Author Archives: John

Author Archives: John

Ideas are made or broken by output.

Ideas are made or broken by output.

A couple of weeks ago I had a request to turn an illustration into a print. This is usually not a problem, except in this project I worked too small on the page and had trouble increasing the quality. This made it impossible to reproduce and I had to rework the original piece.

Output broke my idea

Staying loose to work with ideas can be great for creativity and is ideal for generating concepts. Unfortunately, every idea needs to confront a production process. In my example, reworking the art solved the issue but I think this is a lesson for businesses that move from the planning stage to development. While I think it is unrealistic to accurately imagine the entire set of steps in a project, this is a good example of how "do the best you can" will benefit everyone involved.
Popular logo formats for branding

Popular logo formats for branding

A short list of file types to include and ways to use them.

  • Vector PDF - Prepared with CMYK or RBG values these are good for the printer or designer who will be handling your logo and brand assets.
  • PNG transparent files - I send these with a logo because not everyone has access to removing the logo from a PDF in a way that keeps the background transparent. One important part of using this format is to make sure you are staying consistent with how the logo is used in other places. It is easy to miscolor the background of a logo using these and look inconsistent in your branding.
  • JPG files - This is the most important file type because it is so easy to output incorrectly. These are versions of the logo I reduce as much as possible to kept a site loading quickly, while still retaining the colors and high quality of the larger-format files. Social media sites that over-process png files will ask for a jpg.
  • SVG logo - This is a vector version of the logo that can be used on the web and is represented with code. SVG files can be scaled up or down without losing quality.
Photoshop CC to CS6 toolbar

Photoshop CC to CS6 toolbar

Here's a toolbar organized for anyone who is used to the configuration of CS6 or so. I switch between the versions for older projects and the ordering is very different between the two.
Doodle mugs, and a new store

Doodle mugs, and a new store

I've been experimenting with making products lately. Here's a couple of mugs I made. These are available in the store. I have had a number of ideas for posters and apparel and have been working on turning some of these into products.

Creating the products has been more difficult than setting up the store. It's pretty hassle-free to set up a payment gateway these days, especially if you use Wordpress. If you're an illustrator or artist who wants some help setting up a shop online send me an email or a message on twitter.
If I make a logo for your business, we’re going to have to talk about the business.

If I make a logo for your business, we’re going to have to talk about the business.

I'm a multi disciplinary designer. I mention this because I believe there is a connection between working on different kinds of projects and staying open to looking at a business from a unique perspective. Staying in this mindset of thinking differently to get a different result is one of the most important parts of branding. I know that overnight design sites offer coffee-priced logos within a couple of hours but the more I make logos the less I understand how this can be as effective.

Your business is worth more than a cup of coffee.

For a minute, set aside the idea that a logo needs to last for years, that it goes on everything you make, that it reflects everything you produce, that your logo is the first visual identifier customers use to see your business. Branding is a chance for a designer with a unique perspective to help you audit your reason for being in business.

Good designers

A good designer will research your competitors, your audience, your five-year competitors, your influences, and goals. A good designer will bring thousands of hours spent designing and researching over a career into the process of producing an effective mark. A good designer leaves time for discovering, and to learn about why you love the business. A good designer will discover your weaknesses and direct branding away from problems, or solve them entirely. A good designer tries your product. A good designer looks you up, stops in your store. A good designer visits your coffee shop, tastes your wine, looks for things unique to your location. A good designer will ask you questions you haven't thought about. If your designer isn't doing these things, let's talk. Meet a designer for $5 of logo money for coffee in a neighborhood cafe.
Designers who illustrate and code

Designers who illustrate and code

Design trends, technologies, influences, colleagues, mentors, and practice are constant teachers. I worry about the learning of two focuses that regularly intersect with my work: drawing and coding. If you are a designer, you have run into the edge of your abilities in both of these situations. There's nothing wrong with this, but it happens enough to me that I wonder if there is ever going to be an "enough" learning for both. That leads to more questions: Am I proficient enough to make great work? What am I missing? Am I getting lost by focusing so much on my role as a designer?

If you follow this line of questions enough you can eventually feel overwhelmed and defeated by the idea, having seen so many great portfolios and projects. So what should we do? Is having your head down and focusing on design the right answer, or do we need to push ahead and constantly drive toward exploration in related fields?

I believe it depends on your needs and goals. Sometimes I work with developers that manage my designs within an application. My goal is to have at least a conversational knowledge of coding capabilities so that the work I do supports the methods used by developers. Knowing what a framework or language is doing can be helpful to managing expectations and keeping ideas close to reality.

In the case of illustration, a basic ability helps to think convey ideas to clients or colleagues. If you are a visual learner it will support your creative process. On a regular basis I find it helpful to draw out a concept before going to the computer, or working through an idea with a rough sketch to share with someone else.

Small steps add up over time

After reading this and deciding to increase your abilities, how do you start? The path you choose is personal but learning small amounts at a time is helpful - as well as setting workable goals. Start small, stay small, and be consistent. Instead of setting out to build an app or redefine an illustration style, take five minutes at a time to read (and re-read) a tutorial or simple concept. Take five minutes to make a series of gesture drawings of objects in your studio. If you find that something holds your attention longer - great. Practice as long as you like but commit to something small and be consistent.

Inktober

Inktober

Here are all of the illustrations I made for the Inktober event in October.  
Advice for new designers<br/> (or anyone on the job hunt)

Advice for new designers
(or anyone on the job hunt)

Recently, a colleague emailed to see if I could provide tips to a recent graduate looking for work. Though I am working in a different field than the job seeker, I think my suggestions were helpful. I'm sharing my them here along with some other ideas I had because they apply to other vocations.

Tell everybody, and make your role easy to remember.

The first step to finding work is to let everyone know that you're on the hunt. Don't write off friends or family as irrelevant contacts, thinking they will be unhelpful to your search. It's impossible to guess about what others know about open positions. Speaking with friends may jog their memories about a position they read or heard about. Make sure friends and family know what you do. That sounds funny but it's disappointing when you get a job listing from a friend that isn't clear about what you do. Try to summarize your job in one sentence. Give an example of a project they can relate to as well. This will help them retain the information by providing a frame of reference. A short description of your role will also help when you meet new people who ask "What do you do?" and the example helps to solidify your role in their mind. A solid job description also helps as you attend meetups, talk with mentors, go to parties, meet friends, or speak with colleagues asking for tips on finding work. As I mentioned, a job can come from a person or place you didn't expect and this will help you to be prepared.

Walk through an internet search of yourself to see what employers see.

While you're looking over your resume, remember that you have a record online. To see it, go into private browsing (to be unaffected by your past search history) and look up your name. Curate your visibility online, marking accounts as private or pruning posts to link to professional profiles. If you have no search presence, this is a chance to claim an identity for yourself. You have the ability to change your search engine visibility. How? First, start social media accounts. LinkedIn and Twitter are most helpful in professional settings. Next, set up your own site and start writing. Yes, start a site and begin writing. The knowledge you have is valuable to others and helps you to show up more in searches. Writing about your profession reenforces your expertise while helping others to learn. Imagine getting an interview question that related to something you already answered in a blog post. Writing also helps to clarify your own thinking and is a skill applicable to every job. If you are able, make videos that share your expertise. This will help your presentation abilities during interviews and video is easier than ever to produce.

Don't wait for a job to start working.

If you're looking for work, finding clients in the meantime is a great idea. Freelance projects can boost your social skills and strengthen your work. In interviews, freelance project give you have more to talk about. For extended periods of job searching, freelance could help fill gaps in in employment. Freelance can help take some pressure off of financial needs at the same time. If you are working on side projects, make them worth your time! Work on projects that take you closer to the work you want to do. Imagine 6-12 months of side projects where your work is relative to a dream job you have always wanted. With gradual progress on related projects you can shape your resume to be an even greater match for the job you always wanted.
Your project is stuck, here’s how to fix it.

Your project is stuck, here’s how to fix it.

Every project gets stuck in one way or another. Sometimes a tough spot in a project stops progress permanently. Let's talk about why that happens and how to fix it. Finishing a project (or choosing not to complete it) is work worth doing.

Problem: Overwhelming workload. You took on too much or a project seems too ambitious.
Solution: Break it apart! Small steps and a crossed off list are little successes you need to get things moving again.

Problem: Lost direction. Aspects of the work have changed or you learned something new that affected the work required.
Solution: Look back at original plan. Where were you headed then, and what changed? Is the problem you were trying to solve still there? Changing course isn't a death sentence for a project.

Problem: You are distracted.
Solution: Remind yourself why this is important, and that none of us can know how finishing a project will be helpful until the work is done.

Problem: You or someone else talked yourself out of the idea. Or, you did the work mentally and felt good about a future outcome.
Solution: Return to a small commitment you can be excited about, and revise your goals.

Problem: Scope creep (similar to lost direction).
Solution: Make sure you can deliver on the basic idea and see if it is enough to build on later. Get the pressure off for other aspects of the work by fulfilling the project's basic needs.

Problem: Bad neighbors - Coworkers who won't follow through are dragging you and your project down.
Solution(s):
1) Check their interest level. It can help to remind them of the stakes of finishing the project.
2) Give constructive feedback and set managable expectations.
3) Consider removing them from the project. If it is a personal project, remember that nobody will be as excited about your project as you are. If money is involved, keep good records of your conversations and always follow through.

Repeat steps 1 and 2 as long as you are able without compromising your motivation and intentions. It is easy to blame others for the way a project is going, but letting the problem continue is a choice.

Problem: Fear of the unknown. What will working on this project do to your current commitments? What if you get stuck? What if it fails? What if...?
Solution: Remember that anything new or different is uncomfortable at first, and that this is how we grow. There will always be aspects of the work to worry about. If worry is a problem, try to turn it into excitement. What can happen if you succeed? If you fail and finish the work anyway, what could you learn from that? Could you learn things to roll into a future project? If your friend was worrying like this, what would you say to them?

Stuck projects will happen, what you do about it is what matters.

Bulletproof branding

Bulletproof branding

bulletproof-branding We ask a lot of logos. It must represent your business. It must be unique. It must help to establish and reenforce branding. It must show up clearly in many different situations. It must be timeless. It must be easy to read. It must help your business to stand out among competitors.

These needs leave us with a big task, and there are lots of ways to fall short. If you find out your logo has problems after the launch it can be frustrating and expensive to fix - especially if you have print pieces involved. Here are some ways you can test your logo in progress before running with it.

co-logo-cropped
Selection lines show the square.

Think inside the box. The web is boxes, in boxes, in boxes. Your logo or a variation needs to be in a shape that can tolerate trimming. On your website you control the space given to the logo. But what about everywhere else? Social media profiles all ask for square dimensions, or that your logo can be cropped to fit in a circle. Here's an example I made that makes good use of the space social media profiles allow. Without the text below and only an icon, it would still "hold" a square shape.

Reproduced in other formats: one color, reverse color and more. Another way your logo can be beaten is by having no one color or reverse color options. What if your logo is printed in white on a colored shirt? Are these effects that cannot be reproduced with one color printing? Embroidered? What about the common one-color "sponsored by" section in the footer of websites? Those are designed to be surrounded by other logos and outside company branding.

logo-embroidered
Original and embroidered one color variation.

Next to other logos, how do you compare? Thinking of situations where you are compared to competitors is important - self awareness in this can affect your visual impact. Food companies spend a lot of time comparing their packages to competitors, knowing that they will be side by side on a shelf. You may not have that much trouble but you are being compared to your competitors wether you know it or not.

Speed is important, filesize is important. I talk about this a lot, because slow speeds can turn visitors away. Loading a large logo slows down your site. Using fewer effects, limited colors, and bringing in .svgs to serve logos are all helpful. Size pictures to the space in which they will be used - shrink the file itself and not with css. Doing any of these will help but they also work well together to make a site load quickly.

Those are the known troubles to address. For the rest, you have to plan for less than ideal scenarios.

Small, large, upside down, distressed, sun faded, in the wrong color, used by non-designers and those with other skillsets can all play a role. Test your logo. Document colors, include type and as many formats and file sizes as you expect will be needed. Organize and label the files well, too. The easier you make following guidelines the more they will be used.

I hope this helps, leave a comment if you have other ideas.

➽ More branding examples here