In my life I’ve made a bunch of things. I’ve created and released a four iOS apps. I wrote, produced and directed a 12 minute documentary on Rosewood, an abandoned insane asylum in Owings Mills, Maryland. My intention with this paragraph is not to boast about the things I’ve done but to talk about how I see each of these in relation to creating things from my heart.
In my first semester of college, the professor of my Intro to Computer Science class gave us a very open-ended final assignment: create something useful with the concepts from this semester. We could make what we wanted with any language or technology.
I thought about the problems in my life and since I was an out of state student, I took the bus a lot from Boulder to Denver for concerts and from Boulder to DIA to fly home. This was Fall 2008, there were no iPhone apps or web apps for the bus system in Colorado, called RTD. So my final project was a simple one: six gigantic PDFs that I stitched together from smaller PDFs that I crammed into an iPhone app. The app was called RTD Mobile Bus times and showed me the schedules for just two bus routes. I made the app purely for myself because it solved my own problem. That summer, I released it to the public, selling it for 99 cents with resounding feedback, “Why are there only two buses in here?”
I took that feedback and went back to the drawing board, releasing Beeline RTD the next summer and Beeline RTD 2 the summer after that. I love those apps. I know they’ll never be the next Angry Birds but I made them because I wanted them and it turned out that a bunch of other people did too. The first time I held a build of Beeline RTD in my hand, after getting it from my developers, I literally jumped up and down at the though that this app had come out of my head and I could now put it in my pocket and use it whenever I wanted. One of the most rewarding feelings I’ve found.
When I was 18, my senior project in high school was again, a completely open-ended one. I had to create a group of students and make something. Some kids went to Hawaii and did a report on the surf there, some kids worked in museums and wrote about their experiences. I made a documentary about Rosewood with my friend Zack.
Zack and I had been fascinated with Rosewood for years. We’d snuck around inside of its buildings late at night on weekends with other groups of curious 16-year-olds. We were obsessed with its architecture, its history, its soul. So we made a documentary from start to finish and to this day, it’s one of the things I’m most proud of.
We made the documentary because we wanted it to exist, not because we cared what anyone else though of our idea. We loved those buildings and haunting ideas of ghost stories and things that went bump in the night. So while other kids used their senior projects to go on vacation, we ran through abandoned buildings with a camera, bringing what we wanted into the world.
And what I’ve come to realize is that each of these things that I create that I’m most proud of - it really comes from my heart; it comes from a piece of me which I think the general public would say is “weird.” Apps for readers or public transit riders. A documentary about an abandoned insane asylum. These aren’t mainstream things.
Ben Huh touched on this in his post, Here’s to the weirdos:
And when I say “weirdos”…I’m talking about those who believe passionately in the world you want to build for them.
Choosing your audience limits the pool that sees your work, but it also sets you free. You know who you’re going after now as much as you know who you aren’t going after. Being comfortable that someone isn’t going to like your post or your software is part of the game.
You know that thing that you want? Build it. Create it. Make it happen. Because even if you want some of your work to be incredibly popular, your audience has to start with a group of weirds who, like you, believe in the exact same thing and support you as you make it happen.
I’d love to hear your thoughts. Continue this discussion over on the thread on Hacker News.
If you enjoyed this post, I’d be humbled if you followed me on Twitter.
(Photo: Ryan Pavlovich)
Drew Melton is a graphic designer based out of Grand Rapids, MI. He specializes in print design and is constantly fiddling (and failing) with letters. He started a company called justlucky that collaborates with clients and designers all over the country. In addition to justlucky, Drew also runs The Phraseology Project which turns common phrases into gorgeous prints.
Tell me a little bit about yourself, your background in design and about The Phraseology Project. When did you start designing?
I started designing when I was 15 years old. I had picked up a book from the library on building your own websites with HTML. Quite quickly I discovered that it might be nice to have some graphic elements in my websites and since I was the only graphic designer I knew, I picked up a copy of Photoshop and started playing.
From there I picked up an internship at a local web design company in Holland, MI, designing and coding websites. That heavily impacted my decision to take my design career further by going to Kendall College of Art and Design in Grand Rapids, MI. The experience was great for me but I quickly became bored with the class regiment which often lacked real life experience that I was getting at another internship. So in my Junior year of college, with no money or real resources I dropped out and started justlucky because that’s exactly how I felt, just lucky.
Since then justlucky has been my only source of income and I haven’t looked back. It has given me the freedom to fail (a lot) and collaborate with a whole variety of talent. Some days are really hard of course but I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
2. Everyone involved in the Phraseology Project is based in Grand Rapids, MI. Is there a design community up there? What kind of work is coming out of the northern midwest?
The community up here is extremely supportive. Grand Rapids is a fairly small city of around 200,000 people so the cost of living is low and it isn’t hard to become a part of the community quickly which has been great for myself and many of the young designers who are itching to make their mark.
3. You do some incredible lettering, take me through your design process when you sketch things that will later become your prints.
Haha, oh boy. Well, my process is kind of like this…Make a lot of work and something good will happen. A lot of times I end up cherry picking a phrase from the submission database (currently holding over 16,000 submissions!) because I have a fun idea or because I love the phrase or something. Then I start sketching it pretty quick. Sometimes I’ll go through my small library of type books but otherwise I have found that I make the most progress by really sinking my teeth into the phrase pretty quickly. You learn a lot by just trying to draw something over and over. Things just start to pop out and details that you weren’t paying attention to before become pretty clear.
I am big on getting a really detailed sketch together before I even touch a computer but once I am happy with the sketch. I scan it into the computer and layout my illustrator file right over top of it and get to work. I take the file straight from illustrator to the site as soon as possible in order to keep my work moving. Otherwise I get stuck thinking about a piece and nit-picking it to pieces.
4. You have 10 prints up right now in the store of The Phraseology Project, most are done in pretty limited batches. Do you have any plans to add more prints and phrases?
Well, funny you should ask. I am working with a new printer (soon to be revealed) to get some additional prints together by the end of August as well as a t-shirt design that will help support a local, after school art program for high-schoolers. It should be pretty exciting in the near future!
5. What’s one thing you’d want someone who has never seen your work before to know about you?
That I’m totally not a “natural” talent in my own opinion. I am very opinionated and I work my ass off on just about every piece that you see on my sites. It’s not magic I just work hard. Anyone could do what I do if they really wanted and I hope people use my work to do better work in the future. I feel like I got a little off topic there, haha.
Page 1 of 3