Category Archives: Design

Grace Photography

It’s a happy launch day for Grace Photography, a recent client and inspiration! Grace approached me for a new site design for her photography business with a CMS solution, remarking that she liked simple designs with some warmth and personality. We were on the same page from the start, sharing images and websites with an elegant and almost tactile quality. I knew I wanted to bring in calligraphy, golden and pastel hues, and a bit of handmade texture. We edited and refined, then came to a solution that we were both thrilled with.

site design for Grace Photography by Thao Thai

Some weeks later, I began the development to bring it all to life. The site features a few slideshows, with a simple organizational scheme that is intuitive to navigate. We wanted her work to be front and center of the site, and it displays well at all resolutions.

site design for Grace Photography by Thao Thai
site design for Grace Photography by Thao Thai

Her images are a joy to work with, and so is she! If you’re in the West Texas area, and need an amazing portrait photographer, she’s your gal!

Substance: A Short Retrospective

It was with much sadness that I helped Substance¬†edit their farewell letter this past week. After eight years, this beautiful sustainable fashion boutique will be closing the doors to their storefront and website. I’ve been working with owner and CEO Christina for almost three years now, in one capacity or another, and Substance has always been one of my very favorite clients.

I remember the first day I interviewed with Christina. I was so careful about what I was going to wear–it was my first job even remotely related to fashion. My outfit was much too stuffy for the sincere, artful style everyone working there cultivated. But Christina was so kind and gracious, and put me right at ease. I have such fond memories of opening the doors during my Tuesday shifts in graduate school. The sunlight was bright against the weathered cement floors. The clothes hung in colorful, orderly rows. Then I settled in with coffee from the cafe down the street and my laptop, and set to designing.

The best part about designing for Substance was the atmosphere of collaboration. Though there were stakeholders, I felt as if I were a big part of the creative process. I was invited to write copy, even though that wasn’t strictly my job. If I had an idea to shoot a video for the site, I got the thumbs up. I helped with photography once in awhile. Everyone there was given a place of responsibility, and encouraged to use their voice. I think this set a significant precedent for how I wanted to relate to other businesses and clients throughout my career.

So, to thank Christina and the team at Substance (past and present) for their support, I wanted to do a brief survey of a few of the marketing campaigns I helped ideate and execute during my time there. I’m lucky to have had so many opportunities working for such a great brand!

Cubist-inspired homepage banner

*One of my very first designs for Substance, inspired by the handmade line designed in-house

Feral Childe email by Thao Thai

*A fun campaign highlighting independent designers and textile extraordinaires, Feral Childe

animated, illustrated shipping reminder email

*My first attempt at an animated email. The bird hopped up to the top of the stack as snow fell in the background.

graceful and feminine postcard design

*A romantic treatment for a graceful collection

Geometric promotional banner for fashion boutique

*A simple representation of a simple concept. One clutch, seven colors.

colorful banner for spring break essentials

*Brilliant colors and campy-meets-contemporary ’80s-inspired design to help set the mood for fun and sun.

A new portfolio site

I’ve had the same portfolio site for a year or so–and you know how it goes. The baker’s children are the last to eat, or something like that. I was helping other clients with their sites and had no time to focus on mine. The old site was fine and serviceable, but last month, I decided it needed a big refresh, and just dove straight in.

simple portfolio site by Thao Thai

I knew I wanted an online identity that was a little more playful, a little more inviting. I found some amazing retro imagery and used it in a new context, adding big washes of color and cropping tightly. That merging of the old and new helped define my direction, and I cleaned up the overall look, converting to bigger images, more readable blocks of type, and even a bit of updated copy.

homepage for Thao Thai's portfolio website

writing page for Thao Thai's portfolio website

individual book cover design page for Thao Thai's portfolio website

I learned so much in developing and programming it myself, and think that the result expresses my point of view pretty well! Here are a few things I learned in trying to define my own identity:

  1. Ask for help. My good friend and former colleague brainstormed with me (over text message!) about what my style says to her. She used words like “instinctively creative” and “passionate,” which helped a lot. Then, I joked that I wanted my site to look like what Peggy Olson’s (from Mad Men) might, if she were designing a website. It ended up describing the look to a tee!
  2. Step away. This one was hard. I tend to get focused on a project to the point of obsession (Dan can attest to a few missed dinners), but the moment I got up, even for a cup of tea, I felt so much clearer about the problem and solution at hand.
  3. Explore the options. I was torn between a few different directions. A lot of my work has an illustrative feel, but lately, I’ve been more drawn to simpler solutions. So I did a bit of both, sketching and hand-lettering for one option, then paring everything down to the nuts-and-bolts for another. Of course, I landed somewhere in the middle.
  4. Be brave about what you want to say. As a writer, I’m always conscious of audience, and a strange thing happened while working on my own site. I started wondering if my message was too splashy. Was I sounding too-big-for-my-britches? Well, if I am, my britches are at least authentically oversized. :) Voice can’t be faked and eventually, I had to tone out the hypothetical voices and go with what I thought was best. My About page says it all!

See the site in action at! I have a few more features I want to add eventually, so it keeps being a (very fun) work in progress.

Behind the Design: Emmett Malouf Textiles

When I first saw Emmett Malouf Textile designs, I knew it would be an amazing project to work on. Owner and designer Linda Walter has been heading the company for the past twenty years, and she’s curated a lovely, eclectic collection that’s a bit French country, a bit Southwestern flair. She needed a new site that would put her designs front-and-center for clients.

We started with the mood board, which helped clarify our direction (feminine and bright, with a splash of whimsy). Then we went through a few rounds of revisions, arriving at a cream and pale blue palette that could showcase the designs. As I’ve been working on my own, I’ve begun to realize that my aesthetic leans towards the clean and streamlined, with just a bit of influence from classic layout and typography.

homepage design for luxury textile brand

Then began the programming to make it all come alive! I won’t lie; this was the hardest part. But also, in many ways, the most rewarding! The home page features a slider, and each grid page displays the collections in all their colorful diversity.



The product pages feature a gallery of images, along with some lovely copy written by Kathleen Blackburn. A contact form allows the viewer to get in touch with Linda to find out more about the company.



Best of all, I built a back-end content management system that allows updating of images, copy, and products, making this site an evergreen solution for the growing business. It was a joy to work with such a great brand! See the site in action here.

In the Dark

The other day, I did a deep clean of all my office drawers and shelves. Threw out old retirement fund statements (I didn’t know I still had a retirement fund), expired receipts. Organized the random reams of paper I collected over the years. And then, in the midst of all that paperwork, I found these, crammed into an overflowing binder.

Black and White Photos

They’re prints from my first and only film photography class. I took it with the beautiful and exacting Jenny Fine, who pushed me to make prints five, ten times until they were right. I learned so much about photography from her and the class, but what I took from it was the physicality of the artistic process. Entering the dark room,¬†positioning your negatives. Transferring the print back and forth through the chemicals with my hands (I think you were urged to use tongs, but I never did). I loved to burn the edges with my cupped palms, framing the prints with a moody vignette. And then you emerge with something that wasn’t there before.

Black and White Photos

These photos were taken with Cate, a fellow writer and artist, in early spring, when it was impractical to wear a thin vintage dress. But like a sport, she did. She traipsed with me through the woods, wearing all white, and we reenacted the original, darker themes of the original Little Red Riding Hood fairy tale. At the end of the day, there was one last click to the camera, and it was back to the dark room, to see what it was we’d created.