Hot off the heels of innovative textile brand Chilewich, Where I Work brings you another American pioneer—Blik. The company started in 2002 when architect Scott Flora and food writer Jerinne Neils were debating whether to paint or wallpaper their walls. Concluding they wanted neither, they realized an alternative didn’t exist. So, they decided to do something about it, and Blik’s wall graphics were born. Today, the Venice, California-based wall decals company is the leading designer and maker of removable surface graphics. Flora gives us the grand tour.
What is your typical work style?
I work best during the day so I’m usually in the office from 8 to 6. I also come in most weekends for a couple of hours to catch up on stuff. I create a lot of “to do” lists for myself and the designers of all the new products and projects we’re working on, and things that I need to get done. My brain works best (and I feel best at day’s end) working on many things during one day. I’ll do some R&D on a new manufacturing method, design something, talk to marketing about a new launch, meet with the production team to discuss efficiencies or inefficiencies, talk to clients and potential clients about current or upcoming projects, and search for new music to keep me humming along on Raditaz or Spotify. That’s a good day!
What’s your studio environment like?
My desk is a study in organized mess. If it’s too clean I get all weirded out, like I’m not doing anything. If it’s too cluttered I’m unproductive because I can’t find anything. It needs to be the perfect balance of the two. Since I have so many things going on, it generally has a lot on it. To anyone else it looks like I’m unorganized, but in reality I know where everything is! I listen to a lot of music (I was a DJ back in college) so I always have my own music on in my office. I can’t work without music—it inspires me and I’m much more motivated and efficient with it on. The rest of the office plays what they want on their local machines, but we generally have office music on too; we stream KEXP or KCRW most of the day. The office is not noisy, but not totally quiet; everyone works hard here, busy cranking stuff out.
How is your office arranged?
We’re located in an old warehouse that has an office area built out on one side. The office area is on a corner and we have a lot of windows so it’s bright with a lot of natural light. The rest of the work spaces are divided between two rooms and our team works at open desks. No cubicles! I’ve never had to work in one and would never want anyone at Blik to have to either. The rooms have open wall cut outs that look out into our front entry room, and we tend to yell out to each other rather than get out of our chairs; call it lazy or efficient. My business partner and I both have our own offices, but rarely shut our doors unless we have a phone meeting. Our kitchen and shipping warehouse are connected to the office and we have another production facility in the same warehouse complex.
How long have you been in this space? Where did you work before that?
We’ve been in our current location a little over three years and we love it. Before that we were in a small office on Abbot Kinney in Venice and in various other small spaces in Venice before that. In LA, “creative” usually means nothing more than some wood trim, maybe a concrete floor if you’re lucky, and A/C. Plus triple the rent. We prefer the raw warehouse feel and the connection of our business, design, marketing, and production and fulfillment teams all under one roof.
If you could change something about your workspace, what would it be?
Central air and heat. Even though I think we all prefer the fresh air there is the occasional day that you’d like to not sweat your ass off. Or wear a parka all day during December, but I hear that builds character; I don’t want anyone to get too soft.
Is there an office pet?
There’s a Blik mascot cat named Halfway. He doesn’t really like to commit, just like our Blik fans. He hasn’t been a mainstay in the office since the early days, but he’s been around before Blik started and was a willing model in our first product photography. Occasionally people will bring in their cat or a dog that they’re pet sitting for a visit. We always take the animal’s picture and post the visit to Facebook.
How do you record ideas?
Written lists, Post-it notes, Textedit on my Mac, and my brain. I tried Evernote, but I go back to the elegance of a single list in a simple format. If I see something online that inspires me, I’ll quickly print it out and pin it to the wall in front or behind me. I like having ideas out of the computer and into the space I work so I can absorb them over the course of a few days or weeks.
Do you have an inspiration board?
As I mentioned, I have a piece of homasote above my desk on which I pin nearly every day with images or artwork that I like. It’s really just things I like to look at, but aren’t inspirations for a product design. My personal inspirations are usually bookmarked on my browser so I can refer to them when needed. In the hallway outside my office we have some wall space dedicated to some current projects we’re working on—print outs of what we’re thinking of for the artwork in terms of theme, tone, color, etc.
What kind of design objects and furnishings are scattered about the space?
We have a lot of books, but don’t have a ton of objects. We have an original Eames coffee table we use as a meeting table in the front of our office, some Fatboy bean bags scattered around, outdoor chairs we use as indoor ones by Magis, some others by Vitra, and a bunch of Muji and Urban Prefer office accessories. We bought a cool Parvez Taj lamp for our conference room and some affordable and functional furniture and office accessories from CB2, IKEA, and Room & Board. We’ve also been creative with stuff from Home Depot: we used doors and L-brackets to make our desk tops and built the storage units from Europly plywood. We made our own posters recently and have those framed around the office too.
Are there tools and/or machinery in your space?
Since we also manufacture, we have plotters and large format printers. Our production team each has their own guillotine type cutter and Exacto. We do have a bad ass set of tools we keep under tight security, and a sweet table saw we use when we get bored to cut stuff. Kidding, we use it for all types of things from projects to office re-design.
What tool do you most enjoy using in the design process?
I heart my new iMac.
Let’s talk about how you’re wired. Tell me about your tech arsenal.
If you’re asking about my gear, I’m a Mac guy and have been since I bought my first one in high school. I’m techie and a nerd at heart, but I’m not over-the-top. I have what I need and what I use regularly: iPhone, iMac, iPad (I have two at home but my three-year-old Aja calls the iPad hers, so technically…) Canon 5D, all video game systems known to man (we just bought a Nintendo DS Xl for “testing” purposes), and have a few of the original systems like the Atari 2600 and Nintendo NES in the office, again for “testing.”
What design software do you use, and for what?
I’m kind of boring there, just the standard stuff, Photoshop and Illustrator CS6. I used to design in 3D programs like Form-Z and Maya but we don’t use those too often any more. I will use Google’s Sketch Up if i need to.
Do you have a favorite piece or collection that you’ve designed?
My business partner Jerinne and I used to design stuff from scratch all the time, then we started to collaborate with artists and brands and decided to let the design to them. We now do more curation and layout to explore design directions for art that our partners develop. But one of the first patterns we ever did was Blik Lugs and it was actually the first thing we ever die cut when we were just developing the designs and visual language for Blik. Our designer friend Ilan Dei had a showroom in Venice and he let us put it on a wall for a furniture opening he was having. It was our very first public display of Blik, and I think we may not have even had a website yet. Wall decals didn’t exist then, so it was a world premiere of sorts, so Lugs holds a special place in my heart.
When did you feel like you “made it”?
We had a great response to our product and some really good press from the start, but I think what made us feel like we “made it” was connecting with the Eames office in our first trade show in San Francisco. They came to our booth and totally “got” what we were doing. Our next show was in New York and we called the Keith Haring Estate and asked them to look at our website and told them that we’d love to work with them. We asked if they felt there was potential could they please come to the show to see our line . . . and they came! Eames and Haring are our all time design heroes and it was an amazing feeling to know that these two hugely important names in the design and the art world respected what we did enough to want to work with us. And we have ever since.
Tell us about a current project you’re working on. What was the inspiration behind it?
On the custom side we’re working on new designs for the next phase of our ongoing project to create graphics for the Mattel Children’s Hospital in LA and some very fun work with Brighter Collective, a digital agency here in LA, and Zip Recruiter, a smart start up in Santa Monica. On the product side our soon-to-launch line of Surface Skins is very exciting. We’re releasing our first line with Venice-based Wrapped LA, and the products are intended to be used on just about any surface other than walls. We’re “wrapping” desks and cabinets, but you can use the product on chairs, shelves, doors, or anything else. The unique adhesive doesn’t grab at first and lets you float the art over your surface until you get it just right, then you place it.
What’s on your desk right now?
A lot! I can’t see the top of it, but that’s the way I like it. Right now I’ve got a test package for an upcoming product launch; sales kits; bills; an Olympus camera; Nintendo 3DS XL games; contracts; new packaging ideas; a to-do list for the art team; gum; various business cards, a Hello Kitty flash drive; Mike Perry Band-Aids; a bottle of Italian sparkling water which I drink all day long; Muji pens and scissors; a bunch of various LEGO bricks; miscellaneous paperwork; and some stuff that I can’t identify unless I excavate further. Plus, a sweet new Blik Surface Skin.
Do you use any of your pieces in your own home?
Always! I swap out decals depending on my current favorite and I always have at least one up in my daughter’s room. She has a couple Threadless designs and I recently put up Hello Kitty Hide & Seek for her. I use my home as a testing lab, trying out new materials and designs. I consider the color, scale, and proportion, and contemplate if I like how it looks in my space, if it work with furniture, and how it changes the vibe of a space. I also currently have Haring’s DJ Robot, Wendell McShine’s The Watcher, some of Mina Javid’s silhouettes, and a few areas where I’m testing new Wall Tiles ideas.