There’s no shortage of designers taking on the personal challenge of designing a poster a day. We recently covered the work of Travis Kane, who lasted an impressive 260 days or so, and prompted Allan Yu—or more precisely, his alias Mars Maiers—to get in touch and let us know he’s well over the 1,115 mark. Clearly, that’s a hell of a lot of days. Even more impressive? It’s nice work.
We’ve heard many people in the design community grumble about such projects. Their arguments often center around how popular the concept is, and touch on the idea that creating something in such a short time period could somehow dilute the craft of graphic design. Others suggest that when designers see personal projects as their “creative time,” their day-job design might suffer.
For many, though, the self-discipline demanded by such an endeavor is not just a fun distraction from client work, but a vital tool in gaining new skills (and, let’s be real, new Insta followers.) For Yu, the enforced practice that comes with creating a poster a day has helped him become a better designer. Here, he explains how and why he does it, and why the haters should just leave off.
“I work with a lot of tech stuff in my day job, so I never get a chance to do graphic stuff. That’s why I started the Mars Maiers thing. I used that name because I didn’t want to write ‘Allan Yu’ everywhere–that felt boring and self-serving. I liked the sound of Mars Maiers, and the way it looks, letter-wise. I also liked the idea of not conflating my product design, web design, and apps work with the graphics side. It was easier to spread it across two ‘people.’
“I was also scared that I’d make mistakes, and worried about what people would think. Like an actor or a musician, my pseudonym allowed me to become a character. It helped to separate my work from my own sensitivities—there’s no judgment in the process, and that becomes the purest sense of creating and learning, in a way.
“I started the project after I applied for the Yale MFA program. In New York, there’s a certain design circle that includes a lot of people who have gone to Yale, and they’re some of my favorite designers. When I applied to the program four years ago, my resume was good, I was working at Google, I felt like everything was set up perfectly [for me to get in]. I didn’t get it, and it really broke me—it destroyed an idea I had of myself as a designer and a person. In retrospect, I realize that I didn’t have a voice at the time, and I didn’t fully know how to create compositions aesthetically, or the craft that goes into that.
“That experience forced me into a position where I thought, ‘Do I want to grow as a designer or not?’ I decided to create a poster, every day, until I became better. I hit the 1,000 day mark 100 days ago, and that’s taken about three years. I don’t know when I’ll stop.
“I do most of them at night, when it’s quiet. It’s become such a ritual for me now. It’s like getting dressed and brushing my teeth—before bed I’ll do a Mars Maiers and fall asleep. I just make fun stuff; I have no agenda. There are a lot of happy accidents where the process of making it becomes spiritual, or it feels like improv. I spend about half an hour on each one. One of the benefits is that I’m not scared of just starting something; I just let my head take me to where I want to go. This project is the only time I feel like an “artist,” and not a designer.
“When I see people complaining about projects like this, I just think it’s stupid. When I put effort into making myself a better designer, why would that put down [other graphic design] work? I’m just making a rolodex of work I can reference for myself.
“When Little Wayne puts out so many songs, or when Future puts out five mixtapes a year—did that lower the bar for the industry, or elevate it? I really don’t get the other side of the argument. It shouldn’t matter how long it takes for a work to be made.
“If it doesn’t work, it just dissipates into noise and it doesn’t matter. If it’s good, it rises above it and it’s fine. If you can give me a better way to learn on my own I’ll take that path. Until then, I’ll stick to what I know.”