Member News March 28, 2017
by Lauren Festa
Are you one of those people who finds themselves saying “I can’t believe it’s Monday again” or “I literally can’t believe I have to go to work (because it’s Monday…again)?” I mean, maybe the underlying complaint–besides the actual work you have to do–is that you don’t exactly love your work station. Wouldn’t it be nice to spend most of your day in a space you felt good in? Inspired in even? WeWork gets it. It’s an office space, sure, but it feels more like hanging out at your favorite neighborhood cafe that sells wine after 5pm. Trading Navy chairs for neon signs, we spoke to ADC Member Jeremiah Britton (Director of Art & Graphics at WeWork) who makes design his business so others can carry on with theirs. Enlisting his design team and a handful of local Detroit artists, the latest interior digs–including an impressive WE RISE mural–a WeWork location in Detroit is a place that feels as good as it looks, facilitating in making work un-suck. Happy Monday!
You’re originally from Portland and raised in Michigan. Tell us how that shaped your creative journey.
I moved to southern Michigan when I was five years old, so I would say most of my creative approach to work has been shaped by the blue-collar, hardworking nature of the Midwest. However, most of my family still lives in Portland so I actually leveraged that to do a 4-month internship at a small design studio, Big-Giant Inc, in Portland during my senior year of college. My time at Big-Giant really opened my eyes to creating graphic work that is more art and experience focused, rather than traditional communication design. That, infused with my love of the Midwest, has really pushed me to keep my work focused on quality and craft with a nod to the hard-nosed attitude of the rust belt.
We tend to focus on big hubs like NYC, LA and other cities globally. What is the arts and design scene like in Detroit?
The art and design scene in Detroit is really exciting and collaborative right now. The community is something that you can really feel and be a part of. There is a quote I once read by a Detroit creative named Jeannette Pierce that says, “Detroit is a city big enough to make a difference in the world, but small enough that you can matter in it.” Which describes the art and design community perfectly. You can get involved with public works like murals and rehab projects, or get your work in front of galleries and collectors. As a designer you can get involved with a lot of young companies. There are great design-focused events happening across the Detroit. There are obviously opportunities in larger markets, but in Detroit the community is so accessible—people are eager to help and work together.
How long have you been the Director of Art & Graphics at WeWork? What’s the most exciting part about that role?
I’ve been with WeWork for just over 5 years and was a team of one in the graphic design “department.” I was just “The Graphic Designer” at WeWork. I did everything from updating business cards to making web flyers to post on craigslist. As we grew and I kept pushing to bring environmental graphic design and street art into our spaces, we slowly started developing teams to focus on branding, web design, marketing, and more. And that’s when I was able to fully focus on the interiors spaces and eventually build out a team that focuses on environmental art and design exclusively.
As far as the most exciting part of the role, that’s hard to say. WeWork is moving and growing so fast that one day we’re working on custom wallpaper patterns for a new space and a neon sign the next day. That same day we might get an email to shift focus and work on a 5-story mural for the side of a building in LA. The speed and quick turnaround for these projects can get challenging, but it’s also the part that’s exciting. The fact that we get to touch so many parts of art and design all under one roof, and then see those things immediately materialize into physical experiences that impact these small businesses’ every day is incredible.
At WeWork we put a huge emphasis on becoming a part of the local community. We’re not just dropping our culture into an existing city.
You mentioned the “WE RISE” idea for this project came from Detroit’s city motto “We hope for better things, it will rise from the ashes.” Was that the solo idea or were there a few other directions before executing against this one?
With all of our projects, we do a ton of research about the area. We look into the building and city’s history, and from there, work with the interior design team to see if we can somehow weave elements into their overall idea for the aesthetic of the space. We had a lot of great ideas for this mural at Merchant’s Row but knew we wanted it to be inspirational and related to Detroit. We actually have a video campaign project called ‘Together We Rise’ with Bedrock Properties, our partner in Detroit. The campaign profiles small businesses from Detroit that are making a big impact on the city. I came up with that phrase for the project based on the city motto. Eventually, we decided to use it in the mural, and it also became a way to tie all of these efforts we’re doing together. You’ll also notice a small nod to Vernor’s Ginger Ale in the corner. The building we just opened, Merchant’s Row, was once home to a soda fountain where the founder of Vernor’s invented his ginger ale pop—yes, pop—not soda (remember, we’re talking Michigan here.)
Tell us how this plays in part of a larger project. Can you tell us a little about the seven local artists you worked with?
At WeWork we put a huge emphasis on becoming a part of the local community. We’re not just dropping our culture into an existing city. We love learning and growing with the local businesses that occupy the same building or space in our location. We view artists just like we view small businesses. Everyone is a creator, whether you’re working to grow your business, sell a painting, or complete a round of investment funding, it’s all the same. So it was important for us to have local artists’ work throughout our spaces, especially in such a great art-focused city like Detroit, to show our support for artists as much as we support small businesses.
Leah Reyes, our lead interior designer on this project, designed a set of console tables with local reclaimed wood furniture maker, Woodward Throwbacks. We thought it would be great to add another layer and invited Detroit-based artists, Wesley Eggebrecht, Kyle Culps, Scot Ferguson, Matt Byle, and Conrad Klooster to paint the tabletops. As a result, we now have these great collaborative art pieces in the space that are also functional pieces of furniture. We often partner with Detroit-based art publisher 1xRUN on art projects for our locations around the world. Naturally it made sense to partner with them in their hometown with Merchant’s Row, and so we commissioned two local artists to create large murals. The feature wall of our main event space was painted by local artist Ellen Rutt who created a whimsical and abstract mural. 1xRun is also helping us curate a rotating public art wall on the exterior of our building. Local artist, Jesse Kassell, painted the first mural in the public art wall series.
Did the local artists get a brief from WeWork? What did it entail?
The artists were given a small design brief from Leah and myself. We picked these artists specifically because we had already seen their other works of art and were excited to have something similar in our space. When working with artists there is a fine line between giving specific design intent and still allowing them to “do their thing.” Whereas my in-house team can truly be “directed” to create specific experiences, we always want to let the artists’ work shine through and let them go for it. Our briefs outline some of their previous works, a rough color palette along with some information about the design of the space to potentially inspire their work.
Describe the creative process of creating and designing the many pieces of the project: wallpaper patterns, vinyl graphics and that huge neon sign with custom type and illustrations.
WeWork has a great team of designers (interior, architecture, 3D visualization) that our team gets to work with every day. Because we work directly with these other designers, there’s a collaboration between the teams over ideas and concepts, and we get constant feedback on the custom artwork we produce. Generally, the lead interior designer develops an initial concept and program for the space. Once that’s established, our team gets the design brief for the space. They have trust in our team to come back with something that really makes the experience of the space special and that much more unique. Outside of the constant collaboration and feedback, the process for these pieces are similar to any other creative brief a designer might receive. There is a ton of research, sketches, mockups, testing samples, and eventually fabricating the work. Sometimes we hand paint murals and signage, or we send projects off to get fabricated by a vendor. We collaborate with great vendors for our wallpapers, vinyl graphics, neons, and things beyond that. We have a lot of respect for the work they produce. So when we come to them with a custom design, we want to understand that process and make sure that we provide them all the information and tools they need to produce a vinyl graphic or neon sign.
Be honest: how hard is it to work with neon?
Well, to be honest, it’s not as hard as you may think. We design most of our neon with vector linework or translating hand drawn line illustrations into something the vendor can use. We do almost all of our North American-based neon work with Let There Be Neon, located in TriBeCa in New York City. We’ve learned a lot from Let There Be Neon, particularly on how to deliver the specifications they need in order to produce something we envision. So if we’re designing vector linework, we know the best stroke weight to use, or the detail threshold the smallest neon tubing will allow. For this recent Detroit neon, I actually had to redraw many of the icons because my details were too small. Once you take those learnings it’s easy to apply them to the next project.
I feel like WeWork is unique in that it is a space that’s not only coffee and laptops, but truly strives to be an environment where people come to be a part of a community that is motivated, creative and inspired, all working towards their individual dreams. How do you think filling these spaces with inspiring art helps to foster a burgeoning work ethic?
Our spaces are really focused on creating an environment that’s inviting and approachable. We actually like to approach our interior design as if we were designing an apartment, not an office. And then my team adds that extra layer in the space like art installations, neons, murals, and custom wallpaper in order to show our members that we really care about the details, the design story. Sometimes it’s a big inspiring mural, or other times it’s small details in the wallpaper, like the People Mover Token wallpaper I created for WeWork Detroit. We hope that the consideration we put into every detail inspires our members to always go the extra mile in their own endeavors as well. We often hear from co-workers and WeWork members that this neon or that mural is their favorite part of the space, and they love to share photos all over social media. We hope that those special moments really make a difference in their everyday lives.
What are you working on next?
For me personally, I’m working to grow and scale our team. WeWork is quickly expanding in Asia, Europe, and Latin American and that means my team is growing as well. So planning for a big year of new buildings and new projects are some of my biggest challenges right now. On the design side, I’m working on another project in Detroit at 1001 Woodward Avenue, just down the street from Merchant’s Row. The project is inspired by the great music that has come from Detroit. So expect to see everything from murals honoring The Supremes to a neon sign with a little nod to the hip-hop producer J Dilla.