Why hello there, first blog post of 2014! What have I been doing, besides not publishing stuff on the internet for 8 months? Aside from participating in a tech summit at the White House (yes, that White House) on the prevention of campus sexual assault, I’ve honestly been enjoying keeping a lower profile for awhile. Because it’s safe and easy and I’ve been able to maintain steady work without it. In reality, maintaining a business isn’t the same as growing it. And not making writing a priority is all excuses disguising a rip-roaring case of impostor syndrome. Am I over this? Am I cured? If not forever, at least for now being able to type these words indicates yes. And I have to thank WMC Fest as a major factor in this development.
Happening in precisely one month, in Cleveland, this’ll be my third consecutive year being involved in this event. The first time I went, I gave my first major public talk and to this day it’s still the best talk I’ve ever written and this post about it is still receiving regular traffic. Last year, going as an attendee was magical for other reasons, namely how awesome it is to be on the sidelines rooting for my creative friends on stage. I don’t think people give that support role enough credit. Without it there would be no festival to speak of. And this year, I’ll be on stage in a different capacity as co-host with my comrade Stewart Scott-Curran. We also curated the speaker line-up as well, which we’ve been planning since January. It’s been a pleasure and an honor to have this role. I can’t wait to see this all happen again IRL.
Here’s some specific things I’m excited for this year:
+ Beyond single speaker talks, we’ve put together two panel discussions and a formal debate. This’ll guarantee some legit Real Talk™ about the race, gender, and class issues in the creative/larger world. Our moderators are pros and will ensure the discourse is balanced and productive. They will give us all clear take aways to build more equality in our day to day lives.
+ I made a WMC inspired Spotify playlist! With songs that either talk about Ohio, the Midwest, or by groups who are from Ohio/Cleveland. There’s also a few songs from bands playing the festival this year, as well as some random summertime jams that are good for car trips and plane rides. Even if you can’t join us this year, you can enjoy this in spirit of the event!
+ Anna in the Raw vegan and vegetarian café is catering the festival. This’ll be a good balance with Happy Dog, another attendee favorite spot, which is just up the street from the venue, the Cleveland Public Theater. Not that their hot dogs (veggie or beef options) which come with a massive array of unexpected toppings and tots on tots on tots aren’t delicious. They are, and I can safely say would topple almost all of the dogs in Chicago (scandal, I know! Deal with it). However my belly appreciates some fresher food as well to, uh, keep things moving.
+ This is a given, but seeing old friends & colleagues from previous years, as well as meeting a slew of new folks. I haven’t subjected this to rigorous intellectual testing, but I’d wager WMC Fest has much a higher rate of return attendees over other similar design or creative conference which says a lot about the programming and the vibe. Events like this do something a little different for everyone, so it’s hard to define what the result will be for you. But, if my own experience is any indication, there will be cumulative results. Might be a bit of surprise what they are exactly, but regardless, they will be awesome.
+ Another difference is that all of the events are in one location, which makes for a more immersive experience than other conferences. Obviously, I’d love for the whole world to come to the talks and panels, but it’s fair if you want to check out the Rock ’N Roll Hall of Fame (recommend this, it’s insane!) or Great Lakes Brewing Co., or the charming Ohio City Farmer’s Market, get it done. There’s also locally owned coffee shop, Gypsy Beans, two doors to the left of the theater which’ll more than satisfy the joe fiends out there.
+ Check this twitter list for all WMC Fest speakers, panelists, musicians, comedians, and sponsors.
+ Hosting! A good host is like good design. If it’s well done, it works without calling attention to itself.
+ Also new this year: comedy! Sunday night’s a solid line-up curated by Cleveland Stand-Up Ramon Rivas.
+ Other things I’m hoping to squeeze in if I can: a visit to the historic Cleveland Public Library, which is across the street from the swanky Hyatt Regency which is also a historical landmark. Also: Cleveland’s Museum of Contemporary Art!! They are showing an exhibition on graphic design legend and one of my hugest design influences, Sister Corita Kent in August.
So, will I see you there? I sure hope so. And, even if you won’t be able to make it and you’re reading this anyway I’d be thrilled if you said so. Just knowing that this transmission has made its way through the internet tubez to a real person would make my day.
I should just write. I should. Stop over-thinking it. Just….do….it. Okay, go. Now. I’m going. I’m starting, picking up the thread not knowing where exactly I left off or how to start or fill you in. Life doesn’t follow such a tidy narrative though, so I guess it’s okay if blogs don’t either. In an email from my friend Kate Singleton of Buy Some Damn Art / Art Hound said, any blog posts are good. Even if they are sputtering and sporadic.
I came down with shingles in August, with my recovery lasting well into September. The only explanation for why, in my case, was months of prolonged stress. While the virus wasn’t terribly painful – I was lucky in that respect, but it did cause 4 days of temporary blindness in my right eye, many doctors visits (thank goodness I have insurance), medicines, and strict orders to take it easy. Very easy. Okay message received, universe: clearly it’s time to make some changes. What changes exactly, I’m still thinking about, but I’m happy to report that I’m physically back-to-normal. After taking a significant break from maintaining any kind of personal work – ie this blog or anything else, I’m finding my way back to it. I get some flickers of inspiration here and there, lukewarm at best, so I know I’m not totally broken. But I knew travel would speed things up, and it just so happened that Chad & I had booked crazy discounted tickets to San Francisco way back in the spring so the timing was perfect.
The biggest reason for the trip was Tony & Kat’s wedding, but there were also self-assigned work: museums, galleries, literature, hiking, a golden visit to the Pacific ocean, a tour of artist Lisa Congdon’s studio, and coffee with Makeshift Society owner, the masterful Rena Tom. Our adventures took us all over the Bay area, on Bart, MUNI, ferry, car, bicycle, streetcar, taxi, and of course on foot. We saw more organic produce at the Berkeley Bowl than I’ve ever seen in one place before (Whole Foods included), drove legendary Highway 1 at sunset, noshed on a late night In-N-Out burger – animal style, dove into rich gourmet bowls of mac ‘n cheese at Homeroom, desserted at Tartine, and marveled at the highly technical event that is parallel parking on SF’s steep hills. And so much art – art, and people doing interesting things it was a feast for my brains too.
Thank you, California friends, new and old. The way you brought us so generously into your lives was all of the soul fuel I could’ve asked for. I’m looking for all the reasons I can to make my return and see some more of you soon.
1. Muir Beach Lookout. 2. Awesome logo on a Bay Ferry boat. 3. San Francisco’s literary festival, LitQuake plays hosts to comedian/novelists, David Handler and Andrew Sean Greer. Recap of the event here by my friend Margaret Edith Maggie who also kindly lodged us for a few nights. 4. I got chills seeing this couple unknowingly mimicking a massive Margaret Kilgallen painting at SFMOMA. 5. Woodland elf? Nope, it’s photographer Ben Speckmann in Muir Woods! 6. Lisa Congdon fans my already major lust for Scandianvia with tales her three week solo trip to Iceland, Sweden, and Copenhagen, and how it’s inspired her work. 7 & 8. Lettering inspiration dialed up to 11 at highly traditional custom sign-painting shop Golden West Sign Arts in Berkeley. 9. The ocean was so cold my toenails turned blue! Ah!!! Okay, not really. Just seeing if you were still paying attention.
All photos by me or Chad on iPhones or the Canon S100.
Turns out saying no to projects, unnecessary obligations, figuring out how to clear the plate, etc, is really hard because it means hitting pause for a second to zoom out to assess the bigger picture. Which can be nerve-wracking and if you’re like me, you’ll find all the excuses you can to avoid looking under the hood. If you know how to take the right approach this process doesn’t have to be overwhelming, but instead will define and shape your pursuits better. I realized this was the talk that I would’ve wanted to hear at WMC Fest, which also meant I had do it myself.
Slowly and with some effort, I offer you this: How to Get your Hustle Straight and your Commitments Sorted.
It has five parts. Just like the hand. Or hand turkey, rather. Why the turkey? Well, turns out people have been using their hands to draw bird shapes since prehistoric times, and you have your hands with you all the time making it harder to forget what your own hand turkey is. And, finally if you think about it, the hand turkey is probably one of the first commissioned project we receive as children from our Kindergarten teachers.
Pinky finger: your brand
What’s your personal brand? Even though “brand” is such a bizarre and slippery word, we all have one. It’s the code that comes from a deeper place that drives your life and your work. So regularly taking stock of your personal practices, how you want your life to be, and then, key part, make them official in some way that’s meaningful to you. Whatever it is, you have to do something with this knowledge. Then revisit this statement, project, THING that you’ve created for yourself when you’re faced with a prospect that challenges your brand or tried to modify how you work. Sometimes these challenges will be good and useful, but other times it’s not going to be a good fit. Without a strong sense of your brand you will have a harder time telling them apart.
The example I gave on how I first discovered my own brand and my process was my And, the Typeface project which I did in 2009-2010. How it told me something about myself that I recognized as powerful, something I’ve clung to and cultivated as I’ve continued on with my work. You can see more about this project here and here if you like.
And here is the brand statement I’m using to remind myself of myself these days. This changes, all the time, but it’s important to have a working model at hand (pun intended), always:
“I refuse to settle for design as merely decoration. My best work comes when I run my own process with clients & collaborators who foster progressive values and cultural growth that resonates with me. I also require time to maintain a blog because of the empowerment it gives me & my readers.”
Ring finger: the hustle.
You could have the most amazing brand, the most touching origin story, the best sense of where you want to go, but none of it matters unless you’re getting your work and your message in front of the right people. Are you offering it to the right places? How effective are you in getting clients to trust you and your process? Are you working with people who value your time and budgets? Are you leveraging your network enough? Not only in terms of finding new opportunities, but being aware of other people’s skills and strengths, which is something I wasn’t taking into account until recently. It’s much easier to pass on a project if you know exactly the right person who can take it and really make it sing. Knowing the right people to share my workload when it becomes too much is priceless.
Middle finger: Cash money, hoes.
There’s a reason this is the middle finger, because we all hate to talk about the M word. Which is so ridiculous because it owns way more of our lives than we like to admit. And if you’re lacking in the department it’s going to hurt, big time. This becomes even more key when you’re self-employed, so working on this gradually year by year will only pad your purse further. Obvious things like know what’s coming in the books and what’s going out, but did you know you might actually have to define what a profit is for yourself? I didn’t. This year I called up my Dad, as he often advises me on business-y things, and gleefully announced I’d made a profit after filing my taxes with my accountant. He congratulated me and then asked what my profit margin was, what percentage I kept. Pulled up short, I realized I didn’t know how to answer, and what I’d really meant to say was – hey! – I didn’t record a loss this year. Not the same as making a profit, genius. I realized I didn’t even know what kind of profit I wanted to make. You can make 1¢ as profit and it’s still a profit, but I’m sure you’d agree that’s a pretty pitiful goal. In the end, knowing how your financials stack up makes it much easier to not let money dictate which projects to accept and which are no-goes.
This goes hand-in-hand with having well-honed negotiation skills. If you can talk about budgets comfortably it’s a a HUGE trust selling point because it reveals key information on both sides. But you have to practice doing this, practice different scenarios, practice addressing red flags. Till you are blue in the face, I’m not kidding. It sounds cheesy, but find someone to role play it out. A few minutes of private awkwardness will save you, and earn you, so much more dough. Frankly, wheeling and dealing can be fun if you let it.
Pointer finger: time management
This is forever going to be gray area because it’s impossible to account for all the possibilities for loss. Forgotten laptop power cords, traffic, all the admin parts of our days, most email, one more quick revision, surprise last minute meetings. Human-freaking-error. And the more on your plate the more complex your Jenga game is, meaning the harder you have to work to keep everything moving, the trickier it is to rebuild if something shifts or gets held up.
At some point taking on more things means you’ll drop off in other areas. What are you prepared to give up if you bring something new into the mix? Something will drop out guaranteed, and you won’t always know what until it happens, so it’s better to redirect if before even getting to that spot.
Keeping a constant eye on my calendar and my to do lists the only common theme I’ve been able to assess from all of the time management apps and programs out there. However you chose to break up the hours in the day with the tasks you must accomplish, it’s a universal challenge so you better pay attention to what process works for you.
And finally. TAKE TIME OFF. I’m saying this to myself constantly because I find it so hard to allow. Time off is non-negotiable, end of story. Innovation is impossible when you’re exhausted. Your work will never grow if you don’t allow time to just be. I thought I could get by for years on one day off a week, tried for years to make that work, but it’s just not enough. I still don’t always GET a proper weekend, at least not yet, but at least I now I give myself a little bit of a break at some point later on when I can. In short, it’s impossible to work too much without consequences. There will be signs if you’re pushing too hard. Don’t ignore them.
Thumb: the work.
You’d think this would be the first finger, the most important one. Because without the work, the actual products or services you offer, there’s nothing right? And we’d all just love to be doing more of it, because really, it’s why we got into this in the first place right? Well, turns out, it’s influenced so intensely by the other four fingers. If you’re off your brand, you’re going to end up doing work that means nothing to you, if you aren’t working with people who pay you properly, if you have trouble managing your time, etc, these will all cut into your actual time to make things you love. So the more you continue to tinker with your four fingers means the better you’ll get at creating a set-up that makes you the happiest and the most productive.
This my friends, your five fingers, is the Guide to No. It’s meant for you to tailor and adjust to your own specific needs, revising it as you go. If you’re driving on a long road in the dead of night, the Hand Turkey is your headlights, showing the path ahead. If constructed carefully you can use it to illuminate the dead ends, the wrong turns, potholes. It may not be quite as exact at having a GPS to use…But honestly? Doing things, doing life perfectly is a bummer. Perfectionism is kind of a jerk, no one wants to invite him to their pool party.
Annnnnd there you have it, or a distilled version of it anyway. There were a LOT of questions after I finished which is always a great sign, and I know you’re going to have some too. Post in the comments and I will offer my thoughts.
Otherwise, this year’s greatest hits video of the event just dropped today, feels like it all over again!
Gush, gush, gush, awesome unicorns and sprinkles, gushing inspiration overload, tasty beer, hot dogs, gush. My brain is a mush of gush. I expected to have a blast of course, but I didn’t expect to be absolved of all my design angst and stress about what I do. I lost all of that and the desire to make took its place, which is priceless. Too bad we can’t go to these things all the time so this feeling never has to wear off! If you go to no other design festivals next year, make it WMC Fest. Come as you are learning & inspiration is the best kind if you ask me. Plus I can’t emphasize the cheap factor enough, best bang for your buck in living memory.
+ If you live in the Kent area you have to go to Hollo’s Papercraft. Man, what I wouldn’t give to have a place like this closer to Chicago. Aisles upon aisles of delicious papers, materials, party gear, art supplies at super duper prices. Same goes for Cleveland’s thrifting, I hear it’s some of the finest. We did stop at the used office supply shop on Detroit Avenue near the festival & found a few goodies. That’s where I found the wooden pushpins for $1!
+ Great talks over all, but there were a couple of designers who gave real estate tours of their work. I guess it bears repeating once again, you shouldn’t only show your portfolio when giving a talk. I know how to use google dudes, I can look your work up if I want to. Doing this is a lot like a looking at slides from someone else’s vacation; it’s boring after 10 minutes. Interspersing fart jokes between slides is cute at first, but it’s a crutch and doesn’t add any depth. Up your game. Plus, winging it up there is insulting to the speakers like me who lost more than a little sleep and a few tears while putting our talks together. Bravado is crap on stage. Bring the real, please.
+ Happy Dog has better hot dogs than all of Chicago (ok, almost, Hot Doug’s excluded).
+ I was sad that so many people left early! I know, I know extenuating circumstances blah-de-blah, they do happen. But unless you’re Austin Kleon with a pre-scheduled cross-country book tour or a similar airtight alibi I find it hard to buy other reasons for leaving early. Trekking all the way there only to miss out on learning is like cutting school at recess. Kate Bingaman-Burt’s final keynote brought the house down with a full standing ovation, I wouldn’t have missed that if you paid me. And in fact, I lost billable hours because this meant I had to take Monday off as well, but don’t care, worth it. This holds especially true for speakers & the designers who were displaying work. If you got a free pass to the conference or an honorarium for attending, you better bend over backward to attend everything you can.
+ Jen Myers‘ talk on women developers was enlightening. Especially because it stirred quite the rumor mill, which is sign she gave a great talk. Engaging rumors online is a messy business, and generally not worth addressing, but in short, a few bros said her talk was nonsense and women don’t face discrimination when it comes to design or development. OH HA HA HA. HA. HA. Are we still here discussing this? Really? It’s actually probably better that I didn’t hear these things in person because I would not have been able to resist sticking my neck out. I wonder if this was stated in male-only company too. Pfffft. If you can’t or don’t say your opinion in front of the people you’re knocking it means you’re not giving us the chance to refute, and that right there is active discrimination. Congrats on proving that this inequity exists one more time.
+ Finally a HUGE, huge thank you to Joseph Hughes & Jeff Finley for organizing this and giving me the chance to take the stage. You obviously know how to throw it down. It’s no small thing to create so much community motivation. You are the very heart of Cleveland.
+ Now for the trickier next step: recapping my actual talk. I said some important things and I want to make sure that even the people who went get a chance to take it in. Stay tuned!! It’s in the works, hopefully with video.