Day 4: The Windy (Snowy) City

Today we got off to an early start and were surprised to see snow outside our hotel window! We were eager to get out and see the sites but were not quite prepared for the weather. We decided the Art Institute of Chicago would be a good (warm) place to start to the day.


Here we planned to visit the Design and Architecture permanent exhibit in the Modern Wing as well as the temporary “Van Gogh’s Bedrooms” exhibit. As soon as we finished meandering the halls draped with some of the world’s greatest paintings by Monet, Seurat, Picasso, Matisse, Toulouse-Lautrec, and Warhol, we got in line to see the Van Gogh paintings. The exhibit features all three versions of The Bedroom for the first time in North America, and gives in-depth explanations of their creations and meaning to Van Gogh in his “relentless quest for home”. What was perhaps most interesting about this exhibit is that we met the designers of the exhibition book at Studio Blue the day before. Seeing the book that they designed all over the gift shop was inspiring because we could appreciate every thought and decision that went into making the book.


Next, we headed to the design exhibits and learned about the history of designed objects and spaces. We learned about how design from the past can be propelled into the future.


After hearing that our flight was delayed by two hours we were ecstatic because that meant two more hours to wander around Millenium Park. We walked across the street from the Art Institute and explored a well-landscaped garden with interesting outdoor benches that gave us an idea for an upcoming client project for our student-run design agency, wkrm. As we headed back to the hotel, we passed the Bean once more to say goodbye and reflect on our amazing trip. We are so grateful for this opportunity and learned an incomprehensible amount about the design work environment that we will soon be entering. On that note, bye bye Chicago!

Day 3: Studio Blue, Arc Worldwide, and envisionit

Today we were “en route” to our last studios. Of the eight total, three were left: Studio Blue, Arc Worldwide, and envisionit. We dawned our jackets, grabbed our umbrellas and headed out into the city.

Studio Blue

Cheryl Towler Weese greeted us with books, projects, and graduate school advice. We sat at a large wooden table across from a white board filled with ideas and synonyms. Those brainstorms are what constantly inspire their extensive work with cultural, social, and educational design. She then showed us their process for client work.

The work before the work begins:
1. Make a list of words that represent the project or brand with the client.
2. Create this image in three different versions with words + image. Let the client chose.
3. Begin creating! Show generally three different iterations of what the possibilities could be. Chose your line widths, your color pallets, and present the ideas in real life situations to give the client the full range of possibilities. Talk with the client to agree on the final direction.
4. Now the designing begins! Fiddle around, figure it out, and finalize it.

After ogling at their massive supply of museum and artist books (made with unique cardboard bindings, stitching, and type variations), we began asking questions. Cheryl is the head of the graduate program at a local college so we asked her opinion on the benefits of grad school for designers. She relayed the idea that grad school gives new designers time to ruminate on what truly matters to them; it allows them to focus on a theoretical direction.

Unfortunately, because of all of the wonderful secrets on the white board and elsewhere we were unable to take photographs for Studio Blue *

Arc Worldwide

Our ride dropped us off once again at the steps of the towering Leo Burnett, yet this time we were visiting a smaller retail marketing subset within their building: Arc Worldwide. Courtney Hoover, Associate Creative Director, greeted us and gave a tour of their space. Our first stop was a product and shelving testing area. It looked like an aisle of Target, a gas station, and ice cream aisle combined into one product-testing haven. Here advertisers could test shelf awareness, explore innovative ideas, and of course impress clients.

We then strolled past their many beer inspired creations (a Keystone trophy deer graced the office floor) to a room where Courtney could give us some design advice. She told us about her long trek to where she was now. It was a path from college, working multiple jobs, traveling for two years, and then returning to go to a portfolio school (which was a new concept to us) and jumpstart her design career from there. This portfolio school, based in Atlanta, helped her get an internship at Pentagram in NYC. The mission of portfolio schools is to prepare students that suddenly get out of college and realize, “Where. Is. My. Work.”. She so believed in their purpose that she now teaches at the Chicago Portfolio School. Her advice all led to the idea that life is crazy, no path you chose will stay constant, but everything will work out in the end.



Our last studio greeted us with a hello and Tom Hanks. Quite literally it was ‘International Tom Hanks Day’ which encourages people to donate to Lifeline Energy (Hank’s favorite charity) and of course enjoy his great movies. Our contact Justin Muggleton introduced us to some of the design team in the kitchen, where Tom Hank’s face was plastered.

We then entered a glass conference room where 6 different designers gave us a perspective on their roles. Their jobs ranged from web, to motion design, to creative direction. Two of them shared their freelancing experience aka: ‘wouldn’t trade it, but wouldn’t do it again’. We again asked the grad question, and got a very different answer. As they noted, everyone’s path is different, but it’s important to realize that good jobs can offer as much experience as a degree (and jobs pay you to learn). Yet most importantly, envisionit’s message to us was that each one of us is a brand, and we have to represent ourselves accordingly. Process is important. Our thinking is important. Positivity is important. These are things that a great company looks for in a designer.

Their business card says, “ENJOY YOUR AGENCY” and they mean more than the client-business relation. Everyone at the table seemed to truly enjoy the projects they were working on. They wished us the best, exchanged cards, and told us to keep in contact. This was a lovely closing on our start to becoming professional designers.



Day 2: Leo Burnett, Seedhouse, and Knoed

Today we went to three studios. We started out at a large agency (Leo Burnett) and ended at a two-person firm (Knoed). It was a much longer day on the town, and we had a really great time getting an idea about how work life differs in a large company versus a small firm.

Leo Burnett

This was a last-minute tour that we are so glad we went to! Leo Burnett takes up almost a whole building, but we only checked out a few floors. They have a Department of Design that serves as their internal design team, since they are mainly an advertising agency. Our contact was from our faculty sponsor at UT, and she was so thorough in her responses to our questions.

Our contact, Allie, talked to us about how they work with a variety of big name clients with big budgets so the project are generally fun. They don’t really get to pick who they are working with since Leo Burnett is such a giant company but most of the time designers are hand-selected to work on a project with a group. Compared to the small firms, it didn’t seem overwhelming since the department itself was small, but the clients were mostly big name corporations (Kellogg, McDonalds, Jell-O) as opposed to the start-ups that the smaller studios do work for. We learned that bigger agencies like you to be specialized in a particular area. Also have outside hobbies other than design. They also had a great view of “The Loop”, and their office felt energetic and fun!



This studio was in the same area as Beyond Design. They asked us not to take pictures because they have tons of client work up on the walls. Their walls were literally plastered with iterations, mood boards, and post-it notes! Seedhouse is a five person studio that clearly values client relationships. When we were in the studio, they showed us every project they work on and their process. It was interesting to see the difference between a large agency and a small company!

Tip: When you work for a large corporation, you don’t get to pick your projects, and you could be working on a project for years and years and never see it come to life. With smaller shops, you pick who you work for, and it’s usually a quick project. Plus you get to see your design on shelves, and in the world!

This is their process (from their website):

©Seedhouse Inc.


Knoed was right across the street from Seedhouse and Beyond Design. This design duo are married and they were extremely sweet and welcoming! Their small studio was bright, airy and inspiring. They gave us honest advice about life, design, school and the in’s and out’s of running your own company. No question was off-limits with these two. We talked about salaries, which we all were so curious about but afraid to ask. What we learned was:

1-10 person design studio: $30,000-$35,000
10-250 person design studio: $35,000-$40,000
250+ person design studio: $40,000-$45,000+

Then they took us through their design process, and showed us their work. They are big fans of sketching rather than making multiple fully developed designs to present to clients. Since they are the only two people in the company, they wear many hats. They said that they get about five emails a day that are applications, even though they aren’t looking for anyone new. Kim Knoll (our main contact) gave us her backstory. She went to school for design but didn’t want to stay in Chicago so she packed up her bags and left for Phoenix, AZ on a whim in hopes of finding a job in design. She had about a months worth of saving and thought she would be able to find something very quickly. However, she applied to just about every design shop in the city to no avail. Her advice to us was, have a plan A, B, and C! She did eventually find a job in the design field after freelancing for a company that eventually hired her.

Tip: When looking for design jobs, take anything that comes your way. Don’t be afraid of freelancing! It can sometimes lead to a permanent position. Also, don’t wait for someone to hire you, call people and ask if they have overflow work you could take on.


Day 1: Pivot Design, and Beyond Design

Today was our first full day in Chicago. We visited our first two design studios, and got to play tourist a bit!

Pivot Design


Pivot is a branding and identity focused studio, but they do much more. When we got there, they had the conference room setup for us with example client work and a creative flip book with their logo “pivoting”. They gave us a great introduction to their workflow and process, and lots of tips regarding what they look for in a potential employee.

Tip: It’s about the work in your portfolio, not the cuteness level of your website. Keep it neat and clean!

Their culture is “work hard, play hard”. They emphasized how important the company culture is to everyone. Recently, they have expanded their company from around 20 people to 38! They strive to keep that friendly culture even as they continue to grow. Their office is open and bright, with giant windows and a beautiful view! They even have cleverly named meeting rooms named after famous typefaces. How inspiring!


The Bean

After our studio visit, we walked to The Bean and played around by making silly faces in the giant reflective landmark. We were hoping to grab an iconic Chicago-style hot dog, but the food stand in the park was closed. But we’re sure we will be back at The Bean again before we leave.


Beyond Design

This was our last studio visit of the day. It was a little farther away than Pivot, so we had to take a 20 minute cab ride there. There was a big difference in the atmosphere as we moved further away from the city center. It felt much more neighborhood-centered. The Beyond Design studio was beautiful, and they were so helpful and knowledgeable.

Beyond Design is focused on product design. They had industrial designers, engineers, graphic designers and researchers all on-hand and in-house, working away. We were shown a great presentation about the work they do and examples of product branding they have done. They took us on a tour of the studio and showed us their production area, where they have a 3D printer and mini CNC routers. They seem to have a “work hard, play hard” type of company culture just like Pivot.


Overall, we had an eye-opening first day! Lots of walking and sightseeing. We are looking forward to another fun and designed0filled day tomorrow.

Leaving Tomorrow!

The day has finally arrived! We have our schedules finalized and the details set in place. We checked-in on our flight and have our hotel booked and are flying to Chicago tomorrow at 3pm, and we could not be more excited! We have the weather checked for the next four days, got our stacks of business cards ready, and our portfolios set.

We have a packed schedule to look forward that will keep us moving. Our first official day begins with Pivot Design on Wednesday at 10 in the morning, followed by Beyond Design at in the afternoon. On Thursday, we look forward to our visits with Seedhouse and Knoed. We made sure to leave plenty of time for transportation to avoid arriving late. On April 1st (Friday), we look forward to meeting Studioblue, Arc Worldwide, and Envisionit. Our flight back to Austin is on Saturday evening, so we left the morning open for visits to museums and other exhibits. We are thrilled for this trip to Chicago and will make sure to make the best of it!

and the planning gets detailed…

We’re one week closer and it’s time to get into specifics! We’ve been looking into the art exhibits that are open while we’re in town that we can visit while the design studios are closed. Thus far, Van Dyck, Rembrandt, Chagall will be showing at the Art Institute. Luckily, we’ll be making the Surrealism: The Conjured Life exhibit at the MCA. Fine Arts and Design so often go hand in hand. The more well rounded we are, the better!

More specifics include learning more about the designs and designers of the studios we’ll be visiting. Preparation is key. We’ve been checking up on their websites and keeping an eye out for projects we’re interested in. We’re making a go-to compilation of pages briefing the studios so we can be prepared before our visits. Pivot has done tons of work with Healthcare clients, and we want to catch a glimpse into this client culture. Juice Interactive has worked with Millercoors to Nickelodeon. Mnml ranges from World Wildlife Fund to Xbox. The more we know about these studios, the more comfortable we’ll feel once there.

This trip is the perfect opportunity to learn, listen, and ask questions. It will be a great combination of expanding our horizons, thinking about our futures, and soaking up the culture. The preparation process is getting us ready to go!

and the planning continues…

Welcome back! This week we have slowly but surely been wrapping up our Chicago planning. We have officially booked a hotel so don’t worry, we will not be homeless.

More confirmations have rolled in from Studio Blue, Knoed, and Leo Burnett Design, and we are finalizing the details of our meetings with them. Looking forward to visiting all of these awesome design firms, we are starting to research them more in depth. We want to have an idea of what we will be walking into and have some good questions for them. Most of us have only experienced the design culture in Austin, so having this opportunity to meet designers and see the places where they work will help us get a feel for the design scene in Chicago and how it compares.

Mapping out our trip, we are also looking into other places we could add to our list that would be fun and educational. So far we really want to visit The Art Institute of Chicago, the Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Institute of Design. Exploring these places will not only be a cool opportunity to learn about art and design from different places but will also allow us to decompress from our studio visits. We really don’t have anything that quite compares in Austin, so we really want to soak up all we can while we are in the windy city!

and the planning begins…

Welcome to our travel blog! We are a group of five design students, Brianna, Emily, Hillary, Jenny, and Maddie, who are traveling to the city of Chicago to develop our professional network, explore a new design culture, and spread our acquired knowledge of the professional world with our design peers.

We’ve been doing a great deal of planning for our trip. So far, we have confirmations for six design studio tours at Envisionit, Pivot, Seedhouse, Neiger Design, Juice Interactive, and Beyond Design.

During these studio visits we hope to gain insight on how a successful design firm operates from day to day. Hopefully, we will be able to squeeze in a few more visits from other design firms as confirmations come in. We are also reaching out to our professors for any other possible connections or design-related activity recommendations. We are expecting our days to be jam packed!

We have also been trying to solidify lodging for our stay. We are looking into AirBnb for affordable and central housing. So far we have found a few places that we are inquiring about. Plane tickets have already been bought, so we are almost done with tying up the ends.

Keep checking back for weekly pre-departure updates. Once we arrive in Chicago, we will be posting our daily photos, experiences, stories and all sorts of vignettes from our trip!