“A true vocation calls us out beyond ourselves; breaks our heart in the process and then humbles, simplifies and enlightens us about the hidden, core nature of the work that enticed us in the first place.” – David Whyte
Over the past 4 months, I’ve begun to work again as a freelancer. As I take on new projects with clients in the US and the Netherlands, I wanted to have a clear sense of what I wanted from my work. I wanted to be sure I approached things more purposefully. By looking back at my practice over the past 15 years, and at my time as an employee at TBWA, I decided to write down exactly how I felt about my previous work, the results, and how I wanted to do things from now on.
A simple exercise like this is useful for anyone, regardless of their profession. By spending an hour or two putting our thoughts and feelings down on paper about the work that we spend the majority of our time on in any given week, we can help ensure that we use that time wisely. Of course writing down our hopes and desires for our work is no guarantee that they will come true, but the act can serve as a road map in what is otherwise completely uncharted territory. If done well, when our career is over, we will feel that we did not just do what was convenient or planned for us, but instead that we contributed something that was uniquely ours.
These are my personal notes to myself as I start out again as a designer in a new city, in a new relationship, and during what is hopefully the tail end of a global pandemic. They will surely require revision in the years to come. They aren’t meant to be a template to write your own, but I hope they are a small source of inspiration that you can use to devise a unique understanding of your relationship to your work.
Work on a maximum of two projects simultaneously. Schedule your time appropriately, and allow space to tinker and give the work the time to develop.
Spend time on details. Think like a craftsman. Be concerned with high quality, world-class outcomes despite the small size of the studio. Choices matter - choice of photography, quality of code, selection of typography, detail paid to punctuation, spelling, materials and production.
Choose the projects you work on more carefully - what is the overall narrative that you want to create through the work and the selection of clientele. What will this look like in 10 years?
Be confident, bold and simple.
Present maximum three options to clients. Do not present any options that you are unhappy with.
ALWAYS charge for revisions and changes.
Have an objective or goal for each project that will ensure you are happy with the results, and don’t compromise on this point.
Be a partner with the client, not a vendor.
Stay curious and keep learning.
Keep sight of the difference between your work and yourself. You should have the work, not the other way around.
Keep the balance with other interests in your life - your relationship, cooking, muay thai, languages - and realize the work does not define you or your worth as a person.
Keep things real and practical - realize that design will not save the world. Be honest about what you are doing, don’t use fancy words and jargon to mystify the client and make it seem like design can do more than it does. This cheapens the work, and allows you to fool yourself as well. It allows you to push questions that should be asked or answered in other parts of your life into your work, where they will never be properly. answered. They may appear to be answered because clients can fall for the ruse and then you yourself will fall for your own bullshit. Don’t design for others. Design for yourself.
Have fun !
Don’t become too accustomed to your work. Keep the love affair alive.
Don’t work towards deadlines for deadlines sake.
Don’t try to be cool through your work.
Don’t get caught up in being busy, or feeling busy. Don’t chase projects, praise or people.
Don’t work more than 30 hours a week.
Don’t work on anything only for money.
Don’t be afraid.
Photo of the Laurens Janszoon Coster sculpture taken in the main square of Haarlem, April 2021.
You need time to play around with things and tinker to come up with good solutions. It might be a simple solution in the end, but it takes time to get there. Some pressure is good. Your tendency is to rush to the finish. But you make better work when you play around. Let yourself stay in that space longer - you aren’t the type of person to miss deadlines. And if you manage your time, money, schedule well, you won’t put yourself in a high pressure situation without good reason.
Everything up until this point has been preparation. I want to make books that are more beautiful objects, not just functional ones. I want to focus more on materials, papers, binding, inks etc, all as forms of expression. The weight, size, and the feel of the book in one’s hand are also design elements and choices that you have not yet fully explored. I also did not have the patience to see these things through in all of my work before. I lacked the ability to put forth my ideas and thoughts about design and how the book should look and be printed, how it should manifest as a physical object. I needed to make money and to keep the business moving. I did not stand behind my ideas firmly enough.
I would like to understand the history and form of book making in western Europe, also then in Japan and further into other countries that have an even older history of books, typography and printing. There are printers and typographers here in Holland that have a centuries old legacy. Think about this here in Haarlem, home of Laurens Janszoon Coster, or Laurens Jansz Koster, is the purported inventor of a printing press from Haarlem. He allegedly invented printing simultaneously with Johannes Gutenberg and is regarded by some in the Netherlands as having invented printing first. who according to some predated Gutenberg.
As I said, these are simply notes, and are meant to evolve. They serve as reminder of where I was, and where I am heading with my practice. They will be different in form and nature for everyone, and should be as personal and specific as possible.
Speaking of work, I’m currently taking on new projects for the rest of the spring and summer. If you have a project that you might want to collaborate on, please get in touch.
I’ve also recently updated my website with a few new projects that I worked on for adidas here and here. I also did some new book design for Heartworm Press and a graphic identity for Amsterdam based traiteur Slagerij DeSchuyt.
Thanks for your time and see you in two weeks.