The sentence that greets you when you visit Man vs. George’s Etsy shop is “We make modern greeting cards with a flip-side surprise!” Ryan and Tilney should probably add that they make beautiful, funny, creative, and utterly delightful greeting cards (and art prints!).
Why Man vs. George? What’s the story behind the name?
When brainstorming business names, we wanted to come up with something that was relatively short and easy to spell, but also had a certain playful je ne sais quois. Something other than “Ryan Fitzpatrick Graphic Design”… We toyed around with a few names that reflected a kind of dynamism or conflict, and eventually landed on MAN (representing the Everyman) vs. GEORGE (our lady cat, who is a formidable opponent in most contests of strength and skill). Fun fact: The MAN profile in our logo is Ryan, and the GEORGE profile is none other than George the lady cat, although we had to slim her down a bit in the illustration.
Did you always want to design greeting cards aside from providing graphic design services?
The greeting cards were a happy by-product of Ryan’s other graphic design work. We had a greeting card emergency one night…our niece’s birthday party was the next morning in Chicago, and we had forgotten to pick up a card (and didn’t particularly want to run to the drug store at midnight to buy one). So Ryan fired up his laptop and designed this spider monkey birthday card for her. He continued the design on to the back of the card, giving a close-up of one of the monkeys holding a sign that read “wowie zowie!”, which was our niece’s favorite expression at the time. Thus began our signature design element: Greeting cards with a flip-side surprise — every design wraps around from the front to the back of the card! Sure, it uses more printer ink, but we figure somebody has to keep HP in business…
What do you love about managing Man vs. George?
We love knowing that our cards have been part of celebrations all over the world. We’ve shipped orders all across the US, Canada, and Europe…to Australia, Brazil, China…even Cambodia, just this week! Some day we would love to visit every country where we have shipped cards. Hell, we’d love to visit all of our retailers in person (we’ve got about 60 across the US, in Canada, and a couple overseas — it would be one epic road trip)!
What’s your least favorite thing about being part of the stationery industry?
OMG…the paper cuts….THE PAPERCUTS! (Ha…I kid! This is Tilney here, typing from the reclining splendor of my lounge chair while Ryan toils away across the room, scoring and cutting hundreds of cards. I want to assure you, gentle reader, that no humans — or cats — were ever injured during the creation, production, or packaging of MAN vs. GEORGE greeting cards.)
Tell us about your design process. How are Man vs. George cards and prints created?
Each design starts with a dream…
Ha, kidding again! In the early days, the trigger event for the creation of a new greeting card was usually an upcoming party for a family member or friend. My family is huge, so there was a string of birthdays over the course of a few months, and then throw in friends’ baby showers, graduations, and so forth, and suddenly we had a respectable start on a greeting card collection.
Four years later, we have over 300 designs across all categories, so now our process typically starts with an analysis of our existing collection to identify where we need to add new designs. For instance, we may look at our Get Well category and note that we haven’t added anything new in 6 months. Or we might look at the customer requests that we jot down at shows and come to the conclusion that the people really want a robot birthday card. Other times, Ryan will design a card for me for my birthday or Valentine’s Day, and I’ll be so psyched to share it with the world that I will demand he commercialize it immediately. (I try to wait at least 24 hours before making my demands, but sometimes I can’t help myself!)
Ryan usually starts with a hand-drawn sketch, or he’ll photograph a scale model and then draw from the photo. He then renders the image in Adobe Illustrator. Once the core image is drawn, we will talk about the concept for the card — the occasion, the message, the color palette, fonts, and so on. We tend to go minimalist for the messages — we like to make our cards multi-purpose that way. For instance, our “i heart mom” cards can be used for Mother’s Day, new baby congratulations, or even mom’s birthday.
For prints, Ryan usually works solo on those. Many of his more adult-oriented prints began life as gig posters for Milwaukee area jazz musicians.
What can a potential client expect from working with you on a custom design?
We love doing custom design work! We are just wrapping up a wedding invitation suite for the sister of a bride whose invitations we created last year. We love the particular design challenges that each custom project brings — say, invitations for a fall wedding that invoke the season, but do not make people think of dead leaves. Talking to our clients to get a sense of their style, their likes and dislikes, is always so much fun. We feel a great sense of responsibility when we take on a custom project…whether it is for invitations, a logo, or a gig poster…to really capture the client’s point of view and reflect it back out to the world in a way that will really resonate with them.. At the same time, we bring to bear our artistic skills and design expertise on every project, so each design reflects our aesthetic as well.
If you could design wedding invitations for a couple (dead, alive, fictitious, or real), who would the clients be and what would the invites look like?
Andy Warhol and Allen Ginsberg. The invitations would be super colorful, and the text would read like a great Beat poem.
Any advice for artists who want to do what you do?
Take risks and be persistent — make sure your own point of view is present in all of your work. Also, be organized. (Marrying a project manager can help with that!)
Thank you, Ryan and Tilney (and George)! We hope that you do end up taking that fun road trip.