Graphic Design

Both Sides Now

There is this song by Joni Mitchell titled “Both Sides Now” where she sings, “I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now; from up and down and still somehow it’s cloud illusions I recall-I really don’t know clouds at all.” Well, this lyric can be applied to the relationship between the creative and the client as well.

How many times have you taken on an assignment or job where after a few communications with the client you’ve sat back, scratched your head and just wondered to yourself, “What the f*!@ is this person thinking?” You’ve communicated your ideas to them; you have X amount of years of proven experience but they want you to do something that a first year college freshman in an intro course would do; they want you to toss out all the rules you hold near and dear and do something crazy that you don’t even want to attach your name to; they ask you to do something, you spend hours working on it and deliver it on time only for them in one careless swoop to say, “Nah,  I don’t like that. Why don’t you do this instead?” If you’re a creative, whether it be the artistic sort or writer, you’ve been there. It happens to everyone. Have you ever considered the client and what their experience is?

I ask this after an interesting role reversal a few months ago. I have a blog that I work on that’s totally unrelated to design. Long story short, it went from being a way to pass time to something that really interests me and takes up a lot of my time. In order to put more time and effort into it, I knew what I needed that was missing from it: a logo! Problem is, logos are not my thing. Yes, I’m a designer and logos seem to be the corner stone of our careers but honestly, I don’t do logos. I can wing it sometimes but it’s my equivalent of getting a root canal. You know, something you have to suffer through and at the end you’re glad you got it done but if you could avoid it, you’d definitely prefer to. So, in an interesting change of pace … I hired a designer. Yes, a designer hired a designer!

I went on, posted my job, reviewed the proposal, looked at portfolios and found a company whose work stood and seemed very fresh and edgy. This was going to be good! Or so I thought. Having been the designer dealing with a client before, I got all my ducks in a row. I knew what colors I wanted, I had an idea of the basic elements I wanted the logo to have, I had examples. Examples, people! When I started the job with the designer I handed everything over, wiped my hands and smiled, thinking they were going to deliver something so creative I’d pinch myself. Well. First revision came in and I sat in front of my computer simply staring at it. I was about to be that client. The one that looks at the first revision and politely slides it back across the table and says, “This is not what I want.” The thought, “Did you … did you not listen to me? Did you not look at the samples I sent you? Why doesn’t this look like all these other pieces in your portfolio? WHY. WHY WHY WHY?!”

It took a little going back and forth but the logo got done. I used it for the blog. For about 2 weeks, then I designed one myself and have been using it ever since. Was the money I spent on having someone else design the logo a total waste? No, because as I started out this post with, it gave me new perspective. The further along in your career you get, the less of the “client” perspective you usually have. When you’re first starting out in your creative field, you are not a designer, writer or experienced professional. You’re a newbie, you’re a freshman, you are a client, meaning you’re not set in your ways just yet. You may be open to hearing opinions, to trying something different, to collaborating. The more seasoned you get, you view yourself less as a client and more as a professional—you have the experience so you know what’s best, you know what works and what doesn’t, you don’t want to have some client coming and telling you what to do, even if they’re the ones paying and thus calling the shots.

We all need to start looking at “clouds” from both sides. Clients need to trust in the creative type to be creative and deliver something worth the money and effort; creatives need to understand that the client usually just wants the best product possible so that they will benefit from it in some way, shape or form. Your assignment, should you choose to accept it, is to identify something in your own field that you aren’t as skilled at and hire a freelancer to help you with it. Whether it be writing a press release or making a vector illustration, get a freelancer and work with them to get the finished product you’d like. You’ll quickly find out what many of your clients go through and should, in turn, pick up a few new skills in communicating and working with seemingly difficult clients and projects.

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Embrace The “Dislike”

When it comes to designing, everyone has something they really enjoy doing. For some, it’s illustrating; others it’s Photoshop special effects; some really enjoy storyboarding while others like print design. But … what is it that you don’t like to do? It’s a simple enough question but one that we as designers and creative types often overlook or ignore. We figure, “I don’t like doing … but … I have to.” In my view, that’s what causes burn out, weak design and a distaste for the creative field all together.

I look back on college and the people I graduated with and realize that after six years I’m actually one of the few who have kept with graphic design. Isn’t that a bit odd? I don’t think it is but I know the source of this migration out of the creative field comes from people not spending enough time with the question, “What is it that I dislike doing?” I know for me, I can’t stand logo design. Oh sure, designers could find enough logo design work to keep them busy throughout the year but logos are simply not my thing. I can list all the reasons for my strong dislike for this field of creativity but simply put, I detest it. Whenever a logo design project comes across my desk I feel my eyes rolling to the back of my head, fingers gripping the sides of my desk and feel the life slipping from my body. That is exactly why I turn down any logo design work that comes my way unless it’s forced upon me in work.

There was a time early on in my career that I felt obligated to do whatever was offered or given to me. It was that sense of, “Well, this is work … you aren’t going to like everything you work on and this is money. I MUST do this!” Not always the case, though! I’ve found that after six years of working professionally, there are many times when it’s ok to say, “Hey, I really appreciate this opportunity but I’m not the designer for you.” I know my strengths and what I like to do. I enjoy illustration, I enjoy using very pop-ish colors, I enjoy learning more about web design and communicating my ideas and opinions about design and other topics. I do not enjoy, however, logo designs or setting up entire websites simply because both involve a billion revisions and I know I’m better at one-shot designs than I am at something that calls for meticulous attention and a lot of revisions. This being said, I occasionally do the things that drain me creatively but they are limited to only a few times a quarter or year rather than all the time.

People. It’s okay not to be good at everything. It’s okay to dislike certain creative projects and tasks. It’s okay to express this to your employers, employees and clients. You will feel less drained and more excited about what you’re working on if you’re doing the things you’re good at or are interested in. Identify and embrace the “dislike” so that you’ll spend your time working on the things you do like.

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Imitation Design

Where do you draw your inspiration from? When does inspiration and imitation go from an extreme form of flattery to a blatant rip-off? If you’re into pop music, you may follow or at least be aware of the ongoing “feud” between Lady Gaga and Madonna. You see, Gaga is a fan of Madonna’s work and career. She grew up listening to her music. She began taking cues from Madonna’s book of publicity and fame by imitating how Madge dresses, how she flirts with controversy and in the past few years, according to Madonna, even how she writes her songs! Madonna went from being flattered to clearly ticked that Lady Gaga patterned her rise to fame after her own because considering Madonna’s been at the top of her game for 30 years and is still relevant, who would want some newbie like Lady Gaga climbing just as quickly to reach that mega-star status?

What does Lady Gaga and Madonna’s spat have to do with design? It’s all about where you draw your own inspiration from. Someone once told me that no idea in design is truly original. As creative, artsy folk, we designers should cringe and feel faint at such a thought. We are creative! Everything we produce is groundbreaking, fresh, new, trend setting. Or … is it? The truth is that we’re all Lady Gaga in a sense, looking at what’s been done, what’s worked well, and have attempted to put our own spin on it.

As a designer, I draw inspiration from far too many sources to make the claim that I’m truly an original. If I’m out and about and see an interesting color combination I mentally log it and will toss it into an appropriate design. If I see an awesome painting I’ll sometimes take elements of what I liked from it and will create an awesome vector from it. As I’m reading a magazine I’ll rip out the layouts that stand out to me or will save the ads that made an impression. Yes, in a way I’m a graphic recycler and if you’re a designer or creative type, so are you!

Look, no one wants to be a Lady Gaga, continually dodging “copy cat” calls or defending the authenticity of our design. At the same time, you can’t be a great designer or creative type without looking at what came before you and making it better. That’s how I’d define graphic design: the art of taking what’s been done a dozen or more times and refreshing it to make it look and feel modern and even better. Consider yourself a DJ and you’ve been handed a standard classic song that people have heard played non-stop on the radio (like, any Adele song). How do you get people to continue to listen to it without growing tired and ill of it? Remix it! Change the beat, change the vibe, give it some new cover art.

Acknowledge those who’ve come before you and where you draw your inspiration from but don’t be afraid to put your own spin on what many may see as an old and tried idea.

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Tips for Young Creatives: Know Thy Self

Continuing with the Doug Bartow “29 Tips for Young Designers” article in How’s January 2011 issue is tip 5: be yourself. I’ve tweaked it a tad bit to “know thy self” and am not in full agreement with Bartow on his spill on personal style vs. personal approach to design or creativity. Doug Bartow makes the argument that you need to have confidence in yourself as a creative type (designer, photographer, writer, creative personal in general).

That, I definitely agree with. Art and creativity are based upon how free and willing to share you are. Believe it or not, if you aren’t sure of yourself then that lack of confidence and authority over the subject matter will show in your work. I’ve come across many designers who lack confidence. The result is a piece that looks more like a mosaic of experiments and trials than a finished, coherent idea being played out. When creativity is a hobby and you are developing your craft, it’s ok not to be sure of yourself and to experiment a bit. When design and creativity are a means of your livelihood and financial support, you sure as heck better know what you’re doing. Clients and your employers aren’t paying you to experiment or find your way; they are paying you for work that will generate a profit and money and you can’t accomplish that through uncertainty.

This though is where I’m in disagreement with Bartow a bit. He writes, “Don’t work in a particular personal style …. Your commissioned work should never be about you, but it can certainly reveal your hand as the designer.” As a young creative (I can still call myself that at 26, right?) I’ve found that in most cases, this is the complete opposite in many situations. Most of the work I’ve picked up on a freelance basis has been based on my personal style rather than me just being a designer. Sure, some of that work and the work I do for my employer may be based on the style or work of someone or something that’s been established before I’ve come along but my clients and past and present employers expect to see my trademark style elements worked into my design pieces.

The biggest mistake I think any young creative could make is to become a chameleon creative type. Rather than having a style that will make someone snap their fingers and exclaim, “That’s (Fill in the Blank)’s work!” they try to copy and imitate what they view as cool or in style rather than putting in the time to work or develop his or her own style. Why should you have a personal style? You will enjoy your work more because you will have a more intimate connection with the work you create. Rather than your work being just another job, you will be able to look at it years from now and have it conjure up an emotional reaction. Don’t be afraid to insert yourself in your work – whether it’s for personal use or commissioned by another. Just be sure when the client or employer asks why you made a design/creative decision in the work you present that you have a better reason than, “I just like it” or “It looks cool.”

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Tips For Young Creatives: Who do you think you’re talking to?

Continuing on with the commentary about How magazine’s recent 29 Tips for Young Designers article by Doug Bartow, we’re on to the fourth tip: define your audience. I’ve worked with a lot of designers; I’ve worked within a company setting and as a freelancer; I’ve looked online and have been the recipient of design and I can easily say one mistake many designers or creative types make, me included, is not always being considerate of the audience who you are designing for. This is a double-edged sword and isn’t as clear cut an issue as one may believe.

Different audiences respond differently to various messages. In my opinion, successful designers are those who don’t really see themselves as artists or designers; they see themselves as marketers. Those in the advertising field will tell you that coming up with any successful campaign involves lots of research. You probably got into your chosen creative field so that you didn’t have to do research! Sorry buds, but graphic design is like any other professional line of work – it takes research, it takes knowing your audience, it takes time and some trial and error.

When I first started out as a graphic designer, I often designed things that I liked. If it looked good to me, I deemed it good design and called it a day, shut the door on it. That’s why when I look back on some of my early work, I cringe. It feels dated, a tad juvenile. Nowadays, I am constantly looking at other people’s work for inspiration; I usually start each design task with the question of, “Who do you think you’re talking to?” meaning if my audience is 56-70 something year old women into gardening, I had better not design something that a college freshman would jump on. Sometimes, I often will do something of a “red pill vs. blue pill” approach to design to present to the client: one is tame and in line with what is expected and has been done before to appeal to a certain group; the other is usually a bit more out there and pushes the standard. In the end, it’s rarely an either/or situation but a compromise of the two.

When you set out to do your creative work – look back at what’s been done before and see what you can do to “remix” it. Yes, take the approach of a DJ would to a song and take something people already like and make it a tad bit better. Don’t go too far out and lose sight of what made the original thing appealing to begin with but don’t always play it safe and deliver what’s been done time after time. This seems a bit paradoxical but I’ve found this approach has helped me produce some good work that all audiences have responded to. Keep in mind that whether you are a graphic designer, photographer, web designer or writer you’re first and foremost a communicator. Don’t just create eye candy but create a piece of work that has a purpose and connects to a specific audience. Only by doing this will you create something that has a lasting impact and impression.

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Tips for Young Creatives: What’s Your Type?

Have you ever been asked, “What’s your type?” If so, it’s probably been in reference to the type of guy or girl you’re into and not in reference to typography. One of Dough Bartow’s 29 tips for young designers in the latest issue of How magazine was not to fear type but to master it. I decided to add my two cents to this cornerstone in being a good graphic designer.

When people think of graphic design, they usually think of graphics – pictures, colors, composition, images, visual. A major part of being a good graphic designer is having a good grasp on typography. Now, you may be taught some of this in a class but it’s one of those things that you often need to pursue on your own and get a grip on earlier rather than later in your career. Typography can make a break a design piece. If you work with publications, fonts and type will be even more important than the images you may use or create. Think of good graphic design like a burlesque show – you go to a show like this with the intentions of seeing a woman do her thing but everything has to come together for you to actually enjoy the show including her looks, her outfit, her dancing, how well she interacts and connects with the crowd and so on. Graphic design is much like flirting or being a tease in that the images and design have to be alluring enough to get you to examine a piece more closely to get the main message. You can’t go about doing that with bad type as it’ll quickly turn your audience off.

What makes good typography? Too many factors to get into on here. Know the difference between Sans Serif and Serif fonts; one will work well in small, tiny print in a publication while the other will be easier on the eyes for a short online piece. Be wary of using free online fonts. I know, you probably gasped and clutched your pearls at that. There are some good ones out there; there are a ton of really bad ones. The problem with many is usually within the fine details; the lack of a built in bold or italic version of that font, the spacing between the characters being too lax and far off and fonts that are simply too hard to read for both young and older audiences.

Know all the little terms such as kerning, leading and tracking – these little terms help make typography and type heavy pieces easier to read and more professional looking. For example, tracking that goes below -30 would squeeze the characters together too much and make it extremely hard for the reader’s eyes to differentiate between the characters; aim for your leading to be 3 points sizes more than the font size for a large body of text; the usual minimum threshold for readability is 7 points so try your hardest not to make the size of your font smaller than that. Also, learn about the license restrictions of your fonts. This is something they don’t talk about in most classes and yet it’s important to know when, where and how you can use certain fonts because if the creator of that font were to find you used it in a manner that goes beyond the terms of use, they could sue you and win. See, suddenly that question of “What’s your type?” doesn’t seem all that easy to answer, does it?

Typography may not be the funnest or most thrilling part of graphic design or being a creative guru but mastering it will set you apart from those who don’t take their craft as seriously as you do. If you want a good go-to source on typography consider referring to the books The Elements of Typographic Design by Robert Bringhurst, Thinking with Typeby Ellen Lupton or Grid Systems in Graphic Design by Josef Muller-Brockmann.

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Tips for Young Creatives: Why Successful Designers are Great Communicators

I’ve been going through the January issue of How magazine and came across a great article where Doug Bartow, the principal and design director at id29 in Troy, NY, offered 29 tips for young designers. I graduated back in May of 2006 and nearly four years, nine months later I’ve come to rather big conclusion about my college design education experience – it really feels worthless. Don’t get me wrong, I learned some things while attending college and it has been nice having a journalism background as a graphic designer but when I’ve zeroed in on my design courses in particular I’ve realized I really graduated having been told or taught little to prepare me for real world design.

Young designers really have it bad these days. Most probably have a background similar to mine – they grew up loving art, enjoying drawing and making things and then showing them off to the world to marvel at. I went through that phase most artists go through with thinking I could never make a living off of being an artist … until I found out about graphic design. Being a graphic designer, or graphic artists as I’d like to think of myself, has kept me employed from May of 2006 through the present. It’s gotten me internships, freelance work and all around it’s been enjoyable. A lot of what’s made me a good designer though isn’t what I learned through a class but lessons I learned outside of college and on my own while trying to stay afloat and relevant. That’s why I liked Bartow’s article and would like to harp on his 29 tips for young designers. I’m still young(ish) at 26 and know I’m still learning but I’d like to put my perspective and thoughts to some of his points over the course of the next month.

Bartow’s first tip was to sweat the details. My college degree doesn’t say anything about graphic design or even art. My official degree title or track was visual communication. Designers are communicators first and foremost. When you create a poster for a concert, it can’t just be pretty but it has to clearly communicate the information and ideas pertinent to the event. If it does not get the point across, no matter how pretty it is, it’s a bad design. Something I’ve noticed with young people in general is that they have absolutely no concept of communicating like professionals. Everything is communicated with acronyms. LOL! IDK WTH these PPL are thinkn!

Communication is important to success. The sentence above looks ridiculous and I hardly take people serious when they choose to communicate with me in such a manner. I have clients who are years or even decades older to me who will send me an E-mail typed in all lowercase letters or one that’s decorated with profanities and obscenities. Really? This is your idea of professionalism and at times your idea of how to make a first impression? People, keep it professional.

I believe all graphic designers or creative types in general need to learn how to communicate in professional manners. That means in a way, you need to think of yourself less as a designer and more so as an editor or journalist. Edit everything you do to death. While Bartow recommends having a Chicago Manual of Style by your side at all times, I recommend going with AP Style as it’s the guide used by most publications and in other professional writings. Never write in shorthand. Get into the habit of communicating in sentences – start off with a capital letter, end with punctuation and have proper spelling and grammar running throughout. People seemed surprised that even on Twitter I write complete sentences and use punctuation and hardly shorthand anything. Sure, it may make me look or seem like a geek or an ancient old man but I have rarely encountered an issue of not getting a point across due to it.

When you are looking for a job, employers will be looking at how you communicate your ideas. They will notice grammatical errors on your resume, in your cover letter, even glaring issues that may be present on your design pieces. Anything you publish – whether it be online or in print, for work or for pleasure, to family or a friend, on a blog or for Facebook – should be edited, reviewed and easy to understand. It sounds a bit much or a bit of a pain but believe me, being a great communicator will take you far in your career.

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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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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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