• 01.31.14

Creative Advice From Ira Glass, Rendered In Type

A brief film illustrates words of wisdom from the beloved host of This American Life.

Creative Advice From Ira Glass, Rendered In Type

It’s always a relief to find out that successful people once struggled creatively, to know that our heroes sometimes felt stuck, had crappy ideas, and had to fake it until they made it.


One such figure is Ira Glass, the very distinct voice of This American Life and the rare successful radio personality in an era that has been unforgiving to old media like radio.

He didn’t make it right away. In fact, as he says in a four-part interview series on storytelling from 2009, even when he had been reporting for NPR for eight years, he was a horrible reporter. “For the first couple years that you’re making stuff, what you’re making is not that good,” Glass says. “But your taste”–the force that drives creative people to do what they do–“is still killer.”

And that’s the gap: the period of time before your skills have developed enough to catch up with your taste.

German designer Daniel Sax illustrates this notion, and the pearls of wisdom that follow, in this short, typographic video. In it, he extracts key words from Glass’s message, and imagines them in 3-D. Each shot was created by hand, and filmed by Sax with a Canon 5D Mark III. The word “taste” is superimposed onto a landscape painting to suggest a sense of curation. The phrase “not that good” is spelled out in ketchup on top of plain pasta (blech), and the word “special” is a shot of a dictionary entry, hinting at the elusiveness of truly magical creativity.

Besides literal messages in ketchup and on American Psycho-inspired business cards, Sax changed the framing of the film throughout to tell the story. “At the beginning of the video I used long focal lengths,” he tells Co.Design. “The longer the video takes, the shorter the focal lengths get. This is meant to represent the knowledge-journey, or skill-journey, of a creative person. While he is very limited and narrow in the beginning, it gets wider and more comprehensive the longer he practices and works in the business.”

Here’s the wisdom: most everyone who does creative work went through the phase where what they made sucked. Glass wants you to know that it’s normal, and that the solution is to keep going, keep working, keep making. “Everybody goes through that,” he says. “It’s only by going through a volume of work that you’re actually going to catch up, and close that gap. And the work you are making will be as good as your ambitions.”

About the author

Margaret Rhodes is a former associate editor for Fast Company magazine.