Herb Lester Associates: Q&A with co-founder Ben Olins plus amazing Christmas gift sets...

Herb Lester Bon Voyage Christmas Gift Set detail We hope you saw our post about the beautiful travel maps produced by Herb Lester Associates earlier this week – if not, you can read it here. As part of what we hope will be a regular Saturday Q&A with designers, crafters, writers and other folk whose work we love, here's a quick chat with Herb Lester co-founder Ben Olins, plus details of this most singular of company's really quite brilliant Christmas Gift Sets.

Each of the Christmas Gift Sets is packed in a sturdy, vintage-style buff-coloured cardboard box, secured with the beautifully-designed Herb Lester tape, and includes a tag to fill out with the lucky recipient's name. Inside each of the themed sets is a pertinent selection of Herb Lester maps, notebooks, pencils, erasers and, in some boxes, a fantastic vintage-style keyring.

Why did yourself and Jane Smillie start Herb Lester Associates?

When we travel we want to know about a handful of really good things to do, rather than every possibility. It’s really hard to get that from a conventional guidebook that has to appeal to a wide audience. We were just trying to produce the sort of thing that we’d like to use.

How do you decide which cities, or what aspect of their culture, to produce a map for?

It all begins with what appeals to us: places we’ve visited and like, places we’d like to visit, or that friends have recommended. The angle is about trying to look at familiar things from a slightly different perspective, not for the sake of novelty but as a reminder of what makes them special.

We call them 'guides to the usual and unusual' because we’re conscious that it’s really easy to always try to look for the oddball but there’s often a good reason that certain places are well-loved, we just try to find a way to look at them afresh.

The maps are beautiful – are the designers involved from the beginning?

The designer isn't brought in until the idea is decided. We then give a brief, which is quite open with just a title and a few visual references we like from their own work or things we’ve found. We try to keep an open mind before we see the initial design. We’re fortunate to work with some very talented designers whose take on a subject is frequently not what we anticipated and, usually, that’s a really pleasant surprise for us.

You also produce notebooks and stock other items, what inspired the new Herb Lester tape and Luggage Tags?

They’re both things we use. We had wanted our own tape for packing orders and figured other people might like it too. Then with the tags, pretty much everyone’s luggage looks the same these days, there’s not much variety on those conveyor belts, and so we thought it would be fun to do our own which would possibly hint at a time when travel was a less fraught business than it is today.

Once you start on a project like the Luggage Tags, other considerations about durability and function come into play, and that’s how we ended up printing on Tyvek, which is waterproof, tearproof and we very much hope it’s luggage-handler proof too.

What's your own favourite among the maps?

We love them all really. The New York ones have all been really fun to do in different ways, but it’s too hard to play favourites.

What has Herb Lester Associates got planned for the next 12 months?

Lots more cities, some more oddball maps too. There’ll be other products too, again things which fill a need of ours somehow. We have many more ideas than we have time or resources to produce them.

Finally, what's your Simple Thing?

A really good shower. What could be better?

Don’t forget, you can buy the print version of The Simple Things at good retailers around the globe, individually online or buy a subscription. For your iPad/iPhone, visit the Apple Newsstand and if you’ve got Android or a tablet, go to Zinio.

Christmas gift idea: save up to 40% on a subscription to The Simple Things, or one of seven other brilliant Future magazines – we’ll even send a free personalised gift card! It’s quick and easy to order online or by calling 0844 848 2852 (quote code ZC09 – Mon-Fri 8am-9.30pm & Sat 8am-4pm). Offer ends 31/01/2013.