We met Andy and Jess of Design Egg at a gas station near the Colorado/Utah border. They were bound for the Centennial State as we were inching toward the Beehive State. We may have been like ships passing in the night, were it not for their picturesque Scamp trailer that is, indeed, rather hard-boiled in shape. When we saw it, we knew we had to approach them and start a conversation. It quickly became clear that, for these two, scrambling all over the country, although not over easy, is everything it's cracked up to be.
Andy and Jess have put a lot of miles behind them in their travels and have also created a rather impressive portfolio of branding and design work. The couple sustains their nomadic lifestyle through a combination of crowdfunding and corporate partnerships and then passes this support on to others through their work, done free-of charge, for deserving nonprofits and small businesses. Applicants to receive graphic design work from Design Egg are chosen not by Andy and Jess themselves, but by a panel of independent advisors.
To know more about their travels and their process, read the interview below:
WTRH: Ok, here we are with Andy and Jess at the gas station in Loma, Colorado!
Andy: I think...are we in Colorado? (laughs)
WTRH: I think! We don't really know...we didn't cross a border that we are aware of. But you guys, tell us about your vehicle. You have a project called Design Egg.
Jess: Yeah! So, we travel in a 16 ft. Scamp trailer. They're made out of fiberglass, they're white, and they're referred to as 'eggs' in the RV community, so that's kind of where the name for our project comes from.
Jess: We’re both graphic designers and we’ve been traveling for a year with this project that grants creative service awards to nonprofit organizations and artists who need design help.
So we did a kickstarter, we raised money; we’re now fundraising again for another round of awards. Basically, people with interesting projects, who help others, can apply to us and then we design for free. We pay ourselves through the funds that we raise.
WTRH: Amazing. So you’re kind of giving back…you’re passing it on.
Andy: Yeah, to people who are also in the creative community. I mean, some of them are environmental groups, domestic violence shelters…we’ve just worked with a lot of different people who are doing really cool things.
Jess: We kind of think of what we’re doing as sort of our own ‘adventure with purpose.’ We lived in Chicago for eleven years and worked in various capacities. We’ve always wanted to go on the road, but when we decided to do it, we are the kind of people that just needed a project…and we also needed income, you know? We needed a sustainable career while we’re traveling.
We don’t have a big savings. We don’t come from a wealthy background with a lot of financial stability, so we needed something that could both sustain us and that we felt like would contribute positively to other people.
WTRH: What does a normal day look like? Or, even beyond a day, what does a normal week look like for you, balancing the play and the work elements for what Design Egg is?
Andy: We kind of check our emails whenever we can. We try to stick near [areas where we can receive cell/internet service], so we try not to go too far off grid because we do need to either get power or, you know, connection to projects. We’re waiting on emails or we’re sending emails…so we try to check our emails and be in contact a little bit…and then, if we’re all good, then we’ll stay in a park, we’ll go climbing or whatever.
But a lot of stuff we work on, we can actually do without internet access. We sort of need to know roughly what needs to be accomplished, maybe in a particular week or a day or whatever. Then, once we know that, we can get offline and start working on it and plan to get back online in a day or two, to send files or touch base.
Jess: The schedule we work on, we probably put in at least a full time job’s worth of hours in a week. What we do, which a lot of people who live on the road do…you’re flexible, right? So, we can get up in the morning, go climbing, go hiking, prepare our meals, or do some grocery shopping. Then we can come back at 4 or 5 o’clock and we can work until midnight. We can edit photos in the trailer or a coffee shop.
We usually balance our work week with climbing, hiking, seeing sights, and working. It all just kind of melds together into this really fluid week.
Andy: It feels like the work/life balance is a little bit more refined now. We were spending a lot of time working previously, and in Chicago, where were living, we would drive like seven hours one way to go rock climbing or hiking. We spent all this time and effort just trying to leave the city to recreate. Now, we can just go to Moab - that’s where we were yesterday! We went hiking all day and that morning we had worked and in the evening we did a couple other things. It’s sort of like this constant work/play and we don’t have to spend all this energy and time.
Two days ago, she was up until like 2:00 in the morning working on something, you know? And then the next day, we’re off and we’re just chilling and we’re in the parks or whatever.
It feels like our balance is really kind of fun. It seems like when we’re not working, we’re inspired by the surroundings that we’re in and it kind of fuels the creativity that we’re going to be outputting the next day or the next week.
WTRH: Now that you guys have been on the road for about a year, any memorable experiences or highlights that jump out at you?
Jess: I mean, quite a few! There’s definitely places we saw that will, like, always be in our memories. We’re both from the midwest so being by water and ocean is a very new thing for us. We hadn’t spent a lot of time besides short vacations, maybe, on either coast. So, I would say being in Big Sur for the week that we were there definitely left a mark on us. Still, to date, one of the most amazing experiences we had.
For us, as rock climbers, one of the most memorable experiences, had to be last winter when we were up in Bishop, when Daniel Woods and Dan Bell were working on this epic boulder problem - probably one of the hardest to climb in the world - called 'The Process,’ and we just happened to be there when this was all going down. Dan Bell…Andy knows a lot of the history…he had been working on it for a couple seasons. Imagine this line, it’s on the largest boulder in the Buttermilks, 45-55 feet high.
Andy: It seemed like he was [previously] really close but he was having issues with the temperatures last season and Bishop was a little bit warmer, a little more humid than normal. In that location, with that difficulty of rock climb, conditions are everything. It wasn’t even about strength at that point for him. It was waiting for the right conditions. He was starting to feel a bit beat down by trying this thing over and over and over again and failing so close to success. This other guy, Dan Woods, showed up, and it seemed like that kind of brought a new energy to the whole thing. Again, we were there for like two and a half months, right in the middle of it, so we had met them.
It was cool. It was kind of a group thing where everybody would bring pads out to help protect his landing because he’s not roped up. So if he falls from, like 50 feet up, it’s a big deal. We were all there. I was actually helping video and some photos. We were documenting this amazing process they were working on. So, that was a pretty cool experience to see that. This was all happening around the same time as the Dawn Wall in Yosemite, so it was a pretty cool time, for sure. We met a lot of really great people.
Jess: It felt like you were just a part of climbing history, and to watch these two amazing climbers kind of go back and forth…to watch them and their sense of camaraderie but also a little bit of competition….to be a part…
The reason they call it the ‘The Process’ is because it took 15 people to be out there, not only putting pads out but shining lights on the wall. It was warm, so they were doing it at night. We wouldn’t start until 7:00 at night and everyone would have lights on it. It felt like you were part of this team putting everything into these two guys who were trying to accomplish something. So when Daniel Woods finally did it, it was a pretty incredible experience to be there to witness.
For us, as climbers living in Chicago for so long, only being able to do these weekend trips…to be able to dedicate time to a place, so much so that we could be part of this epic thing that was happening, we’ll never forget that.
Andy: That’ll actually be in a film called The Reel Rock. It’s the Reel Rock Tour, which is like a climbing film tour they do every year. This is the tenth year, I think, they’ve been doing this? So, that boulder problem will actually be in this film. It’s a pretty big deal.
Andy: Other than that, I’m trying to think what other lowlights there’ve been. Certainly, we’ve had ups and downs. We hit a deer. I had a photoshoot in Colorado that I was driving out for a few weeks for - a two week trip to Colorado. On my way through Iowa, I totally pummeled a deer with the car and just like totaled it. So that was kind of an unexpected thing that we dealt with. You have these things happen and you just sort of deal with it. That was kind of the most intense car issue, I would say.
Everything else has been pretty minor - leaks here and there. The trailer is out in these desert environments. It just gets baked by the sun so stuff starts to break down under that kind of environment. We’ve had little leaks that are caused from that stuff. Plastic is kind of cracking, you know, nothing…it’s very common for RV’ers to experience. You have to learn how to deal with that stuff.
Squamish was really cool. We were there a couple weeks ago. That was really beautiful. That actually rivaled Big Sur in our minds. Going past Vancouver up…what was it? Lion’s bay? I can’t remember the name of the bay.
Jess: The area between Vancouver and Squamish. Squamish is about 45 minutes north of Vancouver.
Andy: Yeah, we’d never been to that part of the country. It was really beautiful. That kind of changed our perspective on Canada - we had no idea how beautiful it was! We’d both been to Toronto, and that was pretty awesome, too, but this was like a whole other level of amazing, natural beauty. Like she said, were kind of enthralled by the ocean, having not grown up with that. We were maybe even more impressed by it, just because it’s the ocean and these huge islands of granite and massive trees. It’s just awesome. As a photographer, it made a perfect backdrop.
WTRH: Three travel essentials? If there were three things that you felt like you wouldn’t want to travel without, what would they be?
Jess: Well, there’s the obvious: the cellphone, computer. For us it wouldn’t work - we rely on our cellphones for everything and we keep in touch with people. It’s probably an essential for life now, not just travel. Our technology is key.
Andy: Does that include camera?
Jess: Maybe. Camera could be separate.
Andy: Computer, camera, and…
Jess: Well, we normally travel with a dog who’s not here with us right now! And I would say she IS essential. The reason she’s not here is we had a couple engagements recently where we couldn’t have her. Rather than try to find boarding along the way, we left her with a person she’s really comfortable with in Chicago for two months. We’re picking her up again - we kind of can’t wait - in three weeks.
WTRH: What’s the dog’s name?
Jess: ‘Pickle!’ She is a rescued pitbull. She’s about five. I don’t know, traveling with a dog, there’s a lot of challenges to that as well, but it’s also really fun. You feel safe. She keeps her ears and eyes out for you. She’s a companion. She also provides this consistency, which I think you need to find when you’re traveling. You still need to have your routines. You can’t just sort of be making every day up as you go. Feed the dog, walk the dog, make sure her needs are met - it kind of helps you stay stable.
It’s not for everybody, traveling with a dog. We didn’t have a lot of choice as we had the dog when we decided to travel. We wouldn’t even think of leaving her behind. Now I think of it as a really essential and key part of our experience.
WTRH: Where can people who want to look up your work and follow you travels…where can they see you in the digital space?
Jess: We’ve got several places. DesignEgg.org is our website and we keep a blog there and we have our portfolio of work, we have information about all of the people we’re helping, we also have information about how to apply. So, if you are an individual or nonprofit organization, do something cool, help other people, and you have financial need, you can apply to our program. The applications are due coming up here October 15, 2015.
We have a committee of people that decide who gets the awards. We don’t make those decisions, we have a committee that also serves as sort of an advisory board for the project. They decide, so definitely check that out if you’re a person who is interested in services.
We also have a blog there where we talk a little bit about our travels and about ourselves. Then our Instagram feeds are where we have a lot of day-to-day shots. @eggtravels is the Instagram [account] for our project and then @andywickstrom is Andy’s own feed and he has a lot of amazing photography there and things that are both related and unrelated to the DesignEgg project.