Bethany Heck on baseball, letterpress and the next stage of web storytelling

Give us a brief summary of what you do/who you are.

I’m a graphic designer from Auburn, AL who got a wonderful print-centric education from Auburn University and taught herself web design in junior high. I just started a great job as a web designer down in Columbia, SC. I love to bounce back and forth between print and web work and hope that eventually it will all be considered one big entity.

Favorite gadget? Favorite non-gadget object?

Does a laptop count as a gadget? My retina macbook pro has brought nothing but joy to my life. It’s gorgeous and not only helps me work more efficiently because of the screen space, but it makes everything look like a work of art.

Current favorite non gadget is my Alvin mechanical pencil. I’ve always have terrible handwriting and poor drawing skills, but when I use that I at least FEEL like I know what I’m doing. The textured metal grip, the heft of it, the fact that I can use red lead!!! It’s perfect. I love to keep score with it at the ballgame.

Where do you get your news?

Twitter and Yahoo! (I know, right?) for general news, Gizmodo and The Verge for tech stuff. I don’t have one set site I go to, I tend to follow links from other places and search for more information from there; compare and contrast different articles.

What do you think of the experience on most news sites? Are there some you love? Some you hate?

Referring to the Gawker network, I really don’t like their new default view, the one that’s curated. I want a chronological list of stories when I’m looking for news, especially on sites with a niche subject like Gizmodo. I think the article pages on The Verge are excellent, but their homepage view is a mess to me. As a designer, I want to like these “magazine” style layouts, but in practice I think they rarely work. Because I tend to look at news only when it it referred to me by an outside source, I don’t have a lot of experience on the home pages of most news sites.

You’re really into baseball, right? You run Eephus League, a site “dedicated to bringing all the disparate threads of baseball intricacies together in one place.” How did this project come about? What is the Eephus league community like?

Yeah, I might be a little into baseball. The Eephus League was my senior project at Auburn, my semester-long last gasp. I knew I wanted to do a baseball project, but I was struggling to find a solid thread to base my project on. I gathered all the visual and verbal inspiration that I loved the most from the sport, and felt they all fell into a category of “minutiae.” Baseball is such a huge entity that been meticulously codified for well over a hundred years, and it’s full of eccentricities. I wanted to make a site and community centered around the things that are off the beaten path in the sport. People share baseball related artwork, trivia and books on the site, and I like to dig up old baseball card designs, patents and weird stories to share.

An Eephus League offshoot, the Eephus League Magazine, does some amazing things with storytelling on the web. What was the process like for building this bad boy? Please tell us there will be more.

The Eephus League magazine was originally written and designed as a print project. When it became clear that producing a printed version wasn’t going to be cost effective, I started thinking of ways to present it online. Ian Coyle’s Edits Quarterly jumped out at me as being a potential delivery vehicle for a long form reading experience, and I had heard that he encouraged people to use and adapt his code, so I based the magazine on that, thinking it would be some tiny thing about 300 people would see. The site got over 10,000 visitors the first day!

I wanted the magazine to be immersive and experiential without being overwrought. Printed pieces have a pacing and rhythm to them that it usually lost on the web, and I feel like that missing element makes longer form reading difficult on the web. I also spent a lot of time on nitty gritty type details, like hanging punctuation and watching for rivers and widows. I know that most of that work is wasted time because of browser preferences, but it was important to me.

There will be more eventually! The Eephus League is precious to me and I’m careful to not let it become a chore. Updates tend to come in spurts; if I force myself to work on it, the work suffers and I feel like it distances itself from me. No one ever talk about any of the actual writing in the magazine, so i guess I need to step up my game in that arena!

You also run end-grain, a blog about letterpress. What do these side projects do for you? Why maintain them? Are they important to your creative process?

I use side projects as a way of purging any specific urges or ideas I’ve got festering inside me. Being able to get the creative freedom you crave in a self directed project reduces the odds of you forcing an idea in work you’re doing for someone else. Self directed projects are a playground, and you’re the boss, and no one can tell you that you’re using too many typefaces or that no one is going to know what “Eephus” means or to make the logo bigger.

I have a very obsessive personality, which is where a lot of these projects come from. I’ll get hooked on an idea, hobby or collection and doing these things helps me get it all out of my system and learn new things at the same time. I’ve found that I learn the most about web design when I set up a problem to solve.

Where are you headed next? Print work? Interactive work? Good o’l fashioned letterpress?

I’m really curious to see the next stage of web storytelling come around. I think the technology and web abilities are all there for designers to create a new exciting standard.

You know, to be honest, I’m a terrible letterpress printer. I love the type, I love the machines, and I love the process… so long as I’m not actually doing it. Most designers I’ve met have a great mind’s eye and can visualize images and solutions, and that’s not a gift I have, and I think it leads me to make some really crummy prints!

My full time jobs have always been in Web design, and I enjoy that. I’m also always craving the opportunity to do branding projects and create physical objects. That’s part of the reason why Eephus League is so extraordinary for me. Not many design students can say they brought a school branding project to life.

You can only look at one website for the rest of your life. What would it be?

Oof, tough one. Honestly, I probably use dribbble more than any other website, so that’s my answer. I like consuming design more than actually designing.

How do you explain what you do to your parents?

My dad is actually a graphic designer, so that’s less of an issue for me that it is a lot of designers. He likes to live vicariously through me and my mom just smiles and nods when I talk about work.

When are you happiest?

Geeing out over random stuff with friends and family. Well, that’s when I’M the happiest, I can’t say they enjoy listening to me ramble about minutiae as much as I enjoy doing the rambling 😛