Career development / Design / Guest posts

My side gig keeps me sane

Sidecar UX designer Jon Billett has another company on the side. It combines two of his favorite things: art and good food. Here are seven of his favorite projects, and how they came to be.

The "hipster dumpling" characters that adorn the walls of Bing Bing Dim Sum. (Photo by Danya Henninger)
This is guest post by Sidecar Director of UX Jon Billett. Follow his Beer Paste Facebook page to see more of his design work.

I grew up as an artist. Went to school for graphic design. Since then, the professional landscape has constantly shifted in the direction of ever-evolving technology. I’m now the Director of UX & Creative at Sidecar — a Center City ecommerce marketing company.
It’s a professionally fulfilling position for many reasons. But user-flows and wireframes can only be so much.
I realized I needed to keep my artist-hand fresh.
Doing so made me happy and stimulated my old-school creative mind in ways that I wasn’t getting from my 9-t0-5. So after several years of helping friends out here and there with logo and poster designs, I branded my side biz, Beer Paste. And it’s evolved beautifully since then.
I’m an artist, a social butterfly, Philly foodie, and craft beer nerd. It doesn’t get any more harmonious than this gig. With Beer Paste I’ve gotten to meet some amazingly talented people, help take their businesses to the next level and also get some nice hook-ups at some of the best spots in the city. What’s not to like?
So what made this all possible? Networking.
It is essential if you want to find these types of opportunities. I cannot stress that enough. So get out there a meet people! Get a part-time restaurant gig. Go to social events and open houses. Make more friends. Eat good food.
Here’s a rundown of some of my favorite beer and food design gigs I’ve been fortunate to work on over the years.

The Sidecar Bar & Grille and Kraftwork


(Photo by Jon Billett)

I moved to Philly on a whim in 2005, after graduating from RIT in Rochester, N.Y., with a bachelor’s degree in Graphic Design. With little “real-world” design experience to showcase in my portfolio, it was surely going to take some time before I got my foot in the door at any sort of desirable design agency. In the meantime, bills needed to be paid. I responded to an ad on Craigslist searching for a line-cook at the yet-to-be-opened Sidecar Bar & Grille.
Unlike my Graphic Design resume, my food-industry experience was plentiful. Ever since the ripe age of 16 I’ve worked in some type of food-industry establishment — dishwasher, busboy, line cook, ice-cream scooper, server, bartender — you name it.
I was The Sidecar’s first-official hire in October 2005. (And yes — there’s a pretty good chance that I’m the only person to ever be employed by two different companies named Sidecar.) Aside from assembling plate-after-plate of South Philly’s finest nachos, I was also able to talk owner Adam Ritter into letting me redesign their table menus. The ones they had at the time were pretty cringe-worthy — your typical Microsoft Word “masterpieces” complete with the perfect recipe of Comic Sans and Hobo fonts.
My redesigned menus turned out great and went over really well. So well in fact, that it led to many more opportunities — designing their website, newspaper ads, business cards, gift certificates and, most notably, an entire library of attention-grabbing posters to help promote their popular craft beer events. To this day, those posters still remain the foundation of Beer Paste.
As the success of The Sidecar grew, so did the number of events. The posters continued to pile up, and when the owners opened up their new Fishtown bar, Kraftwork, I was naturally given the keys to their design, marketing and branding. And then again for Kermit’s Bake Shoppe.

Kermit’s Bake Shoppe


(Photo by Jon Billett)

I was super excited to receive the opportunity to create the logo for Kermit’s — a pizzeria/bakery hybrid and the latest venture of Adam Ritter. The direction was to create a vibe that had the warmness of “grandma’s bakery you grew up with” with a modern-day playfulness and appeal.
Aside from the logo being used in all the regular spots (menu, biz cards, shirts, etc.), there is a huge replica of it painted above the entry to the storefront. It’s pretty impressive, and to this day I still manage to get a few goosebumps every time I pass by.

Cheu Noodle Bar


(Photo by Jon Billett)

An old coworker of mine from Sidecar was a manager at Cheu when they first opened. She introduced me to owner Shawn Darragh and chef Ben Puchowitz. Sean was actually an old neighbor and frequenter of The Sidecar and was familiar with a lot of my work.
Although their branding was already established, they eventually hooked me up with the opportunity to do a T-shirt design and some small flyers. That then led to a complete menu redesign this past October. The new menus are awesome! They’re covered with a bunch of zany and lurid hand-drawn “noodle characters” — some even spoofing on imagery from classic ’80s flicks like Ghoulies and Little Shop of Horrors. The response to these has been great and I can’t wait for them to start popping up on T-shirts!

Bing Bing Dim Sum


(Photo by Jon Billett)

Probably the Beer Paste work that I am most proud of is the branding for Bing Bing — the hip fusion dim sum spot from the Cheu Noodle guys. Their direction was pretty open-ended: They wanted traditional Japanese influence fused with Philly personality and grit.
The “hipster dumpling” characters that now cover the 44-by-10-foot restaurant’s interior wall, were actually first concepted while I was sketching the Bing Bing logos. The decision was made that the final logo wasn’t going to include a dumpling character simply because we couldn’t settle on just one dumpling guy to use. Hence the giant wall with 50+ of them in all their glory.
The response to the dumpling wall has been overwhelmingly awesome. The restaurant itself continues to get a ton of press for its food (and rightfully so!), but what’s really cool is that most articles always make a mention of the wall. Every now and then I’ll scroll through some #bingbingdimsum hashtags on Instagram just to see pictures that people post of themselves in front of the wall. I’ve even heard that the employees each have their own “spirit dumpling.”

Knead Bagels


(Photo by Jon Billett)

Owners Cheri and Adam Wilner requested my contact info from the Bing Bing guys, after seeing my artwork there. They desperately needed a new menu design at their Center City bagel shop. Not only was the current menu visually unappealing (another Microsoft Word masterpiece), but customers were also experiencing confusion with how to place their orders. There were a lot of variables that came into placing an order — type and quantity of bagels, type and quantity of cream cheese, recommended bagel/cream cheese combos, bagel sandwiches, etc. — and the menu needed a more cohesive structure.
Fortunately, creating better user experiences is what I do all the time at my day job with big data and websites, so it was fun to translate that mindset into “menu experience design.”
I created a clear and easy-to-understand pricing structure table to help customers painlessly order their morning bagel fix. Overall, the entire menu looks fantastic and has gotten great feedback, especially from the owners — who even took the time to learn Photoshop basics so that they could make menu updates on their own!

William Street Commons


(Photo by Jon Billett)

Early in my professional career, I had a stint working as an interactive designer at Center City ad agency Tierney. Fast-forward seven years, and an old coworker from there was now the marketing director for the soon-to-open William Street Commons (the old Drinker’s West in West Philly). Their family of businesses (Morgan’s Pier, Union Transfer) actually has a policy that all of their design work is done by “moonlighting” artists, so she reached out to me about a logo design for the new beer garden.
With all of my logo design gigs I like to create at least a handful of options for the client to choose from. I do this for two reasons:

  • 95 percent of the time my first idea is never the best idea.
  • Clients enjoy the ability to see a variety of options and it allows them to feel more in-the-loop with the entire process.

(See below for an example of what a typical “Round 1” of logo comps looks like.)


(Photo by Jon Billett)

The Boathouse and the Below Deck Bottle Shop


(Image by Jon Billett)

From 2013 to 2015 I wrote a bi-monthly column for Philly Beer Scene that led to many great connections in the craft beer industry. One of them was with The Boathouse in Conshohocken. Our working relationship started off with an occasional flyer design or magazine ad. That later turned into an opportunity to design the logo for their new store, The Below Deck Bottle Shop (aptly named because it’s a bottle shop/growler-fill station in the basement of The Boathouse).
This place tends to gets skipped over by folks because it’s outside of the city, but let me tell ya — they do some killer beer events that are definitely worth checking out. They have a huge draft list, and a pretty awesome wing special on Wednesdays.

Companies: Sidecar

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