Hey there Jory! Great to have you on AllYouCanTech. Can you please introduce yourself and describe your work?
Hey there! I’m Jory Raphael (but you knew that already). I’m a designer and illustrator living and working in rural Vermont - although I occasionally commute up to Study Hall in Burlington to be with actual humans and maintain my sanity. I run my own freelance design studio called Sensible World and am the co-founder of Notabli, a private social network for families.
Take us back to the early days. When and how did you choose digital design as your career?
I grew up with a deep fascination with comics and cartoons. In early childhood, my friends wanted to become astronauts and firefighters; I wanted to become a cartoonist. I would tape comics to the windows in our living room - essentially creating a makeshift light table - and spend hours tracing my favorite strips and characters; in school, kids would often commission me to draw characters for them. From there, I started creating pixel art on our early-model Macintosh computer based on my favorite Gameboy games. That project, along with animation experiments in HyperCard, were really my first forays into digital art.
When I got older, I convinced my high school art teacher to let me design an independent study on cartooning, which launched me into creating designs for our yearbooks and posters for various drama club productions at the school.
Fast forward to college. I was a performing arts major and subsequently got a work-study job as the theater department’s graphic designer. In that role, I was in charge of all of posters and programs for the department’s productions, which necessitated giving myself a crash course in computer graphics programs. Through experimentation, trial, and error, I learned the ins and outs of Photoshop and Pagemaker. It was around this time that I started learning website design and development, both for the department and our college improv troupe.
My two passions–design and theater–developed and evolved simultaneously and symbiotically. They are both core to my identity. As I left college, however, one turned into a vocation and another an avocation. I’ve been lucky to collaborate between and among many diverse partners and projects as a designer over the years. I also continue to act–I’m an ensemble member in both a sketch comedy group and a professional acting company. Both design and theater are important to my aesthetic sensibility, growth, and approach to work.
How did you get your first customers?
Much of the work I’m most proud of can be traced directly to Symbolicons - a family of vector stock icons I created. When I released my first set of icons, I reached out to a number of folks I admired in the design and development community with a simple, “Hey, here’s this thing I made. Any chance you could help spread the word?” I was surprised how receptive everyone was; I remain incredibly grateful for the generosity in the design community at large, and to those designers and developers, specifically, who have directly supported my work over time.
Tangentially, the Symbolicons project led to co-founding Notabli. It also led to work with Apple and Sesame Street, and has allowed me to connect with a much broader audience.
You recently launched a Kickstarter that raised seven times its original funding goal. Can you tell us a bit about that project?
Of course! The idea to create a Kickstarter campaign around my icons had been percolating for awhile, though the timing never seemed quite right. But this summer, I was between freelance gigs and decided to launch the campaign as both a way to gauge interest in a large new icon set and to provide the dedicated time needed to create one. I’m delighted and humbled by the success of the campaign, and by the support it has garnered.
On the whole, the Kickstarter campaign experience itself was eye-opening. It takes a lot of work and a lot of communication; managing the campaign essentially became my full-time job for a month. And now, with the addition of the stretch goals added along the way, Symbolicons Pro gets to become my full-time job for the foreseeable future.
That’s phenomenal! We should mention that folks can still pre-order the icons too. Shifting gears a bit, how did you pick Vermont as home?
I was born and raised here! I left to attend college in Maine, then spent a few years in Chicago, working as a designer at a large firm while studying improv at Improv Olympic in Wrigleyville. My wife and I came back to Vermont to get married in 2004 and we couldn’t bring ourselves to leave. So we didn’t!
Well that does it! What are some of the upsides as well as challenges of being a tech worker in Vermont?
I love Vermont; it’s been a fantastic place to raise our kids. The roadblocks to having a career in tech here are becoming fewer and farther between. With tools like Slack and Trello, more and more companies are receptive to remote work. And I feel like the tech scene, specifically in Burlington, is growing every year.
Any advice for someone aspiring to pursue your line of work in Vermont?
Vermont is a wonderful place to live. If you’re interested in pursuing design here, it’s completely possible. My biggest piece of advice is reach out to people. Like most professions, a career in design becomes easier the more connections and relationships you have. I’ve found that most designers are happy to share their expertise and offer advice virtually or over a cup of coffee. It’s one of the great things about a co-working space like Study Hall–authentic connections and the simple power of just saying “hey” face-to-face with fellow creatives and potential collaborators.