Month: July 2014

Designing for Back to School


Rainbow Chevron collection by Simon+Kabuki

Summer has historically been a quiet time in the design business but we’ve developed a really nice bump in orders since we started creating back to school products. offers binders, folders, notebooks and lunch boxes for resale so you could be enjoying this extra revenue too. Back to school supplies are a $27 BILLION business in the U.S.

When I’m not working on SHQ’s product line or marketing efforts, I’m working on licensed art. Our collections have graced back to school products at Office Max and Target and we do a lot of personalized school stuff for

Here’s what I know about designing for school:

– Bright colors outsell muted colors. By a lot.

– Kids are super trendy, so even if you hate owls, foxes, peace signs or whatever they’re into this year, include those elements in your art and someone will buy them.

– If you’re doing personalized stuff, make sure the kid’s name is the focal point. The moms who are buying love their kids’ names. Subtle won’t sell, particularly when the customer is seeing a thumbnail on her iphone.

I really hated the owl trend. And this design has made use more money than any other. Ugh.

I really hated the owl trend. And this design has made us more money than any other. Ugh.

– Think about design in terms of how it can represent a kids’ interest or personality in a positive way. That’s something we can all feel good about.

Workin’ it: building your stationery biz

awesomesauce copyAside from being the Creative Director for SHQ, I’m a stationery designer just like you. I got started way back with online custom stationery when we launched with and now our brand – Simon+Kabuki – is carried by Design Design, Target Stores, Leanin’ Tree and others. So when I was forwarded an email by one of our awesome reps with a link to a good blog article about ways to get around purchasing the full Adobe Suite (if you aren’t ready for the commitment or can’t afford it yet) it occurred to me that we have lots of good info and resources to share with you guys.

Here are a few things that I know:

1. I could not make my living without Adobe software so I throw down the big bucks about every other upgrade but if you need a workaround solution, it’s out there. Check out this article:

2. The National Stationery Show in NYC should be attended at least once in your career. You’ll meet awesome people, be inspired and get a good understanding of what the competition and marketplace is like. You kind of need two days to really walk the show or a really comfy pair of super cute shoes. If you are traveling, book a hotel early to get the best deal and walking distance location. Getting a cab at certain times of day sucks.

3. If you’re really serious about your stationery business then having a booth at the show should be considered. We had a 10 x 10 booth for Simon+Kabuki and the cost of booth space, travel, furnishing, samples, and presskits was in the neighborhood of $15 – $20k. But we were coming from California and we kind of really went for it. If you’re considering showing, there’s a group of smart designers that have a workshop called Tradeshow Bootcamp to help you prepare for the show and learn more about your business.

4. If this is how you make your living, you’ll need to design for what will sell, not just what makes you happy. Save the happy stuff for your personal collection so you don’t have to get pissed when a junior level team member with an accounting degree tells you that she doesn’t really like green, it reminds her of vegetables. And remember that what sells for one partner or region may not be the same as in another place. Your customers will push for what they believe will sell so if they are asking for it, it’s not a bad idea to deliver. We’ve been totally shocked by some of our designs that made us the most money. Sometimes our partners knew better than us. Crazy, I know.

5. Relationships with your peers and vendors are as important as the ones you share with your clients. Get involved in some good online communities, read the best publications (you probably already read Stationery Trends, but if you don’t, you should) and develop a relationship with your suppliers. The paper peeps, press repair guys and ink suppliers at are really important to the health of our business, the more they know us the better equipped they are to help us out when there’s a rush or let us know when we could be doing a better job.

And last but not least, don’t ever quit designing. Whether it’s for cold hard cash or to warm your crazy heart, it’s what you need to do be you. I told my husband this morning that I’m going to paint our perfectly nice kitchen cabinets. He replied, “Cuz you’re a psycho and you need another project?” and I said, “Yes.” Then he said, “okay, just wanted to make sure there was a good reason.”

Ladies and Gentlemen, Feldman has left the building.

A really big event happened over here last week. We had a sendoff for one of the founding partners of Progressive Solutions– the backbone of, and It’s only a big deal cuz the company is just about to turn 25 and Scott has been there since the beginning.

Mark Sarpa (the other guy) first met Scott when he hired him right out of college so they could go be accountants together at Peterbilt Motors. Yep, they were accountants before they were printers. Within months of hiring Scott, Mark was offered a job in printing sales and since it was turning out that Mark had too much personality for accounting, he took it. By then the guys had become fast friends and roommates. 

Mark brought Scott into the next company as CFO and together they learned the business of printing, from the process to the numbers. Lady Luck was on their side in 1990 when Mark got fired on a Thursday. It was lucky because it gave him and Scott a long weekend to set up their new printing company by Monday morning. All of Mark’s clients came with him, Scott gave notice and Progressive Solutions was born. The totally generic and fairly meaningless company name came with the quick turnaround time. This was before there were URLs and search engines, I believe the research was done with a phone book, i.e. “Scott, do you see a Progressive Solutions in Santa Clara in the yellow pages?” asked Mark. “Nope.” replied Scott.

The guys hit the ground running and were able to get the hell out of our apartment and into a real office within months. (Did I mention I’m Mark’s wife? We threw in a wedding during all of this, since we were young and stupid). 

The business grew and changed over the years as Scott and Mark embraced new technology and printing opportunities. As the company grew, so did Scott’s family. He got married (Mark was Best Man) and had two beautiful little girls. Scott’s passion has always been product innovation–have you heard of double thick cards? Yeah, Scott figured out how to do that with personalization at a reasonable price. And That was Scott’s idea too.

In the last few years Scott has had a yearning to learn more and do more. He told Mark that Independence Day seemed like a good day to start a new journey. So on July 3rd, we celebrated Scott’s long and amazing career and all that he contributed to the Progressive Solutions that we know today. His sense of humor and willingness to dress up like a fool for any occasion will be missed around the office. He says he’ll stop in and make sure we’re not all effing up the place once in awhile.

Congratulations to Scott on making a bold decision to try something new and we wish him an amazing journey. He doesn’t know where he’s going yet, so far he has a massage, a comedy show and a tee time booked.