Part memoir, part manual: Matt Owens offers contemporary advice on running a creative business

A Visible Distance interrogates the last three decades of design and creativity, from the commercialisation of the internet to the advanced technologies and practices of today.

The creative industries are not short on autobiographies, monographs, and more of the like written by established figures, many of whom started their careers in the 1970s and 80s. But recently, a new type of book by a contemporary author has entered the literary playing field.

A Visible Distance is described as "part memoir, part manual" by its author, Matt Owens, founding partner and chief design and innovation officer at New York-based studio Athletics. His professional practice began at the turn of the millennium, and so he believes that he can convey first-hand, practical knowledge and advice to his contemporary peers through "a younger and more technically savvy voice".

Delving into the interplay between creativity, process, and building a studio practice in graphic design and branding, the book reveals key insights and strategies from Owens' career. It unearths his experiences in and around punk music, skateboarding, and design school and how each of these cultural and educational influences played a role in launching his professional growth during the early internet boom.

It goes on to interrogate the challenges he faced when building a creative agency, what he learned from them, and how they informed his philosophy of "continuous learning and adaptation in design and business leadership". Owens always intended for A Visible Distance to go beyond autobiography, as he wanted to be able to share tactical strategies and ideas with readers.

He explains how the book addresses "the complexities of balancing creativity, strategic business decisions, and the demands of modern brand building", blending personal stories with professional guidance.

In Owens' view, the book is especially valuable for understanding how to combine creativity with business acumen and for those interested in the evolution of design practices over time. A Visible Distance looks at design and creativity over the last three decades, moving from the advent of the commercialisation of the internet in the late 1990s to the disruptive technologies and practices of late, like artificial intelligence, automation, and distributed and hybrid teams.

"The book connects the many universal creative challenges professionals face in the field of graphic design and branding with practical mentorship to further one's career", says Owens, adding that it was written for a broad spectrum of readers.

Emerging designers might be inspired by Owens' stories and benefit from the book's practical guidance, while mid-career professionals can gain valuable insights to deepen their expertise and discover new ways to manage the complexities of their professional lives.

According to Owens, even design and creative arts students can benefit from the real-world experiences and strategies detailed in the book that provide a practical perspective beyond academic theory. "Admirers of DIY culture and the punk ethos will appreciate the application of these principles in professional creative contexts, and business strategists and managers operating in creative industries can gain a better understanding of the creative process and its integration into business models", he adds.

Order partner Jesse Reed recalls not being taught much about business or how to start a company in design school. She says: "If I had had Matt's book when I decided to co-found a design office eight years ago, my wandering neuroticism would have cooled down about 20 degrees, and questions would have been answered by a source that's proven their weight in gold.

"A Visible Distance gets to the point, by example, with real topics that design students and young professionals should be reading more of, instead of bookmarking Instagram portfolios and TikTok trends."

A Visible Distance: Craft, Creativity and the Business for Design was published by independent design publisher, Set Margins, known for publishing progressive design books. It is available to buy on the publisher's website.

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