Put a Bird in It

Last month during Design Week Portland, we had a great time taking part in WeMake’s “Put A Bird In It” competition. The challenge was simple: craft a birdhouse to be auctioned off to help support art and music education in Portland’s public schools. Competing against other local artists, makers, and creatives, we got to work, collaborating across disciplines to come up with something inventive, beautiful, and representative of the studio.

We mulled over a variety of concepts, trying to determine how to best reflect Second Story’s culture through this project. We knew we wanted to incorporate the two things at the heart of our work–storytelling and technology–but we had to make sure the technological component was purposeful and practical. Needless to say, we cycled through a lot of ideas.

We sketched, we debated, and eventually we landed on a concept that perfectly represented us as a studio: a birdhouse inspired by a cabinet of curiosities. Brad Johnson and Julie Beeler, Second Story’s founders, have long been interested in these precursors to museums; in fact, the company once made a self-promotional trade show booth based on one. We decided to create a collection of oddities to inspire wonder and pique curiosity–in this case, an assortment of “extinct” animal hybrids, each half bird, half something else. Our tech component would be a microsite, a venue for us to tell some short stories about the creatures we came up with.

Everybody on the team was invited to think about the types of animals that could be represented, coming up with bird names and thinking about qualities associated with the hybrids. We democratically selected 8 final animals to run with: the armadilladee, cheetawk, flamingoat, giraffakeet, ostracamel, owlephant, peacoctopus, and porcupigeon. Inspired by everything from ancient literature to children’s movies to the Portland music scene, we started writing the strange stories of these imaginary specimens.

These short narratives helped inform the appearance of the birds and other items that ended up in the birdhouse. We took visual cues from old zoological engravings we came across in our research, and, once we’d drawn the birds digitally, we printed out the designs and traced them on a light table with a nib pen and India ink to ensure a precise and well-defined illustration quality. The process was slow going, but the results were gorgeous.


Beyond the birds themselves, we filled the birdhouse with all kinds of accoutrements, some inspired by the narratives, others by nature. The objects we didn’t make or find in our neighborhood were bought at craft and specialty stores around Portland.


Our lovely creatures needed a virtual space to live in and tell their stories, so we set to work on our microsite. We decided to go with a parallaxing effect for tablet and web to mimic the 3D layering seen in the physical birdhouse, and the end result is full of color, character, and movement. The microsite can be found at vogelkammer.com (vogelkammer literally means “bird room” in German).


In the end, the birdhouse auction raised $10,000 to help support art & music education in Portland’s schools. Our vogelkammer was in good company– the designs our peers came up were terrific, and no two were alike. The Second Story birdhouse team, consisting of Laura Allcorn, Nora Bauman, Heather Daniel, Joe Carolino, Sam Jeibmann, Norman Lau, Sorob Louie, Swanny Mouton, Dimitrii Pokrovskii, Donald Richardson, Kirsten Southwell, and Filippo Spiezia, could not have been happier to be a part of this event. Collaborative, fun, and, best of all, for a good cause, this project was a true joy.

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— The Birdhouse Team


Second Story creates enchanting, informative, and entertaining media experiences with innovative technologies that empower connections to ideas.

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