In House Industries‘ excellent retrospective from last year, one of the main themes is “take your hobbies to work.” That idea encapsulates the major reason I started my company, and why my goal for the past ten years has been, and remains, to run a small studio with a very small handful of creative people working on projects we’re very selective about. I want to work on our own hobbies and interests, and apply those skills to the work we bring to the table for clients.

The flip side to that coin is time management. We can’t always work on our personal projects, but we try. Time management hasn’t always been my greatest skill (since I was a kid, I have a knack for biting off a bit more than I can comfortably chew). But working in a small business staffed with driven professionals (which I consider Ben and I) affords us the opportunity to now and again set work aside during business hours and focus on our hobbies and personal projects. This is a busy time of year for us, but I’ve managed to knock off a day a week over the past month to work on a kitchen renovation. My girlfriend, Liz, has excellently outlined our plans on the site she recently launched to show off her interior design work and thoughts, Mix + Maximal.

Here’s why I think it’s important: independence is a key to successful creative work and freedom. In the future, I’ll focus a post on it. Our client work is always done with our clients’ needs and goals in mind, but in the end, we take on jobs because we think they’ll be fun or interesting or challenging, and ideally all three.  I don’t think good work comes out of anything that doesn’t have at least two of the three.

It’s why we did the pennant project this winter.

It’s why we drew up logos for a few dozen of the buildings in the neighborhood.

It’s why we make shirt designs for Omaha Screen Co.

It’s why we design logos that won’t be used anywhere but seem cool to us.

And it’s why we always hand-print all of our cards.

If we don’t love it, then we don’t want to do it. And if we don’t want to do it, we don’t. That’s the importance of independence.

Doing good work is a lot more than a smart workflow, but being organized never hurts. A little over a year ago, as I started planning to expand in earnest, I built a simple but effective job-tracking system. I was at a point where I was letting too many tasks slip through the cracks, so I wanted to design a workflow that allowed teammates and me to see an overview of where all our jobs were.

There is a boatload of commercial products that purportedly do the same thing. Over the years, I’ve had experience with Trello, Basecamp and Asana (along with a handful proprietary systems) and have found all of them to be largely useless. Rather than make things easier, they create a bucket of busywork; boxes to check off, (clunky) messages in need of reply and general tedium. The endless tiny tasks they create give me a pathologic sense of dread that I call trellophobia. I’m lobbying for it to appear in the next edition of the DSM. I wanted to work smarter, not more. I figured there wasn’t much that creative use of Dropbox and macOS couldn’t accomplish.

My primary goals were to be able to find jobs, files and assets a little more quickly, and to be able to quickly see where in the process my projects were. And my primary goal in writing about it isn’t to show off how smart I am (okay, I lied and I’m definitely writing for that reason) or to evangelize this exact way of setting up a file structure, but rather to show that critically thinking about how to work and using a little creativity can lay the groundwork for a custom system.

In 2017, we worked on more than 200 jobs, so I needed a quick system that’s easy to navigate. The first step for me was developing a naming convention. Having worked in newspapers – who manage huge volumes of photos, copy and graphics – through my 20s, I had a lot of experience with the subject. I borrowed from them (particularly including a dating mechanism) liberally and came up with this:

It breaks down this way:

  • Client code: HPS (a two- or three-letter abbreviation for the client)
  • Month: February in this case
  • Year: 2018
  • Job number: what number job of the month it is for that particular client; fifth in the example above
  • Description: a couple-word description of the job


The next step was to come up with the slots a job could fit into, the steps from start to finish. We’ve got six of them, though it’s the first four we use most regularly. Each has a custom tag in Finder:

  • Open: Actively working on the project
  • Billable: The project is wrapped up and ready to bill, which we try to consolidate and do on the first of the month
  • Billed: An invoice for the job is in the client’s hands
  • Closed: The invoice has been paid
  • Pending: While we’re not working on the project, it’s on our calendar for later
  • Scrapped: The project was cancelled

That’s the groundwork. From there, it’s a matter of using Finder’s saved searches to make navigating the system easy. A search I use constantly is for all my currently open jobs from the year, for example. All I have to do is tell Finder to search for files with “.18.” (for 2018) in the name, a kind of “file” (to filter random JPGs from the job folders I’m looking for) and a tag of “open.” Hit the “save” button in the upper right corner and Finder will plop a shortcut in the sidebar. I repeated those steps for the handful of the most common searches, and I’ve got a system that’s baked into the operating system and syncs across Dropbox. It beats Trello and Basecamp any day.


Increasingly, my work philosophy could be summed up as “Build a strong system, then design within that system (while knowing when to carefully break out of it).” A year ago, when I first started seriously thinking of expanding, I realized I’d need to take the approach toward my creative work and apply it to my business work. My studio had grown to the point that my previously ad hoc way of managing projects and tracking workflow was breaking down. I was forgetting whom to bill and when. I was letting long-term projects slip off my radar. I needed to build a better system to work within.

In the next post, I’ll share the nuts and bolts of that system; how a small creative shop can use tools built into macOS and Dropbox to manage workflow and keep everyone on the same page. But, first, I’ll focus on the importance of looking creatively at the non-creative areas of my job.

In response to the success of the promo boxes we sent out last month, we’ve been opening a lot of projects with more and new clients. The creative rush of figuring out how to get a project off the ground is one of the most fun parts of the job. The challenge, though, is not letting the housekeeping elements of starting a new job temper that excitement. Here are my four keys to keeping creativity up, even if the business tasks at hand aren’t terribly inspiring.

1. Start creative. This means momentarily setting aside creative briefs or memos of instructions from clients and instead meeting with them, ideally face-to-face, more ideally over coffee or a beer. Ben and I are able to use our backgrounds in journalism to casually interview clients to more directly get to the heart of the design problems they want solved. It’s more stimulating and efficient to hear it from the horses’ mouth than filtered through an art director, third-party or emailed outline. I’ve never been inspired by a creative brief, but I’m rarely uninspired by the people I meet with to talk through a job.

2. Gamify. I don’t use Quickbooks, though I’m meticulous with tracking expenses and revenue. Instead, I’ve built a series of bespoke accounting spreadsheets that took a lot of mental energy and creativity to make. Bookkeeping is a tedious necessity, yes, but I take some pride in (and get a series of tiny little dopamine buzzes) plugging data into my own system and watching it work. It’s efficient (because of some planning and hard work to build the sheets), and it’s mine. Similarly, I’ve created a project workflow that rewards me for making progress on a job rather than feeling like an endless list of boxes to tick off.

3. Interval focus. Similar to point 2, I try to factor little mental rewards into my more quotidian daily tasks. I use a purely analog note-taking and to-do list system somewhat similar to the Bullet Journal and highly influenced by Michael Bierut‘s composition notebooks. Each Sunday night, I make a list of the tasks I need to (or would like to) get done that week, and mark most of them with which day of the week would be best. Each morning, I refine the daily list (often times ignoring the day assigned Sunday night), and ballpark a time of the day I’d like to finish each task. Then I knock them off one at a time, usually in 30- or 60-minute intervals. I try to avoid checking email or Slack during those intervals of focus (though I don’t always succeed). I find the mini time goals act like a little race against myself. Now, to be clear, I almost never actually complete my daily (or weekly) task lists on time, but perfection isn’t the goal. Focus is. The lists also sometimes lead to crippling cases of what I call Trellophobia, or the fear of even looking at one’s to-do list, much less tackling a task from it. But taking ownership of the system rather than letting an app tell me what to do when with an endless series of boxes to check off has been rewarding and productive.

4. Compartmentalize. I do all of my billing at once, on the first of the month. It’s a chore, and usually takes half a day (or a full day if I’m also doing my quarterly books), but I feel more sure about accuracy and am more efficient when I pick out a couple albums to spin and grind through it all in one sitting. I’ve also tried to introduce a level of creativity (and marketing value) to our invoices by highlighting our recent work done for other clients. Similarly, this week, I have three responses to RFPs going out. While I’ve been mulling them over when I’m driving or waiting in line at the bank, I’ll focus on getting them all out the door at the same time.

In my next post, I’ll break down, in detail, the project workflow system I’ve hacked together, why it works for us as a two-person shop and how it can scale to a larger operation if and when we grow.

For the first few years I worked for myself – when Hanscom Park Studio was just me, a notepad and a laptop – I was content and successful relying on word-of-mouth referrals almost exclusively. I landed my first big clients when friends and former colleagues recommended me to business owners with design needs. As I’ve expanded and tried to grow, through, I knew I needed to become more active in marketing the business. Since we’re still small, and I historically focus most of my time on the design work on my plate instead of administrative work, I needed my marketing scheme to be as creatively fulfilling for me as it was effective in driving new work and clients.

Six months ago, I started working on an idea. My favorite projects have always been tactile ones, with contrasting materials and finishes — coarse and smooth, soft and ridged, shiny and dull. I also love sending and receiving unexpected, unique mail and have periodically sent grungy, hand-printed linocut cards to clients, friends and family. I wanted to scale that concept into something bigger and more arresting. I wanted to screen print something. I wanted something vaguely vintage, while trendy and classic all at the same time.

The studio turned five years old in 2017, so the anniversary seemed like a good peg. I initially considered designing a classic t-shirt mail my contact list. That seemed in the right vein, but not unique enough and impossible to predict correct sizes of people I was mailing them to. However, a classic pennant, like you’d see as a set prop in a boy’s bedroom of a 1950s sitcom, had the right feel. So I drew up some custom, chunky lettering spelling out “Hanscom Park” (by omitting “Studio,” the letters had more impact and it had more of a feel of a souvenir from the Omaha park than a billboard for a business), ordered up some pennants and hired Omaha Screen Co.

When I ran the idea by Ben, he took the ball and ran with it. I’d initially imagined sending a nice box with a pennant and a friendly card inside to clients, potential clients and friends of the studio. Ben saw that as a missed opportunity. He thought back to promotional boxes and bags he used to get as a kid at car shows, and how they were filled full of stickers and trinkets. We needed to stuff it to its gills.

Playing off the concept of the pennant being a souvenir from the company’s namesake park, we designed and developed all the other elements around the same idea. We used the historic Hanscom Park Pavilion as the anchor image on all of the collateral. It burned in the 1920s, but as the streetcar suburbs of Omaha grew in the early 1900s, it was a destination worth bragging about. It was the perfect visual focal point.

We designed the shipping box to look like the pavilion and screen printed it in navy for a tactile feel and to match the color scheme of the contents. We designed the stickers to look like ones showing steamer trunk destinations (with some custom lettering I’m particularly proud of). We designed the chipboard notebooks with historic blueprints of the building for the cover. We ordered classic pencils to pair with the books. We thought about how to organize the materials so they unfolded and unrolled in layers as recipients opened the box, and we designed the card holding the pennant to reveal messages as the felt flag was removed and be reminiscent of travel documents. And all of that was, in truth, just a delivery vehicle for a six-panel accordion-fold portfolio that showed off our work from the past couple of years. We designed that to look a bit like a vintage road map or travel brochure.

Over the course of the fall, we worked with vendors to print the pieces, and tried to keep as much of the work local as we could – thanks to Ink Tank, Omaha Screen Co. and Printco. Working with long-time partners helped keep our costs down, too, as some of the vendors cut us a deal.

As 2017 wound down, we needed to wrap the packages up and get them shipped since they were pegged to the anniversary the company celebrated in October. We wanted to get them in the mail before the Christmas rush, so we spent a couple of very long nights in early December packing and addressing the boxes before shipping them about a month ago. Two hundred of our clients, potential clients and friends received a surprise early holiday gift from us.

The initial impact has been better than I could have hoped. We’ve seen a response rate of almost 60 percent (by comparison, a direct-mail campaign garnering a response rate of a few percent is considered successful). Within the first week or two, it landed us enough new work to more than pay for itself. What I’m really curious about, though, is what the long-tail impact may be. We carefully designed each element hoping the boxes would sit on office desks for a while, the pennants could hang in cubicles, the notepads could be used and seen in the world. It will be difficult to gauge the lingering value, but I suspect it may be higher than the initial response.

Time will tell.

I previously wrote that our (admittedly ambitious) financial goal for 2018 is to increase revenue by 40 percent over last year (which was record-setting itself). Let me explain why I think we can do it, how I think we can do it, and why I think we need to do it.

Why I don’t think I’m crazy to suggest 40-percent growth is feasible
We’ve done it before. Twice in the company’s five years, we’ve grown 25+ percent, and last year we grew by more than 70 percent. I want to be as open and transparent as possible, but with keeping our clients’ (and own) privacy in mind. So, I’ll write generally, without talking hard numbers. Going forward, I’ll talk about specific monetary amounts in fabricated Hanscom Park currency; the almighty Token. As a baseline, in the studio’s first year (2013), we’ll say we earned a thousand tokens, or Ŧ1,000. Each year after can be gauged against that starting point.

Revenue increased by 71.8 percent between 2016 and 2017, which gives me faith that the trajectory, if not as steep, can continue into 2018. Given, 2016 was a down year (and 2017 was a banner year), but 2017 saw more than 36 percent higher revenue than the average of the first four years. We’re a very small and very nimble company, so the precedent for double-digit growth is there.

Over the first years, I minimally marketed Hanscom Park Studio. Most of the design work that came my way was via word-of-mouth, and it kept me busy and content for the first three years. Then, 2016 was a slow one for me, and going into 2017, I started making a more concerted effort to seek new work and grow the business side to shoot for a few long-term goals (more on that later). That marketing effort culminated in December when we sent out 200 promotional boxes to clients, potential clients and friends of the studio. I’ll write in more detail about that box and its response in a future post, but it’s opened a lot of doors for 2018 that I’m excited about.

I was also able to market some new and more efficient skills. The single largest contributing factor to our growth last year was increased capacity. I brought on the inimitable Ben Vankat to lend a hand. His skill set compliments mine (which is to say he’s better than me at just about everything). As former app-builder and editor of, he has web skills above and beyond mine, which has allowed us to expand the scope of services we offer. His man-hours have let us take on more projects and work more efficiently. His creative thinking and design talent has made our work better. You can see the increase in monthly revenues since I hired him in the last seven months of 2017.

How I think we can grow by 40 percent in 2018
The short answer here is hard work. It won’t be easy, but things are headed in a good direction. The promotional push we made in December is already paying dividends. The first couple weeks of 2018 have been spent in a half dozen meetings on new jobs. If we can lock up some of them, we’ll be on our way to a solid spring.

Why I think it’s important to grow, and this year
When I left my 9-5 and benefits behind more than five years ago, I had a particular vision in mind: I wanted to start a little studio with about a half dozen creative people selectively choosing the jobs we want to work on. I can’t express how liberating the feeling of working for myself, out of my house, after a career in a cubicle was. I wanted to build a strong foundation, with good clients and gain plenty of experience navigating the choppy waters of entrepreneurship. I wanted to know what I was doing before I expanded. And I wanted to be very selective with the first person I brought on. It was also important to me that I bootstrap this business. I wanted to live thrifty and stay out of debt. It took a while to build the capital and client base to feel comfortable trying to expand. Now’s that moment. With Ben on board, it’s time to aim for bigger goals for the near future — hiring more creative people, buying a studio space — and it’s hard to hit those goals without first hitting some lofty financial ones.

What does 40 percent look like?
Four us, 40 percent is the equivalent of six of our biggest jobs of 2017, or almost 20 of our smaller ones. That’s no small task. However, we’re not aiming for sheer bulk. We’re trying to position ourselves to land some bigger projects and develop some long-term relationships with new clients. That’s the key to real growth, and creative fulfillment.

So, 40 percent it is.

The blog portion of our website has been largely dormant over the past few years as better mediums (like Instagram) have broadened the audience I can reach when showing off new work. I’ve hated watching it wither, though.

The studio’s tagline of “Constantly Creative” is more than a clever alliteration, it’s really our mindset and the compass guiding our work. Even when Ben and I clock out of Hanscom Park Studio, our minds drift to new creative projects or endeavors. We’ve schemed to improve the home-showing experience for both realtor and potential buyer, have dreamt up ways to streamline home history research and outlined how a regional graphic design news site could work. We call this late-night Slack spitballing our weekly “get rich quick” schemes. Despite our efforts, we’re neither rich nor are we quick in executing these hare-brained ideas. Truth be told, they’re not really weekly, either.

That attitude, coupled with my love for new years and the seeming fresh start they afford me, prompted me to steer this space in a new direction. For the next 12 months, I’m going to try to pull the curtain back and show a little more of what Hanscom Park Studio does as a company as well as showing off our creative process.

Twenty-seventeen was a great year for the studio. In addition to celebrating its fifth anniversary, last year was easily the best year we’ve had creatively and financially. As I try to continue all of those trajectories in 2018 (while still considering creative growth the most important indicator of success), I’m going to focus this blog on the nuts and bolts of trying to grow the business. I’ll attempt to frankly write on the successes, failures and challenges of landing new clients and projects. I’ll post about the rationale behind new products and services we add as we expand. I’ll focus on some of the operational systems, like file structuring and job track, that I’ve built over the past 18 months and explain how they’ve led to some of our successes (and held us back when they’ve failed).

I think it’s important to restate that improving the work we put out in the world, the creativity of our ideas and the successfulness of the solutions we present our clients are the benchmarks I’m most interested in as the owner of a pint-size design shop. But there are many other platforms to show off those elements of our work. For the next year, I’m going to focus on the business side of the operation here.

Over the coming weeks, I’ll open up the business’ books (with a polite blur filter applied to obfuscate details) and show where Hanscom Park Studio has been. I’ll write about the promotional push we launched a month ago and its response, along with our marketing strategy for where we’re going. And I’ll outline the company’s monetary goals for 2018. Through the year, I’ll check in with how we’re achieving them and where our shortcomings are.

In the meantime, I’ll lay down the gauntlet and say Hanscom Park Studio’s main financial goal of 2018 is to increase revenue by 40 percent. Next week, I’ll explain why (I hope) that isn’t as crazy as it sounds.

As it became increasingly apparent that Nebraska Athletic Director Bill Moos was going to hire former Husker quarterback Scott Frost as the football team’s next coach, the Hail Varsity team started planning how to put Frost on the next issue’s cover. The first plan was to shoot a portrait of Frost in his new Nebraska gear with the stadium in the background. With only one week between the announcement of the hiring and our print deadline, we thought odds were 50/50 of getting one-on-one access with the very busy new coach. We needed a backup plan.

I’d seen an ESPN magazine cover recently that I liked conceptually. For their issue that hit newsstands around Thanksgiving, they created a photoillustration of Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz as a larger-than-life float in a parade. I began thinking of ways to put Frost on a conceptual Hail Varsity cover without having access to shooting a unique portrait of him. I wanted to merge the two feelings Husker Nation had about the hire: Scott Frost is a superhero (see his 12-0 record this season at Central Florida) and Scott Frost is the Christmas gift all Nebraska fans wanted this year (see every letter addressed to the North Pole with a Nebraska postmark this year). Mash the two together, and a freshly unwrapped Coach Frost action figure seemed to fit the mold. So, I drew a thumbnail of the concept.

Realizing my initial thumbnail didn’t actually look like anything, I tried again.

Now we had an idea and a week. We had to start executing. I called my very talented friend, Omaha illustrator Tim Mayer. As someone who draws them for a living, I thought he may have some good advice on how to make a superhero. He floated the idea of 3D printing, which sounded awesome but seemed liked it would take more than the one week we had. We decided not to reinvent the wheel, and we hit he toy isles of big box stores to look for inspiration and, with some luck, a model that could transform into Frost.

Tim initially looked at a 24-inch tall Superman figure. Frost has the figure of a man who may duck into phonebooths in the event of trouble, but this one was too big for our needs. We wanted a classic-sized figure, in a plastic and cardboard case. We looked at smaller superheroes like The Hulk and The Flash, and other versions of Superman. They were all too strong and bulky or had emblems embossed in the plastic of their uniforms. We needed to find an earthly superhero, one who wore khakis and didn’t have a logo melted into his chest. We needed a WWE wrestler.

We sifted through stacks of them before finding the perfect guy: Dean Ambrose. He was wearing jeans instead of lycra, shoes instead of rocket packs and his belt didn’t have any grappling hooks or gernades attached. Tim thought his shirt and pants would be easy enough to paint over to transform him into Frost. So, Tim got working on the make-over, as I started building some new packaging based on the visual vocabulary of action figure desgin.

Over the course of about 48 hours, it started coming together.

Frost’s hairline is unique to men from the planet Krypton, so poor Dean lost his head to make room for Clark’s.

An early draft that still needs to be comic-booked up.

Tim nailed the paint job, and added a hat.

Packaging coming together.

Sweat the details. The accessories that come with action figures are always the best part.

Ready for his plastic and cardboard coffin.

From there, it was a matter of finding the right setting for the cover photo. Hail Varsity publisher and photographer Aaron Babcock spotting the perfect spot, under my tree.

After we nailed down the cover picture, it was time for Lil’ Frosty to break out of the box and pose for some photos.

The final cover, which is on newsstands now.

We worked with the inimitable Mike Smith and Andrew Norman to design Smith’s first book, “Legacy vs. Likes.” It’s an approachable, smart, quick guide for young adults (or, really, all adults) on how to use technology and social media in a way that aguments one’s passions and life rather than distract from them.  It’s full of smart ideas, touching anectdotes and a bunch of simple, concpetual illustrations.

Click here to order a copy.

Happy Eclipse day, Nebraska. Be careful out there.

Our neighbors at Grinn & Barrett Tattoo shop reached out to us to help them draw their rad, vintage neon sign. We take it as a high compliment when tattoo artists ask us to draw something for them.

We love the history of the sign: a previous owner salvaged it from a Villisca, Iowa motel and retrofitted it for the tattoo shop.

We liked drawing the original so much, we had to give it a by-night look, too.

3060 Woolworth Ave. Omaha, NE 68105 | 402-517-1228 | © 2012-2019 Hanscom Park Studio
Featured graphic design and illustration © 2002-2019 Hanscom Park Studio and/or our clients