Ben Jenkins, founder of OneFastBuffalo, toured the East Coast hitting up six cities in six days to talk to six AIGA chapters about how he evolved his design business and his personal life into a more satisfying and fulfilling one. We laughed, we learned a lot about his concept of work-life balance, and we talked about how designers have a natural inclination to be designtrepreneurs.
“Twitchyness is contagious”
Ben Jenkins started his presentation with a disclaimer: “I can be a bit twitchy, and it can be contagious.” And as he continued through his talk, we watched him go into side tangents, witnessing just for ourselves how twitchy he was. We hung onto every word, anyway, as Ben told us a story about how he evolved his design business and his personal life into a more satisfying and fulfilling one.
Growing up in the suburbs of Dallas, Ben Jenkins loved two things: art and baseball. He admitted it’s an odd combination; there aren’t many sports fanatics that are also into art and design. Following his dreams, he got a scholarship to play baseball at Mississippi State University, where he studied graphic design and architecture. After graduation, Ben went on to play for the Phillies in the minor leagues, and out on the road he passed the time working on small design projects for whoever asked him. These projects put him on the path to freelancing after Ben realized that his career as a baseball player was not going to land him in the big leagues. He continued his education at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where he earned an MFA in Art & Technology.
Everything is Bigger in Texas (Including Partial Male Nudity)
In 1998, OneFastBuffalo (OFB) was born from the idea that conventional wisdom isn’t always useful. Using his competitive nature as a ball player, Ben grew OFB from a two-person operation to a boutique firm. OneFastBuffalo would move from one office space to another as they expanded, and each time Ben would strive to create the dream office that any agency and their employees would love to have, especially one that would impress clients.
Through the growth of OFB, Ben sought validation as a successful graphic designer. He felt strongly that in order to be considered a good designer, he needed a client list full of the big ones. He was collecting his own design trophies, so to speak. Over time, he would spend more energy managing than designing, more time at the office than at his home, and more time making calls for work. Those 10 years of trophy collecting took a toll on Ben. The man who had been good enough to play in the minor leagues had gained substantial weight and it showed (literally) in the photos his wife took of him just wearing gym shorts.
Slimming the Buffalo (and the Man)
In 2008, Ben realized that it was time for another renovation, and not just one of office space. He turned his work and personal life upside down after realizing that he could work better in a different way. In a period of purging, Ben reduced not only his weight and a large portion of needless possessions, but also the size of OFB as the economy took a downturn.
He even subleased his office space (with the furniture), enabling him to do more with less. Plus this allowed him to spend more time with his wife and three sons. Instead of just heading off to work in the morning and getting home late from the office, he wakes up and has coffee with his wife, takes his sons to school, works in his home office (or wherever he feels like working), and spends time with the boys after school, too.
As Ben simplified the external aspects of his business, his branding process changed, as well. Now, instead of giving clients multiple logo concepts, Ben focuses on just one concept until he gets it right. This allows for more concentration and energy to be put into that one idea, as opposed to spreading the creative energy and time across two or three ideas, he says. And, as an added benefit, the client never picks his least favorite concept. And this process works, too! Since Ben began presenting one concept to clients in 2008, he’s only had to go back to the drawing board a few times.
As his business evolved, Ben also stopped worrying about collecting trophies. He now focuses on creative work to help good people make famous brands, and he’s quickly learned that it’s more enjoyable and more fulfilling to work this way.
Where the Buffalo Roam (Have laptop, Will Travel)
While eating some authentic Mexican cuisine with his wife and kids, Ben came up with the idea of a Mobile Creative Lifestyle. Harking back to his days as a baseball player in the minor leagues and being out on the open road, Ben wanted to combine his passion for design and travel. Buying a 1958 Airstream trailer, Ben began to take his family out on “journeys” (not just vacations) and taught himself to “create big work in the smallest of ways,” by working within the confines of wherever he is at the time.
You can now find Ben working on a brand concept in the back of his truck on a lawn chair, parked by a lake, while his wife and three sons enjoy some fly fishing or playing in a nearby playground. This is how “Live Slow, Make Fast” became his new mantra. Ben says that living and doing beautiful things that you enjoy while resting and relaxing will re-energize your work. Working in this way allows him to stay more focused and fill the eight hours (and only eight hours) with a more productive workflow. He uses the 8-8-8 principle to demonstrate this: 8 hours of sleep, 8 hours of play, and 8 hours of work make for a much more healthier work-life balance. There’s time to make and time to live, all in one day.
Ben quickly noticed that this new found freedom of working anywhere at any time made his work better, too. The famous brands that Ben used to chase around now just come to him because they recognize the quality of work he produces and the energy and focus he puts into it.
With his new approach to working, Ben found he had the energy and focus to create brands for himself rather than for a client. He believes that designers are still artists at heart and that their ability to create and produce gives them a natural inclination to start their own personal brands. Armed with a passion for baseball, Ben started Warstic Bat Company, which produces handmade wood bats, baseball gear, and apparel. The company was recently featured in the pages of GQ and was even contacted by Coach to sell a limited run of men’s gear in their stores. Some other brands Ben has created are Treadsmith Board Co. (a snowboard producer), and INDIG (a strategic branding company for Native American owned companies).
The Journey Continues
The takeaway from Ben’s presentation is that a well-rounded work-life balance can be beneficial to re-energizing a creative professional’s focus and drive. He says you do not have to allow the pressure and distractions affect you as a whole. Spending time away from the computer and spending quality time doing things that make you happy will help you to be a better creative.
On June 1, 2015, Ben will shut OFB down for the summer and not reopen for business until September 1, 2015. He will travel around the country on a journey with his family, enjoying some quality time together while resting and relaxing. When September comes back around, with the energy he will have stored up, he most certainly will come out swinging his bat of creativity. And we can’t wait to see what he does next.
Chad Miller is a Senior Graphic Designer for MedStar Health who enjoys all things design and all things caffeinated.