Pinball Publishing

Laura Whipple, President of Pinball Publishing, answers some questions we have about the Pinball story, and how the ‘magic’ happens.

Pinball Publishing recently celebrated 10 years of ‘ink, paper and magic’ in their design-savvy, eco-friendly print shop in Portland, Oregon. Fusing analogue with digital, tradition with innovation, individuality with collaboration, Pinball Publishing has successfully constructed a brand identity that resonates with their community and clientele resulting in an intricately connected web of networks. Using 100% recycled papers, vegetable-based inks, and renewable energy sources, not to mention creative and consistent branding, they are ten steps ahead of their competitors by catering to the concerns and demands of today’s makers and buyers.

AR  “10 Years of Ink, Paper and Magic” — but your team looks so young! Is it a family business, or did your current team start it up together 10 years ago?

Laura Whipple — Austin and I started Pinball ten years ago. We were in our early twenties then, and in the beginning it was just the two of us. Things have definitely evolved and many more wonderful people are involved now in the Pinball Story.

Who are the key people in Pinball now, and how did they connect?

Everyone plays a key role at Pinball. We have a dynamite team, and it's layered with all kinds of talent and expertise, from editorial to web design, from finance to production know-how, from content development to photography to illustration, there is a diverse set of skills up our sleeves.

The expansion of the team from the original two (Austin and I) to the current eleven has happened gradually and organically. Most of our team contacted Pinball at one point or another seeking a position, or an internship, or just a shop tour, and that desire to connect has worked well for growing a collaborative, supportive team.

Nicholas Graham has been with Pinball the longest, and is coming up on his five year anniversary. Nicole Lavelle, and Lindsay Arth are coming up on their three year anniversaries this year. Dave Authier has been at Pinball for two years, and the rest of the team's tenure (François, Rose (Nicole’s sister!), Taryn, Ellery, and Joseph) ranges from one to two years.

We really love the things we make at our shop, but Pinball is more than just the things it creates, it is also the place where the work and creating occurs, it's the people who work together to make it all happen, the animals and plants that live in our shop, the amazing customers and vendors, etc. Our shop is a creative crossroads, and a lively place. We love to use ourselves and our space to create a tableau for the story of Pinball.


On your blog you state “Print is Dead. Long Live Print!” What motivated the decision to make what appears to be a contrarian move to enter what some people call a dying industry?

We love printed matter. That was the initial motivation and is still a primary motivation today.

Ten years ago, we wanted to create our own publications from conception to final printed manifestation. We decided we would have better results if we printed the projects ourselves, and Pinball as a business grew from there.

The evolution of the business has been a gradual process, but one that is always informed by our desire to manufacture meaningful things for our clients and ourselves, to produce goods of lasting value, and to have a business with a conscience.

We don't think that print is dead, but it's certainly an industry in transition. We feel extremely fortunate to have grown each year, and work hard to find new ways to make print relevant in a changing world.

We believe in the power of Ink, Paper and Magic. Also, we like to have fun. We think that is really key.

There is a heavy trend of bringing back old fashions, techniques, crafts and ideas and remixing them with creativity as the driving force. Do you have insights on this and why is this happening now?

There is a powerful marriage of analogue and digital happening right now in contemporary culture. The desire to make things with our hands is as old as humanity (in fact, I recently read a powerful statement by curator Neil MacGregor in The History of The World in 100 Objects, that "…it is making things that makes us human.") We need to create our material world, it seems we are hard-wired for it. The unprecedented amount of information and exchange that is possible because of the Internet enables that return to craft, and empowers the maker culture. While it may be more feasible for a craft-based business to succeed with the power of the Internet and good design, the hands-on work is also a nice antidote to digital overdose.

You have an impressive list of fun, design aware and progressive clients. Are they simply drawn to your type of work or do you have a recipe or guideline to find like-minded clients?

Both. We strive to create our own projects that showcase our design, editorial and print production skills. Over the years this has ranged from a literary journal, a micro record label, an art print series, to the current Good Ink publishing division at Scout Books. These projects satisfy our team's inner desires to create meaningful items to share with the world. They also captivate our clientele's imagination and very often lead to new work (bonus!). We do outreach quite a bit to companies that we admire, and that has led to many amazing collaborations and commissions. I think it is very important to cultivate personal or side projects as a business (and as individuals too). I also think it is critical to clearly articulate how you can help others through your business' offerings, and this is something that we are becoming better at doing with branded projects like Scout Books and Print Pinball.


When initially seeing your products I was reminded of Coudal Partners' Field Notes notebooks and I know the original instigator is Draplin Design Co., also based in Portland. Any link between the two projects?

We were the first manufacturers of Field Notes notebooks and a few other items designed by Aaron Draplin. They eventually moved manufacturing of Field Notes to the Midwest, closer to the headquarters of Coudal. We love what they do, but beyond that earlier working relationship, we are not connected.

What place, if any, does Portland occupy in your narrative?

Portland is a integral part of our story. I am a native Oregonian (though not from Portland) and Austin is a graduate of the Graphic Design program at PSU [Portland State University], and we have both lived here for more than a decade. We love this city, and it has been a wonderful, supportive place to develop Pinball Publishing. Our business has grown in recent years, and our clients and customers now live all over the world, but we will always have a special place in our hearts for Portland. We have no plans to relocate, but imagine a time when it would be fun to have satellite projects in other cities.

It is a bit mystifying to see old industries and structures drying up while, at the same time and within the same sector, globalized and energetic ones are growing. We’ve all heard that print is ‘dead’, but look at a company like Pinball Publishing, and you see a business that is alive and well. The Hiut Denim Co. (also profiled in our pages here) story is just one more case in point. While there is no clear recipe on how to navigate the tidal wave of transitions affecting some industries, its clear that some people and organisations harness the power of the Internet and good design better than others — AR

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