfolio- and blog-based, while most of those run by men are portfolio-based.


Why do you think there are more female design bloggers?
Probably because women have better taste and are better writers than men. It’s interesting, when I think through the creative people I know, most of the sites run by women are both portfolio- and blog-based, while most of those run by men are portfolio-based. I find the combo sites far more enjoyable. Sure, I want to know what you can do, but I’d also like to learn about the person doing it. Blogging is about building community, so it doesn’t surprise me that with more women getting together to start design collectives – think Quite Strong and Parliament of Owls – you’re seeing an explosion of female bloggers.

It’s something that should be nurtured and encouraged, because design has a reputation as being a male-dominated industry, even though that’s not at all the case in the trenches. So more women designer/bloggers! And more LGBTQ designer/bloggers! And more African American designer/bloggers! And on and on. Nothing worthwhile is strengthened by keeping people from being able to do it. The design and blogging communities will only get better as more people (especially those with diverse backgrounds and experiences) get into them.

Who, in your mind, cuts through the noise the best? What makes their content more memorable?
Anybody with a clear perspective or who consistently delves into the process behind his or her work. I really enjoy strawberryluna/Allison Glancey’s blog. Elaine Chernov’s new travel blog, Design Vagrant has really been a pleasure to read. Jessi Arrington’s Lucky So and So is a great example of putting yourself out there in a fun and memorable way. Austin Kleon’s site is a must-visit, too, if only to marvel at the creative fire he possesses (go Ohio!). On a somewhat more local front, I’ve always been a loyal reader of The Donut Project, a wonderful design blog started by a group of Kent State University alums I’ve gotten to know. All big talents that you’ll be hearing from soon (if you’re not already hearing from them).

Your guilty pleasure blog? Go.
Fuck You, Penguin is a site that Casey hipped me to and that I got into way too late – considering they don’t publish anymore. We’re both animal lovers, but we’d sit there and literally laugh out loud reading each other stories from that site. We’re all suckers for adorable animal pictures, right? Add to that devastating personal critiques and you’ve got internet magic.

That said, since it’s sitting dormant, I’ll cite two active Twitter accounts that are worth your time when you’re looking for a mental break: @FriendFromHS and @Channel11News. The journalist in me loves how close the Channel 11 tweets are to those of actual local news outlets, while the fictional friend from high school seems plucked right out of my graduating class.

Do you have a favorite source for awesome content?
I find quite a bit of inspiration for content from the people in my Twitter feed. I follow and interact with a lot of really creative people, so there’s always something bubbling up out of that. Elsewhere, I’m drawn to sites like Coudal Partners – whose amazing Fresh Signals sidebar I was lucky enough to guest edit last year – as well as Grain Edit, Brand New, and FPO. I do enjoy the popular image aggregator sites, but I’d much rather look through my Dribbble timeline, because I know where those images are coming from.

What’s the one thing about the blog world that’s got you stumped, the thing you’re dying to ask somebody but haven’t?
Would it kill people – I’m looking at you, Tumblrs – to provide credit for the images of people’s work you post? Would it kill those doing the creating, though (guilty as charged), to remember to put a little credit line on the images we post? To Art Chantry: Could you please turn your amazing Facebook picture posts into a full-time blog? To Jim Coudal: Could we see a letterpress Layer Tennis this next season? To Jennifer Daniel: Could you start a blog devoted solely to your mind-blowing data visualizations? To Aaron Draplin: When are you going to start working on a book about your work? To my fellow designer/bloggers: Can you write as much about WHY you do what you do as you write about HOW you do what you do?

Your top three favorite posts you’ve ever written?
Wilco (The Shirt).
Embrace Frustration. My speech at WMC Fest 2011.
Getting back to work in 2010.
BONUS! Here’s my favorite post Casey’s ever written: The ritual that nourishes us (in more ways than one).

BitBlogger: Margot Harrington

It feels a tad weird to be interviewing mahself on my own website, but in all fairness Kate, my Bitblogger partner in crime, came up with most of these questions so it doesn’t feel quite so shoegaze-y. Also, I’m off to Brooklyn next week which means I get to meet Kate in person! Awesomeness will ensue as we continue to scheme on this feature.

What was the first blog that hooked you?
This is an easy one! I remember exactly, Under Consideration’s Speak-Up got a mention in a 2004 HOW magazine that I picked up at lunch one day at my first job. I knew what blogs were before this, but I had no idea they were anything more than personal journals. I haven’t stopped reading them since. I also knew fairly early on that I wanted to be part of the blogging community but I never had the cojones to go for it until I got laid off from my corporate job in 2008.

We hear A LOT about big bloggers but not so much about the little guys. In your words, small bloggers are important because:
Well. Everyone loves an underdog, right?

Blogging is a TON of work and rarely pays the rent. your family think you’ve lost your mind… so what drives you to blog?
At this point, I don’t think I could stop if I tried. Writing and blogging has been such a huge part of my design process ever since I started Pitch three years ago, and now it’s habit. I’ve also discovered I don’t truly grasp my thoughts until I write them down somewhere. Like, if it doesn’t leave my head through my hands I don’t retain it. Which is why my life is ruled by to-do lists.

“I’ve also discovered I don’t truly grasp my thoughts until I write them down somewhere. Like, if it doesn’t leave my head through my hands I don’t retain it. Which is why my life is ruled by to-do lists.”


Blogging means putting part of yourself into the world for others to see and react to. How comfortable are you with being “out there?”
It’s funny, I always seem to want to share more than I can actually get online. I would post ten things a day if I could figure out how to do that and still make ends meet. One of those not enough time in the day deals. It’s totally me not making it a priority like I could, but I do what I can. I do know that I am shy behind the camera and if I could just figure out how to get over that then I might be running a whole different show.

Do you follow your stats? How are they useful to you?
I have analytics but I barely check it. With the occasional spike and lull, my traffic has pretty much plateaued since year one. I do pay attention to my twitter followers though, but stats and traffic have always seemed so relative and subjective to me. And then when I think about traffic I think of ads and I have mixed feelings there too. Like, this one ad guy was trying to talk me into a sidebar package once; he said my traffic would net me $30/mo per ad. So, great. I’d have to have 10 more of those and not even pay half my rent? That didn’t seem right to me either. And then my brain melted. The end.

Your guilty pleasure blog? Go.
The Hairpin. A collision of high and low brow content written by some of the most whip-smart ladies I’ve had the pleasure of reading.

Do you have a favorite source for awesome content?
Depends on what I’m looking for. Blog posts come from all manner of places, I cast a wide net to find inspiration there, both offline and on. But if I’m researching for design project or trying out a specific style I go to aggregator sites like Designspiration, Fffffound, Behance where I can quickly access tons and tons of random things. I also like to visit the websites of my favorite artist/designers and peruse their favorite people, there’s always new eye candy there.

What’s the one thing about the blog world that’s got you stumped, the thing you’re dying to ask somebody but haven’t?

How come some are so guarded about their traffic but other’s aren’t? Why is it weird to quantify the internet like that? Also, do I have food in my teeth?

Your top three favorite posts you’ve ever written?
Howdy Do It – A series I co-wrote with Ellie Snow of Mint Design Blog.
Gender and Design on the Fox is Black.
The Things We Make – My book.