Today’s the day. The day you help save the internet from being ruined.
(Long story short: The FCC is about to make a critical decision as to whether or not internet service providers have to treat all traffic equally. If they choose wrong, then the internet where anyone can start a website for any reason at all, the internet that’s been so momentous, funny, weird, and surprising—that internet could cease to exist. Here’s your chance to preserve a beautiful thing.)
The clock ticked past 12:30 am as I sat in bed on my laptop (not a healthy practice, I admit) as I frantically put the finishing touches on my 3rd and final font release to conclude my bet with Jason Blumer. After 8 weeks of second guessing myself (especially when I missed out on client work) I was actually done.
Incase you didn’t know, Jason Blumer and I started a bet 2 months ago. Here were the ground rules: Jason challenged me to design 3 new fonts by the end of August 2014 or I would owe him $100 for every incomplete font. However, for every additional font I released Jason would owe me $100. I was only allowed to take on 1 client during this time (I didn’t end up taking on any client work).
This bet was the catalyst for a focused period of learning for me. I’ve never taken so much time off from clients to pursue such a risky direction, however, it was well worth the time. Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way.
I am not a bottomless well
When I first proposed the bet to Jason I didn’t have any clue how much energy designing 3 fonts would require. I tend to imagine myself with an endless supply of energy and inspiration when it comes to future projects. The reality always proves to be different. Each font required that I come up with around 200 characters that work together seamlessly. It is difficult even with a more generous timeline. Doing it for 3 fonts in 2 months is insane. Ironically, starting is the easy part for me. The first sketches are fun. They are uninhibited by the weight of reality. The first vectors are also easy and rewarding. At this stage I would imagine myself effortlessly creating hundreds of fonts while Jason stacked $100 bills for me. When I started testing & revising however, the air became more murky. I would become overwhelmed with the flaws and inconsistencies that inevitably crop up. The longer I stared at these strings of characters the more glaring the flaws became. It was clear that I needed to reign in my wild ideas and focus on the basics if I was going to accomplish much of anything.
Simplify Simplify Simplify
Initially, I was working on 4 font concepts simultaneously. Whenever I would get stuck with one font I would switch to another. I found myself constantly switching between projects. This strategy was great… until it wasn’t… and pretty soon I was stuck; completely overwhelmed with indecision over what I was trying to accomplish. After a few days of doing absolutely nothing (working in circles) I was forced to re-evaluate. I limited myself to working on 1 font at a time. Usually this meant for the day. This gave me the freedom to switch between projects when I needed a breather while making substantial progress on each font.
Microscopic Goals are Huge
Working on a long project (2 months is long for me at least) proved to be exhausting towards the end. I realized that I make the most progress in small strong bursts. Without the buzz of a new project or the satisfaction of quick accomplishments I became disenchanted with the work I was doing. While the reward of long term projects provide their own satisfaction I am not sure I was as productive as I could have been as my drive began to evaporate along with my inspiration. Despite my disenchantment, I learned to sit down and do the work regularly. It didn’t always feel good but I discovered a deep creative well within myself that often astonished me. I learned that no matter how you feel. Committing to sitting down and pushing through the resistance would often lead to important breakthroughs.
Perfection is Paralyzing
When I have too much free time I end up working (and reworking) projects excessively. Each project could be just a little better. I’m never quite satisfied with the work. Perfectionism always keeps me stuck in a rut. As I noticed this happening I made a conscious decision to slow down and enjoy the process. Each character began as a rough sketch that was refined over and over; the end result my not have been perfect, but it was always infinitely better than my initial idea. The thing is I would have never arrived at my final without a sloppy rough sketch. I needed something to start with – Even if it wasn’t perfect. If I would have put pressure on myself to get it right the first time I would have gone crazy and never finished the first font.
I now have 8 fonts in my collection and to be honest there is so much more I could do with each one. Looking back at my first fonts there were so many things I just didn’t understand at the time. I didn’t know what I didn’t know. This is why I will be focusing on going through my previous fonts with fresh eyes to tighten things up and add some awesome additions (stay tuned, there are amazing revisions coming very soon). Each font represents a platform for me to build on. I can improve each font significantly without starting from the ground up each time. I’m looking forward to widening the scope of each font this fall. I won’t make any promises about how much I’ll be getting done but I can say that I am looking forward making each one just a little bit better.
In his book ‘Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?’ Seth Godin says this thing… something I find to be the perfect way to tie up and define these last two months, he said this, “Perhaps your challenge isn’t finding a better project or a better boss. Perhaps you need to get in touch with what it means to feel passionate. People with passion look for ways to make things happen.” This project taught me a lot about passion and process, I look forward to seeing how it impacts the way I live and work, the clients I take on and the way in which I work.
Thank you for being a part of this story. If you would like to know more about my bet with Jason click here. If you have any questions, leave a comment below and I will do my best to get back to you.
I can’t believe it’s been 5 weeks since giving up clients and working exclusively on fonts. It has already been an amazing journey that has been well worth the risk. With only 3 weeks left in my bet with Jason Blumer I wanted to give you a quick update to pass along some of the lessons this experiment has taught me.
1. Simplify, simplify, simplify. I tend to bite off more than I can chew. After taking on the bet I started working on four font concepts at once! Because of this habit about halfway through the project I became completely overwhelmed. Initially, I was propelled by blind ambition. Jumping from project to project doing lots of work but accomplishing very little. Eventually I hit a wall. I was so scattered that I couldn’t focus on one project at a time. I was set on course while listening to the Seanwes podcast about creative boundaries and I realized how crazy I had been to take on 4 projects simultaneously. My lack of clarity was directly related to my lack of limits. Immediately I decided to start focusing on one font per day to make progress on. This kept me free enough to adjust through the week but focused enough to make real headway on each project by giving it real attention.
2. Working too much is unproductive. Any time I take on a project I inevitably work too hard on it. Most of this work is propelled by fear that the work isn’t good enough or that I am behind or that I am not good enough at the work itself. I catch myself trying to get “just one more thing” done well after my exhaustion point. A few weeks into my bet I was burning out. I had gotten so focused on being productive that I had neglected my own wellbeing. While reading Arianna Huffingtons book Thrive I realized to be productive it’s important to be physically, emotionally healthy. You can work 20 hours a day but if you’re lonely and exhausted it will show in your work. I immediately began meditating more regularly and looking for ways to connect with my community. Whether through yoga classes or film festivals or simply sitting down with a good book and letting my mind unwind. These activities have brought greater focus and productivity to my work time.
3. Stop checking your email. You’re wasting your life. This is the final and most important thing I’ve learned. I check my email way too much… Pretty much every 5 minutes. Ironically, I’m terrible at responding. I’m not kidding. Being on this break has eliminated my usual excuses for checking email. I’m not taking projects and I don’t have any client work so why do I check it so much? I realized that I tend to be uncomfortable in the moment. James Victore said it perfectly, “My favorite project is the next one.” Lets face it. Creative work is hard and it’s scary. Of course when things get tough it’s easy to focus on possible projects, likes, comments, etc. I an age of connecting, creating the space to dive deep and do the important work is more important than ever. So I asked myself – Instead of spending all that time and energy checking social media what if I used that time to focus on doing something great!? I’ve started only checking email twice a day and my rule is that if I check it I need to take action on it. Meaning if someone emails me I will actually email back. No more using my inbox as an escape. This has led to increased focus and a decrease in anxiety. On top of that I feel like I’ve extended my work day considerably since I spend less time distracted and more time actually working.
Finally… Taking a break to pursue my passion has been scary, amazing and probably the best thing I have ever done for myself. It has made me reconnect with myself and with others in amazing ways. I no longer have a client to blame my bad habits and unhappiness on.
I’m looking forward to giving you an update again at the end of August! In the meantime watch for new releases on my shop. Two new fonts are coming within the month!
That’s right! I’m giving up client-work until the end of August to pursue font-creation full time. But I will be working harder than ever. Here’s the story…
I work with some amazing people at Blumer CPA’s. On top of doing my taxes (They only work with creatives and they are completely paperless – No more filing!) Jason and I have a coaching session every quarter to discuss my passions and goals for the upcoming months. It’s business advice mixed with therapy. We go deep.
Anyways, Jason and I were talking about how to make my clients happier and improve project flow when I interrupted him, “I’m really burned out on client work right now. I want to make fonts.” I told him about how I’d been dabbling in font creation lately and how I felt I was discovering my true passion. To put it simply, “I actually get energy from doing this.” As we talked about this possible new path an idea came into my head, “Instead of talking about doing my dreams some day why don’t we turn these goals into a bet?” So that’s just what we did. Just like that, I decided I needed to raise the bar on my passions and go for them. The stakes needed to be higher so I couldn’t make excuses. So we’re making it public so you guys can call me out if I try to get out of it.
Here is the bet: I need to design 3 new fonts by the end of August or I owe Jason $100 for every incomplete font. However, for every font I design after the 3rd Jason owes me $100. So here are the ground rules.
1. Only 1 client project for the months of July and August (So it has to be great).
2. Each font must be included a full uppercase alphabet, numbers and special characters.
3. Each font must be completely unique. Nothing based on previously released work.
Follow this path over the course of the next two months on Twitter. I’ll try to post updates here at least once every couple of days to show you what I’m working on and what I’ve accomplished. Thank you for taking this journey with me.
I can hardly believe I’m already emailing you about another new launch. I’m excited to introduce The Brush Collection! It includes 2 previous font releases along with a brand new font, Awning Display.
If you’re looking to expand your font collection and add a little personality while you’re at it The Brush Collection is perfect for you! Each font is based on a unique sign painting style so you’ll never without the right personality.
I recently landed a dream client. Over the course of the project I gave them tons of ideas (a lot more than I should have). I showed them every iteration I could, checked my email constantly and developed some mild, persistent anxiety. Miraculously, we created some badass work (Which I can’t show because of lengthy NDA agreements). Everything seemed good. Then, all of the sudden, they told me to stop work for 24 hours while they re-evaluated the project. 3 days later I learned that I lost the project. They decided to use old materials that they had described as mediocre…
No one likes to lose a project. According to my contacts it was out of our control. However, In an effort to fully process what happened here are a few lessons I learned:
Lots of good ideas is not a good idea
Every great creator, inventor, scientist or designer is prolific. Many of ideas leads to better ideas. This does not mean showing your client every sketch you scan slide into your scanner is wise. I’ll be honest. I was scared that not one of my ideas were good enough. To compensate I provided dozens of ideas. In the process I lost my sense of conviction over any single idea. Merely chasing approval will never take you far. The client will loose trust in your professionalism and ability to make decisions in the process.
Perfection is not good collaboration
You will not come up with a great idea right off the bat. Especially when you’re working with a new client. I hate being vulnerable with really rough sketches. The fear of showing the client how messy my process scares me. So I spend tons of time trying to polish early concepts. This is a waste of energy and keeps me from adjusting to feedback because I am so invested into the work already. Trying to keep up appearances actually makes it harder to solve the problem at hand. It certainly kept me from taking risks and thinking clearly.
Treat your big clients like small clients
It’s hard to say that I am working from my bedroom or admit that I currently don’t have many projects. I want to appear successful — Who doesn’t? We believe success makes us attractive. In my first meetings with clients I am learning to set the mood by purposely letting my guard down right away. This usually begins after someone uses a cuss word or two. You feel the stale air of professionalism start to break as you get comfortable enough to stop pretending. Working with someone means you will be making a lot of hard decisions together. If you can’t be honest on a basic level expect the project to be harder than it needs to be.
Bigger projects shouldn’t be scarier
I’ll be the first to say it. Big projects scare me. Especially for brands I admire. The reality is that no matter how shiny a brand is, every client is disorganized, stressed and generally just as uncertain as you. There is no such thing as a perfect project. Things will go a lot smoother if you stop staring at the name on the door.
They are hiring you to be an expert
There were a couple points in the project where the client was clearly acting out of fear. I could tell they were trying to please some scattered managers. But instead of guiding them through a process I bent to every whim because I was afraid to upset anyone. Towards the middle of the project I challenged the way we had been working. To my surprise, they quickly asked for my advice. I shared my thoughts and we developed a plan to move forward. I cannot tell you how much easier this made the rest of the process.
Failure is always an option
Lets face it. We aren’t doing brain surgery. As a designer/creative failure is not just an option but an essential part of the creative process. If I’m not failing I’m not really trying. I would love to provide a sure fire formula for getting rid of the discomfort. All I can say is that the career of a freelance designer is anything but safe and predictable. In the end I was surprised to learn that really failing is not all that bad. After failure… I’m still here. That is probably one of the best feelings I’ve had this year. Being strong when everything goes wrong actually feels really good. It’s worth the risk.