Tips for the Unemployed Graphic Designers

Well, it has been quite a while since my last post. What gives? The answer is that since my last post, I’ve landed a new job. Does that mean I’m not posting anymore? Not at all! Between interviewing, Thanksgiving, starting the job and getting re-adjusted, I’ve simply been a tad bit busy.

I’ve spoken to many designers or people in general about the seemingly lack of jobs for us creative types out there. Many of you have expressed the same concerns that I have over the last few years or so – the opportunities for print designers seem to be few and far in between; people hiring don’t seem to know exactly what they really want or need; you interview but for whatever reason aren’t landing the job you think you’re fit for. My advice? Don’t sweat it. I know, when you’re unemployed and living on your savings or unemployment, that’s hard to do. I was unemployed from the first week of August of this year until the last week in November and now am back to work designing magazines as I’ve been doing for the past four years. Yes, a three-month unemployment period really isn’t all that bad but it’s taught me more than a few lessons that I thought I’d pass on to you all. If you’re an unemployed graphic designer or creative type in general, I believe you’ll find my insight helpful and useful. Our professions aren’t like others – where others may easily be able to neatly sum up their professions and experience in a resume, creative types need to actually show and demonstrate that they are creative. If you don’t do that in your outlook and resume and other material, you’re dead in the water and won’t be finding much in terms of employment. So here are a few tips to help you land a great job:

1. Breathe. The moment you’re facing being unemployed, your life seems to go from relaxed to super stressful and hectic. You think of all the bills you need to pay, you watch the news and fret over the continuous reports of how people are unemployed for not just weeks but for months if not years. Relax. Seriously, just breathe and take it all in. Take a day or two to get your thoughts together but immediately jump in on the job search. It may seem daunting but don’t put it off for days or weeks. Not more than 24 hours after being laid off, I was back on the job hunt.

2. Don’t think of yourself as unemployed. Do you remember that old saying, “You are what you eat?” Well, you also are what you think. If you accept and think of yourself as jobless, unemployed and whatever other negative adjectives associated with being out of a job, that’s exactly what you will be and will remain until you think otherwise. Yes, I knew I was without a job but I also knew I didn’t have the time or ability to accept being unemployed. I couldn’t live off of unemployment benefits for long; I needed and wanted to be able to support myself again and like most men, didn’t want to have to rely on others. I had down days when it felt like I’d never find that breakthrough and I had weeks when there really weren’t any good opportunities presenting themselves. I took days off of my job search to veg out and watch television, listen to music or just get out. I needed days to recoup and regenerate because searching for a new job is a full-time job within itself. There are days when I did nothing but search and look through job postings, follow-up, tweak the resume and send out the portfolio. So take a day off now and then but dedicate yourself to find a job by a certain date. Didn’t meet your goal? Push it back by another two weeks or so.

3. No one can help you but yourself. This goes against what most will tell you. They say that you have to network, that most jobs aren’t posted online, that there will be hundreds of people applying to the few jobs posted online. Guess what – they’re right. They are also wrong. Too often when you’re unemployed, you go on to think that you can’t do things on your own. That first week or two you’re really motivated then that motivation turns to doubt and dread as the weeks and months tick by. You think that the problem is “you” and and look to others to rescue you. Stop looking to others to find you a job. Even if they’re family, they don’t know you like you know yourself. They can’t fix your situation, describe your skills or help you find what’s going to make you happy. Only you can do that.

4. Get outside opinions. One of the most useful things I did during my unemployment period was to speak to a recruiting scout. The recruiter was able to help me put together my resume, give advice on how to spruce it up and clearly examine my qualifications and give me an idea of what I should be looking for in terms of employment and salary. You don’t even have to pay to get this done. There are many recruiting agencies out there for designers and creatives including The Select Group and some local agencies. Check out their website and they usually have job listings. Ask to speak to them about a job they are recruiting for and use that opportunity to have them look over your resume, portfolio and give you an idea of how to make yourself more presentable. Do this at the start of your job search – this will help you to know when to really pursue an opportunity or pass on one that’s not beneficial to you.

5. Be realistic. Fear turns into your biggest motivator when you’re unemployed and searching for a job. It will make you do some crazy things like spend money on services that promise to help you when they don’t or will have you thinking you need to go to school because you’re useless otherwise. Sit down and look at your situation, both financially and in terms of what you want out of your work. You don’t always need to go back to school full-time; look into taking an online course in something related to your field. You can’t always afford to move so don’t waste time looking at jobs in another state. Maybe you’ve just been laid off and you hated the job you’ve been doing … so why look for a job that’ll be so similar? Sit down and sketch out your situation and use that as a map for your job searching.

6. Work on your resume and portfolio. This is a given, which is why it comes so late in the list. Your resume and portfolio are probably outdated. Ideally you should constantly be updating it and keeping it fresh, even if you are happily employed and have no plans to look for a job anytime soon. That rarely happens, however. Before you go around submitting your resume to potential employers, spend a few days really working on what you have. Do you list your responsibilities on your resume? Then you need to re-write it when action verbs and instead of listing your responsibilities, describe in an exciting manner your biggest accomplishments in each job. Think of it as writing an action movie rather than a boring resume. You want people to stay interested and your resume to be short and to the point so that you’ll have somewhere to go during an interview. Oh, and are you a designer? Then figure out a way to make your resume, even in word format, look professional and clean but not like the standard resume. I’ll do a blog post about resume tips in the near future.

As for the portfolio, it should be clean and have elements of your website. Yes, you should have a website and web presence. A lot of the time an employer will ask for a link to your online portfolio. Your website should basically be an easy-to-use interactive version of your print portfolio. Have a lot of the same pieces that will be in your print version but toss in some new ones that will be exclusively online only. Why? Most will be reviewing your portfolio and work more so than your resume and credentials if you’re a designer or creative type. If you get an interview, you’ll want to be able to show everyone in the interview something unexpected and that they haven’t already seen online. It’s a nice, subtle thing that sets you apart and makes your presentations memorable. Oh, and limit your portfolio pieces to 9 or 10 pieces. Think of this as your greatest hits – not as “this is your life.”

7. Blog! This is a tip I haven’t heard much at all but one that I found was truly helpful in my job search. Even before being unemployed I was blogging. I like blogging because it gives you a way to network and reach out to new clients, designers and creative types in general from the comfort of your own home. When I was searching for a job, I used the blog as a means of distraction and way of reminding people that I was still around and relevant though I was holed up in my apartment most days searching for work. During, and after, interviews, one of the things that seemed to make a great impression was this blog and my tutorials, advice and things that went outside and beyond myself. Blogging, when done right, could help sell you and show your personality before you even walk into the room to interview. Show off your skills through writing tutorials and it can also prove that you’re indeed an expert in your field without leaving them wondering what you’re capable of.

These are just a few tips that I hope those looking for work will find helpful. Overall, take comfort in knowing that nothing last forever. Your job may have been cut or you have just graduated from college which proves that statement to be true. You also will find that though it’s hard to believe, being unemployed doesn’t last forever either.

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Why Logos Don’t Cost $10

Logo design. It’s probably the most lucrative design services a designer can offer and can also be the most costly. Whenever I’m approached to do a logo design for someone, I have to admit – I cringe. Not because I hate doing logos because they can offer a design challenge worth taking on but because no one really knows what a good logo costs.

For clients, a logo is just another design task. Often logos come into play when someone has a great idea for a business and wants to be an entrepreneur and set off on their own. That’s great! If you have a great product or service, by all means, set off and start your own business and pursue it. With any new business comes the marketing and identity. The first thing most people seek is a logo. Even before they’ve truly thought things out, it seems natural for many to at least have a logo to show off when you’re trying to get your business off the ground. There are other situations when a logo design comes up. Sometimes people look for a new identity after years in the business and want to ditch their old logo. For others, perhaps there’s a special event or a new website that needs a better logo than the one you have or have been using.

Here comes the problem – how much does a logo cost? Depending on who you ask, you’ll get different responses. The client will say that $100 for a logo is pushing it. A designer may not even consider doing a logo for less than $200, and that’s on the low end of the scale. Some clients will even say that $25 or $75 is a reasonable amount for a logo. Who’s right?

Here’s my opinion – the right price is dependent on the quality of the design you want. You know that old saying of “you are what you eat?” It applies to design as well because you get what you pay for. Cheap design isn’t effective. It’s just that – cheap, quick, dirty and not well thought out. Good design costs money and has great value. A good designer knows that an effective logo is one that works well when blown up to fit on an 8×11 sheet of paper and one that works just as well when it’s the size of your thumbnail. Seriously. A good designer will use a font that’s readable and clean, that knows an overly-complicated logo makes for a messy design all together.

Designing a logo also takes time. Rarely is a good logo developed overnight. There’s the conceptual stage; the design stage; revisions; testing it out on your potential audience and tweaking and refining the logo until it’s really as good as it can possibly be. Therefore, a good logo doesn’t cost you $10 – it’ll probably cost a couple hundred of dollars if you are working with a good designer.

Non-designers will probably roll their eyes at this. A couple hundred dollars JUST for a logo?! Outrageous! But not so fast. Think about the value of your logo – it’s usually your visual introduction to your clients and audience. A logo visually speaks volumes about your company or product, it’s sometimes the first impression a person has of you and your business and it’s something that you aren’t just going to use once. Your logo will be all over the place including online, on paper, in print, on the top of letters, stitched into clothing and in many more places and different platforms. So, how would you feel if you’re trying to sell your product and are representing it with a $10 logo? You’d probably feel a bit embarrassed to admit that you’re asking someone to pay tons of money for your product when you can’t even bring yourself to pay for a decent logo.

And trust me, cheap logos look cheap. Some people may shake their heads in disagreements but someone with an eye for design can spot a cheap, quick and dirty design. Your customers aren’t stupid, either. If they’re looking at your logo and stacking it up against other well-known brands, they’ll notice a striking difference and will go for the company who’s logo looks the best.

Why do logos cost so much? First, copyright issues. A designer is creating a piece of work that you plan on taking and making money from. For weeks after you get the logo. For months afterward. Years! Decades! A good logo will help sell your business and product and isn’t something you want to change every season or much at all. That’s why you’re spending money upfront to basically ensure that the logo you purchase and have designed best suits your business and represents you well. Second, think of company’s like Nike or McDonalds. These established brands have had the same logo for decades. Someone had to design that logo and they made a decent profit from it. The reason logo design is a bit pricey because the artist is releasing to you a valuable design that he or she is agreeing to sign over and give to you to use as you please. Part of a logo design’s price is the ownership being transferred over to the client and business.

Designers – the price of a logo ultimate comes down to you. You can design a logo for any price you feel is suitable based on the amount of time and effort you’re going to put into it and with the fair warning that you never know what will happen with a business you’re designing for. They could just as easily succeed and grow into a nation-wide known company. They could just as easily never take off beyond the development stage, meaning your work and logo never will make an impact or be noticed. It’s very much a “choose your own adventure” type of situation that’s all up to you. But choose wisely – a wrong decision could end up costing you as much money as you’re charging for the design.

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Should Web Designers Also Be Web Developers?

I’m still engrossed in my search for a new job. It’s an interesting experience considering I started working at my last gig weeks after graduating from university and didn’t spend much time at all having to search for a job. Four years later I’m back on the job market and it’s taking considerably longer and is more stressful finding anything along the lines of graphic design.

A few weeks ago it came to me upon much dread that perhaps this was a sign that I needed to expand upon my skill set. As I look at job postings, I’m not seeing much at all for print design but there seems to be a slew of job listings for web designers. Any graphic designer will tell you that designing for the Web is an entirely different beast. Any web designer will tell you the same about designing for print. Both have some elements in common such as composition, color theory and needing to know how and where to use Jpg, Gif or PNG files.

In my quest to expand my skill set and perhaps make myself more marketable in today’s tough economy, I finally broke down and decided to take a course through a local community college that would help me expand my knowledge of web design. One reason I’ve been so resistant toward jumping onto the web design bandwagon is because in some ways I feel web design is more limiting. With print design, you can go crazy. There’s really no limit to the size, the colors, the possibilities of what you can do. With web design, you’re usually tackling a website that of course can only be but so big, images that may look awesome huge and in your face that now need to be minimized and may not work as well and you suddenly have to program and code everything on top of producing captivating visuals.

Or do you?

As I get deeper into this course in XHTML and CSS suddenly I’m presented with another curious question: are web designers also web developers?

I looked online for an answer and was presented with conflicting messages. Web designers often think of themselves as graphic designers who simply design graphics for the web rather than for print. Yet the jobs and employers looking for web designers also expect the web designer to be a developer. Many of the job listings that I see for web designers or web masters ask them to know Adobe Creative Suite, HTML, CSS, SEO, Java, Drupal and the list goes on and on. This goes back to my argument that many employers seem to be looking for the one-in-all designer: the one person who can basically do what an entire team should be doing. Is it entirely unreasonable to ask a web designer to know how to code? I don’t think so. The profession “graphic designer” is an umbrella term for many artists and designers: a graphic designer can be an illustrator, a logo designer, they can design business collateral, advertisements, marketing pieces but they don’t necessarily know how to do everything – and that’s ok, at least in my opinion.

Next week in addition to the course I’m taking in XHTML and CSS I will be starting a 6-week course in Java Programming. Many of you may go “Huh? What does that have do with design?” Well, perhaps nothing but if you look at what employers are asking from web designers, you’d think otherwise. I believe we’re moving toward a point where a web designer and a graphic designer are all the same thing and the designer will need to know how to design for both print and web. The designer will also need to know a bit about coding and web development, know about CSS and the design/creative team will be replaced by just one or two people being responsible for all the design needs for a company.

Out of curiosity I googled “what do web designers need to know” and came across “Do Web Designers Need To Know Web Development” by Intervals. This article goes in depth and really covers the question well. At the end they recommend web designers at least know these things about web development:

1. Pixel Resolution: Web designers should know that the optimal pixel resolution for web images is 72 ppi. Also, websites should fit 800×600, 1024×768ppi. You want your websites to be viewable but not too large nor too small.

2. Image Formats: At the very least a web designer needs to know when using a JPG, GIF or PNG is appropriate. Each displays color a bit differently and can vary in size. You don’t want a JPG that’s a couple MBs in size because it’ll take longer to load and for web users, the longer it takes something to load, the more likely they are to bail and leave the page entirely before taking in your website and its content.

3. Basic HTML: You should know the general markup language. In my last job, I was hired to oversee the print design of a magazine. Months into my employment I had webmaster duties dropped in my lap with the explanation being that graphic designers and web designers pretty much did the same thing. Yes, I was actually told that and you can laugh at that load of baloney. Still, I needed to know everything from how to format text (start/end paragraphs, bold fonts, italicize text) to the proper tags and code necessary for displaying images. There are tons of sites online that cover basic HTML and I think every designer should start becoming acquainted with HTML because at some point, you’ll be dealing with it whether you like it or not. Learning XHTML and CSS is a bit of a step up from the basics but that’s where a lot of web development/coding is going so knowing either will set you apart.

4. CSS: Cascading style sheets are basically documents used to style entire websites. If you have a site with dozens or hundreds of pages but the overall style and design of each page has to remain consistent and the same, you’ll want to create and know how to change and edit a website’s CSS. It sounds intimidating but again, you don’t have to be a total expert but just know the basics.

I’ll add to Interval’s list by suggesting a few additional things web designers should know to put them ahead of the game:

1. Google Analytics: When I was having to serve as webmaster, even though I’d been hired to be a print designer, I was suddenly asked a lot of questions such as “how many unique visitors came to our site this month?”, “How many hits does this and that page get every month?”, “How are people finding us online?” Now to a graphic designer these questions probably sound like they deserve a “How the heck would I know?” response but your employers expect you to be able to spit out stats and figures about your site. An easy tool to use is Google Analytics which is easy to setup and then spits out tons of helpful facts and figures about your site. As a web designer, why would you be interested in things like unique visitors and bounce rates? Because often it speaks volumes about your site’s design and the organization of the data. If people are coming to your site and leaving after 10 seconds and the bounce rate is above 50%, something is wrong with your design.

2. SEO: You’ll hear this word tossed around all the time – SEO (or search engine optimization). When designing for the web, you have a lot of competition. Businesses and individuals want their websites and content at the top of search pages (especially Google) and are usually distraught when this doesn’t happen. In many cases a website that isn’t ranked high on Google or other search engines and one that gets few views is considered a bad site, and that is usually equated to bad design. Here’s a few tips (95 to be exact) for good SEO that will at least give you a starting point in discussing it with your clients so that they are aware of how to get their sites ranked higher and visited more frequently.

3. Learn, learn, learn. As I’ve found out, there’s never a point where you can say you know all there is to know about designing for the Web. If you’re a designer, take courses in programming and development. Dreamweaver, Java, Flash, PHP, MySQL are all in high demand so knowing how to program and design will not kill you but give you prolonged life in today’s tough job market. If you’re a developer, take a few courses in design and learn your way around Adobe Illustrator, InDesign and Photoshop. A lot of jobs are looking for the rare one-in-all person who can do it all. While you need to be upfront and play up your strengths, don’t let your weaknesses and lack of knowledge kill your job security or prospects.

What do you all think? Do web designers need to be web developers and vice versa? What issues are you encountering with this situation in today’s job market? Leave your comments and tips in the discussion/comments area of this post.

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Everybody’s a Designer

As I look at all the ridiculous Craigslist job postings in the art/media/design section something’s become very clear to me: most people have no respect for designers or the creative types anymore. That’s the only way I can rationalize why a professional would think a designer or creative, especially one with a degree, is deserving of $9 or $10 an hour with no benefits, no vacation time and yet a ton of responsibilities and duties.

I came to another realization recently: perhaps designers and creative types are at the bottom of the totem pole because no one really gets what we do. People equate design and art with fun and leisure while a job dealing with accounting, finances or working heavy machinery is “real” work. Really, while it’d be ideal to design a PR campaign educating the general masses what a graphic designer does and why a designer or creative type shouldn’t be treated like a fast food service, face it, that’d take more time and patience than any of us have to offer.

Here’s something we can do – we can start convincing people that in some way, shape or form, everyone is a designer. You probably blinked or re-read that statement but it’s true – everybody’s a designer. I recently attended the 125th anniversary of the UNC Chapel Hill’s School of Education. The keynote speaker, Phil Schlechty, made an interesting point during his address: everybody is a designer. Now why would someone in education make such a statement when designers hardly get any recognition or respect? Perhaps that’s because those in the education field would also “get it” or understand or situation.

What makes everyone a designer? According to Schlechty, it’s all about how we set about doing our jobs. Everybody, regardless of professions, has to design in order to accomplish their work. He outlined three general goals of design and how these definitions can fit anyone and any job:

1. Design begins with goals. When you set out to design something, planning is key. Whether it’s a teacher making plans for his or her classroom, a web designer considering the UI before designing a web page or a photographer coming up with a concept for a photo shoot, we all have to start off with a plan. If we don’t take the time to plan and think of all the different aspects of our design such as the intent, audience, motive and goal, we’ll be left with an ineffective design that reaches no one and has no impact.

2. Good design keeps incentives in mind. When you design something, you aren’t designing without purpose. You often times aren’t designing for yourself but for others. Therefore, good design keeps your audience at the forefront. What motivates your audience? A good design of any kind has incentives in mind. Figuring out why people do what they do is going to drive any design towards success.

3. Design is expressive and embraces values. Great designers tell great stories. Think of your favorite teachers in school and the subject or lessons they taught that had the most impact on you. Those great lessons contained both of the previous points – they were well designed plans, they had the audience (students) in mind and took into consideration how to capture the student’s attention and, lastly, they were told in nan expressive manner. Whether you’re a teacher, a writer or designer at large, whatever you design needs to tell a story.

These three key points turns everyone into a designer. Aren’t we all presented with a problem in our work or profession? Don’t we all go about designing a plan with a goal in mind? Yes. In the end, our design or solution is only successful when our target audience truly feels it. Schlechty brought up some other points about design that applies to everyone’s profession: designers of any kind should collaborate – you need interaction to spur creativity and can’t expect to produce anything of real value working alone in isolation. You can’t design things for yourself – design is about the audience and their needs, likes and dislikes. Designers are leaders – they are the ones who take scattered ideas and focus them into effective messages for consumption.

The next time you hear someone downing designers or someone asks you why you chose to be a designer as if it’s a bad thing, point out to them that they’re probably a designer. The moment we start expanding the definition and community of designers to include people of many different backgrounds and professions is the moment we’ll once again be taken seriously and be seen as equals.

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What is Social Media Really About?

Everybody regardless of their creative area of expertise should be engaged in social media. If you’re a designer, a copywriter, creative agency or advertiser, you can’t afford not to have a social media presence. Wisely, many are finally warming to the idea of making the move to Twitter and Facebook and are promoting their businesses and themselves through “social media”. Some are even hiring “social media” experts to help them Tweet, blog, post Facebook updates all in the hopes of keeping up with the competition. The problem? Few people understand what social media really is and thus all that time spent in updating a Facebook fan page or the time spent Tweeting is wasted. What gives?

I post a lot about design and thought it’d be interesting to step away from the design of printed stuff to the design of an effective social media marketing effort. As a freelancer, I rely on various online tools and platforms to promote my business. So do a lot of you out there for your freelancing or business needs. Yet, few actually get social media. When you hear someone utter the phrase “social media” you automatically think of Twitter or Facebook. That’s where many people start and stop and why their social media marketing efforts fail. It’ll take a few posts to describe what a functional, profitable social media campaign looks like but like any form of design, it starts with the mindset. Before you leap onto Twitter and Facebook you should ask yourself an important question: What isn’tsocial media? Figure out what doesn’t qualify as social media will help you approach and design a social media campaign that looks great and functions better than anything you can imagine.

1. Social media isn’t limited to Facebook and Twitter. How many times have you heard a company boast that they have a social media component of their business and all they have to show for it is a Facebook fan page that’s generic and not customized or a Twitter account that’s rarely updated and contains trivial information? The biggest misconception most people have is that social media is defined as being on Twitter and Facebook. It’s not. Social media is an extended conversation that takes place across multiple mediums and platforms over an extended period of time. Meaning one Tweet, a few status updates on Twitter and not even a random video posted on YouTube qualifies as social media. It’s a full-time job and responsibility. If you aren’t working on it a little each day and keeping things current, you aren’t engaged in social media. Sorry to burst your bubble.

2. Social media is not a fad. Some people think social media is a waste of time. These are the same people who refuse to accept the fact that you can no longer rely on print ads or cold calls to generate leads and interest in your business or product. Social media is here to stay and inventions like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn (just to name a few) have changed how we communicate, receive our news and interact with others. If you aren’t engaged in social media then you’re already setting yourself up for an uphill battle.

3. Social media is a new way of marketing services and individuals. In the old days marketing experts were all about figuring out the unique selling proposition (USP) of their product. This was a very singular, one-size-fits-all approach to advertising. They created a message to target a specific group and would either create a print ad or commercial spot for radio or television. Fast forward to the present time. Audiences no longer respond to this singular monologue type of marketing. Thanks to the Internet, people expect and look for a dialogue. You have websites devoted to product reviews; discussions about products and advertising taking place on Facebook and Twitter 24/7; the power of print and radio waning tremendously. Social media is all about engaging your audience in a dialogue, being transparent, continuously being present and available to them and in their face. You can’t accomplish that through old ways of promotion or advertising but social media makes that constant presence very easy.

4. Social media is for all ages, races, orientations and genders. People have this silly idea that social media is for the young. They scoff at it being an integral part of any marketing, promotion, design or business because they often hear stories of people posting ridiculously personal or unflattering things online and getting caught doing so on Facebook or Twitter on a regular basis. That does happen, but that doesn’t mean all social media is like that. Effective social media stands as a way to easily reach out to your audience, or even prospects, and connect with them quickly at any time of the day. One study reported that the dominating demographic on Twitter is those aged 35-49 years. The fastest growing group on Facebook? Women who are older than 55! Both of those groups contains people who’d be willing to spend money on products or services. Want to reach them with ease? Build up a social media presence including a Facebook fan page, blog, Twitter account, Flickr, YouTube channel and LinkedIn page (for starters).

5. Social media isn’t limited to the computer. There are those who seem afraid of Twitter and other social media platforms; then there are those who completely embrace it and online marketing … but forget that integral “social” part of the media. Social is what you need to keep in mind when designing your social media efforts. You want to keep people talking and discussing your product and your work both on and offline. Word-of-mouth still is a powerful marketing technique. If you aren’t making people talk or discuss you or your work, then you’ll be left on the sidelines and often times overlooked. Effective social media takes place online and carries over into face-to-face discussions and offline lives. If you’re designing the perfect social media campaign then remember to plan for and develop your efforts to target people’s lives all day, at all times, on and off the computer or smartphone.

6. Social media isn’t something you shouldn’t be measuring. Why are you on Twitter? What’s the point of your Facebook fan page? Are you a photographer? Then why are you on Flickr or sharing your photos online? A designer? Then why are you posting to Craigslist everyday to promote your services? The answer to all of these questions, whether we like it or not, is that we’re all trying to make money. Social media is often about helping the bottom line and making a profit. Businesses don’t produce dozens of videos online for personal amusement. Companies are flocking to Twitter to tell their customers what little Johnny did at school the other day. If you’re trying to make money through social media, you can’t proclaim yourself an expert or that a campaign is successful without measuring results. How do you measure? You can note how much profit you’ve made through online promotions, the number of hits to your website, unique visitor counts, bounce rates to a website, leads generated, number of followers on Twitter, fans on Facebook, whether online discussions of your product are mostly positive or negative. What’s a good design without a bit of criticism and feedback? Start taking note of some of your stats and changes you notice since implementing a social media plan and report your findings on a continuous basis to your colleagues, clients or boss on a regular basis.

Now that you know what social media is not, you can start designing an effective social media campaign based upon what it’s really all about. Come back in the days to come for additional tips on creating your own social media marketing campaign.

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Why “One Size Fits All” Design and Marketing Fails

Like many creative types, I have to rely on freelancing to supplement or at times support me financially. That means I have to market myself. I’ve become more comfortable with marketing and promoting myself over the years. Each year I learn a bit more and feel I’m making great headway. However, I’m young and I’m bound to make mistakes and was reminded of so over the weekend.

I attended an event at a local university. It was definitely an event that was outside my profession but I had the bright idea that perhaps this was a great opportunity to network. I knew I’d possibly find myself in a situation where I’d be ask what I do and felt comfortable talking about how I am a designer and how I blog, sort of the best of both worlds when it comes to my degree which happens to be in journalism. I planned on passing my business card on to those that I spoke to and that I felt I’d connected with on some degree. There was an older woman, very eccentric, who responded well to finding out that not only was I a graphic designer but a journalist (of sorts). “Oh, you could help me make PowerPoint presentations look good!” she exclaimed in her Southern accent that’d remind you of Blanche from ‘The Golden Girls’. Sweet, I’d potentially made a connection! Then came ‘the moment’. I handed her my business card and she gladly took it and examined it.

And she frowned.

I have to admit, in a way, I was devastated. It’s taken me years to settle on a business card that I feel properly promotes and shows off my style as a graphic designer. I’m really into illustration – I know what sets me apart from other designers is my illustration style, my use of vibrant colors and my edgy, no-holds barge attitude. I designed my business card to be pop-ish, bright and packed with attitude. Do you know what I forgot to do? Consider all of my audience. The card goes well with a younger crowd – younger people tend to want to work with designers and other creative types who aren’t dull, boring and stiff. They want someone they can relate to, someone who’s going to give them a product that stands out and looks unique – you know, design and creativity that goes with being young and wanting to show off your own style. My business card and the illustration on it landed me a freelance gig that was a couple hundred dollars – that right there tells me that it’s an effective design and that it works. It’s an illustration and style that I carried over into my website and whenever I’m approached by someone via my website, they usually remark that I’m obviously very creative and they want me to make them stand out like my work.

But, there’s a flip side. Older people really aren’t interested in bright colors, attitude, standing out and being unique. Often times they want design and creative workers who can work within a very confined, limited, familiar style. Yes, it’s a tad bit boring but it’s just how it goes. I’ve found that when designing for an older audience you have to rein in all that pent up energy, attitude and ambition to create something totally new and outlandish or else they equate all of these things as being a bit unrefined, unprofessional and not worth spending money on. My business card, as witnessed first hand and told by older people (like my usually inebriated uncle or very frank grandmother and the older Southern belle at this event over the weekend) doesn’t work for them. It’s plain and simple. They expected professionalism, sleek design, almost no real presence or personal touch. Which brings me to the whole topic of this post:

“One Size Fits All” design (or marketing) doesn’t work. Here’s why –

Too often as designers we approach a problem and come up with a solution (our design, photo, written piece, etc.) and call it a day. Do we take into consideration the entire audience who’ll consume our work? Probably not. I’ve been on both sides of this issue. When designing a publication, it’s usually thought that you should design it to always imitate what’s expected by your average reader. Here’s the problem – what if your average reader is, say, in his or her 50s? Or 60s or older? There’s nothing wrong with being these ages but this group isn’t going to be interested in the same design or creative elements as, say, someone in their 20s or 30s. And why should you “preach to the choir” when you’re leaving an entire group of people out? If you’re a publication and your average reader is near or over 60, isn’t there value in trying to appeal to a younger base who’ll potentially stick around with you for decades to come?

As designers and marketers, how do we get around this issue? Here are a few of my ideas:

1. Two-Pronged Attack: For a freelancer or someone marketing their business, I think the best method of getting around the “one size fits all” mentality is to actually market to both young and old, women and men, gay and straight, etc. You see, our society is very diverse. Old school marketing has always been very one-sided: we targeted the group with the most money or the group with the most dominance. A lot of the times, we’re leaving someone out. And that someone could very easily turn into a loyal client and associate. With this digital age, it’s not really hard to market to many groups at once. Sure, it’ll take a bit more time but I think it’d be worth it. I haven’t ditched or chucked my business cards. I have seen they are effective – just not with older people. So I’ve developed an entirely different design geared toward the older crowd. It’s polished, refined, reserved but still very stylish. I think Grandma would approve.

2. Design for the ‘little people’: There’s always a group that ends up being left out. If you’re into marketing and want a diverse client base, then instead of thinking about the audience you already have, look at the audience you don’t have. For example, take men’s fitness magazines. There are tons on the market – Men’s HealthMen’s FitnessMuscle & FitnessFlex, so on and so forth. What do all of these magazines do? They target men – often straight men, with articles that go beyond fitness – they talk about sex, relationships, marriage. The problem? They never ever ever mention gay males, who we all know both exist and love health & fitness. What gives? The point is not to ignore untapped sources of profit. Whether you’re a designer, writer or photographer, look outside your comfort zone or usual suspects and start hitting those that aren’t usually on your radar. They’re out there and they’re more than willing to spend a little money on great service and creativity – if you’re willing to spend the time to market to them and include them in your business.

3. Pat yourself on the back for a job well done, but guess what – your job is really never done. Too often when it comes to marketing or self-promotion, we all tend to spend very little time doing it. For some it’s a once a year occasion. Others do it once a season and center things around holiday themes or big events. You should be marketing and reaching out to new and old clients every week, month, all year and every year. Just because you’ve actually done a marketing or self-promotion campaign doesn’t mean you’re done and should be congratulated and take time off. Start looking at the feedback and measurable results. Did you get new clients? Did your website get more hits than usual? Are you making more in profit? If you can’t tell a difference in how your promotion efforts have helped you then it probably means it didn’t work. That’s ok, it’s all trial and error. Keep trying until you find something that does work and then work hard to perfect it.

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Being An Effective Creative Manager, Boss, Leader

With graphic designers, photographers and other creative professionals facing layoffs and cuts in today’s job market, one has to ask or wonder – what gives? Some will say that technology and the digital age is rendering certain workers extinct. Then there is the usual spill: creative professionals aren’t … ready for it … creative enough; they aren’t skilled enough; they aren’t working hard enough; they aren’t bringing in enough business or revenue like the sales people. This got me thinking – why is it in today’s job market we automatically assume the employee or creative team member is at fault? Why aren’t we looking at the managers, bosses, leaders and evaluating them on a higher standard and level?

I think television tends to be a decent enough reflection of how society views certain groups of people. Think about leaders or boss-type figures. In the old days, the boss in a show or sitcom was hands on. He or she was a part of the regular cast; they contributed to the team; they were always present, always adding something to the pot. They were intrusive, nosy, and their interest in their employee at times went beyond the confines of the office. I think about Darren on Bewitched who worked in a creative ad agency. Remember his boss Larry Tate? Larry was forever present, hands on, always in Darren and Samantha’s business. Though this presented many stressful occasions for Darren Stevens, he never really seemed to mind. Larry was a good boss, one that was demanding yet friendly. Consider other television bosses of the past: Lou Grant of Mary Tyler Moore; Colonel Bellows on I Dream of Jeannie; Julia Sugarbaker on Designing Women; Leon on Roseanne. These were bosses that yes, at times were nosy, demanding, over-the-top but in the end, they weren’t bad guys. They were pretty good and likable.

Now, consider the role of bosses in today’s television. They’re usually aloof, bad, imposing, demanding, hated figures. What happened? I believe to a great extent it’s because unlike in the past where the workplace was all about team building, we’ve come to expect a lot less from the office. Especially in terms of creative teams, we’ve gone from the collaborative environment where everyone contributes to the overall product to an environment where everyone works in isolation, in his or her own office, in his or her own space. The boss figures aren’t really a part of the team experience since the team itself is a bit ambiguous and loose. Now the boss is more of an overseer and often times the point person who communicates with clients or another boss figure. Kinda sad isn’t it? Perhaps the creative workplace is in distress because bosses, managers and leaders are choosing to keep their distance from employees. Before we shift blame to employees and wag a disapproving finger at them as not pulling their weight, let’s take a look at the bosses, leaders. Here are some of the boss types I’ve seen in the workplace:

1. “Charlie” – Like Charlie on Charlie’s Angels, this type of boss is hardly seen but can be heard dishing out orders and making requests of their employees only in times of need or distress. This presents a problem of course because this type of boss has no real connection with his or her employees. They can come off as imposing, daunting, uncaring and disconnected. In a creative environment, the “Charlie” is a creativity killer. They are known as handing out orders and making demands, not for collaborating or taking part in the design or creative process.

2. “The Swiss” – This boss, like Switzerland, chooses to stay neutral. They want to be liked, they fear and run from conflict. This boss is usually well received but can come off as indifferent, too nice or indecisive in their attempt to please all parties. You don’t want a “Swiss” as a boss if you need to be creative – the Swiss may have a hard time giving you feedback and criticism that will push you to be a better designer, photographer, writer or whatever your creative field is. Sure, they may agree with you in an argument or question imposed on them but are they really on your side or are they attempting to keep the peace by making you and everyone else happy?

3. “The Susan Lucci” – This person has been around forever. They’re viewed as a company staple, an integral part of the business but not so much for their contributions or measurable success but the fact that they’ve stuck around through thick and thin. This boss can be many unpleasant things and described with many colorful adjectives that can’t be listed on this blog. What drives a Lucci? His or her quest for recognition that they feel they’ve earned and have not been rightly given, mostly. In their quest to prove themselves to the company and perhaps their superiors, they are the types to make your worklife nearly unbearable. Your contributions will suddenly become his/her ideas and you’ll be left to fend for yourself.

4. “The Ewing” – Money is everything to this type of boss. Your life, happiness, issues matter little to a Ewing because his/her eyes are always on the bottom line. You have his or her ear when you’re talking money or a way to make them look good. Try as you might, you’ll never feel like an equal in the eyes of an Ewing. Similar to a Charlie, you’ll hear from this boss when something is going wrong or when they have a job for you. Unlike Charlie, an Ewing loves to be seen and will make him or herself very present and visible if only to remind you who’s the boss. Don’t be surprised when you get the boot or tons of work dumped on you and impossible expectations imposed on you by an Ewing – he or she will sit back and spend money lavishly at the expense of your time, effort and stress.

These four boss types are humorous but unfortunately very real in today’s workplace. We need to return to the days where we worked as an ensemble or team. Sure, an effective creative manager, boss, team leader or supervisor can’t ever be a real equal but the level of how far removed he or she is from the team is really up to the individual. Want to be a good leader or boss? Lead, mentor, foster trust amongst your team and not only will you be viewed as an authority figure but as a good leader, boss and dare I say it – friend to your employees.

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