If you're a designer chances are you've dealt with a design vandal in your time. You nay not have realized it but you've probably experienced it. If not, you will.
Vandalism is defined as the willful destruction of someone else's property. We usually think of it in terms of buildings or property but can't the same term be coined for creative abs intellectual property? I think so. Insert "design vandal".
A design vandal is someone who takes your work and willfully and deliberately sets out to destroy it. Sounds extreme? It happens more then you might think.
Most often these "vandals" will be found on your team or in collaboration with you. Whether it's a designer that works for one of your clients or strictly a peer, anytime you are sending a colleague your designs you are potentially running the risk of being vandalized. Is there anything you can do about it? Not really. But we can make sure that we in turn do not turn into one of these vandals ourselves.
Let's expose some of the traits of a vandal and how to deal with them. Now don't misunderstand by 'deal' I don't mean donning ski masks and baseball bats, thought the temptation may be there. Let's look at how to not allow the the satisfaction of destroying your confidence.
1. A vandal will make meaningless changes to your work. Often these changes are simply an expression of power. They don’t necessarily add or subtract to your work and can normally be ignored.
2. A vandal will make negative changes to your work. From adding outlandish colors to gradients and different background choices their choices will negatively impact your design. This type of vandal is the most detrimental. Normally their attacks are more personal and based in jealousy.
3. A vandal will rearrange your elements. As designers we know that the placements we choose are crucial. The design vandal will thwart your overall look by changing things around. When confronted they will usually respond with “it didn’t feel right”.
Whether or not you are in an environment to confront these situations I think the real lesson here is being cognizant that design vandalism occurs and guarding yourself against becoming one of these vandals yourself.
So what do you do when faced with an opportunity to vandalize someone else’s work? Even if this directive is coming from a client or a supervisor you can handle the situation with integrity.
1. Communicate before the fact. Talk with the original designer if possible and allow them to make the desired changes. If they are unwilling or refuse, you are now free to shake that off and do what you must.
2. Communicate after the fact. If your facing a deadline and must make changes to someones work, be sure to show the courtesy of calling or emailing them with the changes you had to make and why. Above all put yourself in the other designers position.
3. Never change to change. Guard yourself against the temptation to make changes based on your own perspective or feelings. If changes are necessary then handle them gracefully as mentioned above. If not, then leave alone. It’s not your work and you have no right to adjust someone else’s.
As you travel down the path of design I hope you are able to deal with these situations with integrity. If you find yourself the victim of a design vandal separate the emotion and hurt from the real situation. Remember that those that destroy your work are jealous of your talent.
Determination. Perseverance. Stubbornness.
Call it what you will but without it you're not likely to see success. Is it a decision? An attitude? Or just a natural drive to dig your heels in? Whatever it is you will need it. Don't worry, if you aren't naturally bull-headed you can work to develop that. In your professional life, at least.
Why is this determination so important for a designer? While design may seem like a glorious profession to most, those of us that have done it for a while know the truth. Design may actually be one of the hardest professions around. Why?? Regardless of your success as a designer you will face rejection. In fact, the bigger you get and the more clients you have the more rejection you will be subject to professionally.
So the question here is when the water starts to boil will you jump out of the pot? Think about that for a moment. The more successful you become the harder things get. The more people you are wiring with. I've often geared that designing would be great if it wasn't for the clients. Sometimes you will feel that way. And that's ok. But what are you going to do about it?
There are some telltale signs from clients that will clue you in that rejection is coming. Statements like:
"Well, don't take this the wrong way . . . "
"Let me tell you what I envisioned. . . ."
"It just doesn't feel right to me"
The list could go on and on. Do you quit? Do you hang up? Not if you have theses qualities we've discussed.
Recently while attending a series of sessions relating to design, technology and marketing, I was confronted with an interesting question.
Why do people wait until the last minute?
Where did this procrastination society spring up? It seems like we rush around to get things done, to meet deadlines. That's when it hit me.
When I'm approached with a new task, let's say a design competition that I want enter, the first thing I do is check the deadline date for entries. Do we put things off because we're just too busy to get to them or do we put them off because we no longer get an "early bird special" for being on time? Somehow being late has become the norm.
I love this from Seth Godin:
"Airlines and others penalize people for planning ahead by instituting non-refundable fares. We don't get treated like royalty for signing up early, and the penalties for waiting often seem fairly small."
As marketers do we offer enough incentive for someone to purchase our products NOW? Or can they walk away from our information and feel that they can catch it later?
We've all heard way to many TV Special commercials. Most likely you can quote the last words, "and if you call in the next 10 minutes we'll DOUBLE this offer." We roll our eyes or better yet, change the channel.
Let's strive to be different, when you hear about an opportunity, jump on it. When you get a notice in the mail that you're interested in, act!
Similiarly, let me throw in a little shameless self-promotion here, students who are reading this blog, don't wait until the day before the Student Identity Competition Deadline.
If we each strive to avoid putting things off another day, do you think our clients will do the same? As designer's does the poignancy of our work dwindle over time if not acted on immediately?
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.
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.
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.
Enjoy this guest post by Senior Designer, Amanda King! With a solid degree in Communications, Amanda King found herself exploring her creative nature through an internship with a ministry in Tulsa, OK. Quickly her innate creativity was revealed as she was assigned more and more tasks and today, the rest is history. King’s responsibilities include creative branding for a variety of groups and ministries. She frequently finds herself working on print projects ranging from letterhead to magazine layout.
I know we have all had to work with people that aren't always easy to work with and lets be honest, that drive us crazy! But sometimes, we get the opportunity to work with someone that is not only easy to work with, but that challenges you to do better. And you come out with a product that wouldn't have been as good if you hadn't worked with that person.
Collaboration is one of the most important tools at our disposal as designers. I had the opportunity this last week to pick up a job from another designer in the office. Long story short the job I picked up should have taken about an hour or two to complete, but the concept behind the design was a little more difficult to create than initially anticipated. So, it literally took myself and the original designer assigned to the job, a whole day going back and forth on the design until we really nailed it. And I have to say, I definitely couldn't have gotten to that point without the collaboration with my co-worker.
So don't be afraid to ask some of your co-workers, colleagues, friends, whoever, that you trust of course, for their input. They may be able to see something you don't, or have an idea you haven't thought of, and that's okay. Sometimes we get stuck in this competition mindset. There are times to be competitive, don't get me wrong, I like a good competition, but sometimes you need to let someone else give you an honest constructive opinion, and that’s when something good can become something awesome!
One of the hardest things we deal with as Designers is continually opening ourselves up for rejection. Every time we design something we pour a little part of ourselves into it. Is there a way to avoid that? Not if your truly passionate about what you do.
At the same time, it's important that we don't allow the rejection and criticisms of our work to alter our self-confidence. Sometimes one of the most difficult things we encounter is the "finger-pointing" that often goes along with design.
I recently ran into a similar instance while working on a project for a friend. They had an idea of what they wanted. I rushed home, designed the piece, excited to send it to them. It was disheartening to say the least. While they had something else in mind I had designed exactly what they directed me to the best of my ability.
Many times, "lack of communication" is the main cause for rejected work. In this case, I was shocked to find that what I had done was not apparently what they had in mind. Even worse, occasionally your client may refuse to "work through" a piece with you, instead wanting to turn to another designer or halt production. My best advice? Let them go. You'll be much happier in the long run. There are good clients out there, don't settle for any that mistreat you.
However, a lack of "designer trust" also can play a key role. As an employer if you want the best for your marketing, design and promotions, then you need to trust your designer.
If they were good enough to hire, then let them do their job. So MANY times, I've seen good design completely re-worked and re-created based on the "client's" wishes. While this is definitely their prerogative it's no small surprise when those pieces turn out sub-par. The worst of these situations is when the client literally takes it upon themselves to select a stock graphic for their piece.
When that happens, I generally know the piece will NOT be making it to my portfolio. While it's sad to see, it also happens to the best of us and we must not let it wear us down. Remember that YOU are equipped to do your job, regardless of what your boss or your client may think. When you do that, your designs will reflect your confidence.
Number 4 in this series:
That's right folks, you heard it here first. As designers, we all go through those phases. One mistake may snowball into several, or you get one of those jobs that never seem to end.
Jobs that never end? Oh yeah. I've had them. The simple little layout that you quote to someone who sounds sweet for less than your normal price. Next thing you know? Forty print-outs, 35 corrections, 4 stock photo sites and several months later you find yourself still working on it.
How do you get rid of this anvil around your neck? Cut it off! Do whatever it takes to end the project, even if it means having to eat a little more profit yourself. It's worth it in the long run to get your time and aggravation back!
What about the jobs where you don't get all the information upfront? Ever quoted a freelance job too cheap? I have. It's easy to do. I find myself wanting to help out the client, give them the best deal possible and then 100 hours into the project, I'm kicking myself.
How do you stop that? Well, for me, I've sat down and objectively outlined the main-stream projects that I do on a regular basis, logo-development, magazines, etc. As I outlined each one, I added a realistic price and time frame. My prices are there and set in stone.
I've got to admit though, I still get sucked in and drop them on a case-by-case basis. As a designer, I'm not perfect, but I do hope that the clients I work with know that they have gotten their money's worth and are pleased with the result.