ART WORK

Creative design for Web and print

by Heleigh Bostwick

found-lineJason Pelletier (left) and Bradley Holt launched Found Line, their Burlington Web and print development and design firm, in 2005. Pelletier is creative director, and Holt is technical director.

In 2003, Jason Pelletier and Bradley Holt lived just blocks away from each other in Manchester, N.H., but despite having a number of mutual friends, the two hadn’t met. Holt was doing contract work as a computer trainer for various companies around Manchester and Pelletier was working at Stonyfield Farm, a leading producer of organic dairy products in Londonderry, N.H., as a graphic designer.

It wasn’t until after Pelletier took a job as marketing assistant at Seventh Generation and moved to Burlington at the end of 2003 that the founders of Found Line Inc. would meet. “We met in February 2004 through a mutual friend at a social gathering,” recalls Holt, the technical director, who was still living in Manchester at the time.

At Found Line, the partners do design and development on the Web, including custom websites, applications, and user interface, plus print packaging and collateral design.

“We figured out pretty quickly that we had compatible skills,” says Pelletier, the creative director, who handles print and web design while Holt takes care of the technology side, dealing with software and Web development. The synergy between them goes beyond work, though: They are partners in life as well as business.

A native of Londonderry, N.H., Pelletier attended The Ohio State University, graduating in 2002 with a bachelor of arts in photography with a minor in film studies.

He had started working for Stonyfield in high school and continued working there during school breaks, eventually landing a full-time job after college. “Before I was a designer I worked as a tour guide,” he says. “You really need to be able to think on your feet. It’s been a good skill for me to have and I use it now.”

He also worked in the company’s natural resources department tracking waste metrics and dealing with recycling materials, getting them ready to be shipped out for processing and recycling.

Holt, also a New Hampshire native, graduated from Dover High School and worked odd jobs, but nothing in the technical field, he says. Eventually he started teaching himself computer programming and software applications such as Microsoft and Java, and before long, he was doing contract work for a company offering computer training to several companies in the area.

“That project was essentially using a ‘found line’ (a more specific form of found object) to create something new out of an existing context. We wanted a name that reminded us to always consider the existing context and build from there.” — Jason Pelletier

“I learned two things,” he says. “One, that I was good at learning new technologies, and two, that I was good at explaining them to others. It’s been helpful because it helps me to stay on top of new technologies here.”

Holt moved to Burlington in the spring of 2005 and a few months later, landed a job at Vermont Oxford Network in the same building on Kilburn Street where Found Line now has its offices. They started Found Line out of their apartment in 2005, and in 2006, bought a house around the corner from Kilburn Street. By this time Pelletier had left Seventh Generation, but continued doing freelance work for the company through Found Line.

“I was working out of the house, and home all day. When Bradley came home from work I was ready to get out,” he says. “I needed to create a separation of home and work, plus we were meeting with clients at a coffee shop and we really needed a space to meet.”

They moved into the Kilburn Street office in 2007. Bradley had spied the empty office space when he was still working at Vermont Oxford Network and called building management to inquire about it.

“On the earliest city maps I’ve seen, it was originally a cotton mill,” says Pelletier. “Then there was cottage furniture, and in the 1970s it was the Lane Press. We love this space; there’s a lot of natural light and most of the time we don’t even need to turn on the lights.”

“We like to walk to work,” explains Holt, who continued to work at Vermont Oxford Network until 2009. That was also the year they married, on the three-year anniversary of their civil union. “This was just the technical marriage and we didn’t want to have two anniversaries,” says Holt, chuckling.

Despite having more than enough work to keep them busy, Pelletier and Holt are the only employees and will probably to keep it that way; however, they do make time for volunteer work.

“Volunteer work is the closest thing we have to hobbies,” says Holt with a laugh. Found Line was one of three finalists for the Vermont Tech Jam Ambassador Award in 2013. Holt is board chair at Vermont Community Access Media, serves on the mayor’s advisory committee for BTV IGNITE, and speaks at tech conferences around the country such as JQuery in Boston and OSCON (Open Source Conference) in Portland, Ore.

Their passion is developing technology to address issues in the community. This year, they approached Rubi Simon, director of the Fletcher Free Library, about doing a hackathon, an event where computer programmers and software developers collaborate to create usable software.

“They were the ones that came up with the idea,” Simon says, adding that what’s unique about it is that it’s not a one-shot deal like most hackathons are. “Their plan is to build off the first hackathon. It’s a great concept and Bradley and Jason are phenomenal to work with.”

The two are also co-captains of Code for BTV, a local Code for America Brigade, whose mission is to build Web applications to address issues within the community such as blight in urban areas. “It’s kind of like a peace corps for geeks,” says Holt.

They started Code for BTV in 2013, partnering with James Lockridge, executive director of Big Heavy World, a nonprofit organization that preserves and promotes Vermont-made music.

“Bradley is someone who is recognized as preeminent in coding,” says Lockridge. “I first reached out to him for guidance on rebuilding Big Heavy World’s website. Ultimately we ended up collaborating on the Code Brigade.”

Many of their regular clients are in the nonprofit sector and include Vermont Public Radio, Common Good Vermont (a program of CCTV Center for Media and Democracy), Two Guys in Vermont, Fletcher Allen Health Care, Seventh Generation, and the Central Vermont Community Action Council.

One project they are particularly proud of is VPR’s Public Post. “It’s a tool that aggregates town meeting minutes across the state,” says Pelletier. “For example, someone can search for ‘water pipes’ and all the town meeting minutes containing the words ‘water pipes’ show up.

“Some people come to us for Web work and some for print work,” says Pelletier. “They might want to launch a new product and need a website and logo. On the creative services side, we do everything from Web development to Web design, print design, and mobile Web development and responsive design. We’re really good at understanding the context of a project, what it is, and why it is being built.”

The importance of understanding context is the reason they chose Found Line as their company’s name.

“A found object is a concept in art history where an everyday object is taken out of its context and placed in another to derive new meaning,” Pelletier says, adding that the idea of a found line dates back to his college days.

“During my study as a photography major, one of the projects I had in a drawing class required us to source samples of line that existed and to reuse that line as a basis for new work.

“That project was essentially using a ‘found line’ (a more specific form of found object) to create something new out of an existing context. We wanted a name that reminded us to always consider the existing context and build from there.”

On most days, they arrive at the office at 9 a.m. and check emails and phone messages. “We figure out what’s urgent and what’s not,” says Pelletier. “Reassessing priorities is the nature of working with clients. Things change and shift frequently.

“You have to be excited with the process and the pace of the technological changes,” says Pelletier. “We welcome changes because we have visions of what we can use technology for and that gives us more tools to work with.”

“This is an industry that’s all about change,” says Holt.

Pelletier nods, and says, “Not changing would be a change.” •