I first wrote about Claudia Smith after discovering her at the National Stationery Show this spring. Since then, I've developed a big, fat crush on Fig. 2 Design Studio. The bright and bold color pairings, how crisp and fresh the site looks and Claudia's dedication honestly make me feel like a drab slacker. Not only did she blog about her journey to her National Stationery Show debut for those who dream of someday exhibiting at the NYC trade event, but she's now mentoring two hopefuls and prepping them for their first NSS next year, too.
She has so much in the works, so I'm incredibly grateful that Claudia's decided to pop in for a chat about quitting her job, working for herself as well as the challenges and satisfaction that comes with owning your own creative business. And stay tuned for a list of her favorite spots to eat, shop and play in the Washington, D.C. area.
First off, I'm really inspired by your drive to make this dream of yours a reality and I can imagine the sweat and tears it took to develop such a beautiful line. What did you do right before you decided to create Fig. 2 Design Studio?
Thank you so much, Dorkys! It really was a lot of work to get to where I am, but so far I feel it was worth it. Before creating Fig. 2, I was a graphic designer at a local design firm in the DC area. After 6 years, I realized I wasn't going to be able to grow more as a designer in the company, so I decided to try things on my own. When I left, I planned to continue to do freelance work but on a full-time basis. I had done several custom wedding projects that I enjoyed and had recently purchased a small letterpress of my own so I thought I could maybe do more wedding invitations.
There is a very lovely shop in Georgetown, Washington, D.C. called Hitched Salon that sells gorgeous gowns and I sent them a little package hoping they would refer me to other brides. Much to my surprise they called and asked me to come to a meeting. I had no idea I would leave with a request to design a collection. And so Fig. 2 was born!
How long had you been thinking about starting your own company and what moved you to finally make the jump?
I had been thinking of leaving my full time job for about a year. Honestly, I wish I had left when I started thinking about leaving, but it was such a big move that I felt nervous. I finally made the jump when I realized that I wasn't going to learn the business side of a design studio and that if I wanted certain experiences, I would have to learn them on my own. It helps to have a very supportive husband, family and friends!
I had enough freelance clients on the side that I knew I could use that to my advantage to hold me over in the beginning. It was a great move but it wasn't until I met with Hitched that I knew I wanted two businesses: a design services studio for more corporate and small business projects and another for stationery.
Tell me a little bit about Figure A Design, your other creative branch that offers identity and graphic design services. Are you currently trying to grow that part of your brand as well or mainly focusing on Fig. 2's budding success?
Figure A Design is more of a design services company. I've worked with clients of all sizes and backgrounds and have had the chance to do print and web design. It's been really wonderful and I learned so much about running a business and gained experiences I was really thirsting for. In the beginning, I focused on growing Figure A, but now my focus is in growing Fig.2. I love that at the end of the day I am designing for myself. I get to design what I want and how I want. I don't have to worry about making sure a logo gets made bigger or having to wait for a company's owners meeting to know how the designs are progressing. It's on my own time and to my aesthetic.
I do feel that having had Figure A as a steady business for a few years taught me to be organized and disciplined. I am still working on growing Figure A, but in a slightly different direction. After all, I have been fortunate that Figure A has funded Fig. 2 so I never had to use my own savings to fund Fig. 2's journey to NSS. However, I have been working with more small businesses lately and I think I'd like to grow that base. I'd love to do more small business identity, blog design, etc. It's very fulfilling to help another small business grow and take off.
Why did you feel the need to debut at the NSS in May and how did you know you were ready for such a huge undertaking?
I don't know that you're ever fully ready! But I felt pretty close to being ready. I had promised myself that I would debut this year and I stuck to the plan. I had a few sales from Hitched who had my album exclusively and had also worked with a number of custom brides so I felt I had gained enough knowledge to feel it was a good move for me. It was certainly a big undertaking, but the key was to be organized, have goals, and stay on track all while designing and learning as much as I could to be prepared.
What were some of the biggest lessons you learned from exhibiting at the show? And what have you learned about the design community since venturing through its doors?
I learned a LOT about myself. I had no idea I was so ambitious, but not in a greedy way. More of a "Wow, I really pushed myself and made it" way. I also learned to simplify some of my crazy ideas. But the biggest lesson I learned was to ask for help. It's impossible to do it all yourself. My mom and sister-in-law helped me prep pieces for the albums by adding double-sided tape to the backs of cards. My dad ran last-minute errands for me while my husband tested shelves and lighting on foam core. And that was just getting to the show! I hired a designer to re-do the Fig. 2 website, a photographer and stylist for all the photos, and another designer to help knock out the catalog. Best money I ever spent.
The design community is so fun and there's a ton of talent. There's room for everyone since there are products for all types of markets. Stationery designers are the nicest of all. From tips on how to make the most of your lighting at the show to the best way to figure out pricing, we all help each other out. We've all been there- lost, confused, stressed- so we're all willing to help another out.
You seem to have quite the handle on organization and time management so much so that you already posted your goals and time line for the National Stationery Show in 2012 two months ago! What else do you do to stay focused and organized as you've started your design business?
It's easy to get yourself in a rut and get distracted by hopping on Twitter, Facebook, or the web in general and get lost in blogs and online shopping. So I've been very disciplined from the beginning. I go for a morning run and then shower and dress just as if I were going into an office. That's not to say I've never worn sweats while on a conference call. I intentionally wear sweats and a T-shirt on days when I know I can't leave the studio because I have so much work! But I stay focused as much as I can. There are days when I skip logging on Twitter just so I can make sure there are no distractions and it does help!
What should entrepreneur hopefuls consider before going into a creative business for themselves?
Are you ready to wear many hats, especially in the beginning? Not only will you be the head creative person, but you will be a book keeper, marketer, receptionist, courier, the one who orders supplies, etc. It's a lot to handle, but it's the best way to learn the business. Once you figure out your strengths, then you can decide what to delegate to others because learning to ask for help is always good!
Claudia, I not only love how bold and cheerful your brand is, but also how clean and simple it is. It's pure eye candy! From where do you get your inspiration and flair for unexpected color coordination?
I have always loved color. I was always the girl who looked forward to buying new school supplies every year, especially markers and crayons! My parents have an extensive art collection and we always joked it was easy to spot my dad at an airport because he always had a big painting wrapped in brown paper in one arm. So I've always been surrounded by art and good design.
I don't know where my knack for color combination comes from, but I do know I've been true to what I think feels and looks right, not by what the hot new color combination trends are. As for the neon? Well who doesn't love a little flashback to the '80s? But honestly it was all due to a handbag I bought in London a few years ago. I became obsessed and knew I had to do something with it.
I'm glad you decided to create an additional line of products for those of us who aren't getting married anytime soon. Will you continue to develop new card and tag designs in addition to the new baby collection that you have in the works?
Absolutely! I've learned that working closely and staying in touch with my retailers is key. I've definitely got some fun things in the works, and hope to share them later this fall. It's funny because the greeting card line was a last minute idea that took off and has done well. It's been fun to design and brainstorm ideas!
So tell us, what can we expect from Fig. 2 in the coming year?
Be on the lookout for an extension of the Neon Collection! It's been doing so well and I have some fun ideas. I'm also working on a collaboration with another company so be on the lookout for an announcement in the fall! For the 2012 show, I'll be debuting a much anticipated baby collection which I am very excited about!
Images: all from fig2design.com