It seemed a lot of things: a revival of traditional courtship; a hoax, possibly in the name of attaining Internet fame; some kind of ad-hoc Dribbble page for custom-made typographies from graphic designer friends; ridiculously obvious Hollywood bait, supported by the couple's recent signing with CAA.
The couple in question is Timothy Goodman and Jessica Walsh, creators of the voyeuristic 40 Days of Dating. For the non-addicted: The two New York-based graphic designers launched the blog in July, a one-day-at-a-time, dually penned chronicle of their blossoming relationship. Goodman and Walsh, single and friends, gave each other the Lent-inspired supposed time it takes to kick a bad habit to work through their romantic frustrations—Goodman cycles through women, Walsh falls in love too easily—by dating each other.
They agreed to six rules, and documented every day by filling out a questionnaire. "It’s not something that’s been done a lot in the design community, which is essentially what poets and filmmakers have done for ages, to put themselves in their medium," Goodman tells Co.Design.
While the project has meet-cute power enough (times 40) to make one wonder about a posthumous Nora Ephron hand in it, what all the hype and pitchforks may have missed is that it’s also a legitimately novel stab at storytelling in the digital age.
At the outset, there wasn’t much more to 40 Days of Dating than a (somewhat risky) sense of creative ideation. Goodman and Walsh clearly have an affinity for testing their own limits, as evidenced by their challenge to hold hands for eight straight hours on Day 33. For a creative professional, there’s often little distinction between self and craft (Walsh even quotes Charles Eames at one point: "Life is work is life is work is life.") Once the dating days were over, though, Goodman and Walsh stumbled across the true merits of their stories, in the complications and contradictions of their parallel treatment.
"It wasn’t until we really put the columns next to each other that we understood this male and female point of view on the same day was really interesting," Goodman says. "In a lot of ways we’ve captured a traditional story, which is just a When Harry Met Sally, Annie Hall thing. But the fact that we did it online, it’s like web reality."
The results unfurled not unlike episodes of The Bachelor—after the fact, and one morsel at a time, so that fans anxiously waited for each new installment of relationship confessionals—only in the aesthetic of design professionals. Goodman and Walsh commissioned colorful, GIF-ed out pieces of typography from friends, and outfitted the site with illustrations, photos of relationship souvenirs, and, perhaps most tellingly of the times, screenshots of text messages.
It all makes for incredibly voyeuristic, potent storytelling. The narrative lives in what’s essentially the lowest-budget platform out there (a blog), but it still had around 300,000 fans tuning in daily, with the kind of fervor usually reserved for television.
In a sense, of course, we’re all telling the stories of our lives every day. Tools like Facebook and Instagram make this kind of personal anthologizing widely accessible. And likewise for Goodman and Walsh: "We’re total products of our generation, and the whole TMI thing," he says.
Future plans are not yet confirmed for the CAA-repped project, but there’s talk of film, television, or a book. Goodman mentions expanding 40 Days of Dating into a web-based community platform, where others can sign on to their own challenges, romantic or otherwise. Hiking, writing, cooking—anything works, because at its core, the 40 Days of Dating platform lets the audience become part of, or at least feel like it's become part of, a larger, interactive story.
"This whole project came from a question, how do we work from our fears, our habits?" Goodman says. But ultimately, "anybody with any career, or who has been in love and been heartbroken, can kind of see and relate to our story."
Read about all 40 days here.