Courtney Louise and Michael Glaser
Courtney and Michael are the dreamers, creatives and the inspirational individuals behind the design studio Barun Fox. After graduating from design school in Canada, they decided to avoid the generic 9 to 5 jobs and embarked on a grand adventure across the globe (Japan, Melbourne, England, Paris, just to name a few places!). Since travelling, Courtney and Michael have collected stories, documented their travels and continued to design and create, not for monetary gain but for genuine people and for their stories. We met these special friends in Japan last year and since then, have met in Melbourne, Leeds and finally in Paris.
Having a great empathy for people, design and humanity, Courtney and Michael are incredible individuals who will leave you inspired, full of life and full of hope. We talk to them about designing from the heart, pushing away the dollar sign, the importance of design benefitting the world and dancing to the song of your own heart.
So, to start off, you decided to go travelling for more than 14 months, what motivated this epic journey?
Courtney: I think it was about staying fresh. When a lot of people get out of school they have a ‘conquer the world’ personality and it’s a pretty quick reality check that the real world is sitting in an office behind a desk. That’s not really what we signed up for as designers. We thought we were signing up for more opportunities. Michael and I started our company right out of school. We thought, “let’s do it differently, let’s do everything from our heart, let’s not “shmooze”,let’s not “network”, let’s work for people that we love, that we are happy to work for”. Travelling is helping keep that idea alive. We found ourselves falling into routine in Calgary, and we wanted to snap ourselves out of that and keep things true to our hearts. Put the money, and everything aside, and you know, be real about it.
When you were travelling you had a couple of different clients. Who was your most memorable client that you worked with?
Courtney: Jude was this woman we ended up trading a logo for accommodation in a tiny little beach shack on the ocean in a town close to Noosa. She was this awesome surfer lady and she had this amazing surf shack, everything was beautiful and inspiring.
Michael: Yeah, it was so nice.
Courtney: : More than what we could ever have wished for. Jude was partnered with this woman who was a journalist and they were working together to write and publish people’s life stories. They needed a brand, a logo and we were really stoked on their idea. Overall we just really wanted to help. We got to live in the house and use her surf boards in exchange for helping them create their logo. That was the first logo we designed on the road. It was really memorable because it ended up having more of a story to it. She ended up discovering she had cancer while we were there, and it was quite advanced. It was an emotional time and it ended up being a logo that was no longer for the company but for her. It ended up being a symbol for her struggle and achievement and something to keep her going — which was so much more than a logo for a book company. It was kind of her life story because we were designing it around so much of her, who she is, and how she was so inspired and strong.
So that was really, really cool.
Is she better?
Courtney: Yah! We’ve been in touch with her family and friends and she’s in the clear now, which is really, really exciting! That’s one example of things we just love doing. We would have never had that opportunity if we always had a huge price tag and didn’t remain personal and connected with the people we collaborate with.
If you were to phrase your mantra for your company or for you design, what would it be?
Courtney: I think it’s something like, “designing from the heart” Also, it would have to be about not limiting yourself. Maybe “working without limitations”
How has travelling influenced your creativity?
Michael: I don’t know. I think for me, I haven’t actually drawn that much while we have been travelling. I’ve mostly been observing, I think I’ve been taking a lot in. It’s nice to take a creative break sometimes. After working for five years straight, it’s nice to take a step back and write in a journal and take a lot of photos because normally, I would work on big scale paintings, or do thumbnail sketches next to working on the computer. I think I’ve grown so much in so many ways, other than design and drawing. Creativity in food has been such an inspiration. We’ve eaten so much really good food everywhere we have been and learnt a lot about where what we eat comes from.
Would you guys encourage people to take that year out of uni?
Courtney: Ah, I think a creative hiatus kind of thing is really important. If you get out of uni, or if you freelance, take a year for yourself. If you are able to, take any chance you have, because to have that time to allow yourself to be able to be a kid and to be creatively open without the feeling of being boxed in in the real world, is so nurturing. It is important to just take a break and realize that instant fame doesn’t matter, that I don’t need to be blogged about, I don’t need to be a painter or a graphic designer, I don’t need to define myself with this title, and that I can be more than one thing. That’s something that people don’t do enough of and people need to take a break to see that.
There are things that stop me from being creative. What are the top three things that help overcome your limitations in creativity?
Michael: I don’t really know what I do to get over my creative blocks. For me, it changes… sometimes it can even be as simple as going for a run, or talking with Courtney for my ideas to flow.
Courtney: A big thing that gets Michael and I off our creative block, is that we have to be loud. It’s great to be surrounded by people who understand that you need to draw and outwardly express yourself, and be collaborative and crazy at times, and to giggle and laugh. We can’t just email someone and comment back and forth, we need to have that really hands on connection.
M: Or dance in the studio.
C: Lots of dancing, you need to be able to roll around, to cut out paper. [Laughs.] You have to be a kid.
M: You can’t lose the hands on.
C: And also, I know for me, the most hindering thing for inspiration is going on Pinterest or going on a blog. A big part about working as designers has a lot to do with constantly being exposed to the Internet, it’s like our subconscious is being bombarded at every moment. So I think the times I am most inspired is when I am far away from my computer, when I am just in nature, or when I pull myself away from comparison. Just always reminding myself to do what is true to my heart. Really, if you are going to be an innovator, it has to stem from the heart. I don’t think you can do it looking at other people.
M: Yeah, our real hiatus starts tomorrow. It will be like, our first time when we don’t have our computers. That will be like the longest time.
Do you think people stop themselves sometimes in terms of creativity? Because they thing money is the biggest thing that stops people?
Courtney: Yeah, definitely. That’s why we didn’t go and get big jobs in big agencies. That’s why we decided to do things by ourselves. We could have learned a lot of things at big agencies, but they would not have been the same lessons we decided to throw ourselves into. We kind of like the hard knock way. I really respect the old design, where people actually had to hand paint signs, or they might not have hand painted signs, they might have been whittling things, multi talented!
Michael: A lot of times we tried to Robin Hood our way through. We would work for a big company and that would allow us to do something for free or for a low price for a smaller company.
C: Ultimately we would love to work with parks or be contracted with an outdoor company. Something that is aligned with our values and how we live our lives.
How important are stories in your design?
M: Oh, that is so, so, so important, especially today where mass produced logos are becoming a thing. To be able to create a brand story, a story that translates across all medias and speaks to an audience is what separates the one-off logos from the logos with legs and those are the most rewarding, I think.
C: I think that’s where the value lies – in working from your heart as well. You are not able to tell a story of things you actually haven’t experienced. Well you can, and people do, but it won’t be as honest as the story you have actually lived through and can honestly relate to. That’s the pigeonhole that a lot of designers get in. They end up working for money and faking things. rather than working for the love of their job. Who says you can’t love your job?
I mean our goal isn’t to sit at a computer for the rest of our lives. If that means I need to do hands on design — to work at a permaculture camp for a bit to get a feel for what I am branding at that moment that’s a great new opportunity, because it creates a story that can be used then and in our future design.
What are your top three things that a creative person should be conscious of when designing?
M: I think who you are talking to is so easily overlooked but understanding your audience is key. What makes design so powerful is when it’s speaking straight to you. To be able to really get that is to really understand your audience. I think that’s something that we have learnt while travelling as well. You meet all these amazing people and staying with them in their homes, at the place where they spend so much of their lives, and you get to understand them, so being able to talk to them becomes easier.
C: I also think honest innovation. In the sense that you are being truly innovative, like how we talked about, trying to not be subconsciously affected by all these different things we see. I think that’s a huge one, no matter what you are doing creatively to be able to tap into your inner self. Whether or not this means retreating to a hermit cabin in the woods to be like Beatrice Potter or to throw yourself into a new adventure. Keeping those gears going is so, so key.
M: I think for us too, working on projects where we are really conscious about what the message is that we are portraying. Design has the power to manipulate people’s viewpoints of what’s happening behind the scenes. It’s so important to understand how much power, comes with really good design and to be able to use that in a way that you are actually benefitting the world, and not only perpetuating consumerism.
C: And that might mean that an energy company isn’t bad, They could be working on sustainable stuff, like putting more money into solar energy. It doesn’t mean you don’t work for a large company, it just means you work for a company that has its values aligned with yours.
So the three things you are conscious about are: 1. Knowing who you are talking to, 2. Honest innovation, and 3. Being consciously aware of your design?
C&M: Yeah! Totally!
BARUN FOX -Graphic Design Studio
Barun Fox is a Canadian based design studio run by Courtney and Michael, two incredibly talented graphic designers as well as world travellers. Focused on creating design that is both thoughtful and purposeful, their work touches the heart and touches the soul in their intimate design and natural aesthetic.
VALERIE BONG – Photographer and Writer
Val is an Arts/Commerce student currently based in Melbourne. As a photographer and documenter she loves celebrating the beauty of the world. With her love for capturing special moments she specialises in fashion, wedding, family and event photography.