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Life Kerning: Reevaluating Your Negative Space with Justin Ahrens

Written by in Profiles


“Luckily, I learned early in my career that I wasn’t as good as I thought I was…” Justin Ahrens

Justin Ahrens is an accomplished creative director. He knows a lot about kerning, but, as he proves in this little blue book, Life Kerning: Creative Ways to Fine Tune Your Perspectives on Career and Life, he knows even more about making the most of life’s opportunities. We all should follow his example.


If you are not an art director, printer, designer and font-o-phile, the verb “kerning” sounds like something you might do with a dry corncob. But the graphics aficionados knows fine kerning is what separates nice layout of type from the Slap Your Mama & Call the Law layout out. Kerning is not something excellent designers take lightly.

Ahrens uses “kerning” as a metaphor for examining, exploring, extracting and expanding one’s work and life. Says Ahrens, “It’s often the fine adjustments between the smaller details of our lives that we neglect or do not revisit often enough.”

“People on their deathbeds do not wish that they had worked more. When reflecting on their lives, they may wish they had loved, played, explored, served, and lived more instead of working so hard chasing fame and fortune. If you don’t have a job that fuels your life or live a life that fuels your work, then look at your focus, your reason for doing, your passion . . . the answer lies there.”

Ahrens is a Chicagoland native and creative director at Rule29 of Geneva, IL. He possesses a bonhomie that attracts a crowd of friends making him a popular face on the design industry lecture circuit. Ahrens’ gift is attraction. His warm glow is inviting. The book is like a tangible extension of that cheer and good humor: with it, you can take a little Justin in your hands when one needs reassurance and reminding. It sure beats a book about what “makes” a good brand.


To be certain, some of Ahrens’ advice includes things we (should) already know.  But, does it hurt to be reminded?  No… remember giving and receiving is so much fun. As Ahrens notes, “Do you ever ask for help? If you do, do you actually listen? Do you give credit to those who have helped you? The discipline of asking for, receiving, and then giving thanks for advice pays great dividends…”

So, Justin Ahrens, thank you for reminding us to pay attention to details. Thank you for reminding us to take a break and see the billions of beautiful little things in the world. Thank you for reminding us to appreciate what we have rather than what we want and to stop chasing fame when the smile of a wife or daughter is worth more than both. Thank you for having the courage to put into print a message of kindness and balance knowing that mean and little-spirited people love to disparage the optimist and the cheerful.


“Perhaps you haven’t quite arrived there yet . . . or maybe you’ve made it, but ‘there’ is not quite as fulfilling as you thought it would be. Perhaps you’ve even questioned whether pursuing that early dream was worth it. Was it really what you wanted? Did it even matter?”

Ahrens dreamed of writing a book that will help others. He has realized that dream. It matters. Buy the book. Read it. Write to him and tell him how it affected your dreams. You and he will both benefit from the transaction. Improve your life kerning.

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