Michael Bierut | Essays

Five Years of 100 Days

Daniella Spinat and Lan Lan Liu, Announcement for 100 Day Project Workshop, 2007

For the past five years, I've taught a workshop for the graduate graphic design students at the Yale School of Art. The specific dates always change, but the basic assignment goes something like this:

Beginning Thursday, October 21, 2010, do a design operation that you are capable of repeating every day. Do it every day between today and up to and including Friday, January 28, 2011, the last day of the project, by which time you will have done the operation one hundred times. That afternoon, each student will have up to 15 minutes to present his or her one-hundred part project to the class.

The only restrictions on the operation you choose is that it must be repeated in some form every day, and that every iteration must be documented for eventual presentation. The medium is open, as is the final form of the presentation on the 100th day.

Does this sound like fun? I'm not sure. But some years, up to two dozen students start the assignment. And some years, more than half drop out before the end. Everyone starts with high hopes. But things get repetitive by day ten. By day twenty, no matter what you've decided to do, it feels like you've been doing it forever. And bridging the end-of-year break is always a big challenge. But the students who get past day thirty or forty tend to get in a groove that will take them through to the end. Here's a sampling of what's been done through the years, including some of my favorites.

Lauren Adolfsen took a picture each day with a person she had never met. The product was a bound book, complete with thumbnail sketches of her portrait partners. I was number one. Amazingly, she ended up doing this for an entire year. 

Juan Astasio photographed a constructed "smile" every day. The website where they're all collected is maniacally over-the-top and terrifyingly cheerful.

Here's one you may already know since it was featured on Design Observer back in the fall of 2009: Rachel Berger explains: "Every day for one hundred days (from October 30, 2008 to February 6, 2009) I picked a paint chip out of a bag and responded to it with a short writing." It sounds simple, but the results are poetic.

A few people have realized the project could be a modest source of income. Every day, Benjamin Critton found something laying around that he didn't want and put it up for sale on line, from a copy of the 1963 book The World in Vogue (Day One, offered at $31, unsold) to a box of (appropriately) one hundred numbered pushpins (Day One Hundred, offered at $18, sold). 

I have always loved it when people get deep into extremely specific subject matter. Neil Donnelly created a daily visual response to the same song: Brian Eno's 1974 recording "Here Come the Warm Jets." The variety is remarkable.

Weiyi Li spotted a random name every day and added it to an ongoing collection, memorialized in a slowly scrolling website.

"100 Illusions" by Jen Lee.

After you've seen the first few ways that Hilla Katki uses a wooden folding chair, you'll have serious doubts she can come up with ten of them, never mind 100. But, of course, she does. And it's a clunky wooden folding chair.

Die a hundred deaths! Tara Kelton destroyed a small plastic man every day a different way for one hundred days.

The most famous graduate of the 100 Day Workshop is, without a doubt, Ely Kim. When I asked him what he had planned, he responded, "I'm going to film myself doing a different dance in a different place every day." He said it with such absolute assurance that I was taken aback. "Are you a good dancer?" I asked. Ely said: "Yes." The resulting video, "Boombox," has been viewed over half a million times and won Ely invitations to dance in, among other places, Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Zak Klauck: "Over the course of 100 days, I made a poster each day in one minute. The posters were based on one word or short phrase collected from 100 different people. Anyone and everyone was invited to contribute." The perfect exercise for a graphic designer.

Although many of these projects are complicated, some of my favorites are completely straightforward. James Muspratt simply drew something from life every day: a project that grew, he writers, "out of a desire to confront my limited drawing skills."

Jieun Rim kept a video camera trained on her feet every day while she walked to school, and edited the 100 separate trips into a single elegant sequence titled "Steppin' Out."

Finally, when Jessica Svendsen told me she wanted to create 100 variations of Josef Muller-Brockmann's classic 1955 poster for a Beethoven program at the Zurich Tonhalle, I never thought she could pull it off. The original just seemed too iconic and singular to withstand that kind of focus. But to my surprise and pleasure she pulled it off, and then some. Some people noticed the project on line midway through the process and started following along.

People have asked me many times to say what, exactly, is the point of this project. I've always had a fascination with the ways that creative people balance inspiration and discipline in their working lives. It's easy to be energized when you're in the grip of a big idea. But what do you do when you don't have anything to work with? Just stay in bed? Writers have this figured out: it's amazing how many of them have a rigid routine. John Cheever, for instance, used to wake up every morning in his New York City apartment, put on a jacket and tie, kiss his wife goodbye, and take the elevator down to his apartment building's basement, when he would sit at a small desk and write until quitting time, at which point he'd go back up. (When it was hot in the basement, he'd strip down to his underwear to work.)

The only way to experience this kind of discipline is to subject yourself to it. Every student who has taken this project had a moment where the work turned into a mind-numbing grind. And trust me: it won't be the first time this happens. The trick is to press on. For each new day (whether it's Day 28, Day 61, even Day 100) brings with it the hope of inspiration.

Posted in: Education , Graphic Design, Media

Comments [15]

I think it's a great exercise, honestly. Especially if you work in a field such as design, where you have do keep pushing yourself in order to keep the ideas flowing.
Design isn't obviously just about creativity; on the contrary. When I'm stuck, I'd rather just go out for coffee or watch a good movie, in hopes that some great idea will somehow appear. Unfortunately, when you're working in a studio for other people, you can't just get up and say "Hey, guys, this isn't working today, but I'll definitely have this done before the deadline". That's when this kind of discipline comes in handy - you have to find ways to push your own limits and "teach" yourself how to be creative.

Jessica Svendsen did a tremendous job. It's pretty amazing how she pulled if off!
Rita Branco

This is wonderful. Some of the permutations within each example are small miracles; the variation in approaches to the assignment are delightful. This reminds me of a truism which i hold dear: that no matter how good our machines and tools become, there are certain pathways which yield unique rewards unavailable to any other process. Drawing, for example, the pathway from mind to hand, can liberate ideas and mind-states unavailable to any other media/action. The 100 Day Project reveals that repetition is also such a pathway; a special means of discovering treatments in response to previous efforts. Despite my primary engagement as a visual artist, I re-discover these pathways most often through making music. Thanks for sharing!
Chris Harvey

thanks for this. i think this is applicable not only to design but everything. we only truly become good at a skill or learn new information or completely understand something once it's been repeated over and over again. it's only too bad you didn't include 100 examples ;)

Truly inspiring. More than a way to enhance skill, stay motivated or practice creativity, I think it's a great way to stay engaged with the wonder, humor and mystery in life. (Is that just way too melodramatic?)

100 Day Workshop: that sounds like a great self-project.
I'll do it. But instead of doing 100 days, I'll do 101 days.

What a fun post. Ely Kim with Boombox takes the cake! I started watching it and could not stop. I kept trying to close the window... and just could not make myself do it.
Melissa DePasquale

What a cool thing to do! I am not a designer but I can think of the benefits of creating one hundred days of the same project. I love reading this blog. Endless new ideas. Thanks guys.
Susanna Carter

Thank you so much for sharing this. I think it's a wonderful project that would benefit many, especially those lacking discipline such as myself. I've quit a fulltime job because I was sick and tired of the stress and the 6 day routine. Now I'm freelancing, and finishing one project takes a lot more than the 6 days it used to take me to finish one project back at the agency.

I have to admit, working from my bedroom isn't helping. I understand why the guy worked in his basement.
Soraya Darwish

I LOVE this exercise. What great results. So real. So close to real life. Certainly must be a transformative-type experience for all of those who hang in there. In 1986 (or thereabouts) I took a seminar: Milton Glaser's "Design and Personality" at SVA that he gives every summer. I literally shut down my life for one week (took the week off from work, turned off my phone, announced to all my friends and family I was out of touch for the week except for emergencies, even cut off all my hair so was faster to get to get ready every day) and turned my self over to the creative and collaborative process in Milton's class. Every day was a new project/exercise with 24 hour deadline culminating with having to create a publication from scratch with a team of people in the class. The week was a transformative experience, but only because I committed myself whole-heartedly to it. Plus, it uncovered things that one could only discover when one totally commits to a project/process.
Traci Churchill

Nice. Reminds me of an exercise a teacher had us do at the end of class one semester. He said, "I want you to go home tonight and write 'I can't stop.' 100 times on a piece of paper. Bring it back tomorrow and we'll look at them."

A few people did 1 or 2. Some did 20 or 50. Most did the assigned 100. And, surprisingly, others did more (up to 200+).

A possible analogy to the 100 Days exercise: the starting and stopping can be as personally enlightening as the doing (physical execution) of the task.

Either way… DON'T STOP!

Joe Moran

Discipline and Creativity rarely go hand in hand. I love it. This concept could be adapted to so many different fields and surely be successful.

I stumbled across this a few weeks ago, and thought...wow!

of course the guy dancing took most of my attention until i came back to it today...truly fascinating stuff...so i bandied the idea around of trying to do something incredilbly exciting and stimulating, dangerous even...and then seeing after 10-20 days whether this exciting and dangerous task was getting repetitive and, dare I say it, boring.

and then i decided, no, thats a silly idea with 2 small kids, so decided to start a blog (i hear mutterings already about how rubbish the idea is, but the concept remains...100 daily posts - and Im not talking facebook "lets get drunk" posts or twitter "just been to the toilet" posts...no, something a little more exploratory and sharing...

to this end, this post has been copied into my new blog - leachies on blogspot if your interested to find out how I get on...the omens are not good, but i figure it will be fun finding out how many days I last...wish me luck!

regards, John
john leach

I started my own 100 Day Project several weeks ago after I read this inspiring article. Check it out!
Farin Manji

i know the feeling...
J Muzacz

Good day :)
Thank you for inspiring article!
I found this a great excerice and recommend it for all young designers.
Around 100 days ago I read it and carried out a 100 logos in 100 days project )
Feel free to visit it at http://100logos.tumblr.com/
Alex Buznik

Jobs | July 18