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.