Food Desert, Idea Jackpot: The Design Week Open Houses of NW Portland

I may have spoken too soon when I declared that there was no need to plan for dinner during Design Week Portland’s series of open houses. In contrast to Tuesday night’s tour of N and NE Portland offices, where giant tamales, Mediterranean BBQ, and pizza abounded, the scene in NW was a relative food desert.

Nevertheless, it was a welcome excuse to check out Citizen, a truly remarkable company that concerns itself primarily with the intersections of design and technology, performing research and analysis of market and culture trends to find new ways for tech advances to integrate into our lives—and they create some seriously elegant flowcharts in the process. They also have one of the coolest office spaces in the city, tucked away on the fringe of where NW starts to become primarily industrial. Upon arrival they had Purple Rain projecting on the wall (respect), a few paces away from a ceiling pendant that had been fashioned out of Apple earbuds.

Design Week Portland Alternate Usage for Earbuds at Citizen Inc

At this point, we’re so deep in Design Week that you can’t help but start to recognize people who are working the same circuit you are. Such was the case with Luke, an architectural consultant I had also seen at Wednesday night’s party at NORTH. Mutual recognition demanded we introduce ourselves, swapping notes about the other events we had already attended, and those we planned to. It was pleasant enough that I stayed longer than I meant to, but eventually I pulled away, on to the next adventure.

Big Frog Custom T-shirts has been hidden in plain sight on W Burnside for four years, though I’d never heard of them. They’ll digitally print a design of your, or their, making with no minimum, on tees that come in an array of colors and sizes and… that’s pretty much it! But they did have snacks.

Design Week Portland Big Frog T-Shirts

The simplicity of Big Frog afforded me more time at Hand-Eye Supply, a shop that specializes in the best versions of tools for all kinds of projects. There’s a global selection of writing instruments, notebooks, tools, axes, and workwear—a curated retail haven for the fetishization of creative supplies. They are the retail arm of Core 77, an influential design site whose job board, Coroflot, is having its new office built within the adjacent Hand-Eye warehouse. It’s actually on wheels, and began as a planned tiny house by Laurence Sarrazin of Los Osos design studio, built with wood milled on the property it was originally slated for. I’ve met Sarrazin once before—she’s brilliant, and I enjoyed sharing a beer and conversation with her, though my stomach was starting to rumble by the time I finished ogling the Italian-made staplers on my way out.

Design Week Portland Hand-Eye Supply

My last open house of the evening was Anthropologie. I’d been curious about how they’d activate the store for the occasion, and thought they might use the opportunity to highlight their collaborations with independent designers. Nope! They were simply open, business humming as usual. It worked out since I needed to price out a duvet cover, but I didn’t dwell long before walking the few blocks to the westside tomboy headquarters of Wildfang.

Presented by Sockeye creative studio, the event at Wildfang was accompanied by—finally, hooray!—freshly cooked up dim sum treats by Boke Bowl, which just about saved my life. It featured Piers Fawkes, founder and editor of PSFK, a site that specializes in future-thinking news, inspiration, and forecasts. The night’s topic was “The Future of Retail”—basically a breakdown of the latest technology tools being used by companies to communicate with customers, maximize the availability of product information, and streamline their overall systems in ways that are both admirably efficient and depressingly capable of eliminating human employment. It was on the dry side for a jovial, dim sum and canned wine kind of crowd, but it got my juices flowing, and I drove home thinking through the inspiration it gave me for my billion-dollar startup idea.

And no, obviously, I’m not telling you what that is.

Marjorie is a former Creative Circle candidate based in Portland who recently accepted a full-time offer for her dream job. She is a writer/editor and stylist/producer with an emphasis in the design world. If you are interested in working with someone like Marjorie, please contact your nearest Creative Circle office.

Still on the fence about attending events or open houses?

Read our blog on why it’s important.

Points NORTH: The Power of a Good Party

The description was vague but intriguing for “Further North,” a Design Week Portland event being hosted by NORTH, an advertising agency known for its work with Columbia Sportswear, Pacific Foods, and Cover Oregon (not their fault!). Would it be a panel, a lecture… ? Turns out, it was mostly just a party—a really good party—albeit with opportunities to make your own poster in the spirit of NORTH’s handmade methods for creating fonts and label designs. There was also a booth (where you could ask a NORTH employee anything), free burritos, beer on tap, and a display of how the creatives at NORTH go from literally doodling with ink and paper to creating some of the most recognizable package design on the shelves of the grocery store.

Creative Circle_Marjorie S_North Relatable Art

Full disclosure: I knew there would be some familiar faces in the crowd. One of NORTH’s Creative Directors is an old acquaintance who dates one of my good friends, and an art director I’ve worked with for years produces his outdoor adventure magazine, Stay Wild (to which I also contribute writing and copyediting), under NORTH’s custodianship. Since I was rolling solo, this took the edge off potential awkwardness, but instead of limiting me to interactions with people I already knew, these associations served as a bridge to get to know other, looser contacts.

Standing in the same conversation circle as the aforementioned CD put me in position to strike up a long conversation with the NORTH’s Executive Producer—who I’d technically met previously, but only slightly knew. The arrival of a freelance photographer I knew led to an introduction to a Portland-based wardrobe stylist whose work I’ve been following. I didn’t know that Kelley Roy, founder of the ADX manufacturing hub and Portland Made advocacy center, would be there, but I ended up talking to her for most of the last leg of the evening, and I even met, IRL, the owner of a modeling and talent agency before we realized we’d already corresponded over email months ago.

Creative Circle_Marjorie S_North Plans for Cans

I was surprised to check my phone and realize that I’d stayed for almost the entirety of the three-hour event, floating from conversation to conversation, and getting an impromptu tour of NORTH employees’ desk collections (including a ticket stub from Dollywood, a sea monkey terrarium, and a preserved baby shark), their hilarious “email treadmill,” and the dark, upholstered booths hidden throughout their offices for private phone calls (though they look like they’re for making out).

In an industry where relationships and personal chemistry are a bedrock, NORTH set the tone by being welcoming and curious about its guests. There may not have been much formality or structure involved, but I left the event feeling fulfilled, connected, and as though the time—though about twice as long as anticipated—had been well spent.

Marjorie is a former Creative Circle candidate based in Portland who recently accepted a full-time offer for her dream job. She is a writer/editor and stylist/producer with an emphasis in the design world. If you are interested in working with someone like Marjorie, please contact your nearest Creative Circle office.

Still on the fence about attending events or open houses?

Read our blog on why it’s important.

A Design Week Cleansing Breath with Maya Lin’s Bird Blind

Creative Circle_Marjorie S_Bird Blind 2

While much of the city was still, presumably, recovering from the long line to the puppy room at Design Week Portland’s opening party, a group of festival attendees gathered earlyish on Sunday morning. Hosted by Confluence, the 10 a.m. hike doubled as a tour of restoration efforts underway in the Sandy River Delta, crowned by a Maya Lin-designed bird blind structure that marries aesthetic principles to the efforts of conservation.

Confluence is a non-profit that concerns itself with connecting people to place, concentrating on points along the Columbia River. Our walk on Sunday, for instance, went through 1,000 Acre Dog Park, an off-leash pooch paradise I’ve visited several times without understanding much about the land (actually closer to 1,500 acres) history of the area. Originally used by native peoples as grounds for hunting and gathering, the property was, among other things, since used as a cattle pasture and the site of an aluminum factory before being reclaimed by the U.S. Forest Service. Under its management, it is being restored to its native state, including the removal of invasive Himalayan blackberry, which choked much of it until a few years ago.

Creative Circle_Marjorie S_Bird Blind 1

I once stumbled upon the bird blind without realizing what it was. Intentionally placed around a sudden corner of trail for unexpected impact, the round structure is made from a series of wooden slats, with a long ramp reaching out of the forest. Subtle engraving on the ramp’s handrail offers an explanation of the blind’s existence, and upon closer examination you’ll find that each slat is devoted to a native species, as noted in the journals of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. Each animal’s scientific name is listed along with the name the explorers’ used in reference to it (like a striped skunk that was listed as a “polecat”) and their conservation status. A just-completed, updated poster (see below) by ecological designer Dylan Woock mimics the round design of the structure, and bears good news—most of the species’ statuses are an improvement over their listing at the time of Lin’s installation, thanks in large part due to efforts by groups like Confluence.

Most of this week at #DWPDX will be devoted to urban affairs and digital innovation, but it felt good to get out in the sun for a blast of fresh air, sunshine, and a little education on how thoughtful design can be deployed to educate and preserve our natural assets as well as drive our industries. Thus cleansed, I’m ready to plunge back into the realm of branding agencies, international retail, and experimental city architecture. Let’s do this!

Marjorie is a former Creative Circle candidate based in Portland who recently accepted a full-time offer for her dream job. She is a writer/editor and stylist/producer with an emphasis in the design world. If you are interested in working with someone like Marjorie, please contact your nearest Creative Circle office.

Still on the fence about attending events or open houses?

Read our blog on why it’s important.

Design Week Portland starts this week. We asked designer Matthew T. to share how Portland lives creative through some of the city’s inspirational spaces.

The Good Mod


Nestled in one of West Burnside’s longstanding warehouse loft spaces, The Good Mod boasts a diverse stockpile of refurbished Midcentury furniture and design. Ascend the old-school industrial elevator via the unassuming glass-paned entrance on street-level, and you will be greeted by a pleasant host who will help you navigate the towers of Eames chair frames and nordic coffee tables. A unique quality of The Good Mod is its ability to seem peaceful and minimal while functioning as an active repair shop. The open concept and natural light allows for a moment of peace in the buzz of Portland’s thriving West End neighborhood.


Ace Hotel


Further embedded in Portland’s West End is the flagship location of Ace Hotel, an independent hospitality effort focused on design-driven hosting, with extra care attended to the presence of local designers and an engaged staff. Aside from its bright lobby, which also houses a Stumptown Coffee location, the upstairs common areas host an intimate study area where anyone can go to relax, meet others, or read one of the many publications complimentarily provided.


Clyde Common


A staple of the west side, Clyde Common features a clean, rustic interior which buzzes with activity during happy hours on weekdays. Common plates include poutine, rustic eggs, or a charcuterie plate to share. Pair those with a local draft ale or their “pacific standard” cocktail, and you have an outfit ready to suit your spring evening.


Good Coffee


As the name might imply, this cafe was established with the intent to put a quality cup first. Started by a few industry veterans, the new cafe now boasts two locations on Portland’s east side. When you go, look for a variety of bean offerings as well as the unique drinking vessels you are served.


Olympic National Forest


A drive outside of the city may find you in one of the nearby national forests. One popular destination has been the entryway to the greater Olympic National Forest, which resides near Lake Cushman, Shelton, and other rural communities. Nearby you’ll find trellises, old bridges, and an abundance of nature trails.

Matthew is a Creative Circle candidate and your guide to DWP’s events and open houses.

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