In the fall of 2014, I was ready for a major change in how I was living and working. I quit my full-time job as an in-house art director at a highly successful tech startup and conceptualized a creative road show; an extended trip around the country to learn about the human experience and develop my voice as a storyteller.
The method of transportation for this road show was initially of no concern to me. It could’ve worked with a boat, a bus or just a backpack and a willingness to hitchhike. But as soon as I learned about the “van life” I knew it was the most logical solution to my problem. Two weeks later I had a used cargo van sitting in my driveway—the first vehicle I’ve ever owned.
What followed for the months afterwards was unexpected. Instead of finding myself behind a camera, I spent my days behind various power tools, partaking in a different, but still satisfying form of artistic expression. True to my nature I became obsessed with the project. Ultimately this obsession lead to the creation of a website called The Vanual—a record of what I had built and learned along the way.
The Vanual is not a blog. Think of it more as a friendly advisor. An opinionated right-hand man who provides insight to those interested in converting a van into a camper and living a mobile lifestyle. Best of all, this helping hand is free to use and completely void of expectation for something in return. I’d like to introduce you to thevanual.com
Purchasing a used electrician’s van with over 200k miles is potentially a foolish decision. Deciding to give this rusty metal shell a second life as a decked out camper to travel the country with… Well, that is downright moronic. And yet, that’s exactly what I did.
Pulling influences from contemporary architecture, this mobile studio was methodically designed and built over a period of six months. And with no previous carpentry or interior design experience, learning opportunities were abound. This creative living and working space currently roams the country to follow inspiration wherever it takes hold.
I’ve never been in a college lecture hall. The last textbook I opened was for high school chemistry. Everything I’ve learned how to do over the past half a decade has been entirely self-taught using the available resources online and the experience from the wise folks around me. If it weren’t for the altruistic intentions of random strangers to teach others what they have learned, I probably would be doing something much less exciting today.
For this reason, I decided shortly after finishing the van to compile everything I learned during the build process into one succinct resource for others to use. I made preliminary plans for a book. I brainstormed ideas for a video series. However, at the end of the day, I was always pulled back to building a well-designed website that would be as informative as it was accessible.
The Design Process
I’ll admit, I spent way too much time on what was essentially just a personal project of mine. A project I assumed at the beginning would be found and seen by very few people. But here I found myself time and time again, staying up all night redesigning the site from scratch—examining broad UX questions and toiling over minute design details.
I wanted The Vanual to stand out from the cookie cutter sites all of us are accustom to today. Initially that goal lead to questionable design choices that sacrificed the quality of user experience for “uniqueness”. Over time I realized that the thing that would make the site unique was a smooth and even enjoyable browsing experience. An experience that is missing from most blogs and how-to sites found on the web. Below you’ll find various versions of the vanual design that were all precursors to the split site layout that is used today. Enable scrolling to view the entire mockup.
click to disable scrolling
click to enable scrolling
Freelancers and independent artists rely on a certain amount of self-promotion in order to survive—the merits of which I will gladly debate with you over a beer... or two. I know at some point in my career, knowledge of how to receive traction with press outlets and market one's work would be useful. I had a base understanding of the PR process that I gained from my previous job. To learn even more, I decided to do an experiment—a marketing exercise of sorts. I created a press kit with high quality stills and press release (which you can find here).
With my comprehensive list of news outlets and reporters, I then strategized my media outreach. To my surprise, the New York Times decided to do a multi-page spread for their men's style section. On June 1st, the Times piece was published, thevanual.com went live, my short film was released and my marketing strategy was in full swing. What followed was the craziest summer of my life so far. Endless interviews which resulted in mentions in an excessive number of press mentions (some links below). Contrary to the NY Times title, I haven't escaped the grind. The hustle has just begun.
NEW YORK TIMES: A Young Man Quits His
Old Life and Goes West
SLATE: This Aspiring Filmmaker Converted a Used Cargo Van Into a Stylish Living Space
MASHABLE: A Filmmaker Turned His Van Into a Home and Now Travels the Country
UNCRATE: DIY Campervan
HYPEBEAST: Filmmaker Converts Cargo Van Into a Living Studio Space
INHABITAT: Man Quits Desk Job to Transform Van Into a Digital Nomad’s Dream Home
HICONSUMPTION: The Vanual Camping Van
CURBED: Tour a Chevy Van Turned Into Sleek, Tiny Live-Work Space
DESIGNBOOM: Zach Both Converts a Chevy Cargo Van Into a Nomadic Filmmaking Studio
MY MODERN MET: Filmmaker Transforms Rusty Cargo Van into Mobile Studio Allowing Him to Work Anywhere
BILD: Mann Kündigt Job und Lebt in Umgebautem Van
ELLE DECOR ITALIA: Vivere In Camper, L'Esperienza Di Zach Both
TREEHUGGER: Filmmaker Converts Cargo Van Into Modern Live-Work Space on Wheels
DAILY MAIL: Too Long of a Title