09.20.22
Dana Arnett + Kevin Bethune | Audio

S10E4: Perrin Drumm


Perrin Drumm is a writer, editor, and head of publishing at A24.

Prior to A24, Perrin was at AIGA where she started Eye on Design. She spoke about the new kinds of stories she reported on at the intersection of design, creativity, and bigger ideas:
Inspiration is everywhere. You don't necessarily need to just follow design inspo feeds. People want actual stories and they want to hear from people. And it's really refreshing. In the last five years, people actually care about social causes in a way where it's not just: Oh, I put this social hashtag on a poster and I posted on Instagram like, people are getting called out for performative acts of  phony altruistic behavior. And people are actually starting grassroots organizations on a really small and local scale. And it's actually happening in a way that I don't think it was when we started Eye on Design, and I'm not saying Eye on Design is the cause of that at all, it's just tracked the evolution of it.

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TRANSCRIPT

Kevin Bethune
Welcome to The Design of Business,

Dana Arnett
The Business of Design.

Kevin Bethune
Where we talk with leaders in their field,

Dana Arnett
About how innovation, access and curiosity are redesigning their worlds. I am Dana Arnett.

Kevin Bethune
And I'm Kevin Bethune.

Dana Arnett
This episode of The Design of Business |The Business of Design is brought to you by Morningstar.

Kevin Bethune
People don't just want financial information. They need to be able to understand it and use it. At Morningstar, great design transforms the way investors interact with financial data. Deeper insights, more personalized strategies, broader definitions of success. Start your journey at Morningstar.com.

Dana Arnett
On today's episode: design publishing in the world of entertainment.

Perrin Drumm
What's going to speak to the 25 year old kid who's living in a small town or a different country outside of, you know, Western Europe and white America?

Kevin Bethune
Perrin Drumm is a writer, editor and head of publishing at A24, an American independent entertainment company that specializes in film and television production.

Dana Arnett
Before that, she was the founder and director of AIGA's magazine and media platform, Eye on Design.

Kevin Bethune
Perrin, welcome to the podcast.

Perrin Drumm
Hey, guys, it's great to be here. Thanks.

Dana Arnett
Well, good to see you, Perrin. I'm so happy that you're joining us today. We're old friends. So I'm going to start with an icebreaker, something I've never brought up with you. So you ready?

Perrin Drumm
Let's do it.

Dana Arnett
Okay. So on your personal website, on your bio, you highlight this interesting string of bizarre accidents and injuries like broken arms and twisted elbows and things that happened on the playground and around the neighborhood. So, you know, we'll spare our listeners of those episodes, but, you know, I do have a related question.

Perrin Drumm
Okay.

Dana Arnett
Was getting into design also an accident?

Perrin Drumm
Wow. Very nice segway. Yeah, it totally was. I was raised by a graphic designer and engineer. My mom, she's actually a professor at ArtCenter in the sustainability and design world, and my grandfather's an architect, so design was always in the house. Growing up, Tredegar was a family name that was referenced around the dinner table, that kind of conversation was normal.but I went to school for creative writing and I always wanted to be a writer. I did my MFA in fiction, and when I graduated, I thought I would have this like, you know, amazing literary career in New York. And then I graduated and moved to New York, and it was the 2008 recession. And all of the publishing houses and magazines, all those departments and jobs were drying up. So I freelance wrote and waitressed and bartended and part of the freelance writing was in design. I didn't study it. It was always an interest, was super fascinated with all of the Bauhus books that my parents and grandparents had at their house. And so I suppose there was a little bit of self-education there. But yeah, I got into design freelance writing, and so I really learned as I was doing it as a sort of a quasi self-styled journalist. And then I did a lot of magazine editing, mostly in men's fashion, which was also a total accident, was just what was available.

Dana Arnett
I may need your advice later on that, but...

Perrin Drumm
Oh well, I'm happy to talk about, you know, fits and cuts and, you know, the kick of your of your hem.

Kevin Bethune
Count me in for that, too.

Perrin Drumm
And I was really excited to get out of that world. And then I saw that AIGA job was hiring some like very generic sounding communications role that it sounded like a nice place to land after having worked at Condé Nast in a very corporate environment for a number of years and like a job that I could sort of shape a little bit myself. And during that time that I felt like I was languishing in the world of men's fashion. I was listening to Debbie Millman's design podcast and just really craving, being in that world felt like a little bit like home just because of how I was raised and that in that kind of environment. And so I was just really hungry to get into that world in like a more official way than as a freelance writer. And so that's kind of how I got to AIGA.

Kevin Bethune
Very cool I think. I know you're, you're mom at ArtCenter.

Perrin Drumm
Oh, really.

Kevin Bethune
Love her thought leadership and just her grace with all the students. I mean, she's amazing. And I understand that she had a letter press studio back in the day. Is that right? Did I read that correctly?

Perrin Drumm
Oh, yeah. It's still in the garage out back. It's moved around a little bit. But yeah, I was raised knowing how to set type and I would be her shop assistant and would, you know, print things with her and bind them and she would, you know, pay me a very a very low wage to tie bows and do stitching and stuff like that and mix inks. Yeah, I know she loves doing that. She, that's part of her, like her private creative practice. And when I would come home on vacation, she'd be like: Let's set up the press, let's print something. It can be your birthday invitation. It can be, you know, a short story that you've written. Let's set it. Let's do it. And so I have a bunch of short stories that I wrote in high school that are just like, bound. I mean, they're they're awful, but they look really good.

Dana Arnett
So with all these influences, those of us who know you and know your writing naturally see the intersections of writing, culture, and design. And, you know, some of that probably came from what you might have learned and other publications you were involved in, whether that was Mold or Details, you got to kind of take all that as you just shared and shape it into what I would actually call a platform for AIGA, knowing that they weren't able to understand and dig deeper into their new movement, the next generation of design. And you know what, I really think that most of us valued and benefited, have benefited from reading and continuing to read Eye on Design, because it's outlasted your tenure.

Perrin Drumm
They're very happy about that.

Dana Arnett
Yeah, kudos to you. Is how you develop and really gave voice to the next generation of designers— you know that that is a different generation in that it's not just about the craft, it's about what they believe and their causes, their interest in it, in design as a societal force for change. What are your thoughts on that? Because you were really kind of scratching that surface before a lot of publications were.

Perrin Drumm
I think when I came into AIGA, I was reading a lot of design journalism and was very aware of what was out there and what kind of perspectives and stories were being shared. And I knew I mean, the only kind of guiding point that I got from Rick Griffin, who was the president at the time, was we have trouble speaking to young people, help us. And I was in my late twenties at the time, so all of my friends who were designers were in a younger generation and through conversations with them just naturally as friends or when I was interviewing people for pieces, you get into what they're thinking about, what they're interested in, what they think of the current slate of design journalism and and the platforms that are available. And just there was a hunger for a broader perspective, a more international perspective, one that took into different socioeconomic backgrounds, a lot of people coming up didn't go to design school and were being sort of dinged when they were finding themselves trying to find jobs. There was this new energy around rejecting corporate work and trying to be freelance. That was all kind of new in the air. And so it was really natural just to turn the conversations I was having anyway into, you know, quote unquote journalism. And so I don't know if that answers your question, but I guess it was a natural progression of just picking up and, you know, observing and seeing what was in the air and what people were actually excited to talk about. And it wasn't Swiss design and it wasn't, you know,.

Dana Arnett
Hero worship.

Perrin Drumm
Yeah, it wasn't. Yeah. Everyone had we all loved Massimo Vignali and we all bow down to him, but there had been enough written about that. And what about, you know, what's going to speak to the 25 year old kid who's living in a small town or a different country outside of, you know, Western Europe and white America? Like, who are their heroes? Let's let's meet them. When I first started, I came to AIGA with the idea, and I don't think a lot of people thought it was a good one. And I just asked for $5,000 and just some, you know, some some room. And they gave me a lot of autonomy and I begged to design favor from a friend named Leta Sobierajaski to just please do it for very, very cheap. And I would hit her I would hit her up later with like a proper job, which I did. And so she brought a lot of that to Eye on Design the color, the pink color, the eyeball. I wanted it to feel friendly. And some people have thought the pink is infantilizing. But I actually was inspired by the Financial Times, the pink pages, which when I was a kid, I thought: Oh, that's going to be a fun newspaper because it's pink. And of course it's not to me, but that you can have journalism in a way that didn't feel off putting. You know, the typeface was round, it was accessible or inviting at least. Yeah, I guess it did become a brand that was sort of by instinct, definitely accidental. I am not a branding or marketing person. It's not my my strength. But I knew that it had to exist on various platforms. It had to have a website, how to have a social media presence. I thought that social media was really fun at the time. It was kind of like a game. How am I going to get this account more followers? And I treated it like a computer game kind of. So I made it interesting for myself in that sense.

Dana Arnett
Yeah. You know, when I think about all the young voices and personalities you brought to the forefront, it's a really beautiful mosaic of not just American design, but you also brought international design onto our screens as this as confined members of AIGA, I suppose.

Perrin Drumm
I certainly can't take credit for all of that. I was glad to be able to hire so many great editors and writers from all around the world who, you know, turned everyone on to these designers that I would never have discovered, because I'm not, you know, working hyper locally in different communities. I can see what I can. Find online what's going on in in Asia and Africa in different places. But by hiring reporters that are actually from there, they're, you know, boots on the ground, they're actually meeting those people in real life. And so they're bringing those stories to us and how lucky to be able to work with those people and share those stories. It was like the most exciting thing when someone would pitch me this, you know, 25 year old kid who's working out of Estonia, who's making like the coolest work that no one's ever seen. Let's let's give him a voice.

Kevin Bethune
That's awesome. When you think about this body of work around design journalism, I guess, how did you get designers to trust where you were coming from as you wrote about them?

Perrin Drumm
So I think when you go into a conversation with someone and you're just naturally hungry for their story and you're genuinely interested and they can see that you care, that you're not just there to get a couple quotes and then go off and write your story in your own room by yourself. There's that. I certainly didn't have like a design degree or a pedigree in that sense, but I, I think that approach in any kind of industry as an outsider can be really refreshing and really good. I'm going to ask questions that are maybe going to come off as dumb because I don't know any better, but that can force, someone to think about their work in a different way. I also think that it's good to avoid too much insider baseball talk, especially if you're trying to create a platform that's not, you know, getting down to like pika sized details. It really is trying to expand the conversation beyond just designers talking to each other. Like, how can we slowly design stories that are interesting to someone who is slightly outside of that field? I think the design journalism had been really insular for a long time, and one of the things I was trying to do was, you know, make it a little bit more accessible now.

Kevin Bethune
It absolutely resonates, and I definitely appreciate your efforts to do that.

Dana Arnett
So let's talk a little bit about these old habits and tendencies that some of us know that existed or still exist in the design industry, especially in the journalistic and publishing spaces where, you know, it's oftentimes editorial celebration of design heroes and lots of deep discourse around work. You know, one of the things that I think I think your work for AIGA and Eye on Design was an early model for what is now sort of we take for granted the design community can be reached on multiple mediums and I think it's maybe set the tone for what we're seeing in 2022.

Perrin Drumm
I would say that one of the biggest shifts that I'm happy to see is that there's less of this just generic inspiration feed. I think people are very aware of when they read an article and it's just a regurgitated press release or it's about a designer and all the writer has done is gone to their website and sort of reworded their own bio and added a few filler words. And that's not necessarily to the writer's fault. There's a lot of platforms that, you know, require a quota from writers, five articles a day, like what are you going to do after a certain point? And media has quickened up, but it's also slowed down in that people are taking time, I think, to read less but longer. At least, I mean, I'm also operating from a bubble where I actually like to read, but people are also using other platforms and more of a storytelling way, whether it's like Twitter threads as a form of storytelling or it's Instagram stories or Instagram posts with multiple sides where people are actually telling stories— visually, though, I don't think anyone likes to read deep captions. But it's also reflected in sort of inspiration is everywhere. You don't necessarily need to just follow design inspo feeds. People want actual stories and they want to hear from people. And it's really refreshing. In the last five years, people actually care about social causes in a way where it's not just: Oh, I put this social hashtag on a poster and I posted on Instagram like, people are getting called out for performative acts of, you know, it's like phony altruistic behavior. And people are actually starting grassroots organizations even on like a really small and local scale. And it's actually happening in a way that I don't think it was when we started Eye on Design, and I'm not saying Eye on Design is the cause of that at all. It's just tracked the evolution of it.

Dana Arnett
Yeah, I think you were an early pioneer of how media is created and absorbed in the community.

Perrin Drumm
It's great to know that when you're in something, you don't necessarily see what the outside response is to it. You're too you're too deep into it. I think it was also really heartening to see that when we spent time reporting on stories that had I don't want to say more heart, but were more from a personal perspective, were actually about something beyond craft, there was an audience for it, and that audience is only grown for that kind of deeper reporting. And that's that's definitely different.

Dana Arnett
The Design of Business | The Business of Design is brought to you by Morningstar. Investment research, data, and strategies to empower long term investor success.

David Williams
Hi, my name is David Williams. I'm Chief Design Officer for Morningstar, based in Chicago.

Kevin Bethune
David spoke about the unique value design plays at Morningstar.

David Williams
You know, we're taking data and information. We're adding value by adding analysis and sense making to it. And then where design comes in is to express that in a way that's helpful. We strive to also make it beautiful and by doing so, make it engaging for people so that they understand what they're looking at. You know, first and foremost, you have to pay attention to what works for the people that are using what kind of problems they're trying to solve, what they're familiar with, what they're not familiar with, how to make them familiar with something that they don't necessarily think they need, you know, and how to bring them along. You know, number one you have to be user centric in that. And, you know, I think that's that's a whole different set of design problems and something that we're trying to get better at every day. And when you're talking about communication design and especially with financial information, and again, that it some of it can be so complex, but whatever, you know, there just some simple form giving design principles that are, I think, of as timeless that can be applied to the problem that absolutely tie to the mission of empowering investors by just making the information more approachable, more comprehensively, you know, communicative to people. And, you know, you do that by, you know, simplifying what you're seeing, but also, you know, making it beautiful as a form of getting them to engage with the content.

Dana Arnett
Morningstar Design. Making sense of data at the intersection of design and investing. Find out more at Morningstar.com/careers.

Kevin Bethune
So you've recently moved from design journalism to A24, and not the highway in Italy, but the actual entertainment company. How were you attracted to A24? And was this a company that you had always wanted to work for or how did the connection occur?

Perrin Drumm
I studied film in college and grew up and also like a very film family. Turner Classic Movies was always on, and we just talked about film a lot. I was married to a filmmaker previously and, you know, so just film production was always part of the daily diet and part of the writing degree was screenwriting. So there was always like a real affinity to the film world. With A24, I don't have the like, I don't like bow down to the brand of A24 in that way, but I just really respected them as a company and their point of view and what they were willing to take risks on, kinds of stories and films and filmmakers that they were championing. And I had reached a point with, I think after six years of Eye on Design where I felt like I couldn't grow anymore, like I had kind of made it as big as I could and that like my influence was, had kind of peaked and I was looking for a new challenge and I was ready to step out of the design journalism world and into something bigger. I was really craving to make things physically again. We had stopped doing the magazine Eye on Design, which was a bummer but financially unfeasible. And this I randomly it was it was it was like a total movie moment in some ways. So it was New Year's Eve and I was like, I can't do another year of this. Like no shade to AIGA, everyone that is lovely is like a personal, a personal thing to just need to do something else. And I went online and like on some nerdy literary website found this job posting that was basically we're starting a publishing division. We don't really know what that's going to be. Come help us figure it out. And it kind of was like everything that I loved, which was design and book production and storytelling and film, at a company that seemed to be run as creatively as you might expect from the outside. And it's been a total dream job, it's it's a beautifully run company. It's full of smart, passionate people without ego who all just want to work together to make things that are great. And it's been the right amount of autonomy for me to just try weird things. And there's no one really looking over my shoulder. It's the right work environment for me. I think when I was at Conde Nast in this like hyper controlled environment, I mean, it was great corporate potty training at the time and I learned a lot of what not to do, I think, in terms of how to be a boss now. But, you know A24 is just the job just in capital encapsulates all the entrepreneur stuff starting a new division, the business side of it — whatdoes growth look like? What does strategy look like? But then also getting into like the nitty gritty of book production. It's just it's like a total dream.

Dana Arnett
So I'm a collector. You can I think you can see my bookshelf behind me. And I have a number of your masterpieces. They're incredible. And as I understand it, you and your team are publishing books and products that capture not only the making of those productions, but also the essence of those productions. Can you speak to the process, perhaps, of one of those books or products and highlight the different disciplines involved?

Perrin Drumm
For the books, there's sort of three kinds of books that we make. There are the screenplay coffee table books that are squarely about our films. There are what I'd call companion piece books that are related to a film title, but they're not about the film, you know, there's like in the BTS kind of photography way. We we'll take an idea from a film that maybe wasn't fully explored or film as a visual medium can't do in a way that a book can. And we'll sort of take that little idea and run with it off and do a whole book on it. And a good example of that is the book that we did for Everything Everywhere All at Once, which is called A Vast and Pointless Gyration of Radioactive Rocks and Gas in Which You Happen to Occur, which is a book about the multiverse, which, you know, the film obviously uses — its not its narrative structure, but I don't know, I don't want to have spoilers or anyone who hasn't seen the film— but it's about the multiverse, but it doesn't go into, you know, multiverse theory in a really nerdy way, which it shouldn't. But the filmmakers, the Daniels spent a lot of years researching the multiverse and reading up on, you know, quantum physics, and in order just to have the kind of the background to write a very amazing film. But we wanted to create a book about the multiverse that was exploring various theories and poetry and writing and illustration and design. And so this book, it's just an example of how a book is related to a film, but also stands on its own two feet. And then there's books that are just sort of original IP, original ideas that have nothing to do with any of our films. But I think, Dana, to your point, are the ones that like the TV or film or docs department at the company will decide what is what is this story, how like what is the A24 viewpoint on it and what makes this not just a good book idea but a good book idea that only A24 would put out. And so an example of that is this Horror Caviar Cookbook that we came out with last year, which is sort of a photo art book, it's technically a cookbook, but not really. It's using food as an art medium. There's essays, it's very beautifully produced, but it's it's a it's a weird hybrid book. And these are my favorite ones to make because they're really hard to— as you can see, I'm kind of struggling to even talk about it, and I worked on it for years —they're really hard to explain, but like what I pictured in my head. And then when I hold it, like I just get it just works together somehow. And as much of a word person as I am, I can't always translate why something just feels right to me and a gut instinct way. And I think that's that kind of hard to explain. Feeling is why a lot of A24 projects just work. It's this just like sixth sense a little bit. But those are- I love I love those, those hybrid books. I like looking at formats that have either been exhausted in a certain way, like a cookbook or a travel book. We just came out with a very wild travel guide, or a kid's book. But looking at formats and types of books that have just been done to death or have been done, I would say maybe in not the most beautiful way always. And thinking: How can that format be used to tell a different kind of story? How might we do it differently or better? That's that's what I that's when I got really excited.

Kevin Bethune
Clearly, it sounds like you're in a great culture of creativity.

Perrin Drumm
Yeah.

Kevin Bethune
So for A24, perhaps across their content, no matter the shape of the narrative, they seem to be wrestling with big societal topics, whether it be immigration via a film like Minari or problematic human idiosyncrasies in a film like Uncut Gems, is A24 a platform for you to work on projects that match your convictions? Do I have that right or am I reading too much into that question?

Perrin Drumm
I would say that stories don't start with what societal problem can we tackle, it's really it's going to sound cheesy. It's really with a filmmaker, the creative person's vision and how do we hone in on that and then really honor that vision. And I hate vague language like that, but it's it is really true. And I think the projects speak for themselves. I would say that on the book side of things, we don't have like a standard process or mill that we run ideas through. It's really locating a really specific idea. And sometimes that's with a filmmaker or someone who's working on one of our productions and understanding what their vision for the project is, sharing with them what we can bring to it, and then bringing on this specialized team around it to bring it to life. And sometimes it's very simple. It's a designer and a photographer and the author. And sometimes, like with the cookbook, it's, you know, a team of 50 people putting together food and recipes and this insane photo shoot for a book like that. But it really expands and contracts based on a specific vision. But when it comes to what that vision is, there's a lot of time spent in the development of an idea. And I wouldn't always say that, I would say that any time that we touch on something at least for books that ends up being a commentary on something that's a greater societal cause, is sort of through the hyper specific personal narrative or personal story. And I think that's I think that's where successful stories how successful stories are told in general.

Kevin Bethune
Wow, thank you for that perspective and it makes total sense like that.

Dana Arnett
Perrin, you've done so much already and collaborated with so many wonderful people. There are any dream projects on the horizon, things you want to do that you haven't done yet?

Perrin Drumm
Yeah, there are. I can't say all of them, or else I'd be giving away certain internal information. But at A24, I'd say that there are a lot of different, crazier, visually driven book projects that I want to experiment with. I'm always really intrigued by how visuals and writing together can be paired to tell a really different kind of story than if it's just one or the other. That's incredibly vague, and I'm sorry about that. I am really excited to do more books that have a sense of humor. Personally, I'm working on a novel. A24 is so great in that at the end of the day, it leaves me with enough brain space to actually work on my own projects, which is the first time in my life that that's happened. And so I'm finally again, you know, working on my own creative writing. In practice, which has been extremely gratifying.

Dana Arnett
Well wonderfu.l on behalf of The Design of Businesses | The Business Design, thank you for spending time with us today.

Kevin Bethune
Yes, Perrin, thank you so much. So many threads of inspiration and you're giving us some some interesting trails to follow up on and pursue. I appreciate your time.

Perrin Drumm
Such a pleasure. Thank you both.

Kevin Bethune
The Design of Business | The Business of Design is a podcast from Design Observer. Our website is DBBD dot Design Observer dot com. There you can find more about our guest today, Perrin Drumm, plus the complete archive from past guests and hosts. To listen, go to DBBD.designobserver.com

Dana Arnett
If you like what you heard today, please subscribe to the podcast. You can find The Design of Business | The Business of Design in Apple Podcasts or however you listen to podcasts.

Kevin Bethune
And if you're already a subscriber to the podcast, tell your friends about the show or go to Apple Podcasts and rate us, which is a great way to let other people know about the show.

Dana Arnett
Thank you again to our partner Morningstar for making this conversation possible. Experience the intersection of design and investing at Morningstar.com. And between episodes you can keep up with Design Observer on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Kevin Bethune
Our producer is Adina Karp. Judybelle Camangyan edits the show. Betsy Vardell is Design Observer's executive producer. Our theme music is Mike Errico. Thanks, as always, to Design Observer founder Jessica Helfand and other previous hosts, Ellen McGirt and Michael Bierut.

Dana Arnett
See you next time.

Kevin Bethune
Talk to you then.

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