Portland happenings

Design Week Portland 2017

To be honest, I was supposed to post to our blog last week, but I was too busy checking out Design Week Portland 2017. Did you experience any of the great events last week? For those who haven’t heard, Design Week is an annual celebration of all things design-related: architecture, art and craft, graphic design, design education, experiential design, fashion and apparel, film, landscape design, manufacturing design, illustration, industrial design, interior design, interactive design, music, urban design, and writing and design criticism.


Political resistance through design

It is overwhelming how much there is to experience, including talks, panels, events and parties, open houses, competitions, screenings, workshops, and the list goes on. I had the opportunity to check out a few cool events, including a panel on design’s role in political and cultural resistance, designing for craft brew brands, and a fun pin show benefitting arts education. Our own client, IDL Worldwide hosted an awesome (and delicious) “Design Fight Club // Crossover” where local chefs teamed up “with IDL or guest creatives to challenge participants to solve similar problems in a 30-minute sketch-off competition.” So fun.


Designing for a Craft Brew Brand

Every year Design Week gets bigger and better—there is no shortage of things to do, and with increasing participation from all sorts of Portland businesses and organizations, the events are more and more appealing to any and everyone—not just those who work in design fields.


Designers from all over the country contributed beautiful, wearable pins to sell at this show, with proceeds benefitting arts education.

So if you missed this year’s events, make sure to mark your calendar for next year!

Street Roots, a Portland media outlet making a difference

Street Roots

Every morning I walk past a man selling newspapers. Every morning, he’s wearing the same worn sneakers, unkempt beard, and woven poncho. The man is homeless, and the paper he’s peddling is Street Roots, a weekly focusing on issues facing the growing number of homeless Portlanders.

Street Roots has been a small but dauntless asset to the city’s media landscape for nearly two decades. Thought the paper was once bimonthly, in recent years it has switched to a weekly publication schedule and boasts a readership of 15,000. That’s a tall feat given the increasing troubles facing traditional regional newspapers like The Oregonian.

This alternative publication doesn’t make many A.wordsmith media lists, and we don’t generally pitch stories to them; SEO and management consulting aren’t really key topics in their editorial calendar. The content is contributed by local journalists, social activists, and members of the homeless community itself.

“Street Roots is a platform for people on the streets to have a voice in the political and social dialogue, bridging cultural and class divides with a greater understanding on social matters that affect us all,” explains the paper’s website.

In addition to providing valuable news, the distributions team is made up entirely of street vendors, homeless or transitioning Portlanders who make 75 cents off every one-dollar paper sold.

We live in a city where housing is in short supply, rents are skyrocketing, and record-breaking numbers of men, women, and children are spending their nights in shelters, camps, and on the sidewalks. Last year, Multnomah County’s homeless population surpassed 3,000.

A.wordsmith is proud to support local non-profits across the region and most recently has contributed pro bono work to Girls, Inc., Parenting with Intent, and Opal Creek Ancient Forest Center. From a boutique PR agency to an alternate media outlet, props for thinking outside the box – and making a difference.

How are you a thought leader? Answer these 6 questions to find out.

If you are reading this you likely already understand the value of thought leadership products. A thought leadership product is anything – written, video, multi-media – produced to help inform an audience on something you do really well. These products are especially critical for service organizations that rely on the smarts and unique capabilities of its people to distinguish itself from the competition. And these are the kinds of products that A.wordsmith is really, really good at creating.

As developers of thought leadership content for our clients we are often faced with the daunting task of distilling the fragmented, but brilliant, thinking of our clients into easy-to-read, easy-to-understand thought leadership content.

To do that, we get on the phone or sit down with our subject matter expert, the SME. We typically have an hour or less. The SME is a senior-level, sometimes C-suite level, individual, with limited time and patience. Add to that the fact that we often come into these discovery sessions with only a rudimentary understanding of the topic – often just enough to be dangerous.

So how do we approach a critical SME interview given these challenges? We formulate really smart questions.

To get there, let’s go back to the importance of story.


This week my colleague Allison and I attended PRSA’s annual Communicators Conference in Portland. The speakers were excellent – everyone from Mike Riley Research to representatives from Edelman breaking down this year’s Trust Barometer – but my favorite session came from consultant Andrew Robinson of Eugene, Oregon. He advocated for the power of a single story in employee engagement, and outlined the basic elements of a captivating company story.

Andrew’s story elements interestingly aligned almost directly with the initial questions we ask during a thought leadership discovery session. The output of these discovery sessions are ultimately stories, powerfully effective in everything from driving sales to employee engagement. And powerfully relevant — just as Lemonade is to the Beyhive and “Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus” is to my kindergartener — in sparking a conversation and prompting action from the audience you most want to engage.

Beyoncé's latest thought leadership product was a multi-media blend of poetry, music and photography. (source: www.independent.co.uk)

As developers of thought leadership content these questions guide our process. For organizations struggling with what their thought leadership focus should be, these questions can help pinpoint your greatest opportunities to share and engage.

6 Thought Leadership Questions

Story Element: Villain

Interview Question #1: What are your client’s pain points?

Story Element: Hero

Interview Question #2: How are you specially equipped to solve those problems?

Story Element: Backstory

Interview Question #3: What are the external – market, industry, etc. – exacerbating this problem?

Story Element: Plot

Interview Question #4: What is the common turning point for your clients, the moment that they decide to turn to you for help?

Story Element: Crisis

Interview Question #5: What does it look like when you attack this problem? What is your unique process?

Story Element: Resolution

Interview Question #6: What are the proof points that what you do works?

For more information check out some of our thought leadership work.

Passion, Practice, and Teachability


I had the opportunity to check out a number of cool events during last week’s 2016 Design Week Portland, and especially enjoyed hearing Dana Tanamachi’s talk, “Perfectly Imperfect” on Wednesday night at PNCA. It was inspiring to get a glimpse of her background in design, her unexpected successes, and to hear her thoughtful reflections on her evolving work and processes, as she continually explores new avenues within her passion for design and typography.

From chalk to children’s books

Much of Tanamachi’s recognition came from what started as a fun hobby, and soon became an in-demand, signature style. Her impressive chalk lettering style has inspired many designers and artists, who have tried to duplicate her approach with varying success. She’s since moved into new kinds of media, and continues to explore her passion and skill for design, typography, and illustration in beautiful ways.


Chalk lettering for one of a series of wine labels for Nagging Doubt winery


Children’s classics book cover designs – lettering and illustration


Phone case design for her Target line and Tanamachi’s recently released book, “DIY Type”


On being “teachable”

It’s essential for designers (and really for anyone pursuing their passion): stay teachable. Tanamachi’s account of her own experience with this important lesson is a great reminder of how easy it is for our love and skill for something to blind us to necessary improvement. We convince ourselves we’ve achieved expert status and settle into doing what we know best…at the cost of continued growth and improvement. However subtle they may be, there are always ways to examine an existing skill from new angles; to push ourselves to explore our abilities outside of our comfort zone, whether through a new medium, within a new industry, or at a different scale.

I appreciated Tanamachi’s humility and thoughtful self-reflection; it’s clear that she’s focused on maintaining an authentic and grounded artistic voice, despite sometimes feeling pulled in many directions. Her commitment to her craft through years of dedicated practice shows, and I really enjoyed hearing her perspective and seeing some of her amazing work. Check out more of her work at tanamachistudio.com.

2016 Design Week Portland


It’s comin’ up quick! Design Week Portland is “a week-long, city-wide series of programs exploring the process, craft, and practice of design across all disciplines.” April 15-21, all four corners of Portland will see a flurry of design-related talks, events, workshops, studio tours, and shows. This is a huge week for designers, but also offers a ton of interesting content to non-designers. And many of the events are low-cost, or even free.

Taking a new format this year, there will be a main stage with interesting talks and presentations from a variety of creatives. Aside from purely design-related talks, check out talks around public space, even food culture:

Who has the right to the city?
Design, Justice, and Public Space
By Reiko Hillyer, Lewis and Clark

How does food shape place?
The Renaissance that Remade Portland and America
By Mike Thelin, Feast Portland

Maybe you’re curious about the letterpress craze? Check out the Letterpress Printers Fair (free admission, family friendly!) Learn about Digital Storytelling with the Oregonian, or gawk at some beautifully designed homes on the AIA Portland Homes Tour.

I haven’t decided what I’ll sneak away from my desk for, but a few of the events have already sold out, so we’d all better hop to it.

See you there!

2015 Forest For The Trees Mural Festival

I wrote about this very cool project on the blog last year. Though I’m a little late on this post, I did want to mention this year’s Forest For The Trees mural festival, which took place August 23-29. You may have already seen some of the new murals around town, either in process or finished.

The FFTT website describes the project: “Established in 2013, Forest For The Trees is a non-profit project dedicated to the creation of contemporary public art in Portland. The festival brings together local and international artists in a collaborative setting and provides them with the freedom and resources to create artworks in environments that are freely accessible to the local community.”

Check out all 20 mural locations here. Which one is your favorite?

FFTT_Olivia-Knapp-2015_vera-firm-22 FFTT_Spencer-Jaque-2015_17-930x620 FFTT_ZachY-OlaVolo-2015_33-930x620

A tale of two cities: ACME shows how good employee relations made good business sense

In addition to being an incredible A. Wordsmith client and a brilliant business partner to some of Portland, Seattle and San Diego’s biggest and best companies, ACME Business Consulting is a really great place to work. Sara Fritsch, ACME’s marketing team lead, has worked with ACME for nine years in a variety of roles. Today her life is based in Amsterdam, and her beautiful, colorful life was recently featured on the blog Design Mom in it’s “Call It A Day” section.

ACME Business Consulting has three offices -- Portland, Seattle and San Diego -- and experienced a compound annual growth rate of 33 percent, with the addition of 20 new clients in the last three years alone.

ACME Business Consulting has three offices — Portland, Seattle and San Diego — and experienced a compound annual growth rate of 33 percent, with the addition of 20 new clients in the last three years alone.


Sara is a working mom, telecommuting from Europe to Oregon, making her way through her expat life on a Dutch cargo bike that can haul as many as five kids at a time. The Design Mom feature is a great peak inside her life, but it also highlights yet another great example of non-traditional professional positions — outside the 9-to-5 office grind — working to add dimension to a company’s brand.

What would your dream working situation be? Do you imagine a day when you could work from a beach in Thailand? Or if you could, would you split your time between a paid job and a passion project? Sara and ACME are living proof that the nontraditional is not only possible, it can be a dream come true.

For a fun look inside Sara’s life, check out the Design Mom feature here: http://www.designmom.com/2015/04/call-it-a-day-sara-fritsch/

Sara lives in Amsterdam with her husband and two kids.

Sara lives in Amsterdam with her husband and two kids.

Design & Happiness

Design Week Portland 2014 was great fun, and I felt lucky to attend the sold-out talk by Stefan Sagmeister on Design & Happiness. The Austrian-born designer has been a design “rockstar” for decades, but when he’s not working for clients of Sagmeister & Walsh, he’s studying how we attain happiness. His ultimate goal is a full documentary on the topic, but he’s the first to admit that his documentary production skills do not level with his vision, which has made for a rather painful project process (somewhat ironic, given the subject). However, his explorations for the documentary have resulted in some beautiful standalone projects along the way. I would love to see the museum exhibit, “The Happy Show,” where scientific research and psychological observations are made visual in a series of engaging, clever, artistic reflections on happiness.

I really wish I could share some of the mesmerizing artistic video projects he shared during his presentation, but they’re not public domain (yet). But a few of his points can be heard in an older TED talk on this subject he’s been exploring for over a decade:

Perhaps most intriguing is how he manages to accomplish all this happiness research and exploration while running a bustling design firm in New York. First, the firm is restricted to seven team members–despite great successes and huge clients, the firm does not grow in personnel, on purpose. This allows them to carefully choose clients, only saying ‘yes’ to projects they really want to work on, which ultimately results in more creative freedom and reasonably managed project schedules. Second, one word: sabbatical. Every seven years, the entire firm goes on sabbatical—business doors are closed and locked for an entire year. And during their year in Bali (most recently) or wherever the team lands, they rest, explore, and produce incredible, creative, because-they-want-to projects, completely refreshing their creative outlook. It’s worked well for business too; evidently, initial fears of lost revenue have been allayed, as existing clients have remained faithful and appreciate the unique perspective these sabbaticals lend the firm’s work, while new clients wait in the wings, eager to get a piece of Sagmeister & Walsh’s one-of-a-kind creative approach.

What a bold business model. It’s one that requires a huge leap of faith…but that’s usually how we find the kind of happiness we didn’t even know we were missing.

Design Week Portland

by Lettie Jane Rennekamp

by Lettie Jane Rennekamp

Are you ready for Design Week Portland? It’s coming, and it has something to offer everyone, designer or not.

From October 4-11, a series of events, open houses, installations, talks, and parties will take over spaces throughout Portland, all in celebration of design. As the website states, “Design Week Portland is a weeklong series of interactive events, installations and conversations showcasing the evolving state of design in our city. Do your part to shape our future by engaging with some of today’s brightest creative minds. To achieve full enjoyment, we recommend jumping in headfirst.”

Check out all the offerings at the Design Week Portland website

Check out all the offerings at DWP’s website

With 157 open houses and 193 events, you are sure to find something fun to check out. But sign up soon—lots of the events (including those that are free) are filling up fast.

I never have the time to explore all I want to, but this year I’m excited to attend AIGA’s big event: a talk by Stefan Sagmeister: Design and Happiness. I look forward to reporting on the experience.

Now go—explore Portland’s design climate and be inspired!

Mural Madness

Have you seen all the beautiful new murals around Portland?

During the week of August 18-23, the not-for-profit public mural project Forest for the Trees brought together 20 international artists to make their mark on our fair city. According to their site, “The mural project promotes public visual expression; collaboration; and community engagement with contemporary art and the creative process.” This is the second year for the project, and it’s inspiring to see all the unique and creative murals that have resulted from the hard work of dozens of artists in just a few weeks of work between 2013-14.

You can see snapshots of many of the murals in process on FFTT’s Instagram account. Find all the new mural locations on their website–you can even download a guide to take your own bike tour!

murals around Portland


murals around Portland


murals around Portland
murals around Portland

Now go enjoy these huge works of art while the sun is shining!