Overtime

Episode 4: Bethany Heck

This week, Dan is joined by Bethany Heck. Bethany is the Creative Lead for the Microsoft Power BI team, and also runs Eephus League, where she creates products for sports fans with a focus on beautiful typography.

In this episode, Dan and Bethany discuss the importance of firm criticism, learning to accept that you won’t always win (and why that’s ok), how Eephus League got started, why “stick to two typefaces” is a rule that you can break, and more.

  1. Product Page
  2. Tigre Poster 1
  3. The value of multi typeface design

Dan also asks Bethany about a few of her Dribbble shots. She shares the stories behind Product Page—featuring the Halfliner scorebook from Eephus Leauge Site, Tigre Poster 1, and The value of multi typeface design, pictured above.

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Transcript

Dan Cederholm: hello, and welcome to Overtime, Dribbble’s audio companion. I’m Dan Cederholm your host. This is Episode 4. And today we’re talking with Bethany Heck, a graphic designer currently hailing in Seattle, Washington, working for Microsoft. She’s originally from Auburn, Alabama, where she graduated from Auburn University. And her work, which is amazing, has been featured in New York Magazine, the New Yorker, Wired, Smashing Magazine, Uppercase Magazine, and more. She is creator of the Eephus League, which is a collection of baseball minutiae, she says: scorebooks, posters, and sort of bringing the design of vintage baseball together with physical products. It’s really an amazing brand, and we were excited to talk to her today about that, about her background, and her journey to where she is today. And talk about a few of her Dribbble shots, and it was a really good time. Here we go.

So yes, welcome Bethany Heck to Overtime. Thanks so much for joining us today.

Bethany Heck: Thank you for having me. I’m excited.

Dan: Yeah! We’re always excited to talk to awesome people and you are one of those awesome people, because we’ve been following your work for a long time, and been big fans of it. There’s a ton to talk about here, so I just want to jump right in. There’s a lot to get to and there’s so much I want to hopefully get to. We always start with who are you, where are you from, basically is the opening question.

Bethany: I’m originally from Auburn, Alabama, and I have worked in a lot of different places across the country, but I’m currently at Microsoft working as the creative lead for Power BI in Seattle, Washington.

Dan: What’s BI? I’ve seen this name and seen the team on Dribbble but what is BI?

Bethany: Business Intelligence.

Dan: Cool. Did you grow up in Auburn?

Bethany: Yeah, my dad is actually a graphic design professor at Auburn University.

Dan: So it runs in the family. And Auburn has a giant football team. The team itself isn’t giant  and I think if I’m correct I have friends that are from Alabama, and we also have an employee in Alabama. Auburn’s big rivalry is probably University of Alabama?

Bethany: Yes.

Dan: That’s a big deal.

Bethany: Yeah. They call it the “Iron Bowl.”

Dan: That’s awesome. So what part of Alabama is Auburn?

Bethany: Auburn’s kind of in the little point on the right side of Alabama. There’s a point that comes out, and it sits right there, close to the Georgia border.

Dan: I was mentioning football rivalries. I think we’re probably going to get into some baseball talk today, but I wanted to clear that up for those that don’t know. So you grew up in Auburn and now you’re in Seattle. How do you like Seattle?

Bethany: I like it a lot. I have lived in a bunch of different places. I’ve lived in Baltimore; Boston; South Carolina; Austin, Texas. Seattle is probably my favorite. It’s so pretty here. I actually don’t mind when it’s overcast. I find it relaxing. There’s days like today where it’s absolutely beautiful and it’s like 65 degrees outside and perfect.

Dan: I totally agree. That’s my kind of weather.

Bethany: It’s like you’re never more than 30 minutes away from hiking up the side of a mountain, and the food is great. There’s the water and everything else here, so I’ve really liked it here.

Dan: That’s great. In terms of design, how did you get into that? Did you go to school for it? Were you interested when you were younger? What’s your path there to design?

Bethany: Even though my dad was a graphic design professor, I wasn’t super aware of graphic design as a practice, or what it was. I knew that my dad always put me in art camps when I was a kid, and that art history side of things was important to him. But I would not have considered myself an artistic or creative child. I did not do well in the art classes that I took.

I remember I had a teacher at one of those tell me you’re really bad at this, for being the daughter of a graphic designer. I didn’t have any natural talent when it came to traditional fine art type things. I would watch my dad work sometimes and I knew that he used special programs, and that we had Macs and that was unusual.

But I didn’t start getting into anything that was resembling graphic design until I got into junior high and started watching anime and getting into the artwork, and wanting to take pictures, and make collages out of them, and throw awful Photoshop filters over them. I kind of got into that side of things. I don’t know what you would call that now, some sort of weird digital art whatever.

I did that. Figured out what dafont.com was and downloading awful free typefaces. Just from there learned some of the Adobe suite, and started learning about web design because I wanted to have a way to catalog all these awful things I was making. Web design was really the kind of avenue of design that I felt like I wanted to pursue.

I was teaching myself HTML and CSS and I found that really interesting. Kind of learning the visual design things at the same time. So my dad was very against me going into graphic design. He wanted me to do something he’s like it’s super competitive and you’ll never make any money. I was a good student, so he kind of through that was a waste, and that I needed to do anything other than go into graphic design. I eventually talked him into letting me go to Auburn and it’s worked out so far.

Dan: It absolutely has. Did you have your father as a professor?

Bethany: I couldn’t have him for any of the early classes. I don’t think I had him until my senior year. So anything involving getting into the program and all that he could not have me as a student. I had him for one class my senior year. He was super hands off, like he didn’t give me a lot of input or suggestions on things. He just threw up his hands, and said do what you want to do, and stepped back.

Dan: That’s good. So he didn’t compensate then, for you being his daughter, like I’m going to be really hard on you this semester.

Bethany: Thankfully no. There were other things like definitely starting off, before we all got to know each other, I think a lot of the other students treated me like I was a narc. I had to win their friendship with I’ll look at these typefaces that I have, or this thing I’ve learned how to do in Photoshop, and I just had to bash my way into their friendship.

Dan: You’re like the inside line to the professor. I can see that. Other than your dad, were there any mentors along the way for you? Even post-college or just getting started, people that inspired you to go where you are today?

Bethany: Other than my dad, the biggest influence that I’ve had as a designer has been a professor that I had at Auburn. Her name is Sam. She’s just gotten remarried and I’m blanking on her new last name. They call her the “Velvet Hammer,” delivering very harsh feedback in the nicest way possible. Having very high standards, and I was super intimidated by her when I first had her because she and my dad were very close. So I knew she was not going to cut me any slack.

She was the first one who encouraged me to look into teaching as a profession, and she’s always been somebody who has motivated me in a way that has actually stuck and work, and not caused me to push back in a bad way. I value her input more than just about anybody else’s. She’s super important to me.

Dan: That’s great. Do you think her velvet hammer approach became helpful later on when you were dealing with projects, clients, or teams, where criticism could be hard to take?

Bethany: Yeah. I think her and other professors that I had at Auburn were very a lot of the very early professors were also the most critical when it came to input. I think that’s good to have early on in your design education, because you learn to disassociate yourself from the work.

I still have to remind myself that a lot of people didn’t have that experience, so you run into people where you make very minor suggestions, like have you considered this fact about this color, not even where you’re coming at them. Just like have you thought about how this is coming off? And they will totally get full defenses, like guns firing, total panic mode. It’s like it’s okay. I’m not coming at you. This is not a personal thing. This is just an observation. Take a breath.

Dan: It’s hard sometimes to separate how personal the work can be. I think that’s a really good point. I didn’t go to design school so I didn’t get that criticism training, for lack of a better term, that you’re talking about. That seems like it would be really valuable. That’s something if you don’t have experience with it, you kind of learn quickly yeah, not everything I do is going to be great and well received, and other peoples’ opinions matter. You can get good feedback from people. That’s really good advice. I’m trying to think, so if you didn’t have the school experience, how could you get that otherwise? Maybe you learn that from the clients you work with, maybe the hard way.

Bethany: Yeah. You can definitely learn through difficult experiences with clients. Sports are a great way of learning you’re not great at everything, I’ve found. That’s another thing. Designers never do sports, so you learn things like. You’re not always going to win, and there are people who are better at certain things. You learn these things through the act of participating in certain things, particularly when you’re younger. When you step back and look at it as adult, it’s like maybe that’s why I do or do not struggle with certain things, because I did or didn’t have exposure to this type of conflict, or pushback, or questions when I was younger.

Dan: I think you’re right. My son is ten and the only sport he plays is basketball, but so far he’s gotten a trophy every time he plays. That’s kind of the way it works now, these days, where everyone kind of does win. Which breeds probably an interesting designer, in that maybe that’s where the personal part comes in; I’m special, and I’m a designer, and I should get a trophy every time I play.

Bethany: It’s hard because I know that I’ve had people, ask me about Dribbble specifically and they’ll say do you feel there’s not enough serious critique going on in Dribbble. I don’t know if that’s what it’s best for because sometimes you just want to put something out and you just want to get positive—you don’t want anything. You just need to prove to yourself I can make something that other people like.

The fact there’s not a serious discourse going on about what that thing is doesn’t mean it’s bad. Sometimes there’s an artistic component to being a designer. There’s a creative component to it. I don’t want to come off like I’m somebody who’s like no, it’s a war, and you should always strive to be better, and all this other stuff, because that rubs me the wrong way. I do think that there’s definitely a component to design that I think people need to have a bit more fun with and not take it so seriously all the time.

Dan: Amen. I’m glad you said that. I totally agree. I think there is an artistic component, and a problem-solving component to design. Yeah, I think you’re absolutely right, in that sometimes you just want to share what you’re doing, and get positive feedback. It is feedback, getting hey, that looks great. Okay, I’m on the right track. I totally agree. I think that balance is important.

We’re going to talk about some specific things on Dribbble that you’ve created, and I think the shots that I’ve chosen to show cover some cool stuff you’ve been working on. We’re going to dive into that, but before that, I’m wondering when you’re not creating awesome work, what do you like to do in Seattle? Sports is probably one.

Bethany: I do enjoy sports. Though I’m taking a break from the Braves now because they’re rebuilding and they’re really bad. I don’t need that failure every night added to my plate.

Dan: You grew up a Braves fan?

Bethany: Yes.

Dan: What are the options in Alabama? Can you go a different direction too? Or is everybody a Braves fan because it’s the closest?

Bethany: A lot of people are Braves fans. There aren’t a lot—I didn’t encounter a ton of other baseball fans in general in Alabama. Most of the time it’s football. Most people in Alabama tend to favor the Atlanta sports teams, the professional teams, so the Falcons for the NFL.

Dan: You’re taking a break from the Braves. Probably a good idea. I thought I was going to take a break from the Red Sox again, but apparently they’re doing pretty good so far. We’ll see.

Bethany: Well, the Yankees are having such a hard time this year. That will make it a bit easier for them.

Dan: That’s kind of delicious for me. That doesn’t happen a lot.

Bethany: I take years like this with the Yankees as a gift. I need to try to appreciate this. It doesn’t happen often.

Dan: That’s true. It’s been a long time since any kind of start of the season was like this for them. I’ll take it, absolutely.

In terms of your work, you went to school in Auburn and learned a bunch of things. I love the anime  not to generalize what your path was here, but getting into anime or art that way; that’s a very familiar path, I think, for people where there’s an interest about something, and then the Internet and technology helps foster that into a career, maybe. What was it like going from design school to a very talented, well-respected designer that’s creating awesome things, and working at Microsoft? Was there a long freelance period, or did you start with agency work?

Bethany: I started at agencies. I worked at a very little studio in Auburn, right after I graduated, until I went to grad school. I actually spent a semester at the MFA program at MICA. I wanted to get an MFA so I could teach because that was what I always thought my career path was going to be.

Dan: That’s in Baltimore?

Bethany: Yes. It was not a good fit for me. After that, I spent some time in Boston at a Web agency that was very small. I think it was six employees. Then after that I went to a bigger firm in South Carolina that was about 30 people total, and that was also a web design agency. Those jobs were good about filling in the gaps I had. Auburn is not a very strong web and interactive program. So even though that was what I was interested in, I wasn’t getting to actually learn a lot of that in school. I was having to still teach myself.

So getting to go to those web design agencies, and being forced to learn SAS, and JQuery, and getting to work on responsive sites was a great learning environment for that. Particularly at the job I had in South Carolina, it was the right kind of work-life balance that let me settle down, and do more exploration into personal projects, and learn what works for me at a day job.

Some of my earlier experiences hadn’t been super positive. They were not the right kind of work environment for me. So getting to be there and be there for a year and a half, and learn about these are the types of people that I like to work with, these is what I feel I need to be successful in terms of deliverables for me to get something done. By doing and working at these different places, you start to learn what does and doesn’t work for you. That was really helpful.

Then after that, I was at IBM for a year working in the Mobile Innovation Lab. The fun part about that was being involved in the building of the team. Doing the Oceans 11, calling up all the people that I wanted to work with, and saying do you want to come live in Austin and work at IBM, and do some cool stuff on mobile apps.

Dan: It does sound fun.

Bethany: It was fun. That was a good run. Then Microsoft came calling, and I kind of got to do that same thing again here, but it’s a different city, a different type of product. Power BI is a complicated thing. That’s been an interesting situation to call somebody up and be like I want you to come to the least sexy city in America to work at Microsoft, which you as a designer probably think is the worst company in the world, to work on a business intelligence product. It’s not an easy sell, but we’ve been able to do great work and get a lot of really good people here, despite that. And that’s what’s made it so fun.

Dan: That’s awesome. I would argue Seattle is a very cool city. Then again, I’m in Boston. I guess if you grew up somewhere sunny you’re going to be like I’m not going to Seattle. But I think there’s a lot of cool things happening there.

Bethany: A lot of people have a hard time with just the knowing that it’s going to rain and/or be cloudy a lot. That is a huge turnoff. I do run into a lot of people who are like immediately put off by the idea of coming here.

Dan: I totally get that. I’m the opposite. I’m like I like to wear jackets and pants.

Bethany: I love it. Winter clothes are the best clothes. That’s my favorite part about being here is I have 30 different jackets, and I can wear them all for many months out of the year.

Dan: Exactly. For jacket aficionados, Seattle is great. Or maybe that latitude is good. I agree. Also, Microsoft is doing a lot of interesting things lately. I love Bill Gates now. He and his wife are doing such amazing things.

Bethany: They do a lot of really good work for just other people in general. It’s really cool to see somebody who’s been that successful turnaround and try to do good with all the fruits of his labor. I think it’s cool.

Dan: I agree. It’s really cool to see, really refreshing. So let’s get into some of your work. It’s so good.

Bethany: Thank you.

Dan: I want to talk first about the Eephus League. There’s a lot of shots on Dribbble related to that. This particular one I’m talking about I think you were releasing the HalfLiner which is a new scorebook that you released earlier this year. That particular shot aside, tell us about the Eephus League and how it started. I believe it started as a school project and then turned into this small business for you, right? That’s really fascinating to me, so I wonder if you could tell us the story of the Eephus League.

Bethany: Of course. At Auburn your last semester you spend your time working on your senior project, which is a mini thesis. You have to define what the project is. A lot of people do companies or branding projects for restaurants. Everybody does something a bit different. At the end you have a show and gallery and show off the fruits of your labor.

It’s a way to help people think about things on more of a macro scale, and to have a really nice portfolio piece when they leave the program. I knew I wanted to do something baseball related, and started looking at all the different things that I got the most excited about in terms of visual design within baseball. I was trying to figure out what the niche was I would focus on.

When I looked at the things I really loved, it was the printed ephemera of like the old ticket design, and old uniforms, and learning all the weird nicknames that players have had. There’s a book called Baseball Nicknames, and I cannot remember the author’s name off the top of my head, but it’s a 300-page book that’s just a dictionary. Thousands and thousands of players who have played baseball, what their nicknames were, and how they got that nickname. It’s amazing.

It’s not even so much about the game itself or the players. It’s more the language and things that have popped up around baseball. The cottage industries of baseball, so I kind of decided the way I would categorize all that was baseball minutiae, and came up with the name Eephus League, because I had bought the typeface Casey from Font Bureau, because I decided I would use that to make my logo, even before I knew what I was going to call the company. I set the word Eephus in it and it looked really nice. So I was like okay, that’s what the company is going to be called.

Dan: There’s a story about the name, right? I’ll admit I didn’t know the reference, and now reading your description of the project I feel like a chump that I didn’t know the reference.

Bethany: Another reason I picked it was–I got a lot of pushback from my professors. They were like I don’t know how to say this. You’re taking a risk by picking a name for this that a lot of people are not going to understand. I was like if it’s about the minutiae of baseball, you probably know what an Eephus pitch it. Or you want to learn about what it is. I considered it sort of like if you’re into this site, you’re probably going to know what the term is. If you’re not, you’ll learn it because you’re going to learn about that and many other weird tidbits about baseball while you’re in the site.

The term refers to a slow lob pitch, so if a guy normally throws 93-miles-and-hour, and then all of a sudden he throws a 65-mile-an-hour floater up there that loops and drops is, it’s called an Eephus.

Dan: An Eephus pitch, that’s amazing.

Bethany: There’s a quote attributed to a player who I cannot remember his name, and he once described it as “Eephus ain’t nothing,” so it kind of tied into the whole minutiae thing.

Dan: I think it’s perfect. The whole brand has this cohesiveness. It’s incredible. The E looks amazing. Is the E part of the Casey typeface?

Bethany: Yeah, it’s the E.

Dan: It’s really cool.

Bethany: I didn’t do any fancy lettering or anything. I can’t letter. I just like to pick a good typeface and let it do the work for me.

Dan: You and me both. We’re going to get into type in a minute, but the whole brand is so cohesive. It makes me want to go to a baseball game, which I like to do. We’ve got Fenway Park which I think is why it resonates with me or probably anybody that’s near a historic ballpark. That’s part of the experience. You said earlier it’s not just about the players or the game, but the stuff around it. I totally agree with it. It’s the hotdogs, and the nostalgia of it.

I remember keeping score with my grandfather and my dad when I was a kid. I haven’t kept up with it, but seeing these products you’re creating totally makes me want to take a few to the game, and use them. I should let you explain what the project entailed, in terms of creating.

Bethany: When it originated as a student project my main focus was on the website, which was basically like what would now be a Tumblr or something, of all these quotes, bits of information, and imagery, and things like that of all these tidbits I really liked about baseball. I focused on that, and made some posters, and a book, and a few other things.

When I was doing my research I’d found all these images of these very old pocketsize scorebooks. They used a grid format that I had never seen before. For somebody who doesn’t know what keeping score at a baseball game is, it’s like this table grid of cells with baseball diamonds on them. You put in the lineup of the players for each team. Every time they come to bat, you jot down on the baseball diamond what they did. Did they get a single, did they walk, did they strike out, did they fly out, ground out, etc.

There’s this shorthand system of abbreviations for the players involved and making the out. It’s pretty simple once you learn it, but you can convey a lot of information about what happened in a ballgame with a relatively small amount of strokes and marks on paper, which I’ve always found really interesting.

I’d seen these scorebooks and thought that would give me something, if I made a scorebook. That would give me something else I could make and have at the gallery, so it’s not just going to be here’s a monitor with the website on it. I wanted to have things people could pick up and look at. It’s one line in my proposal for my senior project. It’s like a footnote. It was not something I thought anybody else would care about.

Dan: The scorebook itself?

Bethany: Yeah. I made that, and then after I graduated, I sent the website and some pictures of the things I’d made to Paul Lucas, who writes a column for ESPN.com and runs a blog called “Uni Watch.” Through reading his work it was very obvious that he was an aficionado of design in general. He loved all the things about baseball that I loved.

I was like this guy would be the target audience for something like this if it actually existed. I sent it to him. He was nice enough to interview me and show some of the work on the site. He asked his readers if there was anything that Bethany’s made that you think you’d like to have. I got probably 60-something responses. Almost all of them said they wanted the scorebook, which shocked me.

I was like okay, maybe I need to look into getting these things made. Somebody suggested Kickstarter to me, which at that time was pretty new. It was 2011. I had no idea what I was doing, and I submitted a proposal and got in, which shocked me, because Kickstarter at that time was very much a  Kickstarter is not a store like don’t use this to make things if you’re just going to resell them.

I was nervous. I tried to pitch it like oh, this is a revival of a lost art, trying to paint it in that light to hopefully make it more of a—I didn’t want it to be just like hey, I want to get this stuff made and don’t know how to get the money. So why don’t you help me raise money?

I was trying to find what’s the greater good, the cause behind this. This is a beautiful thing that people don’t do anymore, and maybe if we make it more accessible and present it in a more compelling package than the ugly sheets you get at the ballpark now, which are covered in ads and not well printed, and poorly designed, maybe we could get more people to pick this back up and revive it.

I put it on Kickstarter and raised 28,000 dollars, when I only wanted 10,000. So got the scorebooks and various other things made, and that’s how it turned from being a school project to actually being a small business that I now had to run. I was totally unprepared to figure out how to make that work.

Dan: In a way, a good problem to have. The demand was there. Other people were like wow, I’ve been looking for something like this. I think it touches on a lot of things, like data visualization and design and tactile things that you can hold. You’re right about the programs now in terms of keeping score, it’s terrible. Glossy pages with ads everywhere. That’s not really exciting.

The Kickstarter happened, and then it evolved into other things, other products. Now you’re selling a bunch of different things, and you’ve released a new version of the scorebook, which looks gorgeous. What’s the future hold for this little business?

Bethany: Because it’s such a niche thing, it’s not something I feel I could ever do like I’m going to quit my day job and do the Eephus League full-time. I get a lot of people who ask, “Why don’t you do that? Why don’t you turn it into a lifestyle brand?” It’s because it’s very hard to do that. I’m risk averse, so I kind of like the way it exists in my life now, which is that I pay my parents to handle the order fulfillment because I don’t have enough room to store the books and things.

I’ve moved so much. I can’t have all that here, so everything still ships out of Auburn, and we’re all very good friends with the post office there. It’s kind of a creative outlet. It’s never going to earn me a lot of money, but it’s this opportunity I have, that if I want to make something, I can use that as my creative outlet and get it produced. Sell it, and maybe make my money back, maybe not.

The nice thing about it from a scorebook standpoint is that you get to feel like you’ve affected somebody’s experience at the ballpark, which is really cool. There’ve been a lot of people who will write to me and say they learned to keep score in one of the books, or they give them to their kids.

I had a really nice email from a guy a few years ago who always used to buy the programs at Wrigley and now he used the HalfLiner. He talked about all the things he really loved about it, and this is a guy who’s been a Cubs fan for 50 years, and he’s talking about how this is a part of his daily ritual now. That’s so special, and I couldn’t have gotten that any other way.

I feel very lucky that it got to happen in the first place, so if I get an idea for a shirt or poster or other scorebook or something, I do what I can to get it made. But I never want it to feel like oh, it’s spring again and I need to make a new product for the Eephus League. I never want it to feel like work. It needs to be a creative expression outlet, fun thing, because I feel like every time I’ve tried to put myself on a schedule with it, the quality of the work has suffered.

So it might be long stretches before there’s new stuff, but I’m blessed enough that there are a lot of people who love the scorebooks as they are, and are repeat customers. So it pays for itself and not much more, and is this little thing I have going on the side, which is nice.

Dan: That’s amazing. Having that creative outlet must be nice, where you have complete control over something, and you’re not going to release it until it’s exactly what you want.

Bethany: Yeah. The website redesign that just launched a few months ago, which I think that’s where that Dribbble shot came from, I worked on that for almost a year. It’s nice to not have to feel the pressure, like oh, my gosh, I have to get this out now, because how is it going to affect my sales. That’s not what keeps my food in my belly and pays my rent.

Dan: In that sense you can take risks with it a bit.

Bethany: Yes.

Dan: Whereas if it’s paying the bills completely you can’t. It’s a really good point. I think your genuine love for the stuff, and baseball and everything really shines through on everything in there. I’m sure that’s why it’s resonating with people.

I’m going to make a point to go to Fenway this year and score a game again.

Bethany: You should do it.

Dan: Seeing your book, I really want to do that. Bravo.

Bethany: Thank you. The baseball community, I found it to be even more accommodating and filled with more gracious people than even the designing community. I remember when I launched the Eephus League Magazine, which nobody would have seen without Dribbble, so thank you for that. I think you tweeted about it, which was the only reason anybody looked at the post. I can remember going to a meeting, coming back, and it had like 200 or 300 likes, and that was a lot for me at the time. I did not have a big following. I didn’t expect that to take off.

But where I’m getting to is there’s a guy from the UK who wrote me this long email about how he had visited the United States, and didn’t know anything about baseball, but stumbled into Fenway Park to watch a game and fell in love with baseball. He was like you’re in Boston now, and you’ve made this magazine, and I want to thank you. I told him I’d never been to Fenway Park and he bought me tickets. That was the way I was able to go to a game at Fenway and keep score. It was really cool.

Dan: That’s amazing. What a great story. You couldn’t tell it better than that.

Everyone should check out eephusleague.com, for a lot of reasons. Even if you aren’t a baseball fan; for pure design reasons you should go there. If you are a baseball fan you’re going to flip out on all the stuff there.

The next shot I want to talk about is a recent one. It’s “The value of multi-typeface design.” This goes along with a talk you gave and also a medium article, which I found really fascinating  the article itself, and the fact that for some reason designers are taught to use as few typefaces as you can. Or that’s the way you should do it, or there’s an unwritten rule there.

Your perspective on this article is screw that. You can use a lot of typeface as well, and you do so in the shots and article. You sort of demonstrate you can combine a lot of different typefaces, and still make them feel cohesive and part of the brand. I would love to hear your motivation for the talk and post, and all that. The finished product is really stunning.

Bethany: Thank you. That was spurred by I was told at various points in time this whole thing about you should kind of focus on using two typefaces in a design. If you feel you needed to add a third, do it, but really what’s the need for more than that many typefaces in a design. I don’t even know if I was specifically told that in school. If I was, I ignored it.

I love typefaces, and I like to find new ones, buy them, use them, and play with them. A lot of times, I have a hard time deciding which ones I want to use, so I end up using a bunch in designs. I’d had a lot of people ask me about that and say why do you do this. How do you do it? It’s one of those things where you do something naturally. Then somebody brings it up to you, and you have to step back and say do I do this. Is this a common thing I’m doing? If it is working, then what is it? Trying to take something that’s intuitive for yourself and distill it out and break it into something you can explain to somebody else.

That’s kind of the genesis of the talk. People always talk about combining typefaces, which I feel is one thing, but it’s more than that. It’s like a systems thing. Everybody has a different opinion about that. Most articles I read about combining typefaces I vehemently disagree with everything they say. It’s very subjective. I tried to focus less on these are good fonts and these are bad fonts. And just talk about here’s things you could look for in typefaces that might make them work well together.

Dan: Here’s what works, which I like a lot. I also love your example of the turn-of-the-century broadsides, which have tons of different typefaces, all different weights and styles. Do you think there’s a nostalgia there, or does it resonate in a vintage way? Looking at your example in the article at the top, these are all sorts of different typefaces, each with their own personality, but the way you’ve put it together and this might be part of it too, is the layout, color, and everything. It really brings it together so it’s this one thing, even though it’s a lot of different typefaces together.

Bethany: I think there’s definitely an element of nostalgia to it. The banner at the top of the article, if it’s referencing anything it’s referencing the lowbrow crappy sections in the back of the newspaper, with weird ads that are all kind of splashed together, with all these different  nothing  and so taking the charm of that, which is there’s all these weird kind of maybe tacky typefaces and using them. But then trying to apply some rules to them to make them all behave together. That’s for that piece.

Then the broadsides, they use multiple typefaces and different styles out of necessity because their job was to fill the page with words, and leave as little white space as possible. You were wasting paper at that point.

Dan: If you’re going to put up a poster and you’ve got this much room, you use it all.

Bethany: Yeah. I think it might be that people react against that because it’s kind of lowbrow design. It’s not formal. It’s a design decision driven by necessity and not principles, I guess. If you want to look at the snooty way of looking at it. But I love wood typefaces and the style of type that kind of emerged throughout that woodblock printing. I’ve always been a fan of that kind of eclectic mix of things. When I was in school there was a big letterpress and vintage aesthetic revival going on. I really loved all that. I’m sure all that affected my aesthetic as it is now.

Dan: That all makes sense. It almost brings a more artistic lens to type and graphic design, by using all these different personalities. Obviously, it’s really important to the emotion that it conveys. I love it. I love the article. I hope people check it out because it’s kind of eye-opening. Wait a minute, who said we could only use two typefaces? Let’s have a headline font and a body copy font, and those can be different. I love things that are questioning rules that might not even really be rules. Thanks for sharing that.

Bethany: Thank you for looking at it. I’ve given that talk a few times and then I was like okay, I might not have an opportunity to give this as a talk anymore, so I need to convert it to an article. Every time I’d given it, I’d made slight adjustments to the slides, and added stuff. The article was the final opportunity to say was there anything else. Sometimes when you’re up on stage and giving a talk it’s like I wish I had a better example there. I’d like to make that point, but I don’t have a slide for it. So it was good to try to make the definitive version of that series of thoughts. It’s been well received so I’m really happy about that.

Dan: I’m glad you made it. The last shot we were going to talk about is actually related. It’s in the article, the “Le Tigra” poster. For this one, we talked about it a bit because this is an example you use of combining a bunch of different blackletter typefaces, which is cool. Could you tell us what you used to create it? Are you using Photoshop or Illustrator or something different? Do you start on paper? Everyone is interested in process and it would be cool to hear how you put that one together.

Bethany: Regarding process, I do everything on the computer. When I was working on the Le Tigra branding and needed to have a tiger head, I spent a whole weekend trying to do sketches of tigers in a sketchbook, and was reminded why I never do anything on paper. I’m really bad at it. Those art teachers I had as a kid weren’t wrong. I can’t draw. I can barely write with a pencil. My handwriting is awful, so I stick to the computer.

For something like that, which is type heavy basically anything I can find an excuse to do it, I do it in InDesign because the type tools are much more robust. I even do websites, like the Eephus League website was done in InDesign.

Dan: That makes sense. For setting type, that’s going to be your friend more than some of the other programs. Photoshop is really bad with type, and Illustrator is not great either. In my day job I end up using Illustrator a lot because it’s very precise, like drawing interface elements and things like that. Sometimes I pull out Photoshop. I tend to use Photoshop a lot for composing Dribbble shots. I take pieces and kind of put them into that. That’s what it’s for. It’s saying I need to make a thing that’s this big, and I’m going to bring in stuff, and try to make it look right.

But the Le Tigra poster was a giant—I think it’s 11x17 total in InDesign file and I started filling it. The content of it is a mix between some random stuff about tigers, to try to fill up the sheet. Then when people at work say something that’s funny or memorable, I plug it into the poster. It slowly changes over time to be almost entirely work related things, and inside jokes now.

Dan: Which is wonderful. There’s one that says “I like it when you call me Big Data.” That’s hilarious. I assume that’s a work inside joke.

Bethany: Yes. There’s “We’re all a bunch of assholes.” That’s something one of my coworkers said to describe designers as a profession one day, so that’s on there. There’s a lot of stuff that would take too long to explain all the jokes. But whenever somebody says something funny, I pull out my phone and I’m like that’s going on the poster, and I make a note of it. Then I go in and edit.

Dan: That is great. Inspiration’s coming from all over the place.

Bethany: Yes.

Dan: I love it. We’ve taken up a lot of your time. You’re busy. So thank you so much for talking with us. It was really cool to hear about everything you’re working on. Where can people find you online after this is over, and want to learn more about you and buy your cool stuff?

Bethany: My portfolio site is heckhouse.com. I’m on Twitter at @EephusLeague, and you can look at the Eephus League stuff at eephusleague.com. I’m on Dribbble too, so anything there I do ends up there before it ends up anywhere else.

Dan: Yeah! That’s why we love seeing your new stuff, and your old stuff. Any stuff you upload, we love.

Bethany: Thank you.

Dan: Thanks for being here again, Bethany. It was really a pleasure and keep up the awesome work over there.

Bethany: Thank you so much.

Dan: Thanks again for listening to Episode 4, and thank you to Bethany for being on with us today. We hope you enjoy the podcast. If you do, please rate and/or review us on iTunes. We’d really appreciate that. And to find more episodes, just go to dribbble.com/stories, where we talk to Dribbble members, and get more of the story behind their work. We’ll see you on the next episode.

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