Freelancer worker bees, welcome to your newest procrastination. The new TV web series HOME/OFFICE explores the manifold follies and triumphs – and frequent mashups of the two – of working three feet from your bed. Co-created by designer Josh Shayne and filmmaker James Darling (who also stars in the series as a self-employed graphic designer), HOME/OFFICE reveals how the self-employed sausage actually gets made. The show also includes dozens of fake products designed by Shayne to give the show added texture. Self-employed heroes, wanna-bes and graphic designers everywhere will surely relate. We caught up with Josh Shayne via email about the series.
What experiences prompted you to make HOME/OFFICE?
I grew up in a home/office. My parents owned a design agency and worked from home through the 80s and 90s. As an adult, I’ve worked as a freelance designer and filmmaker for over 10 years. Plus there are now 53 million freelancers in the US— over 1/3 of the workforce. In that time, there’ve been dozens of workplace comedies, but not a single one of them reflected the work environment I knew.
As we started, we found an endless amount of topics uniquely relatable to anyone who’s ever been self-employed or tried to work from home – everything from dealing with clients, to staying physically active, to focusing while someone is blasting music on the street outside.
The shape of the series came together quickly. Each episode focuses on a different facet of freelancing life, while creating a larger arc that covers the full cycle of a creative project.
Once we wrote the scripts, my co-creator James Darling and I decided to go directly into production. If you want to see something in the world, I think you should charge ahead and not wait for anyone’s permission.
What are a few truths about working from home that aren’t widely appreciated?
A lot of people believe working from home is somehow easier than a traditional 9-5 job. People tell me they couldn’t do it — that they would get nothing done and just watch TV all day. In my experience, the opposite is true. Without a clear structure, there’s nothing to keep me from working too much.
Sure, you’re your own boss —but with that comes the weight of being entirely responsible for your success or failure. Freelancers think about their work 24/7. Work/life balance is something you have to manage intentionally — especially when your bed is three feet from your desk.
For me, keeping a consistent routine is key. Go outside, exercise, shower every day — even if there’s no one else around to smell you. If you don’t take care of yourself, it’s very easy to burn out. Unlike our HOME/OFFICE character, not everyone has an omniscient narrator to prod them into a healthy lifestyle. Did someone say spa day?
Are certain personality types more or less suited to working from home?
All different kinds of people can find satisfaction from working at home. Everyone is different and “home” doesn’t just mean your house. I focus best on detail-oriented work when I’m alone and uninterrupted, but I also seek out interaction with other humans and find that socializing spurs creative ideas. This can mean working at a coffee shop, lunch with friends, or taking a class.
We all have cycles where we expend energy and then recharge. You have to just learn the unique formula that fuels your productive drive and structure your life accordingly. That, or buy an espresso machine for your desk.
The fake books / products you designed for the show are delightful. Which are the standouts in your opinion, and why?
We always knew we wanted to create a unique world for HOME/OFFICE. This meant designing all the art, books, product labels, and websites/apps that the character interacts with throughout the series.
The book Hands Off My Sofa! Feng-Shui for the Obsessive-Compulsive was a gift the character received from his aunt when she went through her “Eastern phase” – he turns to her for creative inspiration in episode 04. I’ve designed a few real book covers for clients, and it was a lot of fun to write silly copy on the back cover and inside flaps — some of which isn’t even visible on-screen.
In episode 05, our hero gets in shape by popping in an exercise DVD his ex-girlfriend gave him for Valentine’s Day (rather passive-aggressively, I imagine). We shot a fake workout video for the sequence complete with pink spandex and I made a DVD case for it: “Live, Fit, or Die: The New Hampshire Workout.”
During the season finale, our protagonist pulls an all-nighter to meet a project deadline, and turns to “Rocket Fuel” — a high-octane energy drink we conceived for the show. I designed a label and wrote a hyped-up missive on the product’s benefits and signed it with the name of our show’s producer Joshua Louis Simon. Watch for the fine print: “May cause blindness, loss of taste, or heart explosion.”
Can you explain the preponderance of cheese designs in later episodes? It also seems like many of these designs are intentionally bad. Tell me about why you made them look as they do.
Throughout the season, the main character is tasked with designing a website for a hip Brooklyn artisanal cheese company. At one point, he is creatively stuck and decides to research the competition. This meant I got to design a bunch of “bad” cheese-based websites, which was a blast.
I drew a lot from the sites that were popular in the 90s — i-frames, Flash, midi-music set to auto-play. For one, I came up with a bunch of Shakespearean cheese puns. Another, “Cheese of Nazareth,” was a joke that my dad has been making for years, so it was great to be able to visualize that and include it in the show.
I assume Clients From Hell informed your work on the series. What other inspirations did you draw upon in making HOME/OFFICE?
The client/personal storylines are derived mainly from our experiences. I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of wonderful clients, but I’ve had my share of frustrations as well. We amped those up wherever possible for comedic effect.
Tonally, we owe a lot to the style of early educational films and the great “How To” Goofy cartoons Disney made in the 40s. I think James’ performance has strong hints of Rowan Atkinson’s Mr. Bean — he’s someone we love immensely and definitely talked about in the writing and shooting of the series.
Moment of truth: I assume at one point you worked from home. Do you still now?
I worked from home for 9 years before moving to Friends Work Here, a co-working studio in Brooklyn. That was an amazing experience to work alongside a bunch of talented, self-directed people doing creative work. I recently moved westward to LA to start our production company Good Worker. It’s a fresh start, and for now that means I’m back in my home/office once again.
Keen to watch the series? Check out a full episode right here:
Watch more episodes of HOME/OFFICE at home-office.tv.
Give your design work a sense of humor with expert advice from Heather Bradley, former creative director for Cheezburger and LOL Cats, in her new book Design Funny: A Graphic Designer’s Guide to Humor.