October 2, 2013 • Sarah Schwartz
When it comes to May Designs, necessity was truly the mother of invention. After college, Mica May, CEO and designer, launched a graphic design firm. When she couldn’t find notebooks she liked — “I personally feel confined by lines,” she confided — May created ones she liked herself. Her clients noticed them and asked for custom ones imprinted with the logos she’d created for them. Within a few quick hours, the May Books domain name/logo/and ideal client lists were created, as was a winning equation.
Today May Designs’ notebooks are tailored into completely customized creations via pattern, monogram, initial, name and type of page, from agenda to address book, dot to blank. Notes were launched in October 2012 and embrace the same concept, integrating engaging envelope liners and back printing. While product can be customized online, brick-and-mortar clients get a “swatch book,” a notebook full of available patterns with each color scheme as well as fonts and monograms. Impulse buys arise from baby and bump diaries on hand, as well as initialed merchandise.
Stationery Trends interviewed the inadvertent innovator to learn more about her line’s origins and upcoming plans.
By the Book
ST: Can you describe your first notebooks?
MM: Oh the early days! There wasn’t a notebook that had the inside pages I wanted, so I made an assortment of inside pages that were fun for me to use. My first designs were designed for specific companies using their logo/color scheme. We also did a lot of women’s conference books, where we created custom insides with the speaker’s info, agenda (plus) places for conference note taking. I think what has set us apart from the beginning is the ability to customize the entire book. You can order 1 or 100,000, and you can customize the inside/outside cover as well as the inside pages.
ST: As your line evolved, how did the notebooks change?
MM: After the custom books were in full swing, I began designing patterns for the books. I realized that my friends were interested, but they didn’t have a company logo. So for a few years, May Books were simply patterned journals. Then, in October 2011, I added the ability to add a monogram/name to the front. I think this was the greatest addition to our product — because it makes the entire notebook customized.
I am proud to say that I still love our canvas covers, sewn binding and small 5-inch by-8-inch size, so that has actually stayed consistent through the years, which I don’t ever anticipate changing. Another piece that has changed is the assortment of inside pages we offer: We now have a variety of agendas, pregnancy and newborn journals, a diet/exercise journal, a meal planner, kid’s handwriting and doodle books and many more.
ST: Do you find that your existing customers are matching the notes into their notebook purchases — or does this introduction bring a new audience?
MM: Our audience ranges from paper lovers to practical people who are just looking for a quick gift or set of thank-you cards. It seems that customers fall in love with a certain pattern or color trend, so their books/notes might not match exactly, but they usually do look synergistic with each other.
ST: Where do you find inspiration for your patterns and color palettes?
MM: Inspiration is everywhere. I find myself seeing patterns in the everyday, like rooftop shingles overlapping, water lines on the concrete and of course in textiles … I love how the fashion industry sets the stage for not only clothing but home décor and paper products.
ST: How often do you update patterns, monograms, liners, fonts, background shapes and so on?
MM: We do a few major pattern launches a year, with a few mini holiday collections for Valentine’s Day and Christmas. We also did a major monogram overhaul since the original launch of our new website. We really try and have a variety of colors, patterns and font choices so there is the perfect notebook or note card for every type of person.
ST: What do your personal May Designs notebook and note look like?
MM: I typically fill up my own May Book in a month or so, which is fun because I can change up the pattern each month. My newest book is the Aqua Zebra with a hot pink monogram, but the most important part is the inside pages. I always use the Months + Dots insides, which allows me to do some long term planning and scheduling in the months at the beginning of the book, but write notes for day-to-day happenings on the dotted pages. As for May Notes, the Ikat Navy Dots are my current fave — with the retro M on the front.
ST: Do you collect anything?
MM: I’m pretty crazy about my purple pens. My true loves are the Pilot Precise v5 but I’m currently crushing on the orchid LePens.
ST: Can you describe a typical day?
MM: Every day is totally different! We could be working on a photo shoot, designing new patterns, shipping off PR samples, working on e-blasts or dreaming up new social media contests. We’re on a mission to find the best cupcakes in Houston, so we have been taste testing once a week to find the perfect ones. As a mom of three little kids — (aged) 5 weeks, 3 and 4 years — I work hard and play hard. I’m in the studio office 8:30-2, and then I try and spend the afternoon with the kids. Then, I’m typically back to my computer for a few hours in the evenings to wrap up the day and get ready for the next one.
ST: What is your favorite aspect of running your business?
MM: Besides actually loving the work, I love that I can run the business from my phone/email a lot of the time. I have an incredible staff that shares the same values of family that I do, so if my kids are sick or have a school event, I can be flexible. I’ve written blog posts from the doctor’s office, (had) conference calls with my kids playing at the park and have endless texts back and forth with my designers approving images, colors and patterns.
ST: Are there any other upcoming products or projects that you can share?
MM: We just launched a new style of envelope liners to match our May Notes. We originally had several patterned liners that could coordinate with the patterns on the cards, but we have simplified things and created diagonal-lined liners in every color so there is a perfect match for every pattern.
ST: What other stationery or gift designers or companies do you admire and why?
MM: I adore Sugar Paper, Fig. 2 Design Studio and the ever-whimsical Mr. Boddington’s Studio. I have loved going to National Stationery Show where I can connect with the designers in person that I follow via social media and chat with throughout the year.
Mica 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 actually love exactly where I am. I’m not one to look back at the past very often; I much prefer to look forward at the things to come. I think we are in such a cool time where creativity is encouraged (and even expected) and where women specifically can run a company alongside having babies.
Q. Is there a piece in your line that epitomizes your signature style?
A. I am going on my fourth year of crushing on aqua, I simply Can’t. Get. Enough. Overall, I love modern, glossy white mixed with vintage looks. So I’m probably a hybrid of Anthropologie and West Elm.
Q. What is new in your paper offerings?
A. We just launched a collegiate collection, which is essentially a section of basic colors that can be monogrammed to represent various Alma Maters.
Q. What one design has turned into a 2013 bestseller?
A. It seems to have been another year of the chevron, so we created several new patterns with a chevron style. The Modern Chevron Navy & Peach in our geometric collection is our top seller and I think it will continue to be for the fall.
Q. Which piece reflects the direction of your line?
A. I do love and crave change. We challenge ourselves to keep our patterns fresh, so I try not to get too married to one particular design. Our canvas paper just sings when bold and bright colors are used, so while our color scheme and patterns might be tweaked from season to season, they’ll always will be clean, crisp and bright.
Q. Do you have a personal favorite from your current offerings?
A. My favorite changes all the time. We are lucky to get a peek at so many of our customer’s creations either through Instagram or Pinterest, so I always find new ways people are using them. I just saw someone put the monogram “26.2” on our Navy Bikes pattern with the diet + exercise insides because they are training for a marathon.
Q. What other designers, music and movies inspire you?
A. I’m always drawn to “whimsical” designers, bloggers and musicians, people who don’t take themselves to seriously and are simply living life to the fullest and having a blast doing it. Some of my faves are: Jessica Hische (typographist extradoinaire!) Bri Emory (DesignLoveFest.com), Promise Tangeman (graphic designer with fantastically big hair, http://www.promisetangemanblog.com/) and Brooke & Summer from the Girls With Glasses Show to name a few.
Q. If you couldn’t do this, what would you do instead?
A. I simply love to dream up, create and then complete projects. When I was little I always wanted to be a fashion designer. I have notebooks of dresses/outfits that I drew (with patterns!) from when I was only 7 years old, so I suppose designing notebooks isn’t too far of a cry from what I always wanted to do.
— By Sarah Schwartz, editor