Written and designed by: Raji Purcell
Edited by: Jon Savage
Photography by: Caroline Moore
Until starting my research for these articles, I hadn’t heard of Quite Strong. But, after extensively looking at their work (more than a few times), I developed a strong appreciation for each member’s style. Individually, the ladies of Quite Strong have unique genres and incredible talents. But, as a group, their talents and strengths pull together into a cohesive and balanced aesthetic.
Who is Quite Strong?
Quite Strong is a creative female group who believes in strength in numbers without disregard for individuality. The duality of recognizing them as Quite Strong, and recognizing them as individual designers comes with the territory. Any of these five women could have easily stepped on stage and talked for a full thirty minutes solely about their own work and experiences.
However, they spoke together and shared how their individuality serves the group and community they live in. There is a sense of respectable modesty in that. Their words proved that this modesty, openness, and love for community carries over into every facet of their existence as designers and human beings.
Heres what happened:
Quite Strong was third to talk on Saturday and they drew in a large audience in the auditorium. As the early afternoon was fading out, WMC Fest-goers started arriving in greater numbers. Designers of all levels began to gather with excitement to see Quite Strong’s collective talk. Mig Reyes and crew ready to support their fellow Chicago designers, had promptly took seats to the left of me, at the front of the auditorium.
Jana Kinsman, the resident illustrator at Quite Strong, took the stage first explaining Quite Strong’s history of formation. Not surprisingly their creation was the product of their community building. The members of Quite Strong felt a desire to have a shared space which could be used for freelance projects, art projects, or hanging out. After a morning meeting over brunch, they were set to go.
“By the end of brunch we had a name and a dot com, mostly because Katherine already owned quitestrong.com and didn’t know what to do with it.”
This entire notion was nothing short of inspiring. Creative friends were getting together to — at the most basic level — create a place for their own creativity to flourish side by side. This was one of the many moments during WMC that I thought to myself, “Why don’t I do this too?”
I was further impressed by the speed at which they passionately started this goal. In two weeks, they had their space. Most of us wouldn’t have finished day-dreaming about this in two weeks; but, the ladies of Quite Strong had it done and started in nearly the blink of an eye.
Jana continued, saying that once they had everything all set, they immediately began thinking about the community. They asked themselves how they could use Quite Strong to be more involved. They pushed this further, contemplating how they could empower other women in their community, and the creative community as a whole.
Jana continued on the subject of community engagement by explaining that the best way to help your community is not to “donate money, or like it on Facebook”, but to be involved with it in person. One of the coolest, most down-to-earth ways Quite Strong does this is with their open studio every third Thursday in a month. And, you can bet that if I lived in Chicago, I’d be attending quite frequently. The open studio is open to absolutely anyone who wants to drop by.
“Beers, Cheez-Its, and tacos are almost always involved in various combinations. The open studio nights are an opportunity for us to meet all the new faces coming, and then for the new faces to meet all the other people in the design community. For a newcomer it might seem like an intimidating scene to get into, but really it’s not. We’re all humans and we all like Cheez-Its.”
Jana further discussed Quite Strong’s openness and willingness to help the community by talking about a recent student portfolio review they hosted along with with Mig Reyes, and a few other designers. This was at the request of a group of students in Ohio, funded by no one, and powered through community. No doubt, it was a valuable, maybe even once in a lifetime opportunity.
Understanding that they are all in the same boat, Jana explained that creating support for one another was more productive than creating a feeling of unnecessary competition, or putting on an air of superiority. Jana closed her portion of the talk by highlighting that their doors are always open, and they will respond to anyone that contacts them — especially students.
Katherine Walker, a designer at VSA Partners and Quite Strong (the only part-time member) came up next. She began by explaining that because of her need to keep balance and having a full time design job she doesn’t freelance with Quite Strong. However, she gets involved in their projects with a cause.
She elaborated, saying that Quite Strong gives her an outlet to work on projects involving issues she has passion for. Through the group, she designs with a voice for activism in the community.
Touching on Quite Strong’s work for activism, Katherine cited one of Quite Strong’s first projects. The project was for a group dedicated to helping victims of LGBT hate crimes called Out For Justice. This was an opportunity for Katherine to support something she believed in. It was a job for a righteous cause that could be not only gracious, but satisfying.
Actions such as these strike at the core of design. Design goes deeper than simply developing product appeal to attract more consumers. It can serve the purpose of giving a face to cause. Due to Quite Strong’s commitment to community and their open-door policy, they are frequently sought after by non-profits and smaller organizations.
“Teaming up has allowed us to make more of an impact, and in return … my day-to-day has become more meaningful.”
Katherine then switched subjects and fed the general curiosity that comes when you hear the name Quite Strong. She explained that most believe their name is a critique of the female role in design. She did not dispel this myth, but pointed to their name’s true origin — a line in Meet The Parents.
“How’s Your portfolio?”
“I’d say strong to, quite strong.”
At this moment, I realized that I loved the balance Quite Strong keeps between being serious about the design but at the same time not taking themselves too seriously. They have a great sense of humor.
Katherine then introduced Elaine Chernov as “the beautiful lady that connected the dots”. Elaine began her portion of the talk by discussing her time in design school where she became dually passionate about advertising and women’s studies, two subjects she’d come to find almost contradictory because of advertising’s rampant objectification of women. But, instead of just becoming a bystander, she decided to become part of the advertising field so that she could make the difference.
This notion struck a nerve, as a young designers know that one day, they may have to steer an ad campaign in a certain direction. This is exactly why thoughtful people are needed as designers.
Elaine light-heartedly touched on that whenever we hear of female groups, our minds jump to Amazonian women beating men with sticks. She denounced this as their perspective. Quite Strong, she explained, is conscious of cultural imbalance and seeks to change that through collaborative strength. They are aware of the fact that the majority of art directors, speakers at design conferences, and designers (even the ones that target women) are male.
They aren’t getting angry, they are getting equal — which is a vital distinction to make.
They seek to empower female designers to make a change inside and through the industry. Against the convention that has been engrained in society, they are accomplishing their goal. More and more women are becoming interested in design and excelling at it.
“It’s not bitches rule, boys drool. It’s just a different variety of creative work.”
In order to further promote creative women Quite Strong has, what they call, the Lust List on their website. This serves as a database of female creatives in an array of different fields.
Victoria Pater came up next to discus the power of the design community alongside Quite Strong’s newly found independence for four of the five members, explaining that four of the members are now full time freelancers at Quite Strong and have left their full time day jobs. This is possible when designers support and take care of each other. Victoria also explained that she is able to take on bigger freelance projects because of the available assistance and different talents of the other members of Quite Strong.
Jennifer Sisson, the web developer at Quite Strong, was the final member to speak. Jeniffer’s role in Quite Strong is to bring internet life to the beautiful designs of Quite Strong’s visual designers. Though she expressed she feels like an interloper of sorts on the community of visual designers, she uses her close connection to visual designers as a method to learn more. She urged every designer to engage more with developers.
Jennifer closed out the talk with lessons that they have learned as a freelance collective:
- Never take anything personally. Everyone has a different a different opinion.
- Know your skills and work it. Collaborating is about using everyone’s unique skills.
- Start small-ish. Don’t overwhelm your budget, but dream big.
- Just start—any project you might be thinking about.
- Support eachother. Engage your community in a positive way. Collaborate.
Jennifer ended by saying “We are Quite Strong, and so are you.”
I had the opportunity to speak with some other people in the crowd about Quite Strong’s talk and WMC in general. It became evident to me that Quite Strong had resonated with a lot of the attendees because even later when I asked people about the person that had just spoke they would say things like “actually, can I comment on Quite Strong?”
Mig Reyes (another speaker at WMC) told me to write in all caps with a period,
“THEY KILLED IT.”
Cassie McDaniel a first time WMC Fest-goer from Toronto said “It was refreshing to see women in a [design] conference.”
Amanda Ragusa, another young designer like myself said, “It is nice to see a group of women doing what they do for their community. It’s influential as a young designer to see how far they’ve come.”
Listen to the Talk
As I watched every talk, I kept Garage Band open on my MacBook and recorded everything I could. So the quality of the mp3 below may not be the best, but you can get an idea of what it was like from my perspective in the front row. Bootleg version!