Saturday, July 31, 2010

Short post: New post coming soon after I clean up this mess


I am in the middle of remodeling the upstairs bathroom. I admit that this is my first big renovation project and I thank God that my brother (who has extensive experience in doing this crapola) is helping me out.

I've learned many things while taking this wonderful journey. The main thing is that if you have eczema, wear gloves while handling hardibacker board. My hands look like those of a dried-up zombie.

Anyway, once I get done with this mess, I'll have a few posts ready. Until then, have fun and happy designing.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Why employers are beating down the dude's door

A good friend of mine is beating the odds against a sucky economy. Without actively pursuing employment, he's had three (3) design firms personally approach him, offering him a job.

Many people are having a tough time jumping out of the unemployment line and this happily employed dude gets three (3) out-of-the-blue job offers. How? Lucky streak? Good karma?

Well, I don't believe in luck or karma, but I can tell you what this dude** does posses that turns him into someone who is sought after by rabid employers. Rabid, I say.

1. I don't mean to insult your intelligence with the obvious, but what the hell: The dude knows his craft.

"Well, duh," you say. "So do I!"

Sure you do. You and a thousand million billion other designers out there. Even if the work varies from weak to excellent, any graphic designer (or copywriter, art director, pool cleaner, etc) worth their saltines knows his or her craft.

While knowing what the hell you're doing within your particular profession is extremely important to getting the job done, that is only a small portion as to what would make an employer kick in your door.

2. The dude has a killer work ethic.

When someone is early to work, eager to work, likes his work, and cranks out work that is of a high quality, then such dazzling work practices get noticed. The dude has made plenty of connections through his freelance jobs. As word about his honesty and integrity in his work spread, so did his job offers.

3. The dude is not arrogant about his work.

Some may think, "People mistake arrogance for confidence." Yeah, only arrogant people say that.

When someone is arrogant, it's hard for them to see their mistakes, although it seems to heighten one's abilities to see the mistakes in others' work (usually to try and cover insecurities in their own work). Because of that, people will not really want to come to them for advice on…well, anything. Arrogance is the cock block of teamwork, and if you're not a team player*, employers don't have much use for you.

4. The dude's helpful.

Simple, right? If someone has a question and he has the answer, he'll help out. You would be surprised at how many peers enjoy watching others sink or swim - especially if they sink.

Another friend of mine writes code at a local web/design firm. We'll call her Sally. When a new employee came into the office for orientation, Sally thought it would be nice to write out a few things to help the newbie get situated. Why? Because my friend had an absolute hellish first month when she started at the company. While her manager at the time was very accommodating, her peers were not only unhelpful with any questions or problems she faced as a new employee, they were downright mean.

Sally wanted to help out, not to brown nose the boss (because she didn't blab and blab and blab to her boss and the rest of the office about how she is taking it upon her fragile shoulders to help the poor new employee), but just to be team player* and to genuinely help someone avoid some of the pitfalls she experienced.

5. The dude is nice.

This appears to be an add-on to #4 since "helpful" and "nice" seem to go hand in hand, but you don't necessarily have to be nice to be helpful. You could be a world-class asshat of a mechanic and still help people to get their cars working.

What I mean is this: Have you ever worked with a peer whose attitude was so piss poor that they made everyone else in the office uncomfortable? The angry grumbler who surrounds him or herself with the eggshells upon which you must carefully tread?

Some people are so full of suck that no one in the office wants to work with them. Which, by default, places them in the "difficult" and "not a team player*" corner.

6. The dude is not a freaking drama queen.

Bringing personal problems to work, constantly panicking about every little thing, crying, pouting, and being the personification of a sore that itches does not make others want to work with or around a co-worker. Giant freak-outs about a moved deadline or a typo are not warranted.

Put dramatic spasms into perspective: Cancer is serious. Car wrecks are serious. Getting mugged is serious. A color change on a proof is not.

At least not enough to wave the arms all around and scream throughout the office like a crazed banshee, making both peers and boss sick to death of the dramatic crapola.


7. He owns up to his mistakes.

Yep. Anyone who will throw others under the bus in order to cover his or her mistakes is someone NEVER to be trusted. Why? Because when someone makes a mistake at his or her job and doesn't come clean about it, they are essentially lying.

Owning up and willing to correct work-related mistakes shows character-built integrity and honesty. If all someone can do is find ways to cover their tracks and point fingers at others who have nothing to do with the problem, then word will spread fast enough to brand the person completely worthless and untrustworthy in their job.

Although such a person deserves to have their freaking teeth knocked out, doing so would brand you as a rash and violent person. So don't go around knocking people's teeth out no matter how much they have it coming. Be a team player* and do your job well, knowing that the moron must learn not be such a lying clown shoe or they could be bounced out of a job.

*Let me end here and explain what I mean by "team player".

A team player is not necessarily someone supportive of design-by-committee or to bend over backwards for the detrimental-to-your-work benefit of the group. It's not about group brain storming or sheep-like group think.

A team player simply recognizes that they work for a company with a group of other individuals, all of whom should be treated with professional respect. No more, no less. They have a job to do, you have a job to do, and you are all (ideally) on the same team.

Employers like to see this dynamic work, and if you are the one pissing all over it, then don't expect anyone to do you any favors.

** No relation to Lebowski.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Esther Aarts: the Old-School iPad

Allan Peters turned me on to Esther Aarts' killer illustration work.

According to the Esther Aarts blog, all the "marker doodles" are done on the iPad. :D

My first job: Shocked, I was.

My first real job was a marketing/graphic design intern position with a local construction company.

Like many growing companies, these guys were sick of paying the relatively high prices to outsource their design work. They would spend a pretty penny having someone else put together their project books and print ads.

So they decided to bring all their marketing and design in-house...and I was it. Design department? Marketing? Me. The intern who was still in school.

Wet behind the ears is understating the cliche. I was soaked from head to toe, but it was exciting and now as I look back, I couldn't have started my career at a better place.

You see, I came into this internship from a job where I answered phones and figuratively changed the diapers of those attempting to fill out their college financial aid forms online. Out of all the jobs I've had, the freaking phone-answering job had to be the craziest and most stressful.

If I had to go to the bathroom, I had to "punch out" of my phone so that management knew I was not available, and I had TWO (2) minutes to get to the bathroom and get back or I was in trouble. It didn't matter if I had to go number 1 or number 2, I had to push fast and sit my half-wiped ass back down to answer the phones.

I worked at this place full time to get me through design school. When the opportunity presented itself in the form of an internship doing design work for a construction company, I jumped at it. I was overjoyed that it was a paying gig and I could quit my hectic job with Big Brother.

Imagine my shock as I left a job where I didn't have time to piss to a place where they sat me at my own desk to perform a couple week's worth of...web browsing.

They wanted me to design a new web site for the company and they wanted me to take a look at other construction companies' sites to see what I thought worked.

I was shell-shocked because after the first couple of full days, I had sketches and notes up the wazoo for a new web site. The rest of the week was just cruising the net. They didn't have anything else for me to do just yet, so I was to simply sit tight.

Well, I at least wanted to get started building the site, even if they didn't have all the information I needed ready to go.

Since I knew both diddly and squat about coding, I told them I needed...haha...I told them that for me...hee hee...for me to build the web site, I would need...I would need...hahaha...Microsoft FRONTPAGE....


Yeah. Intern.

Anyway, after my first week there of noodling around on the internet and eating candy, I started to feel guilty about getting paid to do this "job". I mean, after almost two years of getting hammered day in and day out on the phones by people who didn't know how to clear their browser cookies, I felt like I was stealing from my new employers.

I told my brother, who works as a web programmer, about my feelings. He laughed and told me to chill and soak it up because the slow pace will come and go, and when it goes, I'll understand why the company hired me.

He was right. The slow couple of weeks came to an end and suddenly I had a ton of construction project books to design, as well as the site, print ads, newsletters, and press releases.

Then a couple more slow weeks. More internet noodling and candy.

I was sad to leave that company (although the money I was to make at my new job would cheer me up considerably) because it was a great first job that yielded much time for me to learn my craft.

One last thing. Those of you who are starting late in the design profession, or it is taking longer than usual to finally get through school, know that when I accepted my internship, I was 30 years-old.

Yep, a 30 year-old intern working in FrontPage. Don't let that image make you sad because I am now onto better things in my career. If I can do it, anyone can. Trust me.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Thrash metal logos do their job

I love thrash metal logos.

Twisted, jangled, thorny, stretched, sketchy, bloody, and even amateurish.

To look at them, some may wince at the band logo's appearance. Check out any one at random and you'll usually find at least one of the following characteristics: hand drawn, spikes, inconsistent widths, and some unreadable. They also like the color red.

Yeah, I love 'em.

What these logos lack in beauty, they gain in recognition. A D.I.Y. aesthetic derived from thrash's punk roots. The album art could be anything, but with a thrash band's logo plastered across the top of the cover, fans instantly know what they're getting.

Sure, some thrash metal logos can be pretty slick, but a lot of the new retro thrash bands that have popped up, as well as any old-school death metal band, immortalize their names within logos that could care less about conservative design principles.

They are strictly for the me!

Here are a few examples.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Polishing a turd

I'm not sure if it was a coincidence or not.

My friend told me about a flyer he has been working on for the last two months. Oh, he got it done a long time ago, but it keeps getting sent back to him for revisions. By one executive.

So far, this executive has asked for 11 revisions on a project that was literally sent through all the channels, signed off on, and was put to bed.

The flyer was about to go to print until he saw it.

Now, you have to understand how this executive thinks. He actually told a girl in the marketing department, "Yeah, you'll never want to show me anything because I will make changes."


As I said, my friend already went through all the channels regarding the flyer design. He told me that a bunch of people had predetermined how this flyer was going to look, so when he was originally finished, he had already deemed it a toxic addition to his portfolio.

It was a "turd," he said.

But the flyer was done and he was more than happy to close the book on it.

Then word came back from marketing that one of the suits saw it and requested a change. Fine. He did it, sent it back, and went on to his next job.

The next day, word came back that the executive didn't think he got the change quite right. Fine. My buddy made the change, sent it back, and washed his hands of it.

After all, the flyer was ugly to begin with. The executive's requests were simply making the damn thing uglier and uglier.

Needless to say, the changes continued. Since no information was being added or delelted, the changes were equivalent to "Could you move the blue line up 10 picas?"

Essentially what the executive was doing was polishing the turd. Move the freaking blue line up and down all you want, it's still going to be a steaming pile of gridless information.

To add insult to frustration, the flyer was an internal flyer for employees only. Thankfully, this was not for public consumption, but what was with the constant fixes?

Well, that's what I asked my friend - "Why all the bother?"

He told me, "He's just one of those guys."

So the bottom line is that there were no real reasons for the executive's changes. He's some dude with a hankering for adding his two cents.

Now back to my original statement. I'm not sure if it was a coincidence or not, but after my friend told me about his misadventures in committee design, I stumbled across this article over at Smashing Magazine (LINK).

I read the article on the pitfalls of design-by-committee and chuckled to myself. I even left a comment there, linking to an article about a terrible redesign of a logo, directed by focus groups and stakeholder input. HA-HA! Yuck.

My friend's experience and the article got me thinking about my own design work and the occasional compromises I have to make in the name of the committee.

Thankfully I learned to never be married to my work. Take pride in my work, sure, but never get too attached because complete creative freedom is hardly a reality.

Otherwise frustration will rise when you're faced with an executive who likes to move around your blue lines.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

First year students and my own bad design work

Along with my lovely wife, I gave a presentation about working as a graphic designer to a lecture hall full of beginning design students.

The instructor wanted us to give a small kick in the pants to these guys and let them know how freaking cool it is to be a designer.

Well, shoot, that's easy. Right?

So as the presentation began, we spoke about our early years in design school: commuting, working full time, and completely broke. BROKE.

Many students related to that. Score.

We told them about how their passion for design will reflect in their work. We told them how to make the most of their time while learning design principles in school.We told them that school assignments aren't like pain in the ass math story problems, but rather a journey for their creativity, and school is the one place where they will be able to shine and build that gorgeous portfolio to entice future employers.

Sounds great, eh?

Oh, it wasn't all pie-in-the-sky talk about passion and creativity. We also warned them about dangerous office politics and how to avoid the dreaded Weaselsnake-worm, but we only touched on that. Most of the presentation centered on how it completely rocks to be a graphic designer. Infinity.

Now while this might have been a pleasant eye-opening experience for the students, I had a bit of an awakening myself.

It happened while talking through some of my design work. I brought with me mostly print pieces - ads, campaign posters, newsletters and the like.

As each slide clicked by, I had a great time explaining process, grid and concept. Then it happened.

One of my favorite pieces popped up on the giant screen. I looked up at the oversized ad, ready to dive into the what's and the why's of the piece, and all that came out of me was, "Uh..."

As I gazed up, it was like I saw the piece for the first time. I designed it a couple years ago and it always stuck in my mind as a very cool design piece. However, now it was up on the big screen and after a few seconds I thought, "What a colossal hunk of crap!"

After thinking that and realizing that the students were all looking at the same image I was looking at, I had to say something a bit some substantial than "uh".

"Okay, I don't like this piece," I said, as if I had thought that all along. I went on to explain why I added a bad design to the slides. I explained to the students what I was originally thinking when working on the design and why it really doesn't work (zero eye flow, hits you over the head, a "try too hard" look to the design, etc.).

This actually gave me a bit of cred. An designer who could keep his ego in check long enough to speak about his own design mistakes! Yes, I exist, although by accident. I really thought it was a good piece at first.

So after speaking about the mistakes I made, a student raised her hand and asked, "If you designed that today, what would you have done differently?"


I JUST found out that I hated it. Now I had to quickly deconstruct the design and see about how to do it right.

Thankfully, I was able to explain on the fly by reversing what I said about the design's major flaws (pay attention to eye flow, be more subtle, don't over-think, etc.).

I was a little more specific than it sounds, and in the end, my explanation worked.

After a rather successful presentation, i went home to think about how I need to go back over some of my past designs to look and learn from previously unnoticed mistakes.

Putting past work under a magnifying glass might be a great idea. Not only can it help a designer see what he or she may need to clean up in their portfolio, but it can be a nice affirmation of one's growth in the profession.

If we can keep our egos in check long enough. ;)

Short post: Know your stuff before the interview

At the age of 16, I was asked during a job interview, "What is the most important thing about consumerism?"

I asked, "What's consumerism?"

I didn't get the job. Lesson learned.