As we began the second year of Counter, we decided it was about time to establish a company uniform. This is typically a straightforward process. Create a design, and send it off to a custom t-shirt company for manufacturing. At Counter, we like making our lives difficult. So instead of following the convenient, well-established approach, we decided to attempt in-house screen printing.
For those unfamiliar, screen printing t-shirts is relatively straightforward. The screen itself is essentially a mask that evenly distributes the ink where you want it. You align it on top of what you plan to print on and scrape the ink across it using a squeegee. After a few passes, you remove the screen and dry the ink using a heat gun or iron.
While this seems ridiculous at first, there were a few good reasons we decided to go with this method. Typically when ordering from a custom print company, pricing scales based on order size. Since we only needed two tees each we wouldn't be able to utilize bulk ordering discounts. Ordering a screen allows us to pay an upfront cost and then purchase the blank t-shirts on our own time. Additionally, once we had the screen manufactured, we could theoretically print on any article of clothing we liked–allowing for flexibility down the line. Henry, our photographer and graphic designer, also used to work at a local screen printing store, so we weren't going into this experience completely blind.
We set up shop around 7 pm in William’s backyard using a folding table. At first, we struggled with consistency, but after some trial and error (and for Henry to get his "touch" back) we were able to start seeing good results. Once we’d completed the first round of printing we realized we would be in for a long night. We were only a third done with the prints, but it was already midnight. After canceling our obligations the next morning, we decided to push through and wrapped up at around 5 am.
Some lessons learned:
Make sure you have sufficient time, our setup and practice took almost three hours.
The less design complexity, the better. Our print required three separate passes with the screen. For six shirts, that ends up being eighteen passes.
Have a flat surface to press against. Putting a cardboard plate inside the shirt was our key to consistency.
Don't melt your table with the iron!
At the end of the day, we’re happy with the results and are excited to wear our new shirts out on jobs. You can check out a short video of the process here.
When pursuing a career in doing what you love, there are times when you need to confirm that you love what you are doing. This is not a measure affected by one’s actual passion for a craft. Instead, it is more so a feeling which can be warped by stress or mindset. Seeking success in a creative industry is often far from secure, and the fear that brings can tamper with the joy of doing what you want to do. This fear does not pair well with the stress of maintaining many projects, collaborations, and seeking growth with new ideas.
There is nothing wrong with feeling this way, but it's important to navigate these reactions to ensure that your hard work is lined with enjoyment and passion instead of displeasure. The biggest component in this issue is the balance between current plans and the bigger picture. From personal experience, I can say that the disparity between the grand ideas that I am trying to pursue and the steps I need to take is difficult to accept. This is a struggle that can only be helped with patience and a re-framing of mindset. I have found a good amount of concepts for easing these worries along the way, including:
This sounds unimaginable initially, but even the hardest parts of a creative endeavor can be enjoyable. Even though the idealized parts of a creating oriented career choice are often seen as the rare moments of joy and success, there is much more to be had out of the experience. For example you can find stress in navigating a vacation, and find peace in taking a moment to wash the dishes. There are plenty of opportunities to step back and realize the challenging thing you “have” to do to get your project done is another good moment in your life.
It seems that the modern ideas around hustle culture and entrepreneurship are reliant on intertwining stress and achievement. That is fine if you are simply trying to get as much done as humanly possible. But, if you want to avoid hating both yourself and the line of work you are pursuing, it is crucial to consider the settings and mindsets you are putting yourself into to get things done. For example, if you have two days left to complete a project, you may find yourself wanting to work until sunrise trying to get it completed early. This is a high stress choice, and it is no better in the long run than spreading the workload in an even and healthy manner. Between working at exhausting times and working on a balanced schedule, there are the same amount of hours in the day. Sometimes there is a flame lit from within, and you want to do nothing but accomplish the goal in front of you, but it is important to consider the most healthy way to approach it.
I have experienced many encounters in different workplaces where two employees refused to get along. They disagreed about how to go about something, or didn’t like how one another operates with everyday activities. This usually leads to both parties writing the other off as simply being stubborn or annoying. Nobody wants to work with people they dislike, and such situations are bound to make the workplace more stressful and unsupportive. Taking a shot at breaking down these barriers and extending an opportunity for friendly collaboration is crucial. Interpersonal relationships at work are difficult, and it is easy to be bound up by assumptions of another’s intentions or character. Even if it requires “being the bigger person,” reach out to communicate your issues or extend an apology. Taking the time to ensure everyone understands the situation will ensure that you are not blindly disagreeing due to grudges. Enjoying the time you spend working with those around you will make all the difference.
You have goals for your life in mind, and you know that those goals will require hard work. No matter how you approach those goals, they will always take time. How you feel during that time spent is up to you. Enjoy the process, and seek out a good experience!
At Counter, we often find that there is a language barrier between the technologically savvy development team and the creatively driven design team when working together on a project. Designers will scribble out intricate designs in their notebooks and expect developers to be able to derive font, font size, margins, scaling, and mobile views. Conversely, developers will break design systems down into strict hierarchies of classes and components–often losing the nuance of the designer's vision in the process. This leads to a lack of cohesion which is especially detrimental to a project such as a website.
The designer/developer relationship is fundamentally about compromise. Designers want one thing, but developers can only implement another. The solution lies in the middle. Practical design is all about having the entire team subscribe to the desired outcome and work through the trade-offs together.
One way in which we smoothed out this relationship was to invest some time in learning the basic methodology and workflow of the “opposing” team. William, our web developer, has been slowly immersing himself in Adobe Suite, taking on basic photo and video editing tasks rather than relying on a colleague. Luke, our creative director, has begun taking introductory web design and programming courses and aims to build a personal website from scratch. Learning a little about each other's roles has smoothed out discussions and eliminated misunderstandings that would otherwise cause delays and confusion.
Keep in mind: we’re not saying that designers and artists need to drop everything and sign up for a million coding boot camps, or that developers should give up on coding and become the next digital Picasso. The helpful understanding can be achieved through a day of reading, or perhaps a few YouTube videos. Spending just a little time can be worth a lot.
William learned that just because a text element is aligned on the DOM, that doesn’t mean it’s aligned visually. “It’s aligned!” he would persist, pointing to the perfectly matched boxes in his developer tools. “The top of the text doesn’t match the top of the image!” Luke would retort. Of course, both are correct–albeit for different reasons. We learned to understand that just because two elements are mathematically aligned it doesn’t mean that it will always be reflected visually, and that “aligned” to a developer is not the same as “aligned” to a designer.
For Luke, he began to understand that “just changing this small thing” can sometimes be far more difficult than might be expected by someone unfamiliar with the development process. Browser limitations, mobile-friendliness, and load times are all things that need to be considered when designing a website. A mockup might have videos and images scattered all over in a beautiful visual masterpiece. But if the website takes thirty seconds to load, then nobody is ever going to see it.
We have to overcome the frustration of being told no. Instead of being defensive and closed, “no” should be answered with, “Why not?” “How could we make this work?” or “Could we do this instead?” Understanding the abilities and limitations of those we work with allows us to compromise effectively, and create the perfect website where design and development meet in the middle.