Do you think these are problems? Part two

Continuing on my thinking process about this recent post I am moving on to #2 of the list, “A Thick Skin”.  I have to agree whole heartedly with Addison Duvall on this one.  It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that with your design degree you know better than your customer what will look the best for their project.  Then, when they don’t agree you are crushed and have no motivation to give the job your continuing best effort.

Luckily, you take a few of these hits early in your career and one of two things happens:

a) You decide that being a designer isn’t for you and head into a new direction.  The only problem with this is if your ego doesn’t downsize you will encounter blow after blow in whatever career you choose.  You very well may be brilliant, but sooner or later someone will take you down.

b) You grow a thick skin. I have been a designer for over 25 years now.  When I start working with a new client, right from the beginning, I tell them “Give me your honest opinion of the designs.  You will not hurt my feelings.  This is part of the process and I want you to be happy with what you get.”

Now why would I start out this way?  First, it’s because I’m from the South and live in the South.  We are raised to not hurt other people’s feelings.  People here will often not be completely satisfied with what they pay for because they didn’t know how to tell the designer they didn’t like the work.  There might be some gentle hints, but if the designer isn’t very astute at picking up on the hints, the client will pay, but very likely will not be back to work with that designer again.  Second, it just gives people the freedom to tell you what they like and don’t like so you can deliver a better product to them.

I can also tell you from experience, that you may have one fabulous design, but it might not do the job it needs to do.  Most of the time your clients are going to know their target market much better than you do.  One example that keeps me on track is a used car business I had as a client for a number of years.  It physically pained me to rearrange my lovely design into a mishmash, hodge podge, break-every-design-rule, product on the client’s insistence.  But, guess what.  He consistently had one of the highest rates of return I have ever seen.  He knew his customers and what would catch their attention.

Lastly, as much as we don’t like to think about it, we are a commodity.  It doesn’t take much research for a client to find a designer who will listen to them and work with them and make them happy.   If you are regularly having your feelings hurt and resenting what your clients are telling you, then think long and hard about whether you would rather have a happy ego or have grocery money.




Brain Drain

“Learning never exhausts the mind.”

Leonardo da Vinci

Leonardo, I beg to differ on this one.  I had one of those days yesterday that can only be described as “challenging”.  It wasn’t a bad day, but at the end of it, my brain was completely worn out.   Every cell of creativity, problem solving ability and focus was wiped out.  I have decided that Brain Drain tired is worse that physically tired.  I couldn’t even focus on a mediocre Netflix movie and finally gave up and went to bed.

So what exactly was I doing?  The first challenge not only was a self imposed project but a circumstantial one as well.  I have been a print designer for 25+ years.  I can almost design for putting ink on paper in my sleep.  When I was in college we didn’t even have computers much less the internet.  So I decided to start learning coding and web design.  Then, as often happens when you decide to do something,  the opportunity presents itself.

I have a non-profit that now has me updating their website.  I haven’t had to do the design, but I am having to learn the coding and how it all fits together.  Let’s just say that this process is building new neuron links in my brain as I learn to link things in a website.  The learning process, as much as I love to learn new things, is challenging and frustrating.  I do have to admit that by the time I was done with the updates yesterday I was feeling much more accomplished than I had the day before.  Those fledgling neurons had started connecting.

My next challenge was actually two separate jobs where I had to fix artwork.  I spend an enormous amount of my time doing this.  If you happen to not be a designer who is reading this…PLEASE don’t set up your artwork in Power Point!  It took me three different tries to finally get the art to the point where it could be printed.  I would think I had it fixed and in the pre-press run some other crazy thing would show up.

The next art problem I ran into was different.  It was a logo that  was actually done very well by another designer.  The problem happened when I tried to drop the logo onto a black background.  Full size it was perfect, but every time I reduced it to fit on a business card a white background appeared.  Then when I tried to remove the white background, part of the logo disappeared.   Eventually I got it fixed, but it took some brain power to think of a way to resolve the issue all the while having emails and calls coming in from the client wanting to know when the cards would be ready.  No pressure at all!

So far today has been better.  I think my brain muscle needs a day off anyway, just like a rest between workouts.  I think it might even be sore 😉

Do you think these are problems?

I was reading this post and it made me do some thinking.  Let me know your thoughts on this list.  Here are mine.  Oh, and this is going to take awhile so I have made them into six separate posts so you don’t have to read SO much at one time.  Like we have time for that anymore.  That’s another whole post for the future.

Good artists copy, great artists steal.  Pablo Picasso

1. Integrity – Personally the ability to share and see other designer’s work has been a lifesaver for me in the past few years.  I’m from the dark ages of pre-internet and remember the days of flipping through Print and Communication Arts magazines trying to jump start my poor brain with a serious deadline breathing down my neck.

I live and work in a small town and without the internet would not get the opportunity to see what the trends are to even know they are out there.  Pinterest and Behance are my main sources of new design work right now.   Pure plagiarism is wrong.  Give credit where credit is due, absolutely.   I think plagiarism is what Picasso meant by “copy” and what he meant by “steal” was to take someone’s idea and put your own twist on it to make it yours.  I think that is what most designers do when they get a spark of inspiration from looking at someone else’s work.  There is also a rare phenomenon where two people have the exact same idea  in different places. I have had that happen to me once in my 25 year career.  It’s weird, but it happens.

Most of my work has centered on small businesses with limited marketing budgets who still want to look good.   More than once I have had a client hand me a printed piece and want me to recreate it with their logo on it.  Each time I explain to them that I don’t copy someone else’s work and that we can all get in trouble for that sort of thing.  After the explanation they are very willing to let me create something with the same “feel” .  Many times people just don’t understand what we do as designers or that creativity does have some legal standing in the world.

Integrity is doing your own work using your own brain, doing what you said you would do to the best of your ability and being fair and honest in your dealings, business or personal.


Fun work

I’m back from vacation and digging my way through the piles of work on my desk. There was a time when I did almost more illustration work than design. Somewhere along the way the illustration work disappeared. From what I am seeing out there in the world it looks like illustration is making a comeback and it has found it’s way to my little corner of North Carolina. Here are some fun illustrations I did for the upcoming season at Kernersville Little Theatre.

Charlotte's Web

My Way

PJ Game

The Papers