experiments, illustration, color, typography

High Five

As you might remember, I've been participating in The 100 Day Project for the past couple months(!) by sketching daily card designs and concepts. Needless to say, it's been predictably quite a challenge for numerous reasons, but since we recently passed the halfway mark, I thought it'd be a good opportunity to post my top five favorite pieces from the first 50. These aren't necessarily fan favorites, but my own personal picks:


A photo posted by Dorothea Lee (@farthermore) on

At the encouragement of some of my lovely friends, I tried to stop putting so much pressure on myself to create something "marketable" and lean into whatever it is that appeals to me. I didn't really know what excuse there was to send a card textured with the spines of books, but I love these objects, I love experimenting with colors, and I enjoy the subtle variations that somehow make bookshelves so nice to look at. It doesn't always happen, but I felt rewarded for chasing freedom and pursuing my own whimsical interests.


A photo posted by Dorothea Lee (@farthermore) on

I've been enjoying hand-lettering for awhile now, and it's always a fun challenge to play with size and placement while ensuring the words are read in the correct order and maintain their legibility. I also love adding in little details that add to the meaning, such as the abstracted infinity symbol from the "t" in "Celebrating" and the magnetic attraction between "kind" and "found."


A photo posted by Dorothea Lee (@farthermore) on

In addition to hand-lettering entire phrases, I also enjoy examining individual letters in various fonts to see how elements have been altered and what aspects seem essential to the character. My play with this "random love letter" stemmed from the idea of B for Bee, and how love can be sweet. 


A photo posted by Dorothea Lee (@farthermore) on

Beyond the "Mom" message, I intentionally stepped away from the expected colors of pinks and purples for females and florals in this card to create something I still think the average recipient (or giver) could appreciate. I feel that we're often pressured to create what has already been established as good or working, but why not explore a void or differentiate from the many voices that came before us? I just think, I can't possibly be the only one who likes other colors despite being female! 


A photo posted by Dorothea Lee (@farthermore) on

Although this one took me a long time to make, it exhibits something that I've been returning to repeatedly as of late: the importance of interpreting an experience in one's own voice instead of merely documenting it. For this one in particular, I had just visited the American Museum of Natural History's Gem and Minerals exhibit and translated the details that I noticed and photographed into the letterforms for the G, E, and M.

It was tough to narrow them down, but those are my favorite five. I'm curious, what do you think? You can also take a look at the full roster of #100okasions thus far, and tell me which ones stand out to you the most. You never know what future may be in store for these once the 100 days are done! =)

illustration, throwback, experiments

Turtles + Tigers + Bears, Oh My!

I've had a complex relationship with illustration. In school it often seemed to be something that should never mix with graphic design. My zine had "too many" of them and therefore I should be looking into switching majors. Alternately, it's said to be impossible to achieve for graphic designers; they simply "can't draw." Now that I'm a professional designer, however, I find it's actually been incredibly helpful to be able to draw on some level, especially when the client can't afford a full blown professional illustrator and graphic designer.

Case in point: an infant clothing start-up that was supposed to benefit endangered species approached me to illustrate a sea turtle, polar bear, and tiger. Here are a couple full sets I submitted:

other sketches

Do you have any favorites? Let me know what you think!


100 Day Project

Several weeks ago, I came across the 100 Day Project on The Great Discontent and thought it'd be a great exercise to explore something I've been interested in but am not already good at, and practice discipline at the same time.

Designing cards that commemorate an occasion—from the typical calendar holiday to obscure life events, appealed to me because I've also been thinking a lot about connection, how we benefit from it, and how I can help increase it. I only have a couple ideas so far on what those 100 cards' contents will be, plus I have to consider exploring possible styles, so I'm definitely open to (read: please feel free to suggest) ideas!

You can follow my daily progress on my art & design instagram @farthermore, #100okasions, and see other people who are participating at #the100DayProject. I promise you it will not all be pretty (at least mine certainly will include a couple fails—I'm only human!), and while it's scary even for me, I love the idea of a judgment-free zone to experiment and try it in community. Please consider joining—it starts exactly one week from today. I'd love to see what you've chosen for yourself and what you're up to, so if you do decide to participate, let me know your IG handle and 100 Days hashtag below or on my facebook page!

sketchbook, typography

Birth of a Logo, in 4 Movements*

*Caution: in keeping with the subject, more musically cheesy jokes ahead. Creating cohesive brand experienceshere is where one begins to wonder if there shouldn't be some limits!

For the past several weeks I've been working on a new logo for Keys To Success', a great piano teaching studio in NYC, and it finally launched today!

Given the occasion, I thought it was the perfect time to give a glimpse into my typical logo design process, and I've boiled it down into four basic "movements."


The first thing I do at the start of any project is get to know* the client as much as possible. In contrast to their competition, which teaches students to aspire towards historical and musical greats, Keys To Success centers around the individual student and helps them draw out their inherent potential. To us this meant a more modern, human aesthetic that at the same time is balanced with a sense of quality. It was decided that the entire name should be spelled out within the logo, and we started off with colors that naturally appealed to the founder and also seemed bright and fun for their target audience.

*For more on the what and why, read about my design approach

2nd movement

Armed with my client research, I then begin sketching visual ideas, exploring conceptual associations, and finding appropriate fonts within budget so I can investigate any inherent connections within the letterforms.

Some initial sketches and ideas

Some initial sketches and ideas

After I've explored various conceptual directions, I narrow down the options to present for review. At this stage, there is limited refinement and the focus is more on the representation of distinct visual ideas and concepts. 

First set of different logo directions submitted

First set of different logo directions submitted

  1. Playing with positive and negative space, the "E"s in the name form a piano keyboard. In the lower option (1B), the shape above "Keys" forms the handle of a key whose teeth are piano keys, making the pun of "keys" more explicit. This one was my favorite option.
  2. "Keys To Success" is aligned with an abstracted keyboard, where the blocks above the letters are the black keys and the white keys are hinted at by the placement of the letters and the vertical lines.
  3. The top view of a grand piano's keys also act as an upward-moving bar-graph, with the spine of the "k" lining up as the last bar, illustrating Keys To Success as helping one reach their full potential.
  4. Here, the letters of the font are altered to allude to musical notation without literally being replaced by them. The first "E"=a staff, the first "S"=a treble clef, "UC"=a bass clef. This could have been further emphasized or simplified if it had been chosen.
  5. A multi-perspective view of a stylized black key and two stylized white keys (the left one being pressed), arranged into a tiered winner's platform.

3rd movement

After the first presentation, the client is asked to narrow down the selection to pursue. In this case, Keys To Success liked the first and second direction best, with 1A appealing more to the founder than 1B. Feedback was given on their shapes, spacing, etc., and it was decided that the colors needed to shift to richer and darker tones that better reflected Keys To Success' urban environment and audience.

A snapshot of some color combinations and logo alternatives.

A snapshot of some color combinations and logo alternatives.

4th movement

At the end of the second round, the final logo direction and color combination is chosen. At this time I go in and adjust the smallest details, from the shapes of the letter C and roundedness in the vertical lines to the perceived spaces between letters so that everything looks properly aligned and evenly spaced (even if mathematically they are not—in designer-speak this is called "kerning").

Refinement of letter forms and spacing

Refinement of letter forms and spacing

The appropriate files for this final version is prepared, along with specific rights for usage, and after final approval is given...


The logo project is finally complete, and a logo is born!

Did you enjoy looking under the hood at the design process? What are your reactions to the way the logo progressed? Let me know in the comments!

throwback, fails


Inspired by Teresita Fernández’s admonitions to purge projects regularly, I’ve been going through my catalog of work and found myself revisiting years of corporate design for Forrester Research. A part of me was hoping for some diamond-in-the-rough worthy of putting up in the portfolio or that would at least demonstrate my conceptualizing strengths. While there are a few of the latter, the designs that made the final cut are aesthetically or creatively “limited” in order to fit the corporate client and audience, and ultimately do not portray my full potential and the work that I can do. Instead, here’s a random rough sketch from the cutting room floor just for laughs:

For the curious, the design brief for this event theme included "harnessing the power of disruptive digital megatrends" and "tech titan frenemies." I'd say this is pretty spot-on, what do you think? ; P

For the curious, the design brief for this event theme included "harnessing the power of disruptive digital megatrends" and "tech titan frenemies." I'd say this is pretty spot-on, what do you think? ; P

It’s easy to feel a bit disappointed that years of work are not worth showing off, but I have to believe that the final designs were the direct result of each side speaking their mind. While what I said probably held some sway, ultimately they had the last word, and I think that fits the idea of design as a service. I have no regrets, and I’m not afraid to pick up future projects that I know won’t win awards or attention to my portfolio. These less tangible victories are why:

  1. Self-Fulfillment. It was the recession, and this corporate work saved me and enabled me to pursue being a designer after my fellowship just as I intended. I was even able to move out on my own during the height of the recession.
  2. Experience. Every client is different, and the more I work with, the better I know how to work with all kinds of companies and people.
  3. Satisfaction. I enjoyed taking a dated (at the time) brand and pushing it to its limits until the rebrand. The results are not earth-shattering, but it was definitely satisfying to do.
  4. Becoming a Contributing Team Player. The original designs were tightly packed with info. With better typography, I was able to open up more space, to the point where I could even suggest fitting in some testimonies that helped further sell events while still making the brochures an easy read. Going above and beyond to become a proactive contributor to a project is something I enjoy and actually look to do.
  5. Mental Agility. Working on a single image that summarized an entire event’s theme was a great conceptual challenge similar to a logo, and kept my mind sharp.
  6. Ninja Skills. Creating believable event theme images from elements in variously sourced stock photos helped me hone my Photoshop skills, which had an immediate payoff in my subsequent projects.
  7. Expansion. I was originally entrusted with US event promotional materials and the theme image, but did a good enough job that materials distributed during the event for attendees were based off of my designs. This further expanded my role to creating companion digital designs, and eventually international promotional materials were added to my responsibilities. At one point, I even gained the attention of an event attendee from Microsoft, who wanted to use the same "design agency" for their corporate marketing.
  8. Strong Communication + Trust. Working remotely for many years and throughout my client’s internal transitions refined my communication skills and made me a reliable person to set in front of any client regardless of my particular role.
  9. Engagement. One of my designs, an image of a businessman ripping open his button-down superman-style to become the hero of his industry, resonated so much with a leading industry researcher that he made t-shirts out of it and then ripped open his own button-down at the event to reveal the t-shirt with the design on it (for those who are still with me, that’s a button-down, revealing a t-shirt, of a button-down revealing a t-shirt). It was very meta and surprising, but also I just love that it created a strong emotional response to this degree. I’d call that a win any day.

As my alma mater used to drive home, sometimes it’s the process, not the endpoint. What experiences have you unexpectedly gained from in your journey? Are there victories you count that some would consider a fail? I’d love to hear it!


My lovely husband thought I should mention that this post's title comes from the popular Rocky quote as he looked for his girlfriend (Adrian) in his moment of personal success despite officially losing the final fight. I just watched it for the first time recently, and I surprised myself in really enjoying it!