Winnipeg was hit with a major cold snap last week, and nothing warms us up more than Canada’s talented design scene. So last Friday, we spent the morning sipping coffee and chatting with Alyssa Yuhas over the phone about her design work and creative endeavors.
We first discovered Alyssa’s work through i like nice things, the personal blog she created shortly out of college. The discovery was purely accidental. We can’t even remember how it happened, but we were so inspired by the blog’s European feel and Alyssa’s zest for the good things in life – design, travel, music and fashion – that kept checking back to see more of her work. Our designer loyalty was secured when we learned she was Canadian! A definite bonus. Alyssa was working at a boutique design studio in Calgary at the time, and on the side, designing and publishing her own magazine welikewelove. Like her blog, the magazine has this Euro design feel that’s quirky and beautiful and completely amazing. Her blog and magazine were both very successful, landing her a speaking engagement at the Alt Summit blog conference in 2012. She returned home from the conference with a big announcement: she was strutting out on her own and going freelance full-time. This wasn’t surprising to us readers, who knew Alyssa was far too talented not to carve out her own niche in the design world.
While her blog and magazine are enjoying a little hiatus (she is a business owner and new mom, afterall), Alyssa’s graphic design business is going strong. Now based out of Toronto, where she currently lives with her husband and little son, Sasha, Alyssa works with clients from all over the world on identity/branding projects, custom blog and website designs, magazine work and more.
We were thrilled to learn more about Alyssa’s background, her business and her new life in Toronto.
EQ3 How did you narrow in on what you’re doing? Tell us about your design background and how you ended up in graphic design?
Alyssa Yuhas I was pretty academic in high school. I took some art classes, but then I had a really uninspiring art teacher in Grade 10 or 11. So I stopped doing art, which was horrible. It was still there, but I just ended up focusing on math. This is a really long story, but I ended up getting recruited to play basketball. Totally crazy. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, so I went to college to play basketball. I ended up taking every math course I could at this one college, thinking I would probably move into doing mathematics or actuarial science, or something that was very statistical based and not creative at all. But then I ended up taking an art class as an elective, and I loved it. It was so amazing and my art teacher at the time, my professor, he kept bugging me to quit all of my other things – quit basketball and focus on art and design.
The coolest part about it was this college that I went to had an amazing visual communications program – which is graphic design – and so I ended up feeling, “yeah okay I can go two ways.” I could go the math route and I could kind of see what my life would look like. I’d be working at a desk and punching numbers. But, then I guess I just felt really called to the creative world, even though I think I was not sure what that would look like. I don’t know, just being academic in high school, you’re sometimes pushed to be (something), like you’re going to be an engineer or all these different things. Being creative, I just never thought of that as career, or could visualize that as a career, but then it kind of all made sense when I saw, “okay I could be a designer though”, doing marketing and big ad campaigns. So it started to make sense in my head a bit more.
EQ3 Fast-forwarding to where you’re at now, do you find that having the math component (the fact that you are both creative and mathematical…or left and right brained) helps you in your career as a designer, especially in the branding and marketing world?
AY Yeah, actually, the coolest part that I realized once I went into design is that math, yeah it’s all about numbers, but really at the root of it it’s all about problem solving. And, that’s what design is too.
Good design is all about seeing a problem and figuring out how to make it work. Whether it’s product design where you’re seeing an issue and you create a product to solve the consumer’s need, or a company has a message that they need to get out to the masses and you need to craft the right approach…to get what they’re trying to communicate out, it’s really crazy how close they are, in a sense. And, I definitely think that background of just being able to look at things and problem solve really well has helped in my design career, for sure.
EQ3 Did you consider any other career paths?
AH I was taking all of those (mathematics) courses. I think I was planning to eventually become an architect. My grandfather was an architect, so I think that had always been in my brain. So I was just taking the steps to do that. I was really good in math in high school, so an engineer was also a thought that had been presented to me.
EQ3 So moving over to your blog and your own work, can you give us a bit of an overview of how that fell into place. What prompted you to start a blog, and then a magazine, and then freelance. How did that progress?
AY I started my blog (ilikenicethingsblog.com) almost right out of college. It was really just a place for me to post inspiration, and I was finding things online or just in my world. I loved to share things with my friends, so I loved to tell them about a really good movie or a great hair product, or anything really – anything sort of inspiring. I was just kind of creating an outlet for that, and I thought other people might be interested in seeing the different things that I was finding. So that’s how it sort of came to be and how it has evolved.
I’ve kind of taken a hiatus from that now, but my husband and I have been starting to talk more about jumping back in again and we’ve had a little bit of interest from people for us to get back, starting it again. But we want to look at it in a different way and do something that feels authentic to us, and with our new family and different things like that. And, I really want to get him more involved in it. So that’s a little teaser…
EQ3 Nice! Oh, we’re looking forward to it. Your husband, is he a photographer…is that correct?
EQ3 You would be a really dynamic duo blogging side by side. So where does the magazine fit into all of this? How did you get into actually launching the magazine? And, then, you’ve taken a step back. Is that something you’ll be picking up again too when you come up with this new direction?
AY I sort of took a risk…I’ve always loved magazines. Ever since I started in design, that was sort of my thought – that I would eventually work for a magazine. And, then I was working for a boutique design studio and I just decided one day, “okay I want to work for one, but why don’t I just create one myself.” So I just decided to jump in and try, and I didn’t have anything to lose. I put out the first one, and then one of my really great friends, Liz Field, is a writer and she fell in love with the idea and we decided to partner up. So she has been working with me ever since. It’s now both our baby.
It’s evolved. We’ve done over 10 issues and it’s been really, really well received. We’re just at a point now where we really feel we’re at a crossroads and we need to figure out a new direction and even hone in on what welikewelove is really about and what people really love about it, and sort of develop more of a niche market for it. We’re just kind of trying to figure that out so we can make it more sustainable for the future, because as of right now it’s just Liz and I, really, and it’s just a labour of love. So if we’re going to move forward, we really need to figure out how to make it profitable and make it that people still love it, and that it’s not losing its voice – that it’s still a really great place for people to come be inspired, to get to share what they’re doing, and to tell people a little bit about their world.
EQ3 You’re sort of deciding where you’re going to go with that, but can you tell us about what it has been? What are the core ideas of welikewelove?
AY The magazine came out of my blog. My blog was all about sharing, and so welikewelove came out of that. So the magazine at its core is about sharing the things that we like and love, whether it’s what you’re doing, you’re creative passion…those types of things. So I think it will always be about sharing, and really about having a voice for creatives. I think right now we’ve been so lucky to work with amazing people from all over the world, which has been really, really cool, but I think one thing Liz and I really have a heart for, and I think even just talking to you, it’s really cool, is how amazing the creatives are in Canada. Whether they’re living in Canada or they’re living abroad, it’s still such an amazing community and I think sometimes we feel we need to look elsewhere for inspiration and different things like that, but I think Liz and I really have a heart for our country. We have so many things we can look to right in our country that can be super inspiring, and maybe even link the community a little bit better together so we don’t feel we need to always go out. We can sort of learn from each other and celebrate the things that we’re doing. Whether we’re living in Canada or not isn’t really the issue. Yeah, I think that’s sort of where we’re going with it, but we’re still in the dreaming process right now and just trying to figure out what that exactly looks like.
EQ3 That sounds really exciting. We look forward to it! Of all of these cool things you’ve been doing the last 5 years or so, what have you found most gratifying? Why?
AY I don’t know! I love collaborating, so working on the magazine with Liz has been amazing and then just pulling in all of the different contributors. It’s just really special when you get an amazing editorial sent to you or you’re working with a photographer to shoot something and you’re talking about concepting. That’s really cool. And, then down to even my own company, working with some clients, especially when it is fully a collaboration between both of us…I think that’s when I really come alive and I think my best design and creativity happens.
I also work on La Petite Magazine, which I’m really excited about and I have such a great relationship with the Founder and Editor-in-Chief. We have a really great working relationship too and we have so much fun. When you get that little sweet spot, yeah it’s really exciting, and I think the best work comes out of those relationships.
EQ3 Do you have any advice for designers or creative individuals who are looking to try new things, take risks, branch out, or do something maybe unexpected?
AH Yeah, and I mean, I feel like I’m talking to myself when I say this cause we’re kind of at a crossroads with welikewelove, and even my blog whether we jump back in or we close it forever. I think even when you think that you have a plan, or you’re trying to figure out a plan, you just need to jump in. I’m such a list person, and organized, so I like to have everything…this is step 1, 2, 3 and this is how it’s all going to look. But I think I’m learning that if you do that, you’ll keep doing that, and then you’ll never actually jump in and try it.
Even with my freelancing, like how I was freelancing and was working for a company. I decided I really wanted to start my own business, but it was months and months of me like “okay well this is the steps to do it,” but finally I just had to jump in, even if I didn’t have all of my ducks in a row. Because if I didn’t, I was just going to continue to make lists and continue to figure out steps.
I think that’s what I’d say…maybe have a bit of a plan, but eventually your plan isn’t going to go the way you planned, so just jump in and take risks. Some things are going to fail, but you’re going to learn from them. I’m totally speaking to myself right now, so that’s good.
EQ3 We can always use that reminder. We’re planners too! Has freelancing been what you thought it would be?
AY It’s awesome. I love it. It’s hard work. Most people say when running your own business, 40 percent is design time, 60 percent is admin, managing clients, doing accounting and all of those different things. That’s maybe a bit of a shock when you jump into it, but I love it. Especially now with having Sasha, just the freedom and flexibility that it brings…I can hang out with him during the day and work at night. Or, if he’s having a good day, I can do a little bit of work during the day or when he’s on naps I can work a bit. So it’s really nice. I get to spend a lot of time with him, and still get to run my business, which really feeds me. I don’t think I could have just taken time off or stepped away even for a year. It really makes me come alive, so I’m thankful that I still can do it and be a mom, and still enjoy every moment with my son.
EQ3 What inspires you? Where do you look for inspiration?
AY Anywhere, everywhere. I love going for walks, so that’s a huge thing. Even just to get out and kind of explore our city. We just moved here a little over a year ago, to Toronto. The city has so many little pockets and amazing things to explore, and I love exploring, so that definitely brings inspiration. I read a lot of magazines. I love blogs and Pinterest, clearly, is pretty crazy. I’m really trying to step away from my computer more in the inspiration (process) because I’m almost feeling uninspired being at my computer.
I feel like even if I’m just walking along, just getting up, away from my desk, out of the house, kind of getting to think and bring so many more ideas…and, new and fresh ideas too.
EQ3 You may be trying to step away from your computer, but there’s still a lot that needs to be done through social media. What platform do you feel most at home on?
AY I still love Twitter and I love Instagram. Those would probably be the two that I’m on the most. I’m less likely to just go on my blog reader anymore. If I’m reading blogs it’ll be because of something I’ve seen on Twitter or someone posts on Instagram. Those two are my main…my jams right now. Haha.
EQ3 What is on your inspiration board right now…whether that’s a physical one in your office or a Pinterest board online?
AY I have been making a (Pinterest) board for my new wardrobe…living in Toronto, being a mom and just trying to figure that out. So I’m kind of doing that right now, which is maybe a little embarrassing. But I love it, and it’s actually a private board, so no one can see it at this point. I’m just getting really inspired. I know this sounds boring, but I’m just loving black and white right now, and really graphic prints, and the bold typography that’s found on t-shirts. I guess very nineties, but I’m really, really loving that. Strong lines…and yeah definitely it’s very European.
EQ3 Speaking of Europe, weren’t you travelling recently?
AY Last year we were in Europe. And, then we just recently were in Nashville, which was amazing. I love it. I love travelling.
EQ3 Do you feel influenced by whatever environment you’re in? Do you find that affects your designs?
AY Oh totally. When my husband and I travel, we really try to do things that are less touristy and more in the culture. Pretty much all of our trips now, we try to book Air BnB so we’re staying in someone’s home, so it feels more like we’re living in the city and not a tourist…that we’re a part of it. So I think that’s cool, just to feel like you’re a citizen of the city. That’s been really fun. And, when we go away we’ve been trying to connect with people who live there. Even when we went to Berlin, we met up with some photographers and they were able to show us around the city, and just even to talk to them about their lifestyle and different things. I’m just really fascinated with how people live all over the world. It’s very different. Where we moved from in Calgary is very different to how we live now in Toronto, to how people live in Europe or New York and I just think it’s very interesting.
I love especially booking Air BnB just to see how people decorate their homes and the different things people have in their homes. Just snoop around I guess. It’s fun.
EQ3 To wrap up, what are your 3 must-have tools for living and working…things you can’t live / work without?
I need a notebook, and I found these pens that I really, really love. They’re actually from Superstore and they write amazing. I love sketching things or doodling in my notebook with these pens. Also, a really great chair for my desk. And, my iPhone because I can work anywhere. I can be going on a walk with Sasha and I can still check my emails.
Thanks for the chat Alyssa! Check out AlyssaYuhas.com to see more from this Canadian designer.