All Work and No Play…

March 6th, 2013 by Mat Dolphin

At Mat Dolphin, we mess about. We work hard on client work, day-to-day admin, finances, quoting, invoicing and endlessly hunting for new business, but an important part of the way we work involves playing, experimenting and trying out things we find interesting for the sake of trying them. The process is often as important as the final result and the fact that these experiments have no real ‘point’ (in terms of financial gain), is the thing that makes them worth doing.

Sometimes, the result of what we do is a fully formed ‘self initiated project’, other times, it’s a simple sketch or draft of an idea that may or may not become something one day. The thread that binds these things together is the fact that we haven’t been commissioned by an external client, we simply felt that the ‘thing’ was interesting, enjoyable and worth doing. We’re by no means alone, plenty of designers (and other creatives) put great importance on this kind of experimentation as a way to test drive ideas that haven’t yet got a reason to be put into practice on a ‘real’ project.

The benefits of this kind of playing are relatively obvious; being creative without any kind of commercial restrictions or limitations is a good way to discover techniques, practices and approaches that might not be applicable or appropriate for a live job. Another potential advantage of this type of work is that in some instances, it can conversely lead on to unexpected client work. Getting a commission as a result of what could be considered merely pissing about is never the intention, but it’s very nice when it happens.

For some time, we’ve doodled on bananas. Usually some form of illustrative lettering; usually executed in a 10 minute break from ‘proper’ work; usually something a bit irreverent and always completely pointless. Think of something random, do a quick doodle, take a quick picture and stick it on (we purchased the URL when our collection of banana pictures grew big enough that it needed a dedicated home). We never considered the project as ‘work’ or an obligation (or even a ‘project’ for that matter) — it was simply something we enjoyed doing. After a while, however, a few people started to notice what we were doing. A quick feature by Mark A. Milic on Typetoken, then Quipsologies and Notcot and we were under way. Vanessa Raphaely also wrote a very complimentary post on her blog, about our bananas. We thought the most appropriate way to say thank you would be to draw on a banana for our new number one fan. So we did.

Fast forward a couple of weeks and we find ourselves in our nearest Tesco’s, searching for the perfect banana for our first commission! We had no idea at the time but it turns out Vanessa is Editorial Director at Cosmopolitan Magazine in South Africa and wanted to feature our work as part of an upcoming issue.

A bit of creative messing about in our spare time turned into a mini project which got noticed. This in turn got written about in a blog which, when brought to our attention, caused us to say thank you. This created a conversation that turned into real, paid, client work. Something we did for no reason other than fun, turned into something that goes towards paying the bills.

The story above is a nice, light hearted example of how a a bit of fun can turn into something (slightly) more serious, but it does make an interesting point: If you know what kind of work you want to do, the best way is to simply start doing it. Whether you’ve been asked to or not.

Thanks for reading,

Tom and Phil

p.s. Before it gets pointed out to us, we know we’re not the first people in the world to doodle on bananas…

p.p.s. Big up love and tickles to Bernadette Jiwa for encouraging us to do more with our banana doodles…

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