From Hemingway to escape rooms

Design studio looks forward to the future

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By Maria Maxham

It's impossible to drive through Forest Park and not see the influence of Yearbook Studios somewhere. From Brown Cow to School District 91 to the Roos Recreation Center to the village's own Diversity Commission, Yearbook has been behind the marketing and branding of a large number of organizations and businesses in the village.

The roots of Yearbook here began in 2011 with a retail store that sold a highly curated collection of vintage and custom home and personal items, selected by business and life partners Jef Anderson and Noel Eberline. They ran the store on Madison Street for six years but, said Anderson, after six years the design business was the primary draw.

"It was uneven," he said. "The design business was taking off while the store was a little stuck. Small retailers have been hurt a lot by big businesses like Amazon. We decided to end the retail, though our love for vintage items has not died, and focus on the design aspect." They closed their Madison Street location and relocated the design business to 408 Thomas Ave.

One of their first design and marketing clients was Forest Park Bank, which was relaunching their look and brand for their 75th anniversary.

"The bank really wanted to showcase that they are a true community bank," said Anderson. With other independent banks in the area being bought up by bigger chains, Forest Park Bank wanted to show the village and neighboring communities that their focus on local businesses would continue to be done by local people embedded in the community.

That project included a book about the bank, featuring local businesses with which the bank had worked. "The bank invests in everyone," said Anderson. "Our goal was to show that."

Now Yearbook is a full-service studio specializing in multiple disciplines, from branding to interior design. And they're able to delicately tackle a wide variety of projects. They designed a writer's room in the Ernest Hemingway Birth Home. They also designed the game show-themed room at Escape Factor, 7228 Madison St., drawing on ideas and inspiration from early 1970s game shows "to create an experience that would not only transport visitors to another space, but another era as well."

Although many Forest Park businesses have sought out the services of Yearbook, they work with Oak Park and River Forest clients, as well as organizations in the city.

One of Yearbook's most recent successes involves Mary Jane Neumann, the owner of the Hemingway Boyhood Home, out of which she works. Her product, Hegu, is being sold on Gwyneth Paltrow's wellness and lifestyle company website, Goop. Neumann, an Oak Park acupuncturist, developed Hegu — acupuncture rings that stimulate pressure points, the goal being to relieve headaches.

"I'm driven by the creative aspect of everything," said Anderson. "We're excited to be looking into the future, to see what 2020 and the next years bring," said Anderson. When asked if he misses the retail end, he said the store was like a design project, the windows always carefully decorated to reflect the love he has for design.

"We're excited to be growing," he said, adding that Yearbook strives to create a custom match for their clients. "The goal is to evoke an emotion," he said. "It has to mean something. The spaces the business occupies and the branding have to complement each other."

To achieve this, the relationship between Yearbook designers and their clients has to be intimate. "We couldn't do the design and branding work we do without those close connections," he said. "It's a trusting relationship. I have to get to know someone in order to understand their goals and to put meaning behind the design."

A large part of Yearbook's success, said Anderson, is the close working relationships he and his staff have. In addition to partner and co-owner Eberline, Andy Madden is the senior designer, Stephanie Munoz the junior designer, and Jenny Shepherd works on public relations.

"We want to create a healthy environment for our employees. We're like a family; we have lunch together almost every day," Anderson said.

"Forest Park has been an extremely supportive community. We're grateful for our clients. We're grateful to be in Forest Park."

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