‘Tis the Season for Great Music
We picked our favorite holiday songs for you to enjoy and freely blast on your speakers.
1. “All I Want for Christmas is You” by Mariah Carey —Paul, customer service
We picked our favorite holiday songs for you to enjoy and freely blast on your speakers.
1. “All I Want for Christmas is You” by Mariah Carey —Paul, customer service
For one last summertime hurrah, the Knock Knock team larked about in Marina Park with friends, family, sizzling dogs, and actual dogs. A huge thank you to our head honcho, Jen, our sales support analyst, Kelly, and our director of new product initiatives, Patty, for planning it all and stuffing our stomachs.
RC Jones, is a “witsmith”—our invented term for a person who can seamlessly mold wit using just words, a pen, and paper. It’s no wonder that when our head honcho, Jen, first stumbled on RC’s Coolness Graphed Tumblr, she became instantly smitten with his hand-drawn graphs. Now, with the release of his book of the same title, Coolness Graphed, you too can bask in what’s cool and what’s definitely not. Also, this Idahoan-now-Chicagoan was named Time’s 2006 person of the year. Just check out his “résumé of sorts.”* Isn’t that incredible?
1. Why do you use bar graphs and not—dare we ask—pie graphs? Pie graphs sound delicious. But they work better for showing how percentages of a whole relate to each other, whereas bar graphs compare individual amounts that are somehow related.
That’s a complicated way of saying it. An example: Pie graphs show what percentage of animals released at weddings are doves and butterflies. Bar graphs compare things released at a wedding and show what’s best and worst. (That would be the Kraken and prisoners, respectively.)
Plus, I’m much better at drawing straight lines than I am at circles.
2. Top three Internet items that made you laugh today?
3. Now the age-old question: dogs or cats? Cats that act like dogs. My cat is very down-to-earth and doesn’t have any cat attitude. She greets my family at the door, follows us around the house and sits next to us. I’ve never had the feeling she’s plotting to kill us.
4. Any hobbies outside of writing and updating your blog? I have a blast making up stories and silly songs for my son. He’s four. We are roughly at the same maturity level.
I also get plenty of kicks from climbing onto the roofs of buildings in Chicago. The Chicago skyline is beautiful, and I just can’t let all those rooftops go to waste. To clarify, if there’s a sign that says “No trespassing” I “no trespass.” But if there isn’t a sign, it’s fair game. Someday I will probably get in trouble for this.
5. In the Coolness Graphed book’s intro, you wrote that one of the reasons you created the blog was to channel “creative frustration.” Do you have any organizational tips or words of wisdom on how to creatively de-stress for our fans?
Other than “Buy this book and it will help solve all your creative problems”? One way to de-stress is with everyday tasks, like doing the dishes or going to the laundromat. Those things don’t require much thought, so you can let your imagination wander. I get quite a few ideas that way, certainly more than if I sit down in front of a blank piece of paper and say “NOW I’m gonna think of ideas.”
Start a side project. There’s something to be said for side projects being on the side. And from my experience, those are the ones that become popular. I’ve worked in advertising for five years, but none of the billboards I’ve written have ever come close to getting the same amount of attention as my two side projects: Coolness Graphed and Slightly Insulting Chicago Posters.
With both of those projects, not having to account to anyone was key. The best kind of side projects leave you in charge, accountable to no boss or client. That way you’re free to make art you enjoy, which is crucial. It’s a creative pressure valve that releases pent-up frustration and irritation in a productive and creative way.
6. What’s your favorite Knock Knock product and why? (Aside from your book, of course!) My coworker and friend, Tara, gave me the Crap Stamp three Christmases ago. I wore it out. It was my first Knock Knock gift. What a great introduction.
7. If you could cook breakfast for any fictional or real person, who would it be and what would you cook for him or her? I’d cook pancakes for Jimmy Fallon. I’m not a very good cook, but I like making pancakes. I feel like Jimmy would be a blast to hang with. If The Roots could make it over, that’d be great. Justin Timberlake, too.
Bonus question. In “Coolness Graphed” form, please doodle your opinion on cheese.
One last, parting note
Make a couple of creative friends to bounce ideas off of if you don’t have any. And, when you think it’s ready, share your work with other people. None of my side projects would be what they are today if I’d kept them to myself.
RC Jones is a top-notch, senior copywriter at Arc Worldwide. Read more of RC’s thoughts on Twitter at @likethecola.
*Yup, he got us too.
We didn’t realize how competitive our Knock Knock team was until we started our company-wide “Ultimate Ping-Pong Championship,” aka “U.P.C.O.K.K.” (Yes, we did purposefully name it that just so we could use the acronym; and yes, the acronym does still make us giggle like little schoolgirls when we say it aloud.)
We started the tournament in mid-February and ended it this past month in a ping-pong themed fiesta. Here are some highlights from the championship round—Paul, our assistant manager of operations and customer service versus Jim, our president. In the end, there was one victor to congratulate—Jim!
See more photos in our Knock Knockers at Work FB album. Can’t wait for the next “U.P.C.O.K.K.” to commence!
Does your workplace hold any internal competitions just for fun? Share with us in a comment!
Our manufacturing director, Elyse, and our president, Jim, have traveled together to China several times now and have come up with a pretty standard formula for these business trips. Wanna feel like you’re on a Knock Knock biz trip? Here’s the protocol:
1. Always sit as far away as possible from each other on the plane in order to avoid embarrassing glimpses of your coworker drooling or snoring.
2. Take pictures of you working so the folks back at home know you’re actually doing something constructive.
3. Eat noodles for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. (This is mostly Elyse’s mandate, But she did get Jim hooked on morning noodles.)
4. Get dinner at the restaurant KimChee in Hong Kong at least once.
5. On the last night of the trip, enjoy a relaxing drink overlooking the Victoria Harbour.
. . . And there you go!
In spring 2011, designers Jim Sutherland and Gareth Howat gaped at the city of Cape Town from a helicopter tens of thousands of feet above South Africa’s mountainous coastline. The Hat-trick Design duo was in town for the annual Design Indaba Conference, and traveled from their UK studio to participate as speakers. During that helo ride, they met a fellow Indaba conference speaker and attendee—our head honcho, Jen Bilik—and like propellers, the creative sparks flew.
We teamed up with the award-winning design firm for our new book, Phobophobia, a grownup picture book that invites readers into a visual guessing game with clever images and typography. And since this is the first time we’ve ever partnered outside the US, our cup doubly runneth over with excitement!
Though we can imagine how very long their to-do lists are, the Hat-trick guys carved out some time to let us pick their mind.
1. Did you always want to be a designer? How did you get started?
Jim: I studied math and physics at school, but always liked drawing. I went to art school to do illustration, but when I got there, everyone was better at drawing than me. I looked around and saw people doing design, and it looked easier.
Gareth: Originally, I wanted to be an architect. I got a place at university to do the course, but changed my mind at the last minute. It’s a seven-year course and the big thing is it takes so long to actually see any real work appearing, so I decided to do a foundation course, which led me to graphics in the end.
2. How did your collaboration come about? And where does the name “Hat-trick” come from?
Jim: Originally, three of us set it up, hence the name. We had all worked together at another London company after leaving college.
Gareth: Choosing a name was one of the hardest things we’ve done. It took us longer to come up with the name than anything else.
3. This question is a two-parter. Your work spans such an array of sectors—from designing Olympic-themed stamps for the Royal Mail to crafting the ad campaign for Action on Hearing Loss, so:
a. Where does your design inspiration come from and how do you apply it to all the different stuff you work on?
Jim: We are really keen to work on all different types of projects across all sectors. It keeps us fresh and is much more interesting. I get inspired by so many things around me—books, films, exhibitions, anything really. From Jacques Tati and Tom Waits to Bruno Munari and Alan Fletcher, etc.
Gareth: Like fashion designer Paul Smith says, “Inspiration can come from anywhere.” There is so much work out there now and it’s so easily available. One idea is to have your own “filter” to pick out the work you like and use it to spark new ideas.
b. Do you have any special organizational routines to keep the creativity flowing—or simply to help retain sanity?
Jim: We work a lot together. We put all the ideas on a big metal wall and discuss them, since the best ideas come from talking the problem over. We also put aside an afternoon every week to do research and experimentation. This is where “Phobophobia” came from originally. I constantly scribble notes and lists of ideas in notebooks.
Gareth: No, that’s why we are actually insane. In reality, we are quite an organised company so that we work pretty quickly. But we don’t follow any really rigid ways of doing things, it just comes from experience.
3. What sparked the idea for Phobophobia?
Jim and Gareth: We had been working on several projects that were word and language based. Once we started finding out these amazing words for phobias we started visualising them and bringing them to life.
4. Do you have any fears or phobias you’d like to share with us?
Jim: As the introduction of Phobophobia states, I’m scared of lots of things. Mainly spiders, but also cows and dancing. I think it’s fascinating what fears we hold inside.
Gareth: Being bored, and spiders, I really hate spiders. There is something inherently evil about them.
5. What are your hobbies outside of designing?
Jim: I love designing and don’t really treat it as a job. I spend a lot of my spare time thinking of new projects I could be doing. It’s not a proper job.
Gareth: Tennis, running, and outdoor stuff. We spend so much time at work, so it’s good to be active and not indoors.
6. As you know, there are numerous phrases in the US language that mean something completely different in Britain. What’s your favorite American slang word or phrase, and what’s the equivalent in British vernacular? Or, if you don’t have a favorite, what American phrase irks you the most and why?
Jim: I want to find out more about the difference between American and English spellings. For instance, why does ‘color’ have no ‘u’? Who decided to do that?
Gareth: It has to be “pants”—that really makes me laugh every time I hear it in the States.
7. What’s your favorite Knock Knock product and why?
Jim: I love the Clump-o-Lumps. It’s a genius idea and I am very happy we have some.
Gareth: The Complete Manual of Things that Might Kill You: A Guide to Self-Diagnosis for Hypochondriacs. It really resonates with me, as I am one! It’s very dark but very funny.
8. You started Hat-trick nearly 12 years ago. What do you see yourself doing 12 years from now?
Jim: I hope I’m still doing this. I feel like I’m running out of time so I’m speeding up.
Gareth: I can’t believe it’s gone by so quickly—that’s a good sign. Probably more of the same, if we can keep up the energy. I can’t imagine doing anything else.
I’m currently watching the highly-acclaimed Olsen twins classic New York Minute while I write. It’s the only Olsen flick I have not seen, and by fantastic chance I DVRed it in the nick of time, which may or may not be one of the most embarrassing things I’ve chosen to share with the Internet. Nevertheless, it involves a young woman who’s determined to make it big in a city saturated with hustle and bustle and Simple Plan cameos. One of those two plot points is completely relatable to my current, post-college pursuits.
At the tail end of January, I had the opportunity to travel with the Knock Knock team to New York City, which I consider an extraordinary accolade, considering: 1. If thought bubbles hovered over our heads in the office and labeled us, mine would read, “Mildly mellow chick, semi-decent fashion sense, junior status”; 2. New York is way over there, literally on the other side of the country from our Venice, California, locale, and plane rides ain’t cheap these days. So when my colleague and Knock Knock e-commerce manager, Sara Hartman, sent me an email asking if I’d like to come to NYC for digital department meetings and the New York International Gift Fair, that was an immediate “Uh, hells yessssss!” And while prepping for the trip, I made sure to revisit my inner “how to not fuck things up” canon.
So there I was, 37,292 feet in the air, working on Knock Knock social media, PR, and video items from above and exchanging interplane emails with the boss ladies—Trish, our VP of branding, and our head honcho, Jen, have you heard of her?—and Knock Knockers back in Venice. All the while scheming up ways Sara and I could somehow sneak into first class and make Chris Pine fall in love with us, although I kindly gave Sara dibs. (Yes, the actor really was on our flight and newsflash, he reads newspapers! Whoa, guys, it’s like he’s a real person!)
It all felt so very odd to me—like, taking-off-my-boots-and-putting-heels-on odd. Why did I feel so weird working? I had no idea. I’ve been on flights where I was perfectly sandwiched between two coworkers chatting it up about plans and “next steps,” but didn’t think I’d be doing the same exact thing at the tender age of twenty-three. I was out of my element. (If you wanted to know, my “element” is falling asleep to my iPod and spontaneously waking up to make sure I didn’t miss the food cart.) But damn, did I feel productive! And so my fingers returned to my keyboard.
The four-day trip itself flew by at the same fast, fervent rhythm of New Yorkers’ feet pounding on the concrete. We weaved in and out of digital meetings the first two days. In and out of the freezing 19-degree chill that made my breath look as if I was smoking my lungs out, sans cigarettes. Surprisingly we had a few spurts of free time, which Sara and I used to walk around a snow-blanketed Central Park and visit the beloved Museum of Modern Art (MoMA).
At night, the Knock Knock digital ladies also had spurts of alcoholic beverages that made walking outside a bit warmer, our team a bit closer, and our list of bad pickup lines you should never, ever say to a gal that much longer. For pete’s sake, guys, do not try to woo women from Los Angeles by saying that you “expected them to be more beautiful” and then proceed to call it “witty banter.” In the real world, this is actually considered an insult, and you will be branded an “asshole” with inept social skills.
Sunday came around, the first day of the fair at the Javits Center. Unlike Ms. Jen, who has a decade of trade shows under her belt, I’ve never been to a trade show in my life. I’ve heard so much about the show over the last few years from the reports I’ve received to post about on Facebook, but that was the extent of it. My plan was to live-Tweet and -Facebook the experience, but when I got inside the Javits I realized I didn’t have Wi-Fi for the designated Knock Knock social media iPod Touch, which meant I was pretty much screwed out of that scheme.
The upshot? For those of you who have never experienced a trade show as grand as NYIGF, go to at least one or two in your life. By the end of it, you’ll want to hug and high-five each and every member of your sales team and cater to their every need, because the logistics of it all are exhausting. Our superstar sales team not only set up the booth, which, by the way, looked über-fantastic, but spent the entire week on their feet with huge smiles on their faces, taking time to talk to each and every person who stopped by. For an ENTIRE WEEK. I was at the Knock Knock booth for less than an hour and within fifteen minutes I knew I couldn’t do what they do so seamlessly. A supreme shout-out to them (and to our Tradeshow Jots, which were freebies just for the show, and very, very popular)!
I also had the opportunity to walk the rest of the aisles and aisles and aisles of booths. Walking the convention center, spanning two huge floors, made my brain spin, but in a good way. I tried as best as I could to keep up with Trish and Jen’s strides but I easily became overwhelmed with the thousands and thousands of brands and companies—both big and small—and the tens of thousands of products with which they’d stocked their booths. Not to mention the tens and thousands of people running around trying to sell and buy all of it—oy, I had to sit down and take a breather and reflect upon the fact that this craziness happens twice a year. After the this experience, I was thinking of submitting “trade show” to UrbanDictionary.com, alongside the definition, “embraced ridiculousness.” There are just so many items with which to become fixated, it would take weeks for you to sift through them all. Although it would take me months, because I shop like a snail.
To close the day, and the trip, the Knock Knock team attended the Gift for Life AIDS charity gala and auction, which is probably the swankiest event I’ve ever been to. Hanging out, drinking, and catching up with other Knock Knockers outside of the office was oh-so-refreshing and extremely fun. If you didn’t see the photo-booth snaps from the event, check them out, because it really does capture our inebriation. On a side note to other twentysomethings: if you go to a future event with your management team and there’s an open bar, sip with caution. I know it’s tempting, but do not, I repeat, do not, take advantage of it to the point where you’re doing power-hour shots or anything of the like, because getting blackout drunk in front of your execs is utterly moronic, but more importantly, unprofessional.
Once again I worked on the plane ride home. As I pushed pixels, that funny, fickle feeling crept over me again, that feeling of sudden assimilation into unknown territory. Not to sound too cheesy or stupidly soft, but I realized that “unknown territory” was confidence. Finding confidence in my own work efforts and ethic in this bachelor’s-degree afterlife. Here I was, hunched over and editing a video for four hours on an airplane, not because I was required to, but because I wanted to, and I actually felt I had a purpose within my own career pursuits. And by flying me across the nation, I realized I felt comfort in knowing my company thought I did, too.
For more pics from the New York trip, and let me tell you, there are many more, check out our FB album all about it!
Do you have any comical story nuggets from your first business trip? Share in a comment!
I write this month’s Head Honcho Hello from my Times Square hotel room on a break from one of the three tradeshows for which Knock Knock mounts its own booth, the Spring New York International Gift Fair (NYIGF). I must say that at this point in my career it is more fun to write about tradeshows in a hotel bed than it is to actually be at the tradeshows. I have become somewhat internally infamous for flying all the way to New York, showing up at the Javits Center, and, after walking the aisles to ogle the landscape of the marketplace, somewhat antsily announcing that I have work to do at the hotel. It’s a far cry from when I had to manage setup and staff the booth myself all day, every day, then break down the whole caboodle.
The true pleasure of the tradeshows is seeing the Knock Knock brand writ large, all in one sweep, much as an artist much appreciate seeing his/her work all up at once for an exhibition. It gives me a bird’s-eye view of what we’ve done, past and present, all at once, and an opportunity to suss out the larger patterns that will govern what we do in the future. Despite my (permanent) tradeshow fatigue, I almost always leave the shows feeling enthused and inspired. And it’s also a great opportunity to spend some fantastic social time with the team—last night we all tied one(s) on at the gift industry’s AIDS charity, Gift for Life, which has a gala event on the first Sunday of each January NYIGF. I seem to recall having performed some embarrassing dancing. And there were photos (see top right).
Each time I enter the Javits Center, however, my first thought is, “Oh my god, there is so much stuff in the world. Do we need this stuff? Why are we making more stuff? I make stuff. I am part of the world stuff machine.” From ceramic dogs to creepy dolls to cloyingly scented unctions to aprons with insightful proclamations like “Danger! Men Cooking!” one can instantly understand why the United States has a trade deficit with China and why the American storage industry is thriving. But then I spend some time in our booth and get the luxury of fielding compliments on, stories about, and laughter in response to our work, and I feel a little better about what we do. I mean, I actually feel great about what we do—proud and great—but amid a sea of stuff-stuff-stuff it’s hard not to feel like part of some problem or another.
On these New York trips, two to three times per year (May for the National Stationery Show and August for the Fall NYIGF), I always tack on a bunch of other meetings: desksides with editors for PR, in which I visit them at their office with a bag of new products and do a little dog-and-pony-show about them, pitching for future inclusion; various consultancies; and time with retailers, reps, and buyers. Even though I used to live in New York City and have lots of friends and some family here, Manhattan has become a work destination as I’ve made shorter and shorter trips to get in and out as fast as I possibly can, leaving less time for personal get-togethers. This is a mistake. I miss my New York people, and I miss slurping down the marrow of the city! But I suppose if I were to make a longer trip to accommodate personal recreation, it would probably be prudent to do it for the May show. Weather-wise, August and January pretty much suck.
I am inordinately proud of the Spring 2013 list, especially its amazing array of books. Our What I Love About You journal is flying off the shelves, a breakout hit. It was inspired by a handmade book I made years ago for my aunt Sue on the occasion of her fiftieth birthday, recounting, one per page, fifty things I loved about her, as well as by a book that our editor Kate’s boyfriend made for her. You fill it in yourself for a loved one—just in time for (ugh) Valentine’s Day. I am sad to report that two copies have been stolen from our booth display at the show so far—who are these people with no morals, and why don’t they behave? We have a whole new party line, including balloons, samples of which are flying high in the booth thanks to a sweet little helium tank we’re keeping in the booth closet. Apparently they have to be repumped every morning. I particularly love these wine tags. Also making enthusiastic inroads are our guest books, for dinner parties and bathrooms. The bathroom one is, I think, so terribly clever, and I just love the way the graphic design came out. Finally, we have two little books that aren’t yet on the website, probably because they haven’t hit the warehouse: 100 Reasons to Panic About Getting Married and 100 Reasons to Panic About Having a Baby. These morsels are perfectly giftable, sweetly illustrated, and wryfully on-point. The team really outdid themselves this season.
Okay—now I’m off to meet a fellow entrepreneur, a generous fix-up from another entrepreneur who thinks we’d hit it off, at her wine and cupcake bar, Sweet Revenge, in the West Village. Then I get to have dinner with my cousin. Tomorrow is part consultancy, part tradeshow walking, then I have the honor of being interviewed by the inimitable Debbie Millman for her podcast, Design Matters. Wednesday is an all-day marketing consultancy, then back on Thursday. Of course, all of this will be over by the time you’ve read this, on Friday, February 1. But we can always reminisce together, no?
We picked out our favorite holiday songs for you to enjoy and freely blast on your speakers. You’re welcome.
1. “Ballad of the Sad Young Men” by Roberta Flack —Will, production artist
2. “All I Want for Christmas is You” by Mariah Carey (But you need to watch this version if you haven’t already.) —Dayna, assistant editor and Travis, sales associate
3. “A Marshmallow World” by Dean Martin —Erin, managing editor
4. “Let it Be Christmas” by Alan Jackson —Jim, president
5. “Carol of the Bells” by Trans-Siberian Orchestra —Sara, e-commerce manager
6. “The Christmas Song” by Nat King Cole —Mia, design director
7. “Candlelight” by The Maccabeats —Paul, assistant manager of customer service and operations
8. “This Christmas” by Donny Hathaway —Lena, customer service specialist
9. “I Wish It Was Christmas Today” by Jimmy Fallon, Tracy Morgan, Horatio Sanz, and Chris Kattan —Melanie, marketing and digital coordinator
10. “Merry X’Mas Everybody” by Slade —Kate, associate editor
11. “The Dreidel Song” by Julie Silver —Jen, head honcho
What’s on your holiday playlist? Tell us in a comment below!
This Thanksgiving, other than cooking up a storm in the kitchen, stuffing our faces with friends and family, and hopefully sleeping-in, the Knock Knock team is thankful for:
1. “I’m thankful to my friends and family for being there always—through think, thin, better, worse, and especially for bad photo opportunities. Unconditional love is a rare and special thing—like mustache straws.” —Sara, e-commerce manager
2. “Studies have shown that around 1/3 of all Americans have never seen the ocean, I’m thankful that this is my backyard (figuratively more than literally, but you get the idea).” —Paul, assistant manager of customer service and operations
3. “I’m thankful for my baby niece’s irresistible cheeks.” —Priscilla, social media marketing intern
4. “I am thankful for my ridiculously good-looking, goofy, tight-knit family. Here’s a picture of a small portion of them at Disneyworld. From L to R, my aunt (sweetheart), my brother (grumpy), my mom (tan), and my stepdad (too cool).” —Dayna, assistant editor
5. “I am thankful for the bucket of chocolate in the kitchen, and the fact that everyone at Knock Knock is like a second, more fun/warped family!” —Will, production artist
6. “Of course I’m thankful for my loving family, friends, and good health. But this year I’d like to especially mention how thankful I am for my newish-cat, Captain Daenerys Phoebs Tonks Bluth (or Dany, for short), because she is the absolute cutest. And I swear I’m not a crazy cat lady.” —Mel, marketing and digital coordinator
7. “I’m thankful for working for a kick ass company!” —Jim, president
8. “I’m thankful for the opportunity to be thankful. Because I just got all up in the thankful in my latest blog post for Knock Knock with an actual heartfelt gratitude list (come on, Oprah, sometimes I do listen), I’m recognizing that I do actually have things to be thankful for. Between my ironic, pessimistic, snarky brain (humor never came from optimists, you know) and my tendency to look at what I can’t do or haven’t done rather than what I can do and have done, the realization that I have much to be thankful for is something to be thankful for. So thank you.” —Jen, head honcho
What are you thankful for this year? Tell us in a comment below!