Several years ago, Adam J. Kurtz was looking for a way to smooth over a bad breakup.

Rather than sending a cursory "I'm sorry" text, Kurtz decided to get a little more creative--and humorous. He instead sent balloons with the words, "Sorry, I'm such an asshole" to his ex. It didn't completely make the break-up better, but it did give each party a good laugh.

An artist and designer by nature, he thought that others might enjoy the balloons too, and started selling them off of his website. Buzzfeed, Complex magazine, and other media outlets quickly took notice, and Kurtz's career as an "internet artist" took off.

Nearly four years later, Kurtz has developed a following for turning well-known logos into "sadvertisements" (think: Just Do Not), launched five successful Kickstarter campaigns to create books of "unsolicited advice," and created a journal that's sold more than 80,000 copies in the U.S. Eight months ago, he quit his full-time job to work as a freelance designer, and counts The New York Times, Pepsi, and Tumblr among his clients.

Kurtz describes his work as "taking art off of the screen and making it tangible." He says that he likes to take the things we Tweet, Instagram, and Pin, and turn them into objects that will get people talking. Some are more sentimental (pins that say "I Feel Great") while others have a darker sense of humor (a t-shirt that says "Sad Girl Fan Club"). But they all have one thing in common: they succinctly sum up the things people struggle to say in person. At the Northside Festival in Brooklyn this week, Kurtz shared his tips for creating a product that makes people say "that's me, in a nutshell." Here are his three best pieces of advice:

1. Don't wait until you have the perfect product to create something.

As a designer, Kurtz's process for putting together a product is very old-school: often the "first draft" of his product will consist of construction paper and staples. And then he might go over to a printing center to print out a second, neater illustration. It may not instantly look like a professional product, but Kurtz says that you have to take steps to act while the idea is still fresh in your mind, and not worry about if you have the right design just yet.

"You don't need a MakerBot printer and a slick video to create something," Kurtz says.

2. Don't be afraid to be silly.

The feelings and memories that people love to talk about the most are often those from their childhood--as Kurtz discovered when he created a "cootie-catcher" for Adobe to promote on their blog. He said that he was shocked at first when a big, serious tech company approached him about creating a game for kids--but the company loved the end result. It felt homemade, rather than a promotional product that any one of Adobe's designers could have churned out.

"Don't worry about being silly or weird. Be yourself--people like that," Kurtz says. 

3. Present your feelings in a relatable way.

Although many of Kurtz's designs were born as the result of a certain emotion or feeling he had due to a personal event in his own life, he doesn't reference those specific moments in his designs. For example, when he became a full-time freelancer, he instantly felt a sense of panic that he had made the wrong decision. He knew that not everyone might not be able to relate to making the decision to quit a job, but they've probably felt lost and without a sense of purpose at some point. So he created a patch that day to sell on his website that said "Young, dumb, and full of existential dread."

"If you make something that people can hear themselves in, they'll be able to feel a connection to it," Kurtz says. 

Published on: Jun 10, 2016