Thursday, 22 November 2012

Are you a mega multi tasker extraordinare?

Does this look familiar to you at all?

Duties for the Creative Designer / Developer include:
  • Creative concepts and brand design  to secure new business
  • Routine maintenance and development of the client websites many of which are developed in .net and aspx with full CMS functionality
  • Introduce and update new web content, including generation of new graphics/images
  • Design and development of striking HTML e-newsletters for direct marketing activities
  • Manage complete website lifecycle from initial idea to launch
  • Supervise website traffic levels, search engine rankings and other performance indicators and adjust content accordingly
  • Keep up to date with keyword and competitor online activities
  • Keep up to date with modern web trends and make suggestions for improvement of the Company’s online activities
Ideal Creative Designer / Developer Candidates:
  • Good academic achievements to degree level or equivalent in web design, multimedia or similar digital field or suitable level of experience in lieu of qualifications
Essential Skills Required
  • Good eye for aesthetics, and creative design, with thorough working knowledge of Adobe Creative Suite products including Photoshop
  • Some hand coding skills with HTML and CSS
  • Familiar with coding to XHTML standards in compliance with W3C
  • Excellent cross-browser compatibility awareness
  • Working knowledge of aspx or .net
  • Demonstrable web design/implementation experience with a strong portfolio
Advantageous Experience
  • Understanding of responsive web development with mobiles and tablets in mind
  • Design of email newsletters and direct mail
  • Understanding of SEO principles
  • Working knowledge of WordPress, php, jquery and JavaScript and XHTML.
  • Google Analytics & Webmaster Tools
  • Presentation skills
Now I apologize to the company who sent out this advertisement if you do in fact recognize it as your own but I haven't named you don't worry. This was one of the first jobs that I plucked up off of the creative pool website and I just want to go through some of the requirements for this role to make a bit of a point here.

Firstly there is the conflation of the ambiguous creative designer role with that of a web developer. For anyone out there who is in either field, or has tried to do both, they will know that they are basically two completely separate, and fairly extensive skillets to learn individually. To have both to a good standard is certainly an impressive feat. That's not to say that it doesn't happen because it does, and congrats to those of you out there who are web design, UI design, and development specialists all at the same time, you truly are in my eyes a genius, and a champion of the design field. Most of us can't do that though and I think it is fairly reasonable to assume that is because we have lives outside of our jobs! No I'm just kidding with you I'm sure even the design/ developer genius's have lives too. It's more of a time investment than it is anything else, and usually the deciding factor of someone who has all the time in the world to skill up and someone who has very little, is resources. We all have to eat. So I guess what I am really getting at is how did you get to a point where you could do all of this stuff if you weren't otherwise connected, mentored, and fully funded from he outset?

So lets assume that you did an Art & Design related A-level or two, or maybe you went down the route of going to college and getting to grips with a more vocational style NVQ or Diploma of some sort, and that gave you a practical grounding in color theory and different mediums etc. What you got there was probably your training wheels and a sense of play. Great so now you are intrigued by the wider world of design and off the back of your starter courses in Photoshop you've decided to go and get a degree in graphic design. That is the way it happens for most people so lets stay with this example. University is in most cases (but not all) going to be trying to teach you how to properly research and develop a concept and come up with something really creative. Excellent way to learn how to brand a company and help draw people in just using your noggin and a bit of thinking outside the box, so I guess you've got point number one of the Job ad covered with that. Creative concepts and brand design to secure new business.

Now then if you are one of the more savvy Design students then you may have secured an internship or two whilst still at University, and a lot of the design related ones do tend to involve updating and maintaining the company website, as it is something they don't often have time to do. If your lucky you will learn either before or during that process about a couple of Content management systems Like Drupal, or Wordpress which will mean that you at least know what .NET and ASPX actually mean. For those of you who don't, check out these links on the W3C and they will clear up all your questions (unfortunately I don't have time on this post) So there you have it you now have an entire coding language to learn along side your degree and most probably your part-time job and your internship as well. If by some miracle you have managed to achieve this then you are well and truly on the way to having achieved the specification on this job.
Routine maintenance and development of the client websites many of which are developed in .net and aspx with full CMS functionality.

The next duty on the list is quite a simple one and it is to generate and update new web content which is by and large one of the simpler tasks on this list. If you have gained any kind of mastery of the software involved over the time on your course then you will be able to do this with ease. So that's number three down. Introduce and update new web content, including generation of new graphics/images. 

So the job ad moving down then jumps into another one of those tasks that could be a field in its own right, email design and coding. Due to the lack of standards compliance and compatibility across email clients most good coders will tell you that you have to code like its 1999 and jump back into tabular based emails and do all kinds of CSS hacks that you just wouldn't dream of in a web design or application. If you have of course been learning your coding languages amongst everything else and have a good grasp of something like CSS3 and HTML5 which are fast becoming the norm then you are going to have pretty much drop it and go back to the old ways on emails. So you are now looking at knowing 3 or 4 different coding languages and there extensions. Now if this wasn't a skillset to be contended with already then have a look back at the rest of the list;
  • Supervise website traffic levels, search engine rankings and other performance indicators and adjust content accordingly
  • Keep up to date with keyword and competitor online activities
  • Keep up to date with modern web trends and make suggestions for improvement of the Company’s online activities.
On top of everything else you now need to be an SEO expert as well. This is probably not that difficult to learn but it is most certainly a time consuming set of tasks to complete and I should imagine that along side designing organizing, coding, updating and implementing all the other sites and emails you have to deal with that you are swiftly running out of brain-space for more at this stage. Now I think that you get the picture and there is no need for me to go into the chances of you having there extra "advantageous experience" such as responsive design, Jquery, JavaScript, PHP, and Google analytics.

The unfortunate part of all of this is that this is what your average design job spec looks like these days, and that is including the Junior positions. So even if you have worked your arse off during and around your studies you are likely to still not be on top of every latest trends in design, or experienced enough to take on the job and hit the ground running. You will nearly always get beaten to the punch by someone who has the years of experience because they got there foot in the door when it was much easier to do so. The internet is awash with industry professionals complaining that graduates do not have the skills for the roles. Which is a lovely privileged position to be speaking from if you started your career 12 years ago when there was only one or two web languages and one platform to design for. It was only yesterday that I ended up in a discussion through Linked groups, where somebody posted a conversation that said what happened to all the true designers and how come all the new graduates are just software junkies? This question is a fairly loaded one in itself and as you would imagine sparked a fairly heated debate among graduates and veterans alike.

My opinion on it all comes from a place that embraces the feelings of both parties (because I'm nice like that). Everybody seems to be drowning in technology. It all boils down to this one uniting factor, "the speed of production". If you now have tablets, phones, laptops, TV's, interactive billboards etc. and they are all considered to be primary channels of communication. Then the obvious consequence is that you now have a harder job as a company to market yourself and get yourself in front of as many relevant consumers as possible. It's expensive I am sure! Perhaps it would be better, instead of heaping the responsibility of working these channels onto the only existing job role that fits "the graphic designer", and to create a few more better fitting and specific job roles that can handle each part to a good standard. It is of course happening slowly but surely because there is a great deal of difference between a motion graphic designer and an animator, as well as between a digital designer and a print designer. Its the greedy folks at the top who are the problem. Trying to make there staff all singing and dancing. All it does is upset people at every level. Those whos primary job and skill was to conceptualize and build a brand and personality, feel that they are being squeezed out in favor of button monkeys. Those who feel that they excellent software skills and abilities to make beautiful visual presentations feel that they are being left out due to a lack theoretical and conceptual based skills. Obviously it would be better for all if you had two separate people doing there jobs to the best of there abilities even if they are the polar opposites of each other. I am aware of course that this is a fairly utopian idea of how things should work, but somebody somewhere must make the demands for a better set up for even a chance of it happening. Today that is me!

So here's what I'm gonna do. If you decide to follow in my footsteps then that's up to you. As of today I am going to work hard, not at trying to fulfill every given job specification that is ever thrown at me and keep skilling up. I am instead going to skill back. I am going to streamline my efforts to what is necessary to my business. Let me explain that a little better. For example I am pretty competent at Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, Dreamweaver, Fireworks. However I mostly don't code in Dreamweaver, I use TextMate so that program is pretty much redundant to me (it merely serves the purpose of letting employers know that I understand WYSIWYG editors). Also I generally only use Fireworks to make quick changes to PNG files whilst building websites. Again though it is a rare usage so not in the top of my priority list of program's to go to. What I spend the majority of my time in is Photoshop designing interfaces and digital artwork. I can safely say I am pretty good with it and super comfortable using it. I don't think by any means it has hurt me to know about these other software, but I will be focusing my efforts on remaining expert level with my favorites rather than a blanket approach to whole suite. The same goes for coding languages. What I feel I will gain from this is a more niche market and a happier set of clients. Plus the chances are I will be able to stay much truer to what my price bracket is, and wont have to sell myself short in order to gain clients and there trust.

I will of course, as I do with all of my endevours, come back to this at a later point and let you know exactly how that goes. You never know it may go swimmingly well and it might also chuck up some other interesting factors to talk about. For now though this is all I have to say on the matter. So I hope I have offered you something interesting to think about. Until next time goodbye and thanks for reading.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Dont make it hard for yourself

You know what I find hilarious? It's the amount of people with outdated methods that are vehemently defending them to the detrement of anyone who might have found an easier way to do whatever it is that they do. Like for example all the coding purists of the Web development community who are so absolutely against anyone getting creative with code and stepping outside the web standards to make things work. Seems a bit silly to me as people's experimentation is what drives creativity and innovation forward. There are always going to be places in which standards and best practices are kept to, but come on now lets be honest we need those folks who don't want to follow the rules because it is those guys that will be opening doors. This seems to happen all over the place in every profession. You need to prove that you are a hard worker. If your not a hard worker then you cant possibly be a team player, and if your not a team player then you must be a selfish person, and if your a selfish person then you don't deserve the benefits that the hard working folk of the world generated in the first place, and so the spurious claims continue. The thing about any kind of traditionalism though, is that whether it be in work, study, or culture, is that it doesn't allow for much deviation from the plan. It doesn't actually allow anyone who may have found a better, more efficient, or just easier way to do something to adapt the tradition. This is why it is a problem. It's another one of those things that just slows the process of change down. But that is not really the point here, its is more about people actively road blocking the change makers and then bundling it up in a negative, like saying "you are lazy and this is the way it has to stay because its the right way".

I get it really I do, why would anyone work so hard to have some undeserving person jump on the bandwagon at the last minute and reap the benefits of all your work. It's infuriating to say the least, so obviously this kind of emotive response is going to lead to certain conclusions on the part of the hard working individual. So what does one do about such a thing? Do we stamp out all lazy and worthless individuals until there is nothing left but an army of obedient and productive people left to take on the worlds work and toil. The answer to that should be pretty obvious and it is most definitely a no. We are not machines and nor should we try and emulate them in any way shape or form. If anything we should take a lesson or two from the "lazy" people of the world. People seem to forget that this set up of if you work hard you will be rewarded was invented in the best interests of industry, which in turn was invented in the best interests of capitalism. Capitalism is just one giant self serving set of equations that aid monetary growth. It's not for your benefit and it never has been. It is for its own benefit and it has gotten out of hand. Your endlessly working hard does not actually help you at all. I mean it helps you to generate money for yourself and the company for which you work obviously but it also takes so much more from you then you realize at first glance. It takes away from you things like liberty autonomy and choice, and as we all know in most professions you are not even allowed your own genuine reaction to people or scenarios you must act as a "professional" at all times which in my mind is just a zombie. (Yes I am being pessimistic about this). Did you know that the amount of people taking time off work due to stress and anxiety related issues has risen to 58%. That is basically the majority, and it says a lot of the rising expectations of the employer. What it also says is that it isn't healthy, and continuing to try and meet impossible standards is the very thing pushing the bar up endlessly in the first place. You are indirectly, by trying to work as hard as you are asked just making your life more difficult.

Bill Gates our favorite innovator once said. "I will always choose a lazy person to do a difficult job because they will find an easy way to do it". He wasn't the only to have cottoned onto this notion as some of the biggest and most successful tech and design companies of the age have raised the productivity rates of their staff considerably, by actually lowering the expectation on the employee. For example Steven Sagmeister who runs an award winning design studio in New York, (check that out here ) closes it completely every seven years and gives all his staff a whole year off fully paid and free to do what they want in their lives. He goes into great detail about the benefits of time away from work and how interesting and engaged people actually become, and how produce better work,  (you can check that out here Another company to utilize this flexible working pattern is Google, who have a kind of get it done when your ready approach. There are many more like them too that make fun office spaces and day trips etc to try and get the best out of their people. Facebook, Apple, Sony, to name a few. So as you can see giving people freedom is paramount to their productivity.

The thing to remember is that most of the innovations that have come to pass since the industrial revolution have been in order to make things easier for us in our everyday lives. That was always the point, so why do we continue to punish people for their doing things the easy way. We are all being sold a bit of a lie here and probably should get a little bit angrier about seems to work for the Buddhist's, they never get angry. There's probably an answer in their somewhere maybe we shouldn't be getting angry about it all and just try to take the path of least resistance. All I am really suggesting here is that you change your perspective a little and point that blame finger in another direction. Your feeling bad about someone doing less work than you only really stems from your feeling cheated because you just realized you didn't have to work so hard in the first place. It sucks I know, but once you have to come to this realization then you are well and truly on the way to enlightenment. I remember this feeling very well in relation to my university coursework. For those of you out there who have done or are doing an arts related course then you will know that you are marked not really on the final outcome per se but the process in which you got there. Usually in the form of a sketchbook. I know I am not the only one out there who finds this to be a ridiculous concept. The build up to the final piece of work is what you are being judged on and I understand that there needs to be some point of reference but if you are trying to hone your skills as a painter what you want to do is paint not research other peoples paintings. The learning as often is with most things is in the doing, and the back up just feels like extra work for nothing. It is no coincidence that most students will tell you that they found it easier to work backwards from the final product in there sketchbooks and that is because they all know that they are only doing the sketchbook thing because they have to. Nobody wants to do work that they don't need to it just isn't natural. So the long and the short of it really is you should'nt stress yourself out by working your self to the bone, and you should'nt srtess other people out who choose not to. You should just learn how to be relaxed and soon enough and you will naturally become happier more productive and more innovative as a result. Which was actually the original aim of all the hard work. How ironic.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

50 non Design skills and competencies for the Designer.

1. Being able to type quickly and correctly.

2. Being able to spell.

3. Having at least a basic understanding of copy-writing.

4. Knowing how to speak clearly, objectively, and calmly when under direct criticism.

5. Being able to work a DSLR and understanding what the functions actually do.

6. Knowing when to quit.

7. Knowing how to work Microsoft office (yes that includes excel).

8. Knowing how to write a contract.

9. Knowing how to write an invoice.

10. Knowing how to pay your taxes.

11. Knowing how to write a thank you card.

12. Knowing your legal rights and where to get help if somebody tries to rip you off.

13. Understanding the ins and outs of a good savings account.

14. Getting to grips with a financial plan.

15. Time management.

16. Organizational skills.

17. Networking.

18. Sales.

19. Basic computer maintenance and repairs (both PC and Mac)

20. Decent drawing/ sketching/ wire-framing ability.

21. Have a basic understanding of hosting/ domains/ and SEO.

22. Know what social media tools are available to you and which are relevant to your needs.

23. Listening skills.

24. Problem solving ability.

25. Basic math.

26. Research and analysis of information.

27. Being in control of your emotions (things can get pretty stressful).

28. People management skills.

29. Self awareness (as in what level of ability you really do have and not what you try to tell people you have).

30. Cultural awareness.

31. Global awareness.

32. Contextualization skills (this is probably the most important and the most difficult one).

33. Marketing awareness.

34. Punctuality.

35. Likeability (you will be surprised how much of a difference this makes). 

36. Flexibilty.

37. Patience.

38. Perseverance.

39. Tact.

40. Ingenuity.

41. Understanding how and when to outsource.

42. Open mindedness.

43. Goal setting.

45. Understanding Copyright Law.

46. Staying up to date with new technology and software.

47. Being aware of local and regional trade fairs that are relevant to you.

48. Trend awareness.

49. Market knowledge.

50. Pitching ability.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Your social life is overrated

This planet is full of beauty and intelligence and exquisite differences wherever you look. You can find inspiration and new ideas in the most obscure places. Think back to a time when you were forced to take that 40 minute walk in the rain instead of the bus because you lost your purse and I will bet all the change in my pocket (this statement is just for effect I don't actually carry change in my pocket I have a purse so that would be silly!) that you had something awoken in you. A reminder of times when you go out in the rain on purpose because you wanted to feel the water on your face, and how it made you want to splash in the puddles and run around like you did when you were six. I'll bet you actually enjoyed it. There is after all only so wet you can get! It is always an enlightening experience when you are forced to do something seemingly with no reason and end up getting lost in the moment. Think about it, in your childhood why did you ever do anything? It was never for a reason and you never ever asked why. I mean you might have asked why is the sky blue or why is the grass green but I'll bet you never asked your friend why do you want to play on the slide. It was obvious because it was an experience. If you never had the experience before then that was all the more reason to do it. Unfortunately though in your adult life you get trained into being afraid of new experiences. Fear of course has its purposes and should not be ignored but considering how safe our world actually is now in comparison even to fifty years ago it seems strange that the level of fear in people has actually risen. We have great medicine now, and we have stringent health and safety checks for buildings, vehicles and public spaces. Everything that is likely to have a lot of people involved in or using it, is likely to have been checked so thoroughly for possible dangers that you would have to get really creative in order to harm yourself in anyway. And yet even in light of all this modern technology and insight we are afraid to let our children play in the street or to climb up onto a fence in case they slip and break an arm etc. We have actually just become hyper vigilant instead and handed over responsibility from the discretion of the individual, to a risk assessment test. The result is constant fear of the unknown and the unchecked. This is of course not entirely our own fault because have you ever tried ignoring the warnings and going ahead and doing the dangerous thing anyway? What happens is somebody immediately saves you from yourself. They scream out stop you cant go in there it's dangerous you'll hurt yourself, and come running to your aid and to drag you from harms way. Its quite distracting actually and the sudden intervention might be the very thing that causes you to harm yourself ironically enough. But I digress. The point is that the world itself is nothing to be afraid of it is more likely other people that you should be afraid of.

Now getting to the point of a social life and what purpose that serves for us. In your childhood it's to have a partner in crime, and to have people with which to share you experience with. This is important to my point so remember that sentence. The people that you choose as friends as children, are often measured by there fear (or lack of) for new experiences. What I mean by that is you subconsciously go towards people who want to try the same things as you do and who have similar levels of tolerance for them. There are nuances of course between physical, social, and intellectual experience but you get the picture. So you are not going to hang out with people who constantly do things that scare you senseless. You are going to hang back and find other people who are fearful like you and don't force you to do big scary things all the time. The same of course though works vice-versa. You are equally not going to want to hang out with people who are afraid to try new things if you are the brave one because eventually you will become resentful and feel that they are holding you back. It is this fundamental underlying motive that drives all social interaction. The sharing of experience. So of course this only becomes a problem when people are mismatched in life. Its the tyranny of the majority. By the time you get to secondary school for example you are pretty much expected to like and want to like the same the things as the majority of people do and if you are anywhere above or below this line of accepted behavior then you will be outcast and left to enjoy your experience on your own. Sometimes that is a good thing because it allows you to experience life on your terms but I will get to that point later.

We all start to learn as teenagers and probably younger than that even, that there is an accepted level of fear. Girls should be afraid of spiders, dirt, and excessive physical exertion, and boys should be afraid of crying in front of people and the wider range of emotions in general. (I obviously didn't get that memo). This is all rather general and outdated I know but the point is there is a kind of benchmark that we are being measured against all the time. I am female and to be honest am afraid of very little, I am not afraid of heights, heavy machinery, fighting, wild animals, or dirt. Unfortunately I am pretty weird about the spiders thing but then again so are my brothers! Regardless of the social cultural shift that has happened post feminism, a lot of the old stereotypes remain and people are still surprised of my fearlessness in general when they get to know me, and often put it down to some sort of unnatural disposition that I must have and be unaware of. This is fine now because I have come to terms with the fact that is the way that the world works, but it is actually very restricting because it leaves me feeling as though I have to pass for normal with regards to my hopes and fears. And there are so many people that I speak to that feel the need to pass for normal when it comes to fear or lack of for any given experience. It is a real shame because other peoples reactions are what we fear more than the actual event and how they will treat us if we reveal our true identities (Batman couldn't exist without the mask).

This is why I think that your social life is overrated. Having to check back with your peer group or in fact any near by human being that what you are doing is acceptable to the wider majority can be an almost cripplingly slow process. How is any one supposed to learn about the world or there own level of comfort within it if they have to go through this rigmarole day in day out. It is frankly ridiculous. To the loners out there this is a lesson that they learned long ago. They have already given up on the checks and balances and enjoy a whole world free from the judging eyes of the masses. It seems to me no coincidence that great genius and leaps of consciousness in the world have more often than not been born of solitude. So perhaps the key to true creativity is to be found on ones own after all.  And Now for my final trick! of tying this all in to Design.

Everything that you design is for someone other than yourself to look at and interact with. You have to do a lot of guess work in trying to get to a place where you understand the mind of the viewer. That however is just yet another layer of the people pleasing machine and another step away from experience for experiences sake. Did I mention that your happiness depends on your ability to experience things in the moment? watch this link you'll see what I mean. but again I digress. After too long spent figuring out what it is that people like and don't like we sort of stagnate. And that is because we forget one key thing. People change there minds, and they change there minds so frequently that trying to keep up with what people do and do not like is pretty much futile. This is a battle that you will never win. Isn't it funny how the cool kids are usually the ones who don't give a crap whether or not people think what they are doing is cool or not? Not really, it is because they go with the moment and indulge in it regardless of the social consequences. It can be hard as a designer to just go with your gut and tell other people what they should and shouldn't like but all you can do is try. If you don't then you will be yesterdays news faster than you can say wait for me. You did after all get into this business most likely because somebody did something so out there and off the wall that it inspired you right? Well now it is your turn. don't bother asking your friends if what you are doing is right or not just feel it out. If it feels right to you right now then it is!

Oh and now for an apology for what has actually been an epic rant. I just had one of those days today where all of the above was running around my brain at a hundred miles and hour and I thought it best to share the juicy bits with you good people of the internet. Thanks for listening!

Friday, 2 November 2012

When all your friends are designers too.

The unavoidable part of becoming a designer or a politician or bricklayer even, is that your peer group will eventually be made up mostly of other designers, bricklayers, or politicians. Why am I insinuating that's a bad thing you might ask? Well I would have thought the answer obvious, but that doesn't make for a very good read!

Politicians are probably the best example of this line of argument because this is something that the majority of people have witnessed with their own eyes. Politicians on the whole, get accused of the same thing over and over again, and it is that of being self interested and out of touch with the people that they actually govern. They are purely in the business of making the country a better place for themselves and others like them. That is of course the generalized public opinion and not everybody shares this view but maybe there is some truth in it. Maybe the politicians have become so accustomed to the interests of their party and the company of other politicians that they have no idea what the people are really like. This happens in a number of instances when you think about it.  It has done throughout history. for instance in revolutions and civil wars across the globe. Stereotyping after all is not entirely fictional, or indeed fixed. The generalization must to true to an extent of most people within the named group, that's how it works. The problem is that the job is so all consuming. It is more than just a job that you do for money, it is a role within society that affects people and there livelihoods and it carries with it responsibility, and expected behavior, and so forth, it just so happens that it carries a pay check. What most people fail to notice is that all jobs are like this. Your Job isn't just a job, it is far more than that.

I think a great interlude to this line of thought would be for you to check out this site which elaborates on my point in a wonderful way.

Now coming back to what you do, it is going to affect affect quite a few things in your life and not only that but it is going to affect things for your close and even quite distantly connected peer group. You might be thinking don't be silly, I can see how a politicians decisions are affecting the wider population, but how is me designing holiday cards for "Clinton Cards" going to make a difference to anything. I feel this one is best illustrated with a little story.

Lets say for example you are in fact a freelance graphic designer. This allows you to work from home or from your clients office and at your own pace within reason. It also allows you to charge whatever rates you feel are appropriate, and generally avoid the day in day out monotony of the nine to five. Overall you are happy with your choice to do this but it does have its down sides. Some of your clients are not very nice people and they don't understand or respect what it is that you do. They call you up at all hours of the day expecting you to be fine with this because you are a freelancer, and they try to get away with not paying you wherever possible. Not only this but you often have periods without any work and you are in charge of supplying, maintaining, and updating, the very expensive equipment and software that is required to be a graphic designer. These are all things that affect you personally.

Now of course these things do have a bit of a knock on effect and bleed into your personal life. For example, your boyfriend/ girlfriend often complains that you don't spend the weekend with them as often as they would like because your projects sometimes run over and the deadline is the most important to you than quality time with your partner. You know all about computers and a little bit about programming and markup languages because its part of your job so naturally sometimes you just cant switch off and end up talking about these subjects to your friends. They know nothing about what you are talking about and have no interest in listening to it either, as it has no effect on there situation and subsequently avoid you when that's what you are talking about. In there eyes you are becoming more and more boring and they would like there less geeky friend back. On a more positive front though it also means that you can help with otherwise technical and daunting tasks that your friends may not be able to handle on there own so most people, (your mum especially) now assume that you are there own personal technician and treat you accordingly. Great news for a number of people in your immediate circle and perhaps a few friends of theirs that could sling you some work.

Now you can see where I am going with this but the last one is the more important aspect, and it is how you have affected the company, the employees, and the consumers, of the products via your actual work. Now lets not forget what you do as a graphic designer. You are a conveyor of visual information and a maker a visual reality that may or may not exist for someone other than yourself. In essence, you sell things to people using pictures and words. So where does all this affectation come in? I'm glad you asked! Lets say the Job you just did was a set of labels for a new cosmetic range that wanted to draw in a new younger audience as the company weren't meeting there profit target by only appealing to the over 25's. So you made some funky fresh design touting young faces Photoshopped to look as though they were wearing the cosmetics themselves and beaming with confidence about it. You have just given the company a much need facelift and they have therefore made a huge 23% increase in sales as a result of the new packaging, allowing them to take on more staff and produce more products. This has indirectly created jobs for some lucky people who were looking for work but it has also increased the workload of the lab staff who were already overworked. Because its such a specialist role the company could not afford to hire more lab technicians and just decided that the current staff members could handle it. A young girl who normally doesn't wear makeup passes this new product in the shops and has heard that its all the rage and growing in popularity among her friends so she asks her mother to buy it for her. Her mother who is against makeup refuses and this indirectly contributes to mean comments from those who do wear the product. I could go on but I feel that I may have got my point across with this one.

This story is of course all fictional and purely fabricated to make a point but the point is in how this chain forms from what you do. Your work has a myriad of unexpected chain reactions regardless of what it is you actually think you do, so it is important to remain rounded and aware of the wider audience and affectee's. This is why I think that it is bad to have only friends who are graphic designers. It blinkers your thinking into a mold of the political, ideological, and social, conscious of the design world. It just so happens that graphic designers and other creators can be quite progressive, but even though this is true it becomes easy to forget that there is a whole world out there who know nothing of what you do or why you do it. These people are still very much a part of your world. And there voice and point of view is still just as valid as anyone else's. The minute you stop listening to those voices you become the out of touch politician, and honestly nobody likes that person. So by all means have friends who are designers and do cool designery type stuff with them. We all need people with whom we share a passion because it gives us someone to bounce off of and spark creativity. Just try and make sure that you have a life outside of the design world with people that have nothing to do with it. You know what they say after all, "Variety is the spice of life".

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Seeking validation for your design efforts

When you are a creator or a maker of any description or even a consultant, there is always this obscure line to be drawn between motives and passion for your craft. You find yourself asking questions like,

"is my work good?"

"who is this person to tell me if my work is good or not and why should I value there opinion?"

"how much is my work worth or is the reward for the process not actually monetary?"

"would I do this if I wasn't being paid?"

"does the deadline and the payoff add to or take away from my creative edge?"

"do I even have a creative edge?"

"how much of this design is truly mine and how much of it is just regurgitating somebody else's idea?"
and so on and so on.

These questions are pretty much unavoidable and I think that if you aren't asking such questions then you probably aren't really doing enough work to merit the asking in the first place. Don't worry you'll get there, we all do! The underlying point though, is about achievement and a sense of purpose. In our choice of field we seek recognition and reassurance for our work and more than that, who we are in the world, and what our place is in the community. It is a measure of stature just like everything else in our day to day social lives. Lets face it you work more than you do anything else so your work actually is your life. It is a microcosm in which you mould yourself to fit your surroundings just like you did at school. So you as a creative probably have more power to shape and move around your world than most people do. Its a blessing you should use it.

Speaking of school, you may still be studying in which case you may be slightly less aware of what I am getting at but the questions you ask yourself now, be it at school, college, university, or work, are universal, and they apply equally to whatever it is that you spend the lions share of your time doing. This gives us a good insight as to why we seek so much approval in our work and creative choices, but it doesn't give us much direction or any answers for that matter. I believe that if you can get a good handle on what exactly you are trying to achieve and why you are trying to achieve it then you are ahead of the game. If you can do that then you will have taken a grand leap from just creating stuff for the sake of it and for someone to tell you its good, to creating a vision, your vision. You might say you have become a visionary! Not everybody can be a visionary of course and nor should they be, but to have a guiding light in a dark tunnel is most certainly an advantage. If your goal however, is to become someone who others describe as a visionary, then I don't think that you are really going about it the right way or really getting the point of what I am trying to say here. It is about more than anything trying to find a path on which you are challenged and grow but at the same time you don't beat yourself up too much about the failures along the way. So how can we ensure that we do actually get the validation, or if we need it in the first place?

You might be super philosophical and believe in the wisdom of the Tao Te Ching which teaches us "The talented person who is also wise, retains humility, and so does not create rivalry. The person who possesses material things, and who does not boast of his possessions, does much to prevent stealing. Those who are jealous of talents, skills or possessions of others easily become possessed themselves by envy." Truth though there may be in these statements, in the capitalism driven marketplace that the world currently is, avoiding competition and remaining a model of zen and humility in crowd full of bloodthirsty wolves can get a little tricky. That is the way the marketplace and indeed nature was designed. You must play the game and compete or be cut off from all the relevant benefits and left to fend for yourself without a helping hand in sight. It can get pretty mercenary out there. Now lets not forget that we are in fact talking about being a designer and where you get your sense of achievement from, not survival of the fittest, but the principle is a effectively the same. Your average person will trip themselves up regularly trying to compete with the person next to them, without ever really questioning if winning that particular battle will aid them in any way. In fact a lot of people (creatives in particular) will take any fight they think they can win without realising that they are damaging the original vision. So you see that having a vision for yourself is important, its a necessary part of shaping your world around you. It's important because it helps you to pick your battles in a more educated manner (in your work, and in your life). It also helps you to take criticism in a far more constructive manner because you will have a much better grasp of who is helping you and who is blowing smoke up your arse for there own competitive aims. Last but not least it gives us perspective, and perspective makes the load lighter for all those who have it.

There is nothing wrong with seeking validation in your work at all, but there are bad ways to go about it. For example if you are a perfectionist and you cannot let anyone see your work until it is finished, or more likely until you believe that its finished in the eyes of your imaginary benchmark (we all have one of those). Then the chances are you aren't going to produce a lot of work or make many mistakes, or learn how to deal with a failed idea. As a graphic designer this is terrible news. You are going to be pissed off more often than you are happy with it and fall out of touch with your craft far sooner than is necessary this way. More importantly though you are probably going to stagnate and stay at the same level for longer too. Now you are just giving your competition a leg up. My tutors used to infuriate me by saying that you have to learn how to fail and then telling me all about how my designs were rubbish and that is because I was still so precious about my work and not only that but didn't have the confidence to decide what was or wasn't good for myself. I didn't know what my my end goal was so I was just shooting wildly in the dark trying to find a target. If you need someone else to tell you if a design is good or not and why, then you are still not confident in your own work really. You most likely are unsure of the main vision or end goal and that is why it feels like such a kick in the face when you get it wrong. I'm not by any means suggesting that you should ignore criticism just that you should be able to anticipate what a lot of people will say about your work early on and if it is relevant to you in the long run.

I hope that this little speech has helped to shed some light on what will be a life long (or at least career long) challenge. I would therefore like to end with a few questions that might help you to shape your creative vision for the future.

"who was it who first inspired you to be a creative and what about it was so awe inspiring"

"is it genuinely in your power to do something like this (long term discussion with yourself on that one)"

"who exactly would you have to impress in order to be happy with how creative you are"

"does it matter if you never reach your goal"

"who do you already know that can help you take steps toward your future awesomeness".

Good luck!

Friday, 19 October 2012

University as a networking opportunity

How you look at your education in my honest opinion is entirely up to you. University costs a lot of money and should not be wasted. It takes three years to complete an undergraduate course or four if you have a foundation or placement year strapped onto it, which might sound like a long time but in actual fact is not. Well you know what they say, time flies when your having fun, but the thing about University is perhaps not that you are having the best time of your life all the time and thats why it goes by so fast. Its more like there was so much going on all the time that you've managed to get to the end of your degree course without actually fully realising what it is you were supposed to get out of it in the first place. This is one of the few things me and my University friends can agree on, and it can be quite a scary prospect. Don't listen to all the people that say I had to go through it, its just a natural part of the process. It really isn't at all, it doesn't have to be so painful and all it requires is a little bit of prior knowledge to get you going.

So what I am going to suggest here is probably a bit controversial but I honestly don't care! Your grades don't really mean anything if you are studying in an art or design related course. What I mean by that is that they don't really mean much in terms of your career. You will of course need to pass the units to progress through the course and onto the subsequent years but that is about it. What you should be focusing on is networking your ass off. I didn't start to do this until about half way through the summer of my second year and I did it by accident. (It was a happy accident if you will). I did an internship or two and managed to bag myself a few freelance clients off the back of them. This was brilliant news for a number of reasons being: 1.) It showed me that I could indeed nab freelance clients off contacts that my internship boss had, provided it was done transparently and tactfully: 2.) I should probably start to treat more social activities like an opportunity to network: 3.) There is an art to talking yourself up and if you do it well people will offer you various opportunities: 4.) I'm gonna need a business card and a website if I'm serious about this networking malarky.  There is a secondary underlying point here which is that arts courses don't focus on getting you a job really, they focus on getting you to think about whatever your field is in the most creative way possible in order to pave the way for the future. This is a fine notion but I find it to be entirely lacking in its application. I didn't start to get really creative until I got a bit of real life experience, and that came via work. You need to meet people and experience things, and that requires socialising, which depends on money and time, hence the getting a job thing. (We all have to start somewhere). Then you can take all that input and put it back into your course, which will allow you the opportunity to get a portfolio together, which will in turn get you more work. Now there is a symbiotic relationship between these two things and I hope that I am explaining this in a way that makes sense because if you get the balance right it can take you to some really interesting places.

coming back to networking Its all really about practice, because you will talk to all kinds of different people in various stages of their careers and levels of seniority. There are do's and don'ts to it, so I'll throw you a few examples now to help you along the way.


1.)  Do talk about your work to people, make it interesting, and sound enthusiastic.

2.)  Do have a business card and a website to show off your efforts and prove that you are serious, even if it is just a blog of your University work that is fine.

3.)  Do take an interest in other peoples work when they talk about it and make an effort to understand it if you can. It will give you new perspectives for your own work.

4.)  Do make the most of social media like Twitter and especially Linkedin groups as it will allow you the opportunity to generate contacts.

5.)  Do make sure that you are articulate when you are talking in person or over the phone, and especially make sure that your spelling is correct whilst emailing people.

6.)  Do mention your collaborations with other students and colleagues (nobody wants a lone wolf on a project).

7.)  Do seek out and go to the social events, exhibitions etc. that the influential artists and designers go to.

8.)  Do return the favour if somebody gets you an in on a project of any kind.

9.)  Do enter into debate about creative practices with people (without insulting anyone) it shows that you are keen and have an opinion of your own.

10.)  Do mention that you are looking for opportunities.


1.)  Don't go straight to the Managing Director and start pushing for a favour, they are busy people and there is a hierarchy you must get through first. (Wait till you are invited to talk openly with them and then drop it into conversation).

2.)  Don't beg or seem needy (even if you are desperate for the money) this will be just as damaging as being too pushy and make people doubt whether they want to work with you.

3.)  Don't talk like you are a professional who has ten years experience if you don't, they will see through it and automatically relegate you to sales calls and promotions. (Nobody looks at those its just spam).

4.)  Don't accept absolutely anything that comes your way sometimes people are just trying to get something for nothing and you will have to be discerning about this.

5.)  Don't over subscribe your time at the expense of your degree there will be other opportunities.

6.)  Don't talk about yourself endlessly, networking just like any other conversation is give and take so listen as well.

7.)  Don't tell people your life story they honestly don't care.

8.)  Don't namedrop unless it genuinely is relevant to the work you are discussing.

9.)  Don't give out business cards to anyone you ever talk to unless you think they might actually contact you. They do after all cost money.

10.)  Don't just turn up uninvited this defeats the purpose of what you are doing (which is trying to get an invitation).

Now coming back to using University as a networking ground I think it is worth mentioning the interdisciplinary nature of your University campus. You effectively have access to world class equipment, books, and venues and lets not forget talent, that all can be utilised to your advantage. Every different course offers you more chance of gaining an opportunity. Most universities have an open emailing system which you can post out to every student on campus. This is very handy if you are looking for an illustrator, designer, extra for a film. Aside from extra curricular activities though (you might not have the time) there is the general getting to know of your class mates. For some reason everyone seems to forget that everyone comes from completely different backgrounds and that by that virtue alone they are probably going to have all kinds of interesting insights for you to make the most of. So please I implore you to stop creating little cliques and worrying about who the in crowd is so that you can reinvent your post secondary school self. There will be plenty of time for that once you have made it big in the creative industry which is pretty cool in itself. You will have to become an expert investigator and find out who knows what and wether they can or are willing to swing you a favour and share there contacts with you. This comes form graciously and patiently getting to know the people on your course. And not just your own course but other related courses too. That is what you should really be doing at uni realistically, because, and I hate to be the one to break it to you, the world is still very much all about who rather than what you know, and the what you can always find out after you have your in.

So now that you know this information I suggest you get started as soon as possible and start fraternising with the enemy it will only help you in the end.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Why enter Design Competitions?

I used to be pretty against entering design competitions because I thought them to be pointless activities for people with far too much time on there hands. I mean come on who has even a spare day in the week when they are trying to juggle there education, family life, social life, relationships, maybe a part time job and some form of other extra curricular activity? There simply isn't enough time in the day! Not only that but lets face it your probably not going to win, and there may even be an upfront cost to entering the competition in the first place. Exactly how I am benefitting from being in this competition I have no idea. But these thoughts are all past tense now due to a number of occurrences in my life that changed my mind. I am going to start with the golf ball in the jar example because this is what got the ball rolling on my new found vision of competitions in the first place. So what the hell am I talking about with this golf ball thing?

Maybe you have heard of this and maybe you haven't but there is a basic philosophy lesson that gets taught in most degree courses the world over and it is called the jar of life. A friend of mine sent me a link to this in an email about a year ago and it has stayed with me ever since so I suggest you give it a watch and see what you think about it. If you check the link you can view the lesson in action. The basic premise (assuming you didn't click the link yet or cannot view it for whatever reason) is that if you fill a glass jar with golf balls it appears to be full until you then add some small pebbles which will fill in the gaps between the golf balls. It then looks like its full once more but of course it isn't because there is still yet more space to put in sand or some other fine grain and the jar will once again appear to be full, except for the fact that amazingly enough there is still more space in the jar even with the previous items inside, and that can be any form of liquid that will fill the remaining space in the jar. So the golf balls which are the largest items in the jar, are there to represent the more important aspects of your life like family, friends, and personal growth. The pebbles would represent secondary importance like a home, job, car etc. the things that help to sustain the previous items and so on and so on. If you were to put the same items in the jar in a different order then they would not fit no matter how hard you try to make them. The point being that as long as you focus on the important things first you will always be able to fit the other stuff around it. Its about priorities in a nutshell. So anyway why I have told you this will become clear with the further examples  I hope so please read on.

I ran into an old friend of mine about six months after that whom I had studied with a few years ago at college. We weren't on the same course but we were friends and we used to smoke on breaks and chat, you get the drift. We had the usual catch up chat of how are you what have you been up to bla bla bla, and she told me a very intriguing story about a competition she had been involved in. She was a performing arts student at the time and a friend of hers was doing film, and it was this friend that was entering the competition and needed an actress to play homeless girl in her film entry. Now my friend agreed to this and on the day of the filming got chatting to one of the people running the competition and it just so happened that she knew of someone who was looking for an intern in a theatre. Not as an actress but as a set design assistant and basically she managed to talk her way into it because she was quite artsy as well. Now that internship turned into a job and that job got her chatting to someone else who needed someone to do some acting work for them and long story short she is now at the BRIT school and doing well for herself. So even though she herself did not enter this competition her involvement lead to various other opportunities opening up and due to her open mindedness at the time it actually panned out perfectly.

Now my final example as to why I have changed my mind is because whilst studying myself last year I was forced to take part in a competition that was run by the RSA. This is a fairly common one to do if you are on a graphic design degree and holds you in high esteem for the future if you do well on it! you can look it up here I actually did not do well on it at all and got absolutely no accolades from it whatsoever but what it did for me was force me to think about the process of my designing in a whole new way and one that got me to be much more creative and in fact collaborative then I was naturally used to. It basically turned me into an expert mingler which has in turn landed me various opportunities since having taken part in the competition. So yes you are correct in thinking that I am taking a rather philosophical stand point on wether or not you should do a design competition or two in your journey to becoming a designer but why not. If it is more persuasive than listing the pros and cons then I feel I will have succeeded.

The lessons I learned much like the jar of golf balls trick had to come in that particular order or I do not think I would be writing this down now at all, e.g. had I not seen that video I would not have compared it to my friends experience thus committing her tale to my memory banks, and had she not told me that story I may not have viewed my failed attempt at the RSA competition in the way that I did. It was a necessary part of my development not only as a designer but as a person because you can apply these principles to virtually anything in your life and probably see positive results. It is all a question of perspective. So instead of looking like I used to at all the reasons of why it was a terrible idea and what it would costs my current life to get involved in something new and different like a competition, I decided that I was going to take the opposite tack and see it as in investment. This would be an investment of experience and an opportunity to learn. and maybe get a new perspective or friend or client or contact or whatever. I could only find out what it was whilst doing it. This is why I recommend you getting involved in design competitions.

I have recently taken it upon myself to enter a competition of sorts which I would previously thought to be a waste of my time based on this new outlook of mine. I am not entering alone so it is a chance to collaborate and because it is based in film it will allow me the chance to get to know some more industry bods like film makers, photographers, directors and such. So even if it doesn't go anywhere I will have gained some valuable experience and something great for my portfolio which is really why im doing it in the first place. Winning isn't really the end goal. Don't get me wrong if we do win that will be great because it will come with all kinds of other perks and benefits that I cannot possibly account for at this current stage in time but you get the picture. All I can say is that I think it will be of great benefit to you and your career if you get involved in some competitions but don't forget to choose wisely because getting involved in any old competition willy nilly will get you know where. Try hard to assess if the competition does have any benefits that are relevant to you right now rather than completely disconnected.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Do you need to brand yourself?

Of course you do! you are a designer. Most especially if you are planning on telling people that you are a branding expert. You are going to need some kind of evidence for this and port number one is you guessed it!... your own brand. Basically it is a shallow world out there and if Katy Price or Jordan or whatever she is calling herself these days can make millions by turning herself into a "brand" then you had better know that you are going to have to do this yourself as a designer. I would love to know the finer details of taking a small freelance brand and turning it into a huge multi million pound conglomerate brand but the fact is I don't, as I said when I started writing this blog I am here only to tell you what I can actually tell you from my own experiences breaking into the industry. There are many a lesson to be learned in this business so I may as well tell you what they are as I learn them myself. First off I have "branded" myself as a means to getting more clients, seem more professional, show that I can do branding and can work to a specific style, prove that I have the dedication to put extracurricular work into making my business a success etc. But of course that doesn't mean that I have done it well or that anyone else agrees that my branding efforts show these things. The only way you will find that out is to ask around and get feedback. Now luckily for me I can be quite articulate so a lot of times when someone isn't completely sold by first glance I can talk them round usually, but having been to quite a few interviews recently I have found that what I had hoped would come across from my efforts has indeed come over and with a few interpretations that I didn't expect so who'd have thought it I'm actually winning.

Branding ones self though, requires an awful lot more than you might first expect because what you are essentially doing is trying to put forward a personality visually without ever meeting anyone. This is hard! Just think of those times when you first meet someone at a party or through a friend etc. there is a rather long and awkward process of getting to know someone. That process is made up of lots of mini processes in itself and allows you to decide if you and said person have anything in common, if you could see yourself hanging out, or working together, if they have information about a subject that you would like to pick there brain about or similar roots and so on. What you have to do is work your way through these levels of information until you are satisfied that you have reached a positive conclusion. If you have been lucky enough to get through the testing phase that the other person has in there mind and the same vice versa then you will likely end up as friends or lovers or associates or something depending on the nature of the process. So this is in my eyes completely the same thing as what you are doing when you are branding yourself. You are setting a scene and inviting people to like you, or not like you, depending on there sensibilities.

So how that generally gets broken down in a more real life kind of way is this:

First of all you need to leave a first impression. This is the hardest one to shake off once its formed too so you had better try and leave a good one and you can do this with your logo. That is in graphic design terms effectively your first impression to potential employers or clients. You need to pick a style that shows off the kind of design that you do. So if you are into slick glossy corporate graphics then make your logo just like this, if you are into bright colours then use them, etc. you get the point. Also don't forget about Type. Typefaces give off personality because they are attached to all kinds of memories and places and themes and eras. You can tell an eighties font from a mile off so you should try and choose a font carefully as well. If you are very tech oriented for example then I would go for a monotype or a slim sans serif as these typefaces are synonymous with technology. And then finally you have the issues of worrying about images and arrangement of letters etc in a way that shows off your creativity and style as a designer. You can put as much or as little thought into this Logo business as you like but when you think that it is your very first impression then it gives you more incentive to really try and create something that makes people go wow. This way you are creating a hook and people will want to know more about you and your services and the work that you have done aside form your own logo.

So the second impression is a slightly deeper level that would be the equivalent of someone asking you where you are from and what school you went to once they have decided that they want to talk to you after assessing you appearance. Its a shallow way of look at things I know but these subtle micro judgements are running all the time in our minds and we use them to assess all kind of situations and places not just people so you will have to accept the facts and know that you are being assessed on every movement that you make! that is just the way the human brain works. (But lets not forget we do have the intelligence to change a perception once it has been created, its just easier to give a good one first off and save the battle).  So what do you want people to know about you and what kind of feeling do you want them to leave with is the next question you should ask yourself. Effectively how much or how little do you want people to know about you. If you want people to think that you are an effective communicator which is part and parcel of being a designer then it would be a good idea to communicate well what it is that you do. Don't be vague and tell people straight away what it is that you do in no uncertain terms. If you are using a business card or webpage or compliment slip then you will need a sentence, a tagline if you will that tells people what you do. Like I am a logo designer or I am a web-designer or I do all different things in design depending on what you actually do. The second part to that is if you are a laid back friendly kind of person to work with then say it in that kind of way and if you are a serious organised kind of person to work with then say it in that kind of way. This way you are making it clear how you like to work and what kind of companies will suit you and vice versa. You are never going to please all of the people all of the time so might as well shoot for your audience.

Not a bad start eh! moving into the finer points then you are going to have to decide what kind of layout and arrangement will suit your documents and company literature. Im guessing in this case its going to be things like a printed portfolio, a web page, a blog, a flyer, a poster, or if your feeling particularly diligent then all of the above. This is, much like your logo, going to reflect the kind of design that you do and you should try and do this in a way that is less about the design itself and more about the portfolio because your work will be selling you from here on out. That is far more to do with the kind of work thats going into your portfolio than your actual brand (which by the way should visually match at least a little or you are going to have a kind of discord that isn't nice to look at) and it should be driven by the strongest work. So if you work in large scale technically brilliant photomontages for the most part then your images need to be big and beautiful! much like a photographers website you want to see the nuances of the image so you are probably going to be better off with a plain simple layout that removes nothing from the actual imagery. I feel by now you are starting to get the point of what I am saying and the finer details really are for you to decide these are just ideas for a foundation.

Then of course you are going to have to think about channels. Now I don't mean TV channels, I mean what are the avenues that you are going to be using to promote your work and your brand. The Web is a good place to start because there are numerous ways you can advertise yourself for nothing. You have blog platforms, Facebook Business pages, twitter, myspace, various graphic design associations like the Behance network etc. You can add your little bit of branding in all these places to make sure that you are recognised and your stamp is put on every piece of work that you do. Also you can build your own website your way and send out email newsletters to all your contacts with the help of a client like Mailchimp or MailCan. Again I will let you look up the finer details of these things for yourself but just as a starting point these are things to consider. Another "channel" that you should consider as a designer is in publishing. What with the current rise in e-book sales and Tablet users, freely distributed content on the web is really the next big thing in direct marketing and a great way for you to get your face out there. You could design and publish an e-book of your portfolio or some specialist information that you would like to share in order to generate traffic towards your website or blog. Or another perhaps more viable if you are a complete beginner step, would be to get your work into existing magazines like Computer Arts Magazine or 3D World and so on. You can generate a buzz about yourself and make sure you are being recognised by other industry professionals this way. Basically any way that you can promote yourself with the aid of your branding and your work should be considered a channel. If you are putting stickers on lampposts, this is still a channel.

As with everything in the world of design and indeed business today you are going to have to spend at least a little bit of money getting this kind of thing going. You do not escape your advertising costs unfortunately but they are worthy of a return and will get you paid work I can assure you. You are going to look like someone who is dedicated and professional in comparison to a lot of people who will be trying to get something for nothing. So pay for the hosting on your website, get a pamphlet of your work printed out, Flyer, Sticker, Blog whatever, just make sure you do it all under a consistent visual umbrella and you will be helping yourself out in a big way for the long run. But do not by any means forget that there are a huge amount of designers and creatives out there and they are all your competition. This is yet another reason why you should brand yourself because you can guarantee that they have already done all this and will look far superior to you if you have not.

In the long run I think it is worth mentioning that these things all take time and if you don't have an awful lot of it spare then I guess you are going to have to be patient with yourself but a little bit of work consistently over a long period of time clocks up before you know it and you will learn a huge amount about your skills with every project you do so it is, (as is becoming a theme in my posts) always a worthwhile endeavour.

Friday, 28 September 2012

External qualifications

Wether or not you need extra qualifications aside from your degree (if you have one) is a bit tricky to define. I think a lot of people would like to know wether this is a worthwhile endeavour seeing as they are often not free and can actually be quite expensive depending on what it is and who it is run by so I am going to try and explain my current view point on the external Qualifications thing. First of all what exactly are we talking about here? There are all kinds of qualifications that you can sign up for and some are based purely in software others are based in specific design practices like email
design and SEO etc.

Software Training:

1. The "Adobe Suite" training certificates are probably the most widely recognised qualifications for software largely because the Adobe Suite has become an industry standard software package across design professions. They range in difficulty from the "Certified Associate (ACA)" level to the "Adobe Certified Expert (ACE)" level and the finally you can become an "Adobe Certified Instructor(ACI)". All these courses are listed here with a much more detailed explanation of what they entail; You can do certain packages individually or you can go about completing the training for an entire suite in one go, and that will of course affect the pricing but can be more productive and cheaper than doing them one by one. These will to be honest help your CV to stand out from the crowd because every single designer suggests that they are great with every single software but few of them are certified by Adobe and can prove it!

2. is gaining popularity from employers all the time as it offers various courses for all kinds of software in a monthly or yearly subscription plan. This is something that you can go back to time and time again and keep up to date with all the current technologies and trends so is fantastic as a training tool. As far as qualifications go this is as good as any and you can have a certificate of completion for every course that you go through. There really isn't any software left out of the data base and the teaching style gets great reviews from student and teachers alike.

Development Training:

1. The "W3C" or the "World Wide Web Consortium", have a website from which you can learn standardised coding for the web. These are in fact free lessons that you can get at and then you can get certified for around 60 pounds per language you take.  I actually have one of these myself and I have to say that they definitely help you to stand out. You are probably being hired by an HR department rather than a designer at least in the initial stages so it will help you to get your foot into the building at least. The rest of course is up to you. It is probably worth mentioning though at this point that you can only learn web related languages and scripts from this site and not software programming languages like C or Java. These are for programmers rather than designers and will most probably be useless to you as a designer.

2. There are numerous "CIW" (Certified Internet Web professionals) accredited courses that you can do in web development which were invented by a community of web designers and developers during the dot com boom and have survived to this day. These certificates are not easy to obtain and they are not cheap either at around 600 pounds a course. However they are internationally recognised and they do teach job specific skills rather than just vague principles so definitely worth taking a look at. They remain popular with many employers because a large number of university teach them across the UK, Europe, and US.

Design practices.

There are numerous courses that teach general design practice and in fairness wont do you much better than having a degree. This is a pre requisite of most job adverts these days so if you are going to study a broader topic then personally I would advise that you do it in a degree and at least have that piece of paper to get you into the interview room. Im not saying that these kinds of certifications are worthless by any means because they will probably teach you the things that you were too hungover to hear about in your lectures but from an employers perspective there is too little known about the worthiness of such a course and they don't want to have to do the research. If its accolades are easily "googleable" then by all means go for it, but if nobody has taken it or heard of it then I would steer well clear and keep your pennies in your own pocket.

Long term advantages.

It would be nice to think that you could go to school and be done with it and then just walk into a job but unfortunately that is not the way the world works. There isn't just one glass ceiling either there are many! If you think about it in the world of work and most especially graphic design there are pay brackets to consider. when you are in an entry level role you can expect to earn around 14-18k per annum, then when you are in a junior role you can expect to earn between 18-21k per annum, now there is a little more scope in a mid-weight position depending on the company that you work for so you can expect to get anywhere between 21-30k per annum. Senior roles 28k plus and so on. How much of that depends on external qualifications and outside factors is really not that easy to judge but I do know that if I were presented with someone who hadn't done a days education since school (on paper at least) and someone who had actively seeked out professional development certificates and courses throughout there career, I would likely choose them for the promotion. Not because it means that they are better than those without the qualification, but because it says that they are willing to work on there mistakes and grow as much as they can. Businesses need that. (at least in my amateur entrepreneurial brain they do anyway).

Short term advantages.

I have found actually that since having taken a certificate or two and this may well just be co-incidence, that I have been getting a lot more interested parties for freelance work and a lot more interviews for jobs. I haven't actually secured any of these jobs so I cannot say that the certificates have helped me in so much as actually getting me into the company but they have got me a damn site nearer to the building and that is an achievement  it today's economy I can tell you (I probably don't need to I'm sure you already know). So i have decided therefore given the long and the short term benefits from a little upfront cash, that getting external qualifications will indeed help you and they will help you with the big players like agencies and such because they care about achieving. they care that you are a winner just like them so you might as well get cracking.


It means more studying! It also means more money and of course the time investment on top of that. Often you will have to work these kinds of courses into or around your working day and so can make your life a little bit more stressful in the short term. You will have to do the research yourself into whether the course you choose is worth this kind of investment which is again more work on your behalf. They are also not a guaranteed fix and trends with courses are much the same as with technologies. What was once the hottest thing since sliced bread can quickly become yesterdays news so you will also need to figure out the kind of longevity that any given certificate holds.

Overall though I think they work more in your favour than they do against you so if you are trying to jockey your way up the career ladder then professional development certificates will certainly help you in your quest to do so within your specified field.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

The specific vs the broad portfolio

This is one of my favourite subjects to talk about, honestly. Its like creationism vs evolution. Okay so its not quite as politically charged as all that but it is pretty difficult to get anyone to agree on it. If you are a graphic designer of any description it goes without saying that you are going to have to have a portfolio that shows people exactly what it is that you do. You are supposed to be a visualiser of information so technically by that premice alone it should be pretty self explanatory what your skills are after having taken a look at your portfolio. Except for the fact that this is often not the case. There are many a pixel perfect portfolio out there that fails to communicate the essence of what exactly the designer specialises in, and this is kind of how the debate opens up. The question is less about how you go about making your portfolio visually interesting etc than it is about do you have or do you in fact need to have an easilly discernable specialism. I am going to go with NO, personally I believe that you do not need a specialism to be noticed because your "specialism" will stand out a mile from the rest of your work anyway. But it is good always to know from the perspective of a client or employer, that you are capable of stretching the remit a little if needs be. After all we have that little thing called the free market to worry about now too so you can bet your bottom dollar that the competition are doing everything under the sun to stop you from getting the work they could realistically handle by themselves.

Personally my portfolio is quite broad in that it stretches from interface and web design to logos, brochures, posters and even illustration. I do this because I tend to work on a project by project basis. I don't like the idea of somebody telling me that purely because I haven't done something before that I am going to be terrible at it. There is of course a possibility that this is the case but most of the skills in the field of graphic design are transferable. e.g.. If you have done something remotely similar to the proposed project you will probably have a good idea before you've even started where your strengths and weaknesses are going to lie. So it is really about using your discretion (and being honest with yourself) about what you can reasonably achieve. If I thought for example that I was capable of coding an entire e-commerce from scratch but had never done it before then what I would do before pitching for the project is do my research! I would find out all the extra resources that were involved how long it takes your average experienced e-commercer and factor in learning time for any thing that I don't already know how to do. If this then seemed like an unreasonable assertion on reflection I wouldn't bother to pitch for the project. But, if I still felt confident after all this then I would pitch for the project and go about putting together the bare bones of the project to send out as an example or sort of insurance for the potential client. Now in a position like that you have not only gained knowledge of a new potential avenue you have also gained albeit a small amount, but some form of experience in the field and a little something to put in your portfolio, and this is all even if you don't win the client. So for me this is a worth while endeavour. I know most of you creatives out there are generally talented little buggers who will thrive in any environment given the right incentives so whats wrong with a little dabbling??

Now the reason I defend the broad portfolio so much is because it opens doors. If you have only ever worked in web then it is likely that you will only ever work in web. The work you do leads you to other similar work and that is a fact. There is s always nothing stopping you from doing self set projects in the other specialisms that you would like to try or move into, but this of course takes time to build up and says nothing of your ability to apply it in a commercial environment. The only problem with this proposed approach is that generally it makes you seem like a bit of a wild card. The testimonial is your friend in this instance. If you have previous clients with whom you have been bunged a challenge and succeeded then by all means go about getting that recommendation because it will be what sways your new client or employer into believing in you. You don't want to be in a scenario where it is just your word against theres and back up never hurts you. There is also another point to having a broad portfolio and it is because it shows your potential employer or client (I know I have used that sentence already no need to be pedantic) that you are capable of growing and adapting with the times. This is a massive bonus. Technology as we all know is changing, expanding, evolving, whatever you want to call it, at a ridiculously fast rate these days and people have barley time to figure out how to use it before the next thing comes out. With the exception of the intuitive design model thats gaining popularity across the board and was largely introduced by apple products, this is not going to change any time soon. So basically what I am getting at is that wether you like it or not you are going to have to re-skill in this business a lot and having that broad portfolio showcases your ability and willingness to do so.

There is of course a down side to having a broad portfolio and this one comes up for the more project by project basis. If you are trying to win over a freelance client as an example for lets say a packaging design on a new shaving product. You as the broadly skilled designer will likely have some good examples of similar packaging work. They may have even been for some major blue chip clients but if you are in direct competition with another designer who solely works in packaging! then the chances are you are going to lose this battle. They simply have a far better arsenal of project specific work and the years of experience to back it up than you do, which is all fairly obvious stuff but worth mentioning anyway. This is not me by any means suggesting that you shouldn't bother trying to get projects that are highly specific just a word to the wise. So all in all I am confident that benefits to having a broad spectrum of work far outweigh the negatives and give you as a designer a much better sense of your abilities in that you have stepped out of your comfort zones regularly. I can at this point therefore only advocate the same for all aspiring designers. Do everything try everything make it good. That is all.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Internships (the pro's and con's)

First of all let me say that I have done quite a few internships myself and they can be good and they can be bad depending on your perspective. It is unfortunate that in the last ten years or so the use of interns has become a cheeky way for start ups and larger companies alike to exploit hardworking young people in their quest for gainful employment. If you take a job and call it an internship then you don't have to worry about all those tricky little things such as tax responsibilities, minimum wage, and employee rights. That is of course coming from a rather cynical stand point but still one that is worth bringing up none the less. So I feel that I might as well begin this little chat with;

The Con's

The legal definition of what actually constitutes work and therefore should be paid at least minimum wage is this: having set hours, being engaged for an extended period of time, i.e. office hours 9-5, being given a set role. Now for anyone who has taken part on an internship lately they will know that these are exactly the criteria of the roles that are being dished out in lieu of paid work, and all in exchange for experience and a bus ticket. Most of the time you wont even get lunch paid for and will end up actually out of pocket working for someone else. This to me seems a little unfair and is the kind of thing that makes you feel as though your degree was in fact worthless. Not only do you have a huge pile of debt but you are no closer to getting your foot in the door than unqualified school leavers with no experience either. This is by all accounts frustrating. The fact of the matter is that in this modern era of the globalisation and the free market etc if you want to get a good job then you have now got global competition to deal with as well. One thing that universities know is that education in such a climate is big business and therefore they will do anything to persuade us that we all need a degree, and to counter that one thing that businesses know is that universities do very little to prepare there students for the real world of work, and the graduates are therefore unlikely to be able to (excuse the terminology) "hit the ground running". The fact of the matter is you probably do need a degree to get your foot anywhere near the door of a specialised position these days. You may even need a 2:1 and a masters and on top of that, you may also need 2 to 3 years of experience to qualify you as an employable human being these days which seems a little absurd when you see the amount of "work" that takes place in your average offices but I digress.

The second problem with a lot of "internships" is that they are not even remotely what they claim to be. For example I would say that about 80 percent of the Graphic Design"internships" (and I use that term loosely, hence the quotation marks) that are advertised on are actually just start ups that cannot afford to pay a private firm to design their company literature. These kinds of deals are often set around the premise of, you come to us and pay your travel upfront and we will re-imberse you (maybe), you bring your own equipment and software with you, you brand the company, design the brochure, build the website, and make everyone tea whilst your at it, 9-5 monday to friday, until your role becomes so legally tenuous that we have to let you go. In exchange you will get work experience and a reference plus a few bits for your portfolio. This actually doesn't even sound quite so bad at first glance until you look at the job descriptions of a lot of entry level roles and the fact that you will be asked to do far less and be paid around 18,000 a year for it. Its then that it starts to seem unfair. This might have more to do with Gumtree than internships in general, but I feel I have made my point about the pitfalls ahead. I believe that you do gain valuable experience, but it is mostly experience in recognising that you are being exploited.

Last of all there is the fact that the unpaid internship often goes on for far too short a period of time for any real employer to see it as proof of your experience in the field. Again this comes down to the fact that legally an unpaid internship in the UK is not supposed to go on for any longer than a month so you are still in that catch 22 position of not having had enough experience. You need realistically a solid year behind you, and the competition for the legitimate, paid, year long kind of internship is frightening! Unless you have the perfect candidate profile including the grades, which looks more like that of a political candidates resume plus the contacts to show for it also, you can pretty much forget it.

but there is hope out there for us all!

The pro's

The thing is you are going to be selling yourself on your portfolio. As much as it is wonderful to see that you are a conceptual genius that can produce ideas and campaigns to rival big brands like Coca Cola and MTV your day to day work load is not likely to be quite so exciting, so companies want to see that you can do the boring suff too. Your College portfolio will likely showcase all the shiny stuff but what you will learn very fast in the kind of internship that I mentioned before, is how your average freelance job might work out. You will get to know how to run a project from start to finish its its truest meaning and not only that but you be fully responsible for the outcome. This is going to look great in future where employers are concerned.

You will begin to see the inners workings of your average companies marketing department, from the number of employees, to the kinds of deadlines involved, and the level of responsibility that is put into the department.

Then of course there is the fact you will most likely speed up your work rate ten fold in the process (I know that I certainly did). This is something that yet again will put you in good stead with employers.

And last but not least you will also get the chance to figure out all of the non graphic design jobs that are included in being a graphic designer (nobody tells you that stuff whilst your still studying)

By the time you have finished doing a years worth of different internships for different kinds of companies (like I did if thats what you choose to do) you will be a certified pro, and probably ready to reach out into the big wide world of freelancing. Whats more you may well have gained a few great references (if you behaved yourself) and picked up some well needed office politics deflector shields! which really do need to become a real thing very soon. Obviously just like before you will need to be choosy about what goes in your portfolio still but you will also have those boring bits that prove you don't live in fairy land to the real employers, so you are most definitely gaining momentum towards your chosen career for having done one or two internships.