Design Interview: The Routine Creative
by Margaret Penney | November 2, 2017
Some designers thrive on routine, while others avoid it. The founder of The Routine Creative company Alex Cottles is a both creature of habit and a true maverick in his approach. We interviewed Alex in his customary location, on the road.
What’s your story? Can you tell us a little about you?
My name is Alex Cottles and I am the brand + web designer behind The Routine Creative and I also design fonts for my online shop. I grew up in Allen, Texas with my mother and two brothers.
Graphic design wasn’t always on my radar. When I was younger I thought I wanted to be in broadcast journalism or film directing. I quickly realized that you had to have zero social life to be in either of those industries so that sort of scared me away from that. I knew I wanted to do something creative though. I used to help my friends customize their myspace pages in exchange for money and sometimes food. This led me to appreciating design and the value it adds to people’s lives.
Once I was in college I really fell in love with branding and typography. I decided to attend a community college and received my Associates for Graphic Design. I wanted to continue my education at University but instead I started freelancing right out of college and the rest is history. It wasn’t until 2016 that I started The Routine Creative which is one of the best decisions I have ever made.
Where are you located?
Currently my husband and I are living in a travel trailer and exploring the United States. We stay in each location for about a month, so all of my work is done remotely from my trailer at the moment. It is nice though because I get to meet more clients in person than I previously did. I consider Richmond, Virginia home base for my business though. I lived there for 10 years! It’s a very charming/artsy city with lots of diversity.
When did you decide to become a type designer?
Funnily enough I don’t necessarily consider myself a type designer. I mean don’t get me wrong–I enjoy creating fonts and I am very glad that people like them and use them but I am by no means a professional type designer. I am self taught and am very much still an amateur. It’s something I sort of fell into. As a logo/brand designer there are so many times when you have to create letterforms yourself because the perfect font simply doesn’t exist yet. In fact, many of the ideas for the fonts I create come from exploring type for a client’s branding project. I spend my free time in between clients on fonts because it’s something I really enjoy doing and hope to continue to do for a long time!
I love the name of your company, can you tell us about it?
Thank you! Yes, I get asked about this a lot so hopefully my answer remains consistent. For me the name came about very intentionally. Previously I was freelancing under my personal name and it was a real struggle. I wanted to be able to “sell myself” for lack of better words. I knew this would be much easier to do with a business name versus my personal name and it would also allow for growth in my business if I ever decided to hire a team.
As fas as the name itself goes, it comes from a meshing of work and life. I love having structure in my life and thrive on having a daily routine. Something about the familiar is so comforting. With that being said I also understand that creativity is just the opposite. It’s spontaneous and free-spirited. Often times it can be hard to design within tight deadlines because inspiration has to come naturally to design successfully, in my opinion. Thus, The Routine Creative was born. A representation of the ever blurred lines that are work/life balance. Also, a nice little reminder or note to self to continue creating on a daily basis because I am a firm believer in practice makes perfect.
Can you tell us about your creative process when designing a new font?
As I mentioned the ideas themselves typically come from the branding design process. I often need to design type that I can’t find in the market to use for my own clients. I leave those ideas to the side so I can come back to them on my personal time. For hand-lettered fonts this obviously would started with pen/brush and paper but most of my fonts are sans serifs. For sans serifs I start on the computer exploring shapes and gathering inspiration from fonts that are similar but not the exact same.
I trying to think about specific letterforms I could alter or improve on. I don’t think most type designers do it this way but I almost always design capital “A-Z’, then lower “a-z”, then numbers and finish with special characters. Then I throw it into my font software and work on the kerning. This is honestly what takes the most time when designing a font.
Do you have a favorite visual style? If so, how would you describe it?
I like to call my style modern-androgynous. Sort of headed in the same direction as the fashion industry honestly. I think taking big ideas and breaking them into minimal visual solutions is much more challenging than it looks and that’s why I love doing it. My style will continue to evolve though and I hope to simplify even more over time.
What’s it like to run a graphic design business?
Running your own business in general is probably one of the most terrifying things you will ever do because you wear all the hats. The reputation of the business and all decisions fall on you. With that being said, it is the greatest thing I have ever done. I am simply not wired to work a desk job or to have a boss over top of me with deadlines. Just like most creatives I am a control freak. This doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate collaboration but I just like to have control of the design process itself because I always have a very clear vision of what I want in my mind. The pros of running your own business should definitely outweigh the cons in order for you to continue doing it, and in my case, they do!
Do you do business via the Internet or in real life, or both?
Both! I’d say about 80% of my business is all online or via phone with my clients.
What are some of your other design business projects?
Most of my time is currently being taken up by brand/web design or font design. If I had more free time on my hands though I would love to open up my own online shop with enamel pins, t-shirts. and other accessories similar to Jeff of UGMONK. I simply don’t have the time to invest in that at the moment though.
What are your favorite projects? Can you tell us about them?
It’s hard to chose particular projects as my favorites because they are like my babies. Of all the work I do, brand design is my absolute favorite. I love being able to design an intentional visual representation for creative entrepreneurs and small businesses. Web design is usually the next step but those projects aren’t as fun for me personally. They usually consist of much less design freedom and lots of tedious work. As far as the industries I like to work with I honestly have no niche. In fact I love the challenge that comes with learning about different types of businesses. The one thing that really matters to me and that I look for in potential clients is passion. They absolutely have to be passionate about what they are doing because we will both be investing lots of time and effort into each project we work on together.
What’s coming up for you? What are you working on? Where is the business headed?
I just relaunched my website! Before I was focused 50% on education and 50% on client work. For that reason I was confusing potential clients that were landing on my site. From this point forward The Routine Creative is focused on helping creative entrepreneurs and small business craft intentional branding and web design. Of course my blog will still remain in place for those fellow designers looking to learn from me!
Do you have any tips or words of advice for design students and new designers?
My advice would be to believe in yourself! It’s so easy to get caught up in the comparison game. Just remember that your day 1 will look nothing like their year 10 and that we all start somewhere. I think often times, myself included, we are so eager to be this booming success right out of the gate. The truth of the matter is greatness takes time. You have to practice a lot and show up consistently. And remember that putting yourself out there is essential. I wasted many days trying to blame the world around me for why I wasn’t being discovered when I should have been blaming myself. If you are passionate about design you won’t let a few naysayers stop you!
Anything else you’d like to share with us?
I would just like to say thanks for having me and if anyone has any follow up questions or just wants to say hey feel free to message me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Margaret Penney is the Managing Editor of Notes on Design. Margaret is a teacher, designer, writer and new media artist and founder of Hello Creative Co.