GRINtroducing: Perrin Drumm
Founder of Eye on Design and A24’s Head of Publishing, Perrin Drumm joins us for a chat
Did someone say GRINtroducing!? Yes, yes they did – and this time we are introducing you to the very fabulous Perrin Drumm, Writer, Editor and Head of Publishing at A24. Prior to this, she was the Founder and Director of Eye on Design, as well as co-founding food and design platform MOLD. We got chatting to her about her career, her recent move to A24 and what it’s been like becoming a mentor.
1) Hello Perrin. Thank you for taking the time to feature on our GRINtroducing series! Let’s get started by introducing yourself to those that might not know you?
I’m a writer by night and a publisher by day (also a publisher by night, hard to turn that part of the brain off). I’m from L.A. and live in Brooklyn — alone, with no pets. For some reason bookish people are expected to have a cat perpetually in their lap, or a dog at their feet, or other things that require constant care. I have some plants, I have a birdfeeder to lure the local fauna, but mostly I have books.
2) Eye on Design – what an achievement and something you must be so proud of. What are some of your fondest memories of your 6 years there?
Thank you, what a wild ride. I’ll never forget the year of late nights when we first launched, enlisting my design bff Leta Sobierajski to create the entire platform for peanuts, with the promise of proper compensation to come (we made good on that). Hardly anyone at AIGA thought it was a good idea at the time, so it took a lot to prove that my little idea had legs.
By far the most gratifying part was hiring an incredibly talented team of editors from all over the world to create a design publication with a broader point of view, with voices and perspectives we don’t typically hear. Together as a team, we put on a conference, published a magazine, invested in deep-research, tried to start a design union. All-nighters are fun when you’re doing it with friends.
3) Last year, we saw you leave your position at Eye on Design. How does it feel looking back on that move?
It was definitely the right time for me to move on. I’d reached the ceiling of what I could accomplish at AIGA, and of course I handed over the reins to an extremely capable team. We’re friends so we talk all the time, and I’m so proud of what they’re publishing. They’re making some really smart moves in terms of what they cover and how.
4) Tell us what goes into an average day as the Head of Publishing at A24?
We approach our books in much the same way as we approach our film and TV projects, in that it all starts with a solid idea that we then build a specialized creative team around to bring it to life. Every book is different. Some need photography, illustration, lots of different kinds of writers, editors, archivists, researchers, and of course, designers. We don’t run things through a “publishing mill” or have any kind of template approach. We’re not a mass market publisher and we don’t aspire to be. Every book is its own very special object, different from the thing we’ve published before and what we’ll publish next. Some of the books I’ve been busy with this past year will finally start coming out soon, so you can see what I’m talking about.
But it’s a growing division, so my day-to-day is everything from fun creative brainstorming and pitching to the necessary budgeting and P&L stuff. I’m working with a small army of project managers to keep the plates spinning, and if I’m lucky, I get to go on press and rub paper stock between my fingers and look through a loup at small dots of color.
On the design side of things, it turns out speaking with designers as a journalist at Eye on Design was really good training for working with them. Now, as a publisher, I get to be on the other side, as their client. I understand their process, know what makes a successful project, and I love getting into the nitty gritty of layout and typography and print production. (I did say I was bookish, right?) Working with our designers is easily one of the highlights of my job. All the designers I mooned over at Eye on Design I now get to hire to bring our new ideas to life. It’s kind of a dream.
“…I love getting into the nitty gritty of layout and typography and print production. (I did say I was bookish, right?)”
5) We’re big fans of both the films A24 produce and the design practice Actual Source. How did this partnership come about? How do you usually collaborate when you work together? Is this something that will continue into the future?
Before I joined, our creative director hired Actual Source to design the screenplay books series. They’re such incredible designers, and that relationship has naturally evolved to the point where we work with them on retainer. I’m such mega fans of JP Haynie and Davis Ngarupe and their team. What dream boats. An old boss of mine once told me there are three things you want when you work with someone — they’re talented, they file on time, and they’re nice — and if you’re lucky you’ll get two out of three. Actual Source is three out of three every time. They’re batting 1000. (They’re lucky I don’t live in Provo, UT, where they’re located, or else I’d want to hang out with them all the time.)
6) You were Designer in Residence at UT Austin’s Department of Design and Creative Technologies. Do you enjoy this side of your work and how does it compare to publishing?
I was their Designer in Residence for the month of February last year, in 2020. I taught a magazine publishing class and lectured. I loved it. Getting to work with students who are eager to soak up what you have to say and game to jump into ambitious projects is so much fun.
Personally, it forced me to distill everything I had learned on the job over the course of my career, all the things that were just swimming around in my brain, and put it into a digestible curriculum. Initially, I wasn’t sure I was qualified to teach a class. I’d never taught before, but like everything, if I want to do something I just kind of figure it out. Now, mentoring has become something I do regularly. I certainly didn’t plan on that, and still don’t feel qualified to give advice — I don’t feel nearly wise enough for that. But I do have lived experiences, as an editor, sure, but also as an entrepreneurial type of person, and someone who graduated into a recession and had to quickly figure her shit out. And of course now as a publisher.
7) The GRIN team have been to see your talks at Birmingham Design Festival. How do you find talking at these type of events and what do you make of Birmingham/UK?
I have the best memories of Birmingham Design Festival — Luke Tonge and Dan Alcorn are such superdudes. Somehow they put on a massive event that takes over an entire city, all in their spare time, and they somehow find a way to make each speaker feel like part of a family. I’d go back in a heartbeat.
Public speaking is not something I’d ever enjoyed, but I forced myself into it as Eye on Design was growing — both to overcome my own fear and to talk about design stories I felt were important. In the beginning, people asked me to talk about practical things, like what it was like to bootstrap a brand. But I think when they met me and saw I had all kinds of opinions, I was asked to speak about those. Speaking at BDF was personally pretty meaningful because it was the first time I wrote a long talk that took an opposing stance on something that was a popular opinion at the time. Many of my opinions are unpopular, I’ve come to find, and I really wasn’t sure what kind of reaction I would get, but it turns out lots of people have unpopular opinions, too. Not enough to make them popular, but I’m okay with that. I like it over here in my corner of the room.
8) What current designer/illustrator/filmmaker (or all-round general creative) person are you currently obsessed with and why?
I have an enormous art crush on Julie Mehretu, an Ethiopian artist whose detailed line work on these impossibly large canvases blows my fucking mind. The way she plays with scale and space… just… no words. I can stare at her work for hours. I have literally done this.
“Many of my opinions are unpopular, I’ve come to find, and I really wasn’t sure what kind of reaction I would get, but it turns out lots of people have unpopular opinions, too.”
9) If you could go back in time and give some advice to the 20 year-old Perrin studying at College of Santa Fe, what would you say?
I’d give her shoulders a massage and tell her careers aren’t ladders. The next best step will take you to the next best one, and so on. It’s good to have a North Star, but the way you reach it will be completely unpredictable. That’s what makes it exciting.
10) Plan B – If you weren’t working in Graphic Design, what jobs could you both see yourself working in?