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Swiss Miss

Tina Roth Eisenberg (aka swissmiss) sat down with The Post Family & Pitch Design Union at her space to talk about collaboration, co-working, blog writing, and her wildly popular Creative Mornings series.

Chad Kouri: Do the people within Studiomates typically collaborate on client projects or do you only collaborate on passion projects?

Tina Roth Eisenberg: I think a lot of people misunderstand when we say "collaborative workspace," they think that we need to work together. But it just happens. Larry, who came into our studio, he's an iPhone developer and he's helping us with TeuxDeux and he's working with other people in the studio, too. Collaboration just happens naturally, and it's not just the fun side projects but for actual client work. We compliment each other, we have print designers, we have copy-writers, we have developers...

CK: We work very similarly at The Post Family, each of us has different disciplines. A couple friends here in Chicago have open co-working spaces and they're finding it is a huge task to manage that kind of space as well as run another business or keep other client work. Do you have any tips or secrets for anyone whose trying to run those spaces?

TRE: What are they doing that takes so much time to run it?

CK: I think having multiple people in a space creates storage issues, where people are bringing too much stuff and leaving it out.

TRE: I'm just very upfront about that. When I interview people I tell them right off the bat "If you have a lot of stuff this space is not for you." People know that you get a desk and a few drawers and that's basically it. I've had people who wanted desks and I've told them, "Listen, you can't come with your equipment and lighting and bookshelves. It's just not for you”. I guess you just have to set the right expectations. I don't have that much work, I just tidy up a little bit here and there. Collecting the checks is the most work I do.

CK: In what ways will traditional business practices be inspired by this new trend of co-working space? Is there one way you think it will really change that 9-to-5 atmosphere?

TRE: When I worked at Thinkmap I truly enjoyed coming into work every single day because I truly enjoyed spending time with everyone who sat around me. If you dropped me on an island with all of these people I wouldn't mind. They just did an amazing job at hiring at Thinkmap. When I was there, I remember thinking, "Wow, if now everyone was working for themselves instead of for this company..."  That's what we have a Studiomates. There's so much respect and support for each other. It sounds cheesy but it's really true. That's what I think entrepreneurs would learn from. I wonder if a small company would profit from being around energy like this.

CK: That's one way I like to work as well. There's no hierarchy within the work scenario, it's collaborating on a 50-50 basis. Regardless of skill-level, everyone has their opinion and a fair say in what happens in the work being done. This inspires newer and better things than what would happen in a hierarchical business.

TRE: The only reason I expanded our workspace in the first place was because I wanted to have a conference room where we could have workshops. It just so happened that the next door space that opened up came with seven desks, so now we have seven more desks. We have eight in our nook, and there are seven right next to it and now we have a conference room which is big enough to have seminars and that's really where we want to focus on now - having the people within our space give seminars and share the knowledge, because there's so much awesome knowledge with all these people. I'm super excited about the transition to teaching.

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I went on a one-year client sabbatical on February 14th, 2010. That obviously is up and I've extended it indefinitely… I've never been happier in my life.

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CK: Excellent. What inspired your Creative Mornings? Was it being in that group with a bunch of people with different skill sets? Or did you see another talk that was similar that spun off that idea?

TRE: It's basically two things. I'm super lucky that I can go to all these conferences because I'm invited but I always hear comments from people saying "I wish I could go but I could never afford it." I realized there needs to be something as inspirational as going to a conference and seeing these people speak, which I get very excited about still. There has to be something that's more accessible. I felt that there's a need for people to actually get together more, and it doesn't necessarily have to be in the evening over drinks. The evenings here in New York are very crowded. If you want to have an event in the evening, there are ten other things happening that night. It's hard to really get people to come out so I figured the morning - I'm a morning person to begin with - the morning is more accessible and an inspirational boost. It's like going to a conference, just in a smaller dose, before you go to work. That combination of things, that's what I wanted to create. I never thought it would get this big.

CK: I'm hoping one day I'll be out in New York for one of those. I'd really love to see them. 

TRE: Well, it's coming to Chicago. Mig Reyes has volunteered to start a chapter out there. I think it will start in June. Chicago was a no-brainer - you guys have such a good community out there. 

CK: Margot and I watched your PSFK talk, which was very inspiring. I actually did one in Chicago. Piers is such a lovely dude, I'm hoping he does a more long-format thing here. You talked about a bunch of things that were really interesting, one of which was trying to eliminate client work. Have you gotten to that point.

TRE: I haven't been very public about it, but I went on a one-year client sabbatical on February 14th, 2010. That obviously is up and I've extended it indefinitely. I need to write a post about it because I've never been happier in my life not having clients. My bank account is not overflowing but, man, my happiness level is through the roof. 

CK: You also talked about the amount of submissions you get over email every day and that's how it’s the best content you get from people who are reading your blog and giving you comments. If you're getting fifty, sixty, seventy submissions of emails a day, do you have an easy way of streamlining that process?
TRE: I have way more than seventy submissions per day at this point. I get so much. But unfortunately I also get a lot of noise. I actually have a virtual intern, but he's going to join me here at Studiomates in June. His name is Rusty Meadows and he’ll goes through my submissions and tag them. We have this folder system - one is folder is called "Good Stuff" if I need to find some good stuff I'll go into that one.  Overtime, he started adding new tags which are hilarious. One of them is "Not English," for people who write me in not English. I'm saving so much time by having him filter out this stuff and, I think he enjoys it.

CK: Have you thought about moving from this idea of digital curation to physically curating a space, like a gallery or store? Moving your curatorial practice of a blog into a physical space?

TRE: I think I’m going to hold off on that a little longer. I grew up with a mom that had a big clothing store. It’s so funny that for a while, when I was younger, I was toying with the idea of taking it over. I think having grown up with a mother who spent all of her working life in that store, the idea of having to be there, physically…the idea of being tied to a physical location everyday gives me the shivers.

CK: Another thing I noticed in your talk is that you’re really open with your traffic numbers on your blog. I’m curious why you think other people are so withholding about that information.

TRE: Are they withholding? I don’t even know why you would withhold that. I was very fortunate to be the keynote speaker at Altitude Design Summit in Salt Lake City and all these bloggers that I look up to - like Jaime from Design Milk - were super nice and throwing back and forth all these terms like clickthroughs and stats and all the research they’ve done and the strategy behind it and I have no idea what they’re talking.

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Margot Harrington: To what extent does being a parent inform your choice and taste in design? How has being a mother changed your career as a designer and blogger?

TRE: I absolutely love what I do and I would not stop working if I didn't have kids. They're good for my own sanity because I'm really a little obsessed with what I do since I love it so much. When I was single I would work nonstop. My husband was the first one to make me slow down a little bit. And my kids allow me to take a break from my computer, which is kind of harsh to say. Even though the kids are a lot of work they make me do other stuff than sit around at the computer, which is wonderful. They brought back a playfulness that I had lost. This sounds cheesy, right? I don't know. The kids allow me to see the world in in different way. I really art directed my daughter - they way she dresses, they way her bedroom looks - and now she's five and I'm seeing her taste come out. Now she's decorating and picking her clothes. For someone whose so obsessed with making things that look pretty and nice, it's such an interesting experience to see how taste evolves and what she finds beautiful. And, we're having little conversations about that where she goes, "Mommy, this is a really beautiful design." And I'll try to get it out of her, why she thinks it’s beautiful. It's so refreshing to see a completely neutral mind to develop taste. 

MH: How does being a mother inform your career as a designer and blogger? Have you changed the way you do things since you had kids?

TRE: I should share this slide with you that I showed in a talk I gave at SVA and the Altitude Design Summit where I showed how I could ramp up my income through the blog and become client-less. You see all the steps - and one shows how I started my company and had my daughter basically on the same day. On the graphic, where you see where I decided not to have clients, that was the birth of my son. What is interesting is that both times, the kids made me rethink where I am in my life, refocus and push the envelope a little bit and say "You know what? I can go client-less." It gave me this deadline of reconsidering how I do things. A lot of people say having kids and a career doesn't work but for me it makes me focus so much harder. I keep saying that having the kids put more side project circumstances onto my work life. Meaning, you know when you work on side projects you have really limited time but at the same time you're usually way more efficient? That's really what happened when I had kids. I refocused and I'm much more efficient with what I do. I'm really trying to do only what I want to do in that limited time I have. 

Here is a studiomates video that the Rosen bros put together. It's pretty freakin' rad, don't ya think? 

MH: Is there a favorite children's book that you read to your kids or from your childhood?

TR: Our absolute favorites are the Bookeating Boy by Oliver Jeffers and Big Rabbit’s Bad Mood by Ramona Badescu. 

MH: There's this international trend of getting back to physical craft, of doing something with your hands. In Chicago, it's focused on balancing out those long work hours with something that's not on a computer. Do you have something creative that you like to do when you're not on the computer?

TRE: That's where the kids come in, like making potato stamps. My daughter is in full-on crafty mode right now and I kind of dig it. She's into cooking and making cookies. This is where I get to use my hands. 
CK: Now, is there person or anything that's come up in your queue lately that you'd like to share with us, someone who maybe hasn't gotten the promotion they need to take it to the next level?
TR: Somebody that is so dear to my heart is my Studiomate, Jessi Arrington who gave a TEDActive talk. She runs the site and She's such an awesome character. She's completely obsessed with color and for the last year she only bought second-hand clothing. She's making a point that by buying used clothing we can save so much money and prevent so much waste. Her blog is dedicated to showing her outfits and how much she paid for them. She's also an amazing designer who worked with Milton Glaser for a few years.
CK: Can you help me to find a replacement for this redundant question “What inspires you?”
TR: It's the dumbest question ever! There has to be something better. I'll pay attention to when people ask me interesting questions and the minute I hear an awesome question to replace that I will let you know. I think the word "inspiration" is a little overused anyway. Do you know Stefan Boublil? He just wrote an article about exactly that. 
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