This week we chatted with Victoria Vu, an architect and the brains behind a stationery company called Paper & Type. In the latest installment of our interview series, Victoria discusses her beginnings with letterpress, her affinity towards written correspondence, and how living in Los Angeles has influenced her work.
Twenty Two: Let’s start with the basics. Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
Victoria: Where do I begin? I grew up in Northern California, but aside from the move to Los Angeles, I haven’t strayed too far from the childhood version of me! I am still a constant collector of visual inspiration (flowers, books, and objects) and an avid lingerer in the stationery section of bookshops. I’m particular about spaces and the organization of them. I’m fascinated by the processes of how things are made (getting to see that before-and-after), and I love being a creative maker.
It wasn’t until time came to apply for colleges did I decide to pursue architecture. Not a moment before then was I ever very aware of what it was to be an architect, but from the start of architecture school at USC, I was immediately hooked. And my experience with this here city is fairly parallel: I arrived in Los Angeles ten years ago (!) with little understanding and no presumptions about what it was. I hadn’t expected to stay, but since school let out, I continue to enjoy being here and find there is much left for me to explore.
Twenty Two: You’ve been described by women’s wear designer Jill Aiko Yee as, “an architect by day, and business owner / designer / letterpress genius by eve.” Would you say that this is an accurate portrayal?
Victoria: My evenings and weekends are indeed P&T-filled now, since I am working full-time in architecture as of recent. It was over the past couple of years when my schedule was somewhat 50/50 (part-time architecture, part-time graphic design) did I get to building Paper & Type. And, while I have done a couple of letterpress printed projects, Jill is much too generous with her description! I currently design stationery for various mediums (including flat printing and rubber stamping), and recently had a chance to collaborate on a (wedding) website as well.
Twenty Two: Can you describe your background with stationery and designing and how it led you to start Paper & Type?
Victoria: I think the penchant for designing paper goods could be traced back to the time spent at my dad’s Menlo Park print shop, which he opened when I was 6. I used to accompany my mom there whenever she went to help out with paperwork (she put me in charge of addressing and 29¢-stamping the envelopes), and later on I started spending summer days giving a hand with post-production (collating, bindery, folding, etc.). My dad introduced me to Adobe Pagemaker so that I could type and set up the initial content for him to lay out for printing. With Pagemaker on our home computer as well, I started to experiment with the different typefaces, and working on my grade school papers was never the same since.
Throughout architecture school and in my work after that, I always fancied the parts having to do with graphic design or presentation. I haven’t had any formal training in it, but I knew what I liked and collected books (and bookmarked sites) of design and designers to learn from. When I officially started Paper & Type in April 2008, I had completed only a couple of custom projects by then, but I knew I wanted to do more of it, and then some.
Twenty Two: Does being an architect and being a stationery designer require different thought processes?
Victoria: The processes in general are quite akin. Both start with initial research into what the client envisions (or what I envision) for the project as well as understanding what design parameters exist. With that I begin designing and problem solving, moving from a schematic level (general arrangements, spacing, sketches of the big ideas) to a more detailed level of design (all the nitty gritty of making the design look polished). The whole process involves a careful execution of my go-to design and style strategies in response to the needs, input, and personality of the client/project. And when a project is at last realized in physical form, it’s wonderfully exciting and satisfying!
Twenty Two: I’ve noticed that you sell a variety of cards, postcards, thank you notes, and a letter ledger, and you’re even a part of a pen pal club. What led you to focus your energy on written correspondence?
Victoria: It’s about nostalgia and sentimentality, mostly. I was a very dedicated correspondent when I was younger, and I continue to find intense joy in sending and receiving letters. Since all other technological modes of communication are so prevalent now, a letter received via post makes for an especially pleasant surprise, and that small gesture is something I wished to encourage.
So in addition to the custom work that I do, I created a line of readymade stationery to help perpetuate that art of thoughtful correspondence. I like to create charming but simple pieces, preferably ones that are versatile enough to use not just for special occasions and for out of the blue as well. I typically use minimal (or subtle) copy, if at all. My aim is not only to nudge the sender to want to pick the card to send someone, but also to push them to fill in the blank and actually write.
Twenty Two: What was your experience like participating in the Renegade Craft Fair the past two years?
Victoria: The weeks leading up to past fairs were always a frenzy, but the fair itself has been a worthwhile experience! To me, the fair functions as a weekend brick-and-mortar shop: it’s a place to connect with paper-loving fairgoers in person, and it’s incredibly helpful seeing firsthand which products work well (so to figure out which designs to build upon and which to leave behind!). I also appreciate the chance to meet fellow creatives, as well as future clients and shopkeepers! I’m not sure that I’ll really get the hang of being a salesperson, but I’ve been lucky to have some very helpful friends to learn from.
Twenty Two: Can you describe a typical day at work?
Victoria: The morning is my favorite time, so every day (ideally) begins around 6:30am. If I’m planning to photograph any work/products, I get to it between 7 and 8:30, while the morning light’s still a little golden and not too, too bright. I spend a set chunk of time in the morning catching up with the internet (emails, chatter, blogs), then move on to take care of all the things that might require me to be out and about, such as post office stops or picking up materials, since errands are best during the calm before noon. After that, the afternoon can be pretty portable and flexible, as I work off my laptop to design and edit and prep the next day’s wee blog post (if any). If there’s any assembling to be done, such as invitations for a client or packaging products for a fair, it’ll take place in the evenings, and I’ll often call on some dear friends for assembly assistance and good company.
I should note that my schedule has shifted a bit these past couple months, so during the week I do my best to squeeze all of the above into my mornings, noons, and evenings, and I’ll dedicate a bit of the weekend to Paper & Type projects. It’s hard to stop working (or thinking about working), sometimes. Except when it gets late, in which case I go to sleep in anticipation of the next morning.
Twenty Two: Who’s your ideal customer?
Victoria: As far as custom projects go, I couldn’t ask for more than to work with someone who is open and patient. And while I do appreciate the magical phrase, “I trust your judgment,” and being left to my own devices, I’ve just as much enjoyed working with clients more collaboratively on projects – it’s been good to have that outside perspective and insight, and it helps me grow as a designer.
Twenty Two: Where do you find inspiration?
Twenty Two: How has growing up in the Bay Area and living in Silver Lake / Los Angeles influenced your work?
Victoria: I can’t quite put my finger on how these places have influenced the work I’ve produced (perhaps it’s something that only someone looking from the outside can assess), but I can say that being in Los Angeles has only been nurturing to me as a creative. This city is filled to the brim with design of old and new – plus all the paper and print facilities one could want – so it’s been resourceful in that sense, but mainly I’m happy to have been able to connect with so many lovely folks here, ones that have inspired and ones that have been so supportive.
Twenty Two: Who would you most like to collaborate with on a project for Paper & Type?
Victoria: Overall, I am most interested in working with designers/makers of other ilk, and seeing what results when our different crafts mesh together. So, I’m very much looking forward to my collaboration with Jill! We’ve been scheming for a while, and it seems that the hardest part will be just the narrowing down of our ideas in the first place…
Twenty Two: Do you have any advice for aspiring designers?
Victoria: Try not to be too shy!
A special thanks to Victoria for giving us the opportunity to learn more about Paper & Type. You can keep up with Paper & Type by checking out their website, online store, Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest.
Click on the images below to see more from Paper & Type.
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