Tina Snow Le is a self-proclaimed magic maker. She gracefully navigates many different creative spheres at once: designing digital experiences and websites at digital agency Instrument while at the same time developing side projects that explore how design can impact society for the better.
On a recent Saturday, we met up at Tina’s studio in southeast Portland. She shares the space with her boyfriend and two adorable rescue pups. In typical Portland fashion, it’s fronted by a nondescript door and sits across the street from a dispensary, but inside is an enviable, well-lit loft-like space that would thrill any artist. We sat in her cozy living room, and chatted about what it means to be a creative living and working in the city today.
How did you get started?
I started working in design a few years ago. I went to school initially for business and then I found out that there was such a thing as a career in graphic design. I immediately switched my major and the rest is history.
What do you focus on? How would you describe your work?
I would describe it as very bold, colorful, and full of heart. A lot of it is human centric, but also fun and thoughtful and considerate.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
I find a lot of inspiration from traveling and exposing myself to other cultures and people. I was born and raised in Portland, and it’s so inspiring to get out of here and see what the rest of the world is like. I bring those experiences back here and it influencers the work I do.
Design is such a powerful tool because it can be a universal language. I try to figure out how I can distill an idea into the simplest form so it can communicate to anyone and resonate with anyone regardless of culture or language.
Where have you traveled lately and what did you get from those experiences?
I recently visited New Orleans and Tokyo. What I love about both of these cities is that the people that live there are able to have such respect for one another, not just on a one-on-one basis, but as a community and as a human race. Within New Orleans, people take really good care of each other regardless if you’re a stranger or if you’ve lived there your entire life. And in Tokyo, everyone is considerate and respectful of each other and their spaces. The Japanese see their culture as one being versus individuals looking out for themselves. That can help inform design, and the ways it helps people and improves the quality of life.
What other mediums inform your work?
At my full time job at Instrument, I design websites and digital experiences. In my own projects, I also like to experiment with ink and paint and get very tactile. When I do my own personal work, there is a definitely more of a hand-touched element to it.
On your website, you write that you thrive when design fuses with community to ignite change, encourage engagement, and promote play. How has this played out in your work?
For a project called “No Occasion Celebration,” created during a two-week internship at Ideo, I designed little packets filled with confetti and party materials that I handed out to strangers during the poler vortex in Chicago. It was an instant party kit, and the intent was to triumph the everyday and all of life’s victories, large and small. I asked strangers what was worth celebrating that day, and it was so interesting to see who responded to me and interacted with it.
What’s your approach to a creative challenge?
I like to spend the first part of the process putting everything out there—the good ideas, the bad ideas. From there, I set up a framework with rules—color, scale, and the like, and then explore what’s possible within that framework.
What do you think it means to be a creative in Portland?
Being a creative in Portland is a really unique experience. We have the resources available for you to be whatever type of creative you want to be. The quality of life is high and so people are able to fulfill multiple interests and then give them back to the community at large. In other bigger cities, that’s not necessarily the opportunity. Here, everyone is very supportive and you’re able to share your work with people who will support you, which is really what’s great about this place. In addition, the bar has been set really high here. People expect high quality shit. Especially with Portland being a design epicenter, there’s a lot of great energy surrounding design here and it’s becoming a design destination because of it.
What do you think sets Portland apart as a creative city?
It’s a very entrepreneurial city. I have friends who are starting their own side projects or starting their own galleries and are able to fulfill those creative interests on their own even at a young age. There’s this very strong entrepreneurial spirit that’s a common thread throughout Portland. It also informs the identities of our neighborhoods and the kinds of people that are attracted to them.
What inspires you?
I think that there’s a lot of interesting dialogue happening about design here. I can take whatever I’m working on and share with friends and they’ll help me make it better. It’s inspiring. It’s so great to see other peoples’ work and what they’re doing. A few places that inspire me in Portland:
- Una – Beautiful boutique in southeast.
- Nationale – Gallery and boutique space on Division.
- Fisk Gallery – A great space that focuses on bringing in artists from out of town.
- One Grand Gallery – An interesting gallery space on Burnside.
I now this sounds cliché, but I’m also inspired by going outside and hanging out in nature. I love going to the coast with my boyfriend and the dogs and doing out day and coming back and feeling refreshed.
What do you think the creative community is missing here?
I’d like to see more people collaborating and more disciplines intersecting with each other. I see that happening in other cities, but I feel like Portland hasn’t reached that level yet. I want to see the go-to people in design seeking out the go-to people in food, in music, and supporting one another. It’s too easy to stay siloed.
What other projects are you working on that you’d like to share?
I’m starting a mentorship program called Back to Back that champions people of color and underrepresented groups in the creative industry. I wanted to figure out how to positively impact the national dialogue here in Portland without it just being a conversation, to try to find some interaction. In an interview on Stephen Colbert, Killer Mike suggested that people could positively impact change by being a big brother or big sister in someone’s life. As I think about the mentors I’ve had and how that’s impacted my career, it made total sense to me to create something like that in our city. Portland is lacking in diversity, and I think we have to champion that and draw attention to the community that is here. It’s a project I feel the most vulnerable about, but mostly because I’m so excited.
If you’re interesting in finding out more about Back to Back, email Tina directly at email@example.com. You can see more of Tina’s portfolio on her website.