Shannon Harris is a daughter of design.
The coordinator of Design Week’s Letter Press and Screen Printers Fair, Harris, 28, is a Huntsville native, the middle child of an architect and a technical illustrator. “My mom was a huge influence on me. She passed away three years ago, but she was such a powerful, brilliant woman. She taught art classes in our house during the summer for neighborhood kids. Art was a possibility everywhere — a face painted on a rock.”
In the 1960s, Harris’ grandfather was a member of the firm that designed some of the larger profile buildings in Huntsville, including the Von Braun Civic Center. “Huntsville isn’t known for being a creative city,” she said, “but creativity was a big part of our lives.”
Having elders who took seriously design — both the artistic expression and problem-solving function — impacted the way Harris looked at her role in a community, which led to her involvement with Design Week Birmingham, a week-long event-based discussion and celebration of “great design and its relevance to everyday life.”
“Design is everywhere. It’s everything,” Harris said during an interview a few blocks from her office at BIG Communications, where she has worked as a senior art director for three years. “I design. I illustrate. I do web design. I oversee photo shoots and video and all aspects of visual design…you get it.”
Most recently, Harris has been the lead on the “Choose B” campaign for Brookwood Medical Center. “People have been crazy responsive about participating with this brand. It’s been about building this awesome network of women who use this hospital, but it’s about making it more than that. I love working with people on a brand they support, on a brand they feel a part of.”
In partnership with REV Birmingham and with help from entrepreneurs like Chatham Hellmers, owner of Charm boutique, Harris designed and coordinated the Second Saturday Sidewalk Sale to promote local businesses and raise revenue for signage, bike racks and benches along Second Avenue North.
When coordinators of Design Week asked Harris to be involved with the city’s first design summit, she said it was a no-brainer. “Bigger cities, more traditionally creative cities like Portland, have a design week. In the past year, Birmingham has gotten more of a reputation for being a creative city.” That reputation, Harris said, has to do with design people, creative people, and, importantly, young people putting roots down in the city.
Harris moved to Birmingham in 2007 after studying in Auburn’s design studio. She met her husband Matt, a fellow BIG adman who was then designing for Standard Deluxe in Waverly, Alabama, and the two moved to the Magic City for jobs.
“When I moved here,” said Harris, “people were embarrassed about Birmingham. Everybody wanted to move out, to get out. There’s been such a shift toward the positive.”
That shift, according to Harris, is apparent in the number of young professionals working in design fields in the city. “The young kids at my office, all of their friends ended up here. … It’s cool to have them be able to get together after work for a drink. They value design and care about it. … They want to be here.”
With a supportive, rooted community comes an opportunity like Design Week, where the so-called big guns can come to Birmingham to share ideas. “Charles Anderson is my guy, my hero,” Harris said. “I was able to approach him, which was the most awesome feeling in the world — to email someone you’ve admired for so long and invite him to our city. It’s great to have something to invite him to.”
Harris called on some of those local designers to participate in the Printers Fair, folks like the team behind Yellowhammer Creative (the screen-printers responsible for the “It’s Nice to Have You in Birmingham” T-shirts), industrial designer Scott Doty and Jessica Peterson, co-owner of The Southern Letterpress.
Brett Forsyth and Brandon Watkins began working on what would become the Yellowhammer Creative (YHC) business in 2009. Forsyth said it was their shared interests, namely music, and a desire to be “stewards of good design” that brought the pair together.
“Music has had a big impact on my life,” Forsyth said, “and has led me to the medium of screen-printing. Most of my favorite musicians and bands were supporters of show posters. I used to love going to a show, and I’d be as excited to see the poster just as much as the show. The show poster was the best bridge of the two worlds of design and music for me. So I wanted to learn how to print them myself. It was clear Brandon [Watkins] shared the same passion so we started experimenting and teaching ourselves how to screen-print.”
“People have more than likely seen our work around Birmingham, but we have worked with clients all over the U.S. and even a couple overseas,” said Forsyth. “Being a small company, we are able to work with some really great people who are all trying to do exciting things and chase their own dream job. This includes musicians but also small businesses and nonprofits. We offer branding and creative direction to help these small businesses achieve their goals. The company has become a way for us to do what I think every designer wants to do…‘the fun stuff.’”
The “fun stuff” comes with admittedly lofty goals. Like Harris, Forsyth takes design seriously. “Design has always helped round out the experience of the times. When most people look back on eras, the first thing that stands out is the design…how things looked. It defines who we are at any given time. As a designer it’s our job to define the times we live in. We are tasked to create and influence the world around us.”
Scott Doty, who worked as an industrial designer for the renowned architect and designer Michael Graves, will be demonstrating his new Afinia 3-D printer during the Fair.
“The most interesting place that my recent work has shown up is when one of my Peppermills was featured on the Canadian Shopping Channel,” Doty said.
Doty, who moved to Birmingham with his wife two years ago, said, “[we] both wanted to get involved in the community in some way since moving here.” Doty said that well-purposed spaces like Railroad Park and festivals like Sidewalk Film Festival and Secret Stages attracted his family to the city. “Festivals and spaces help create communities and relationships that last much longer than a week and provide benefits that are hard to quantify but significant.”
Servicing the community is important, too, for Jessica Peterson, the co-owner of The Southern Letterpress, an outfit based in Tuscaloosa and St. Petersburg, Florida. Peterson said her goal is to “provide our immediate communities with well-crafted graphic design and letterpress work.”
Peterson and partner Bridget Elmer met in the Book Arts Program at the University of Alabama in 2006. “I am from Rochester, New York originally,” Peterson said. “There, [in graduate school] I learned how to letterpress print. Once I started printing, I knew it was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.” Peterson will have samples of her work and her press in tow at the Printers Fair.
“Design is all around us,” said Peterson. “It is a waste not to recognize this fact and not harness the power of visual communication. … Good design is important for the growth of community and economy. In NYC, and other larger US cities, everyone recognizes this, and there is good deliberate design everywhere: in the signs, the street layouts, the parks, everything. Alabama is just now beginning to own its design language.”
That design language will be on display at the Printers Fair, which will be held in Birmingham’s newest brew house, Trim Tab Brewing Company near the Lakeview District.
“All of Design Week is for everybody,” said Harris, “but we’re aware some of these events are for designers or community-minded people. … The printer’s fair is something that people who don’t know a lot about design can enjoy. It’s the everybody event.”
The Printers Fair will be held Saturday, Oct. 26 from 10 a.m.–4 p.m. at Trim Tab Brewing Co., 2721 5th Ave. S. For more information on Design Week Birmingham, visit dwbhm.com.