On the Side with Stephen McCarthy

2 months ago by

This series profiles our DA Friends and the side projects that they are working on to develop new skills, test ideas, help people and communities or just do, for the love of it.


This week we sat down with Stephen McCarthy of McCarthy Studio to chat about his newest side project, Month Done. No stranger to designing habit based tools or the science behind them, Stephen designed this clever habit journal to help people take a break from alcohol for a month or longer if they choose . . . such as six years in Stephen’s case.


If you are a DA Friend (sign-up today) and have a side project you would like to share, we would love to hear from you! Email jess@designassembly.org.nz

Tell us a bit about yourself and what you’re up to during the work week.

I co-run a design studio – McCarthy in Ōtautahi –  heaps of branding work, campaigns, social behaviour change stuff on the go at the moment so it’s pretty full on.

On the side, we heard you’ve been working on a personal project called ‘Month Done’ which helps people take a break from alcohol for a month or more if they want to. Can you share with us your journey in developing this tool and how it works?

It’s been an interesting personal journey for me and the catalyst started with a Christmas Holiday in Golden bay – as the negroni’s were getting poured at 2pm…. again… on a bright sunny afternoon I realised the day was kinda over and biking, kayaking, fishing etc was off the cards.

I decided to try take a month off the booze and to see if I could do it. It didn’t work first up and failed for about a year until I remembered a project I created for a client way back after the quakes about good habits called Habit Sticks and it clicked… if I could apply this to drinking it may just work.

It’s all about one day at a time and with the book –  there’s the same simple instruction written each day, you use the bookmark and place it in the page every day for a month and it’s foolproof. One small step at a time and you’ll get there. I’ve been six years off alcohol now and the habit is ingrained.

I know it all seems a bit silly but I know it works and I’d recommend using this with other support, books and podcasts, friend to help to keep you on track –  and use month done as the icing on the cake to keep you on course

The technique you use in the Month Done journal, could it be applied to helping form other healthy habits?

Totally –  that’s the plan –  I’m working on two more and hope to make a series –  how to get off social media for a month, and how to stop being a dick for a month are the next ones on the go.

Seems like you’ve always got a cool personal project on the go, what’s your trick to staying motivated and seeing a side project through to completion when life and work get busy?

I think I’ve realised since the quakes here the power that good design can have and it’s a constant driver – when bad things happen, good design can offer a solution. I find sleep incredibly overrated. So, staying up late and just chipping away each night gets the project done. If I start saying I’ll do 15 minutes on it tonight –  it usually turns into 2 hours and you’ve ended up spending 15 hours a week without really trying. Swap for a week the time you spend on Netflix and social media for creating stuff and you’ll be amazed at what you can achieve.

Over the years, what’s been your favourite on-the-side project you’ve worked on?

The Kotahitanga Pin was a rewarding one. Created with a friend and past employee Scott Bolton directly after the mosque attack here the pin was a tangible symbol of unity    a wearable pin that took on a bit of a life of it’s own. We ended up raising over $120k for victim support –  again the power of good design in bad times.

Lastly, where can people keep up with your work and the Month Done project?



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