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Jessica Walsh and Timothy Goodman on 40 Days of Dating

The NYC designers open up about their unusual experiment in dating and how it relates to design.

Interview By John Dugan, July 12, 2013

Portraits by Osvaldo Ponton

We recently posted about a new project from designers Jessica Walsh and Timothy Goodman called "40 Days of Dating" in which the two agreed to date one another for 40 days (see the Dating Rules video, below) and document the experience online. With our curiosity piqued and the site just a few hours old, we checked in with the NYC designers to find out why they'd embark on such a risky and not-obviously-design-related venture.

40 Days of Dating seems like a social science experiment—or perhaps a great rom-com plot line, so how did two designers happen upon this? What interested you in doing this?
Tim: It was a small idea I had about a year ago, but I didn't really know the 'what' or the 'how.' Then one day on our way to Miami—when Jessie was heart broken about a guy, and I was dating too many girls at once—it became crystal clear. Jessie ran with the idea, and it really became something entirely different after that. 

Jessica: We were waiting in line for egg sandwiches at a deli in JFK en route to Art Basel when Tim mentioned an idea he had for a dating project. I instantly felt that doing a personal project around relationships was a great idea. We started throwing crazy, nutty ideas back and forth during the plane ride, and by the time we landed in Miami we had a pretty elaborate and crazy plan for "40 Days of Dating." 

Were you nervous that things might go south?
Tim: Yes! We were in a constant state of worry before we began the project. 

Jessica: Absolutely. We went back and forth several times about whether it was a good idea. The biggest risk was hurting a great friendship. 

Illustration by Darren Newman

How well did you know each other beforehand?
Tim+ Jessica: Very well. We bonded four years ago after we met through the design community, and we always really respected each other's work. Over the years, we became closer and now have a great group of friends.

What did your friends say about this or did you not tell them?
Tim: Surprisingly, some of our mutual friends weren't so keen on it. They thought I was either going to hurt her, or that I was just trying to sleep with her. Which is ridiculous, because if that was the case, I would have already tried to sleep with her!

Jessica: While we were on that Miami trip, we told our friends about it. One of our friends started crying at the dinner table. They just didn't want us to ruin a great group dynamic. They thought that Tim just wanted to sleep with me, and that I just wanted a relationship with him. 

The teaser videos are funny and bizarre–how do they connect to the project? Who came up with the concept for those?
Tim + Jessica: It was the perfect metaphor. The two of us staring at each other, trying to stay focused, while everything else (emotions, fears, habits, people, etc.) are trying to keep us from that focus. In a way, this project was an endurance test.

Illustration by John Passaflume

You've posted three days worth of stuff so far on the site. Is this kind of like a reality show, where you can't tell anyone how it turns out until it unfolds completely?
Tim + Jessica: Our friends know what happened, but we're definitely trying to keep our lips closed until the end!

And tell us how the site is designed and how the new material is going to be rolled out. Daily?
Tim + Jessica: Yes. We launched the project with the first three days, and we're posting it daily until the end.

Illustration by Keetra Dean Dixon

Some of the early reports have some great details such as Jessica not checking her texts, a trait that also drives me crazy. Did you you both learn about some of your quirks or deeper issues in this process?
Tim: I don't even know where to start! Yes, yes, yes. 

Jessica: Of course. After seeing him every day for forty days, I am pretty sure I learned about ALL his quirks and deeper issues. 

This seems like a risky proposition in so many ways. Did it take some convincing to get this off the ground? What were your worries going in to 40 Days?
Tim: Yes. We had a very good friendship. I didn't want to ruin that. We tried to talk ourselves out of it, but we knew this was a once in a lifetime chance.

Jessica: Yes. We kept going back and forth about whether it was a good idea. I backed out once in the beginning because I met a guy I liked. 

How does the project relate to your work as designers?
Tim: It's always been very important that I bring my own voice and sensibilities into my work. A project like this, where we essentially sacrificed our personal lives, was incredibly rewarding because it went beyond design. I've always been in touch with my relationship issues, and I'm fascinated with human habits and the things that make us tick when it comes to interpersonal relationships. Being a designer became a vessel for how to tell our story.

Jessica: My business partner, Stefan Sagmeister, has been exploring the theme of happiness through his documentary film, The Happy Film. I've always admired the human and self-exploration aspect of this work. As a designer, I am driven to create emotionally driven work that can touch people in some way. Relationships are such a big part of existence, and they effect our lives so deeply, so I wanted to learn more about this topic and myself. It's wonderful to be in a field where I have the skills to communicate with people visually, and I try to use that to my advantage.  

Did "40 Days" give you any inspiration that might affect your design thinking or your work?
Tim+Jessica: Yes, we want to continue doing robust personal projects that challenge the boundaries between our careers and our lives.

Visit fortydaysofdating.com to see what happens to Tim and Jessica.