Jessica Karle Heltzel & Tim Hoover / Maryland Institute College of Art
Kern and Burn
Kern and Burn
Kern and Burn brings to life an emergent aspect of design—entrepreneurship—in an innovative and effective way through an online publication and book. We appreciated how well you surfaced a multitude of design entrepreneurial voices in your project through the interviews and stories that are profiled online and in the proposed book. The stories of entrepreneurship from the designers that you are seeking to document in the book is also nicely reflected by your overall entrepreneurship vision: for example through the strategy to recruit stories through the “100 Days of Design Entrepreneurship Blog” as well as the tactic to access funds to make it a reality through its Kickstarter campaign. Going forward, we encourage Kern and Burn to take the project beyond the book to a more immersive online narrative with video testimonial as well.
Kern and Burn
Kern and Burn is an online publication and book about design entrepreneurship. It is the product of a design partnership between Jessica Karle Heltzel and Tim Hoover.
Kern and Burn curates discussions, interviews, and essays. We invite design entrepreneurs—those who pursue self-initiated projects, think for themselves, and channel personal passions into self-made careers—to share their perspectives. We focus on telling design entrepreneurs’ stories with the goal of inspiring fellow designers to follow their passions and create a life they want to live, doing what they love.2. The Brief: Summarize the problem you set out to solve. What was the context for the project, and what was the challenge posed to you?
Kern and Burn is our thesis project for the Maryland Institute College of Art. We came up with the concept and execution, there were no set requirements from the department. We decided to collaborate and work together to create something much bigger than we could by ourselves. We wanted to create something real, something relevant, and something that would contribute to the design community in a meaningful way.
We had spent our careers dreaming about working at great design firms, building our portfolios, and thinking about how to sell ourselves. We left good jobs to come to graduate school in hopes of getting better jobs. Then we read Ben Pieratt’s essay, “Dear Graphic and Web Designers, please understand that there are greater opportunities available to you,” (link: http://pieratt.tumblr.com/post/7537191978/) and everything changed.
We realized that, as Ben says, there are greater opportunities available to us, beyond client services. We wanted to gather perspectives from design entrepreneurs—those who have followed their passions and made their own paths—so that we, and others, can learn from them.3. The Intent: What point of view did you bring to the project, and were there additional criteria that you added to the brief?
Designers today create their own paths, and break the “rules.” They make products. They self-publish books and magazines. They co-found startups. We decided to celebrate them, the Design Entrepreneurs.
We built Kern and Burn as a place to share the stories of designers who do what they love. Our goals were simple:
To know what our generation of designers thinks.
To challenge the traditional role of graphic design.
To provide opportunities for others.
To start a business.
To make a book.
To better ourselves, our networks, and our futures.
To share our discoveries.
To inspire the design community.
We encourage our peers to challenge the traditional role that graphic designers play by presenting the perspectives and experiences of those design entrepreneurs who have used design to do more. We have reached out to various types of design entrepreneurs (those in the startup world, those who develop brands and products, those that self-publish and those that champion side-projects) in order to get the most relevant, interesting people involved and to offer as a many examples and stories as possible.4. The Process: Describe the rigor that informed your project. (Research, ethnography, subject matter experts, materials exploration, technology, iteration, testing, etc., as applicable.) What stakeholder interests did you consider? (Audience, business, organization, labor, manufacturing, distribution, etc., as applicable)
We built a website and branded Kern and Burn before we contacted anyone. We thought it was important to present ourselves and our project in a way that serious (if not completely polished or refined). We wanted to show our contributors that we cared enough about their answers to present them in a thoughtful way to a broader audience. We cast a really wide net at the beginning by reaching out to as many people who we felt really captured the spirit of the design entrepreneur.
We worked really hard to ask thoughtful questions that are consistent with the mission of our website and questions that our contributors don’t answer all of the time. The last thing we wanted do was email our heroes and ask them repetitive questions. We read other interviews they’ve done, researched them as much as possible, and tried to ask questions that will deliver unique perspectives to our readers.
Throughout the project we ran a blog called the “100 Days of Design Entrepreneurship” where we shared our research, inspiration, and process for the book. It started in December 2011 and just finished in April 2012. The 100 Days allowed us to gauge interest in topics and gain a following in anticipation for the book. What started as a internal documentation of our research quickly grew into a blog with an eager and receptive audience. There were some key turning points in the project, specifically around Day 36 when Swiss-Miss posted our site on her blog and exposed us very quickly to a much larger audience.
Once we realized that the site had a following, we redesigned it to reflect the spirit and optimism of our content. Our old design was just text based, and the current design shows the people behind the stories. We’re really happy with the site and the way it shows our passion for well-crafted design, and great content. The re-design has certainly been an important step for us.
With an increased readership and an enthusiastic, supportive audience we also started to craft longer, more in-depth pieces of writing for each post. The process for each post was fairly intensive, with a few hours of research, writing, and editing going into each one. This turned out to be a fairly rigorous venture to complete every day, but one that was ultimately very important to the success of the project.
We think it’s important to always be honest and authentic with your process so, we decided to launch a Kickstarter campaign to fund the book. (Link: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1858685678/kern-and-burn-the-book). We wanted our campaign to be much more like an invitation than a sales pitch, and timing was also really important for us, we were 56 days into our project before we launched the campaign. Our audience knew our level of dedication and craft to Kern and Burn and weren’t supporting blindly. The encouragement from our supporters has given us even more energy to make the book amazing.5. The Value: How does your project earn its keep in the world? What is its value? What is its impact? (Social, educational, economic, paradigm-shifting, sustainable, environmental, cultural, gladdening, etc.)
We encourage design discourse because we believe it’s important for designers to step back from their work and share their perspectives with the design community. In doing so, we (the design community at large) can better understand the why of design now—the design thinking, the creative process, and the context.
We hope Kern and Burn is perceived as a relevant contribution to the design community that fills a gap in the design discourse and sheds light on all of the opportunities for designers beyond traditional design roles. Our intentions have always been to create a resource that is beneficial, smart, timely, inspiring, and respected.
As designers, writers, and self-publishers we hope that our peers view us as a respected source for design entrepreneurship. For us, Kern and Burn has been a success so far because the product has been well-received with the design community and has created a platform where people can learn from their peers, their design heroes, and from those who have “made it.” We measure success less from a profitability and sales viewpoint and more on the network and community that we have built around Kern and Burn. Our expectations have already been met, and now we are just trying to give our audience something that will encourage them to follow their passions. If we can do that, we’re satisfied.6. Describe the overall philosophy that drove the design brief, research methodologies, tools and outcomes (e.g. self-defined or client-defined briefs, participatory briefs, process outcomes or artifacts outcomes, etc.).
We’ve mentioned some of our goals above, but our philosophy is rooted in a spirit of optimism and our purpose is to serve as a inspirational, and educational platform for designers to learn from each other and take the knowledge gained from our site to inform and shape their own perspectives.
We want designers to have a perspective and make it known. We believe we should take the time to think about what it is that we make, why we make it, and say something with our work. We also believe that writing is a critical asset to any designer’s work, and that we should encourage others to write more. It doesn’t have to be critical, it doesn’t have to be long-format, it just needs to be thoughtful. If we can inspire more designers to do that, or at least to read it, then we’re giving back in a way that hopefully gets designers excited about design entrepreneurship and the opportunities available to them today.
Also, just practically, we knew we wanted to share multiple perspectives and package them in a way that is attractive to those in the business world, the design world, and the world in between. We created the structure of the 100 days as a way to force us to be disciplined and publish something everyday. We’re just working as hard as we can to follow our ideas. It was important for us to just start, and allow things to change through the process.7. How did the project, program or curriculum improve the students’ learning objectives, the institution’s overall learning and teaching and/or beneficial impact to outside community or industry partner?
We hear the same gripe over and over again about design and graphic design in particular: that it’s insular. Often we are talking, writing, and making design for designers. You may ask, isn’t that what Kern and Burn is doing? You’re talking about design, to designers, and your target audience is designers. Yes, you’re right. But the goal is larger. The products, brands, and businesses that our contributors have created inspire and change immediate communities, and sometimes the world. Even products that are seemingly “fashion items” — like the axes from Best Made, have a greater goal and that is to inspire a spirit of optimism. The best products change our lives in a positive way and the people and the products that we’re talking about fit that mold. It may still be insular but it’s a step. We created an online source for these stories, interviews, and essays so that others can learn from those who have been successful in order to gain their own perspective and make meaningful work. We are creating a book so that the discourse lives offline, reaches the hands or more people, and has a greater impact.