This is an extended section of the interview with Tim Moore, creative director of 29th Street Publishing, that appears on the Society of Publication Designers site. Tim is the creative force behind the Letter to Jane magazine app and Tumblr page, and was also the developer for several digital issues of Port magazine.
What’s your background and training?
I wanted to be a furniture designer, but decided to play it safe and go to college for physics. I got bored and fell in love with film, switched to photography, became disenchanted with galleries and took up art history, graduated with useless degrees and started trying anything and everything and wound up making Letter to Jane. I really don’t know how I got here, I just know that I spent many years doing things that I didn’t feel comfortable doing, things that didn’t click, but I always kept doing things. I never stopped trying new things no matter how many times I failed. I must have tried to start programming at least 50 times before the basic “Hello World” demo app tutorial made sense to me. I never had any design training because I didn’t try designing until after college. Through Letter to Jane I learned how to use the programs and the process. I’m also so grateful I didn’t get recognized early on. What a joy and blessing it was to be able to learn and fail without being judged in the beginning. I’m afraid that if anyone had paid attention to me early then it might have influenced my direction because I wasn’t confident enough in myself or my work and it would’ve led me down a wrong path. I still don’t feel like I have things figured out, and I’m still young so I’m very grateful that life is still such a mystery to me and that I can keep trying new things.
You moved to New York City from Portland, which is one of the epicenters of hipsterdom right now, with a very different cultural vibe.
I love Portland and I was never fond of New York so the transition was hard, but all the reasons I miss Oregon personally were the same reasons I had to leave professionally. I know if I wasn’t living in Oregon I would’ve never started Letter to Jane and I would not have a career like I have now. Letter to Jane came out of the culture there where I had a lot of free time to be creative to try and fail at a number of things until I found what made me happy, and I didn’t have to worry about money because it didn’t cost much to live there. I think when you’re trying something new or starting a new path you need more than just a few months to figure things out. To really understand where you fit in takes years, even if it clicks right away, it still takes time to learn the ropes and that’s what my time in Portland allowed me to do. Oregon really vilifies “making it” and trying to get ahead and promotes finding a level of peace in what you do. Even if there’s a bit of blind naiveté in that thinking it does take away a certain level of pressure. However the fact that everyone likes that makes it impossible to get any work done on time. After I had figured out what I wanted to do, Portland became much harder to work from. I could never get people to come through with their work on time locally, and I was having increasingly odd hours to accommodate for the people I was working with in other time zones. That mixed with the fact that I was really struggling finding any paid work in Oregon made the decision to leave pretty easy and it didn’t take much convincing from 29th Street Publishing to get me to move. It was seriously just two tweets and a phone call before we had something set up.
So the hardest part of the transition to New York was that everything that was vilified in Oregon is praised here. Suddenly everyone around me was all about the hustle, concerned with being taken serious for their work, making it, getting ahead, get more money, etc. Those are all the things that really just turn me off. I just like to work and so I really just stayed in the office 24/7 those first couple months as I slowly learned what people and places to be around in the city that would be healthy for me and what to avoid like a plague. The other hard parts about the move were minor but things I still think about such as the coffee and cheap happy hours.
What’s happening with Letter to Jane?
The short answer is that it’s coming soon, but I don’t have an official date. Part of the reason for the Kickstarter was to help speed up the process by paying people, but many still flaked and I had to find new contributors, so that’s one reason for the delay. Another reason is that I completely rebuilt the app. I had built the version I pitched in the Kickstarter and I shared most of that code with the backers already but I wasn’t pleased with it, and the code was overly complicated so I decided to rebuild it on Apple’s latest operating system and using a bunch of new techniques I’d learn since joining 29th Street. By the time this goes live I will have already shared a small demo video and screenshots with the Kickstarter backers, just to give some faith that this is still a big priority to me. Any bit of free time I have I’m putting into finishing Letter to Jane, and I have to say it’s already a thousand times better than the version I thought of when I ran the fundraiser.
Can you elaborate a little bit on your Port work? What was your role there?
Working with Port was such a great learning experience and a joy to be a part of. I worked on the iPad apps for the third and fourth issues. I think my title was “design consultant” along with Jeremy Leslie. Jeremy brought me in for what after trying DPS first. They had very specific ideas they wanted to try that they couldn’t do with DPS and wanted to do something native. Jeremy has been one of the earliest supporters of Letter to Jane and said he’d like to start with the same sort of structure and expand with it. They didn’t want to just recreate the print issue but take a couple of the main features from the magazine and go deeper into the subjects in the app. Jeremy and Port creative director Matt Wiley would give me a list of the features and how they wanted them to look and function and I’d do some research and try to find ways to make that happen. Basically Jeremy and Matt designed the app and I programmed it, but we all had a lot of input in how everything looked and felt. I learned so much from every part of the process. The ideas Jeremy and Matt put in that app are things I’ve taken back into my own work and put into the new Letter to Jane and 29th Street Publishing.