Annie Chen aka LEMONNI is about to exhibit at her first Surtex – and she’s a bit excited about it. If you’re a surface designer, Surtex is an enormous opportunity to get your work in front of the people that matter to your business – licencing executives, interior designers, advertising agencies, and much more.
Based in Vancouver with her husband photographer and their two fluffy ‘children’ (a rabbit called Waffles and a puppy called Sammy), Annie only made the transition to surface design about two years ago, from her original background in graphic design. She’s always been interested in patterns, especially the work of Marimekko and Orla Kiely. Her style is crisp and graphic, sweet, and reminiscent of 80s style, featuring a range of simple motifs including clouds, flowers and flamingos in a subdued retro palette.
Even though “Lemonni” is just a made-up name with no real meaning, it still encapsulates a sense of freshness and fun. “I didn’t want to use my real name because there are too many “Annie Chen’s” in the world, so I had to come up with something different.” But Lemonni has served her well; after keeping a low profile on Etsy for many years, around the beginning of 2013 she started feeding her shop with pattern-filled calendars, aprons and teatowels. She hasn’t looked back; she extended into a few local craft shows later in the year, and in 2014 participated in two major shows.
She makes most of the papergoods herself, except for those that need special printing methods, such as stickers and gold-foiled cards. She also makes a lot of her textiles – the tea towels, pouches, and tote bags – although she does outsource those that require more advanced sewing techniques.
Having a background in graphic design is definitely a bonus,
especially for branding and marketing.
“I have designed my logo, business card, website, and promotional material such as postcards, press kits, and catalogues. My experience dealing with clients as a graphic designer has also helped my relationship with clients in the retail business. I have learned to be comfortable charging for my service/products, and negotiating for business deals. It’s an ongoing learning process!”
She feels fortunate that there are several strengths in her current life that she can build on, but there’s always more to learn. “I feel that I’m really lucky because my husband is a commercial photographer. That alone has helped my business a lot because I need photos taken for my products quite frequently. I still learned the basics on how to take a good photo and how to adjust a photo in Photoshop myself. These skills are handy when I need some images in a timely manner. In terms of technical stuff, I usually approach it myself first by lots of reading and researching, unless I feel that it’s not worth my time figuring it out myself, and that my time is better off spent on design rather than production.”
“At the end of the day, time is money. You either save time or save money.”
“Developing a solid brand identity is important. It makes your product/service more credible and presentable compared to your competitors who don’t have one. It needs to all work together, for instance establishing your photography style, which has to correspond to your brand image. For me, this means that every time before I have a photoshoot for my products, I make a moodboard of art direction for my photos. The moodboard helps communicating my ideas to the photographer (and stylist, if you’re hiring one).
“If you’re not sure about the art direction you want, just observe more in your surroundings to figure out what you like. Pay attention to the catalogues you received; the window displays when you go shopping; the production set design in movies; well designed magazines and books, etc. Just remember that no matter what you do, your presentation needs to reflect your brand personality.”
Despite her obvious love of all things creative, her childhood was relatively constrained. “I spent the first 15 years of my life in Taiwan, where kids don’t have much freedom in school pursuing what they want (or even finding out what they want). Most kids only know that they need to study and get good grades in school, and unfortunately I was one of them. However, since my mom was a graphic designer, she taught me drawing and colour theory when I was little. I learned to appreciate art and design through her. I guess that’s part of the reason why I chose a creative career later on.”
Annie says the best thing about working for yourself is the flexibility. “Having the freedom to work from anywhere and having the flexibility for vacations (although I’ve spent many weekends working as well and there’s never clear-cut off-time for me, haha!).
And her best piece of advice?
“Try to be different, not better. You can spend all your energy trying to be the best, but it is ‘easier’ to be different. I can’t say that I’ve figured out how to be different, but I always keep it in mind whenever I can.”