March 30, 2007

Word it

Word it is your opportunity to express in any manner you wish and with as many (or as little) other graphic elements as you need, what best describes each monthly word.

I originally started participating in this monthly project to drive traffic to my site. Now it's become a quick and fun exercise that I look forward to every month. Here are my word it designs submitted to to Speak Up over the last three months.

March: "I"
For March I arrived at my design by thinking of "I" as it pertains to the concept of self. "I" and "Identity" can nearly be used to define one another. The fingerprint was just the natural next step.

February: "Yell"
I'll be the first to admit that on the rare occasion I loose my patience and yell, my dog Gweck is probably on the receiving end (that or perhaps a designer tantrum is in progress). However infrequent reactions like this are, they are something that I strive to eliminate entirely. February's "Yell" was a comment on this verbal sort of abuse that happens toward animals all the time and often goes unnoticed.

January: "Wonder"
No matter what the word of the month may be, someone always seems to put a political spin on it. Here is my little bit of anti-establishment conspiracy theorist petition signing Adbusters reading personality coming through.

March 25, 2007

How CSS made me a better print designer

Things change. I've realized this inevitability of life and embraced it. The last two years have been marked by a dramatic change in my work away from print and into the expansive realm of web design. That's why when I was asked to design a 150+ page training book this past month, I jumped at the opportunity. "It'll be like old times" I thought to myself. The endless expanse of folios; the grids; the typesetting; and when it's done—ahhh—the smell of fresh ink on paper.

The allure of designing a substantial printed piece, not a mere letter size flier or trifold brochure, but a book is undeniable. It's a problem solver's playground—taking a graceless Word doc and transforming it into literature. So, with mouse in hand, I set off to design a book with the noble charge of educating it's reader and I discovered some interesting things along the way.

Lesson 1: Feeling trapped? Build some walls.
My design process isn't a speedy one. I'm a perfectionist; constantly going back and rethinking each decision I've made up to the present. The result of this agonizing process is often substandard productivity and a finished piece that I can't stand to look at. There is a threshold that I pass through when so much energy has been invested into a project that I can no longer love it, no matter how good it may be. This is the plight of the perfectionist.

Surprisingly, it was web design that lead me away from my perfectionist tendencies. I'm now used to working within the constraints of the web: scant typeface selection; low screen resolution; image optimization; plus a myriad of technical limitations. When I dug my heels in on the book project I decided to approach it much like a website by limiting my options. I created an on-the-spot style guide dictated by the basic demands of the project: lots of information = highly legible typefaces; thin photography budget = dramatic use of scale to create visual interest. By building walls for the path ahead I could find the door at the end of my creative corridor without getting lost along the way. Rather than agonizing over the thousands of typefaces to choose from, I considered larger design issues. In the end, my finished piece is all the better for not having traveled the path of perfection. Plus, I can look at it without cringing.

Lesson 2: The idea is it
The most dramatic shift in design thinking I've undergone over the last couple years has been that aesthetics aren't it. The crux of any great design is not the look, but the idea and the quality of the idea's execution. Doug Fuller, my first art director and design mentor, tried to instill this in me but it didn't fully take hold until I began learning CSS web design. With CSS it is vital that the designer carefully consider the site's content, and how to best communicate it. In this mode of though the substance defines the look, not the other way around. While designing the training book I found myself surrendering the look to the idea more than ever before.

Lesson 3: Get some style(s)
When designing in page layout programs I had always used styles, or so I thought. I certainly created lots of styles, a method for applying particular attributes to blocks of text with the click of a button, but how well did I implement them, or even understand them? After using styles in web design I began to realize how poorly I had employed this method in print. I'd often create a style but then not use it, opting instead to format subsequent blocks of text by hand because it just seemed easier. Or creating a style only to change it's formatting by hand, but not apply the new formatting to the style. For styles to work, they have to be maintained and used across the board. If type formatting changes need to be made, they should be done via the style, and not the paragraph.

CSS style sheets for web design have taught me to give styles the respect they deserve. As with all things on the web, they have to be built right or they won't perform. And so, after agonizing over so many web style sheets I finally found myself getting the most out of my print styles on the training book. Between this and the other lessons I've learned from CSS, my book actually turned out looking good, ahead of schedule and under budget. Style me happy.

March 7, 2007

Couldn't have said it better myself

While combing motionographer this morning over a heaping bowl of Raisin Bran I came across this fabulous Craigslist post that's just too good not to share. Here it is, re-posted* for your enjoyment:

Every day, there are more and more Craigslist posts seeking “artists” for everything from auto graphics to comic books to corporate logo designs. More people are finding themselves in need of some form of illustrative service.

But what they’re NOT doing, unfortunately, is realizing how rare someone with these particular talents can be.

To those who are “seeking artists”, let me ask you; How many people do you know, personally, with the talent and skill to perform the services you need? A dozen? Five? One? …none?

More than likely, you don’t know any. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be posting on craigslist to find them.

And this is not really a surprise.

In this country, there are almost twice as many neurosurgeons as there are professional illustrators. There are eleven times as many certified mechanics. There are SEVENTY times as many people in the IT field.

So, given that they are less rare, and therefore less in demand, would it make sense to ask your mechanic to work on your car for free? Would you look him in the eye, with a straight face, and tell him that his compensation would be the ability to have his work shown to others as you drive down the street?

Would you offer a neurosurgeon the “opportunity” to add your name to his resume as payment for removing that pesky tumor? (Maybe you could offer him “a few bucks” for “materials”. What a deal!)

Would you be able to seriously even CONSIDER offering your web hosting service the chance to have people see their work, by viewing your website, as their payment for hosting you?

If you answered “yes” to ANY of the above, you’re obviously insane. If you answered “no”, then kudos to you for living in the real world.

But then tell me… why would you think it is okay to live out the same, delusional, ridiculous fantasy when seeking someone whose abilities are even less in supply than these folks?

Graphic artists, illustrators, painters, etc., are skilled tradesmen. As such, to consider them as, or deal with them as, anything less than professionals fully deserving of your respect is both insulting and a bad reflection on you as a sane, reasonable person. In short, it makes you look like a twit.

A few things you need to know;

1. It is not a “great opportunity” for an artist to have his work seen on your car/’zine/website/bedroom wall, etc. It IS a “great opportunity” for YOU to have their work there.

2. It is not clever to seek a “student” or “beginner” in an attempt to get work for free. It’s ignorant and insulting. They may be “students”, but that does not mean they don’t deserve to be paid for their hard work. You were a “student” once, too. Would you have taken that job at McDonalds with no pay, because you were learning essential job skills for the real world? Yes, your proposition it JUST as stupid.

3. The chance to have their name on something that is going to be seen by other people, whether it’s one or one million, is NOT a valid enticement. Neither is the right to add that work to their “portfolio”. They get to do those things ANYWAY, after being paid as they should. It’s not compensation. It’s their right, and it’s a given.

4. Stop thinking that you’re giving them some great chance to work. Once they skip over your silly ad, as they should, the next ad is usually for someone who lives in the real world, and as such, will pay them. There are far more jobs needing these skills than there are people who possess these skills.

5. Students DO need “experience”. But they do NOT need to get it by giving their work away. In fact, this does not even offer them the experience they need. Anyone who will not/can not pay them is obviously the type of person or business they should be ashamed to have on their resume anyway. Do you think professional contractors list the “experience” they got while nailing down a loose step at their grandmother’s house when they were seventeen?

If you your company or gig was worth listing as desired experience, it would be able to pay for the services it received. The only experience they will get doing free work for you is a lesson learned in what kinds of scrubs they should not lower themselves to deal with.

6. (This one is FOR the artists out there, please pay attention.) Some will ask you to “submit work for consideration”. They may even be posing as some sort of “contest”. These are almost always scams. They will take the work submitted by many artists seeking to win the “contest”, or be “chosen” for the gig, and find what they like most. They will then usually have someone who works for them, or someone who works incredibly cheap because they have no originality or talent of their own, reproduce that same work, or even just make slight modifications to it, and claim it as their own. You will NOT be paid, you will NOT win the contest. The only people who win, here, are the underhanded folks who run these ads. This is speculative, or “spec”, work. It’s risky at best, and a complete scam at worst. I urge you to avoid it, completely. For more information on this subject, please visit

So to artists/designers/illustrators looking for work, do everyone a favor, ESPECIALLY yourselves, and avoid people who do not intend to pay you. Whether they are “spec” gigs, or just some guy who wants a free mural on his living room walls. They need you. You do NOT need them.

And for those who are looking for someone to do work for free…please wake up and join the real world. The only thing you’re accomplishing is to insult those with the skills you need. Get a clue.

* This was originally posted on Craigslist by an anonymous author.