For designer, educator, and illustrator Ryan Feerer, adding "restaurant owner" to his repertoire might seem like a surprising career twist, but it's been a natural evolution from his love of branding and desire to make things. Starting a business has also been a way to bring value to his home community of Abilene, Texas, while laying all his creative cards on the table.
"I've always loved to draw, since I was about 4 or 5," says Feerer. “My dad was a preacher, and growing up I would always be at home when he was practicing his sermons. So by the time Sunday morning rolled around, I'd heard it so much that I'd get bored, so I'd start drawing. And that's something I still do today. It's a habit I picked up."
He didn't always know what graphic design was or that it might be a career for him. Initially Feerer studied computer animation at the Art Institute of Dallas, then transferred to Abilene Christian University (ACU). The school didn't have a 3D animation program, but one professor, Nil Santana, suggested he major in graphic design. "I did, and then fell in love with it. It incorporated everything that I loved— fine art and problem solving," Feerer recalls.
After graduation, Feerer moved to New York to earn his MFA at the School of Visual Arts. There he studied with Steven Heller, was mentored by Milton Glaser ("which was mind-blowing and exciting," Feerer says) and worked for interactive agency Funny Garbage, where his clients included Nickelodeon, Teen Nick, PBS Kids, Smithsonian, and Disney. “It was awesome working for a small studio like that. I'd be doing illustration in the morning and then working on a site for an educational institution, and then I'd be working on album design later on that day. It helped me grow as a designer."
When the magnetic pull of family lured him back to Texas, Feerer moved his practice to Abilene and took up teaching design at ACU, his alma mater. The restaurant idea was sparked by his missing New York City's food options as well as the environments that fostered good conversation and community. A three-university town located two hours west of Dallas-Forth Worth, "Abilene has a lot of potential and a lot of people," says Feerer. The town proved to be a prime location for him and his partner, James "Jimbo" Jackson, to introduce their concept for Abi-Haus.
"Long Live Abilene" reads Abi-Haus' optimistic slogan, in response to the local quip "Keep Abilene Boring." Feerer and Jackson see Abi-Haus as an opportunity to nourish Abilenians with quality food and excellent design. "We're all about having pride in where we live and making it the best experience we possibly can," says Feerer. Bringing even more positivity to the space, New York friends and fellow designers Jeff Rogers and Dana Tanamachi also collaborated on several decorative murals bearing uplifting messages.
So how does being a graphic designer prepare someone who has worked in restaurants but not run one before? "Honestly, I just love to create," Feerer says, "even with food. You're always trying to create this amazing, beautiful product, whether it tastes beautiful or it looks beautiful — that's what I always try to do, just create beautiful things that I enjoy."
Ryan Feerer describes how he designed the Abi-Haus logo and collateral using Adobe® Creative Cloud™.
My creative process starts, like most others', with a pen and paper. If I don't have my sketchbook I'll use loose paper, receipts, paper towels, napkins, and even tissue paper. Believe it or not, tissue paper doesn't work very well.
From the beginning, I knew I wanted Abi-Haus to have a classic, timeless feel with an edgy twist. I think the edginess comes through with the custom beveled type. I create all of my custom type (with the exception of hand-drawn) using Adobe Illustrator®. I mostly use all geometric shapes, taking line segments and rearranging them like a puzzle until I get the desired look. You would be amazed with what you can do with squares and circles. Most people try to overcomplicate this process by starting off with the Pen tool. It's totally unnecessary. Use those perfect little shapes. They'll help your final product look that much more refined in a lot less time.
My approach to the menu was a little bit different. I hate going to a restaurant and going through page after page of items. I don't think overwhelming your customer is a good thing. As one of the owners, I felt like it was really important to have a smaller selection that we could perfect and not offer everything under the sun. When you're able to have the brunch, lunch, appetizer, dinner, and drink menu on one 11"x17" without it looking too complex, it's a beautiful thing. I used a simple grid with a nice sans and script for the content. I think the simplicity and flow of the menu is really appetizing. Pun absolutely intended.
The icons I created for the restaurant were meant for a larger purpose, but we ended up using them as a supporting element instead. Each of them were created using only the Ellipse, Rectangle, and very little of the Pen tool. I wanted to pare down each icon to its simplest form, taking away all unneeded information. I feel like these were successful because of that.
Some of the newer and nongeometric tools that I've fallen in love with are Illustrator's Width tool that allows variable-width strokes, the new Image Trace, and the Adobe Photoshop® image editing capabilities (especially the Content Aware tools). All of the other updates have also made the creative process move much quicker. These just happen to be my favorites. Illustrator's Width tool comes in handy when creating my own scripts or ornamentation. It makes an extraordinary difference. I remember having to expand each letter just so I could pull out individual anchor points to create line variation. I'm glad those days are over. Image Trace is something I love, but not for many applications. I hardly ever allow my students to use this tool. I, however, love to use it on hand-drawn type. Once you scan it in and do a trace, you get this really pleasant, subtle texture along the edges of your letterforms. It's so simple but makes such a difference.
"I honestly can't imagine doing my job without the Creative Cloud. I would sincerely be lost without you, Adobe. Thanks!"