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Freaking Friday

21 Oct

I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this on here before, but I am almost always in a bad mood on Friday evenings. Something about the culmination of the work week leaves me grumpy and tired. I’ve been trying to overcome this strange habit, but some days it just doesn’t work out, and I have to vent.

So today I’m going to talk about something that REALLY bugs me: spec work.

Both Moleskine and Obama are hosting ‘contests’ for a new logo and new poster respectively. The thing I hate most about spec work is that it’s disguised as this amazing opportunity for up and coming designers. I almost always skim the article, get excited, and then come back to Earth with a thud, realizing what’s really going on.

This type of behavior is so damaging to the design industry as a whole. It trains people to think that what I do is worthless, and that they can ask me to do it for free. It is not a great opportunity to ‘get my work out there’, it is a great opportunity for the company to see hundreds of different options and choose their favorite – without having to compensate everyone for their time.

The worst part is that they act as though they are doing you a favor. It’s like, oh, design something for me, it’s fun for you, right? If I choose you, you get money and fame! Except that if I operated my business this way, I would be living under a bridge.

If Moleskine really wanted to help an up and coming designer, they could have had a call for portfolios, and chosen a designer that way, based on work the designers have already done (and been fairly compensated for).

You don’t go to a restaurant and only pay if the food is to your liking. You don’t have 3 lawyers represent you, and only pay the one whose work you liked the best. Moleskine isn’t going to send me every single one of their notebooks for free in hopes that I will pick one to use as a sketchbook (but I get to keep the rest).

I would jump at the chance to design a logo for Moleskine. If they had asked for applications/pitches to be their designer, I so would have taken the time to apply. But I don’t think it’s fair to ask me to work for free, when no other industry operates on that principle.

Okay, rant over. Design = good, spec work = bad.

Have a great weekend!

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My Life As An Invitation Designer

19 Oct

I have just begun working on some custom invitation suites, and I have been scouring the internet for some good inspiration. At the beginning of a project, I usually get a little overwhelmed and the creative side of my brain will shut down, leaving me feeling like I will never design anything good ever again. It’s not too dramatic, don’t worry about it. One way I try to combat that is to gather inspiring images and let it all simmer for a while. Usually something good will float to the surface. It only takes one idea to be off and running.

Anyway, beyond scouring my usual stationery blogs, I turned to Etsy to see what else was out there in terms of wedding stationery. Of course, I was not disappointed.

Peter and Reid's Invitations, Invitation Crush

 

I’ve been really into hand lettering lately, and this is a stunning example. I also love the painted edges – such a simple step but it really elevates the design.

Addison Wedding Sample, Sweet Azalea Boutique

I have been having a major watercolor moment, and this sweet, simple invitation uses the watercolor texture in an unexpected way. The best part is, the monogram could be used on all the paper goods, not just the invitations.

Modern Black + White Wedding Invitations, Invitation Crush

I am totally in love with these. They are so simple and modern, but they don’t look budget. The theme is expanded upon throughout the paper goods, but it looks consistent, not repetitive.

Custom Chalkboard Card, ellothere

I’m a sucker for some beautiful black + white script. What makes these so cool is that parts of the invitation are actually chalkboard, and guests can indicate their reply by circling yes or no with a piece of chalk. How cool is that?

Where do you turn for inspiration? I always have an eye out for new design blogs!

Client Relations

18 Oct

Working with clients can be the best part of my job, or the worst part of my job. It all depends on who the client is. I think that college definitely left me  unprepared for the total mind game that working with non-designers on a design project can be. Often, I find myself torn. I want to make my client happy, but I also feel unsure. When is it appropriate to try to step in and work with their decisions to make stay true to my vision, versus just doing what they want and not being ‘difficult’?

I feel so passionately about design that sometimes I may come off as snobby and uncompromising (thanks for pointing that out to me, Mom…) Really, I just see all the possibilities out there. I feel frustrated when people hire me, and then don’t seem to want my opinion. It’s also frustrating when they settle for the first thing they see. Sometimes I take it personally when a client doesn’t immediately jump on board the design boat. I want them to be as excited as I am about all possibilities.

So, I would say a huge (HUGE!) part of my learning curve has been learning what constitutes a ‘bad’ client. Most of the people I have ever worked with have been just delightful. However, sometimes I falter when I lack the confidence to stick to my guns, and end up with a finished product I don’t feel is my best work.

I recently worked with someone who ended up being something of a textbook ‘bad client’. She required a LOT of meetings and hand-holding, and our conversations about the design were not so much conversations as they were her not being willing to listen to my advice, and also not being willing to communicate with me in a way that was helpful. What ended up happening was I created a product that was not as functional as I would have liked. Since I had known her personally, I didn’t make her sign a contract. When the project was basically finished, she changed her mind and decided not to pay me.

Even though the whole process was drawn out and obviously did not end in my favor, I still think I learned some valuable lessons from the experience.

1) Listen to your gut. I just had a feeling going into this that it could potentially end badly. Unfortunately for me, I can be blindly optimistic sometimes, and didn’t take any measures to protect myself. While it may have been awkward asking her to sign a contract and make a deposit, I can tell you it would have been a lot less awkward than hearing she didn’t intend to compensate me for my time.

2) Communication is key. I need to be proactive and stay in touch with my clients. They shouldn’t be afraid to tell me what they are honestly thinking about the work I am doing for them. In my ideal scenario coming up with a design is an ongoing conversation, a give and take of identifying problems, coming up with solutions, and re-examining the areas that don’t feel quite right. I should also be able to communicate how the whole process will work, and what I will be able to do, so I don’t end up wasting time in a string of meetings or redesigns that accomplish nothing.

3) Have some confidence. In school, when I worked on a project, I was the student asking the experts for advice. In my internships, I was the intern who needed guidance. Now, I am the one making the decisions, and while I can’t just build confidence overnight, I need to trust my instincts and be accountable for my decisions. I know the components for a successful working relationship, and when I am working with clients who have never worked with a designer before, I should take charge and lead the way.

This article by the AIGA is a pretty valuable overview of some good client relations strategies. Sometimes it’s not you, it’s them. It is extremely important to me to cultivate relationships with ‘good’ clients. The three questions I ask myself during projects are:

I need to answer yes to two of those questions to consider a ‘good’ project.

Working with other people is always tricky, but it is my hope as I go down this path that I can continue to build strong relationships with my clients, and work on projects that are both challenging and satisfying for everyone involved.

Friday!

14 Oct

This week, I wasn’t feeling so hot, but I inched closer to finishing up some projects, and I am really excited for the weekend. So this post is going to be kind of brief, but be sure to go check out the wedding announcements I designed over at Oh So Beautiful Paper!

 

 

Michelle and Rob are seriously great people, so I was absolutely delighted to be able to help them share their wonderful news! This was also an exceptionally fun piece to design. Michelle must be extra good at telling people what she wants, because as she was telling me she wanted orange flowers, the whole design just popped into my head. Anyway, go check out the whole post, and have a great weekend!

Freelance: Month 3

12 Oct

Well, gosh. The months are just flying by, aren’t they? Freelancing is definitely the most intense thing I have ever done. I feel simultaneously exhilarated and overwhelmed, and a lot of what I said last month is still true, but I’m finally starting to feel like I am beginning to get a handle on things. (Although obviously not as much as I hoped, as I was relaxing on the couch when I suddenly remembered that I hadn’t posted to my blog today..) I’m finally getting a project management system in place, which, to repeat myself, is INTENSE. Mostly because freelancing is like this mixture of having to be super rigid in my schedule, or else I won’t get anything done, and also having to be flexible for when a client calls with a last-minute whatever, and I need to be available.

Overall, I feel like I’m on the right trajectory. I’m building relationships, I am learning how to deal with the more frustrating aspects of my job, and I am even beginning to plan ahead, and think about the future. I admit, my version of the future at this point is next week, but I’m baby stepping my way into it, okay?

 

My Goals for Month 3

+ Finish website redesign.  I did that! I’m so proud of me! Now I just have to finish uploading all of my content, and get my blog redesign up. But for now, let’s just bask in the fact that I did in fact finish my website redesign.

+ Talk to an accountant? :/ NOPE! I can keep putting this one off forever, right?

+ Document and showcase some of the projects that I have completed recently.  I so did this! Some of these projects are in fact going to be featured on other blogs. Stay tuned.

+  Get dressed in the mornings. I’m crossing this off the list because I do get dressed almost every day. And on the days that I don’t, it’s because I really don’t want to, and isn’t that what freelancing is all about anyway? Doin what you please? (hahahahano)

 

My Goals for Month 4

+ Better separate work life from home life. Poor David usually has to come home and listen to this giant speech about how my day went. Sometimes I can discuss my work life from the moment I see him until the moment he goes to sleep, just about. While some venting and sharing is good, I really don’t think that this stuff should be on my mind from the moment I wake up until the moment I go to bed. I should, you know, develop other interests and not be in a work mindset when I’m not actually working.

+ Create my marketing ‘team’. This maybe sounds crazy, but I wrote up job descriptions for the people I would hire if I actually had money to hire people…? Since I am trying to do all the jobs, I wanted to define them a little better, so I can structure my day around the things I need to do. So like, for 15 minutes in the morning, and 15 minutes in the evening, I put on my ‘office manager’ hat, and work on invoicing, and responding/sorting emails, and organizing my life, and that sort of thing. I also created a marketing person position, and then promptly blow that position off every time my little calendar alarm alerts that it’s marketing time. It’s really important that I stop doing that, and it won’t take that much time once I get the ball rolling, so.. Here is my official call to stop procrastinating on this.

+ Start working on personal projects that help me develop skills. I always admire people who do something every day, like the daily drop cap, or the branding 10,00 lakes project. I think it’s an awesome way to build a skill, and sharpen your creativity. I think doing something like that could be a great creative habit to establish, and also help me work on areas where I think I could be better. Of course, it would be fun to share my progress with everyone as well.

Keeping the goals simple worked last month, so I’m going to go with that. Stay tuned for tomorrow, when I explain my concept of Birthday Week!

 

My Freelance Life:

Day 1

Month 1

Month 2

Thanks, Steve

6 Oct

I think I mentioned a couple weeks ago that Steve Jobs is one of my dad’s favorite people. So yesterday, when David and I arrived at my parents’ house for dinner, a pall was cast over the evening as we learned of his passing.

Apple has always been a part of my life. I remember the excitement of opening up the blue iMac, my dad letting me set it up just to prove that it really was that easy. (I was not the most technically minded child.)

My blue briefcase laptop  is still probably my favorite computer of all time. I used it to do my homework, and write stories, and it was so durable that it held up through multiple instances of being accidentally slammed into doorframes, and my brother sitting on it.

In my house, it was always an exciting day when Apple announced a new product, and we had a rotating inventory of new, shiny things to admire. In fact, I just told my dad the other day that Steve (we called him Steve in our house) had finally gotten to me, and I really wanted an iPad, despite having absolutely no need for one.

I’ve never thought about Steve Jobs the person very much, but for most of my life, one of his products has never been far from my reach. He created beautiful and functional objects that made the world a better place, and he was constantly raising the bar.

The world feels less creative without him in it, but I feel grateful to live in the world that he changed, using a phone that he revolutionized, and able to follow my dreams because of his computers.

 

“We don’t get a chance to do that many things, and every one should be really excellent. Because this is our life. Life is brief, and then you die, you know? And we’ve all chosen to do this with our lives. So it better be damn good. It better be worth it.” – Steve Jobs

 

A Nice Thing, Now

4 Oct

I am very (veryveryvery) excited to link you to my first giveaway! I love Nice Things Now, and I’ve been reading Leah’s personal blog for years, so I feel like we are friends (albeit one – sided friends, since I’ve commented like, once.) She gave me a suuper nice writeup, and I have just been smiling and feeling good! So good that I’m writing two blog posts in one day. So, if you are new to my blog from NTN, hello!

I wanted to take this as an opportunity to write about why I do what I do. My views on graphic design are constantly changing and growing, and I’m finally feeling like I am realizing the direction I want my design life to take. I’ll be honest – in school, we were kind of snobs about invitation and stationery designers. I did not consider that ‘real’ design, and to be honest, sometimes I felt a little ashamed that I had an online stationery shop. Like I was selling out, or not pushing myself to my full capacity.

Which is ridiculous, of course.

I have come to realize that I love designing and making stationery. I love it as much as I love the other areas of graphic design. I feel happy and fulfilled when I’m working on cards, even though they’re ‘just’ cards. Even more importantly, I’ve realized why I love it. I want to facilitate connections. Graphic design is about communication, but it can and should also be about bringing people together.  I think that’s why I’ve never been able to muster up much interest for corporate design. I want to make things that are creative, inspiring, and exciting, and not necessarily just furthering a brand. I want to inspire people to reach out to other people, and make a connection. When someone buys a card that I’ve made, it’s exciting because it’s a form of validation, but it’s much more exciting to package that card up, imagine my customer receiving it, and then sending it on to someone else, who probably has never seen it before. It makes my day when I receive a personal piece of mail, and I know that isn’t something that’s unique to me. I like to think that I am helping people strengthen their friendships – or making new friendships – one piece of mail at a time.

This is something I want to bring even more into my design life. I want to take on projects that in some way inspire people to connect. Perhaps that’s designing posters or invitations for an event, maybe it’s designing the packaging for a  tool that will introduce people to a creative community they knew nothing about. Maybe it’s just inspiring people to comment on my blog and connect with me. It doesn’t matter how big or small, but the element of connection has to be there. This is why I design.

Let’s Talk About Pricing

28 Sep

The most difficult part of freelancing so far has been determining how to price my work. The reason it is so difficult is because not only is it entirely up to me to decide what my price should be, but there is also very little concrete information out there about industry standards. Every designer prices differently based on experience, and very few are willing to tell you what that price is.  This is not a topic that was covered in school, and in general it is just shrouded in mystery.

My strategy so far has been to price myself very reasonably, until I gain more experience/clients. I went to a talk given by David Baker once, and he said something that really resonated with me. This is not a customer service industry, it’s an expertise industry. Of COURSE I want my clients to be delighted with the work I do for them. However, I want my clients to hire me for my ideas and perspective, not for my ability to use a designer’s tools. I want my pricing to reflect that.

That being said, I think a lot of people have no idea how much designers charge. Since it’s not something that can be easily calculated (the price totally depends on the nature of the project) there’s not a lot to compare. Many people think that design is the least important part of a project – and it reflects in their budget – but a good design can make the difference between looking like a trustworthy operation and having customers dismiss you because it looks like your kid made your logo.

In my  experience, it is very hard not to be insulted when a potential client tries to bargain my price down, or drops off the face of the earth once we start talking numbers. It’s also hard not to second-guess my numbers, or under price myself when I really want a project. But that’s not fair to me, or to the many other designers out there trying to make a living. To quote from a Design Sponge Biz Ladies post, ” underpricing devalues creative work and makes it harder for creative professionals to make a living.”

Now!

I have found some great posts online that take a little bit of the mystery away from pricing. I encourage you to read them all, especially if you aren’t a creative professional.

Biz Ladies: How To Price Your Work

This is the same post that I linked to a couple paragraphs above, but it’s an extremely comprehensive guide to several different pricing approaches. It shares the thought process behind creative professional pricing, although it is geared more towards people selling handmade products.

Estimating and Billing

This article is less specific about actual pricing, but talks more about the factors that go into freelance price calculation.

The Dark Art of Pricing

This is the best article on pricing that I’ve seen on the internet so far. Jessica Hische walks you through her views on pricing, and actually throws in some real numbers. She also discusses things that you might not think about immediately, like licensing and rights management. If you only read one of these articles, it should be this one.

How Much Does A Website Cost? & Other Pricing Questions

This article shows real designers’ price ranges in terms of concrete numbers. It’s a small survey, but the numbers are not surprising to me.

Are there any articles I’m missing? The Graphic Artist’s Guild Handbook Pricing & Ethical Guidelines has been another invaluable resource as I try to navigate the tricky waters of freelance pricing. I would recommend it to any graphic designer who has pricing questions.

Hallo-WHEN?

27 Sep

Halloween is just around the corner! If just around the corner means a month from now. I have been more excited about Halloween and autumn in general this year than I have been in quite some time. I think it can be partially attributed to the fact that for the first time in two years this changing season is not a brutal reminder that time is marching onward and I am still nowhere close to achieving my goals. I always expect a lot of change and growth over the summer – mostly because I always had big plans for my summer break – but this year there actually was change and growth, and I’m happy with how things are turning out.

As I mentioned earlier, one of my goals moving forward is to do all the things I talk about wanting to do. Autumn is a prime time to make good on that goal. So many exciting things happen in the fall – it suddenly gets really beautiful outside, the fair comes through town, it’s my birthday, there are fun activities to do like visiting pumpkin patches, apple picking, and corn mazes ( I SO want to do a corn maze), Halloween parties, and Thanksgiving.

Keeping that in mind, I realized I was crazy when I thought about not making any Halloween cards for my shop. What was I thinking? I’m talking about seizing the moment and doing all the things I talk about doing, and at the first sign of work I just give up? Who am I, anyway? So I decided to give it a shot, and I’m so glad that I did. I’ve been feeling a little (okay, a lot) stressed and crazed lately, and this was a lovely moment of peace during a time that’s had more than its fair share of self doubt and anxiety. I felt joyful when I was making these, and it reminded me why I got into this profession in the first place. It’s for the pure, unadulterated happiness I feel when I’m creating something. So often I lose sight of that, and sometimes it takes something silly like making Halloween cards on a Saturday night to bring it back.

Not only am I pleased with how they turned out, but I’m also delighted with my product photography. I have talked before about how my dad takes photos for me, and I think we are getting better every time. These are definitely the best photos I have yet. They are exactly what I was envisioning, in that they are clear, they feel seasonal, and the background is interesting but doesn’t take away from the product. Thanks Dad!

 

 

 

 

You can visit Love Citron here. I have a couple more designs that I will be releasing over the next couple of days, so be sure to check back!

 

 

I Updated My Website Again

22 Sep

This is what I was going to talk about earlier this week, but then I actually had other things going on to write about, so it got bumped. The more you know.

(Speaking of NBC, can I just take a moment to publicly announce how excited I am that my stories are coming back on the air? Last night was Modern Family and then we watched Tuesday’s new episode of Glee, and I was just so excited. Tonight is only ALL OF MY FAVORITE SHOWS, except for 30 Rock, and I just found out that there are 5 more episodes of Psych on Hulu that I haven’t seen. I read books, too, but it’s not as fun to talk about.)

My website is something that I am constantly tinkering with, mostly because by the time I finish one design, I’m on to the next one. By the time my last website design was actually live, I sort of hated it, and I was just too discouraged to redo it for a while. I’m much more pleased with how this one turned out, and – bonus! – it is now an accurate representation of my body of work/abilities. I still have a lot of work to put up, and I’m already thinking of some design tweaks, but for the most part, I’m super happy with how it turned out.

I drew this type by hand. I have been interested in getting into hand lettering for a while, as evidenced by my sudden passion for calligraphy, so this was really rewarding (and frustrating!) to do. Spoiler alert – you will see it again when my blog redesign finally happens.

My new website is fairly simple, and mainly focuses on my work. I wanted it to be easy to navigate, and get a quick overview of what I do. Again, I still have some updates I need to make (like being able to add explanations to my projects..) but you should check it out, because I have a ton of new projects up.

Of course, David is the amazing one because he coded all of this. I have to say, it is really, REALLY convenient having a boyfriend who is a genius at computers. He somehow takes my vague explanations and laughably poor attempts at ‘getting the code started’ for him and makes exactly what I want. He’s the best!