Since graduating from design school eight years ago, Adam J. Kurtz has worked various full-time jobs in creative fields, from film production to advertising to designing gifs for BuzzFeed. But all the while, he was pursuing the work he loved on the side, through self-publishing zines and producing witty novelty wares like pins and stationery. That side hustle led the young designer and artist to develop his own business and become a published author. And in his latest book, he’s sharing advice for his peers.
Titled Things Are What You Make of Them: Life Advice for Creatives, the book is available this month through Penguin’s TarcherPerigee imprint. (Penguin is giving $1 per book sold before October 8th to the Tegan and Sara Foundation, and Kurtz is personally matching that total donation for up to $10,000.) It’s made up of essays from the advice column that Kurtz originally wrote for Design*Sponge, beginning in 2014. “The book is about my ongoing journey,” he explains. “It’s not like I’m an expert telling you all the stuff I learned; it’s more like I’m figuring this out as I go.”
Each color-coded chapter is made up of a series of handwritten notes, on ripped out sheets of notepaper, in Kurtz’s playful, all-caps scrawl. “The handwriting is my way of getting my own voice through, and it lets me say things in a really blunt way,” he says. “It’s like I just took a course one semester ahead of you and I’m saying ‘here are my notes, good luck.’”
His advice ranges from “How to Be Happier” to “Working with Friends & Family,” and truth be told, can be beneficial to people of all professions, right brain-leaning or not. We caught up with the author to discuss one of the foundational chapters, “8 Things Every Creative Should Know,” which he wrote in 2016. He shared the motivations and experiences that led him to develop these candid, edifying tips. Below, we share excerpts from that conversation, which have been lightly edited for clarity.