Cafe Notes is a recurring series featuring interviews with Cafe Notes + Company collaborators, personal stories + coffee shop musings
Working alongside Matthew Grier for a year, then collaborating with him on this collection of cards, was a dream. Matthew is talented, dedicated and passionate and is the embodiment of creative professional. I was able to sit down with him and pick his brain a bit on what led him to becoming a designer and, as always, coffee and food came up too!
How do you take your coffee?
Very light and very sweet. I’ve been known to hoard Splenda packets [I can attest to this being in charge of keeping his addiction stocked!]
How long have you been interested in graphic design?
Since I was a teenager. I was involved in school publications in high school, like the newspaper and the literary magazine. It was there I began to explore my interest in layout and design. And then in college while I was studying journalism, I was an editor at The Daily Targum, for the school's entertainment magazine. I loved it. I loved producing original content, late nights staying up meeting deadlines, the stress. It was also at the intersection of journalism and design, which is my sweet spot. However, after finishing school, I pursued writing and editing. It wasn't until a few years later that I decided to go back to school for my design degree.
Is there a specific environment that inspires you the most while working?
To be honest, if there is a computer, pen and paper I can get work done. I'm not especially particular about my environment. I don't understand creatives who can sit in coffee shops for hours on their laptops. How do they focus? How are they not constantly distracted by people coming in and noises? And whether or not to get a scone, or what about a Danish? Should I order another coffee, I've already had two. Oh he's cute. What time is it, how has it only been 20 minutes since I got here? What should I eat for lunch? See?
So maybe I'm wrong. I guess I prefer a quiet space, I work best when I'm alone. I work more efficiently and question my instincts less. I also do better in the mornings or late at night. And a clean, clutter-free desk is a must.
As a graphic designer you spend a lot of time working with technology, do you find it important to unplug and how do you?
Haha do you want to answer this for me? I think 4 out of 5 friends would agree that I don't know how to unplug, literally or figuratively. At home, after work, I'm still checking my email or I freelance so I have to stay in that zone. And on vacation... I'm ashamed to say I still keep up with my email. I'm a work junkie. But generally I agree, if I'm in front of a device for too long, I'm a zombie. It's important to get away. I think that's how designers can put their best effort into their work: go somewhere, see something, absorb something new and use that information or inspiration you come across when you need it.
We as creatives also have so much more access because of the digital revolution. Platforms like Pinterest, Designspiration, Instagram, they're not the most original sources for inspiration but they're absolutely practical and the fact that there are places that aggregate all those visuals - that's a gift and a curse our previous generations of creatives never had.
Being first in journalism and now in graphic design, have you found it difficult to make a career out of such creative professions?
I think maybe you can make a career out of anything if you try hard enough and you're smart about it. The creative industry can be tough though, yeah. Everything is subjective so what you like, someone else may not. And it's also competitive. And that combination can be challenging. But isn't that half the fun, figuring it all out? If it were easier it would be boring or everyone would do it.
Do you have a preference on how you make and keep connections with people?
I have been lucky in the past ten years or so to have many opportunities that gave me the chance to pick up my life and go somewhere new, try something new. I've had a life and a career in DC for the past two years, and before that it was in the Lehigh Valley, and before that it was in Hoboken and more. In all of these periods I have made truly wonderful connections and friendships with people. And as many can empathize with, it's hard to maintain those relationships when a life change takes you somewhere else. Friendships, like any relationship, take work. And it's unrealistic to be able to keep up with all these people in an ongoing way. Social media is wonderful for keeping us clued-in to each other's lives, but the reality is that people will come in and out of your life. But I'm blessed to have had these people in my life, for however long or short they're a part of it. And once they've carved out a place in your heart, it's just a matter of figuring out how you keep them there: texting, FaceTime, emailing, even the occasional "Like" is a nice small way to say "Hey, I see you. I see what you're doing and I can't be there to share in that with you but I'm here for you and happy for you." The "Like" is the new digital hug.
A friend once told me "you make time for the ones you want in your life." That has always stuck with me, and it's true.
When was the last time you received a card?
I think the last card I received was from my Mom for Valentine's Day and it was part of a larger Valentines care package. It was a wonderful surprise. My mom does things like that a lot. If I've been especially stressed, or going through a rough patch, or celebrating a small success, she sends cards that cheer me on or let me know she's thinking of me. That matters to me. Getting a card in the mail around a particular holiday is nice, but it's the other occasions that are more meaningful to me - the small moments.
If you could send a card to anyone, who would you send it to?
My friend Keally – she’s about seven months pregnant and I’m sure she misses her wine. I’d send a sympathy card her way haha! And my sister – she lives in California but is currently on vacation in Costa Rica. I’d send her a card so it was there waiting for her when she gets home. It’s a very specific feeling getting an unexpected card or letter in the mail. Walking to the mailbox doesn’t have that same sense of excitement and anticipation like it used to.
What do you think of letter writing and sending cards?
We live in a very go go go world. There's never enough time in a day and writing letters and sending cards is often put aside in preference of emails and text messages. But I think for that very reason, writing a letter, or receiving a card in the mail is that much more meaningful, and powerful. This person stopped and took the time to focus on me. Their life is full and hectic like mine but right here and now, they made me feel special.
And there's a romantic nostalgia to having those written pieces of correspondence to look back on when you're old and gray and want to relive moments in your life. There's nothing heartwarming about rereading archived emails.
Do you have a go-to coffee shop or cafe that you like to visit?
I don't, not really. I've always been more "run in, run out" when it comes to stopping for coffee. But I've recently been making more of an effort to get out and explore DC. So once a week or so I'm trying to stop for coffee/breakfast in cool places around the city before work. Last week I was at A Baked Joint. It was delicious! A latte the size of my head and a sausage muffin that was so good! It has a really cool interior too. Really open, high ceilings, big windows. And a lot of seating - tables, couches, lounge areas. Coffee shops without sufficient seating is kind of a deal breaker.
Do you feel technology has influenced the way we communicate with each other?
Somehow we are more connected to and disconnected from each other than ever before. Our access to one another is incredible but it's a double-edged sword because when we are so tied to that technology, the expectation to pick up, to respond, to be accessible is so much higher. And honestly, we're all guilty of this and victims of it at the same time.
But in spite of all the downsides, I appreciate it. I'm on Facebook and Instagram and Snapchat. And they mean different things to me but they're access, a way to keep in touch and see what's happening in my life. We can share important memories with each other but so much of great relationships are comprised of the small things we experience in a day. I'm not going to call my friends from college or my family to tell them about the pizza I just ate, but they can see it on Snapchat.
On second thought, it was really good pizza. I may have some calls to make.
Want to get to know Matthew more? Read up on what he had to say about each card in the Cafe Notes + Company collection, then head over to his site and enjoy other projects he's created!