I met Elizabeth Chai
in real life last year in Kansas City (the qualifying event). But I first knew of her when I learned she was doing a big camper coffee crawl across the US from Atlanta to Portland, where she is based now. Liz is a “coffee + design” graphic designer, illustrator, and photographer. We also have shared interests in donuts, dessert, and craft sodas. If you run into her at a coffee event, she’ll likely be dressed up in a colorful vintage fabric dress with a camera in hand.
In the last year, we’ve been fortunate to run into each other often enough that I could set up a short photo session and interview. It’s not often that I’m able to photograph and interview someone else who does similar work as me. I think highlighting other fellow freelancers in coffee can help others realize that there are other careers in coffee that may be outside the “norm.”
On a side note, while we do have some similar interests, I hope this interview also highlights how we are not the same person (please stop mixing us up at events).
Where do you pull your inspiration from?
Elizabeth Chai: Motivationally, I’m always inspired by observing those who pursue their dreams and make good things happen. I love watching my colleagues who are shaking things up or creating incredible work — whether it is in traditional “coffee professional” roles like roasters, barista/brewer competitors, equipment manufacturers, etc. or other “Coffee Creatives” like designers, photographers, podcasters, product designers, and marketers. I seriously get so pumped up seeing forward movement. I especially love when I see someone breaking rules and trying new things that haven’t been done before — I have a lot of respect for trendsetters, and people who do things differently.
Visually, I allow myself to be influenced in two ways. If I’m designing for a client, I try to focus more on what they stand for and what would visually represent that client’s taste and aesthetic. I really believe that is how “design” and “art” can be differentiated. If I’m designing for myself, as a personal expression or as a fun project for an event, I allow my personal taste to take over. I tend to be inspired by vibrant colors and patterns, systems and order (such as organized colors or icons), clean and modern stylized lines, and mood / experience (the way I feel if it’s raining or Autumn or I’m optimistic or In Love or traveling). I’m also heavily influenced by mid-century modern design.