About Jess & Russ
Jessica Hische is a letterer, illustrator, and self-described “avid internetter”. After graduating with a degree in Graphic and Interactive Design from Tyler School of Art, she worked for Headcase Design in Philadelphia and was Senior Designer at Louise Fili Ltd. After two and a half years, she left to further her freelance career and has also become well known for her side projects including Daily Drop Cap and the micro-sites, Mom This is How Twitter Works, Should I Work for Free?, and Don’t Fear the Internet, a collaborative project with Russ.
Jessica’s clients includes Wes Anderson, Tiffany & Co., the New York Times, Penguin Books, Target, Leo Burnett, and Wired Magazine. She’s been named a Print Magazine New Visual Artist (20 under 30), one of Forbes 30 under 30 in Art and Design, and an ADC Young Gun. She currently serves on the Type Directors Club Board of Directors.
Russ Maschmeyer is an interaction and product designer who is currently working at Facebook. He started out as an installation artist and performer and spent a few years touring the US with his band, The XYZ Affair. Along the way, he taught himself to build websites and worked with a number of big and small companies to bring their brands online. In 2011, he graduated with his MFA in Interaction Design from the School of Visual Arts in New York as a member of the program’s inaugural class.
Russ has an evolving list of hobbies including, but not limited to: furniture design, bread baking, playing guitar, writing, audio engineering, science fiction, coding, and yammering in front of large audiences.
Interview date: July 26, 2012
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We hope you enjoyed the first half of our interview with Jessica and Russ. You can read it here if you haven’t done so already. Otherwise, continue on for the rest of our conversation with this awesome pair.
[Ryan] Has it been a big shift as far as the culture between NY and San Francisco or has it been a smooth transition?
Jess [J]: It feels similar to us because we behave in the same ways that we did in NY.
Russ [R]: And we seek out the same kinds of people that we did in NY.
J: A lot of our friends are really similar. The main difference is that you don’t realize how amazing NY is until you leave. NY is so awesome and crazy and it’s the perfect place if you’re 21–25; you can go out dancing and then it’s 4am and you’re at some after-hours thing. But then you turn 28 and the kind of social life you’re interested in has less to do with 4am party nights and more to do with marathoning Breaking Bad and learning how to make fancy cocktails at home. We’ve been homebodies for the last few years, so we weren’t taking advantage of being in NY when we were there. Moving to San Francisco made us aware of that. Now when we go back to visit, we experience more of NY than when we lived there. People make a real effort to hang out and we make an effort to do things and see people.
A lot of people say that there’s a difference in pace, but I don’t really see it. The only thing I notice as a freelancer is that when you don’t have to commute 40 minutes to everywhere in the city, you have an extra hour or two in your day to spend doing what you want.
How does living in San Francisco impact your creativity?
R: We live in the Mission in San Francisco, right around the corner from Ritual Coffee Roasters. It’s one of the coffee shops in the city where every conversation you hear is about startups and investing. It’s amazing how fast you get jaded about startup culture once you move out here.
J: Out here, projects are more pie in the sky, big picture ideas that affect people’s day-to-day lives. I think that’s part of the culture out here. There are so many movers and shakers that it makes you feel lazy to not try to make a difference in that way.
Also, there are so few scenes here. In NY, there is a niche for every kind of designer; there are even niches within niches. Here, you’re either in the startup world or you’re a random freelancer or agency person.
You mentioned that you didn’t know a lot of people when you moved to San Francisco. Is being part of a creative community important to you and have you been able to find that?
J: It’s incredibly important for me. Russ had an instant crew of friends because of Facebook. It’s essentially a fish bowl full of awesome, crazy people right now because they’ve been hiring the most ridiculous designers over the past few years. Pretty much everyone we’ve met at Facebook has become our new best friends for life.
Russ is pretty introverted and derives a lot of his power from alone time, but I am the most extreme extrovert on the planet. I am like an electric car that you plug in—as soon as I’m with people, I’m instantly buzzing. Having a creative community around is super important to me because I find that I get really lethargic if I don’t have contact with people who I respect, who I think are awesome, and who are making cool stuff. It’s hard for me to stay motivated with my own work if I’m not surrounded by people who make me want to work harder.
R: There are some pretty awesome people around here. Facebook has been amazing for providing a built-in community of incredible designers. Almost all of them live in the Mission and when we hang out, we talk shop.
J: The community here is smaller and people are a little less competitive. I’m usually more of a dude girl, but I actually have a lady posse here, which is awesome. I have more girlfriends here than I did in New York.
[Ryan] This is a random question, but do you guys find it easier to hang out with people in San Francisco?
J: Oh yeah. We ended up being really lazy in NY—not because we didn’t want to go out, but because every time we did, it had to be this big, orchestrated event because people live in different neighborhoods and have to take the train. Happy Hour never happened for me in NY because it always became an all-night event, which I couldn’t afford because I had to get shit done at night.
It’s so much easier to have low-pressure hangouts here. The Mission is like a giant dorm room and we hang out with people who live two blocks from us. Here, we can say, “Hey man, let’s get a beer,” and then go home after. It’s easy to meet up for dinner or drinks; it’s easy to go over to people’s houses to watch movies. It might be the time of our lives that we’re in now, but the people we’re meeting are more our pace as well.
[Ryan] That’s good to hear because we’ve only been in NY for a few months, but have noticed how much planning it takes to get together with people.
J: Yeah, it’s also like, “Oh, you’re in Carroll Gardens? I’m in Williamsburg—we’re never going to see each other again.”
[Tina] Yeah, and we’re in East Village, so we’re in exile in Manhattan.
J: You guys are at the meeting point where all the Williamsburgians make the people from Park Slope meet them.
[Ryan] We usually wind up going over to Brooklyn to meet people, but that’s alright.
Anyway, do you guys feel a responsibility to contribute to something bigger than yourself?
J: Yeah, definitely. I mentioned Don’t Fear the Internet earlier in our conversation. With that, I make sure we’re covering the tinier eureka moments and Russ makes sure we cover the big picture stuff. I think doing things like that to help educate people is important because it’s easy to feel intimidated when you’re younger. If there are people out there saying, “We all started out this way and here are the steps,” it makes a big difference. We were all helped by others in some way, whether or not we had a direct mentor. It’s important to do what we can to make the process easier for others and educate them about ethics, the things that can’t be learned in school, or things no one is talking about.
R: I think the ability to connect people is a fantastic opportunity and that’s why I like building products and more specifically, social products. Everything I do is geared toward helping people connect more deeply and more often.
The big question—are you satisfied creatively?
J: Never! I get super satisfied for a few hours at a time whenever I do a new project. When I created a rug that said the word “type”, I thought, “I am fucking awesome! Type Rug!” and then literally a week later I thought, “Oh my god, what am I doing with my life?”
R: It’s a roller coaster ride.
J: It is. I am completely driven by emotions and hormones—I can’t help myself. I either feel like I’m not doing enough or I feel awesome and manic. A week after I put something out, I think about how it could have been better, but then I tell myself not to think about it. I just stay really busy and that lets me not judge my past work too much (laughing).
R: I absolutely feel satisfied. I feel extremely challenged by the problems I’m asked to solve every day. I feel really empowered by what I’ve learned so far in my career and my ability to actually contribute to solving problems. Feeling challenged, but also capable of solving the challenge keeps me creatively satisfied at work and in personal projects.
J: I am so hungry to do something different and to improve. Sometimes it’s hard to have perspective and realize that I am impacting other people—until I throw myself into a conference or something like that. I think we all get tunnel vision on the work we’re doing sometimes, but overall I have really awesome clients, I only take on work that I know I’ll enjoy doing, I love my studio and studiomate, and I love all the side projects I do—I just wish there were 48 hours in a day so I could do more.
[Ryan] Do you find that you get easily bored with the things that you’ve been doing for a while, especially things you’ve been successful at?
J: I’m really bad with that. I have the shortest attention span ever and plan most of my side projects to be shorter because I completely drag my feet on anything long-term. Don’t Fear the Internet is so labor-intensive that it can be hard for me to get motivated to make more videos. Other things I’ve just delegated, like Inker Linker, which my mom manages for me now.
I have a very holistic approach to design and projects and if I can’t be there for the full ride, I don’t want to be there at all. That’s the reason why I haven’t had much interest in branding. There’s no way I would want to do a crazy brand extension for two years—that would make me fall apart.
R: That’s why I was nervous about starting the Don’t Fear the Internet series.
J: I know, but I’ve stuck with it.
R: Yes, you have.
“Don’t let career sexiness or things other people say you should be interested in guide what you want to do…You want to be in a career that you love every minute of and you want going to work to be a joy.” / Jessica
What is it like working together?
J: Russ and I are very different people. He thinks I’m impulsive, but I’m gonna say I’m decisive. I’ll make my mind up about whatever it is that needs to happen and then I do it immediately. In hindsight, I hardly ever regret those decisions.
R: It’s true. I’m the opposite. I’m a maximizer, so I need to weigh the options until the very last moment when someone makes me make the decision.
J: So whenever we have to collaborate on things, I’m like, “Oh my god, just pick something.” I think that’s why we’re a good pair. We balance each other out.
This is a funny story. When I was a kid, my dad would take me to the mall on my birthday and give me $50 to spend on whatever I wanted. I would just walk around the mall for six hours until he would say, “Just buy something,” and then all of a sudden I would have $100 instead of $50. I’ve switched roles and now I’m the “just buy something” person and Russ is the one walking around the mall.
R: That’s a perfect metaphor for me.
Do you guys have any thoughts about what you’d like to be doing in the next 5 to 10 years individually and together?
R: We’ll be looking for opportunities to work together on stuff because it’s such a nice experience, but we don’t have any specific plans.
J: We’ll probably do some baby having at some point in the next ten years.
R: That might be our biggest collaboration.
J: But not anytime soon, hopefully.
R: No—not anytime soon (laughing).
J: The biggest decision I have to make in the next couple of years is should I dive deeper into type lettering or into the entrepreneurial stuff that I also really enjoy? I’ll be letting my decisive emotions guide that.
It’s difficult because, in any sort of niche, it can feel like you’re having less of an impact. The people who appreciate what you do are a small group and you have to do a lot of educating of others to get them to appreciate it. Other things can seem a little sexier because of their immediate impact on people, but at the same time, I do appreciate people who specialize and keep certain niches alive. I’m trying to figure out where I fit into that and if I want to continue to be a mover and a shaker in the type and lettering world or if I want to exercise other parts of my brain in the coming years.
R: I’ve been at Facebook for 10 months and it’s been a completely amazing experience. In my mind, Facebook isn’t a technology company, it’s really a communication company.
In the future, I see myself crossing over from design to technology. I’m extremely interested in things like human-computer interaction, distributed computing, and what the interfaces and interactions between people and their environments might morph into over time. I’d like the opportunity to take what I’m learning and see how that plays out in a more distributed computing environment. I’d also like to collaborate more with technologists and a more tech heavy staff than what I’m doing now.
If you could both give one piece of advice to a young creative starting out, what would you say?
J [to Russ]: I’m going to let you go first—I’ve answered this question a hundred times.
R: I’m really bad at answering these kinds of questions on the spot…
J: Then I will go.
R: Go ahead.
J: My advice is listen to what you want and the things you’re passionate about. Don’t let career sexiness or things other people say you should be interested in guide what you want to do. A big part of that is not looking at the macro when you’re making decisions; look at the micro, daily aspects rather than the job title. Something might seem like a really great job title, but you might find out that you hate what you’re doing for nine hours a day. You want to be in a career that you love every minute of and you want going to work to be a joy. You will spend a third of your life working—hopefully for us, it’ll be the rest of our lives. Don’t look at everything and try to make a huge decision; look at specific activities you enjoy and ask how you can do those more. That helps a lot as far as choosing a career and finding your way into a field that you actually enjoy.
R: I think that the advice I would give is that naive optimism is everything. I think a lot of people approach the world thinking that things are reserved for people who are qualified in some official capacity. Some people assume they could never be as good at something as some master, which makes them self-defeat before they start. I think some things that are really incredible were achieved because people were really naive when they began—they had an idea, set out to do it, and learned along the way.
J: I think you and I are both saying the same thing: Don’t be intimidated by the grandness of it; just start somewhere and be optimistic that you will be able to do something.
R: Everyone who’s done something great started out knowing nothing about it. When I graduated, I didn’t know anything about web design, but I taught myself with the information available to me.
J: And people love to teach other people. People love to spread knowledge and impart what they know into other people.
The biggest advice I have for non-young people is to not be so judgmental of people who are actually trying. I think it can be really easy to look at work and say it’s so terrible. It happens all the time. You look at a young person’s portfolio and they just don’t have their shit together yet and that’s okay because they’re 22. I think you have to be really encouraging of everybody, no matter how much natural talent they have, because they’re trying—they at least have that; they at least found themselves in a field that they want to have a career in. I think that if you can, offer them realistic advice, but also help them feel happy that they’ve made a decision about their career.
R: The best educational tool that anyone can have is a project that they really care about. Take Jessica’s Daily Drop Cap project for example—that’s hard; that is so many letters and so many different styles. The amount that she grew in creativity and execution within those self-imposed set of restrictions is incredible. It’s so much harder to learn things when you have no immediate need of applying them.
J: And also, worst case scenario is that you’ve learned and the thing you wanted to make real is real. It’s not like you made something that you didn’t give a shit about and no one else gave a shit about either and you just wasted your time. You’re making something you really want to make and even if no one else cares about it, you have a thing you made that you care about.
“...naive optimism is everything...some things that are really incredible were achieved because people were really naive when they began—they had an idea, set out to do it, and learned along the way.” / Russ
That’s great. So, what is it like being in a relationship with another creative person?
J: It’s the only way to go! I thought I was being stupid for only dating artsy people ever since I went to art school, but even in high school, my boyfriend was really interested in art—his parents just didn’t push him to pursue fine art and now he’s working in landscape architecture.
I tried to date non-creative people a couple times because I felt like I needed to broaden my horizons. I went out with a guy who was in the medical field, but the issue is—and this is not specific to creatives because there are many people that feel this way—that our goal as creatives is to work as long as humanly possible because work is not work to us. Work is the thing we love to do. If we could, we would do it all the time. The ultimate goal of most people in other fields is to stop working as soon as possible. Ask someone outside of the creative field, who isn’t passionate about their job, what they would do if they won the lottery. It’s always, “I would move to an island and live there forever by myself with hot models.” That’s the opposite of what a creative person would do. A creative person would put all that money aside so that they could make all the things they want—all the time.
When Russ and I started dating, it was important to me to know that he had that passion to find something that he wanted to do all the time. Some people would call us workaholics, but I don’t think we are because we’re just doing what we want to do all the time—it’s play as much as it is work.
If you are a very, very passionate person who wants to be constantly making; if you are a maker and you cannot stop yourself—it’s almost like a disease—you have to find someone who feels similar about whatever it is they do. They don’t have to be creative, but they have to have that passion.
R: Yeah, it’s hard when the relationship is asymmetrical. It’s difficult when one person works, but doesn’t like their job and looks forward to coming home as soon as possible from work everyday and doing anything other than working.
J: It’s one of the most unsatisfying things in the world to feel like you’re not working to your potential. The last thing you want is to feel resentful of your partner because they don’t understand when it’s 10pm on Friday night and you say, “I can’t come home yet because I’m almost done with this thing and I’m really excited and want to finish it.”
We agree 100%.
What does a typical day look like for each of you?
R: Well, lately we’ve been getting up at 8am and doing Slim in 6 workout DVDs. We’re both on a wedding diet. That’s the first part of the day and then we go get either coffee or smoothies together. Then I hop on the Facebook bus and she walks over to her studio, which is a few blocks away from our apartment.
J: It can be really hard to actually spend time together because we’re in our own heads all the time, so our new morning workout routine is nice because I get to walk him to the bus and we’ll have little chats.
“I feel extremely challenged by the problems I’m asked to solve every day...Feeling challenged, but also capable of solving the challenge keeps me creatively satisfied at work and in personal projects.” / Russ
There’s a bus for Facebook?
R: Facebook runs shuttles into the city and down to Menlo Park, which is about 45 minutes to an hour south of San Francisco. A bunch of designers hop on in the morning. There are about four routes and I hop on at 9:30am, get to the office around 10:30am, and immediately catch up on emails and talk to different team members before I start digging into design work.
J: Yeah, Russ’ day depends on what he’s working on. Sometimes it’s all meetings all the time; other times it’s all making all the time. It just depends on what stage of the project things are.
R: Yeah, Facebook is super dynamic so it’s always changing. You might be starting on a new team or preparing to show Zuck what you’ve been working on for weeks or getting ready to ship something. You never know what’s going to happen when you walk into the building. It’s a very verbal culture and when you need to know something, you just walk over to someone’s desk and ask them about it. You might spend time battling new edge cases in the product you’re designing, figuring out how to solve new problems, or working around engineering constraints. It’s pretty intense. I usually get back on the bus around 7:30pm to come home.
J: And then we don’t cook because we’re bad and we moved from New York, which means we order a lot of take-out.
Sometimes we work in the evening. We’ll laptop it together on the sofa while we watch TV. We’ve been watching a ton of TV lately—we’re marathoning The West Wing, which I’ve never seen before.
My day is different because I run my own business as a freelancer and have to handle all the nonsense of the business myself. I share a studio with Erik Marinovich, who is another lettering artist, and he’s awesome. He and I are very similar people and it’s been a real joy to have him as a studiomate for a lot of reasons—the main reason being that he can actually critique my work really intensely.
Most of my morning is spent managing email and phone calls. It’s rare that I start making artwork before 2pm. In terms of work, I have a calendar that I use to manage all my deadlines, but I am so bad about procrastinating on things because the spirit moves me to work on something else or I have this crazy idea and I have to do it now. I am constantly giving myself projects that end up taking over my life. Also, I find that unless I’m overloaded with work, it’s hard for me to complete projects—the busier I am, the more work I get done. The issue is that if I don’t have a productive way to procrastinate, then I feel like a piece of shit when I need to take a break. Thus I give myself extra projects to work on in addition to client work.
I usually work until 7 or 8pm and then come home…and then work on evenings and weekends (laughing). We tried to institute a “tech sabbath”, but it’s on hiatus until the wedding is over.
R: The deal is that we would wake up on a Saturday and have nothing planned. We’d open our laptops, look down, and the next time we looked up, it would be 5pm. Then we’d wonder where our weekend went.
J: We decided to do tech sabbath, which means that one day a week, we couldn’t use technology for working. It only lasted for two weekends and then we couldn’t sustain it anymore. We’re gonna try it again this Fall.
Do you guys have any albums on repeat?
R: Dirty Projectors—on repeat always and forever.
J: We just saw them last night and they were awesome live. We were enamored. I’ve also been listening to this band, Yuck, a lot. They’re really young and the album is all over the place, but I like that.
Are you guys friends with Olga, who recently joined Dirty Projectors?
Both [in unison]: Yes!
J: We got to hang with her last night and it was sooo fun.
R: It was so wonderful to see her perform with them because she’s clearly having a total fucking blast.
J: Russ and I have a lot of musical overlap, but we also have a lot of non-overlap in our musical tastes. I like a lot of bands that Russ doesn’t like and he likes a lot of bands that I feel whatev about, so I like it when we have bands in common that we both listen to, like Dirty Projectors.
Do you guys have any favorite TV shows and movies?
Both [in unison]: Do we?
J: Ok, television…go. Battlestar Galactica, West Wing…
R: Breaking Bad.
J: The Wire. What’s another one? Oh wait…Bob’s Burgers.
R: It’s an animated series on Comedy Central and is voiced by all these people from the NY indie comedy scene. It’s really funny.
J: In terms of movies, Alien and its sequel, Aliens…Lord of the Rings.
R: Predator and all the Harry Potter movies. And we’re gonna throw The Room in there.
R: Have you guys heard of it?
J: It’s the most awesomely terrible thing you will ever see. That’s all we’re going to tell you.
R: Also, my favorite movie is Rushmore.
J: I think that mentioning any Wes Anderson movies goes without saying. If you are a creative person at all and don’t like at least one of his movies, you better explain yourself.
[Ryan] Yeah, but you’re only allowed to say one Wes Anderson film on TGD because everyone has several.
J: Well then, we have to change our choice to Moonrise Kingdom because I worked on that.
Great job on that! It was fantastic.
J: Thank you. We consume a lot of media for sure.
“People are always trying to automate things rather than celebrate that people really do care about their work and can be complete artisans about it. We should be celebrating folks who enjoy their work.” / Jessica
Do you guys have any favorite books?
J: I’m reading a bunch of classic books right now for a project, so that’s really fun. I read Jane Eyre and was super into it. I couldn’t stop telling Russ about it.
R: As a kid, I was too worried about being popular to be into sci-fi books, but as an adult, I’ve thrown off the shackles of peer pressure and I have totally embraced the world of science fiction novels. In college, I fell in love with The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, and Dune.
J: I also really liked A Short history of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson.
What’s your favorite food?
J: There’s a restaurant here called Emmy’s Spaghetti Shack and they only have spaghetti and meatballs. The reason I like that is because when as an adult do you ever eat only spaghetti and meatballs? It instantly transports you back to childhood except that instead of having chocolate milk, you have Tecate.
R: For me, it’s between two things—really good macaroni and cheese or amazing artisan bread and olive oil.
J: Bread and cheese, pulled pork sandwiches, salted caramel—those are probably my favorites.
One last question. What kind of legacy do you hope to leave?
R: I definitely hope that my work long outlasts anything else I do. I hope I am solving the right problems, that the problems are important enough, and that the solutions are fit enough to last a long time.
J: I want to do as much as I can to educate people to appreciate and celebrate the niche parts of the design world. It can be easy for people to feel like they are in competition with each other because they don’t understand another part of the industry or realize that someone else might love that part of it. I hope my legacy involves helping to illuminate these little microcosms to a larger audience and in turn, helps people want to do that for others.
Basically, I like being a pep rally leader for people. With all the public speaking I do, the biggest part of it is to celebrate type design and the work of type designers because they don’t get a lot of love in the design world. It’s the same for web designers. People are always trying to automate things rather than celebrate that people really do care about their work and can be complete artisans about it. We should be celebrating folks who enjoy their work.
Thank you, Jessica and Russ, for inspiring us with your words and stories. We wish you a beautiful wedding day tomorrow and many, many years of happiness, making, and creating as you continue to write your story together. Congrats and cheers!
To our readers who would like to celebrate with Jessica and Russ, they have created a donation registry through charity: water in lieu of a traditional gift registry. Send your best wishes to the bride and groom and give the gift of clean water.