Renegades get shit done. We’re not about the easy road. We turn our pastimes into our full times. And we do it on our own terms. “Rule Breakers” is a series of renegade creatives who have strayed from the status quo, but not without hard work, self awareness, and some serious elbow grease. Chasing your passion is one thing, but wrangling it is an entirely different beast. These renegades are breaking rules and barriers, and redefining what it means to be successful by writing their own rules.
When it comes to the life I want to live, I turn to people who are doing undeniably awesome shit in a very real way for inspiration. My idols are the ones I could actually email, and in some world, get a response from. They’re the types of leaders I want to be like, work for, and someday become. They encourage awesomeness in other people, and encouraged awesomeness only breeds more awesomeness.
Enter Jason and Brian from Good Fucking Design Advice.
This interview was one of those, “If you don’t ask the answer will always be no” type deals. I’ve admired GFDA from afar for a few years now. Kind of like a cool lion on a safari. Or that 22lb burger that you get for free if you finish the whole thing. You look at it from six tables over and think, “I could do thattttt…..” And then you never buy it, and return to your normal boring burger. The cool thing about GFDA is that they WANT you to take on that 22lb burger. (This is a metaphor in case you’re confused/hungry).
If you’re unfamiliar, GFDA (Good Fucking Design Advice) is comprised of a design duo that, “through profanity and personality, provide a kick in the pants to push people to define direction and purpose in their life and work.” And since we’re all about big risks and big rewards here at The Renegade Rulebook, I figured it was worth chatting with them.
As an added bonus, at the bottom of this interview (read the whole thing, damn it! Or as GFDA might say…”Don’t fucking skim.”) is a little treat for my readers. Huzza!
TRR: I gave the readers a quick synopsis, but could you give me a less sparknote-y version of what Good Fucking Design Advice is all about, and what you guys are up to these days?
GFDA: What are we all about eh? Let’s get into what’s going on these days first, that should inform what we’re all about a bit better I think.
These days we maturing. We’re currently in a tumultuous adolescence as a company—we’re growing awkwardly and not sure how to fully take advantage of our changing body and disposition. Various practices (or lack thereof) that we used to get away with when we started out are no longer viable, and we’re figuring out how to grow into a more sophisticated company.
Of course we are managing all of this while still maintaining the spirit of who we are as a business and as individuals at the core. But this very thing—this learning as we go and making every mistake in the book thing—is what makes us who we are to our customers, fans, and friends. We certainly have a brash face to our brand, but beneath that there’s a deep level of empathy for creatives who are trying to do their own thing—whatever that may be. Much in the vein of, “We get you, we’re fucking everything up too, let’s keep going anyways.”
We tend to ride the horse in the direction it’s going. As a result, we are all about wherever we are at any given moment. At this moment we’re in a growth phase. And growth requires learning and learning requires excitement—a continuously burning fire. Without that fire you’re not interested in learning. Richard Bach said “You teach best what you most need to learn.” With this idea in mind, we’re making a bigger push this year for more education-based work (for lack of a better term). So, we’re doing more speaking and workshop-related content, expanding our workshops into the corporate realm with content related to risk-taking, creative process, and ideation/iteration. We’ve begun to produce more articles and content for the web, and we’ve expanded our newsletter offering to have a weekly piece of advice with a bit more depth. We’re also working with a book agent now, so we’re hoping that we can get a book written this year and published next year. All of these things are new in some or many ways to us. We’re still making and selling products, but we are pivoting a bit and expanding. It’s very exciting, and it’s very scary.
TRR: When you started it was just the two of you, right? How big is your team now and where are you located?
GFDA: Currently it’s the two of us, plus an intern—Katherine O’Kelly, and a contracted designer/coordination—Rachel Hellgren. Previously though, we’ve had upwards of 6 people working for us on a part-time basis along with some folks whom we work with on a contract basis. While the two of us have manned the ship since day one, it would be disingenuous of us if we didn’t acknowledge the vast number of people who’ve lent a hand along the way. Our friends and family have bailed us out countless times and, we really owe everything to these relationships—from marathon printing sessions, help packing ridiculously large orders for literally days and weeks on end, to moral support and just meaningful conversations about us and our business. Without the collective efforts of many other people, we’d be nothing—and the journey far less sensational.
In the last year, we’ve outsourced our order fulfillment to JM Field in Fort Lauderdale, FL. As a friendly plug, they’ve been really fantastic to work with. We struggled to find the right company to fit our needs last year and it was coming down to the wire for us to make a decision between some options that were less than ideal for us when their name crossed our path. We’re so glad we made the leap to work with them.
We’re headquartered in Brooklyn, New York with Jason. Brian works remotely from various cities around the country, mainly being located in Cincinnati, Ohio. We get together every six weeks or so to work together in person—which is an important part in keeping our company and relationship healthy.
TRR: Working with your friends can be awesome, but it can also be stressful. I hear so many stories of it ruining friendships and going completely sour. Since you guys are friends IRL, how do you keep from driving each other crazy?
GFDA: Working with friends can be incredibly rewarding. Believe it or not, we were only acquaintances when we first launched our site. Keeping our sanity and not killing each other is an ongoing part of running a business that should never be underestimated.
We have almost always maintained a ‘friends first’ mentality. As our business grew so did our friendship and we quickly recognized that the relationship we had built around the experience of running a business together outweighed the value of the business itself. Having mutual respect for the people you work with and the value they add to the work and relationship are incredibly important if not completely necessary.
We certainly have our challenges and arguments, but we always manage to keep in mind the overall goal, and company. We allow our conflicts to help us to grow as people and also to help us further the business.
We grease the wheels and keep ourselves on the same track through a lot of regular communication. We schedule meetings every MWF at 2pm to catch up for about 60 minutes and try to visit every 6-8 weeks in person for this reason. The longer we go without checking in and talking the more likely we are to end up wasting time, duplicating efforts, working out of sync etc. And that always ends in a dispute of some kind. So, we’ve learned (and continue to learn) how to be more up front and communicative about anything and everything.
TRR: In that vein, how are your personalities different?
Jason: There are two sides to every coin. Brian is methodical wisdom, where I am blunt honesty.
Brian: Jason is much better at selling ‘us and GFDA.’ He’s a natural connector of people and has always had a knack for finding the right person for us or for someone else. I’d say he’s also naturally an extrovert as well. Me on the other hand, I’m one of those outgoing introverts. I’ve got no problem speaking, teaching, being in front of a crowd—in fact I love it. However, it exhausts me and I definitely need that solo time to recharge afterwards. Jason is quick to new ideas where as I tend to be more strategic in approach. It’s a good balance, I keep him from jumping in too soon and he keeps me from staying in my head about an approach for too long. We learn a lot from each other in this way.
TRR: I know GFDA is a huge project, but do you have any passion projects outside of GFDA that you’re really excited about?
Brian: For me, I’d have to say there are two things. The first is always my answer to this question, which is martial arts. I’ve been practicing for almost 17 years now and I’m in love with it just as much, if not more so than the day I started. I’ve been very fortunate to have some exemplary teachers who have impacted my life in more ways than I can count. Learning martial arts when I was a teenager was a gateway into learning how to learn, and how to be hungry and curious about a subject. This has always fed into my love of design in a hugely positive way. The second, which ties directly back into GFDA, is writing. I’m not disciplined yet to get into a daily writing habit or anything of the sort, but I’ve really been enjoying writing for GFDA, developing the voice we currently have, and teaching myself how to write along the way. Improving this skill set has been very enjoyable for me—and it’s also helped me be a better designer and business owner. The act of writing has helped me to further my conceptual abilities and also focus and develop my thoughts on any given subject. It’s like a form of cognitive organization.
Jason: For me, I spend a lot time intoxicated by the thought of new ideas and the practice of ideation—seeing everyday problems as design opportunities. Many of these ideas lead to business concepts, which feed my passion for design and entrepreneurship. I am innately a maker and always have numerous ongoing personal projects. Many of these personal explorations end up coming to life as part of GFDA or influencing its direction. Everything feeding into the same vein and vice versa. At the moment I am working with designer and gardener, Ethan Bodnar to build a platform for houseplant adoption and failing at learning how to surf. I am also wrapping up my role as Designer in Residence at 30 Weeks, a program that transforms designers into founders.
TRR: I love talking to creative people about their a-ha moment. That moment where they realized, “AH-HA! I should be doing THAT.” Did you guys have that with GFDA? And if so, how did it transpire?
GFDA: It doesn’t feel so much like we had an ‘ah-ha’ moment with GFDA. It was more a process that we grew into. As graduate school came to a close and winded down for us, GFDA was really ramping up. So we essentially just kept our crazy busy schedule as we transitioned from one thing to the next. If there was any ‘Ah-ha’ moment, it would have been more so in the viability of this as something that could be a real business early on.
TRR: I see a few big names, presumably tied to some awesome projects listed on your site. Which project or partnership has been the most fulfilling or exciting for you?
GFDA: We’ve been fortunate to have worked with some incredibly talented people and more so that they were interested in working with us. We try and launch 2–3 collaborations a year and they are continuously getting better as we learn how to leverage the work and talent of other folks.
We’re really excited about our upcoming collaboration with artist and designer, James Victore. We are expecting it to officially launch on our site in late July.
TRR: I’m sure most of the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, but have you ever received any negative backlash?
GFDA: Someone once told us that we “sent the design industry back 10 years.” Good or bad, we saw that movement as progress.
We used to receive various forms of backlash via email and social media when we first launched. A good portion of folks were highly critical of what we were doing at the time. At this point we’re much more widely accepted—certainly within the design community. However, nowadays, what we deal with is typically a dissenting voice or two when we are invited to host a lecture. Particularly in non-coastal cities there tends to be someone who speaks out against our use of profanity, but in nearly all cases, the person has no idea who we are or what we stand for—they’re just opposed to the use of profanity and ultimately are missing the big point. You can’t please everyone and we sure as hell don’t intend to try. Like Tibor Kalman said, “When you make something no one hates, no one loves it.”
TRR: Other than a song by X Ambassadors, What do you think of when you hear the word Renegade?
GFDA: A renegade is someone who plays by their own rules.
TRR: So what’s one rule you love to break?
GFDA: What rules?
TRR: What’s a rule you’d replace it with?
GFDA: We don’t break the rules, we write them.
The gents at Good Fucking Design advice have kindly extended a 15% discount code for the GFDA store to my readers. I highly recommend The Advice Mug as well as my personal favorite, The Classic Advice Print. Enter the code RENEGADE at checkout. Limited to one use per customer.
Check out the store here: http://goodfuckingdesignadvice.com/collections/all