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Designer Sobriety: More than a Twelve Step Process
Guest Editorial by Justin Ahrens

This past HOW Conference I was able to present on a subject that I’m always pondering: How in the world do I run our design firm, still have a balanced life and do great work? With four kids, eightish employees and trying to not work 70 hours a week always seems tough. I constantly write down ideas, read about how others strive and succeed to have balance and try different things at Rule29. Some have worked, some have not. So when HOW wanted me to talk about things we have learned while running our business my biggest challenge was what subjects/tips do I talk about? I had 30-plus tips to wade through so I took the approach of looking at the ones that worked together. That way, I thought, would be most helpful to the attendees.

While reviewing the steps I thought of different people/firms around the country that reminded me of that specific topic. They are balancing all that life throws at you and still turning out great work, so I asked them if they would help me by giving a quick video intro of the topic I thought they best represented. I was excited that they all said yes and their videos took the presentation to the next level and illustrated to the audience that these ideas were bigger than Rule29. Some of my fellow contributors were Sean Adams, Stefan Bucher, Pash, People Design, Terry Marks and, yes, our Speak Up’s host Armin Vit. Here are a few sample videos, you can see the rest on Vimeo.

Tip #1: No matter what, do this only if you love it, both the good and the bad.

Tip #9: Work where it makes you happy.

Tip #10: Be a link in the love chain. Be a part of your community and create, support and promote your local network.

All in all, owning and running a firm isn’t for everyone, but for those who want to manage the ups and downs we should all talk more on how we do it. It will only make the community better and help the industry as a whole. The concept of the title was from an inner office joke that we always have a bottle of Grey Goose in the freezer for those challenging days and some days it feels like we should crack that open at about 9:30am.

From the response of the talk we have quickly created a separate site, Designer Sobriety, to highlight some of the points, show the videos and hopefully create a conversation about how to have balance and reduce frustrations. You also can follow the twitter feed as we publish more ideas and collect other peoples thoughts on the topic as well. We hope that a conversation will start about great business practices and offer helpful tips and we will make the site more responsive to publish all the content.

Justin Ahrens is the creative director and cofounder of Rule29, a strategic creative firm making creative matterâ„¢ in Geneva, IL. Designer, dad, husband and wanna be Tour de France winner.

Maintained through our ADV @ UnderConsideration Program
PUBLISHED ON Jun.05.2008 BY Speak Up
Christopher’s comment is:

Since Geneva, IL is where I grew up, I was just sorta hoping that those videos would have been from around town. Great idea none the less, just hoping for some easy workday nostalgia.

On Jun.05.2008 at 02:11 PM
Diane Zerr’s comment is:

Love this post! I am struggling all of the time with my sanity but at the same time I would rather be crazy busy rather then sitting around doing a whole lot of nothing!

Armin, I feel the way you do. I leave my 4-year old son either at pre-school or with my mom in the morning at 8 am and usually get home around 7pm. Although he likes to stay up late it does take a toll on my conscience and makes me at times, want to reevaluate my job and career path. But if I didn't have a son, I wouldn't even think about giving up my design career!

I know that there are many other parents (such as yourself and Byrony) who are dealing with the same situation day in and day out, so I keep the faith and continue to love what I do and appreciate every moment with my family.

P.S. and having a supporting husband helps too!

On Jun.05.2008 at 02:37 PM
felix sockwell’s comment is:

That is one chubby-cheeked baby, Bryony.

ps-Maya is also extremely cute!

On Jun.05.2008 at 04:25 PM
Kevin Hopp’s comment is:

Hey Diane...I hope the website you're working on is going to help you stay home a bit more, but I expect you spend half of your time coordinating production? Have you thought about an intern to help out before he's gone to elementary school for the day?

Regarding the video interviews, I'm a little lost on what Justin was looking for...

1. What it takes to be prolific or creative?
2. Or, how to successfully manage a job and a life?

The responses were kinda mixed... so I'm not sure which one to respond to.

"How to be a designer without losing your soul" was a good read, and "100 Habits of Successful Graphic Designers" is a great finger-through.

Or, maybe English 101 should be mentioned...

Rule29 strives to create an environment that great work is expected and lives in comfortably. Having the right mix of team members is tough to develop. We believe the key is to hire great people when you understand you and your culture. See what are friends at Grip Design have created to increase their success rate.


On Jun.15.2008 at 11:07 AM
Josh’s comment is:

For over two and a half years, I had the pleasure and blast of working at Rule29. I speak from first-hand experience that it is an amazing place to work!

Justin really works everyday to make it a creative environment and an awesome place to work...promoting creativity, equality and family. I left R29 as this talk was in its early stages and it turned out fabulous.

All the tips are helpful not only for running a business, but for living a creative life in general.

Awesome post!

Word to R29!

On Jun.19.2008 at 02:06 PM