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As part of our series on local creatives, we've spoken with Robin Mitchell Cranfield, with whom we had the immense pleasure of working on our logo and branding. She is a talented artist and print designer and co-wrote (with Judith Steedman) and co-illustrated Windy, a fave book series of Miko's daughter, and which was recently developed into a series of Parents' Choice approved apps. Her studio, hundreds & thousands, has been recognized by the American Institute of Graphic Arts, the Alcuin Society, How Magazine's International Design Awards and Applied Arts. Robin has taught applied typography and design history at Emily Carr and Simon Fraser University and lives in Vancouver with her husband, Brady and their son, Henry, and cat, Coconut.
Robin is an all-around charming and lovely human and we hope you'll enjoy reading more about her.

Can you give us some background/history on how hundreds & thousands came to be? 

hundreds & thousands is a print design and illustration studio that I started a few years after graduating from Emily Carr. My first office was at the edge of Gastown in the Dominion Building on the floor with the enormous round bay windows. My office faced East towards Mount Baker. It was so quiet and peaceful and it was just me with clouds and mountains outside the windows working every day. It was a really nice way to set out. My very first job for hundreds & thousands was designing a book for Sara O'Leary & Julie Morstad called "When You Were Small" which is still one of my favourite projects. I've been really lucky to get to work on a lot of image-driven books for art galleries and children's publishers. 

Robin Mitchell Cranfield hundreds and thousands book designer kids book Julie Morstad     Robin Mitchell Cranfield hundreds and thousands designer apple drawingRobin Mitchell Cranfield hundreds and thousands nature walk

The studio is named hundreds & thousands after those little round ice cream sprinkles (also called nonpareils). They don't have much flavour, but they transform the experience of having an ice cream or gingerbread, or what have you. I was starting to think at that time about what design contributes to people's experiences of, for example, a story or a piece of music. I think design can often be mistaken for decoration or style, but it is more than just decorative. Design can shape an experience, for example, adding markers to it so that you are aware of it. We often focus more on the way design helps us manage information, but I think it could be as important to add a sense of delight to a quieter everyday experience, too. 
I also like that hundreds & thousands sounds kind of monumental, but is just ice cream sprinkles. Bank tellers really like the name. They think it's about money. It could be about anything, really. 

What is your approach to designing, and/or what inspires you when you're working on a project?

Generally type and colour palette are the two areas I look to first. Working on display typography is so fun. It's a visual puzzle and probably the most playful part of my job. And I really enjoy the mood that colour adds to a design. I'm really interested in our emotional relationship to design and the designed objects in our lives. Marie Kondo and Kenya Hara (the art director for Muji) both write about the emotion sparked by designed objects and also about developing a personal relationship with design, which I think is missing in many of our conversations about design. I find a lot of discussion about design to be a little inhuman and rule-based, and I wish it was more open and playful. 

What is your favourite type of design project to work on (generally speaking, or currently), and why? 

I really enjoy packaging, posters, and book covers because they involve display type and you can play with texture and scale as well. I really enjoy paper and the feeling of different papers. I'm more and more interested in branding and logo design, too. I hope that someday someone will ask me to do packaging for a beverage, like a wine label, or a juice or a soda water or something like that. In a branding project, or a poster, I like the opportunity to illustrate, as well.

What trends are you currently loving in the graphic design field? 

There is a lot of good type design these days. Commercial Type, Playtype, Grilli Type, Monokrom, and lots of other independent foundries and studios are selling type online and having that fresh material to work with is really great. Also, because digital type is getting more technically sophisticated, we're seeing a lot more support for glyphs outside the standard roman alphabet so that multiple languages can be easily accommodated and included on any project. Traditional printing was more inflexible, and so this is quite a special time when type culture is going through a big change and expanding in possibilities. It's a really healthy development and I am excited about it.

What is your favourite thing about living in Vancouver? 

It's a walkable city. It's mostly stroller-friendly, although we could still be better designed for accommodating people with mobility challenges. The quality of our light on the West Coast is really lovely. It's very blue / blue-grey, so bright colours really pop, especially on cloudy days. I also like our trees. I love cedars.

How do you balance work and family life? 

I've had to accept that I'm not good at balanced days, where each day is divided up consistently. I don't multi-task, I hyper focus and get things done in chunks. So I try to balance out my week more than my days. Monday through Wednesday I try to get most of my studio work done. Thursday I try to work on professional development (research, writing, drawing, meetings). Friday afternoons, Saturday, and Sunday I try to reserve for family time. Now that I'm working from a home studio, where my tasks are always a few feet away, I've also begun planning out little one-on-one day trips with my son in advance, to make sure we have time away from the computer. When he was born, I switched from studio work to teaching to give us a more structured schedule. Now that he is in elementary school, I have longer days and my time is more flexible for clients. So, I'm rebuilding my client list this year and working on that area. It's always a work in progress. I don't think I ever feel perfectly balanced. With friends, especially. I don't go out often, and when I do, I realize I was probably a little starved for adult conversation. But most days I just prefer to be home with my family or working with just the cat for company.

Anything else you think we should know about you? 

I'm working on a book of essays about design. Wish me luck! 

Robin Mitchell Cranfield hundreds and thousands Windy book kids book kids app


Favourite meal of the day? And what, specifically? 

For ages it was breakfast, but now it's lunch. I like to make a salad with BBQ salmon or a medium done egg and dark greens, nuts and fruits or veggies and any leftover cooked grain from dinner. The salad dressing is from Hungry Ghost's winter salad dressing: 2 tablespoons olive oil + 2 tablespoons maple syrup + juice of 1 lime + salt and pepper, with some buttermilk or greek yoghurt and/or spices. The less healthy thing I like is ramen with a soft-cooked egg with Coke + lemon with a lot of ice. It's so good. That's a special late-week lunch, if I don't have much work to get out the door afterwards, since I feel like a stuffed potato afterwards. 

Favourite thing to do on a rainy day?

Rainy days are very good work days, but they are also very good nap days. It is a struggle. 

Favourite designers?

I am enjoying so many designers right now, so that's hard to narrow down, but Iela Mari, Dick Bruna, Saul Bass, and Bruno Munari have been important to me since I was in school, probably because I entered into design via children's books. I appreciate designers who can toggle between projects for adults and children, and who take the needs of their younger audiences as seriously as their older ones. I'm also really enjoying the work of Hyo Kwon right now. I like her sense of humour.

Last book you read? (and/or favourite authors/illustrators)

Tove Jansson has been one of my very favourites since I was about 8, and now my son is at the same age and loves her, too. He reads pretty different stuff than I did when I was his age, but that's one we share, so it's special for a new reason now. I just finished a book of essays last night called "Give Up Art" by Maria Fusco. I'm halfway through "How to Live" by Sarah Bakewell, her book about Michel de Montaigne. I'm halfway through listening to the "Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up", which I've listened to a bunch of times. I barely read any books last year, I just read the news. It's nice to be back with books. I also find films and film stills really visually inspiring.

Finally, what are your three favourite products from our store? 

The K'Pure products Drenched body butter and the Settle Down spray are both great and get daily use. We use the spray at bedtime every night, and I use it at my desk when I'm having trouble concentrating. The Des Enfantillages jump ropes are fantastic. I love the mint one.

Thank you so much Robin, and good luck on your book, we know it's going to be awesome! xx
{And check out her lovely greeting cards and tags in our shop!)

{Top photo of Robin and Henry by Lori Kiessling}