Conversation with Bre Radermacher of Rowan Made
photographed by Athena Pelton • written by Kim Conway
Bre of Rowan Made is very much a “do whatever feels right in the moment” kind of person in both her personal life and her business life. This year in particular, she’s been embracing the concept of flow by guiding her life to revolve less around the hustle and to allow moments of relaxation, “I’ve found that if I’m flowing forward, doing whatever my gut and my heart are telling me to do, and I’m treating myself kindly, then creativity shows up when it’s supposed to.”
In some regards, it’s a matter of establishing a morning routine (for Bre, that includes not grabbing her phone immediately and practicing self-guided yoga). In others, it’s about creating a work/life balance that allows Bre to take breaks by stepping away from work to clear her mind and to prioritize finishing her day early enough that she won’t hit a creativity-blocking wall. If it feels right, be it with clients or friends, Bre knows she has found her flow.
To keep things fresh, Bre breaks down her process into two important parts: working with like-minded clients whose missions deeply click with her and finding inspiration in her surroundings—whether that’s as close as a walk around a local lake or as far as a trip to Europe. That real-life exploration is crucial to Bre’s creativity, “It brings in the calm rather than searching for direct inspiration.”
As she’s grown with Rowan Made, Bre’s simple aesthetic style hasn’t changed so much as it has been refined and strengthened. With a busy, colorful, always-buzzing mind, Bre’s crisp and organized designs are a bold contrast to what is happening in her head—similar to her desire to be near water and travel, there’s an element of balance and calm.
Read on to learn more about Bre’s creative processes, where she finds influence in her work from her travels, and what quote has seemed to influence everything she creates. She also shares details on a recent client whom she found a surprising connection with, which projects she’s grown most proud of, and who her dream client would be (hint: it would involve extra flow).
Take us through a day in the life of Bre and Rowan Made. What does a typical day look like?
I’m not the type of person who has to wake up at 6 and do XYZ, but I have kind of a morning routine that I stick to fairly regularly. Prior to this, for several years of running my own business, I would wake up, pick up my phone, see what emails were there, and instantly be working in a way. I didn’t have any sort of in-between from waking up to work itself. It wasn’t a good habit.
This year, I’ve tried to establish a nice morning routine. I like to wake up and not grab my phone, for one, and I have a big glass of water right away. I put on some low-key tunes and head over to my yoga mat and I do my own practice—whatever comes to me. I don’t have a clock facing me and I go for as long as I want, whether that is 15 minutes or 40 minutes. After that, I figure out, “Ok, do I have a lot of thoughts going through my head? What are those thoughts?” If they’re feeling negative, I’ll go journal about it and get it out of my head and onto paper. I’ve found it really helps to have it live somewhere else outside of my head.
From there, I make breakfast and flip on a podcast. Since I do work at home by myself and my husband is usually already at work, it helps put me in a good mood. I like listening to more random and entertaining podcasts, like Two Dope Queens, but some days I’ll listen to The RobCast, which is more spiritual and thought-provoking. It depends on my mood and what I want to listen to, but it’s nice to feel like there is someone else in the room.
Every day is really different work-wise, it depends on what’s on the schedule. Usually, I’ll hit my email right away and tame my inbox, otherwise that drives me crazy. Since I work best in the morning, I like to do one big ticket item before lunch. It helps start my day off on the right foot because I’m in the right mindset already. With lunch, I’ll either watch a TV show, listen to another podcast, or get out and go on a coffee date. I’ll do one more big ticket item after and finish up any odds and ends (like admin work or personal projects). I like to finish earlier rather than later, because I basically hit a wall anytime after 3PM. I’m not a big 9-5 person.
I like to cook, so the rest of my night—the wind down—is making dinner. My husband comes home around 6 and we eat together at the kitchen table, which is a new thing—we used to eat in front of the TV which was a bad habit, but now we eat at the table and talk, which feels much better. He usually does the dishes since I make dinner. If we’re both feeling tired, we’ll stay in and call it a night, but most nights we like to do something else, like go for a walk around the neighborhood to get out and about. Otherwise, it’s just relaxing, watching TV, and doing whatever feels right in the moment. There’s not really a huge nighttime routine, but I like to do yoga again at the end of the night to wind down.
I’ve read that your word of the year this year is “flow.” Why flow? What does that look like? And, how is it going?
I’m not a huge resolution person, per se. I think it causes a lot more stress for me personally to think “you have to do this, you have to do that,” but I do like having this word to think about for the year ahead. For me, flow is the opposite of hustle. For the first good five years of Rowan Made, I was all about the hustle—whether I cared to admit it or not. I would work long hours and take on as many clients as I could, because I was so scared that it could disappear at some point. Running your own business can be a little scary in that way—busy times, slow times.
I would just go, go, go, thinking that it would help propel me forward, which ended up creating this hustle lifestyle that became normal. This year, the word flow came to me when I thought I want to let my life be less hustle, more relaxed. It has been really exciting because for once, in all aspects of my life, whether it’s clients or even friends, when and where I hang out, who I hang out with, I’m just letting it flow and seeing what feels right at any given moment, and if it doesn’t, then I’m going to say no. But saying no and living this new normal is definitely easier said than done. There will be some days where I miss the old normal of hustling, or “old Bre” as I like to call it—I feel weird that I’m not working constantly. Other days and weeks, I feel totally fine and feel like this is awesome, this is how I want things to go, flow is working, I’m in it. So it’s this messy transition where I’m getting used to the “new Bre,” if you will. It’s a great word, but it’s a word that is going to take some time to get used to, at least for it to become normal.
Have you found that focusing on flow has really helped you creativity-wise?
I’ve found that if I’m flowing forward, doing whatever my gut and my heart are telling me to do, and I’m treating myself kindly, then creativity shows up when it’s supposed to. If I start my day by grabbing my phone, it is bound to become negative; more based on comparison, stress, and fear. Whereas, if I begin my day in a way that feels good to me and do what I need to do first and keep the world at bay for a little bit, then I’m more apt to build on that and have a better day. Creativity will flow through that because I’ve already taken care of myself.
But that’s not to say that’s bulletproof. There will be days where I start off with a routine, and then things happen and I react. We’re only human. I’ll have to take a step back if it’s affecting me and that’s where flow comes in—old Bre would push through, but new Bre tries her best to recognize, “Ok, I’ve gone off course. Something is not feeling right, creativity isn’t coming.” Now I’ll take a step back—take a half hour to go watch the Golden Girls or just take a moment away—and come back and try again.
As a brand designer, how do you keep the process of working with clients fresh and exciting for you?
The people that we work with are so important. I used to put myself in a box and say I work with creative people: photographers, event planners, or a certain kind of people. But now, I love working with people I like to call ‘like-minded.’ These are people that I get on the phone with and there is some sort of connection. If I’m operating under that idea, rather than putting myself in a niche box, then a lot of new and exciting projects can come to fruition.
For example, right now I’m working with a chemistry lab research company. It’s hard to explain it because it’s so beyond my world, but when I got on the phone with them, I learned their whole mission is to brighten a chemist’s day. These are the people who are finding cures for diseases and are working in windowless labs with ugly packaging and not great colors—white on white on white. When they spoke to me on the phone, I thought, “That is so beautiful! You just want to bring color into someone’s life!” They were all about keeping their company small and nimble and making everyone feel like they were a family. That struck a chord with me. In terms of the process itself, it’s truly about getting to know them and being in it with them.
The opportunity to get out of the office and look for inspiration also keeps things new and exciting. I’ll step away from the computer throughout the life of the project to find inspiration elsewhere. I’m lucky to live near a few lakes in Minneapolis, so I often go for walks. There is something about water for me that helps me focus and helps calm my mind, rather than thinking, “Ok, what am I going to do for this project, what am I going to do for that project.” It brings in the calm, rather than searching for direct inspiration.
What does the in-between part of your process—after you’ve gathered information and before you’ve presented a visual identity—look like? What kind of creation happens there?
I’m really huge on getting to know my clients in-depth, so I always begin with what I call the Discovery Phase. I’m not someone who asks five questions then dives into the design, I ask quite a bit more than that. I want to feel armed with knowledge to get rid of some of that guessing that comes with design. The more I know my clients, the better I can tell their story and design for their audience and their future. We create a brand strategy for them to organize everything into a neat package: talking about who the company is, what matters to them, who their people are, what matters to their people, buzzwords, competition, etc. Before the design even begins, there is really a verbal and visual checkpoint that happens to make sure everyone is on the same page. It’s great for establishing trust, because it’s something we can go back to and say, “Remember, XYZ?”
After the Discovery Phase, we get into the Design Phase. Here, we take everything we’ve received so far and come up with concepts—which can be daunting. It is mostly banging our heads against the wall until finding something is starting to work, refining from there, and double-checking along the way. The last thing you want to do is get stuck on the first “best concept” that comes to you. It’s important to step back, try something else, and circle back around to your artboard or your sketchbook to truly see what is best for the brand that you’re working with. That is what the conceptual part looks like—moving around an artboard and coming up with as many concepts, then sticking with the one that feels right and focusing on it.
We take a one-concept approach and we present it in a beautiful way. It’s not just a black logo on a white screen—it’s much more complex. We explain what a client is looking at and how their design can be used “in the wild” or in the real world: business cards, Instagram/Twitter mockups, whatever it is, something to help them see how all the various aspects are working together. Otherwise, because they aren’t designers, they may not be able to imagine that for themselves. We like to hold their hand a little bit and say here’s what your secondary logo may look like, here is how it can actually work in real life. Our presentations are a big part of the process to help show that.
And then it is all about refinement—which we do a few rounds of. Even though we do the one-concept approach, we don’t give them the design and say, “Enjoy!” Design is an iterative process, so it’s important to discuss what is working with the client, as well as where there are opportunities to grow. That’s what refinement is all about: we keep subjectivity at bay, keep them on track, and remind them that we are focusing on their audience and the brand’s best interest. I think when you are very up front about the refinement process and guide them with some questions, you get much better feedback.
What project are you most proud of? Is there a dream client that you’d love to create for?
There are a handful of projects I think fondly of, because we were able to be in the process for more than just the branding. They were projects where we not only did the branding, but we also built it out with print, packaging, and website design—24 East, Riles & Co., and Nectar & Green, to name a few. Where we got to dip our toes into more than just one thing, that’s always the most fulfilling to me.
I’d definitely love to create for a yoga studio, because I’m obsessed with yoga. Beyond that, it would be really fun to brand a retreat—my friend and I are wanting to put together a retreat for designers. That, in a way, is kind of a dream project that may actually happen. Designing for yourself is hard, but when it’s for something you’ve been thinking about for so long, that’s when it feels really dreamy and exciting.
Your work is both minimal and strong. Do you think your style has evolved over time?
In general my style has not changed, it’s just been refined and become stronger. I think my craft has improved. For example, if I look back to design work I did in college, or even the first few years of freelancing, I just laugh, like, “Ok, great, good for having a past!” You have to start somewhere. But yet, at the same time, it was simple and modern. I still very much prefer that aesthetic and I love simplifying things. Albert Einstein says, “Make things as simple as possible but not simpler,” and that is the whole idea behind what I do. Simplifying, but not too much. That quote is the foundation of everything I do, it’s even in our pricing guide, I’m obsessed with it.
I feel like my head is so loud. I’m always thinking about the future, what’s next, the ins and outs of running a business. My head is busy, it’s colorful, it’s random, it’s weird—yet my design is a direct contrast to that. It’s clean, it’s organized. I think that’s why I’m drawn toward simplicity. It feels very calming and it’s the opposite of what is happening in my head at any given moment. If I were to brand my mind, it would be like Lisa Frank—crazy, bright, and so busy. But my work is nothing like that.
I know you love to travel. What has travel taught you about life and has it affected how you view your work?
Growing up, I did not travel. We drove everywhere we could and we flew very little. My parents feel very comfortable in the Midwest. They like to travel, but they like home more. But I established a sense of curiosity at a young age. When I was finally able to afford to go to Europe, I was so excited. Ever since then, I’ve been very addicted to leaving and going and exploring and seeing new places, but always knowing that I can come home. Because I am too, a homebody. There is nothing better than flying over Minneapolis and knowing that we’re coming home.
Travel has taught me so many things that I didn’t experience when I was younger. It’s opened my eyes to other cultures and other people and I think in a way, it changed my perspective on the world and my own lifestyle. I realized in Europe, for example, at all hours of the day there are people out and about. It’s community-driven, everything is close, walkable. It’s everywhere in Europe. I really liked that people there make sure that their work/life balance is in check. They aren’t just work, work, working—they are working, but also taking an hour or two for lunch. Or working, but also staying out late and enjoying good company. I think that instilled a really nice balance in me with my own work, to make sure that I wasn’t all about the hustle and that I did have time for myself. I was reminded that it’s ok to take a break, and it’s actually really good to go have a meal with some friends and forget about all of the stuff in your office for a little bit.
Favorite place you’ve ever been?
Ah, so hard! I would say Paris because it’s the first city I visited and it’s just gorgeous. It fits with where my eye is drawn. Clean buildings, very neutral, and beautiful. But I also loved Italy, because I’m such a foodie at heart. Some of my favorite days of my entire life were spent in Italy, eating pasta, drinking wine, and not moving. You’d walk all day, plop yourself down in a restaurant, drink, eat gelato, and repeat the next day. It’s beautiful, slow, and easy—and I love it.