“Put good in, get good out,” – words to live by from our Journal feature this week, Summer Stokes. Summer is a self-taught designer who splits her time between Portland and Northern Idaho. We loved talking with her about how to jump-start a creative career, learning on the job, being your own boss, and of course, drinking many (many!) cups of coffee.
Stay-tuned as well to see Summer’s design work in action in an upcoming collab with us here at Ratio Coffee.
Hi Summer! Can you tell us where you’re currently located and how you enjoyed your coffee this morning?
Sitting at a coffee shop in downtown Portland. My husband and I split our time between the West side and our house in Northern Idaho. I started the morning with coffee he made for me in a mug on my way out the door, then I grabbed another coffee (dark, drip, 12oz, no room) on my way downtown and now I’m at another coffee shop. I drink too much coffee but have no intent to change.
We’d love to learn more about how you initially got into design work. Was there one memorable moment that you recall sparking your interest?
I got into design in middle school. And that was even before I got my hands on any Adobe programs. I was always obsessed with playing with fonts and clipart in Microsoft Word as a kid and would create pretend menus and redesign book covers for fun. When I was probably around 13 I got an Adobe Illustrator CD through a family friend who worked at Adobe and then bought a manual to teach myself the program. My menus and book covers got a lot better after that ;)
Since starting in creative work, what has your journey looked like so far? Are there any specific triumphs and challenges that come to mind?
I’m entirely self-taught and started my first design job at 17 during college where I worked half as an afternoon secretary, half as a graphic designer and got to learn a ton on the job. With the connections I made through that job I started my own freelance business at 19. Since then it’s grown into a business consisting of an online store with 21,000+ sales and two employees and a creative services agency where I offer design, branding, illustration, and more to companies all over the world. Over the years I’ve gone in and out of corporate jobs, and with being entirely self-employed. Both have their own unique challenges, but I truly love the freedom and variety of being my own boss. I think I was cut out for the fun unpredictability of freelance work.
As the owner of your own creative design agency, how do you find and choose clients to work with?
Most of the time clients come to me through referrals, word of mouth, or social media. Every kind of business needs creative work at some point so just having a conversation with anyone building anything can lead to work down the line. I’ll also reach out to people I want to work with and pitch them my skill set.
What does your creative process with a new client look like, and how do you take their vision and bring it to life?
Always starts with a discovery meeting either in-person or on a video call where we discuss their needs and vision. I always ask a ton of questions about them and their company’s origin story as well as the specific project on hand. Bringing their vision to life is a combination of reading the client and situation and discerning what they want (even if they don’t quite know what that is exactly) and then going from there to decide for myself what they need. It’s a combination of listening/doing what the client asks for and telling the client what they should have/leading them in the right direction.
No surprise here, but we’d love to know about any coffee related projects you’ve worked on! Any favorite moments from those projects in particular?
One of my favorite projects was working with a local coffee roaster on designing their holiday bag last year. I got to combine my natural bent for illustrating, with my love of design and my passion for coffee, which was a sweet spot.
Speaking of coffee, how do you like to prepare, enjoy, and share coffee with your clients, or enjoy coffee on your own, throughout your work week?
I’m partial to a good strong dark roast and I’ll take it black, made any way: drip, espresso, pourover, chemex, automatic… I love my Ratio Six — my husband and I mostly work from home and being able to make a big pot of coffee to keep our mugs filled throughout the morning is the best.
I also love meeting clients at coffee shops. The bustle, the variety of people, the smell of coffee, the sound of steaming milk and espresso machines – It’s the perfect spot for ideas to converge and plans to unfold.
What’s inspiring you most in your work these days, and what tips would you recommend other creatives use to keep their inspiration flowing?
I love talking to other creatives, doers, and motivated, disciplined people. The best inspiration is to feel like you’re not living in isolation, and to see and surround yourself with people you want to keep pace with, and who you want to pursue great things or big ideas with.
Also, steep yourself in beautiful environments – whether that’s nature or buildings and architecture, music, food, art, photography, design, or stories. Just like our bodies, our creative minds need fodder and fuel: put good in, get good out.