October 5th, 2008

The Story of YWFT

By Michael Cina

To mark the launch of a new and improved YouWorkForThem, here’s an account of how the site began. The beginning never really starts on the first day, so let me backtrack a little and give my account on how the site was created. I had just left my job to go freelance. At the time, I had been selling typefaces with Test Pilot Collective, an old type foundry that I created with some of my friends. When I quit my job, I also changed a lot of things in my life and decided that I was going to start reselling my typefaces on my own.

At the time (early 2000) I was talking with Michael Young online a lot. He was living in DC and working for the internet company, Vir2l. Mike had just developed a typeface himself and we had also just started working together on personal projects. We quickly began working on client projects together and started WeWorkForThem (our design studio based on our personal work) while we watched huge start-ups crashing all around us. There were next to no jobs available in the field of design and starting up a company like this was suicide. Another crazy factor is that we never have worked from the same location. For the most part, Mike worked out of Baltimore after moving from DC and I was in Minneapolis/St. Paul.

Almost immediately, we started saving money to create a website where we could sell fonts on the side. By the end of 2000 we had contracted a friend who began coding the site. We concepted the site and had it ready to go by the middle of 2001. Everything was made from scratch. No pre-existing software was used.

At first, the site was going to be a conceptual shop with different divisions, much like Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. We had developed two shirts that coincided with the concept but towards the end, evolved our concept to be a regular shop. When we went live, we had one poster, two cd’s, three shirts, and around 30 typefaces.

I had been importing books from over seas at the time for friends – mainly books like Grid Systems in Graphic Design and Typographie. I still remember the buzz of getting 10 copies of Grid Systems for my friends. At the time, it was impossible to find a used copy for much under $200 dollars, as it was out of print for a number of years. I imported some books for the store to resell but they came a couple of months after we had been open. I remember posting the books online and watching them sell out in a couple of hours. Funny enough, when I ordered them I remember talking to Mike Young about how I hoped they would all sell within 2 months. After that, I knew we should start to sell books.

We also were the first to sell “modern-ish design” as stock art. We had tons of extra icons that we had built for client work laying around and we drew more to create larger sets of icons. It’s funny to think that we are selling work that we had billed out for tons of money being sold for such a small amount on the site. It was a total rush to see work that you had just developed go live on the site and be so well received from your peers.

Originally, we had viewed the site as being a platform for our friends to sell their design work, so we hit up all the artists and designers we knew and asked if they had any work to sell via the store. Everyone said they had something to sell, but they never finished it. A couple of our friends came through, but we had really expected YWFT to be a much larger platform. Over time we have moved towards this goal, but it has taken a lot longer than I had expected.

The site kept slowly growing and growing, so much so that I had to get interns to help me out with the shipping. Keep in mind that we were doing this out of a small three bedroom townhouse. One of the rooms was my office, another room was bookshelves and my bedroom was sleeping and shipping. What can I say? I came out of a generation that had the mentality of doing everything yourself. Eventually I could not do it anymore from that location and had to ship the book portion of our business to Michael Young, which he managed for the next two years before he moved out of the country. We now have a small warehouse where we work and ship from that is located in Minneapolis, MN. I have one employee and the other Mike has some employees as well.

When starting the site, we set our goals to surpass anything that had been done before in the field of design. We treated every designer with a lot of respect and generosity. This is very important for us, as we are designers ourselves and we see what’s happening around us. We understand the design community is small and we want to help it grow in terms of both quality and education.

YouWorkForThem is still a small site and I run into designers all the time that have no idea who we are. I believe the store really has made a positive impact on the field of graphic design and hope that it will continue to do so for years to come with the support of our fellow designers.

WeWorkForThem is the creative duo of Mike Cina and Michael Young, the founders of YouWorkForThem, a store and award-winning group of artists that produce some of the most groundbreaking design work available today.