Designing Something Everyday

Shown above – A still from Upstream Color, one of my favorite films of all time.

In 2016, I designed something everyday. Here’s what I learned.

On January 1st, last year I sat down to set my new year’s resolutions. Instead of subsequently writing a comprehensive list of healthy professional and personal objectives for the year, I ended up just watching Pulp Fiction. As I was taking in the non-linear classic, for some reason I opened up Photoshop and started throwing together a poster for the film. The resulting one sheeter was fairly average, but it got me thinking about creativity and film and design – and whether I could somehow incorporate all those things into a passion project for the year. I wanted something that was broad enough that it would allow for a range of creative executions, but dialled-in enough to have some sort of clear through-line. At the time, I was heavily inspired by other daily creative projects. Like Brock Davis’s efforts for MSCED, and Geometry Daily.

Out of this Tarantino-dialogue-fuelled haze, a crazy little side project called A Movie Poster A Day #amovieposteraday was born.

I’m not an expert in anything but my own story. But 2016 was a pretty fun and productive year, in part thanks to said creative project. So, here’s a few observations I had along the way.

One Way To Have A Good Idea, Is To Have Lots Of Them.

There’s an old adage in art and creativity about pottery. It involves an old, wizened pottery teacher who has two classes, and upon these two classes he imparts two completely different sets of instructions. To the first class, he orders them to spend the entire semester making a perfect pot. To summon their skill and conjure up the most flawless clay creation they can possibly muster (or ‘knead’ or whatever). They were to return on the final day of class and bring in their single, perfect masterpiece. The second class, however, was told to just make a shitload of pots. To make tall ones and fat ones and weird, curly ones and any other pot they can think of. Guess where this story’s going? The unexpected lesson is that the second group came up with easily the best pottery. Instead of focusing on making One. Perfect. Thing, they made lots and lots of things.

Nowadays, it’s probably less about pots and clay, and more about concepting the perfect pre-roll TV ad or opening sentence or whatever. But no matter you’re doing, if it’s idea-based, more usually kicks perfect’s ass.

What You Do Every Day, You Get Less Bad At

An obvious one maybe? The more you do something, the better you get. I am not a world-renowned base jumping expert, but I have no hesitation in declaring that if you want to get really good at base jumping, you gotta base jump more than once. It is physically impossible to not get significantly better at something if you do it repeatedly. Said another way – your 365th base jump will be many, many times less shit than your first. This approach, I’m sure, works if you do something either 5, 55, or 365 times in a row. Malcolm Gladwell famously talks about practicing something for 10,000 hours. That seems like a lot. Skills and disciplines are so fragmented nowadays, that I reckon if you decided to attack say – hand lettering – like a dojo master for a total of 1,000 hours, you’d end up outranking at least 95% of hand letterers out there. Throughout the course of 2016, lots of things changed, both personally and globally. Regardless of what had happened in a particular 24 hour period (I had a lot on my plate; or I didn’t get home until 11pm; or Donald Trump was elected as the fucking President) – I still had to do that one movie poster for that day.

Scratch an Itch

If you’re going to focus on something creatively, make sure it’s something you’re passionate about. Again, this doesn’t sound like the world’s most insightful directive. But you can turbocharge your performance by ensuring that what you’re doing is important to you on some level. Some artists have likened creative talent to being cursed by a witch. Deep down, the most talented craftspeople can’t not do that thing they’re doing. If they neglected to practice their trade each day, they’d go to bed somewhat dissatisfied. So, consider what you’re driven to do, and head towards that direction. In my case, it was design and film. If I had tried to make A Pottery Clay Thing A Day, I would’ve failed terribly.

Automate Shit

If you’re going to attempt doing something creative every day, outsource the not-so-creative bits. In my situation, I wanted to keep a daily document of my designs on all the usual social networks. Therefore, it made sense to utilise a custom recipe on a site like If This, Then That, so that stuff got posted each day without me logging into each site manually. We will all be replaced by robots and A.I. eventually. If you start conceding these kind of tasks to the machines early on, maybe they will act gracious to us during the inevitable apocalypse.

 

You Can’t Predict Audience Reaction

One super-interesting thing I found: it is much harder than you think to predict what people will like or dislike. Firstly, there is almost no correlation between the things you’ve made that you dig, and what someone else might enjoy. There is often also no real link between the effort you’ve invested in something creatively, and the way it is received by the audience. Just because you’ve put 1,000 hours into that piece of art, does not inherently mean it deserves more of an audience reaction. All that matters is whether that tiny thumbnail on Instagram at the end, or that thing you made resonates with somebody. These are good things. It means people will surprise you. It also leads to the next point.

Don’t Do It For The Eyeballs

Create something you enjoy, not something you think other people will enjoy. Trying to second-guess what folks might respond to is like searching for a doorway in the dark. If you conjure up stuff that aligns with some inner part of you, remember that there’s 7 billion people out there, there’s a good chance it will align with some inner part of someone else. I was fortunate enough with A Movie Poster A Day to amass a fairly sizeable social audience over the year. And sure, it’s a great feeling when other humans respond to your work. But at a certain point, there is no difference between ten thousand people following you on Instagram or whatever, and twenty thousand. These are arbitrary numbers, and what matters more is that you are doing something you enjoy.

 

Use Layer Masks

Seriously, after years working as a creative, I actually never knew how to use a layer mask in Photoshop. I would always destructively magic wand around something. I probably still don’t know how to use them properly. But I’m getting better.

 

Connections

The best thing I gained out of creating A Movie Poster A Day was not the press or Photoshop skills. It was a connection with other, like-minded folks. Film and Design are two, massive overlapping circles in a Venn diagram that envelopes a huge number of people on this planet. Accordingly, this project put me in touch with various filmmakers, designers, and film fans everywhere. And for that I am extremely grateful.

A Movie Poster A Day was featured by Adobe, Fast Company, Vice Magazine’s Creator’s Project, This Isn’t Happiness (my favourite design blog of all time) and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. You can view the archive of every single movie poster at A Movie Poster A Day. You can also purchase select prints of the posters at my online store, Craft and Graft.

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