The 40 Days of Dating project technically isn’t a design project, but the colorful, confessional blog-turned-book could only have come from designers. Specifically, from Timothy Goodman and Jessica Walsh, who put themselves under the microscope when they dated each other for 40 days by keeping diaries, and then publishing said diaries online, one day at a time. Now the original blog, along with heart-wrenching new journal entries from the months following, becomes the book, 40 Days of Dating: An Experiment (Abrams).
In case anyone’s forgotten: Back in 2013, Walsh, one half of design firm Sagmeister & Walsh, and Goodman, whose clients include Airbnb, the Ace Hotel, and The New York Times, decided to date each other. Friends first, they both thought 40 days of sincere dating might help them break some long-standing romantic habits. They agreed to a set of rules to keep the project intact, one of which was to keep daily journal entries. When they later decided to unspool the story online, they commissioned dozens of hand-lettered illustrations from friends to accompany the text. It was a new kind of storytelling, like a carefully considered web reality show. The project took the internet by storm, as they say, racking up some 15 million viewers and a deal with Warner Bros. Entertainment to turn it into a movie. With the book’s release this week, we caught up with Goodman and Walsh to talk about their creative partnership.
You already published the blog online and you have a movie deal in the works. Why’d you decide to turn 40 Days of Dating into a book, too?
Jessica: When we started we really had no idea how 40 Days would be taken. We thought people in the design industry might be interested, but we had no idea it was going to go viral and be read by 15 million people.
Timothy: One of the biggest questions was, “What happened after day 40?” But we didn’t have perspective yet. The book is its own little time capsule, and it was kind of therapeutic for us to do it. In a way, doing the book was more closure for us after all the kind of craziness that happened in our relationship over the last five or six years—as friends, dating, as creative partners. We’ve blurred all these weird lines. The book helps us reestablish our friendship and help us move on.
Did you consider 40 Days of Dating a design project?
Jessica: I consider it more of a social experiment that we used our tools, as designers, to elevate.
Timothy: I totally agree, I don’t really look at it as a design process. It’s what made it different and unique; we were able to bring something different to it than if we were philosophy students who made a Tumblr page. We thought about how an audience would experience the website, while going through it.
Jessica: A lot of feedback from Hollywood about why they were so interested in it, besides it being a good story, was that we created this new storytelling device by doing this weekly, like a TV show, but on the web and with a strong and specific graphic style.
The book is dense. It includes a reprint of the original blog, as well as childhood photos, interviews with your parents, an as-told-to from your therapist during the project, and pages and pages of additional diary entries from the months following the project. How’d you go about turning a website into a book?
Timothy: We wanted to continue to tell our story and wrap ourselves in today’s dating culture. It’s a traditional story in a way—about two people trying to find love—but we’re products of our generation, of the digital age, the too-much-information age. We wanted to put ourselves in a larger context, so we asked friends and people we know to write stories about love.
Jessica: We tweeted and got content from a lot of our fans about what they think love means. Also, when we first thought of doing a book, as designers we had our dream idea of what the book would be: a large format coffee table book with all these cool papers—
Timothy: —We were going to have perforated pages and dye-cut and all this shit—
Jessica: —and then we had to rein ourselves in, because this wasn’t a design book. This wasn’t a book about our work, and we wanted it to be intimate so it could be enjoyed on the train or in bed. And we wanted it to be low cost so people from all over could access it.
How has 40 Days affected your design careers going forward?
Jessica: This project made me realize that one of my biggest goals is to create work that connects with people on an emotional level. I’m already working on several more projects that are going in a direction of designing with the personal in mind.
Timothy: I fully agree. It’s given us tremendous confidence to just say, screw it. People have all kinds of thoughts about what design should be, what kind of work you should do, what box they should be in, and this has given me a tremendous amount of confidence to create the kind of work that’s both important to us and can resonate with people, and can start a dialogue.
What’s up next?
Jessica: Warner Brothers optioned the rights about a year and a half ago. They hired writers Lorene Scafaria and Michael Sucsy. They’re in the third round of writing the script, and we read the second draft of that. The next move would be casting.
We’re also in the middle of another project that’s going to be similar to 40 Days. It’ll be a social experiment looking at a lot of our habits and fears and our insecurities, and how we can change that and start a dialogue about these universal emotions and experiences we all go through. It’s similar in execution: a blog that mixes video and writing and artwork, but obviously the topic is very different from dating. But we’re not telling people what the topic is.
Timothy: We’re going to release it in segments, since that’s how we’re experiencing it as well. It’s a long robust project that is kind of challenging us in a lot of different ways. We hope to have it up this spring.