Finding What’s Way Out There

Ronnie Haas and Phyllis Langley each draw inspiration from their love for, and experience working in, coffee. Both have spent time honing the aesthetic and processes behind Maryland's Ceremony Coffee, and despite now living on the opposite coast, they continue to work with Ceremony via their design studio Way Out Visuals. We spoke with them about creating and translating visual aesthetics, moving to Palm Springs, daily coffee routines, and long winding drives that inspire creativity and nostalgia.

View of the ocean

Can you tell us more about how each of you got into the coffee industry, and your past and present work with Ceremony Coffee?

R: I started working in coffee shops in the early 2000s in college, and after teaching in public schools for a bit, I found my way to a really focused shop called Caffe Pronto in 2008. The coffees were revelatory and roasted by Andy Sprenger (now owner of Sweet Bloom). I worked in a bunch of different roles, and I eventually led a rebrand of the company to Ceremony Coffee in 2012 to better align the brand with the special magic it was already creating. 

P: I've always been curious about coffee and cafe culture, and working with Ceremony has been a way to explore those through my passion for photography and for visual storytelling. I've been a part of creating most of the visuals for Ceremony since 2018, when we worked to launch a new, visual language for the brand that focused on simplifying the coffee buying experience through colors and food imagery.

When did you decide to combine your work in the coffee world with your interest in creating a visual design studio, and how did Way Out Visual Co come to life? 

P: Before I began working at Ceremony, I was doing freelance photography on the weekends as well as social media consulting, so transitioning Ceremony into a client came fairly naturally. My background is also in marketing and I've taught myself photography over the past 10 years. Being able to do both of them for a company and brand I had admired from afar felt surreal at first, and it eventually just became a great way to put my business concept to the test. I was finding that filling that in-house creative position (especially the photographer/videographer aspect) was hard to come by and that other growing businesses really needed not only the content but the strategy and management as well. 

What drives the aesthetic of your visual design work and how do you creatively collaborate with Ceremony?

P: I love this question. At my core, I'm always inspired by nostalgia (another reason why living in Palm Springs makes me pinch myself). I shoot a lot of film and recently started developing film at home. As consuming as social media can be, I find an incredible amount of inspiration and knowledge from photographers and friends on IG. 

For client work, I tend to lean more towards the clean, commercial aesthetic. So it's fun to utilize a little bit of both in my work for Ceremony. When I first started working with them I looked outside of the coffee industry to generate new ideas because I found that scrolling through Instagram, I kept seeing a lot of the same thing and it was hard to differentiate from one coffee company to another. I love pulling inspiration from the team as well — hearing different ideas from brands they love and how we can incorporate them into something exciting that we're working on in the coffee world. Overall, the goal is to allow people to feel like they're in that space or in that particular moment, whether it's a portrait of a staff member, pouring cups of coffee at home or seeing the way the light is hitting a certain corner of a cafe. I always want it to feel as real as possible.

Many of your other clients are also working in the coffee, food, and hospitality spaces. What storytelling tactics do you turn to when creating content for these types of clients? 

P: I touched on this a little bit before, but a great way I like to begin any type of content creation project is by gathering inspiration from everywhere— looking outside of the industry that you're in. Obviously it's important to be in tune with what's going on, but I think that a really great way to find fun and fresh ideas is to look outside of what everyone else is tending to do when they release a new product, for example. I like to think 'What brands are inspiring us to learn more about them and to try their product just through the things they've presented visually?' That kind of inspiration bears new content, reveals greater goals, and results in the kinds of assets that trigger that deeper emotional response in our storytelling. Way Out is all about telling a brand's story and bringing it out into the wild through content creation. 

When did you relocate from Maryland to Palm Springs? What has living and working from the west coast been like for you? 

R: Phyllis is from Toronto, and I grew up outside of DC. We've lived on the East Coast our entire lives, but we've both independently wanted to live in California since we were kids. The pandemic slammed things into perspective for us, and we were incredibly privileged to be able to make the move to Palm Springs last summer. Working where we want to be has presented some challenges, like living on Eastern Time in California and missing interacting with our co-workers in person. Moving away from Ceremony's epicenter of coffee people and passion is strange, but we'll be just fine in the desert for now.   

What do you both most enjoy about coffee? Do you have any specific daily routines centered around drinking coffee, and have they changed since you moved west? 

P: We look forward to the moments that come with enjoying coffee. If we're sitting outside at our favorite coffee shop here (usually Cartel Roasting or Kreem) or sitting out by the pool in the morning, we always use it as a time to catch up and chat about things we want to accomplish over the weekend—local trips we're looking forward to, and lately, a lot of little home renovation projects. But I can personally say that I genuinely look forward to Saturday and Sunday mornings when we get to enjoy those quiet times to ourselves. It wouldn't be the same without our favorite coffee in hand. 

Are there any specific moments so far, in this new year of 2022, that have particularly inspired your creative work? 

P+R: Moving to Palm Springs has overall been incredibly inspiring for both of us. The mountains and desert landscapes and endless opportunities for amazing photos aren’t hard to come by. We always say long drives never feel that long out here, because you’re always staring at something beautiful. It hasn’t quite been a year yet, and knowing how much we have to explore makes living out here even more exciting. So far this year we’ve been to Joshua Tree National Park, and more recently, Death Valley National Park for camping and hiking. These trips always inspire my work and open my eyes to what we have available for us to see just in the US alone and they're always a great opportunity to continue adding prints to my collection.