Wow. What a month if I do say so myself. It's interesting, we have released more cards in the last 4 weeks, than we have in the last 2 years and it's been a blast the entire time. This week we released 8 new Chart Cards and 4 new Roses are Red cards. I'm learning a lot about myself, business, and moving forward. I'd like to share a few of those things that I've learned.
Finding Our Voice
I found this blog post a little over a year ago from Emily McDowell where she talks about defining your brand's voice that really stuck with me. For a while in the beginning of 55 Hi's we were making things that were fun and interesting but on the whole, it felt like a collection of unrelated products with semi-conflicting tones. They had similarities like typography, vintage feels, and interesting concepts but on the whole there was no way to know what was coming next. In some ways I found that liberating but in many more I found it very stressful. Without a backbone to build off of, it felt like every product was a new adventure instead of building up a cohesive collection.
After reading that post, it became apparent to me how much I desired finding our "flowers". I kept saying that word over and over because I felt like, in a case like Rifle Paper Co's, their style can put the brand's wonderfully illustrated flowers on just about any product and it's going to look amazing and feel like Rifle. I really wanted that integrity and consistency but I had no idea what it was. I wanted my flowers.
From there, I spent the next few months trying to pinpoint my 3 adjectives that describe 55 Hi's. I didn't want to force it either. I'm not making a business for fortune. Yes, the ultimate goal is to make enough money to make a living, but more-so for me it's to make a brand I enjoy running that is reciprocal with it's fans and makes everyone happy.
We brainstormed for a while and eventually ended up landing on Honest, Relatable & Witty with one footnote: that it's conceptually driven. When we brainstorm as a team, the most fun we have is making ourselves laugh. It's where we find almost all the value in an idea and ultimately whether or not it's worth keeping. We also typically seem to grasp onto large themes and then brainstorm around that. For instance, the two series we just released were Chart Cards and Roses are Red cards. Both those ideas started with "I bet there is a funny concept here involving poems/charts". We then brainstorm as many ideas as possible using that framework and keep the best of the bunch.
Thinking Up New Ideas
Once we started operating this way on a more consistent basis, the whole operation felt way more fun and relatable in so many ways. In the beginning, I designed cards that tried to appeal to as many people as possible at once. I thought it was what people wanted but what ended up happening instead is it appealed to everybody kind of. What's that saying? If you make something nobody hates, nobody will love it.
What I'm learning is, letting your own personality come through the products is what makes the brand and the items interesting. The team I brainstorm ideas with are naturally Honest, Sarcastic and Clever so the whole brand is just an honest extension of the conversations we're already having.
In fact, one of the most interesting oddities I find happening on a consistent basis is when we brainstorm new ideas, funny things that make it to the final design are things that I put in as a literal joke. I mean, I'm not putting the line in the design for consideration, I'm putting it in as a joke to make my friends laugh and it ends up staying cause the joke actually does that. A good example of this was the herpes copy on the House Cleaning Contract Card. I put that in there during one of the early drafts as a funny little thing thinking nobody would notice and I would get a good laugh out of it and everybody I showed it to specifically pointed that section out as their favorite!
On the flip side of idea making for instance (and I'm going to be extremely candid here for the sake of transparency) one of my personal least favorite posters I ever made is the Stop and Smell the Roses poster. Do you know why? Cause the road to making that poster was forced. I thought at the time, it would really be nice to release something a little more feminine in the shop. What a stupid way to think about making something new if I say so myself. I don't think the poster is bad or looks bad, but I do think it's not true to the brand or something I feel very confident in. To me it feels exactly like what it is - a man trying to make something they think a woman likes. It was made like a business person thinks and that's not honest or clever.
I think on the whole, these are some things I'm learning about making cards or ideating new products for us as a shop, but we'll see where it takes us for products like posters. I don't think witty and clever will translate quite so well to items we put up on our walls for long periods of time but maybe there is a happy medium involving conceptually driven series that have clever elements in them.
One thing is for sure, we now have a backbone to build off of and everyone knows what they can expect for future goodies from us. We have at least one very very interesting new product coming out that should hit the shop in late May but otherwise we'll just keep trying to make you chuckle.