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The Making of the Artifcts Brand: A One-Year Lookback

Ellen Goodwin, Artifcts
January 05, 2022

Making the career leap from enterprise to consumer brand was not just about a shift from defining a value proposition to appealing to the individual's needs. It's not about creating a brand guide either. For Heather and me it was the A to Z of how we would build our corporate values and policies to how we will reinforce the same through every part of Artifcts. "Okay, but what does that mean, Ellen?" Let me tell you!

Privacy First

Our prior lives were about "need to know." Out here in the private sector it's about delivering value to consumers with the least intrusion possible on their personal information and identity. At the very least, putting decisions about privacy in their hands, not ours. We defaulted all settings to private, created restrictions on what information is shareable to social media (to avoid spilling sensitive information), and ruled out commentary and view stats to avoid unwanted and sometimes demoralizing vibes.

Authenticity

A word often abused, I know, but it has permeated every daily meeting between myself and Heather as we've built Artifcts over the last year. Take our brand video, for example: Our decision to hide behind the camera was not about our CIA backgrounds (although that didn't help), but a reflection of the reality of Artifcts - it's about the objects of our lives and the humanity captured by them, not us as co-founders. It's about real people, memories, connections, and experiences, and, of course, stuff.

Everyday collector's love artifcting

We've stayed true to our values and used our growth this past year to collaborate with other "underrepresented entrepreneurs" along the way. Did you catch our recent competition with Brooke Robinson's Goodtype lettering community? You will see this theme persist. In an upcoming ARTIcle we'll share our interview with a female entrepreneur out of Austin, Texas, who stepped out on her own during the COVID pandemic to offer workshops and services for archival preservation - what's old is new again!

Playfulness

Our logo taps as pages load, have you noticed? You can even view the original inspiration for it in this Artifct about the creation of our logo. We think it will flip its tiles, too, one day to the great discomfort of our creative director. Our primary brand color is a vibrant, life-reflecting green. We have a kid flying on our 404 error page. (We hope you haven't seen that yet!) We launched our company with teaser videos about how not to Artifct, starting with a dog digging frantically on a beach. Speaking of, one of our original product personas was pets! If we are going to become a "museum of humanity," in the words of one of our original community members, we can't take ourselves too seriously, and we must always reflect our community and be approachable. (HELLO! Did you catch our new year's day post on social media?)

 

Sustainability

Sustainability is another foundational element of our brand. We believe that Artifcts provides Arti Community members a forum to appreciate the stuff they have and impart the meaning of it to future generations. We are evaluating how we can bring sustainability into all parts of our business from expectations we have of our cloud services provider to the Artifcts we feature on our website and the content we publish, including pieces we have published about upcycled, custom textiles from a New York-based clothing designer and an Austin-based home goods artist. It also means that as we dream up Artifcts-branded swag for our team and ambassadors, we're seeking out individual illustrators and lettering artists, sustainable product materials, and Artifctable-goods. This holiday we even reminded our audience that you can gift the Artifct experience without so much as a bow wasted!

Singular (but Evolutionary) Focus

Parents, you've probably heard this expression, "Are your listening ears on?" It's product suicide if you do not have built-in mechanisms to collect information about your product. If you've checked out my LinkedIn profile you've seen this concept reflected another way: "When you argue with reality, you lose, but only 100% of the time." (Byron Katie)

At Artifcts we are loyal to our DNA and laser focused on the stuff in people's lives and the meaning behind those objects. But we're at the beginning of our consumer brand journey. We have a lot to learn from consumers and how Artifcts will serve them over the years to come. During the earliest days of Artifcts, we found, for example, that only by directly addressing, "What is an Artifct?" could we then help people over the hurdle of what to Artifct first. Now we tell people we're redefining 'artifacts' because Artifcts are not restricted to items of historical relevance, high dollar value, heirloom status, or parts of collections. Artifcts are objects that have meaning to you. That's it. This 'stuff' helps to define parts of you, your legacy, and your relationships with others.

On that note ... 

... What would you say are the defining elements of your company's brand? Or, you, dear consumer, what helps solidify in your mind what a brand is all about? Let us know at Hello@Artifcts.com. We'd love to learn from others who have tread this consumer brand path before us to help reshape the world around us.

 

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Archival Preservation in the Mainstream with Monocurate

The joys of Artifcts have been endless for Heather and me, the founders. We’ve experienced with our early subscribers the emotional highs and lows of bringing back heritage and forward memories. Whether that’s unearthing long forgotten family heirlooms, discovering the joy of connecting through shared experiences incapsulated in objects, or simply finding a new, safe place to preserve bits of ourselves, we’ve experienced a lot with our Arti Community.

One of the more remarkable and surprising aspects of the Artifcting journey has been how often people have come to us with ‘stuff’ that really should be in a museum or carefully preserved to ensure it can even last another year much less generation! Browse Artifcts and you’ll see what I mean – letters from WWII, old maps, stacks of photos, bibles hand carried from Europe in the 1800s, cherished cookbooks, original sketches, and more.

So, imagine my surprise when one Sunday morning while reading my local northwest Austin community paper I saw a short blurb about a new company that specializes in archival preservation services. Monocurate is just around the corner from my house, has a web design aesthetic that immediately drew me in, and drum roll please… is another female-led business!

I reached out to founder Brooke Lake to learn more. While her sweet spot is paper – think photos, books, and documents that require stitching, dry cleaning, and other restoration and preservation – her skills also include preserving textiles (think wedding gowns), digitization and digital catalogs, and more. I can also disclose the thoughtful, patient course correction she offered us at Artifcts to ensure we never encourage people to write on photographs or attach QR codes to objects in ways that could ultimately be damaging (now in our FAQs, "Artifcting Process"). Thanks, Brooke!

Brooke and I have since met several times, including a tour of her workshop, and I wanted to share with you some of our musings and discoveries about the overlapping world views of Artifcts and Monocurate.

Ellen Goodwin: Well, we might as well start at the beginning – we both launched our businesses during the late summer of 2021 with no end in sight for the pandemic. What led you to make that leap, at that time?

Brooke Lake: When quarantine happened, I, like many others, found myself faced with looming uncertainty. Widespread closures of public institutions left me with some extra time on my hands, and I used this opportunity to reflect on my experiences in public archives. I couldn’t shake the feeling that however much I enjoyed my work, it was becoming increasingly disconnected from our day-to-day lives. I created Monocurate with the hope of filling the need for archival and preservation services on a personal level.

Goodwin: You told me you have a passion for papers. What’s your background and how did it lead you to papers?

Lake: I have always been interested in the written record. I have a BA in history and and a masters in library science (MLIS). Through both, I have spent countless hours reading through source material. However, with my history degree I was the researcher; with my MLIS I was able to work as a formal Archivist making me the custodian of the records. Later in my career, I was trained by a highly respected Conservator here in Austin. My time spent with Carrabba Conservation gave me another perspective on the physicality of paper. Through all three—a researcher, a custodian, and a caretaker—I was provided with a multi-faceted perspective of the use of the records (i.e., paper). As a result, I was able to respect and appreciate use of paper and the importance and connection papers have to our day to day lives.

Goodwin: Respecting your clients’ privacy, of course, can you share with us the outlines of a favorite project?

Lake: One of our favorite collections in the past year was a client’s late mother’s poetry collection. It consisted of a handful of partially organized folders but the paper was folded, crinkled, and in desperate need of TLC. We flattened, cleaned, and encapsulated fragile pieces so that they could be safely read and handled. We created a simple inventory and reboxed the collection in an archival box with a brass nameplate with the client's name on it. The cherry on top was finding an old email that the client had written to her mother while she was away at school. Our client had no idea her mother had read that email let alone printed it out and saved it. We loved that we were able to rediscover that part of her history and preserve it along with the poetry collection, just as her mother had originally. 

Sample archival box with brass nameplate

Goodwin: What about the most challenging? What makes one object more challenging than another, or is it really just more time consuming?

Lake: Everything we take on can be challenging and time-consuming. We have to work slowly to respect the material regardless of what it is. Each object, in some way, tells us how it needs to be cared for and preserved. For example, with paper, it can rip so we must be meticulous when handling and caring for it. This is especially true of high-acid wood pulp paper. It was first developed in the early 1800s and used in some newsprint, kraft and manila papers, as well stationary, and is fragile as well as prone to darkening and staining with age. 

For digitization, when we scan, say photos from the 1920s, we have to ensure the color is calibrated perfectly to get the most accurate representation of the photograph which can be time consuming and challenging. For objects, there is no one-size-fits-all approach so everything we do is individualized to meet the needs of the material. This can be especially true for objects that people want to handle or display. Since we offer an array of services everything we do is met with some sort of challenge. The silver lining of course is that we are always learning and developing our skill sets so I appreciate the fact that our work keeps us on our toes. 

Goodwin: What do you wish people knew or better understood about archival preservation?

Lake: It’s not as simple as keeping everything “safe” in a bin in your closet. Lots of factors come into play with preservation. The environment (light, humidity, air quality) to the type of enclosure you are storing items can not be understated. Poor handling takes it’s toll as does poor-quality storage, which can accelerate the deterioration of your collection.  

It is important to remember that very object is unique and should be treated as such when it comes to preservation, as mentioned above: it’s rarely a one-size-fits-all approach. A common example is scrapbooks. Sure they store all your favorite photos and nostalgic items but ultimately they are incredibly damaging and horrible from a preservation standpoint.

Goodwin: I could imagine that like Artifcting, with archival preservation services people may not know where to start. They have too much to prioritize. What would your advice be to these people?

Lake: Start organizing your collections at home first. I think this is an area where Artifcts truly shines. Just being aware of what you have and where it is located is a great first step. From there, evaluate your collection and decide what needs to be prioritized. For example, if your important family papers are in a plastic bin on the ground, move them into an acid-free cardboard box to a mid-tier shelf. If you have a large collection of glassware, rearrange them so the boxes are not overcrowded and include lots of padding. For metal objects ensure the environment is dry and ensure each piece is stored individually. Move slowly through your list of Artifcts and focus on one area at a time (e.g., first family documents, then glass, then metal) that way you are in the headspace and can streamline your at-home preservation endeavors.  

Goodwin: Artifcts are literally unique, transferable digital assets. Artifcts will outlive us as individuals, they might even outlast the objects they capture. And yet, with your services, we have hope that objects can be carried forward from generation to generation, family history and world history captured and preserved. Tell us about a project that really resonated with you and the why behind it.

Lake: Currently we are working to digitize and preserve a large collection of hi8 home-movies. This family came to me to digitize and preserve the original media that they recorded over a 20 year time period. These tapes include a complete timeline of their marriage and children’s childhood through birth to graduation. It’s an incredible amount of footage. I found it interesting that each family member had a different take on the “why.” For example, the father simply didn’t want to lose the footage. The mother was more interested in editing clips of the newly digitized media to share with friends and family, and their two now grown children didn’t recall all the moments that were filmed and were more interested in watching the footage to see what was there. 

For me, I was just happy to bring these forgotten memories to light while simultaneously stabilizing and preserving the original media should a better analog-to-digital conversion technology come along in the future.

Goodwin: In your experience, what’s the primary motivation for someone who brings you a precious object for archiving?

Lake: Many collections are becoming increasingly fragile and are in danger of being lost forever. Our clients want to ensure that their collections remain in stable condition to be passed down for generations to come. This is true regardless of whether it is a family collection or work for institutions. While deterioration cannot be stopped, it can be slowed down, and that’s our primary motivator for helping people. In addition, we also provide organization, inventories, digitization, and reference and research services—all of which provide our clients with an accessible, holistic approach to their collections regardless of what they may consist of. 

Goodwin: Okay, last question! I asked Jennifer Singleterry of Sort & Order about this and want to ask you, too. You know all about Artifcts. How do you think Artifcts could help you in your work with your clients? 

Lake: One of the biggest aspects of family collections is the lack of collaboration. Usually, one person is the gatekeeper so to speak. As a result, external stories tend to be lost or forgotten simply because the other individuals don’t have access to the item. Artifcts rectifies this problem by providing the space to crowdsource and share stories. The way Artifcts allows several individuals, no matter their distance, to provide context to objects is just incredible. 

< End of interview >

We know that when it comes to our personal lives and histories “someday” often turns into never or maybe simply too late. We hope you will think about those pieces of you that should be Artifcted and archived to pass to friends and family and future generations before it’s too late. Take it one object at a time. If you get stuck, see if some of our partners and membership organizations can help you!

You can reach out to Brooke at Monocurate for a free consultation. She has beautiful project examples and easy to follow steps on her website as well. And, if you’re in Austin, we encourage you to attend a Monocurate workshop!

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Find Your Sticker-Happy Place

In honor of National Sticker Day (13 January) we decided to have a little fun and invite you, our Arti Community, to Artifct your favorite stickers and the stories behind them. We look forward to seeing what items go along with the stickers—water bottleslaptop covers, a ski helmet or two? 

Stickers may appear completely ordinary and playful at first glance, but they can tell a lot about us and where we’ve been or who (or what) we support. From a far-flung destination to a favorite brewery, indie bookstore or a beloved sports team. People use stickers to proudly display political and religious beliefs and even the make-up of their families. One of our favorite road trip games is guessing the story behind the stick figure family on the back of a passing car, so keep those stickers coming! 

Stickers are everywhere. We at Artifcts even have our own series of stickers, from our Artifct That! sticker to our super fun holiday plaid sticker 

We invite you to Artifct your favorite sticker (and its backstory) and share it with friends, family, or even our Arti Community. Tag it #stickerhappy for a chance to be featured in our Arti Gallery. Happy Artifcting! 

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Deck the Halls (And the Trees!)

Thomas Oliphant first penned the words to Deck the Halls in 1862. Times have changed, and so too have traditions. One of the many traditions that we hold dear and celebrate as the co-founders of Artifcts is decorating a Christmas tree. (Although we also love decking the halls, banisters, and really anything that happens to stand still long enough to be decorated. Just ask our dogs Sasso and Sherlock.) 

In our house, unpacking ornaments brings back memories, laughter, and stories. So many stories! Remember the time when? Where did we get this again? And even the occasional, what is this? (Often asked when examining a beloved handmade ornament from years past.) 

We invite you to join us in the decking of the virtual Arti halls this year. Artifct and share your favorite ornament, whether it is the memento from a far flung and memorable trip or the adorable handmade ornaments made years ago. ‘Tis the season to be jolly.  

XOXO Artifcts Team

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