Timothy Goodman has a lot of feelings. Maybe you’ve seen them plastered across the wall of a building in downtown New York City. Or perhaps you’ve worn them on a T-shirt you bought from Uniqlo last year. There’s a pretty good chance you’ve liked them, if you’re one of his 143,000 followers on Instagram, where he regularly posts videos, photos, and design work.
Goodman is probably best known for his Sharpie-style scrawlings of earnest catchphrases like, “Even my feelings have feelings,” and “Don’t look for love, look for pizza.” But he’s equally committed to his “social experiments” that turn pop-psychology emotional probings into slick, colorful websites.
The social experiments started in 2013 with 40 Days of Dating, a project in which he and fellow designer Jessica Walsh explored the perplexing realities of modern dating. Then there was 12 Kinds of Kindness, a self-fashioned 12-step program that he and Walsh developed to become kinder, more empathetic people.
Most recently, Goodman released Friends With Secrets, a new project with comedian Akilah Hughes and designer Robyn Kanner that broadcasts their experiences with text therapy. Sound intense? It kind of is.
Goodman is part of a growing set of designers whose personality (and personal life) are often indistinguishable from their design work. You might call it a personal brand, but Goodman’s dedication to the form goes beyond mere hashtag to the point where it actually feels personal. We sat down with Goodman to talk about his recent project and how it feels to share so many feelings.
I think the best place to kick this off with a really general question. You’re not a designer that fits into the box of “graphic designer.” How do you describe what you do?
In the trajectory of my career, I’ve worn a lot of hats. In the beginning I was a traditional graphic designer. I worked as a book jacket designer, then I worked in branding for Brian Collins, then I was an art director at Apple. After a while, I found myself doing work on the side because I didn’t want to do the things that I was doing as my full time job—things like murals and brand collaborations. Now I just tell people that my grandma calls me an artist.
How does it feel for your personal musings to become so public?
I don’t know if I’ve struggled that much it; I just want to create art that people can connect to. I think so much of the time we make art for ourselves or for other people in our communities to see. With so many of the stories I’m trying to tell, I’m trying to make things for actual people. I think sharing your personal stories is sort of activism; when you connect to other lonely people in the world, I think there’s a service involved that is really powerful. I want to continue to use my work as a vehicle for that.
Do you journal?
I used to keep a real journal for years and years, like an actual notebook, but I don’t do that anymore. It’s just my Notes app. I basically write down anything that comes to mind, whether I’m just writing a poem about someone or something in my life, or I’m writing ideas for projects. My Notes app is really insane.
What does it look like?
It’s like walking into a teenager’s bedroom where everything is thrown around and there are empty pizza boxes, posters hanging off the walls, and unwashed clothes everywhere. That’s my Notes app, but I love it.
“My Notes app is really insane.”
You’ve said before that the key to good design is emotion. I feel like some designers would disagree with that idea. Why do you think emotion is necessary when designing?
If I can’t connect to someone seeing my work on an emotional level, then I don’t know why I’m doing it. How do you interact with a great film or a great book or a great album? You’re connecting with it emotionally. So why wouldn’t I make my work in the face of that? I don’t know why we define graphic designers in such a small box. I just don’t know what the point of that is. There are so many ways for people to interact with one’s work.
We have this phrase in journalism that’s called stunt journalism, where a writer inserts herself into a situation in order to tell a story better. Do you feel like you’re practicing stunt design?
With the social experiments it really raises the question of whether it is considered design. Designers are creating it, and yes, I use my tools as a designer to create something because we’re building a website, we’re thinking about user experience, and we’re branding it. But at the end of the day it’s about the content and the way an audience takes it in. And that to me is not graphic design necessarily.
Why do you think you’re drawn to social experiments?
It’s just really a unique desire to want to express myself as a person in this world, you know? It came from me and Jessica Walsh doing 40 Days of Dating first, and there was no strategy behind that. There was no big talk about what this meant for us, for our lives, or our careers. It was just this on-a-whim thing. We didn’t know what would happen with it, but through that process we realized how enjoyable it was and how meaningful it felt to us because so many people connected to it and were saying, “Wow, I see myself in you.” Having those meaningful conversations with people pushed me to want to keep creating work like that.
You’re also getting a lot of positive feedback and reinforcement from putting yourself out there.
Yeah, certainly. I mean, 40 Days of Dating was very mainstream viral. All kinds of non-designers connecting to something that we created is very powerful. It wasn’t like: Oh I work at Apple and people interacted with the packaging I was part of. It was so personal. To hear so people sharing their personal lives is powerful, but obviously it’s not for everyone because there can be a lot of pressure and weight with that. There were times early on that we were like: Wow, this is a lot. Even with Friends With Secrets, hundreds of people were writing us or DM-ing us or commenting on our posts saying, “I’ve felt like this.” All that kind of stuff is incredibly rewarding, but also difficult to navigate at the same time.
Does that kind of engagement shape what kinds of projects you decide to pursue?
I don’t know if it’s any different than anyone else who’s on the internet. Every time you Instagram or tweet, no matter who you are or how many followers you have, we’re all out there trying to have our voice heard in some capacity, right?
Yeah, but you’re sharing a lot of very intimate feelings.
With 40 Days of Dating, because it was a “success,” and it was the first social experiment I did, it suddenly broke down a wall down that I was no longer interested in having—a wall between personal and professional. It allowed me to see what was possible going forward, and what I was interested in. That was incredibly liberating for me because I realized that there’s no rules anymore. You’re constantly being taught through school or mentors or people you look up to in the industry that you have to follow a certain path.
I think seeing what happened with 40 Days and all that allowed me to go forward freely in a way where I didn’t care about what people might think or what would happen. And I’m so thankful for that. It really humbled me a lot—and Jessica. It taught me how big this world is. The design community is so insular that we don’t think about the bigger picture enough and people who are on the other other side of this—folks from other industries and walks of life.
I feel like as an artist it’s almost our job to shine the truth back on people.
This is more curiosity than critique, but do you ever feel like you’re oversharing?
Sure. I also don’t know if that is… does that mean it’s bad? I don’t know.
No, it’s not a bad thing. I just wonder how it makes you feel.
If I feel like I’m oversharing that then that puts some sort of restriction on what I’m supposed to do or what I’m not supposed to. In the last four months I’ve talked a lot about the depression I went through earlier this year, which lasted quite a long time. Feeling at times like I could kill myself and going through that and going through therapy and healing and all of these things.
In the last couple months, even before Friends With Secrets, I made some videos of me talking about this and what therapy means for me. I shared them on Instagram, and it’s just amazing how many other people say, “I’m going through this,” or “I’ve gone through this,” or “Thank you for talking about this.”
So I do feel that it’s incredibly important and meaningful to have these discussions around topics that millions of people go through, whether it’s mental health or failed relationships or things that are going on politically. I feel like as an artist it’s almost our job to shine the truth back on people and to talk about these things.
That’s what you mean when you say sharing your personal stories is a form of activism?
Yeah, exactly. It’s the same as a standup comedian. They’re kind of living outside of the rules of society, and that’s why they’re able to talk about really important things in a different way. People connect to them. And I think as an artist, it’s our job to do that too. Maybe not our job—I take that back. I think that it can be a responsibility, if you want it. And I think it’s important, and it’s very meaningful for me to be able to do so.
Let’s talk about Friends With Secrets. Did you have any trepidation before you hit publish?
We were all scared, of course. I mean, it’s so personal to release text therapy transcripts. We felt a little more comfortable because we are all going through it together. Text therapy is so in the zeitgeist right now, but there’s so many questions about it—whether or not it’s impactful or useful or even whether it’s ethical.
So many people told us, “I’ve been thinking about doing text therapy because I know it’s cheaper, and being able to see this has really allowed to take the first step.” Seeing the reactions from people and seeing how people were relating to our individual stories, you can’t buy that. That’s what brings me the most joy as a creative person. So that’s why I’m in it; to be able to have those conversations with humans as a human.
I can imagine that for anyone who is revealing a lot of themselves to the general public it can get a little exhausting.
I don’t feel exhausted by talking about my life. Because you only know what you see. Even though you’re like, “Wow, I know everything about this person,” they don’t know what it’s like to be in my day-to-day life; they don’t know my friends or my family, really. You know what I mean? I think it’s also important to have perspective. I’m not Kim Kardashian. Like, I’ve still been working nonstop at my computer for the last week on a project for a client. I don’t feel exhausted by my personal life being out there. I don’t struggle with it in that sense.
I think it’s also important to have perspective. I’m not Kim Kardashian.
Whatever personal information you’’re putting out there still has a sheen of… what’s the word I want to use here. It’s still a brand, right? Not to diminish what you do because it’s honest and helpful to so many people.
I think that’s how you do it, because it is so helpful to people. Friends With Secrets only lost us money, you know what I mean? I’m not really selling anything here, but I know what you mean. Everyone has a brand on social media in some form or capacity these days, and so as long as you’re being authentic about what you’re interested in and who you are then I think it’s okay. I think it’s totally great. I’ve also been choosing to get more messy on Instagram lately.
What does that mean?
I’ve been like making videos that have been fun for me to share. I’m trying different things and not being so precious. I think that sometimes you see people who get any sort of a following on Instagram or wherever, and I feel like they become risk averse and only create work they know people like. I was doing that for a while, and when I look back I wasn’t enjoying myself. I wanted to be more natural and fun and just express who I am—all the shades of that.
And it feels good?
Yeah, it feels great.