It was my Grade 5 report card that hinted my path as an inquisitive designer. I was described by my favourite elementary school teacher as being a good, hardworking conscientious student. Great. Love hearing that and no doubt my parents would too.
Then came the sentence that brought forth a feeling of shock and horror in the same way a spider walking across the floor does for me. “Nancy gets bored easy.” Um, WHAT?!? I saw it as insult until I was informed that was NOT the case. I need to be keep my mind stimulated and fill it with things of interest and enlightenment. Sure, then that IS me to a tee.
Flash forward and that remains true in any design project I work on regardless of scope, whether it be a massive rebranding assignment lasting several months, to a corporate brand involving multiple sub-brands, or a one-colour logo for a startup business. I’ve been a lifelong learner and continue to enjoy learning/teaching new things with every client, project and design challenge. This year has been good so far from a creative fulfillment standpoint (bit of a slowdown as Spring arrived) but the change truly began as far back as Fall 2016 over dinner with a designer-friend.
We challenged each other to do more self-directed projects alongside our daily work routines. Ambitious, but hopeful, I thought about some ideas and jotted them down. Then real life happened and it was put aside. Halloween (a year later!) soon rolled around and I was giving a design presentation at my alma mater. It came up again when a design student innocently asked me if I’d ever considered doing personal projects. I smiled knowingly and said, “You know what? I haven’t for a long time, but I really should.” As soon as I said the word “should", plans were put in motion and I said YES more often.
Since then, a “what if” conversation sharing my enthusiasm of ideas with a local printer became a reality, leading into an ambitious yet beautiful typographic design piece for Mitchell Press. It involved 14 different paper stocks, 66 fonts (some readily available, many lesser known or very limited release) and 66 digital colour print combinations. Also in the wings is a short-run photography book, a brand identity for a creative speakers group and an already sought-after handlettering letterpress card design for a paper company.
Like the first “what if” scenario, this project began over a conversation about the kind of things I value as the target audience (putting myself in the tough client/consumer role). It soon evolved into a series of excited emails, me sketching out ideas, taking a picture with my iPhone and sharing my thinking on a call to my paper rep as she sat in her car after a meeting. It was approved and hundreds of handlettered words were soon produced.
I also took to social media sharing the whole process in real time as teasers to build interest, as well as a way for me to be accountable to ensure real design success every step of the way. The experiences I had throughout (creative, production, supplier and friend relationships altogether) could not have gone better, and the results of keeping myself 100% invested in every part, big or small truly paid off. Also deeply rewarding is my personal distribution of these passion pieces rather than the easy route of bulk mailing. As much as possible, I delivered them in person to key people that I wanted to thank to their faces and let them know how much their support, encouragement, friendship, inspiration and kindness meant to me. Their responses of anticipation, surprise, and delight coupled with hugs, a few kisses and warm impromptu conversations over coffee or a meal, made for some of the most heartwarming and gratifying times in my life. At one point I wished that I documented the visits with selfies or videos as one does these days...and yet the beauty of experiencing these personal connections is far greater than having to record everything as some kind of proof that it happened. One recipient said to me, "You know, this will pay you in dividends."
In the end that’s what I always hope for. That this investment of self-directed projects never becomes boring or taken for granted. That I am able to show other skills and interests that could lead to similar kinds of work or just remind clients that I'm still here. That great collaborative relationships with other creative people, producers and industries keep happening. That everything I do is worth it to me and to someone seeing or receiving it for the first time. That it inspires others and keeps me inspired to keep on designing projects for likeminded creatives and perhaps make a business out if it. Who knows? One thing I do know though, is this truth...
Be careful what you wish for. You just might get it.