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The Things You Can Control


If being a sole trader is a bit like climbing a cliff without a belaying rope, always hoping there are footholds above that you just can’t see yet, the pandemic was, in business terms, a bit like climbing a cliff and hearing the rumble of an approaching avalanche.
So far Signal isn’t quite at the foot of the mountain, but it’s lost a bit of altitude. I spent a few hours over the last two weeks reaching out to clients, some of whom had gone ominously quiet. I found that ten or fifteen grand in work had been carried away by the rockfall, but I also learned that about an equal amount had survived the cost cutting and could proceed. (I don’t know where the rest of the year’s business will come from, but that’s okay. I never do.) And it was good to keep lines of communication clear and open. You don’t want your clients to be afraid to talk to you, and now that all the bad news has been delivered (for the time being), they’re not. Or not any more than usual.
Signal is both a design office and a retail type foundry. Most of the time, that’s a challenge: I have to take time away from client work, which buys groceries in the here and now, in order to build the retail library, which will hopefully buy groceries down the line. But since the client work has slowed a bit, I can get properly stuck into building new inventory for whenever the lights come back on. Right now I’ve got more new type families nearing publication than I’ve ever had, and I’m expanding existing faces to include Cyrillic and Vietnamese. It’s a nice feeling to make progress on something nobody else can cancel.
In general, I’m trying to identify things I’ve been meaning to get around to, and get around to them. Will anyone pay me to reorganise my files? Nope. But work’s less stressful when your studio’s in order. Do I have money for a printed catalog? Not hardly. But I do have time to write and design it, and it’ll be ready to go when the cash starts flowing again.
There’s stuff you can control, and stuff you can’t. The stuff you can control can keep you pretty busy, and busy is a good feeling right now. As for the stuff you can’t control, all I can do is try to focus on what matters. My family. My colleagues. My friends.
And bourbon.
Insights by Max Phillips
New York-born Max Phillips is the proprietor of the Dublin-based Signal Type Foundry, and a member of ICAD’s management board.