Focus Forum with Jen Bilik

Jen Bilik joins us for this week’s Focus Forum.

The owner and founder of Knock Knock, Jen Bilik has a background in book editing, writing, design, and arts and crafts. Knock Knock’s witty, design-driven books, gifts, and stationery products are sold in 6,000 stores across the United States.

TYPO Talks: What were some of the influences that lead you to your professional focus?

Jen Bilik: Throughout my childhood I was a crafter (my mother was a quilter and I grew up sewing), a maker (we made a ton of stuff in my family), and a reader. In school and early in my career, I thought of myself as a words person, but my first job in publishing happened to be in coffee table books, so I was exposed to graphic design—and loved it.

Everything came together at that point, the visual and the verbal under one umbrella. Since then I’ve sought to combine the two, really the originating impulse behind starting Knock Knock.

I’m an omnivore in many ways—turns out I love the business as well as the creative (I didn’t know that would be the case when I started the company). I love fine art and bad TV; I’m curious about almost everything. I think that’s a key element to being an entrepreneur, but given that Knock Knock’s humor derives from cultural and social observation, everything is relevant!

TT: How have your creative interests evolved over the span of your career? Or, is there a specific discipline that has always captured your attention?

JB: My creative interests have always been wide and diverse, and for a long time I thought that was a detriment—Jill of all trades, master of none. But being an entrepreneur and building a company out of my interests has allowed me to capitalize on their range.

On my own, outside of Knock Knock, I draw, paint, play piano and guitar, knit, sew, garden, home-improve, write, cook, go to galleries and museums . . . I even have my very own Instagram account to which I post pictures I take with my very own iPhone! The only difference I’ve noticed over the course of my career is that once I’ve taken something to a certain level, I lose some interest in it—for example, I used to love editing other people’s projects, and I kind of got that out of my system. I used to love writing and designing Knock Knock’s product, and now we have an amazing team who does that. Rather than, say, take on a few Knock Knock projects per year to execute myself, I’m exploring new ways to express my own creativity directly.

TT: What’s your preferred environment when it’s time to focus on a project?

JB: When it’s time to focus on a creative project, I generally prefer to be at home, oddly enough, because we have great offices. I sit on the couch with my computer and I turn the TV on, then I just leave it on pause, because I can’t work with the TV on, but somehow just having it there, on pause, makes me feel like I’m recreating rather than working.

Sometimes if I’m having trouble focusing, it’s helpful to go to a café. I can do creative work at the office, but the office has over the years become much more about being a leader than a maker, about interacting with people rather than doing my own work. I’m also fortunate that at home I have a great office and studio space in a converted garage, but it’s taken me forever to set it up just right, so I’m just starting to use it.

TT: Which speakers are you most excited to see and meet at TYPO SF Focus?

JB: Other than me? Because I do love to hear myself talk, you know. I’ve found that when I attend conferences, the people I often most enjoy are people I hadn’t heard of before! That’s not to say, however, that I’m not excited to hear presentations from a superstar like Chip Kidd or a friend like Louise Sandhaus.

TT: If you had to choose a favorite place in San Francisco, where would it be? If you’re new to San Francisco, what would you most like to explore?

JB: I grew up in Berkeley, so San Francisco is “the city” to me, as in, “We’re going into the city tonight.” I’ve always loved the Exploratorium, both as a child and as an adult. I’ve been to the new location once, and perhaps it’s my old-timer’s perspective, but I really preferred the funkier old location at the Palace of Fine Arts. It’s still pretty great, though.

TT: Finally, everyone’s favorite question: what’s your favorite typeface, and why?

JB: Clarendon. I have a number of sans serif favorites, really the usual suspects, but those are more for their simplicity. There’s something about Clarendon’s classic yet contemporary feel, its width (compared to the other serif fonts I like), its weight, its clarity. It bridges past and present perfectly.


Jen Bilik

Company Owner, Founder & CEO (Venice, California)

The owner and founder of Knock Knock, Jen Bilik has a background in book editing, writing, design, and arts and crafts. Knock Knock’s witty, design-driven books, gifts, and stationery products are sold in 6,000 stores across the United States, including such retailers as Barnes & Noble and Urban Outfitters, and are also available in international locations spanning around 45 countries. For the first five years, Jen wrote, edited, and proofread just about every word on every product Knock Knock released. Since launching the company in 2002 Jen has performed every role and made every mistake—and lived to talk about it.

Jen Bilik presents at 10 a.m. on Thursday, April 30th, on the TYPO SF main stage in the YBCA Theater.

Register today to see Jen Bilik at TYPO San Francisco 2015 – Focus.