Jeff Miller Exclusive Interview
Where are you in life right now and how does that affect what you create?
Well, we just welcomed our son Tate into our lives a little over a month ago which brings us to three now under the age of five. Our kids demand (or is it command) so much of our time, energy and attention, but it’s the joy of watching them grow, learn and create for themselves that sparks and revives creativity in my own soul. I think it pushes me to desire more creativity in every area of my life, not just my work, but how I interact with my kids, the experiences I try to create for my family, and how I can be used by God to serve others. These are lofty goals, and most days I just succumb to the drain and fatigue of the daily grind, but if I pause long enough, I’m reminded that God created us to create like Him, and there’s some serious joy to be found in the act of creating as long as I remain present in that act without judging myself or worrying about how others will judge my work.
Tell us one of your most memorable stories from working in Creative Ministry:
I just got back a couple months ago from a site visit with a client out east, a small church that hired me to help them rebrand from the ground up. While I was there, the pastor who’s this classic New York Italian got a call from a lady in his church who was in process of getting scammed by an overseas computer con artist, and she didn’t know what to do. As we were driving around with this lady on speakerphone, the pastor suddenly exclaimed, “Hang on Carol, we’re on our way!” and immediately cut over several lanes and took the next exit. After several minutes of getting lost trying to find her house, with his wife trying to navigate from the backseat, and a few U-turns and broken traffic laws later, we finally pulled up to find Carol standing outside her home still on the phone with the con artist. The pastor jumped out of the car, grabbed the phone, and started yelling into it at the guy who unfortunately had already swindled her out of $800 in the form of iTunes gift cards. Forty-five minutes of hilarious drama ensued as the pastor and Carol argued back and forth and tried in vain to get her money back, all the while with me still in the car with a front row seat to the strangest site visit experience of my life.
Describe how you find inspiration or inspire your team:
Some of my standard go-tos are artists I follow on Dribbble, rebrand articles on Brand New (underconsideration.com/brandnew), and several other blogs that I compile through Feedly. When it comes to arriving at inspiration for a major branding or web project, it all starts with listening to the client, searching out their unique story, and allowing that to guide me conceptually in what I create. As much as possible, I try to have a solid reason behind every design concept, rather than just picking an idea because it looks pretty or fits the latest trend.
What keeps you going in creative ministry:
Two things. I think it goes back to finding the joy in the present moment of creating. Keeping the voices in my head at bay and the internal and external critique from pushing its way in and spoiling the fun. I suck at this, I admit, but when I’m reminded that I get to do this as a living, making stuff and solving problems and exploring new ideas every day, I’m able to recenter and give whatever I’m stuck on another go. The other factor is relationships. When I consider that the work I’m doing is not for myself but for real people who matter to my clients (also real people who matter to me), it takes self-centered me out of the equation. I get to have a hand in creating something that might actually help someone find what they’re looking for, and that makes a big difference in the way I choose to begin each day.
Dream City Church Brand – Incredible opportunity to rebrand one of the largest churches in America as they changed their name from Phoenix First to Dream City Church. We basically landed on an icon that did the best job of capturing a child-like sense of dreaming big that also looked modern and could be easily reproduced in a wide range of applications.
Describe one thing you wish everyone knew about working in the creative ministry field and why it is important:
The biggest struggle I’ve had to learn how to overcome is this faulty notion of “I am __________ (fill in the blank: important, accepted, successful, pleasing to God, etc.) because of what I do.” Actually, nothing could be further from the Gospel. The world measures success and worth based on perceived talent, how hard you work, and what you’re able to achieve. God measures our worth quite differently. When we trust Christ, all He sees is perfection – not our own (that doesn’t exist) but Jesus’ perfection applied to us – and He accepts us as we are, not for what we’ve done or are striving to do. This isn’t a cop out, this is pure freedom. I no longer have to qualify myself or berate myself because of insecurities. I just get to join in with the God of the universe in the holy act of creating, and I can continue learning and pushing myself to be better along the way, but it doesn’t look the same as before because no matter what happens, I’m secure in my identity, not as a designer or artist or business owner, but as a child of God. Have I fully overcome my tendency to want to fill in that blank and feed into my own self-importance? Absolutely not. It’s something I battle with everyday, but God is faithful, and slowly but surely I am learning to trust Him more and myself and the measures I often compare myself against less and less.
Describe how you overcome difficult situations in Creative Ministry:
I would say a constant challenge that I’ve faced since I got into creative church ministry has been how to handle the isolation that inevitably comes with it. When I was hired on as a designer for my church, it was the first position of its kind, and I had to hold my own as a lone creative in a very left-brained staff culture. I was forced to look outside for design inspiration and community. Again, when I launched out on my own and started my own freelance design business, I faced the isolation in an even deeper way, with no co-workers of any kind. What has sustained me through the ups and downs of creating in isolation is having an online community of fellow artists and designers that are working in similar situations and facing similar challenges. The group I’ve found has become my family in a lot of ways. We pick each others’ brains for design tips and offer honest feedback for what we’re working on, but we also make each other laugh, support one another through tragedy, and share our vulnerabilities. To me this group is indispensable because it’s beyond anything I ever had to give up by going into solo creative ministry.
The truth behind design is that the work sucks until you put that final 10% of effort into it. Seriously, it's often the final details or fine-tuning or revision that pushes the design from mediocre to great.
What has sustained me through the ups and downs of creating in isolation is having an online community of fellow artists and designers that are working in similar situations and facing similar challenges.
Describe your work/life balance:
This is a question I love to answer, because I have always done my best to put family before work. When I worked on staff at a church, this was much easier said than done. But since being out on my own, and thanks to my wife’s profession and how we’re blessed to have joint income that allows us to do this, we both have adopted shorter work weeks. For the last couple years, I’ve gone to a four-day work week which I absolutely love because it allows me an extra day with my growing family of five, and believe it or not it helps me to focus more during the time I am at work making me no less productive than if I were working a full five-day week. There are certainly times when my work load or project deadlines dictate that I put in extra time in the evenings or weekends to stay on top of things, but the overall lifestyle gains from an on-4, off-3 schedule make it totally worth it.
What are some of your best/worst moments in Creative Ministry:
In my freelance career, the worst moments are usually those hard conversations with clients about budget overages and change-in-scope situations. I’ve been doing this five years and I still haven’t found a great way to prevent these awkward situations from cropping up and making us all uncomfortable. What I have improved on is having the gumption to not let it slide but forcing myself to have the hard conversation and stand up for my work and the time I put into my projects. Better to stand your ground and have your client respect you for it, than allow yourself to be trampled over time and time again by the same client who may not even know they’re creating hardship for you. My best moments are the simple joys of receiving an email telling me I did a great job, or getting a referral because someone shared their excitement over working with me, or just getting to see something I created exist in physical form. As much as I can, I try to hang on to these special moments because celebration comes so rarely and unnaturally for me. Never underestimate the power of positive reinforcement.
What is one creative tool you cannot live without:
I would feel pretty cool if I could answer something like the latest Wacom tablet or a trendy graph-paper notebook, but truth is I can get by without having or needing the cutting edge creative tools. What I really can’t live without (and I’ve tried), is the 27-in Apple Cinema Display that my laptop is plugged into. Having that amount of screen real estate has become essential for me to get any amount of work done, for better or worse.
Describe your work environment:
Until just about a month ago, I was working in a dark wood-paneled room with little light and nothing inspiring hanging on the walls. We just moved into our new home this past spring, and this was the new home office I inherited. When my son was born, I took my week off to finally paint and hang some artwork. The difference has been amazing. It is about 1000% brighter and more cheery.
“I would say a constant challenge that I’ve faced since I got into creative church ministry has been how to handle the isolation that inevitably comes with it.”
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Describe how you work with clients:
My approach in working with my clients is to listen first, think it all through and get everyone on the same page in understanding the project and identifying the unique story their brand has to tell, and lastly coming up with a design solution to communicate their story. I always try to take a broader view of how this particular project fits in with their overall brand strategy before narrowing in on the details and specific design direction. This can make the process take a little longer on the front end, but the end result is always well worth the extra effort, not only in the quality of the project but also through establishing trust with my clients which often translate into long-term partnerships.
Tell us about the behind-the-scenes on one of your projects:
Brookside Community Play Website – This was a brand new launch of a nontraditional, play-based after school program for an inner city church. As such we had zero photos to work with, so I came up with the idea of creating these fun character illustrations to showcase the program offerings and also the diversity of the kids being served from the neighborhood.
Hello This Is Jeff Design
Hello! My name is Jeff and I design things. I’m the owner and conceptual artist at HellothisisJeff Design. My love for and commitment to Christ, my wife, and my three children are what define and sustain me, while my passion for creating compelling images and brands for churches, non-profits, and small businesses provides endless opportunities to engage in work that benefits our communities.