Janice Cho at Civilla creating the logo and brand guidelines.

I have only known her for a few months, but she gave me one of the most beautiful and meaningful gifts I ever have received.  Janice Cho, a designer and artist, learned about an organization I was co-founding last fall and reached out to see if she might be able to come from Chicago to Detroit for a couple of weeks to help.  The thought of an extra pair of talented hands bringing the organization’s mission to life felt like a mini calvary was on the way to fortify our efforts.

Janice is an old soul with an abundance of gifts.  When you talk with Janice, you have this sense that you are being deeply listened to, and in turn, you trust her immensely.  She donated her time to help us give a look and feel to the name of the organization —Civilla.  We wanted something that represented the essence of the mission.  It many parts of the world, that is called logo design and creating brand standards.  For us, it was a elegant process guided by Janice that uncovered the story and meaning behind the mission.  At the end of the two weeks, she breathed depth, design and meaning into what is now our logo at Civilla.

Janice returned back to her professional journey in Chicago, but she left an unquestionable  imprint on us in Detroit.  We remained connected over the following months as occasionally  I would seek out advice on an item or two.  One such puzzle I wanted to solve was a simple item—business cards.  The team at Civilla had gone 6 months without them and often found ourselves scratching out on a post-it note our phone number and name.  We knew you could quickly print up business cards, but it just never reached the top of the priority list.  Plus, we didn’t want the very thing we would give away to someone to be just ordinary.

I often said, “our business cards ought to be something that others don’t want to throw away.”  So Civilla turned to Janice and asked if she could take on that challenge — create a business card that reflects the soul of organization—so much so—that someone wouldn’t want to toss it into the trash bin.

A couple months later, word came from Janice that she was going to come back to Detroit for a few days and she had finished the business cards.  As she came into Civilla and gathered around the organization’s table, she lifted up a bag that had some heft to it and said, “I have something for you.”

She reached in and set a hand wrapped rectangular package in front of me with a card—a business card—attached to the top.


I knew immediately, this wasn’t a stack of business cards, this was a piece of art that had been given love, thought and precision.  Janice letter-pressed and hand cut each card. The Civilla mark stood confidently in the corner as she had guided us to always place it there. My hand signature brought the personalization into the card, but also sent the message that Civilla is about ‘human centered design’.  This wasn’t just another industrial product.  The thickness is such that you can see the shadow it brings to the paper it is sitting upon.

I slowly opened the package and pulled out the first card.  I thought to myself, “wow, when I give this away, it has meaning.”   I turned the card over and noticed Janice captured one of the mantra’s at Civilla.


IMG_6269I later dropped word to Janice that I wanted her to send me a bill for her time and materials.  She requested not to be paid, but to receive it as a gift.  At that moment, I reflected on how she just demonstrated the art of giving a killer gift.

  1. Personal:  Deep observation of the person leads to insights that translates into thoughtfulness.  Make the gift meet a latent need.
  2. Hand Crafted:  Not everyone carries the talent of Janice, but we all have the ability to put craft into what we give.  This could be simply a hand written letter.  A gift with the fingerprints of the giver on it places deep meaning in what is being handed over.
  3. Presentation:  Janice created a moment.  A pause to experience the gift.  The hand wrapped paper she put around the business card says, “I thought about this very moment.”
  4. Not an expected day of gift giving:  This wasn’t a holiday or birthday, but rather it was a Monday.  An ordinary day that was made special.
  5. It was given freely:   Janice gave this gift freely.  Never sought or expected compensation.  When given the chance to be compensated, she graciously declined.  My experience is gifts given freely ultimately come back ten fold to the giver.

I have a mentor in my life that every time I have the chance to spend time with him, he inspires me to be a better person and mentor to others.  When I am with Janice, I want to be a more abundant and better giver.

Janice Cho working at the letterpress. Photo via Spudnik Press

3 thoughts

  1. Growing up, my father always preferred hand made cards for birthdays. He said they were more special to him than a store bought card. So each year my sister and I would sit down with our colored paper, glue and scissor’s to craft a birthday card for him. Throughout my life i have had occasional reminders that it is the heart and the effort of personalizing the gift that is more important than the gift itself. I often get so busy that I need to chat with myself to slow down and observe the great things around me including the art of gift giving. Thank you for the reminder.

  2. I love the business cards! Even more- I love the story of how they come to be. Humanizing via design :-). I am looking forward to what’s to come from Civilla!

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