As an independent designer running a small business, I’m always on the lookout for life optimizations that allow for more security and time with my family. A recommendation from my brother led me to JL Collin’s book The Simple Path to Wealth. I’m not a money guy, but I was intrigued by the title’s premise, so I gave it a go.
The gist is incredibly simple indeed: spend less than you make, invest the rest, and avoid debt. At the time of my reading, the mere utterance of the word, “invest” would bore me to tears, but the more I read, the more fascinated I was.
Though it’s seemingly a book about money, it’s actually about freedom. One has to look at freedom from a financial standpoint because money is the most effective tool for procuring choice. With savings comes the ability to pass on work that doesn’t align with your values. Passing on work in turn allows for time and resources to be devoted to things you truly care about. Collins calls this concept “F you money.” That simple idea got me thinking about my experiences with F you money, or the lack thereof.
In spring of 2011, I was just finishing up a school project for which I designed a simplified script typeface. I offered it as a free download on a website, and less than a dozen or so friends actually got it installed. A few weeks after the semester ended, I came to learn about Lost Type, a brand new pay-what-you-want marketplace for typefaces. I emailed the person on the about page, and Riley Cran graciously offered to host the typeface on the platform.
On July 5th, 2011, my phone started buzzing every few minutes with an email from PayPal saying that someone I didn’t know was giving me money for a font. I think that day I received around $700 in small donations. My world had fundamentally changed forever.
I began working on other typefaces for release on Lost Type, and was generally having a great time. It quickly dawned on me that my frugal bachelor lifestyle coupled with this miraculous income afforded me the freedom to quit my day job. At that time, I was employed by my older brother as a unambitious, jaded general graphic designer. The job revolved around hundreds of mock ups for interfaces and even more powerpoint presentations. After five years working and cutting my teeth, I was burnt out. I was extremely uneasy about bailing on my own flesh and blood, especially considering how incredibly generous and kind he was. He was the last person I'd want to say “F you” too, but nonetheless, I quit. The morning before I was incredibly anxious, but as soon as the bandaid was ripped off, I felt more freedom than I'd ever known.
The months that came after quitting were mostly filled will finishing my undergraduate degree at California College of the Arts, throwing theme parties with my roommates, and sipping ice cold suds from the kegerator that occupied the majority of our cockroach-infested kitchen. I was living the dream!
The bad news didn’t come all at once, but slowly over time: I became aware of the myriad shortcomings of my debut typeface. Somewhere along the line I heard the sage advice that you should never release your first font, but I was too excited, eager, and inexperienced to care. Obviously, one cannot see the things one cannot see, but slowly, mistakes born of naivety began to show their ugly faces one by one.
In the years that followed, I realized why the experienced warn newcomers about releasing fonts. Once things are out there, they cannot be changed. This simple fact is the reason fonts are more like physical products than software. We must be careful about the things that get released because they are immediately etched in stone all over the world. My feelings around seeing my typefaces in use gradually degraded from excitement to despair with tinges of guilt.
Along the line, I got to witness actual criticism written about Wisdom Script. I’ve seen the font knocked off in multiple ways. It’s been used on cool projects, and things I’d rather not see. The typeface has gone off to live a life of it’s own—one I have zero control over, but still feel some amount of responsibility for.
I hesitate to even mention the negatives, because the positives outweigh them so conclusively, that regret is the farthest thing from my mind. Immediately I was in connection with more type designers and resources to learn. I had the aforementioned income, but more importantly, I had the sincere understanding that type design was a viable career. I didn't have to make Powerpoints forever—PRAISE GOD. Lost Type taught me that I sucked, but that realization provided the framework for improvement. Eventually I attended conferences, workshops, and classes in the pursuit of getting better. I went to grad school, got advice from my heroes, and studied the history. I volunteered, led critiques, and eventually began teaching. I am still on the path of improvement, and it’s a chill path to be on.
To quote Mason Jennings, “I believe when you fall in love, you should jump right in.” Being a beginner brimming with enthusiasm is really fun, and if that energy points you anywhere, it’s probably a good idea to follow it. That can result in taking classes, practicing, reading, watching youtube videos, or even releasing fonts. No matter what you’re interested in, the world will not know how to help you unless you scream from the mountaintops what it is you like to do, and how you like to do it. Eventually, these consistent reminders can facilitate some income, and then that income can facilitate freedom to step away from things that fail to align with your preference. If I hadn’t ever released Wisdom Script, it’s possible I’d still be in the same job. I would have missed out on grad school, and countless other experiences in the area I’m most stoked on. I’d be more resentful, and doing worse work with less enthusiasm.
So, to the newbies hellbent on releasing your maiden effort, I say go for it. You will hate it later, but that’s a good thing.