July 3, 2013 • Sarah Schwartz
Like many who’ve distinguished themselves in stationery, Pei Pinney, founder and designer at Pei Design, sprung from the world of advertising — and indeed, still provides branding and design services for other companies and clients.
After receiving her BFA from the University of San Francisco & Academy of Art University, she worked as a graphic designer and art director for over a decade. But before even graduating, Pinney won a coveted Clio award for her packaging work for a coffee brand, and was also featured in the Graphis New Talent Design Annual 1998. Later, her work on a POM Wonderful press kit garnered a Mobius Award.
Pinney enjoyed similar success after launching Pei Design at National Stationery Show (NSS) in 2012, being named as one of Stationery Trends’ 10 Designers to Watch in 2013. Her stationery stands out thanks to her use of vivid color, balanced with equal parts of whimsy and sophistication. Stationery Trends interviewed Pinney to learn more.
ST: Your advertising repertoire spans a wide range, from print to identity to branding. What have been your favorite projects — and what do you take away from them that feeds into Pei Design?
PP: I love branding, website and packaging design work the most. My experience in advertising has been a great background to make it easier for me to develop my brand across different medias.
ST: What made you want to start a stationery company?
PP: I always loved seeing beautiful products and packaging in boutiques, and dreamed about having my own product line selling in one of these beautiful stores. Working as a graphic designer for many years, I helped build a lot of brands and though the styles were appropriate for those projects, I always wanted to create my own brand with my own voice. I had a vision of lifestyle products that I wanted to share with the world. Since I’ve dealt so much with paper and printing, I thought stationery would be the best point for me to start a business.
ST: What inspires you most in creating stationery product?
PP: I spent my childhood in Asia, and the culture was heavily influenced by cuteness. I draw on this quality while trying not to loose the sophistication in my work. I’m also a big fan of Scandinavian design. There is still the child in me and I enjoy drawing things that are cute and whimsical. This plays a big part in where most of my inspiration comes from. At the same time, I love fashion, so I see colors and designs and find inspiration from that as well.
ST: Does running a paper line differ from how you envisioned it? How?
PP: It’s rewarding but it can be stressful at times. It’s a competitive business and starting out, I need to be not only the designer but also business owner and the two sides don’t always agree. I’ve found that to be the biggest challenge. There are so many cool effects and details I want to offer for the products, but as a business, I need to make sure that the cost will make sense and be competitive.
ST: What did you learn at NSS ’12 that has helped your business?
PP: Being (at NSS) gave me the firsthand opportunity to meet with buyers and other business owners from all over the world. We got lots of wonderful feedback. It was a terrific experience and great brand exposure, which is why I returned in 2013.
Business & Pleasure
ST: Do you personally collect anything? If so, what?
PP: Since I was a kid, I collected all kinds of stuff. I love uniquely designed clothing hangtags, stamps, stationery, pencils and stickers. For the last few years, I’ve been collecting quirky toys from around the world.
ST: What advice would you give to new invitation designers or companies?
PP: There are so many amazing designs out there, so I think it’s important to find your own voice. At the same time, you need to be patient and be prepared if things don’t work out right away.
ST: Where would you like Pei Design to be in five years?
PP: In five years I hope to expand our categories more into home accessories and kids’ product.
ST: What trends do you currently find interesting?
PP: I love seeing the artistry of calligraphy that is applied in many modern designs. Nowadays, things are done mostly with computer and I remember how hard it was for me to use the calligraphy pen when I was in school, so I really appreciate these talented calligraphy artists who can come up with something so beautiful and fantastic.
ST: What other stationery designers or companies do you admire and why?
PP: There are so many great companies out there. One of my favorites is HAY, a company based in Denmark. They started out as a furniture company (but) now offer accessories related to stationery. I love how clean and simple their products are yet high design at the same time. I think that is very hard to achieve.
ST: Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
PP: Hand-written notes, cards and letters are still the most personal and fun way of communication. To receive a card or letter in the mailbox is much more exciting than emails or text messages.
Photograph by Miha Matei (www.mihamatei.com)
Pei at a Glance
Q. If you could travel through time and space and land anywhere you desire, where and when would it be?
A. I’d like to go back to my 20s and go backpacking through Europe for a whole year.
Q. How would you define Pei Designs’ signature style, and is there a new piece that epitomizes it?
A. Clean, modern and sweet. I think our new Market Notepad encompasses all the design qualities that we are after.
Q. What’s new for 2013?
A. This year, we added quite a few to our offerings. There are art prints, calendars, notepads, wrapping papers, holiday postcards and 20 new greeting cards.
Q. What one design or product from your 2013 releases do you think is really going to be hot and why?
A. Our design goal is all about creating products that are both charming and useful, so I think our Paris perpetual calendar really embrace these qualities. I believe this product is going to do well.
Q. Obviously any aesthetic is going to change over time. Which piece (or grouping) in your current line do you feel reflects the overall direction of your line?
A. This year, we are offering flat-printed greeting cards. Compared to letterpress, it has less color and printing restrictions, so I was able to tell more stories in my designs/illustrations. But as always, they all have the whimsical, sweet aesthetic our company offers.
Q. Do you have a personal favorite from your new offerings? If so, what is it?
A. Holiday postcards. I really love how the geometric shapes collaborate into the illustration to create the modern look for these postcards. The designs are very graphic yet they keep the playful feeling that I was after for the festive holiday seasons.
Q. What other designers, music and movies inspire you?
A. There are so many great designers I admired. To name a few, they are: Orla Kiely — she is my idol as far as a designer/company is concerned; Meyer-Lavigne is a Danish design duo that makes whimsical and unique flower pots; and Ana Zaja Petrak is a wonderful European graphic designer and illustrator, who owns Anek on Etsy. I love her beautiful food art prints.
Q. If you couldn’t do this, what would you do instead?
A. I really like interior design and fashion design, because I can decorate my own house or make my own clothes. So either one of these jobs would be really fun to do.
— By Sarah Schwartz, editor