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State of the Union Graphic

My State of the Union: 2018

I’m not an active participant in the political process, so at first glance the title of this post might seem a bit out of place. Yet, the idea of assessing the past and organizing/declaring priorities for the coming year seems to lend itself to the title fairly well.

When you take that one step further, remove the idea of politics from the title, and reframe the word “union” to refer to the personal (union as state of being with ones’ self), business (union as a state of commerce including others), and extend that to relationships (union as it relates to family and significant others), “State of the Union” becomes a fitting description for a period of inner and outer examination. With that said, here we go.

2017 Was Bullshit

There’s really no better way to put that. We spent last year mired in medical issues, family loss, and confusion. The passing of my mother, an event that started with a stroke in January followed by a progressively declining state until her death in July, took the piss out of me. I’ve always thought of myself as the type of person who could be strong in the face of personal loss. I found out I was absolutely wrong. My mother’s death impacted me profoundly.

The passing of a loved one is hard enough to rally back from. Add to that three ankle surgeries for my wife, several other family related medical issues, and my own delusional belief that everything was fine (followed by the crushing reality that, indeed, it was not) and you begin to see why I was more than ready to take 2017, kick it in the teeth, and leave it lying bloodied in the streets.

I’ve spent the last two months trying to pick up the pieces—carefully reassembling portions of my life back into one cohesive gradient puzzle. All the while, trying to learn from the process.

“I’ve always thought of myself as the type of person who could be strong in the face of personal loss. I found out I was absolutely wrong. My mother’s death impacted me profoundly.”

My design studio, Shop, was not immune from the struggles of 2017 either. We had one of the rougher years we’ve encountered with client relationships, and overall business management. While we finished financially close to what we were hoping for, my loss of focus affected the course of the studio. Remember when I said I thought everything was fine…?

Yet, for all the hardships of 2017, there were some fine moments that made me happy to be doing what I’m doing.

Among the highlights were four new articles written for AIGA over the past year. I completed a mini thematic arc of interviews exploring the road to studio ownership with Josh Kenyon of Jolby and Friends, Brian Kappel of Space Monkey Studios, and Jeffrey Zeldman of studio.zeldman. The interview with Zeldman also allowed me to cross off a professional line item from my interview “bucket list”. I worked with Jeff for over a decade at the wonderfully inspiring A List Apart, so to have a chance to talk with him about his thoughts on business was a career high point.

My fourth article, Designing Space + Defining Place: the Role of Design in the Built Environment, was an exploration of design in the public space. In short, infusing design into the public environment is good for society and good for the larger culture.

We also grew the studio officially by one (bringing us to a grand total of 3). We brought on Brian Ferdinand, a developer and friend that I’ve had the pleasure of working with over several years. Offering him a full partnership in the studio was the right thing to do and has allowed us to expand our abilities, which will begin to bear real fruit in 2018 and beyond.

Burning It Down, and Getting On With 2018

Self-assessment has been a staple of my life throughout the past six months, but especially over the past few weeks. Where do I need to go, what do I want to work on, what does that journey to change look like for me. Here are a couple areas I’m focusing on:

Here’s to Your Health

The biggie. My health. I’ve ignored this for a long time. When you are raised by a single mother who had battled obesity all her life, there is not much training as to living a healthy lifestyle during your formative years. Nutrition was just not a thing I worried about. The only thing that got less attention than my nutritional habits was my exercise habits. It was another area I had not seen much use in.

“Now that I’ve officially transitioned out of my 30’s, I’m taking a much closer look at how I live my life. It’s tough, but the most important things always seem to be.”

Now that I’ve officially transitioned out of my 30’s, I’m taking a much closer look at how I live my life. It’s tough, but the most important things always seem to be. I’ve started working with a trainer and embarked on some health programs. We’ll see how the year unfolds with this new mindset.

Pomp and Circumnavigation

I’ve deliberately taken a break from teaching for the past two years. At the end of my first stint (consisting of five consecutive years in the classroom) I was completely burned out. Teaching is infinitely rewarding to experience, but it can also be extremely taxing, and even a little bit soul crushing. A break was needed.

This Spring term I am officially returning to class room. This time, though, it will be on my terms. I’ve decided to teach only one class every 1-2 terms. While I do enjoy teaching and giving back to the next generation of young talent, I need to do this in a way that works for me. The first class will be an updated version of the Web Typography class I developed a few years ago. They have not had anyone to teach that specific subject since I left. It will be good to revisit and restructure that class.

Time in the Workshop

The studio continues to be the primary focus in my work life. There is a lot of work to kick out, plus more work to find. Anyone who owns their own studio and teaches knows what I mean about controlling the job rather than it controlling you. Things have to be on my terms and kept in perspective.

Over at Shop, I recently finished penning a piece on our state of the union for the studio in the coming year. There’s a lot more there if you’re into reading.

Summing It Up

So, that’s it for this time around. I have plans, yes big plans, for the coming year. Now I t’s just a matter of keeping on track, while maintaining a somewhat consistent increase in my perpetual motion.

A special thanks goes out to Paul Jarvis, who through his own writing, set the model for this more personal State of the Union post.