Design: These Are Things

  • Photo by Tessa Berg
By
From the May 17, 2012 edition

Jen Adrion and Omar Noory earn their living by making modern-day maps; appropriate considering the These Are Things design duo has made several life-changing decisions while traveling.

“It just kind of happens,” Adrion said. “When we decided to leave our jobs we were in New York.”

Their day jobs, that is. By October 2010, with about a year’s worth of living expenses saved, the couple had made their graphic design company a full-time gig.

“But even before we opened These Are Things,” Noory said, “we were on a drive back from seeing Devo in Chicago and we were talking about whether there was a line where we could be a designer and still be an artist and make a living, and in six months we were designing the map.”

The map: the pair’s first $500 investment. They wanted a well-designed poster of the globe that they could use to commemorate the places they had been together. It was a cute activity for an in-love couple of design geeks to do while hibernating one winter.

That uninhibited passion is what attracted New York Times best-selling author Chris Guillebeau to the pair. In his new book, “The $100 Startup,” he included a case study of These Are Things as one of 50 successful small businesses that began with a few hundred dollars and have grown to earning $50,000 or more. On Tuesday, Guillebeau will speak about the book at the Garden Theater.

“I loved the story of Jen and Omar finding their own way fresh out of design school,” said Guillebeau, who found the Columbus company online. “They made an interesting, fun product and adapted as the response and customer base grew. I also liked the unexpected nature of it: They started by making something that they themselves would enjoy. It turned out that a lot of other people enjoyed it, too.”

Adrion and Noory had nary a business plan when they started. The maps were for their personal pleasure, but they decided to sell them — they had to print at least 50 in their original order — online just to get rid of the extras.

“They were too pretty to just sit there,” Adrion said.

Indeed. They sold out in minutes. Some of their original design even sold to the recent graphic design grads’ art idols, like Julia Rothman and Heads of State. They’ve also been picked up and written about by online design mainstays, like DesignSponge and Fab.com.

What These Are Things have built since then is a debt-free business that brings in for Adrion, 24, and Noory, 26, more than they were making at their former day jobs (around $35,000 each).

“Sometimes we look around and we’re like, OK how is this possible?” said Adrion, as she looked around the team’s Brewery District studio and apartment. “To have people appreciate the work that we did that we feel really represents us as creative people, it’s the most incredible feeling in the world.”

Next up for the couple: a launch of new products and a trip to L.A. What big decision they’ll make on that trip, the two said, is yet to be determined.

Tips for creative startups

Network. Adrion and Noory recommend attending meetings of the Columbus Society of Communicating Arts.

Hire professionals. “We decided to spend the money and have the professionals do things we couldn’t [like screenprinting and delivery],” Adrion said. “Had we not done that, this would not be a business.”

Start small. “Instead of begging for money from the bank or your family, spend as little money as possible,” Guillebeau said. “Get started within 30 days and see what happens. This is the model that most people in the study used, with great success.”

Believe in trial and error. “We spent three or four months designing the Europa touring series,” Adrion recalled. “It wasn’t one of our best sellers. People really want to commemorate the places they had been or the places that they live. We thought this was an aspiration piece. It did well, but with people who had already been to Europe.”