If you’ve been on Pinterest at any point, you’ve encountered Joy Cho’s work. A graphic designer who found success with the early 2000’s blog boom, Cho turned her creative outlet into a major branding success – which includes being the most followed person on the pinning platform.
Cho has a stunning list of accomplishments. She has created product lines with Target, Petco, Johnson & Johnson, and Clorox. She has authored three books and was named one of Time’s 30 Most Influential People on the Internet. She also runs a team entirely made up of women and championing gender equality every step of the way.
Swaay recently had the chance to ask Cho about her accomplishments, insider design tips, and most recent collaboration.
When did you start making money from your blog and social media, and how did it feel when people started to take notice of your work?
Joy Cho: “I started the Oh Joy! blog in 2005 on the side of my design business. I didn’t set out with any intention of making money from it, but as the site started to grow, it became apparent that there was an opportunity for it to become profitable. About a year after launching, the blog started generating income, but it still wasn’t my primary focus until about 2011. Up until that point, blogging was still a relatively open space – we didn’t have the same pressures because it was all so new. Of course, it was great to see that this site I created was picking up steam, but it really started as a personal hobby before it became an integral part of my business.”
How did you develop your point of view as a designer? What influences you?
“My style and point of view have both evolved over time. It’s not something you necessarily establish from day one – or even by day 5,000. I started to come into mine in the last few years, partly because I’ve gotten better at knowing what I like and what I’m good at – and then pinpointing where those two things converge. As for influence, I try to draw from what I’m seeing in real life. These new prints I did for Clorox, for instance, are inspired by the spring season and what you feel during that time of year.
We developed four patterns that have classic appeal – like a standard stripe – and give them our signature Oh Joy! spin. What really interested me in designing these prints was the opportunity to create something that’s aesthetically pleasing yet very effective. You can leave these canisters out on the counter or even up-cycle them afterward as a container for everything from kids’ toys to paint brushes or florals. They add a little fun and joy to every day!”
How are you refreshing your decor for Spring?
“To give my space a refreshed look for the season ahead, I like to switch up the color and go for something brighter. I’ll use fresh paint or contact paper on accent walls, decorative items or the inside back section of shelves to give a temporary pop. I also try to switch up the look in our living spaces by swapping out throw pillows and framing some of the artwork my kids have brought home throughout the year.”
You’ve worked and collaborated with many brands. How did you start getting these brand deals, and how do you seek them out now?
“Since the beginning, I’ve pitched to brands for design collaborations, and some of the biggest partnerships we’ve landed were ones that I originally pursued. I tend to seek partnerships that fit my current stage of life – and my work has really evolved naturally this way. For where I am currently, this means partnerships with brands that I use as a busy working mom.”
You are constantly surrounded by inspiring women, whether it’s your two girls or your all-female team. What do you hope your daughters and team take away from the work environment you’ve cultivated?
“In a day and age when lots of gender inequalities are happening in the workforce, those types of issues don’t apply here at Oh Joy! My team is made up of all women who are talented, creative, and hard-working. We are all equals, we are all peers, and we all respect one another for the work that we do and respect the people that we are inside and outside of work. As a woman-owned business part of a fully woman-powered team and a mother to two girls, there is no shortage of girl power at Oh Joy.”
“I want my team, Oh Joy! followers, and every woman or girl I come in contact with in my lifetime to know they are capable of all the things and goals they want. If they are kind to one another and work hard, that helps a lot, too.”
What do you think has been the most important part of your brand strategy?
“Being authentic and not comparing myself and our work to others has been key. You can’t be everything to everyone. You have to focus on what’s right for you and for your brand.”
What is one design tip that you live by, and one you could stand to live without?
“I consistently say to go with your gut and fill your surroundings with things you love. If it’s a flea market find you stumbled upon, you’ll find a way to work it into your space even if it’s something you didn’t necessarily need. Over time, you’ll build a collection that feels cohesive because each piece
carries meaning. On the other hand, there are trends and fads that come and go. When considering something for the home, people usually ask ‘is this too trendy’ or ‘is this trendy enough?’ Neither is right or wrong. The more important questions are, ‘do you want this item?’, ‘will it make you happy?’ and ‘would you feel regret if you didn’t bring this home?’ If it checks those boxes, then go for it.”
What is one mistake you’ve made in your career, and how did you learn from it?
“I’ve made mistakes in my career, but I’m a firm believer that it’s part of the learning process. There are very few times when I’ve said, ‘I really wish I didn’t do that,’ because something usually comes from that experience. There was one misstep earlier in my career where I took a job for a client that wasn’t the right fit for me. At the time, it made financial sense, but my heart wasn’t into the work. Ultimately, the client could tell and let me go. It was a tiny project, but I remember it well. My biggest takeaway is that while we have to pay the bills, it’s also important to try to feel a connection to your work.”
When starting out, how much did you think about marketing and branding, or did that come naturally?
“Because I started as a graphic designer, branding has always been part of my job. Early in my career, I did branding work for other clients, so I was able to apply those skills when it came to my own brand. When Oh Joy! was new, I didn’t focus on marketing as much because my blog became an effective tool on its own. As the blog and our social presence have grown, I’ve come to realize the power these platforms hold and I’ve tried to stay adaptable.”
And finally, what are some projects you’re looking forward to?
“Later this year, we have kids’ shoes and backpacks coming out. I’m excited about this and so are my kids!”