I've always had side projects, perhaps even to a fault. I can't not be doing stuff. I suppose it's a symptom of really enjoying the kind of stuff I do.
Elliot Jay Stocks wrote and illustrated an “X-Men-esque” comic book that he photocopied and sold to kids at school when he was 14. Now, he is self-publishing magazines and building loyal fans within the design world. He calls himself a designer because it’s a nice umbrella term for everything that he does, which includes web design, print design, illustration, branding, and speaking. Our first introduction to Elliot came when we downloaded his Starkers WordPress theme for the first time a few years ago. (Our site was built on Starkers.) He’s worked with notable clients like the Virgin Group, MailChimp, and Brooklyn Beta but we reached out to him when we saw that he decided to give up client work in 2012. This year he is taking time to focus on personal projects as the co-founder of Viewport Industries with Keir Whitaker, and as the editor of 8 Faces magazine.
When we spoke with Elliot about the side projects that led to his year without clients, he said, “I’ve always had side projects, perhaps even to a fault. I can’t not be doing stuff. I suppose it’s a symptom of really enjoying the kind of stuff I do. But by far the biggest side project was 8 Faces and its success was definitely a catalyst. It showed me that you could do something you love and make some money from it.” 8 Faces is a limited-edition bookish magazine. Each issue asks eight designers the question: “If you could only use eight typefaces for the rest of your life, which would you choose?” Elliot told us, “8 Faces has probably been the biggest learning experience I’ve had in recent years.” He added,”From a wider view, it’s also got me thinking a lot more about the bigger picture of content creation, publishing, and the move from service-to-product. Essentially, 8 Faces was unlike anything I’d ever done before, and to be honest, I had no idea what I was doing when I started it. In fact, I still don’t! But there’s nothing wrong with making things up as you go along.”
For not knowing what he’s doing, 8 Faces is doing well. The fourth issue recently sold out it’s edition of 2000 copies. In addition to 8 Faces, Elliot and Keir Whitaker launched Viewport Industries—a partnership built on more than complimentary skill sets. Elliot said, “Our partnership is not merely us meeting in the middle in terms of making websites. The way we work together when we discuss business decisions, decide on a creative direction, or gather content—those are the scenarios that continually prove to us how well we work together. I think finding someone you gel with like that is a rare thing. It’s not just about skill sets—it’s got to be about the way your mind works. We approach things from different angles, yet end up at the same place.” Despite a genuine, shared love for client work, the two realized that they were much more motivated when they discussed ideas for personal projects.
Both Elliot and Keir have a lot of experience on the design conference circuit and observed that the conversations off stage were often more valuable than the ones happening on stage. So, they decided to create an informal tour called Insights: The Tour. The “four day, four city, causal conversations and Q&A sessions” tour uncovered stories of successes, failures, and revelations from those in the web and tech industries. This tour inspired Elliot capture the spirit of the event in a book. Insites: The Book will be published by Viewport in May. We asked Elliot why storytelling is important to the design industry. He said, “It doesn’t matter what you do or who you are; everyone wants to know how people get from A to B. 99% of the time, it’s the small steps—talking to the right person just by chance, putting out something that accidentally becomes successful—that lead to bigger things. That’s immensely comforting to read. Often people see these big names and assume that there’s some magical formula that’s got them to where they are today, and actually no, it’s just a series of small steps, just like everyone else. These heroes of the web are humans. That demystification always leads to a positive feeling for the reader.”
When we asked if Elliot considered himself an entrepreneur he said, “I do, and I don’t. I’m definitely an entrepreneur, and I’ve always felt like that—like from the days when I used to make and sell my own comics—but I almost feel like it’s a bit of a dirty word. When I think entrepreneurs, I think of people who don’t get involved in the nitty-gritty of making a product, who spend their days in Silicon Valley talking to VCs. That’s not me. It’s the ownership that’s important, not the business side of things.”
We hope that Kern and Burn serves the stories of design entrepreneurs who are shoulders deep in the nitty-gritty, and we are glad Elliot shared a little bit of his journey from A to B with us.