I Can’t Sing

I can’t code. I can’t design. I can’t dance. I can’t get in shape. I can’t draw. I can’t give speeches. I can’t write. I can’t invent.

By Lestat (Jan Mehlich)

When I was 15 I had a friend named Patrick. We met in driver’s ed.

If you looked at him, you’d probably expect to find him in a mosh pit, or playing insanely loud punk music. You’d be right. But the guy had the voice of an angel and sang in his high school choir.

One night, Collin and I pick Patrick up from choir practice. Collin was our 16 year old friend who we often made drive us around. Poor Collin 🙂

As we were driving to who knows where (some cafe to play chess and drink coffee or to Taco Bell) a song came on the radio that I liked. And I sang it a little.

That weird looking, punk rock, 15 year old kid gave me some advice that has helped shape every single thing I’ve accomplished since.

He warned me that, as I sang, I was trying to imitate the musician on the radio, and I wasn’t doing a very good job of it. My voice just couldn’t do what we were listening to.

Instead, I should try to cover the same song but do it in a way that suited my voice. My voice isn’t very strong at those high notes. If I was going to imitate anyone, try to imitate someone’s voice that works at this low pitch.

I tried Patrick’s advice, and I sang the song at a considerably lower pitch that was comfortable to me. I remember it sounded now more like Johnny Cash. The result was surprising. It wasn’t half bad, and it was much better than me trying to sing like that guy on the radio.

I’ve never felt like a “web designer”. I’ve been building websites for 15 years, and I’ve done what I’ve needed to do, but I could never get my stuff to look even close to those beautiful creations I admire.

To get past that, I’d end up buying a template someone else made. Or finding really good business partners who could design all the things I couldn’t.

A handful of years ago, however, running my third software company, I found myself alone trying to create a new project.

I didn’t have a partner, or a designer or anyone else to help me. And I didn’t have any money to spend getting the help. A template wasn’t going to cut it this time. I was in a bind.

I don’t have a Dribbble account full of my work. I don’t have a portfolio. I don’t know what awards designers win. I hear there are awards.

But I had to figure out what I can design. I had to figure out a way to design that suits me.

Since I can’t do a lot with color, or illustrations, or shadows, or logos, I’d have to go with very little of those things. It would have to be the basics.

I still looked at people doing amazing work online for inspiration. But instead of trying to step into the shoes of my preconceived notion of a designer, I started noticing elements of projects that I could actually do myself.

I can’t create an identity or logo like Aaron Draplin, but I sure could use Futura Bold and add a little space between the letters like he seems to be doing.

I ended up with what you see at Draft, software I’ve made to help me write better.

It has no logo. It has zero images. There’s one color on the homepage. Blue.

Thank god or luck or hard work or whatever, I have stumbled on a large number of people that appreciate and love the user experience and user interface I’ve created. I’ve worked my ass off to accomplish this project. But I didn’t expect this.

Of course there’s plenty of blemishes that you might see (and even more that I do). Mountains of things I need to improve and polish. And I’ll never think it’s as good as anything from my heros who I immediately think of when someone says: designer.

But somehow, along the way of getting here, I have figured out a way to design. I found some way to sing this song but with a voice that suits me.

You might not be able to sing like your preconceived model of how a singer sings, but I’ll never understand when someone tells me, “I can’t sing.”

You probably didn’t have a friend like Patrick.

P.S. It would be awesome to meet you on Twitter, or see where this has all led to what I’m now doing with Highrise.