A Future Without Clients: Earn While You Sleep


Ed. note: Drawing on materials from his recently published book, Work for Money, Design for Love, graphic designer David Airey shares the story of two designers who took something they loved—wood type—and turned it into a passive income stream. 

Sooner or later, the idea of self-employment without the need to deal with clients—that is, being able to generate passive income—is going to enter your head. Don’t get me wrong: I love working with good clients, but I chose self-employment because there’s a bit of an entrepreneur in me, and who doesn’t see the appeal in earning while asleep?

I was only a couple of years into my business when I began thinking of a future exit strategy. And if I were to do it all over again, I’d be planning my exit from the outset. Again, this is not because I don’t like clients. It just makes sense. You can earn even when you’re not actively working, and you can devote more time to your family without needing to worry so much about money.

Ship your product

We’re in the service industry. We sell our time, our creativity and our passion. But that doesn’t mean we can’t offer a product, too.

Matt Braun and Matt Griffin are the designers at Bearded, a Pittsburgh-based studio. Here the duo shares their experience of how and why they launched Wood Type Revival, which seeks to locate and acquire the most prized fonts of wood type and “carry them over into the world of vectors and Opentype font-ery.”

“Because we’re primarily focused on web design and development,” said Griffin, “we spend the majority of our time with our faces glued to a variety of digital displays. But we’re also both letterpress printers, and we really like wood type. The textures in wood type prints are lovely, the unexpected turns of the letterforms refreshing, and the vast variety of approaches delightful. Not only that, but the process of physically engaging with type is often a terrific contrast to our standard computer-tethered state.”

Like so many creative entrepreneurs, the pair used Kickstarter to fund their project. “Once we became aware of Kickstarter,” he explained, “we immediately thought of letterpress and wondered how it might fund a wood type–related project. Over the course of a week or so, [Matt] Braun kept coming to me with new project concepts, and for one reason or another they didn’t feel right. Then one day he asked, ‘What if we buy fonts of wood type, scan them, turn them into digital faces and give the files back to the project funders?’”

According to Matt Griffin, “Good ideas are like falling in love. When it’s not the real thing, you can debate about the pros and cons forever. But when it’s really right, you know it when it happens, and you’d be crazy not to act on it.”

That’s not to say things were easy. “Promoting and managing the Kickstarter project was hard work,” he noted. “So was everything else about getting Wood Type Revival off the ground: finding type, negotiating purchases, drawing the fonts, learning new software, building the website to sell the fonts—but it always felt worth it. Every time a package of type showed up it was like designer-Christmas. Proofing each face on our press felt like some kind of Indiana Jones tomb-opening. Typing with the digital fonts for the first time? Awesome.”

Wood Type Revival now provides Bearded with a passive income stream. It’s relatively minor compared to the income generated by the firm’s client work, but the money doesn’t matter to them all that much. It pays for itself, and it brings more joy into the work they do every day.

“Passive income alone is great, of course,” conceded Griffin. “But if you can take what you’re good at, and what you love, and mash them together into something useful… Well, that’s the real trick, isn’t it?”

About the Author:

David Airey has been successfully self-employed as a graphic designer since 2005. Specializing in the design of brand identities, he works with clients of all sizes from his studio in Northern Ireland.


He is the author and editor of three of the most popular design blogs on the Internet: davidairey.com, logodesignlove.com, and identitydesigned.com, with the sites attracting hundreds of thousands of subscribers and more than 600K visitors every month.


He is also author of two books, the first of which is currently available in 10 languages:


Logo Design Love (2010)

Work for Money, Design for Love (2012).