What are you using to read this right now? I’m going to guess it’s your smartphone. And if I’m wrong, I’m willing to bet said smartphone is within arm’s reach.
These ubiquitous black mirrors reveal the intensely personal. You can learn volumes about someone simply by looking at their phone—which is precisely why we tend to squirm in horror at the thought of a stranger grabbing ours. The questions that arise are many, and wide-ranging: Does placing your apps into folders mean that you’re a neat freak IRL? Is your favorite band your background, or is it a photo of your family? When was the last time you went on a date with someone you didn’t meet through one of The Apps™ on there? In this column we go beyond the screen with designers, writers, artists and creatives-at-large to see how much we can learn about them based on their phones.
Up first: artist and author Adam J. Kurtz.
If you spend any time at all on Instagram, there’s a good chance you’ve seen some of his work. Or if you’ve been to Urban Outfitters. Or a bookstore. Maybe you’ve seen him speak at 99u, Adobe MAX, HOW Design Live, or one of the many other events he’s done. (He has his fingers in a lot of pies.)
Most recently, Kurtz has been focusing on his own business, his relationship and, naturally, Alanis Morissette. Read on.
So, your lock screen—that’s your husband, Mitchell, right? Do you remember where and when that picture was taken?Yes, that’s Mitchell Kuga, talented writer and very beautiful person and also my husband. I took that photo near our apartment; I think that evening we were going to get cheap dumplings after spending like eight hours sitting at our shared desk in our home studio working next to each other. I just like to see his face all the time and it’s funny that he’s standing on a bunch of garbage.
Do you ever collaborate? If so, what’s that like?We haven’t collaborated in the most obvious sense, like, “HERE IS A WORK WE HAVE MADE TOGETHER WITH BOTH OUR NAMES ON IT.” But we collaborate in small ways all the time. He gives me gut reaction design feedback; I’m often his first reader, and we help each other in other ways, too. I put his website and pitch docs together. He helps keep me alive. We planned our own wedding together. Our whole life is a collaboration.
A lot of your artwork is focused on real life. What sort of influence would you say your relationship has in your creative life?Most of the time I’m just talking to myself out loud, and so being in a relationship has taught me new things, new ways of thinking, and otherwise just shifted my entire reality. Even when work isn’t directly about our romantic relationship (and it usually isn’t) there’s still the broader influence of being a happier and supported person.
Moving on to your app screens—who is that on your homescreen? And why this photo?Alanis Morissette, hero of my life, just looking over me at all times. This is also my desktop background on all my computers and devices, and has been for as long as I can remember. It’s just a great photo—so calm, so in control. If I ever learn the true story behind it—maybe it was rushed out of a quick shoot on a bad day—maybe that would change things for me.
You have an app folder called “never”—what’s that about?“never” is where I shove all the apps I will literally never use that my phone tells me I need to have, like “Tips” or “Find My iPhone”—although I did use that one once.
It looks like you also have a folder devoted to photography. Do you have a favorite creative app? Or an app that you think every creative should download?There are just so many photo- and video- and image-editing apps! I should really change that name to “images,” or something. Instagram has really caught up with their in-app photo editing, but I still love the level of control you get with Snapseed for image editing. I used to use VSCO all the time but kind of dropped off; I’m just not really a photographer and I think maybe I just got over all those moody blues.
From Kurtz’s Instagram
Which game on your phone would you never delete? Why?I have been playing “Candy Crush Saga” for six years, and I go through phases with it but I … yeah. It’s a part of my life. It really is.
What’s the most embarrassing thing on your phone that you’re willing to share?Two different apps for measuring social media engagement, because I had to pay for them—but one stopped working when Instagram changed their API, and that was years ago, and why I don’t just go through and clean out my apps I don’t know. Like I haven’t touched the game “Neko Atsume” in three years. Maybe it’s time to go. But the cats!
Can we see your favorite Boomerang?This really just proves to me how little I use the Boomerang app? But here’s one from Tokyo, where I found the Japanese edition of my book in a store. And by “found,” I mean I asked someone to help me find it. But I wanted to FEEL the FANTASY and I guess I made this social media content and then never used it.
Rapid fire either/or:
Cash App or Venmo?Depends who I’m paying! I use everything.
Uber or Lyft?I will alternate depending on how often Lyft yells at me about their 10% off specials.
Google Maps or Apple Maps?Google Maps! Apple Maps is in my “never” folder.
Spotify or Soundcloud?Both, for sure. I pay for Spotify, but was deep into Soundcloud memes for a long time—this weird scene of people making audio jokes, terrible mashups that shouldn’t exist, just really weirdo nonsense. A good entry point is “Mouth Sounds,” which is a 2014 mashup album by Neil Cicierega that’s just dozens of mashups of Smash Mouth’s “All Star.”
Messenger or WhatsApp?They’re the same company! WhatsApp for friends abroad, though.
Any other weird phone-related trivia we should know about you?I love phone!
What’s the most recent project you’re proud of?Honestly, what I’m most proud of currently is trying to put some work into my own business stuff. After about a decade of making things I was finally like, Hmm, maybe it’s time to register a trademark for my brand, solidify a logo (sort of a non-logo still, as it’s just handwritten), upgrade my website and my online shop, find a fulfillment partner so I am not spending every morning shipping packages. … It’s been slow and steady.