A few years after Jen Adrion and Omar Noory graduated from CCAD in 2008, the graphic designers began making screenprinted posters and art prints. One item, a map of the world designed in a mid-century modern aesthetic, took off, gaining mentions on prominent blogs, which led to more orders than they anticipated. It was a light bulb moment for the pair.
“We realized it was a career path,” Noory said. “We can design our own work and sell it.”
At the time, Adrion and Noory were also doing freelance illustration work for magazines and advertisements, but in 2015 they began to focus on a range of artistic products that used their background in graphic design and illustration, but in a small minimalist format. under the banner These are things, they started designing and selling iron-on patches, self-adhesive patches and enamel pins. Since starting the business, Adrion and Noory have sold around 2 million pieces.
From today (Monday, January 31) until February 26, these pins and patches are exhibited at the Beeler Gallery of the CCADwith each piece mounted in a straight line on four white walls, serving as a timeline, of sorts, for several years of These Are Things’ work.
“These are all files on our computer and in little bins in the studio and warehouse. But to actually see them on display…I never thought I’d see them this way,” said Noory, entering the gallery for the first time last week with Adrion and CCAD Galleries Director Tim Rietenbach.
“I haven’t even seen some of them in real life,” Adrion said. “They’re huge on screen, and then you see them in real life and they’re so small.”
Small pieces can deliver big messages, however. The designs, which often incorporate humorous and political themes, are a way for customers to wear their identity. A patch reads “Feminist”. Another depicts a flag with the word “Freak”. “Cool to be kind” fills the center of a flower pin. One shows a smiling Earth with the words “Please save me”. “Ask me about my pronouns” implores a recent pin.
“They can point out those beliefs and help you find your people around the world,” Adrion said.
Other designs are lighter – pizza, burger, “Plant Mama”, coffee, cats, a glow-in-the-dark alien baby. “They look like emoji here on the wall,” Adrion said. “We’re so used to using symbols now to communicate.”
Simplicity of designs is one of the biggest challenges, while constantly keeping manufacturing constraints in mind. “You have the limits of the medium itself. You can’t get too crazy. You cannot have gradients; the colors should be separated by the metal,” Noory said. “You have to think, OK, how am I going to design this thing in a simple way that can actually be produced?”
Noory and Adrion never had a big plan for These Are Things. “In the beginning, we were just doing the things we wanted to, so it all feels very personal,” Adrion said. Today, the product line is constantly evolving, with new designs reflecting recent trends (succulents, avocados) and throwbacks (mixtapes, boomboxes).
“Every month I’m like, OK, this will be the last month we can do this. It’s going to dry up,” Noory said. “But they keep ordering.”