It's true. The world as we know it is struggling financially. And while it may seem that everyone around you is tightening their belt and closing their doors, keep in mind that good design does NOT have to suffer just because you're client's budget might. What can you do to continue your standards of superior design on a tight budget? 1. Faux finishes. If you can't afford it, fake it. Finishes that is. I recently attended an excellent print show in Tulsa, put on by CP Solutions. There were several paper vendors there with many exciting papers and finishing options that had all us designers 'oohing' and 'aaahing'. But what if you're client cant' AFFORD a clear varnish or laminate finish? Try this-- adding a simple layer of partial opacity can make a dark design shine with extra sheen creating the illusion of a varnish or laminate. 2. Cut it out. Wanna create an awesome die cut effect without the cut? Try placing the design on a dark background (preferably black) when viewed at a distance in dark card holder the card will JUMP off the table and trick the viewer with the illusion of being die cut. 3. Simple arrangements. Nothing screams "CLASS" like something simple. Sleek. Elegant. On your next card project, convince the client to go with the "less is more" approach. The card will look sophisticated and expensive without the extra price. Got some special design tricks of your own? I'd love to hear them!
Smashing Magazine issued a challenge to designers for the new year, and I’m on board! I tried to decide what type of design I’d want to do and could stretch my boundaries as a designer. So in answer to this Challenge, I will be designing and posting a new Bookmark design each day on this blog. The Designs will link to a downloadable file that you can feel free to download, print out and share as desired.
Recently I was in a seminar setting where the speaker made the following statement, "you have to choose between a designer that is creative and one that makes their deadlines". I'll be honest, that statement made my blood boil.
For starters I see this condition, what I call, "artist entitlement" among creatives in every field. Basically, it's used primarily as an excuse to miss deadlines, have temper tantrums or otherwise behave unprofessionally. It saddens me that so many creatives behave this way that colleagues mention it in their seminars.
I for one, have never met a deadline I didn’t conquer or at least communicate with the client with unavoidable circumstances. Bottom line, I was professional. That’s not to say that situations don’t come up. I had the flu for a week a few years ago and was unable to work throwing me behind many deadlines. But the first thing I did when I got sick was contact my business partner and have him send emails to our clients explaining the situation and that I’d be back at it ASAP.
Those situations are not what I’m discussing here. I’m talking about the creatives that hide behind their art as a way to be the exception to the rules. Deadlines are always in place for a reason. As a creative we must determine a routine that works for us.
Yes, there are days when I “feel” more creative than others, but if I use my time wisely those days I can knock out multiple projects in each sitting. I do not feel for a moment that my attention to deadlines has even remotely hindered my creativity or ability to create solid designs.
I was recently asked how I seem to be able to produce 24/7 Here’s what works for me:
1. Mull it over. When I get a project, I let it set in my To Do list for a couple of days. During this time, while I’m working on other projects and taking care of business it’s marinating in my mind. Yes, there are often a LOT of projects up there, but ultimately what happens, is I will see something or hear something that will spark the creativity for that task. Rather than getting a project and sitting down to immediately belt out a design I need to think through it most times.
2. Have a process, but don’t be married to it. When I attack a certain TYPE of project I have a general process. Logos have one process, Typeset have something totally different. But occasionally I will break free from the way “I always do it” to create something differently. Maybe using a different program, finding new fonts, finding new brushes, whatever it takes to stir up the creativity and get me inspired and excited about the work. Sticking to a deadline doesn’t mean you have to become a design robot that never thinks anymore.
3. Work smarter not harder. This is one of my favorite cliches but it’s SO true for a designer. If we save our time, work efficiently and limit our time wasters you will be amazed how much you can accomplish. However, it’s important to know yourself. I work better with lots of human interaction. Whether I’m chatting with people in my office or virtually chatting with friends online, the human interaction inspires me as I work. I cannot work long isolated and alone. Sometimes, I need that, when I’m stressing out or otherwise upset, but the majority of the time, the more interaction the better for my creative process. Some people think that that should slow me down? And for some it would.
If you’re a creative, don’t allow yourself to use creativity like a crutch to get out of things. Don’t make excuses or feel ‘entitled’ to have a bad attitude, bad work ethic or bad disposition. Remember that we are providing a service. As such, we are required to make deadlines, make changes and make things happen. Do it professionally, courteously and quickly.
Much like the business card, a billboard is “one-shot” advertising. You hope to catch the attention of a driver speeding by. The message must be clear enough to comprehend quickly, but powerful enough to stick in the mind.
Recently a project came across my desk for new billboard. The previous designer had included a whopping total of 22 words in their design. 22?!?!?! How am I possibly going to take in that much information while driving down the road? Is the designer responsible for any auto accidents that may occur because drivers had to hit their brakes to take in all the information?
Recently, while a myriad of projects have been flying across my desk, some who deem their life's mission to criticize have been heard flippantly saying, "Design is easy, they just throw on a stock photo and some text."
After first hearing this blatant misspeak I was enraged. But then I laughed. Why? Because it's absurd. If a laymen REALLY thinks that's all there is to it, then more power to them, they should try it out sometime and see how they do. Chances are before long, they would start to realize that every piece they design would look exactly the same. I mean, with a "stock photo and text" how much variety can you have?
Recently I encountered one of these nay-sayers. Long story short, in the end, I was asked to design the piece as originally intended. Sometimes your client just may need a little "real-world' experience to see the reason why designers have to go to classes for years and stay immersed in the newest theory and changes of the industry to stay cutting-edge. It really IS more than just photos and fonts.
Had a similar situation? Remember, that their ignorance is not a reflection on your ability. It just means they don't value you yet. You may be able to stick it out, or you might want to move on, either way, you'll take your knowledge base with you. Keep designing and do your job. You'll be glad you did.
To SPEC or not to SPEC? That is a question many designers face. Honestly, it's a decision each designer must choose for themselves. Personally, I don't have a problem with SPEC work and I will share some of my own personal boundaries regarding my involvement with it. First, in case you are not yet familiar with the term--let's define SPEC work. We've all seen contests, competitions, and calls for submissions.
And basically that's what SPEC work is. Any design task that does not involve face to face or a direct client-designer relationship is generally considered SPEC work as you are working to predetermined SPECIFICATIONS that are outlined by the contest holder. There is a lot of division in the design world as to whether or not SPEC work should be taken seriously. The AIGA speaks out very strongly AGAINST designers taking SPEC work.
To me, SPEC work can actually be a VERY positive experience for the designer. Working from SPEC is very valuable as you are often stretched to move beyond conventional direction and reach inside yourself to find your creativity. Some say that offering design jobs as SPEC work is unfair to designers. I disagree.
Any designer chooses which competitions to enter. The choice is theirs. If they don't have the time, the expertise, or the knowledge to competently compete in a certain contest they are free to walk away or wait for one more suited to their needs. In my own case, I am quick. My speed as a designer is probably my greatest asset. That being the case when I hear of a competition that falls within my areas of expertise I can quickly create entries, but that's not to day I spend all my time on SPEC work. In fact just the opposite is true. Less than 1% of my time is spent on SPEC work and the rest is working with and developing relationships with my clients.
For me, it's nice to break out of the bounds of the 'usual' and into the realm of the new and exciting. Being competitive by nature I enjoy the 'chance' involved by doing my best and stacking up against the competition. Sometimes I win, sometimes I don't. But EVERY TIME I walk away with knowledge, experience and PRACTICE! That's what life and DESIGN is all about. You make your own choice whether or not it is valuable for you to design for spec occasionally. But as for me I will continue to carefully choose which contests to enter. Who knows we just may compete against each other someday soon.
If you are a graphic designer you might mistakenly think that other designers are you competition. If you are a car manufacturer YOU might think that other car manufacturers are your competition.
That's just NOT the case.
Ok. I will admit it. Sometimes I check my email while I brush my teeth. It's true I do. I also check it while firmly stopped at red-lights, waiting in drive thru lines, and while pumping gas. And that is just an average day for me. When you run your own business, or in my case, three of them, you have to learn to make every second count. Is this healthy? Probably not.
But the fact remains. The down side of all this "running" is that unfortunately by the end of the day I often feel like the proverbial rubber band. You know the one. It's been stretched so far and so much that it's liable to break at any time. Fortunately for me, I have a great support system of friends, family and coworkers that are willing to get in there and help out when needed. The don't even usually ask for money. Usually. For the most part though, I find myself struggling to make every second count and every minute of my day be filled to the fullest. Thankfully, while statistics and reports claim that no one can multitask effectively, those who know me best know that to be untrue. I'm at my optimal operating level with more than one task going on and somehow I can manage to keep those tasks in line and in order. I wanted to share some of the strategies that I employ to accomplish these Time Efficiency tasks, and I'd love to hear yours!
- Surround Yourself with the gadgets necessary: I have them all, iPhone, iPad, Laptop and so on and so forth. But if you check out my apps, you will see that the apps I use enable me to be more flexible with my time and optimize my output. From apps for blogging and social networking to invoicing and to-do list management, I'm almost always able to jot down an idea when it hits or take care of a client emergency on the "GO".
- Downtime? What downtime? In a society filled with meetings, committees and more meetings it's important not to waste valuable seconds while waiting on meetings to start or the long winded talker to finally finish his point. The great thing about these gadgets is you can use them for taking notes, and finishing business. Just make sure you're able to listen, or you might find yourself left behind.
- Every second is an opportunity. I check and respond to emails while running errands. Waiting in line at Walmart, standing in line at Starbucks, regardless of the location, if there is a wait, I can be getting stuff done. Drive thru's and traffic jams are also valuable to this efficiency thinking.
- To Do lists: No one can be efficient without an awesome To Do list and task tracking software. Personally, I've used LOT of things, from large systems like SugarCRM to small systems like Remember the Milk, but the one that works best for me BackPackIt by 37 Signals. BackPackIt provides To Do Lists with completion tracking, Calendars, Collaboration and Write Boards all in the same application, so I'm not having to log in and out of different things to accomplish my tasks.
- Headsets, speaker kits and earbuds can make all the difference for an efficient phone call and a time consumer. I will take calls and continue to work with no problem. Especially if I'm doing a creative task or something mundane, then multitasking in that regard is no problem.
Now that you've heard my tips for efficiency, share you're own. Maybe we can all learn something new!
I recently read an article in HOW magazine that dealt with being successful at Freelance. While I agree with the tips they shared, I think I would venture to suggest a different set of keys. Based on the experience I've had with almost 9 years of freelancing, there have been plenty of things I've had to learn the hard way. To keep you from having to learn those same lessons, I want to outline my 5 keys to being a successful freelancer.
1. Work with integrity. If you make a mistake, eat it. If the client requests something, do it. And if you're faced with a deadline, meet it.
2. Learn from your mistakes. As a freelancer mistakes can be costly, especially when working on a tight budget. If you make one, be sure to avoid repeating it.
3. Develop a network. Nothing is more important to a freelancer than the network they develop. Important key players in this network are professionals in the printing industry, paper suppliers, hardware and software experts.
4. Find free alternatives. As designers it's easy to get sucked into the vast expanse of expenses known as SOFTWARE! And when it comes to design software, a successful designer should endeavor to have nothing but the best. For the best, I suggest Adobe software. It's really the only option. However, when it comes to Microsoft products, specifically Office. I don't use them. I use free alternatives such as Open Office, NeoOffice (for mac) and Google Docs.
5. Work hard. No successful freelance designer has made it to the top without putting in a lot of late nights and early mornings. On average I've worked 18 hour days. Sounds grueling? Not if you love what you do!
6. Keep your day job. One of the most important factors in avoiding bankruptcy as a freelancer is making sure you are ready to take the plunge. Before you jump out on your own two feet, keep a steady income to "fund" your venture. Once you have enough clients to offer you a sustainable income, take the plunge.