Hustlers: Jon Lo of The Happy Mundane

I first found Jon Lo on Instagram and have been following him every since. He’s a seasoned blogger who helped pave the path for the rest of us, all while running his design business and collaborating on projects with other brands such as his newest project, The Octopian.

Our conversations started in early January and ventured from the topic of selling out to architecture to Mindy Kaling to the words “magical” and “meme”. Here’s out candid chat:

Sabrina: What’s the first app you open, show you watch, or site you visit in the morning. Why?

Jon:
Well, my regular morning routine would be check Instagram (I guess since I’m a visual person and it’s nice to start with pretty visuals… and I’m addicted to it) then my email, then Facebook (since it usually provides me with a general roundup of news from everyone and everything.) I don’t usually watch TV in the morning.

S: I’m an Instagram fiend myself, so I hear you! Having started blogging in 2006, do you think social media has helped advance your blog and business? Did you have to change your business at all to accommodate it? Any tips or secrets for growing your business’s Instagram?

Jon: Unfortunately I think I’m probably not the best case study when it comes to blending my blog with my business. The “blogsphere” back in 2006 was a much different animal than what it has evolved into today. Back then, not many bloggers had transitioned their blogs into a full fledged “business”. I started Happy Mundane as just a creative outlet to document the things I was seeing/liking around me and was never my intention to make it a “business”. I had actually had my real “business”, my design agency, j3 productions (j3productions.com) established quite a few years before I even knew blogs existed. As a result, I have kept those two worlds separate. I continue to do so today. I guess I kind of lead two separate lives, there’s Jonathan Lo the founder and creative director for J3 Productions, and then there’s Jon, the guy behind the Happy Mundane blog. Same guy, just two different sides I guess, haha. However, I am now at a point where I’m feeling more comfortable at beginning to merge the two worlds, and sharing more about the work we do at J3 on the blog. It’s a fine line to tread however.

My blog started as something very personal to me, so in addition to say, posting my favorite design picks from Target, I would also post a few things about my dog, or some event I attended or a meal I made. Those type of topics I don’t necessarily like to share with my work or corporate clients. I think it’s important to keep some separation between your professional and personal life. All this being said, as I mentioned, social media has changed so much since 2006. With Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, facebook- your blog is no longer your main outlet. You have all these different channels to share things with and they each are well suited for different mediums and topics, as well as the ability to filter who gets to see what. I used to post my “mundane aesthetic” photos on the blog, but now Instagram is such a better medium to share that with. Pinterest is perfect for sharing my favorite things I’m seeing in the marketplace. These new channels have made me rethink what I post now on my blog and allowed me to post less, but better posts in it’s place? (if that makes sense?)

Sorry- I kind of went off track, but to go back to your questions, so… my business hasn’t really been affected too much by social media, therefore I haven’t had to change anything. My blog obviously has and the fact that I now have a small social media “influence” (for lack of a better word) has been really weird, fascinating, and brought me amazing opportunities I know I would never have had without social media’s existence. I think if I hadn’t already had an established business before blogging, the two worlds would for sure be more closely tied together. I think they can go hand in hand other when used strategically.

In terms of growing your business via Instagram, I think it’s still an evolving thing and I’m curious to see where it goes in the next few years. Since Instagram still doesn’t allow you to directly link out from an image, you have to be clear on what your objectives are for having an instagram account for your business in the first place. I don’t know that every type of business needs to necessarily have an instagram account. For example, if your business doesn’t really cater to the general public, then having an instagram account might not be necessary. I think the main thing, as with any social media network, you need to be consistent, clear on that the message you are sending is aligned with your brand, and you also need to be an active part of that community as well. You need to like, share, and engage with your followers as you want them to do the same for you. I think West Elm is a great example of of a business who is using Instagram and social media in the right way.

S: Haha, no worries, I like long answers! When I first started my blog I kept it very separate from my other business as “Sabrina Smelko” the illustrator and designer. I was almost embarrassed to share my blog with my previous following/readers/peers. As much as my blog was authentic and explored a new side of something I was passionate about, I feared people would think it advantageous or selling out somehow. I’ve since come to learn that’s not the case and stopped caring, but do you ever feel that way? What are your thoughts on “selling out”? With so many internet-famous people and podcasts and sites backing others, is it even considered “selling out” anymore? I find the topic fascinating. When it is crossing the line? What are your thoughts?

Jon: Yes, the whole “selling out” on blog/social media is a hot topic! I feel like a “blog” can be whatever you want it to be. It’s your platform and you should be able to dictate what you want to put out. If you’ve garnered a following from that, then I personally don’t have a problem with using that platform to support or bring exposure to your own business or other businesses you like. If you can get paid for it as well, more power to you. (The fact that you can now monetize your blog or social media posts, or that you can turn it into a legitimate full time career, still blows my mind!)

Most people start following someone or a blog because of its content or personality/voice/tone. If that starts to change, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s normal that a blog will eventually evolve. However you have to expect that the following will change as a result, such as leading to people unfollowing. When I see blogs that start to only post sponsored content, or that everything they talk about is self promotional or feels too self serving, it’s not that I have a problem with that, it’s more that I ultimately find it boring or uninteresting. I guess it goes back to that word that is so trendy right now: “authenticity”- but it’s an important word.

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S: I’m with you, Jon. And agree that authenticity is so much more than just being yourself. It’s also integrity, allowing yourself to have a down day and be play with it, being honest in what you back and also honest when things change or stop/start working for you.

On the topic of authenticity and naturally changing interests, what are you into right now? Working on any home projects that have you obsessed with home decor? Any new albums or artists you’re listening to? Obsessed with a certain color, art movement or product? A new-found hobby or interest at the moment you’re exploring?

Jon: I’m sort of ADD when it comes to current interests, as one could probably tell from my Pinterest boards (pinterest.com/happymundane), lol- but right now there are two main things that I’m obsessed with: One is the recent resurgence of Post Modern/Memphis-style 80’s/90s graphic design motifs. The bright fun colors and optimistic spirit is very nostalgic for me and I’m loving seeing all the new interpretations of it in all facets of design.

The other thing that I’ve been getting caught up in is looking at 70s and 80’s SciFi films, art and design, -specifically their vision of what the future would be- which for the most part, we have actually arrived at now.

It’s fascinating to see what they had envisioned happening for the 2000’s and contrast that with what has actually happened. How much we’ve changed, and how much hasn’t actually changed much at all. It’s also interesting to see the parallels of the times and how so much of what was happening in the late 70s and early-mid 80s is so relevant to today. I think a lot of the ideas that they were experimenting with can be useful to learn from.

All of this goes in line with a new project I’ve been working on called The Octopian (theoctopian.com). It’s a new site that I’ve been working with my guys at J3 where we’re exploring design/architecture /lifestyle, all with a nod to sci-fi. We’re working on a hardcopy printed zine which should be out this Spring. You can get a better feel of the aesthetic on our Pinterest and Instagram accounts.

And on a totally random note, I’m also stuck on Farm Heros Saga, but maybe I shouldn’t say that outloud ahaha.

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S: It is fascinating, especially given so many of those sci-fi novels took place in our current world and decade. Super cool. You live in Irvine, CA, did you grow up there, too? Do you think your surroundings now or as a child had anything to do with your interest in architecture? Have you ever considered working in the tech space somehow? Or is it best left as a personal hobby/passion/interest?

Jon: My parents moved to Irvine when I was a sophomore in High School, but I’ve lived most of my life in Orange County (“the OC”). Irvine is a relatively new city, and there’s a lot of experimental architecture here, but I’ve always loved art and design and like most kids, science fiction. However, my interests in that world is really rooted aesthetically only. I don’t have the head to handle the technical aspects to go into that type of field (hence why I went into the fashion and design fields). I would rather help to champion more future thinking aesthetics and leave the mechanics behind it to the experts, haha!

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S: Well said! Haha, on a random note, what was the last book you read? Was it any good? Maybe it was even magazine or brochure!

Jon: The last book I read was actually Mindy Kaling’s “Is Everyone Hanging Out without me?”- i think she’s hilarious!
I’ve also been reading “The Forecast” special issue which is put out from Monocle Magazine.

S: Nice! Haha I love learning people’s normal life enjoyments. I’m about to dive into Jenny Mollen’s “I Like You Just The Way I Am”. What are some of your guilty (or secret, or super-normal) pleasures when you’re just hanging out, not blogging or working?

Jon: I guess I’m fortunate to “work” in a field that revolves around things that I normally would enjoy even if I wasn’t in the industry I’m in- so in many ways I guess I’m always “working”?… looking, seeing, observing… I’ve also always been a “mall rat” so I find it oddly comforting to walk around a shopping center and see what’s new, people watch, window shop… but aside from that, if i’m just home with nothing planned, you’ll probably find me playing with my dog, Pepé- or either snacking, sleeping, or watching wonderfully horrible guilty pleasure television… sometimes simultaneously.

S: As a final question to cap it all off, here’s a random zinger: what’s your most favorite and least favorite word?

Jon: My favorite word is “magical”… I think everything should be magical! My least favorite word is “meme”… it’s just weird.