Written on Monday,
January 2nd, 2012
at 10:10PM

There comes a point as a business owner where the trade you learned (the talents you feel you have) slowly melt into the many other ingredients necessary to, well, feed your family. My full-headed vision of design stardom (of creating lasting, inspired works, and honestly and self-centeredly, gaining design fame — however shallow that is, but it’s the truth; a truth and desire which will ultimately lead to disingenuousness and a loss of the root purpose of design — which is that of the client and the audience in spite of ourselves; but I digress) got shuffled with the feet-thumping reality of running a real business. Somewhere along the line that myopic vision expanded.

This isn’t so much a lament as it is a confession. My desire for perfection, for (marginal) originality and creativity simply met an impasse with the many other things I was required to do, until I no longer knew how to do any of them with great skill. I’m almost 40 and I feel that I can do nothing great, perhaps a few things well, and many things awfully. I’m still not sure what I am.

But things are changing.

For several years I’ve realized I’m no longer just a graphic designer. Certainly not an artist. Certainly not a programmer — though I do it, I know my shortcomings and lack of training and skill — nor even a good businessman — I can barely manage my clients and schedule, let alone the invoices, writing proposals and generating new clients. Whenever I tell people that I’m a graphic designer, somewhere inside me I feel like a fraud. I feel as if I’m a marginal designer (obviously I have pretty negative view of myself. This isn’t any whiny poor me rant; just an honest assessment of how I see myself); just decent enough to impress the client, but hardly ever internally pleased with my own decisions. I compromise and hurry and rely on tricks and gimmicks and have lost sight of what I originally loved about the process — concept, execution, creative simplicity (unfortunately my measure of “good” is in comparison to the best designers in the country, I know it’s completely unrealistic and unfair, even unnecessary and unhealthy, but it’s what has been ingrained in me; to not only try my best, but to be the best). I am a thief to my own ideas. Pushed between timeliness and cash-flow, design has become merely a Bob Ross-esque slight of hand and techniques.

But things are changing.

I have a hard time trusting anyone. It’s a flaw. A defense. A learned pattern of guarding myself against pain that I mask as a cautious plan of growth. But a few years ago I brought on a partner; Chris Bergman (we meet, through where else, but the internet; not a dating site mind you — what dirty minds you all have). Having learned from past experience that a business full of people who do the same thing leads to; well, let’s just say “issues”. I knew I needed someone to compliment my weaknesses (of which there are many), and there was no one better equipped than Chris. The business grew. We gained clients. The projects got bigger. The budgets larger. The markets expanded. There were hard months but overall things improved greatly; moreso than either of us could have imagined. Than a chance came to us.

Chris approached me with an idea he had about kids and chores; using the monster drawings I’d been toying around with for over a year as a catalyst — using the idea to enter the chance to earn $20,000 from a Cincinnati based start-up accelerator. With little more than a logo and a concept, ChoreMonster™ won a place in The Brandery for a 3 month development time from August to October with eight seven other businesses. We worked on building the brand, developing a functional (but limited) product, honed the vision and mission of where and what we knew ChoreMonster™ could become.  On October 25th we presented our “Demo” to over 350 potential investors. At the time we felt there was little interest, and we were slightly disheartened; but hell, we took the chance.

Things have changed.

A few days ago we signed some papers which give us — ChoreMonster™ — the opportunity to explore further the concepts and ideas we developed over the last several months. In short, however inexplicably, Chris is now a CEO and I’ve become a CTO. With a steady paycheck. Benefits. A clear vision and the ability to focus my talents, my time, and my creativity on a unified direction for a product and service that I am passionate about. Whether I can rejuvenate my design passions, find a deep well of creativity and if nothing else, achieve the standards I set for myself while making our customers delighted; I can only hope. But I haven’t felt this ready for change in a long time.

I’m very proud of the work I’ve done with Wiseacre Digital (formerly Wiseacre Design, formerly JPaul Design formerly What-the-hell-am-I-getting-into) these past 10 years. While I’ve not achieved my (shallow) goals of design super-fandom and riches, I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to learn, become more well-rounded, meet amazing people, work on interesting projects, be inspired and hopefully maybe even inspire a few people here and there (which most likely never happened with my design, and I’m trying to be ok with that). While we’re not actively taking on new clients or projects, this site will remain (and maybe eventually actually have work to show) as a testament, a reminder, to me at the very least, of what has been accomplished.

This is not an end, just a new beginning.

Paul Armstrong, January 2nd, 2012



4 Responses to A moment of honesty and how things are changing

  1. Congrats, Paul and best of luck.

  2. Paul, this is a huge deal. I love how honest this post is, and I’m looking forward to seeing what you’ll be doing soon. Will be praying for continued blessings for you, brother.

  3. Paul-This sounds awesome, congrats…are you guys funded now?

  4. @Lee — Thank you so much.
    @Dan — that means the world to me (as I so greatly respect you and your work)
    @Jim — We are funded, yes. It’s exciting and intimidating.

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