Both Sides Now

There is this song by Joni Mitchell titled “Both Sides Now” where she sings, “I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now; from up and down and still somehow it’s cloud illusions I recall-I really don’t know clouds at all.” Well, this lyric can be applied to the relationship between the creative and the client as well.

How many times have you taken on an assignment or job where after a few communications with the client you’ve sat back, scratched your head and just wondered to yourself, “What the f*!@ is this person thinking?” You’ve communicated your ideas to them; you have X amount of years of proven experience but they want you to do something that a first year college freshman in an intro course would do; they want you to toss out all the rules you hold near and dear and do something crazy that you don’t even want to attach your name to; they ask you to do something, you spend hours working on it and deliver it on time only for them in one careless swoop to say, “Nah,  I don’t like that. Why don’t you do this instead?” If you’re a creative, whether it be the artistic sort or writer, you’ve been there. It happens to everyone. Have you ever considered the client and what their experience is?

I ask this after an interesting role reversal a few months ago. I have a blog that I work on that’s totally unrelated to design. Long story short, it went from being a way to pass time to something that really interests me and takes up a lot of my time. In order to put more time and effort into it, I knew what I needed that was missing from it: a logo! Problem is, logos are not my thing. Yes, I’m a designer and logos seem to be the corner stone of our careers but honestly, I don’t do logos. I can wing it sometimes but it’s my equivalent of getting a root canal. You know, something you have to suffer through and at the end you’re glad you got it done but if you could avoid it, you’d definitely prefer to. So, in an interesting change of pace … I hired a designer. Yes, a designer hired a designer!

I went on Elance.com, posted my job, reviewed the proposal, looked at portfolios and found a company whose work stood and seemed very fresh and edgy. This was going to be good! Or so I thought. Having been the designer dealing with a client before, I got all my ducks in a row. I knew what colors I wanted, I had an idea of the basic elements I wanted the logo to have, I had examples. Examples, people! When I started the job with the designer I handed everything over, wiped my hands and smiled, thinking they were going to deliver something so creative I’d pinch myself. Well. First revision came in and I sat in front of my computer simply staring at it. I was about to be that client. The one that looks at the first revision and politely slides it back across the table and says, “This is not what I want.” The thought, “Did you … did you not listen to me? Did you not look at the samples I sent you? Why doesn’t this look like all these other pieces in your portfolio? WHY. WHY WHY WHY?!”

It took a little going back and forth but the logo got done. I used it for the blog. For about 2 weeks, then I designed one myself and have been using it ever since. Was the money I spent on having someone else design the logo a total waste? No, because as I started out this post with, it gave me new perspective. The further along in your career you get, the less of the “client” perspective you usually have. When you’re first starting out in your creative field, you are not a designer, writer or experienced professional. You’re a newbie, you’re a freshman, you are a client, meaning you’re not set in your ways just yet. You may be open to hearing opinions, to trying something different, to collaborating. The more seasoned you get, you view yourself less as a client and more as a professional—you have the experience so you know what’s best, you know what works and what doesn’t, you don’t want to have some client coming and telling you what to do, even if they’re the ones paying and thus calling the shots.

We all need to start looking at “clouds” from both sides. Clients need to trust in the creative type to be creative and deliver something worth the money and effort; creatives need to understand that the client usually just wants the best product possible so that they will benefit from it in some way, shape or form. Your assignment, should you choose to accept it, is to identify something in your own field that you aren’t as skilled at and hire a freelancer to help you with it. Whether it be writing a press release or making a vector illustration, get a freelancer and work with them to get the finished product you’d like. You’ll quickly find out what many of your clients go through and should, in turn, pick up a few new skills in communicating and working with seemingly difficult clients and projects.

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What’s Your ‘Second Act’?

One morning over the holidays I got up with a question on my mind:

“What’s your ‘Second Act?'”

I think every creative professional at some point ponders on this same question. If you’re as fortunate as I’ve been, you’ve been getting paid to be creative for some time now. Even the most creative types though reach a point in their career where things just aren’t doing it for you like they used to. You’re not completely unhappy, no, but you’re not at all satisfied. You want more. You want to get excited again about going to work, you want to leap onto a project with glee rather than gloom, you want to feel like you’re going somewhere with your career and talents rather than spinning your wheels doing the same thing day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year. Guess what? It’s ok! You should want to grow and tackle new things as you progress in your career.

So that brings me back to the question: what’s your second act? Have you ever given thought to what’s coming next for you? If you’re classically-trained artist fearing that your talents are more a hobby than a real profession, what can you do to change that? If you enjoy blogging, how can you turn that passion for writing into a profitable business venture? If you like making stuff in general, what can you do to turn that fun activity into a job you’ll enjoy? The answer to this question  is what will become your second act.

Second Acts in your career are hard work. Sometimes it means slamming the breaks on what you’re used to and feel is safe to venture into new territory. For example, when I first entered the job market back in 2006 I was all about print design. While I had some knowledge of html coding, by no means did I consider myself to be a web designer. Fast forward to present day 2013. What’s happened to this area of my career that I once dreaded and resisted? Well, I’ve gone on to learn a great deal about WordPress. It started off as a hobby and once I saw that the company I worked for suffered from hard-to-manage websites, I convinced them to convert their sites over into easy-to-use WordPress CMS (content management systems.) After graduating from college in 2006 I was really opposed to doing anything that felt like school. As of today, I’ve taken 3 courses in web design, furthering my knowledge and experience with XHTML, CSS and Dreamweaver. Point is, what I used to resist I’ve now learn to embrace and turn into the “second act” of my career.

Everyone has something they can do for a ‘Second Act.’ Perhaps it’s something that scares you, or something you think is boring or too complex for you to learn or try to break into at this point in your career. But really, these days and in today’s economy, who has the time to be complacent? Few people are going to be able to stick with one job for their entire lifetime as you may have seen or heard from your parents, grandparents and old television shows. Things change; technology evolves; your professions and jobs change and those who don’t stay ahead of that curve will find themselves wishing they had a ‘second act’ to fall back on.

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Embrace The “Dislike”

When it comes to designing, everyone has something they really enjoy doing. For some, it’s illustrating; others it’s Photoshop special effects; some really enjoy storyboarding while others like print design. But … what is it that you don’t like to do? It’s a simple enough question but one that we as designers and creative types often overlook or ignore. We figure, “I don’t like doing … but … I have to.” In my view, that’s what causes burn out, weak design and a distaste for the creative field all together.

I look back on college and the people I graduated with and realize that after six years I’m actually one of the few who have kept with graphic design. Isn’t that a bit odd? I don’t think it is but I know the source of this migration out of the creative field comes from people not spending enough time with the question, “What is it that I dislike doing?” I know for me, I can’t stand logo design. Oh sure, designers could find enough logo design work to keep them busy throughout the year but logos are simply not my thing. I can list all the reasons for my strong dislike for this field of creativity but simply put, I detest it. Whenever a logo design project comes across my desk I feel my eyes rolling to the back of my head, fingers gripping the sides of my desk and feel the life slipping from my body. That is exactly why I turn down any logo design work that comes my way unless it’s forced upon me in work.

There was a time early on in my career that I felt obligated to do whatever was offered or given to me. It was that sense of, “Well, this is work … you aren’t going to like everything you work on and this is money. I MUST do this!” Not always the case, though! I’ve found that after six years of working professionally, there are many times when it’s ok to say, “Hey, I really appreciate this opportunity but I’m not the designer for you.” I know my strengths and what I like to do. I enjoy illustration, I enjoy using very pop-ish colors, I enjoy learning more about web design and communicating my ideas and opinions about design and other topics. I do not enjoy, however, logo designs or setting up entire websites simply because both involve a billion revisions and I know I’m better at one-shot designs than I am at something that calls for meticulous attention and a lot of revisions. This being said, I occasionally do the things that drain me creatively but they are limited to only a few times a quarter or year rather than all the time.

People. It’s okay not to be good at everything. It’s okay to dislike certain creative projects and tasks. It’s okay to express this to your employers, employees and clients. You will feel less drained and more excited about what you’re working on if you’re doing the things you’re good at or are interested in. Identify and embrace the “dislike” so that you’ll spend your time working on the things you do like.

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Southern Strokes Email Blast

Southern Strokes Email Blast

An Email newsletter blast I designed and coded for JHI Media’s Southern Strokes. You can read more about the design and the coding here.

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Imitation Design

Where do you draw your inspiration from? When does inspiration and imitation go from an extreme form of flattery to a blatant rip-off? If you’re into pop music, you may follow or at least be aware of the ongoing “feud” between Lady Gaga and Madonna. You see, Gaga is a fan of Madonna’s work and career. She grew up listening to her music. She began taking cues from Madonna’s book of publicity and fame by imitating how Madge dresses, how she flirts with controversy and in the past few years, according to Madonna, even how she writes her songs! Madonna went from being flattered to clearly ticked that Lady Gaga patterned her rise to fame after her own because considering Madonna’s been at the top of her game for 30 years and is still relevant, who would want some newbie like Lady Gaga climbing just as quickly to reach that mega-star status?

What does Lady Gaga and Madonna’s spat have to do with design? It’s all about where you draw your own inspiration from. Someone once told me that no idea in design is truly original. As creative, artsy folk, we designers should cringe and feel faint at such a thought. We are creative! Everything we produce is groundbreaking, fresh, new, trend setting. Or … is it? The truth is that we’re all Lady Gaga in a sense, looking at what’s been done, what’s worked well, and have attempted to put our own spin on it.

As a designer, I draw inspiration from far too many sources to make the claim that I’m truly an original. If I’m out and about and see an interesting color combination I mentally log it and will toss it into an appropriate design. If I see an awesome painting I’ll sometimes take elements of what I liked from it and will create an awesome vector from it. As I’m reading a magazine I’ll rip out the layouts that stand out to me or will save the ads that made an impression. Yes, in a way I’m a graphic recycler and if you’re a designer or creative type, so are you!

Look, no one wants to be a Lady Gaga, continually dodging “copy cat” calls or defending the authenticity of our design. At the same time, you can’t be a great designer or creative type without looking at what came before you and making it better. That’s how I’d define graphic design: the art of taking what’s been done a dozen or more times and refreshing it to make it look and feel modern and even better. Consider yourself a DJ and you’ve been handed a standard classic song that people have heard played non-stop on the radio (like, any Adele song). How do you get people to continue to listen to it without growing tired and ill of it? Remix it! Change the beat, change the vibe, give it some new cover art.

Acknowledge those who’ve come before you and where you draw your inspiration from but don’t be afraid to put your own spin on what many may see as an old and tried idea.

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Tobacconist “Orlando” Cover

See more of my print design work here.

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Tobacco Farm Quarterly’s 2012 Growers Guide

This year I was able to work on SpecComm International Inc.’s publication Tobacco Farm Quartlery‘s Growers Guide. The Growers Guide is an annual publication sent to subscribers of the magazine, mostly farmers, listing valuable resources, suppliers and products that will aid in the production of tobacco crops. The previous years’ guide was very plain and not visually appealing.

Old (2011-2012):

New (2012-2013):

See more of my print design work here.

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