What's All This Then?
What's All This Then?
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Two designers, 15 minutes per volley, the whole world watching.Revisit four great seasons of Layer Tennis.
I'm not exactly sure what has provoked this but here goes.
It's six-twenty two in the morning on a dark, still, warm October Friday in Chicago. Commuter trains are starting to rumble past the studio at 400 North May and outside my open window, the parking lot where loud and profane drivers drop off and pick up empty dumpsters is full of activity. A laughing "Ah, fuck you Joey, you never did that once" rises out of the bangs and clangs. A sweet, purple light is just coming up, over the lake, behind the building my five-year-old boy calls "the Serious Tower." I can see it if I lean to the right a bit. Beautiful.
I often get here very early. Somehow I have developed the sleep habits of a farmer. The time before nine o'clock is when I mostly work on our site, scavenging for Fresh Signals, creating art for the cover image, returning emails, writing this. The phone isn't ringing, or rather, I'm not answering it when it does. It's funny but I never see this part of the job as an obligation or even as a task, it's such a natural part of this design-studio/retail/publishing collective thing we do that I almost don't know how to do anything else really.
And here's the point. The reason that we can have all this fun, that we can follow our whims to their natural conclusions and take on things that let us learn but frequently don't pay is that you're paying attention. Nobody is getting rich at CP but we're paying down mortgages and paying off property taxes and school tuitions and somehow, over the past years we've all turned into grown-ups without being all grown-up about it. And we laugh a lot. And we have met and communicated with tons of people from everywhere. I have a little application that runs on my second monitor that displays the last six people who have purchased something from one of our brands in real time and right this minute, from top to bottom, the list looks like this:
Henryk of Lodz Poland
Keith of St Louis Missouri
Phil of Merseyside UK
Bjorn of Stockholm Sweden
Mike of Granndville Michigan
Liz of Toronto Canada
The names and places roll right along and the incoming emails too. Every day people write "I saw this thing and thought you guys would like to see it too." And they're almost always exactly the kinds of things we would like to see. And while traffic-stats show people are reading every day they don't make that sort of direct connection. Somebody said once in a theater review (I think) that "people who like this sort of thing will find this exactly the sort of thing they like." It's that shared perpective that when it comes across is really amazing.
For the first time ever, last quarter we generated more revenue from our businesses and sites than from client work. We sat in the conference room about 18 months ago, after a pretty bad period and made that a goal. I don't think anyone really thought we'd get there, I know I was acting a lot more confident about it than I really was. The one part of this that we never expected was that the work we continue to do for our clients is much better now than when client work was all we ever did. I guess the skills and crafts we developed working for people have allowed us to work for ourselves better and what we have learned doing that has made us actually see things from our clients' perspective. The relationships we have are stronger and we can be more selective about the kinds of things we take on. That's all good.
So, I guess all I'm saying is thanks for riding along with us, we'll try to arrange it so that the ride stays interesting. And thanks to our clients and mostly to the smart, generous people who work here.
It's all kind of a washed-out sunny now at 7:36. Perhaps this is the start of the rare and never-appreciated-until-it's-over-and-all-cold-and-rainy Chicago Indian Summer. Seriously, if you're planning a trip to the city, drop us a note and stop in. We know all the shortcuts and the good taverns too.
This essay originally appeared in one of our Infrequent Mailings, sent on October 14, 2005. To subscribe to those, which almost always contain a contest or giveaway, just add your email address below. We won't ever abuse the privilege.
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