Design Links: Molly Z, Sharon & Peter Exley, and Matthew Hoffman


Editor’s Note: This is part 29 in Emily Potts’ inspirational series, Design Links. Every other week she features three artists whose work offers fresh, fun, and stimulating creative inspiration. Each artist picks the next link—someone who personally inspires him/her. Check out the twenty-eighth part in the series, featuring Jason Chan, Karla Ortiz & Iain McCaig.

We’re starting anew this week with a Chicago-based artist I really admire ….

Molly Z

Molly does these amazing, large-scale murals—often in public places, where passersby watch and interact with her. They are colorful, energetic, and inspire people to engage with the art. She often incorporates imagery inspired by nature and vitality, using layers, textures, colors, and patterns to create a symbiotic experience for viewers.


Molly was asked to create window art at ZipCar’s Chicago headquarters. Her bold brush and pen strokes not only create a bright backdrop for this office space in the Windy City, but it invites people to explore and really look at the art and patterns. This is such a cool way for any business to brighten up its city space. I wish more businesses would hire Molly to lighten up their facades!


Painting live, while others mill about, takes a lot of guts. Especially when you’re starting with a blank white canvas that’s 12 x 20 feet. Molly created this lively illustration during the International Housewares Show for Corkcicle. While she painted for three days, crowds mingled and watched. Not only do I applaud her creativity, but I’m in awe of her upper body strength to hold a brush for hours on end.

Molly Z is inspired by…

Peter and Sharon Exley of Architecture is Fun

Right now, I am very inspired by architects, furniture designers and exhibit designers, especially, Peter and Sharon Exley of Architecture is Fun in Chicago. They can turn an uninspired space into a wildly, creative experience. In my own work as an illustrator, I am often drawn to influences that combine color, pattern and line in vibrant, dynamic combinations. The Exleys’ use these combinations in a three-dimensional practice and add wonderful textiles, sculptures, lighting, and interactivity. Most of their designs are created for children and family spaces, and their work is sophisticated and charming. This is a good little film about them.

Photo: Doug Snower

Photo: Doug Snower

One of my favorite projects by Architecture is Fun is the architectural interior/exhibit installation at The Young At Art Museum. I love the structure, the movement and excitement they capture in the amazing sculpture-play spaces throughout the museum. Sharon and Peter have a way of crafting a modern and comfortable experience in their architectural solutions. Their designs include a fantastic use of patterns, shapes, lighting and sculpture in ways that are not only visually stimulating, but also wonderfully interactive and enticing.

©Fun Finders

My other favorite project of the Exley Team is from their Born in Brooklyn Private furniture label called “Happy Face Collection.” It’s a charming pair of stools for children that combines delight and simplicity. I think concepts like these are brilliant, beautiful and interactive. I love how the design works structurally and aesthetically. This type of design-whimsy gets me excited about thinking how I can take something generic and turn it into an object of joy. I am very inspired by this style of design. I think Charles and Ray Eames had a similar aesthetic, as did many of the designers and illustrators of the modern ’60s design era. I think the Exley’s share some of their design sensibilities creating work that is functional and illustrative, believing their work should inspire play and learning. I am so impressed how Sharon and Peter consider all the details in their projects making people who enjoy the spaces and objects they design feel special. Architecture is Fun creates in a way that reminds me that life is full of discovery and wonder and we should be developing environments that awaken creativity and inspiration in others.

Sharon Exley is inspired by…

Matthew Hoffman

Having “grown-up” inspired by Denise Scott Brown and Robert Venturi, we are drawn to billboards, skateboards, and “pretty” things. We knew we always wanted to work with Matthew from the moment we knew his studio was called “Hey, It’s Matthew.”

youarebeautiful close up sticker

In a time of hard news, happy songs from Pharrell resonate and rock us. So does Matthew’s You Are Beautiful project, which in its miniature form has been shared over a million times as stickers you see everywhere to large-scale installations.

fountaindale public library hoffman

Matthew brightened the Fountaindale Children’s and Teen Libraries with us; adding content, graphic sensibility and joy. His work surprises and generates interest. At the library, Matthew took quotes and designed embroidered “skins” for our dragon trees (these were inspired by the children’s librarian’s favorite childhood story The Dragon Tree by Jane Langton). Each is distinctly different, as if an entire class of school children handwrote each one. Each quote is interpreted by its look, which helps you relate to it, notice it, perhaps even remember it. Matthew’s work is happy and large, small and personal. His ideas and execution celebrate the industry of the artist; he takes the concept of a multiple to an impressive level and makes art accessible to all.

Tune in next time to see who inspires Matthew.

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