Photoshop vs. Illustrator: Part 1

Goals: Ready Aim Fire

Have you ever heard that incredibly cheesy saying: “If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it.” Well, I disagree. You won’t hit “nothing”, you’ll surely hit SOMETHING. Unfortunately it will most likely be something other than what you truly want. If you’re throwing a dart, you probably can’t hit a bulls-eye in one throw even if you tried. But you’d probably hit the dart board. This is the effect of a goal – it’s the ‘aim” part of the phrase “Ready, Aim, Fire.” And while you won’t always hit your target spot-on, you’ll probably get close. And as I frequently say at Go Media: “Crose Enough!” (quote stolen from an old Labatts Blue comercial.)

If you don’t have a goal and just throw the dart, well, you may hit the wall, you may hit the floor, or you may hit your friend. It’s still a result, just not necessarily the best result. Let me give another real-world (practical) example of why goal setting is important for me. It’s very easy for me to spend money that’s in my pocket if I don’t have an intended use for it. But if I set a goal of buying a new TV this year, well, I’ll think twice about dropping $40 drinking beer at the local Bier Markt. Instead, maybe I’ll decide to put $30 in my piggy bank, stay in and drink a six pack of Genny Light instead.

Now multiply these types of little decisions over a lifetime and the results can be huge. Do you want to be a beach bum or a millionaire? Actually, both are MY goals. First, I want to become independently wealthy. Then, I want to go live on a beach somewhere tropical. Seriously! I will have Go Media’s Bahamas satellite office. It will be a small cottage on the beach with 4-6 work stations. bahamas2Staff can take turns rotating down to the beach house for a change of scenery. It may seem like a crazy dream, but for me it’s just another goal. And I’ve accomplished a ton of those so far, so why not this one too? Ok, I’m rambling a bit here. Let me refocus this blog.

Goals have been extremely important to building Go Media. And they continue to be a constant part of how we run our company. At the beginning of each year the entire company set goals. The company sets business goals and each employee sets goals – both personal and professional. At the end of the year we recap what we accomplished and what we didn’t.

Here are some goal-setting tips I’ve learned over the years:

1. Take the time. Have you ever actually given yourself the time to sit down for a few hours and think seriously about what you want out of your life, probably not. Who has time for that? Well, this is serious business, this is your LIFE! So, it needs to start with you giving yourself the time to do this right.

2. Write it down! Jot it down on a piece of paper and put it in your wallet. Or better yet, have it printed on a ten foot banner and hang it over your bed. At Go Media we print a big poster with all our goals on it. It’s mounted on foam core and hung right next to the front door. We use a red marker to cross things off as we achieve them throughout the year. There is something magical in the process of writing down goals. Don’t ask me how it works, it just does, so write them down!

3. Track your results. This is where goal setting can be a true motivator. If you can see your progress and improvement over time it makes you feel like the hard work and sacrifices are worth it. There are even websites like to help you keep track of your progress (more on this later.)

4. Set goals both big and small. It’s important to have huge goals that seem hardly attainable (like a Go Media beach house), because these are the things we LIVE for and they won’t all be easy to achieve. But it’s also important to know that it’s little goals that get us there. This month I have a goal of landing 2 new clients. Over time, it’s those new clients that will finance our beach house. Also, small goals are very important because they boost your morale when you accomplish them. So, I always like to sprinkle in a lot of little (extremely easy) goals along with my monstrously large goals.

5. Be specific. I want my beach house to have two floors with a large wooden deck. The second floor will have the office space with a huge bay window that looks out over the ocean. I can imagine sitting at my desk working while a thunderstorm rages a few miles out at sea. And my goal this month is 2 new clients – not “some” new clients. The details of the goals are what make it fun, and also what let us know if we’ve accomplished it. For instance – if I had a goal of “be healthier in 2009,” how would I know I accomplished that? But if I said: “Run a marathon in 2009,” now THAT is a goal that I can put a check mark next to.

6. Give yourself a deadline! This goes hand-in-hand with having details. You need to put a little time pressure on yourself. If you miss your deadline, it’s not the end of the world, but it will motivate you to get moving! At Go Media our goals are set on an annual basis. The plan is to slowly get through your goal list over the course of the year. It should be plenty of time, and if we miss a goal we re-evaluate it at the end of the year and either re-post it or dump it.

Ok, now – back to My great friend and business partner Michael Greeves from was the one who actually prompted this article. He just launched a new goal tracking website called He knows I’m big into goal setting and he sent me a link. It’s a great simple-to-use tool for keeping track of and tracking the results of your goals. I wanted to tell all our readers about it, but didn’t want to throw a gratuitous ad at everyone without including some quality content; hence the article you just read!

Here is what Mike wanted to add about Goalster:
I wanted to let you know we just released our new goal setting site, The concept is simple, share Goals with friends and have them help you reach your potential.
It’s been my pet project, outside HyperStrike, for the last couple of months and just launched in beta last week. It all started when I realized I wasn’t living the life I wanted. I found myself spending too much time on the computer and running my business was ruining my health. So I decided to make a commitment to my health and my family. I used the site daily to track my weight and exercise time. To date, I’ve lost 24lbs! By sharing my goals with my friends and family I was motivated to keep my commitments and got back in shape.

Since we trust and know you’ll give it a critical eye, we thought we pass it along for you to use
and give us any feedback if you care to share it.

Please take 30 seconds to register, it’s free!

P.S. Please let your friends and employees know about the service. They can use it
to track anything from Starbucks coffees to killer designs and happy clients.

If you have any questions, comments or feedback please feel free to
share it with us at

Mike Greeves
CEO, HyperStrike, Inc.

So, that’s it! Goals, goals the magical tool. The more you set, the more you achieve. The more you achieve, the better you feel. So let’s have goals at every meal! I hope you’ve gained something from this article. SPOILER ALERT: I’m working on a sweet new design tutorial that demonstrates a rapid-fire way to produce a hand-drawn illustration in half the normal time! COMING SOON!

Thoughts on Design Integrity. Getting what you want from your client


You’ve just been given a project and the client has made a list of demands that will surely result in a total design failure. Your integrity as a good designer is on the line… …WHAT DO YOU DO?

Manage the client’s expectations BEFORE the project brief is even written. In an IDEAL world, the battle over a client’s expectations is begun during the very first meeting. This often means that the sales person – not the designer – must start this fight. This is not an easy task. Most clients come to a design firm with some idea of what they want. And a sales person’s job is doubly difficult because they’re busy trying to sell too. The added task of managing a client’s expectations is often times in direct conflict with making the sale.

What a client wants to hear is: “Wow, brilliant idea. We can execute that design, no problem.” not: “These ideas suck. You should let one of our designers make something better.” But whenever possible, a sales person should start by hyping the designer’s expertise and suggesting that the client should open their mind to a design that may not fit exactly with what they have set in their mind… …in an ideal world that is.


Talk to the client immediately. So, the sales person did their best, but the project brief is still chock full of horrible ideas. Don’t hesitate. Don’t start designing. Don’t pass go. Do not collect $200. Proceed directly to your phone and call the client. This conversation needs to take place immediately. Now is the time to get the client on your side. Pitch your ideas, explain why your ideas are better than theirs.

Give the customer what they ask for. Or, more to the point: Give the customer what they EXPECT. Now, I know this statement is a bit of hot button, at least it is at Go Media. Let me explain.

Imagine that you pull into a McDonald’s drive through and you order a Big Mac. You pay your money and leave. As you drive down the street you open your bag and inside you find a McChicken sandwich and a note: “I know you ordered a Big Mac, but this chicken sandwich is much healthier for you. So, you should eat it instead.” How would you feel? Personally, I would probably be feeling rage boiling up inside of me. “Son of a BITCH!” I’d be thinking. “I JUST PAID!!! I asked for a Big Mac… nobody said anything to me when I ordered and now I have a fricking McChicken sandwich. I already PAID for a frickin’ BIG MAC. Who are they to tell me what is best for me?”

Is the note wrong? No, not necessarily. A Chicken sandwich IS healthier than a Big Mac. I probably SHOULD eat the chicken sandwich. That’s not why I’m mad. I’m mad because I had an expectation. And the jerks at McDonald’s just insulted me by ignoring my request and essentially saying to me: “You don’t know what’s best for you.” Well, isn’t that arrogant! They don’t know every aspect of my life. Maybe I’m dying of cancer and this Big Mac is my last meal.

In the same way, we must respect our customers. Yes, many customers are idiots that ask for retarded design things that are probably bad for them. But we STILL must pay them the respect of not immediately assuming that we know what is best for them.

Have you researched their customer base? Do you know their entire marketing plan? Have you used their product? And if you’re going to do something different than what they asked for, you need to manage their expectations BEFORE you start showing them proofs. If you don’t follow directions you’re going to piss them off 99% of the time. So make the call and have the conversation. Pay them that respect at least.

Show them. Ok, so you got the customer on the phone, they still think they know best and want it THEIR way. Remember: your design integrity is on the line. We can’t give up yet.

Here is where your mettle is tested. How far are you willing to go to defend your integrity? Sometimes you have to spend your own time (unpaid by the customer) to mock up a SECOND design. This will give you the opportunity to actually SHOW them the better design.

It’s important to make your design the second of two. The first one still needs to be your best version of what they’ve asked for. In this way you haven’t insulted them. It would be like having that McDonald’s employee show you the beautiful, juicy chicken sandwich and saying: “Are you suuuuure you want to eat that greasy burger? Look at this tender juicy chicken sandwich. I have the Big Mac ready for you if you really want it, but this chicken sandwich has half the fat and calories!”

Accept the challenge. Nothing is impossible! So, nothing you’ve said or showed them can change their mind. They still want their list of demands met. So, you have to ask yourself: How good of a designer are you? The client has just presented you with an amazing challenge. They’ve given you a long list of demands that would normally result in a horrible design.

So, do you accept this challenge of giving them what they ask for AND still making a good design? It may take a lot of extra work and mental strain. But that’s what we’re paid to do – to come up with solutions to problems. Are you going to work the challenge or do you just give up – declare the client an idiot and walk away frustrated.

The choice is yours. If you are quick to give up, maybe you’re not as good of a designer as you think. Time to get behind the mule and plow.


No beans, what now? You’ve done everything in your power to make a good design. You’ve pitched them on your ideas. You’ve shown them a better solution. You worked their horrible ideas for hours and hours. You’re at the very end of your rope and the design still sucks. What now? What do you do? Do you “sell-out” and give them a horrible design, or do you stick to your principles, refund their money and tell them politely that you refuse to work with them?

Well, if you’re on your own this is a personal choice. Thousands of “starving artists” live meagerly and never budge on their design (artistic) principles. Some designers may even become rich and famous by sticking strictly to their principles, always doing their work 100% their way with no compromise.

In my experience, designers are still subject to the golden rule: the person with the gold makes the rule. Translation: At the end of the day, the paying client makes the final decisions. The designers that get their way most of the time, are the ones that are the BEST at pitching their ideas and selling them to the customer. If you want to do things your way – I suggest working very hard on your people skills and practice the art of pitching!!

William Beachy

I always try to do good design, despite the challenges my ignorant clients give me. I pitch good ideas when I have them, but I also pick my battles. At the end of the day I have a mortgage, staff payroll, and a pile of other bills to pay. I don’t feel like I’ve sold my soul to the devil if I execute a bad design for pay.

Some people dig ditches or clean sewers to make a living. I’m a graphic designer. Most of the time I’m very proud of the work I do, but occasionally it’s a dirty job too.

Oliver Barrett

I believe that when a client comes to us for work, they aren’t just paying for the final product. Aside from the obvious production work, they’re paying for research, conceptualization, and our opinion. I like to see what improvements can be made to a client’s idea in order to achieve the best results possible. I like to approach each project as if it could be a potential showcase piece, so I want it to be as good as possible. Sometimes that involves pushing the client in a new direction.

I like to think that I’m pretty good at pitching new ideas and getting the client excited, but sometimes the client doesn’t want to change. You have to learn when you can influence the client to move in a new direction and when to back off and give the client what they want. I find the best way to influence a client is call them on the phone and talk about what you’d like to do with their project, in addition to showing them what they had originally asked for. After talking on the phone, send them a follow up email with some samples so that they can get a rough visual of what you had talked about on the phone.

Keep in mind that you should maintain a genuine level of enthusiasm (without sounding like a complete fraud) when talking to the client about a new idea. You want them to get excited about it. Then, when you post your proofs, make a few statements about why your concept is more effective.

This is not a fool-proof system, and don’t be surprised if the client just sticks with the original idea.

Adam Law

In my opinion this isn’t a discussion about design integrity as much as it is a comment on a larger problem within the graphic design field. It is my experience that clients do not generally understand what a graphic designer is, what a graphic designer does, or how a graphic designer works. I cannot recall how many times I’ve been called a “Graphics Designer” (note: there is no “S”). If someone cannot get my job title correct, I have little hope that they are going to be “on board” for the entire design process let alone understand how the concept I am pitching them is a better, and in most cases less cliché, idea.

So the problem actually becomes: “How do I educate the client about design and help them make more intelligent decisions?” This can be a really tough issue to tackle. Most people become insulted if you call their ideas dumb, even though they may in fact be unintelligent, and will become less responsive to your suggestions if they feel insulted. I have also run into the problem of clients being resistant when you attempt to explain the process to them, as they feel you are telling them they do not understand what you are doing. Even though it is often the case that they do not understand what you are doing.

It really becomes a process of holding a client’s hand and convincing them to trust you and to allow you to do your job in the manner that works. The process is always a two way street as you must also allow a client to educate you on their needs and how a client thinks at the same time as you are showing them how your process works. At the very least you have to convince them to let you at least try your idea, even if it’s on your own time as Bill suggested.

However, I have to disagree with Bill’s analogy of the Big Mac and the Chicken Sandwich because that suggests you are getting garbage in the end either way. Either of these would be cookie cutter solutions to a problem, in this case hunger, that aren’t going to consider a person’s specific needs. Rather I propose that you give the client filet mignon rather than a Big Mac if allowed to properly work through the design process.

The client gives the designer (chef) their input (how they like their steak cooked) and then trusts the designer (chef) to create a great solution (meal). You never hear a person telling a chef which spices to use or how long to cook the meat on each side. If they wanted that much control the chef would probably ask them why they came to the restaurant when the customer obviously could meet their specific needs better than the chef could. Each solution (steak) is unique to the client’s problem (needing a meal) and no two solutions are ever the same (every steak is unique no matter how many times you’ve prepared the same cut of meat). It is when a designer is fully trusted by a client and allowed to work through the complete process, that the end result is the highest quality product possible.

When considering the financial implications of the design process, “Selling out” is not a term that correctly applies to the circumstance because that term does not have enough depth to describe the situation. What is really happening is the client is not getting what they paid for because of their own self sabotage. The blame cannot be placed on a designer when they have not been given the opportunity to do their job and come up with a creative solution to the design problem.

We are not simply purveyors of “cool”. Designers do not make things “look cool” or “look slick”. If this is what a client wants they may be better suited for 99 Designs or Crowd Spring. In fact, the term “cool” should never be uttered in the context of design. The end result may be considered cool by the masses, but the designer’s job it to come up with a creative idea that solves a client’s design problem. Nor should a solution ever fall into a specific style (after all style = fart according to Sagmeister) or be trendy. Every solution must be unique to a client’s specific needs and fully non-formulaic.

In the end after all your attempts to educate and persuade the client to buy into the process of design and the validity of your ideas fail, then like the chef you must allow them to attempt their solution on their own. That person may get what they want in the end, but it will never be all it could be if properly executed. Not to mention if they are that difficult and unwilling to listen, then do you really want them as a client at all?

Jeff Finley

Here’s a bit from Adam Law:

“We are not simply purveyors of “cool”. Designers do not make things “look cool” or “look slick”. If this is what a client wants they may be better suited for 99 Designs or Crowd Spring. In fact, the term “cool” should never be uttered in the context of design. The end result may be considered cool by the masses, but the designer’s job it to come up with a creative idea that solves a client’s design problem. Nor should a solution ever fall into a specific style, after all style = fart according to Sagmeister, or be trendy. Every solution must be unique to a client’s specific needs and fully non-formulaic.”

While I wholeheartedly agree that every solution should be client specific and non-formulaic, I must offer my slightly different opinion on the matter. We get a lot of requests from clients to make them “look cool.” This is that fuzzy area between art and design. The fact of the matter is, when something is well-designed and well-thought out, people say it’s “cool.” I think the primary discrepancy is that “cool” is a subjective term and is very vague. The word “cool” itself does not describe their needs. What I personally think is cool may not be what the client thinks is cool. This is where communication is important.

When a client wants to be “cool” they really mean they crave that feeling of being admired by their peers. They want to achieve greatness and become successful. They don’t want to look cliché. They want to be regarded as a trendsetter.

Also, style, in my opinion is very important. Style alone should not be confused with being trendy. Sure, if a client specifically asks for something “shiny, glossy, web 2.0” they are requesting a design based on style that happens to be a cliché trend. What they SHOULD be describing is the feelings and responses that they desire in their customers. If they are looking for a friendly, pleasant user experience with easy and obvious calls to action, then perhaps a shiny and trendy web 2.0 style would be fitting. Sometimes being trendy is just what the doctor ordered. Sometimes trends exist because they work and are looked at as standards.

Also, as an artist/illustrator, we often get hired because of our style and technique. The way we execute ideas becomes a trademark that clients ask for. They see something in that style that resonates within themselves and makes them feel good. Style is in everything we do. It’s personality. Branding.

But my point is, we as designers need to understand how to translate a client’s visual style descriptions into executable solutions that help the client achieve what they want. Whether that is more sales, to appeal to a specific audience, to land XYZ as a new customer, etc.

Tim Boesel

When a client says “jump” designers say, “how high?!” I believe many clients know what they want from the start. Either the client has provided an example or has come up with a rough (a.k.a. terrible) concept on paper. Even with all the direction in the world, clients can (and most likely will) shoot a designer’s concept down, no matter how strong the idea is.

When coming up with a strategy to combat clients’ so-called “design block,” the best line of defense is to listen to everything they have to say. Then, educate the client why or why not their design might or might not work. Shedding new light on an old idea will most likely help you win over a client.

A word of advice: it is best not to piss off a client or argue with them. Usually, if you shed new light on a client’s old idea, they will most likely see your vision as the best solution. However, don’t completely throw out a client’s idea, no matter how bad it is. Most clients take pride in their designs and want you to help bring their ideas to life, not destroy them. All egos aside – if it wasn’t for clients and their “wonderful” (yeah, right) ideas, you wouldn’t have a job.

If all else fails and you find out the client is “two-faced,” (i.e. one minute they love your idea, the next they have no money or drop off the face of the earth) then you don’t want them as a client anyway.

Even if you poured your heart and soul into the client’s project or woke up in the middle of the night saying, “this will work, listen to me @$$hole,” you have to put up the white flag. It’s time to suck up your pride and live to fight another day. In the end, you’re the designer. You have fought the good fight for years and you know what works and what doesn’t work. After all, you’re fighting for clients – not against them.

In conclusion, I believe my integrity as a designer is validated. I approach each project – no matter what size – working towards the best possible outcome. At the end of the day, if the client chooses something other than my idea, I can accept that because I know I put all my effort into the project, and that’s the best I can do.

Katie Major

It wasn’t too long ago that I graduated from design school with a built in ego the size of an elephant. I remember very clearly my design instructors drilling into my head “YOU’RE THE genius, don’t let a client have a say in what you do”. One of my favorite analogies a professor told me was that you won’t go to a doctor and tell them how to fix your broken leg; you trust that they know what they’re doing.

Something I had to learn the hard way is that this type of client relationship comes from a mutual respect that has to be earned. If you parade in with your genius idea, thinking you’re master of the universe, that is going to turn off the client so fast you won’t have a chance to even talk about your idea before they reject it. This has been a struggle for me because my knee jerk reaction to a client’s bad idea is “don’t you trust me?! I went to design school, you didn’t. How can you come to me with these horrid ideas?” I am still learning how to best approach this situation with humility and learning how to sell my ideas to people. I realized once I showed the client how awesome the potential was for the project they trusted me 100% through the rest of the design process.

Rule Seven: Composition: putting it all together.

Part Seven of Seven Easy Principles to Becoming a Master Designer.title-graphic_step-7

Ok Folks, This is it; part seven of seven. I’ve hopefully convinced you to limit your use of colors and fonts, taught you to provide sufficient contrast, suggested that you properly space your elements and let you in on the secrets of adding depth and motion to your design. Now, the last principle in this rapid-fire guide to becoming a master designer is composition.

In truth, the order I’ve given you these seven principles is probably ass-backwards. The composition is the first and most important part of your design. So, let’s just pretend that you are starting your design right now – from scratch. This is the point at which you want to be thinking about your composition.

Each of the previous six principles dealt with very specific rules and techniques. Composition is the broadest and most difficult principle to explain because it encompasses EVERYTHING.

So, what exactly is a design’s composition? Let’s go the cheesy route of providing a textbook definition.

First let’s review the definition of the word ‘composition.’ defines composition as
1. the act of combining parts or elements to form a whole.

2. the resulting state or product.

Ok, that’s simple enough. The composition is simply what you get when you put your pieces together. It says nothing of function or quality. It just is what it is.

Now, design as defined by Design is:
1. to prepare the preliminary sketch or the plans for (a work to be executed), esp. to plan the form and structure of: to design a new bridge.

2. to plan and fashion artistically or skillfully.

Ok. Great, so, if we combine those two definitions to form a definition for design composition, it would sound something like this:

Design Composition: To skillfully and artistically combine parts or elements to form a whole.

Wow. That sounds GREAT. So, what have we learned? Um… not much. I think we already KNEW that we were here to put all our design elements together into an artistic design (whole.) What we’re after is how to make a successful design composition. So I guess we’ll have to define what a successful design is.

Fortunately for us, design is not simply “art;” a highly charged and subjective subject. Designs serve a very specific function. The function of a car’s design is to safely transport humans from one location to another. What if we designed a car with square wheels and a huge metal spike extruding from the steering wheel pointed directly at the heart of the driver? Would that be a good car design? No, probably not.

So, how do we define a successful design composition? Well, if we have successfully achieved the FUNCTION of the design, then our design is good. And who defines the function? Typically this is the client. The client tells you (the designer) the function (purpose) of the design. Then it’s your job to design (whatever you’re designing) accordingly.

Now – how do I give you a lesson on composition if the function is not set? Well, I will have to speak in generalities. Then you will have to apply these general concepts to your specific project. And since the composition is dependent on the function, well, we should probably start there.

Make sure you have a solid understanding of the design’s goal: Read your project scope carefully. Make sure you fully understand what your client is trying to do. Ask plenty of questions if you have to. This part includes the boring stuff like dimensions, resolution and printing (or manufacturing) processes. All of these affect how and what you design.

Understand who the target market is: If you’re trying to communicate a subversive counter-culture message to a young male demographic, your composition may include a strange layout with hard-to-read fonts and bright colors. Or if you’re trying to communicate where the cafeteria is to old people, your composition should probably utilize a large easy-to-read font printed in black, centered with an arrow on a white background. What’s my point? Your composition will also depend on your target market.

Know your history: Once I have these two items taken care of, I like to do some research on the design history of the company and industry I’m doing work for. As much as possible I LOVE to feed visually and compositionally off of the past. My thought process is this: “understand how they’ve gotten to where they are today, then help them transition into a better designed future.”

Make some quick sketches: Hopefully at this point I’m starting to get some rough ideas floating through my head of what needs to be in the design and, at least a rough concept of how I might want to put it all together. Before I give myself an opportunity to over-think anything, now is the perfect time to do some quick sketches. These are very fast and very rough. They’re just enough to communicate where all the elements go, how they work together. This gives me an opportunity to quickly ideate and maybe deal with some contrast issues. Let’s look at a few composition sketches for a poster and a flyer I did.


The Golden Ratio: As I’m going over all of these systematic approaches to the relative question of good design composition, you surely must be thinking: “Bill, c’mon isn’t there some grand universal rules to help guide my layout? Isn’t there a FORCE which surrounds us, binds us and will help guide me to properly arrange my design elements?” Well, I want to say no. There is no design ‘force’ that you can tap into if your design midi-chlorian levels are high enough. However, there is an ancient design standard that has been used throughout the ages – going all the way back to the birth of civilization. It’s known as the Golden Ratio.

I can’t possibly get into a full explanation of the Golden Ratio here, but to summarize: people noticed certain patterns that repeated in nature. They tried to quantify this repetitious behavior in nature and came up with phi, or more precisely: 1.6180339887. If you’d like to know a little bit more about the Golden Ratio I suggest you hit up the oracle:

So, how does the golden ratio apply to your design composition? Well, basically – you want to use this measurement to help space your various design elements. Once again, I can’t go into great detail in THIS tutorial, but here is a downright amazing example of the Golden Ratio being used by the Greeks to build the parthenon:

The rule of thirds: In my opinion the “rule of thirds” is simply a bastardized (simplified) version of the Golden Ratio. Basically, you want to divide your composition into thirds vertically and horizontally. Where the lines meet should be your focal points. By avoiding a centered design you add some motion and interest.rule-of-thirds2

Balance without symmetry: “Great! The Golden Ratio,” you’re thinking “ Now, are there any other universal ‘truths’ about design composition?” Well – not so powerful as the Golden Ratio is the concept of balance. Without getting trapped in a symmetrical composition many artists and designers try to achieve balance in their designs. Basically, if you have a large dark object on one side of your composition, then you should have a large dark object on the opposite side of your composition. Once again, try to do this without making it symmetrical. You want to achieve balanced asymmetry.

Test it! Yes, that’s what I said, TEST IT! As we’ve already established that design is a discipline of accomplishing a specific goal (the design’s function) – we can certainly test whether or not the design works! This can be done as simply as walking around with a print of your design and asking people’s opinions. Or it can be done very scientifically with case studies and double-blind testing. How much time and energy you have available to test a composition may depend on your budget. But you may be surprised at how much information you can get by just watching a few individuals interacting with your design. This is particularly true when dealing with design ergonomics. What are the results? Does your ad get people to the mall? Can people easily navigate through your website design? Can people figure out how to work your stereo design? Put some real warm blooded people in front of your design and ask them to interact with it.

“Gosh Bill, this is fairly extensive.” You may be thinking to yourself: “Seriously? Studying the target market? Studying the history? Double-blind testing?” Your project may not have that type of budget. Or perhaps you simply don’t have the time. Well, I understand your problem. And what I’ve described here is the most ideal of design scenarios. In truth, most of this stuff I just do in my head. If the budget is extremely tight (which it often is) and I have limited time, the design process looks something like this:bills-process

Me “carefully reading the project brief” is actually me just having a short conversation with the client. “Understanding who the target market is” is just me having a basic understanding of my client and the rest is a bunch of stereotypical assumptions about his/her demographic. “Studying the history of my client’s design” is usually me just looking at their current website or marketing materials. My “sketches”, well, those rarely make it onto paper. I do them in my head. Then I jump right into slapping all my design elements together. And I don’t often get the chance to measure out the Golden Ratio. I know not to center my focal point, and I just move pieces around until they look good. Once again, I’m making some assumptions and using my design intuition. Testing – well, that’s usually me just showing the client proofs. If I like it and they like it – we assume its close enough for rock ‘n’ roll.

So, I hate to demystify the design process by simply saying “I do it in my head.” But it just depends on the situation you’re dealing with. Most clients have tight deadlines and limited budgets. If they see “3 hours for research” on their bill, you’ll probably get yelled at. It’s a constant challenge to teach our clients about good design practices and why they should spend a few extra bucks to let us do our job properly. But we try.

Well, that’s it folks. I hope this last lesson has been helpful and not too ambiguous. And generally, I hope you have enjoyed this 7 post series. There is obviously no substitute for PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE.

If you missed the rest of the series, here they are:
Become a Master Designer: Part 1: Limit your Fonts
Become a Master Designer: Part 2: Limit your Colors
Become a Master Designer: Part 3: Contrast, Contrast, Contrast
Become a Master Designer: Part 4: Spacing is your Friend
Become a Master Designer: Part 5: Depth
Become A master Designer: Part 6: Motion

Don’t Be A Whore!

Don't be a design whore.10 Tips to help designers avoid being taken advantage of.

If you’re freelancing or just starting your own design company, you may be in jeopardy of being a whore. That’s right. Some seemingly sweet client may come along, wine and dine you, bend you over the back of the couch, have their way with you – then dump you like last week’s trash without paying you. You may be getting pimped right now and don’t even realize it. If you haven’t been stiffed by a client yet – just wait five minutes.

After 11 years in business I feel like I’ve learned to spot the busters and know how to avoid them. But, I’m still learning lessons every day. Here are ten quick rules for you to live by, so hopefully YOU won’t get “turned out.” After all, nobody wants to be a design whore.

Require a deposit.1. Require a deposit. This is my “A” number-one rule for filtering out busters. People that want to rip you off don’t want to do it partially. They want to rip you off completely. Having to make a cash deposit will scare off at least 80% of the jerks that will take advantage of you. I try to get a 50% deposit on projects. But larger projects – say over $5,000 I’ll take 33% or 25%.

2. Hold their files until final payment is made. It’s a shame that we have to resort to this sort of hostage negotiation to get our payments, but we do. As long as you hold the files – you hold the power. The second you hand over your files, you’re screwed. And don’t fall for the old: “I need to get those files to the printer immediately! We have a crushing deadline!” A client that is trying to rush you is a serious red flag. Your response should be: “I also have a crushing deadline! I need your money in my bank immediately!”

3. Beware of fast-talking promoters. Most busters that are going to rip you off fall into the category of “fast talking promoters.” These guys are full of energy, talk really fast and are GREAT at getting you excited. They feed off of your emotions. They compliment you a ton. Their project (whatever it is) will surely change the world, and YOU get to be part of it. They will frequently make huge predictions, and offer you piles of cash. Of course, these piles of cash come later. Right now they just need you to start working (for free)… and everything will pan out in the end. You’ll be rich and famous. Yeah, right.

4. There are no future profits, so don’t count on them. 90% of businesses fail in the first year. In my experience it’s closer to 99%. So, keep this in mind when someone offers to pay you a portion of the profits. Odds are – there won’t be any. And even if there are some profits – what are the odds they’ll actually share them with you if they come in? I’ll tell you: slim to none.

5. Avoid projects that are TOO BIG. Huh? Avoid big projects? What do you mean? Here is the rule: beware of projects that are larger than 10% of your previous year’s total sales. So, if you sold a grand total of $100,000 worth of design services in 2008, you should be a little wary of projects over 10K. Why? Well, it’s easy to over extend yourself. If a project is too big, it may monopolize all your time. Your other regular customers may have to be put on the back burner. You may even lose them. Then what happens when the project ends? What if the client doesn’t hire you again? Of course you want to grow and land big projects. Just be sure not to get too dependent on one customer. Stay diversified. Keep your options open. Or else you’re over the barrel. Your one big client may make you his whore.

Don't let the little stuff slide.6. Don’t let the little stuff slide. One way I’ve been taken advantage of is through the rapid compiling of little changes. The client starts all nice and easy to work with. Then they ask for one little extra bit of work. They purposely avoid talking about extra pay and play down the amount of work it will take. “Oh hey – could you just throw that logo onto a t-shirt too? It will only take a second.” Of course, this is just the start of a whole series of “little” additions. Pretty soon you’re working for days on end with no pay. So, the very second they try to add some little item onto the project; stop them cold and say: “Why sure, I would love to do that for you. It will only cost you $x.xx. Would you like me to charge your Mastercard for a 50% deposit?”

7. Document everything through e-mail. When clients do make changes that deviate from the original project scope, make sure you document that very clearly in an e-mail. For instance: “Mr. Jones, as I understand it, you want me to scrap the logo you gave me and now want me to design you a new logo as part of your website design project. As we were expecting to be working with your existing logo, this additional work will cost an extra X dollars and take an extra X days to complete. We will require a deposit of X dollars to begin this additional NEW work. Please confirm with an e-mail and we will charge your credit card for this deposit. Thank you for the extra work!”
God forbid you ever end up in court – these e-mails will prove invaluable as evidence. Many companies even use a “Change Request” form. The client has to literally sign on the dotted line and fax the change order back.

8. Make sure checks clear. A check isn’t cash. So, I like to make sure that checks clears in my bank before I start work.

Get out-of-pocket expenses paid in advance.9. Get out-of-pocket expenses paid for 100% in advance. This is a HUGE one, particularly if a client is ordering printing and you’re handling those up-front costs. We got royally f*cked this way once. I was paid for my design services ($600) but paid $1200 up front for printing, which I got stiffed on. So, the net result was that I PAID THIS JERK $600 for the privilage of designing him a flyer. Now Go Media requires all “out-of-pocket” expenses get paid 100% in advance.

10. Define the project scope as clearly as possible before starting. Whether it’s in a proposal, e-mail or invoice; define the scope of the design project as clearly as possible. Describe exactly what you’re going to produce and in what time frame. Talk about the number of revisions and how the files are to be delivered. Discuss the payment details. Talk about how much extra work will cost. Talk about it all. The more details you can put down the better. Once you start – stick to the project scope.

Well, that’s it. Stick with these policies and you’ll save yourself a ton of headaches. Good luck!

12 Tips for Flawless Service & Happy Clients

12 tips for improving your e-mail correspondence with your design clients.
flawless service
Hey true believers! At Go Media we’ve started having in-house “classes.” Basically any designer from Go Media that has some good advice to pass along to the staff will schedule a time to do a quick presentation. Everyone in the office can choose to attend the mini-class to learn something.

This past Monday I did a mini-class I called “Flawless Service.” The class was nothing more than me reading through every e-mail I had with a client for one particular project. Some of what I do during my correspondence with a client is nothing new to my staff. But some of it was, and it only took a second.
I can’t actually SHOW you the correspondence I had, but I did type up this quick list of the sorts of things I naturally do during a normal engagement with a client. I thought I could share it with you. It’s really just common sense, but a quick reminder never hurt.

1. Establish your contact and means by which you’re going to communicate. Clearly Identify who you are, how you are in contact and provide your contact info. It’s also VERY useful to force the client to pick one “leader” if there will be a number of individuals giving feedback. Make them all report to their leader, then that leader can provide one piece of clear feedback to you.

2. Establish the details of the job. What is the deadline? What format is this design to be delivered in? Are there proof deadlines? Make a schedule if necessary. I know this is elementary stuff here, but I still think some designers don’t do a thorough enough job collecting all the details of a job. Err on the side of asking too many questions.

make small talk with your client3. Develop a rapport with the client. I frequently find myself talking with clients about things wholly unrelated to the project at hand. If I find out that a client is a Spider-Man fan – I can’t help but discuss why I think he’s the best super hero. Sometimes it’s about business, jogging, or whatever. Anything that piques my interest will be a conversation point. Feel free to engage the client in conversation of interest. Establish common ground, make jokes, whatever. This will endear you to the client, make you friends with them. This fundamentally changes the way a client works with you. Now, they’re rooting for you, helping you, they WANT you to succeed. They CARE about you. Because they feel like they know you. I really do this a lot.

make sure the client understands your value4. Make sure the client understands the VALUE of what you’re doing, particularly if discounting your rates in any way. This has to be done with extreme subtlety and tact. Saying something like: “Dude, you are sooooo lucky to be working with me. I normally charge three times this much.” Will simply not cut it. But if you find an opportunity to slip in the value of what you’re doing without sounding like a jerk – take it.

5. Make them laugh, or at least smile. I try my best to slip in a joke or silly comment into my e-mails. If you can make a client laugh, you’ve absolutely endeared yourself to them.

6. Make a schedule and stick to it. Clients appreciate punctuality. If you take the lead in setting up a schedule and you hit your deadlines – you’re as good as gold to them. Don’t forget – the emphasis needs to be on the “…sticking to it…” part. If you make a schedule only to miss all the deadlines you’ve set, you’ll only be punctuating your own failures.

7. Carbon copy all interested parties. If there are other people who need to be kept “in the loop” then make sure you CC them on every single e-mail. I’ve made the mistake of leaving people out of the daily correspondence. The results are always a mistake that could have been easily avoided.

give them something for free8. Give them options, but make sure you also give them what they asked for too. If you’re going to do something outside of the requested design – make sure you give them what they asked for too. This is very important. The client shouldn’t feel like they have to ask twice, or fight with you to get something. You CAN make a concerted effort to educate and pitch them on a different idea. But I would probably do this in a phone conversation. And reassure them that they will get what they want in the end.

9. Repost their feedback along with your revised proofs. When posting revisions – if they’ve given me a check list, I will often type back their check-list to them, and include little comments. This way they absolutely know I’m listening to and following their directions.

10. Up sell when things are going well. Now, Go Media is not a hard-sales kind of company. But when things are going very well and the relationship has been established, I will take the opportunity to let them know about other services that we have available. It might be something as simple as this: “If you ever need any web design, we do that too!”

give them something for free11. Give them a little something for free. This is usually in the form of consulting. But it can be a real quick design project too. Here are two examples of things I might say/do: “I was thinking about your project last night and had a good idea for your new product…” Or “I noticed that your logo was a low resolution jpeg. I took a minute to vectorize it and output a high-res version for you. I’ve attached those files – no charge.”

12. Say Thank You. Nothing is more powerful than a well timed and sincere thank-you.

And with that, I want to thank you for taking the time to read this post. I hope you learned something.

Cleveland’s Marathon, Go Media’s Design, Bill’s experience

Vector Girl on a motorcycle

Cleveland’s Marathon

This past spring I participated in the Cleveland Marathon. It was a lifelong goal of mine; to run a marathon. Being the designer that I am I couldn’t help but notice the design on the give-away t-shirts (which were actually very nice synthetic-fiber jogging shirts.) In my opinion the design could use a little help. My first thought was: “Go Media can do better than that!” I also believe that you shouldn’t complain about something unless you’re also going to offer a solution.

The solution was obvious: Go Media needed to get involved with the Cleveland Marathon! We needed to do our best to improve the designs of their t-shirts. So, a few months ago

Sexy Holiday Vector Pin-Up Girl Tutorial

Vector Girl on a motorcycle

A month or so ago I did this sweet tutorial of a pin-up girl on a motorcycle. It had been a project from on of our better clients. Since they liked and bought the design I thought that they wouldn’t mind if I posted a tutorial about how I made it. I was wrong. Threat of legal action later and that killer tutorial was taken down. I am truly sorry to our client. I should have asked.

BUT… …the tutorial was very good with lots of details. And I didn’t want to deprive you of all the time I put into it. There was only one thing to do: remake it. So, that’s what I’ve done. I found a different motorcycle, different girl, re-illustrated (vectorized) the entire thing, added a Christmas theme AND even added some more detailed instructions! 16 hours later, it’s better than ever and here for your tutorial pleasures.

Without further ado…

Holiday Vector Pin-Up girl on a motorcycle T-shirt Design (Phew! That’s a mouth full.)

It’s time for another sweet vector tutorial. And what would make a better subject than a pin-up girl on a motorcycle wearing a sexy Christmas outfit? Well, not much. At least, not much in my book. So, let’s get right to it. Oh – quick warning; there will be a few gratuitous plugs for Arsenal products at the end, but it’s just a little bit right at the end. This tutorial can be completed at no expense to you. ;)

Here is what our final design is going to look like:
Vector Girl on a motorcycle

This design took me eight twenty-four and a half hours to complete from beginning to end. The first time I did it in about eight hours. Then it took me 16 more hours to rewrite this tutorial and redo all the artwork.

What you’ll need to complete this tutorial:

A computer
Adobe Illustrator
Adobe Photoshop (just a little bit)
Access to stock images (or stolen ones will work too.)
Client logo (if you have a client)

This tutorial will cover:

• The Technique
• Finding Photos
• Proper perspective
• “Frankensteining”
• Vectorizing the girl
• Making vector fur
• Vectorizing the motorcycle
• Grabbing some stock vectors
• Putting it all together
• Mocking it up

Project Synopsis:

Originally this project was to design a series of new t-shirts for an American motorcycle company. Some of the direction we were given was: “comic book style drawings” and “an old school style pin-up girl.” I thought I could combine those motifs into a modern vector style pin-up on one of their newer more contemporary motorcycles.

The Technique

The technique I used for this design is vector illustrating off of photographs. I could hand draw something then create my vector art off of that, but that would take about twice as long. Working off of photographs is like having a model. Unfortunately you can’t tell your photo to change positions, so you’re forced to do an extensive search until you find the pose you’re after. Once you assemble the images you need you’ll place them into Illustrator and draw vector shapes over the photo to create an illustrated look/feel to the design.

Finding Photos

Finding the photos that you’re going to use can sometimes be a real lengthy process. I have spent as much as 2-3 hours looking for the “right” photos. When I am working on paying projects I like to find my images on royalty-free image websites like This way I can avoid any legal entanglements that might get me or my client in trouble. BUT – as you are creating vector art out of these images and not using the photos themselves it does open up the opportunity to “steal” some images. If you’re going to use unlicensed images as a resource for vectorizing just make sure your final art is not recognizable (in any way) as that original photo. When in doubt I say just pay for your images. Certainly for a client as big as this one was and the possible huge exposure it will get, it’s best to play it safe. And please – always protect yourself. If you’re dragged into court because you stole an image – the defense: “But Bill told me I could do it.” won’t stand up.

Proper perspective

I know the final piece of art I’m after is a girl sitting on a motorcycle. It would be great if I could find a picture of a girl in the pose I want on the exact model of motorcycle that I like. But that’s not going to happen. Even better would be if I HAD the motorcycle of my choosing and a hot model to shoot photographs of. But that’s DEFINITELY not happening. So, I’m going to have to find the images of each separately, make sure the fit together (have the same perspective) then draw them together. In this case I think it will be easier to pick the motorcycle picture first then find an image of a girl to fit onto it.

Vector Girl on a motorcycle

For this design I chosen this slick contemporary motorcycle (all logos have been airbrushed off to protect the innocent.) What else can I say? It’s a fairly sweet looking motorcycle. I think it looks a bit more modern than a normal “hog”. I chose this particular photo because it shows off the bike itself. It was originally a shirt design for the manufacturer and I thought they would appreciate seeing the details of the motorcycle. Artistically I would have preferred to use something that had a fish-eye lens type of effect with the rear tire as the focal point. But the bike would be hard to recognize and trying to find a picture of a girl at that same perspective would be nearly impossible. This photo is a straight-on perspective shot with a typical 35mm lens. It shouldn’t be hard to find a picture of a girl that fits.


For the pin-up girl here is the first photo that I found that I really liked.
Vector Girl on a motorcycle
She looks hot and has a sexy dramatic pose. Also, her upper body seems to be angled as though she is sitting on my motorcycle. Unfortunately her hips and leg don’t quite look to be in the correct position. If she were sitting on a motorcycle her hips would be turned more toward the camera and her leg would extend out almost straight. No problem, I just need to pull a “Frankenstein.” To “Frankenstein” a photo is to take several different photos, cut different body parts and put them together. In this case I need a beautiful leg to attach to this torso. Here is the image I found.
Vector Girl on a motorcycle

Also, I’m not a huge fan of the face on my girl in the photo. I could find yet another image, but I happen to recall a great vector face I’ve got in one of our vector packs. It’s a beautiful face that’s in the sexy vector pack which is part of Vector Set 2.

Here is that face:Sexy Vector Face

Now – you don’t need to use a stock vector face, You can use the face in your original photo or just find a different face to vectorize. Here is a sample of a face that I vectorized… just to give you an idea of how the vector lines look.
Sexy Vector Face

When you’re piecing together a bunch of photos like this (three parts of a woman and a motorcycle) it’s helpful to bring your photos into Photoshop and do a quick mock-up to make sure all the different parts will fit together when you’re done doing the vector illustration. To do this I will make a rough cut-out of each body part and layer them on top of my motorcycle. This will require some rotating, reflecting and scaling to get them into place. This allows me to get a sense of where the pieces overlap and fit together. Here is the Frankensteined body parts and motorcycle for this pin-up put together. I think it looks pretty good.Sexy Vector Face

Here is what this design looks like now that I’ve mocked up the photos together. These all seem to fit together so now I can take these over to Illustrator and start illustrating them. It’s smart to use the free “comps” (preview images) from royalty free stock image sites to make sure the pictures will fit together before you pay for high resolution ones.

Vectorizing the motorcycle

I decided to start illustrating the motorcycle first. Before I begin making my vector shapes I’ll try to decide how many different colors I’m going to use. This makes my decision making process easier while I’m drawing. I can look at each area and ask myself: “Can this be defined with one of my colors?
Vector motorcycle color selection
Here is a little diagram showing the colors I selected and some samples of each color on the motorcycle. You can see that the four colors I selected are a real light grey to represent the chrome, black for the, uh, black, dark grey for the dark grey and a medium grey for the middle greys on the bike. It’s important to LIMIT THE NUMBER OF COLORS you select. There are a couple of reasons for this. First and foremost is the fact that it SHOULD look like a drawing. If you have too many colors it starts to look like a photo. If it’s going to look like a photo, then why not skip the labor of vectorizing and just USE the photo? Secondly the more colors, the more work! And nobody likes that. I try to limit myself to 3-6 colors per object. You can see that for this motorcycle I’ve selected 4 colors; black, dark grey, medium grey and off-white. This shouldn’t be too hard.

The first step I take whenever I’m doing a vector illustration off of a photograph is to outline the entire object I’m working on. This will allow me to draw vectors right up to and past the outline of the shape, then quickly chop off the excess. Let me show you this process.

Step 1. Outline your object (in this case it’s a motorcycle.)
Vector motorcycle step1
Step 2. Draw an interior shape that butts up against the edge. Since we already have the outline of the object drawn you don’t need to worry about the portion of your shape that is part of the outline. We will use the pathfinder tool to chop off the excess.
Vector motorcycle step 2
Step 3. Make a duplicate of your outline and paste it directly on top of the current outline. You can accomplish this by clicking Edit/Copy then Edit/Paste in Front. Or, you can simply use the quick key combo of Control-C then Control-F. Now you will have two exact copies of your outline with the new one on top and still selected.
Vector motorcycle step 3
Step 4. Hold down the shift key while you select the new interior shape that you drew. So, now you should have two shapes selected – the interior and one of the outlines.
Vector motorcycle step 4
Step 5. Use the Pathfinder tool: Intersect. This will preserve the shape where the two shapes overlap, or, intersect. Essentially, this will chop off the excess shape outside the outline.
Vector motorcycle step 5
This may seem like a lot of steps, but once you’ve learned it you’ll be able to do this in a split second. And that’s certainly faster than having to draw the edge of everything that butts up against the outline.

Now that you’ve got that little trick under your belt… you still need to endure the slow laborious process of drawing each individual vector shape. This is where you earn the big bucks.

One other thing to keep in mind is the stacking order of your shapes. The first shape you draw will be on the bottom. The last one you draw will be on top. So, if you can clearly see that one shape is on top of another… …start on the furthest back shape first, then build your way up. If you do make your shapes out of order; no problem. You can always reorder them. It’s just faster easier if you work in order the first time through.

Here is my final vectorizing of this motorcycle (Just the shapes with no colors put in.)
Vector motorcycle line art
And here is what the final motorcycle looks like with no outline and each shape filled with the appropriate color.
Vector motorcycle line art
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Vectorizing the pin-up girl

Now that I have found the pictures on I-stock that work for this composition, I will buy the high resolution versions. You may wonder if it’s possible to just use the low resolution comps for doing the vector illustrating on. In my experience; no. When you zoom in to see the details they’re all pixels. It becomes very difficult to decide where to draw your lines. The higher the resolution the image is the easier it will be to illustrate (vectorize) it.
As my girl is in two pieces and as I’m fairly confident that I can put those pieces together – I will illustrate them separately. Also, I have a little skirt to cover the joint between the leg and the torso. As with the motorcycle, I always start with an outline of the entire object. Then I will build up lights and darks on top of that shape. Here is the leg with the first few sets of shapes defined.

sexy Vector leg outlines

You’ll notice I didn’t get too detailed near the foot. In fact, I thickened up the part around her foot and thickened the heel. I know that this will turn into a sexy boot later, so, no need to worry about the details around her toes.

Here is the leg complete and filled with the five colors I’ve chosen for her skin. Also I went ahead and did the outline for the boot. You’ll notice that the boot follows the shape of her body fairly close. All you really need to do is add a few wrinkles where the boot flexes at the Achilles and also add a little flair out at the top where the boot meets the leg. This creates the illusion that the leg goes into the boot.
sexy Vector leg outlines
We will illustrate the upper body the same way as the lower body and the motorcycle. We start with an outline then draw shapes to define areas that are lighter or darker. You’ll notice that most of the shapes have soft round corners. The gradients that make up these shapes have smooth transitions, so you want to avoid sharp corners.
I tend to put more shades of color and more details into the face. That is where all the beauty and emotion is shown. So, there are a lot more details in the face. Also, for women I will exaggerate the fullness and color of the lips. I will also exaggerate the length of the eye lashes and even increase the size of the eyes slightly. After all, this IS an illustration. Why not take advantage of your ability to “play” with the proportions and details. You can shrink the waist, increase the bust, lengthen the hair – whatever. It’s your illustration! And just to be clear that I’m not being sexist; I use the same technique on illustrating men. I make them more muscular, strengthen their jaw line, broaden their shoulders, etc.
I’ll usually put the hair on last. It’s easy to layer it on top of the head once everything else is in place.

One very challenging (code word for annoying) part of the girl is the fur on the edges of her outfit. In order to speed up the fur-mailing process I will follow these steps.

First I outline the shape with large clumps of hair (fur).
drawing Vector fur
Second I just draw lots of simple vector lines.
drawing Vector fur
Third I create an art brush in the shape of a simple triangle. When it is applied to these curving lines it will look just like more hairs.
drawing Vector fur
Fourth I will use the: Object/Expand Appearance to convert these brushes into solid vector shapes, then I will use the Pathfinder/Merge option to combine these hairs with the original shape.
drawing Vector fur

So here is our complete girl with boots and sexy Santa Claus Vector Ms. Claus

You’ll notice that I added a sack of Christmas gifts over her shoulder. I noticed that her arm and hand were in just about the right place. All I had to do was add some fingers grabbing the sack.
One last little detail to help make this look like an illustration; a black outline. To make the black outline I will select the entire girl, Copy/Paste then Pathfinder/Merge to create one single shape. I’ll add a black outline to that shape and drop it right behind my pin-up.

drawing Vector fur
Now here she is placed on top of her motorcycle! Wa-Hoo! She looks hot! Sometimes I put a smile on my own face. This is working out better than I had anticipated.

Almost done. Now, for some fun stuff.

Grabbing some stock vectors and Putting it all together

Ok, we’re almost done, but we need to add some artistic elements into it and add the Go Moto Cycles Logo. Fortunately for us we’ve been provided with vector logos by our client. And for additional vector shapes to finish off the design, it’s off to the Arsenal!
Remember that gratuitous plug for our products that I warned you about earlier? Well.. here it is: Go Media’s Vector Packs are an EXCELLENT resource for design elements. I will frequently use them to either make a complete design or use them to polish off a near-complete design.
drawing Vector fur I scroll through our store and found this pack of halftone patterns I thought would look slick on the design.
vector halftones
At this point I am just taking my halftone vectors and brand logo and arranging them behind my girl and motorcycle until it looks good. Here is the final composition:Vector Girl on a motorcycle

Mocking it up

Now that I have the design done I need to make sure the client likes how it looks. I believe that it helps to mock up your design on a shirt. The cooler you can make the design look (by mocking it up) the better chance you have that your client is going to like it. Are you ready for some more product plugs?? Why sure! First, I drop my design onto a Go Media Apparel Template. The nice thing about using a Go Media templates is that it only takes you a split-second! The masking is done, the shadows are already in place. All you have to do is drop your art onto a layer in photoshop, resize it and pull the mask down!

Here is a little diagram of how the template is set-up:
drawing Vector fur
Also, I want to put a slick texture in behind my shirt. NO PROBLEM! Let’s revisit the Arsenal and grab a texture from our wood pack.
drawing Vector fur

Now we put it all together and Voila, masterpiece design!

drawing Vector fur

Go Media Construction Update

Hey Everyone! There have been some requests to see updates on the office construction. We ARE in the new office! Everything is not done yet – but it’s about 90% done. I’ll try to keep the text in this post fairly light and just show you as many pics as possible. You’ll notice there is lots of extra room. I wanted to make sure we built a space

My Create Chaos Experience

My experience speaking at Create Chaos design convention in Orlando Florida.

designers block Getting your head out of the game

Monday October 13th


I’m sitting in Cleveland Hopkins Airport waiting to board my flight to Orlando Florida. I’ve been booked as a speaker at Create Magazine’s design convention Create Chaos. At least for the moment my morning nerves have calmed down and I’m looking forward to the next three days. It’s the first such speaking engagement that I’ve undertaken. I’ve taught and spoken plenty at the office and at local design schools. I’ve even gone to career day at a local elementary school. But this is different. I KNOW kids at a school can benefit from my knowledge. The pressure to impress an auditorium full of fellow professional designers is a bit more daunting. I just hope that

10 Tips to avoid designer’s block.

title image for avoiding designers block Ever feel like some days you can crank out amazing looking designs with little effort? Then on other days it feels like nothing is working, you’ve lost all your talent and you’ll never make another good design for the rest of your miserable life? Don’t panic – this is

Go Media HQ Construction Update

Hidilly-ho Go Media Army! I’m here to give you all a quick update on the progress of our new Headquarters. I’ll absatively posilutely not bore you with too many words – just lots of pics, Okily-dokily? It’s been a while since our last post. Construction has been moving painfully slow. We have a new schedule from our contractor. He has promised a September 1st occupancy permit! Lets keep our fingers crossed. Currently all the framing and most of the electrical is done. Drywalling is scheduled to commence this week, so the next set of pics should look dramatically different.

Without further ado – here are the latest pics. ENJOY!

One last photo… this is not for the faint of heart. THIS is what happens when you take a Friday off at Go Media.

Katie has still not recovered from this devastating hate-crime.

Become a Master Designer: Rule Five: Add depth to your designs.

Part Five of Seven Easy Principles to Becoming a Master Designer.

Catch up on the first four rules here

First, let me apologize for the long hiatus I took from this particular series of articles. It’s been really busy around here. I have to squeeze these articles into my spare time (and I don’t have much of that.) So, without further ado, let’s chat about depth.

Depth, ok, we’re not talking about pop-up books or holograms here. We’re talking about simulating depth (or dimension) in your 2D illustrations and designs. The first four principles in this series dealt mostly with what I would consider to be usability basics. Depth is the first design principle that I think gets into the “cool factor” – basically, what makes something look bad-ass. Adding depth to your art will help it bust off the page, or conversely, pull the viewer in.

There are a great number of techniques for adding some dimensionality to your designs. I’ll cover my favorites starting with the most obvious ones and then work my way to the more sophisticated ones.

Overlapping objects

Ok. This is just plain obvious. You probably learned this in kindergarten. If you made a nice crayon drawing of a bus and a house, and the bus overlaps the house, then it’s obviously in front of the house. But if the house overlaps the bus, then the house is in front. Duh.

So, why even discuss this? Well… just to remind you – you can overlap your design elements. It’s easy to get into a habit of just spacing out all of your design elements. If you put a nice thick margin of space between all your photos and all of your design elements, you’ll certainly have a clean design, but it may look a little flat. Sometimes I will even add in design elements just so I have something to put other elements on top of.

Let’s look at an example of how a simple overlap can add some depth to a design.

Here is a gig poster that Dave Tevenal and I are working on. Dave did the initial pencil sketch of the guy, then I added the water splashes around his feet, the koi on the wall behind him and inked it.

You’ll notice that in the lower right corner I have the venue’s logo (the Grog Shop) over top of a black bar. Now, I really didn’t even need a black bar there. All the copy in the bar could have been black and the logo could have just sat on the drawing. But I wanted to draw some attention to the copy on the bottom of the poster.

Here is the same poster without the black bar along the bottom.

Now compare it against one with the bar in place.

By adding this bar with the venue’s information and then over-lapping it with the logo, the depth I’ve created is as follows: Club Logo, then bar with info, then poster artwork. It also helps set up priority. The venue logo is the most important, then the club info, and finally the specific show artwork and details.

The illustration also has a great number of overlapping objects. The guy overlaps the koi (fish), the water splashes overlap the guy’s feet, etc.

Object Size – variability

I like to use variety in the size of the object in my design. This is particularly effective when you have several similar object that are only varied by their size. A good analogy for this is varying the distance you are from a person while shooting photography. It’s typical to shoot a picture of your friends from about 3-5 feet away. You’ll either capture most of their entire body or at least from the waist up. This is a fine picture, but if you shoot 30 pictures like this – they start to get boring. And since MOST pictures are shot like this – I consider them fairly common. Now, if you want to spice things up – shoot a super close-up. Maybe you only capture half of your friend’s face. Then maybe shoot some pictures with your friends way off in the distance. Or, best of all, a combination of all three. Have someone in the foreground, have someone in the middle ground and then have someone off in the distance. This will maximize the sense of depth in the picture. Or if you’re shooting nature pictures, I would suggest trying to capture as much depth as possible. For instance, maybe you can capture some leaves from a tree that is near you in the foreground, a beautiful lake in the middle ground and a snow capped mountain in the distance. Together they form a variety of depth in the image – because the relative size of the objects in the image varies. The leaves are relatively big -because they are close to the camera, the mountains are relatively small because they are in the distance.

Let’s take a look at some examples of how the size of the objects can create depth. This first example is very simple, just a bunch of circles. This example shows how varying something as simple as size can create depth.

Each is slightly smaller than the previous. See how their change in size creates a sense of depth. Which circle looks closest to you?

This next example is a bit more complex. This is a T-shirt Jeff Finley did for Paint the Stars. There are a number of depth inducing techniques being used here, but let’s focus on the object size variability.

In this example the skulls in the design each get slightly smaller as they get higher up on the shirt. Also, the rope-like tentacle that winds through the eye sockets gets smaller and smaller. Those combined with the previous technique (overlapping objects) creates a real nice sense of depth in this design.

Line thickness (weight)

Closely related to Object Size Variation is Line Thickness (weight) Variation. This is a particularly great technique for drawing, but whether it is the thickness of the lines you’re drawing or the thickness of the strokes you’re putting on your designs; weight matters.
The rule on line weight works just like object size. The thicker the weight of the lines, the closer it feels to you. The thinner the line weight, the further it is from you.

Let’s look at a great example of this in a drawing.

This is an inked comic book page by Art Adams (one of my all time favorite comic book artists). This is an excellent example of how weight of your lines helps create depth. If you look at the gladiator in the foreground and compare how thick the lines are that make up the shape of his body with the weight of the lines that make up the buildings way off in the distance – you’ll obviously see the dramatic difference. Thin lines in the distance, thick lines close-up.

Depth of field

Depth of field is the portion of a scene that appears sharp in an image. Depth of field is actually something that happens naturally in our own human eye, not just a camera lens. If you hold your hand up and focus on it, then, without losing focus on your hand – try to see the other things in your peripheral vision. Are the things behind your hand in focus? No. We have the perception that everything we see is always in focus. But in fact, what’s happening is the human eye is constantly adjusting the focus of your eye to exactly what you’re looking at. The truth is that only the objects at that correct depth are in focus – everything else is a blur.

We see examples of depth of field in photographs and our brain knows how to interpret the information. Item out of focus are at a different depth than objects in focus.

Here is a macro photo of a spider that one of our staff members (Dave Romsey) took.

In addition to just being one bomb-ass photo of a spider, you’ll notice that only the spider’s body is in perfect focus. But everything that is in front or behind the spider, like the leaf in the lower right corner is way out of focus. Even the legs of the spider shift from in focus (near the body) to out of focus as they extend forward or backward away from the body.

Japanese animation or “japanimation” has been taking advantage of this little trick for years. They will apply a blur to objects in the distance or foreground. I think it adds a really nice touch! Here is a single frame of animation that shows this technique in use.


Colors can even help represent depth. This is mostly the case with great distances. The atmosphere is made up of trillions of little particles of vapor, dust and translucent molecules. And while the “air” seems 100% clear over short distances – it is not. It’s actually a milky film that becomes more opaque the greater the distance. So, when selecting colors for an exterior scene – objects in the foreground should have strong vibrant colors. Objects way off in the distance should have less saturated colors.

In this photo I found online of the Blue Mountains National Park you can see how the milky haze of the atmosphere affects colors. On the left, in the foreground, the color of the rock and hikers seems clear, at full saturation. Just to the right you can see how the forest in the distance has its colors washed out by a haze.

Effects – drop shadows

Ah, the most classic of all design effects – the drop shadow! Both Photoshop and Illustrator can quickly add a drop shadow to your design. They may be cliché at this point, but I still use them, and I still love them. I think most people don’t “see” them as an added effect. When used properly, they blend right in with the design while adding a nice touch of depth. Here are two examples of a design I did, one with drop shadows and one without.

Now, this is an example of subtle drop shadows. The design on the top does not have them, the one on the bottom does. First, just look at the title on the top of the ad. See how the drop shadow makes the text pop just a little bit more off the background. Now look at the fighter’s head where it slightly overlaps the title. Each case uses just a subtle drop shadow to assist the depth. You can also see it under most of the text and under his fist.


Perspective is defined as a technique of depicting volumes and spatial relationships on a flat surface. Ok, that really didn’t do us any good at all did it? Let me try and explain perspective in laymen’s terms. Basically, as lines head into the distance, they converge on a vanishing point. A classic example of this is the image of a road that heads straight off to the horizon. The lines on the road converge to a single point. Maybe an image will help.

Here is that classic image of that road. You’ll notice that as the lines of the road head off into the distance, they converge on a single point.

You’ll notice that all the lines: the horizon lines, the rows of grass, the flowers, even the shades on the road converge to that same vanishing point.

The road in this scenario is essentially flat – so its lines converge to a single vanishing point. But object with multiple sides will converge on two vanishing points, not one. Let’s take a look at another example.

Here is a little box with a window. You can see how it’s two sides each have their own vanishing point.

Now, perspective is not something that can be summed up in a few paragraphs. So, I won’t get into any more detail on it in this tutorial. But suffice to say that it’s important enough that you should do some research and teach yourself about perspective!

Check out the rest of the posts in this series:

Become a Master Designer: Part 1
Become a Master Designer: Part 2
Become a Master Designer: Part 3
Become a Master Designer: Part 4

Moving beyond Freelancing: 4 Insights to Growing your Design Firm

Go Media's early work

I received a series of questions from a freelance designer concerning how to grow from being a one-person freelance designer into a “real” design firm. I thought I should share my answers to her questions with you. Here is the exchange we had – starting with her first e-mail.

Mary’s e-mail:

Hi Bill,

I’m a graphic designer from Venezuela. I really love your portfolio and all that Go Media has accomplished. I’m also an avid reader of your blog, that’s how I found out you guys are soon going to move to a new building.

The question I want to ask you is simple: How did you do it? I know there are no secret formulas or anything like it. I just want a guidance or an advice as to how to be able to transform from a free lance designer working in my living room into a company with facilities, payroll, project managers and all of that…

I know it’s not an easy question to answer, and I also know you must have a lot of work to do… but I would really appreciate the good advice.

Best regards,


My response:

Hey Mary,

It’s funny that you ask this question today. I am actually posting a blog at 3pm titled “Accountants, Lawyers and Doctors oh my!” that talks a lot about the business side of being a designer.

But really, growth is all about making money. If you can figure out how to MAKE MONEY, then the rest becomes simple(r).

Let’s say for instance that you have developed a list of high-paying customers that have work piled up for you. And the money is just pouring into your accounts… but you can’t keep up with the demand… what are you going to do??? Obviously, you’re going to hire another designer to come help you. That’s obvious. And if you can keep that work flowing in, you’ll hire a second designer, then a third. Eventually you’ll need a project manager to help keep everything organized… …then a bigger office.

So, the REAL question is…

HOW do you get a lot of high paying design jobs?

Well… that’s tough to answer. It’s a lot of different things. I’m not going to be able to spell out a perfect step-by-step guide, but I can give you some of the basic insights I had that made huge changes in my business.

  1. First and foremost you have to charge enough money. I spent YEARS charging little or nothing. It’s hard to grow when you’re not charging enough money. But raising your rates is a double-edge sword. You can also LOSE business if you charge too much too fast. So, you have to be a good and fast designer. I suggest that you increase your rates ONLY when you feel “slammed” with work. That’s how I did it. I would inch my rates up every time I would be super-busy. It wasn’t until I was charging fairly high rates that I could finally afford to hire a staff.
  2. You need to work on expanding your client base. Gosh, where do I begin on how to do this? My first real break-thru was by volunteering on high-profile jobs. I was doing concert posters for free that I tagged with my company information. This is how I got a lot of my early customers.
  3. Once you GET a customer – you need to hold onto them. This means you need to give them exceptional service so they love you and tell all their friends about you. Referrals are a huge part of what made Go Media grow. We gave GREAT value for what we charged and our customers told all their friends about us.
  4. Get a partner. One big boost was finding my first partner Chris Wilson. A business has lots of little jobs to be done. Having a partner to split the responsibility makes you both more efficient. But pick your partner carefully. A business start-up situation with a partner is like a marriage. Actually, it’s much tougher than a marriage. You’ll be spending 10-15 hrs a day together, you’ll be broke, taking financial risks and everything hangs in the balance. You need to find someone you like, trust, works hard, etc. And after a fight, there is NO MAKE-UP SEX. So, it’s tough. I feel like I got real lucky with Chris. He was willing to take the risks, be broke and work just as hard as me each day (or even harder.)

I hope this helps some. Good luck with your business. Keep an eye on the blog and I will continue to try to pass along my recipe for success. Mostly it’s lots of hard work and patience. I started this company in 1997. So, we’re going on 10 years. And I really only started to grow in years 8, 9 and 10. It was mostly a 1-man firm for the first 5 years and then a 2-man firm for the next 3 years. Now it’s a 14-man firm. Crazy!


Bill Beachy

History of Go Media

Her response to my e-mail:

Hello Bill,

Thank you for answering my question and for being so open about your success in such a humble way. I can see that being a nice guy like yourself is also the key to a successful business. I think everything you said sums up into three things:

  1. Being able to make sacrifices. What I mean is working your butt off for little pay instead of working for another company and earn a regular salary in order to make your company grow.
  2. Good promotion. As you did before, tagging your designs with your company info and what Jeff is currently doing promoting on the web.
  3. Being a nice person and treating your clients how you want to be treated when you are in need of a service.

Of course you can post my question as an entry to the blog. It is a valid question that I’m sure a lot of people need an answer to. My last thought is: Did you know from the beginning this is what you wanted to accomplish? Did you know from the beginning what you wanted Go Media to become?

I never thought you would answer so quickly. Thank you very much for all your advice. I’ll stay put to read your blog entry.



My response to her:


I try to answer questions like yours because I never had a mentor. I always wished I had someone I could ask questions to… but I had to learn everything the “hard” way. I just failed until I figured it out.
You are right about personality. Business is all about relationships. I feel like my customers are my friends and I hope they think of me in the same way. It’s important to have a genuine interest in your clients and THEIR success. If they succeed, you will also succeed.

Yes, I did have this company in my mind long before I got started. In this regard I have been blessed. I don’t know of anyone that has had such a clear vision of their future as I have. I think I was 14 years old when I first envisioned a design firm in a downtown warehouse office. And I’ll have it before I turn 35. Now, in my original vision we were all drawing comic books – so, it’s taken a few twists and turns over the years. But having a solid idea of your GOAL before you start working at it is key. Many successful people practice “visualization”. Spend some time to close your eyes, let your mind rest, then imagine in great details the goal for your company. How big is it? What does your office look like? What color are the walls? What’s the mood in the office? The more details the better. Even draw a sketch of it. Post it on the wall and remind yourself each day as you work on it.

At Go Media we have the entire staff work up a list of goals each year. Everyone has to write them down. This include a minimum of 5 personal goals and 5 professional goals. We review them at the end of the year, see what we’ve accomplished and work up new goals, or re-state our unaccomplished goals. The company does this too. What are Go Media’s goals for each year? I think writing things down is also helpful. I actually have a little scrap of paper in my wallet. On it I’ve written: “I will be engaged to the woman of my dreams by the age of 36. Go Media will gross 3 Million in sales by the end of 2010. I will run a full marathon before I turn 35. I will camp in the Redwood forest for 1 week.” That’s it. I finished the marathon this past month. I’m working on the other three. I had a previous sheet that I finished… so, this is my new one. I’ll probably keep this one in my wallet until we do it. We still have a LOOONG way to go on that financial goal!

Again, sincerely,

Bill Beachy.

Vector Packs

Mary’s Response:


I can see finding the girl of your dreams is going to be easy being the nice guy that you are (sorry for that). You have given me the best piece of advice of my life (aside from my mother). Right now I’m working on my online portfolio as a way to start promoting my work. I too started the wrong way, doing it all backwards, doing stuff I could not afford. So reading about making money FIRST really puts it all in perspective. I guess I was trying to achieve too much with too little. I hope you accomplish all your dreams by the time you are 36. I’m only 29 so I think I still have a long way to go.

Take care,

My response to her:


Funny that you say that – Finding a girl has always been my HARDEST challenge. :)
Yes about the money issue… “growth” is easy once you’re making the money. That’s the real challenge… figuring out HOW to make the money. This form of growth is called “organic growth.” Because, like a plant growing, you take in a little sunlight, take in a little water and you grow a new leaf. One leaf at a time you grow slowly. But you need the water and sun (income) to grow that next leaf.

The other form of growth is known as “inorganic growth.” This is where you take out loans to jump ahead to where you WANT your business to be. You could theoretically take out a huge loan and hire a bunch of people and build an office. But I consider this a very risky move. If you’re just getting started then you have LOTS of lessons to learn and you will surely make loads of mistakes as you grow. It’s better to make those mistakes while you’re small, while there is less at risk. So, inorganic growth would be like growing the tree to full size before you see if you can even survive as a sapling. You could end up with a full size tree inside of a parking garage. You’d be like: “Crap! We don’t get any sunlight in here! And the water has oil in it! This tree is going to die.” But if you had grown organically… you would have realized early on that you need to move your business (tree) OUTSIDE of the parking garage and onto the lawn – where there is sun light and water.

So, in my opinion… avoid all loans. They cost you lots of money and give you a false sense of growth. Force yourself to only spend what you earn. Here are your ingredients for getting your business started: 20% elbow grease, 30% elbow grease, 50% elbow grease. Instructions: combine.
Good Luck.


Accountants, lawyers, and doctors, oh my! A designer’s guide to business.

Accountants, lawyers and doctors oh my

Before I get started I want to stress a few things. First and fore most, it should ALWAYS be your goal to run your business 100% legally. This means paying ALL your taxes and following ALL laws. If you truly want to achieve great success with your company, it’s best to do it right (as right as possible) from the very beginning. You do NOT want to end up like Enron or Martha Stewart; cheating on your finances, getting caught and going to jail. If you start your business by cheating it will be a very hard habit to get out of.

This Tutorial will cover:

Starting a business can be VERY intimidating. You need money to live on. You need money to buy equipment. You need to find customers. You need to comply with all state and federal laws – and trust me, they do NOT make this easy on you. You need to pay taxes. You need to pay your employees. You need to provide benefits and you need to keep your customers happy. So, why on earth would ANYONE want to start a business? You would have to be crazy right? Well… maybe, maybe not. I’m going to give you my BEST advice on how to start a company (specifically a design firm) the RIGHT WAY. Now, this is NOT how I started Go Media. I did it all wrong. But if I had to do it over again – this is how I would do it.

General Strategies:

As a designer that creates brands (logos, color schemes, etc.) I have had the opportunity to work with a LOT of start-ups. And each time I start working with a new company, it’s the same story; they walk through my door and say: “I need you to design me a logo, letterhead, envelopes, stickers, t-shirts, a website and posters for my new business.”

And when I ask them why they need all that stuff they simply say: “Because I’m starting a business! Don’t I need all that stuff?” So I’ll ask: “How often do you even print and snail-mail a real letter that will require letterhead?” To this question they think for a while, then begin to realize; maybe they DON’T need to spend all that money to get their company started.

I suggest to all my clients: “Ask yourself, what do you TRULY need to start your business?” I suggest spending as little money as possible at the beginning. If you’re a graphic designer you don’t need much: a desk (this could be a piece of plywood and two saw horses), a computer, some power and one customer. That’s it. You don’t need a team of lawyers or a payroll company or an accountant – not yet.

Let’s face facts, if you’re just starting your company – you aren’t making any money. And if you’re not making any money yet, why go spend a small fortune on things like setting up a corporation or getting a trademark on your logo? In my opinion I would “fly below the radar” when you’re first getting started. By “flying below the radar” what I mean is: don’t worry about legal stuff or taxes or anything you don’t understand. I am ABSOLUTELY NOT suggesting this as a long-term company strategy. This is JUST about when you’re getting started.

Lawyers are expensive. Accountants are expensive. Taxes are even MORE expensive. And if you’re just getting started – these things can make getting started impossible. At least, it can make getting started so unsavory that you’ll just decide to not try. Well, that’s no fun at all. So, for now – I’m suggesting that you NOT worry about a vendor’s license. Don’t worry about taxes. Don’t worry about getting trademarks or protecting your company logo.

When you’re FIRST getting started, you should only be worried about one thing: MAKING MONEY. Until you can figure out how to make money, you don’t have a business. And the faster and better you can get at making money, the easier the rest of building a business will become. Because once you’re making money, you can HIRE THE HELP YOU WILL NEED to build your company right.

My logic behind this is simple; when you’re just getting started, your company is worth NOTHING. You are making NO MONEY. You are worthless (sorry but it’s true.) Why would you start spending money on something that’s worthless? So, I suggest that you start to make some money first – then prioritize what you start spending it on. As you grow and earn more and more money – you will THEN start to invest in things like protecting your logo with a Trade Mark, paying lawyers to insure your business is set up properly and paying accountants to make sure you’re paying Uncle Sam appropriately.

Also, if your company isn’t making any money – Uncle Sam doesn’t care about it. You don’t pay taxes on zero income.

Ok, now that I’ve told you to not worry about all this stuff until you’re making some money, let’s now assume that you ARE starting to make some money. And now you do need to start thinking about how to handle the business side of your business. After all, this IS a blog about lawyers, accountants and payroll.
lawers graphic design

So, let’s get started.

What type of company should you be? Here are just VERY simple layman’s explanations of a few legal entities. Eventually you should consult a lawyer to discuss what is best for your circumstances (but once again, don’t worry about this at first.)

Sole Proprietor:

Basically, a “sole proprietor” is just YOU. It’s one person. The government needs a business to have a Tax Identification Number (TIN) to track your income and taxes paid. In the case of a sole proprietor, your social security number IS your TIN (Tax Identification Number.) It’s most likely that when you start your company – you’ll be a sole proprietor. You don’t really need to set anything up. At the end of the year, you’ll just report your income from your services and pay your taxes. Your second year you’re in business the government will make you pay estimated taxes based on the previous year’s profit (assuming you have any.)

To get your design firm started – THIS is how I suggest you do it. Be a Sole Proprietor. It’s the easiest way. Eventually you’ll want to switch over to a corporation for tax benefits, but for starters – this is it. If you need “employees” you’ll actually have sub-contractors. You don’t need to worry about paying their taxes for them –


A partnership is like a bunch of sole proprietors that got together and wrote up an agreement. This type of business I know the LEAST about. I think the relative strength or weakness of this business model is all in the partnership agreement. This is a legal document that outlines the exact arrangement of the partnership. A partnership agreement would include things like what each person’s responsibilities are and how the money is split up. I THINK a partnership is good for short-term business arrangements. Let’s say for instance you and your buddy are going to go sell some t-shirts at a concert that is coming into town. You’re not going to hire a lawyer to set up a corporation, but you might write out your deal with your friend; I provide the design, you pay for the printing then we split the profits 50-50. Something like that.


An S-Corporation is a particular type of corporation that is set up for small businesses. This is what Go Media is. The advantages are that it’s easier to set up and requires less annual paper work than a C-corp. This type of business entity has it’s own TIN. In layman’s terms: the company is it’s own being. The company earns the money, not the individuals. Then the company pays it’s employees. So, yes – even though I am an owner of Go Media, I am also an employee of Go Media. I get a W2 just like the rest of my co-workers. At the end of the year, any profit or loss that the company has incurred is split up amongst the owners based on the percentage of the company that they own.

So, if the company has 100K in profits and I own 50% – I get a check for 50K right? Well, not exactly. Technically – yes, that’s what’s happening. But we cannot afford to just empty our bank accounts at the end of the year. So, what ACTUALLY happens is we take just enough money out to cover our taxes, and the rest of the money stays in the bank account to finance the company into the new year.


This is what most large corporations are. It gives the owners the best tax advantages. But it is the most difficult to set up and requires more paperwork than an S-Corp. While an S-Corp requires you to split up the responsibility of the profits at the end of the year, a C-Corp allows you to just leave money on the books.

There are actually many more forms of businesses – but I just wanted to give you a little starter-course. As I mentioned before – you will most likely start out as a sole proprietor. I really wouldn’t worry about this stuff until you’ve started making some money.

Finding a Lawyer to help you set-up your business:

Setting up your company should be done by a lawyer. It’s important to do this right, so you’ll need someone you trust to give you advice. I suggest starting your lawyer search with your family and friends. Does your family already have a lawyer? Do you know a friend who has a good lawyer? Even if this trusted lawyer is not a business lawyer, there is a good chance that they will know one that they can recommend.

Vendor’s License

A vendor’s license is one very early, inexpensive step you can take towards making your business legal. A vendor’s license is a way for your county to track and collect your sales tax. The exact procedure to get this license may vary from one county to another. Also, the items each county taxes may also vary. So, I will tell you how I got my vendor’s license, but make sure to check all the specific rules for your county.

The way I got a vendor’s license was to do a Google search on the term “vendor’s license” and “cuyahoga county.” I live in Cleveland Ohio and my county is Cuyahoga. The search results gave me the web address for the Cuyahoga County Auditor. The auditor is the agency that tracks sales and sales tax. So, I went down to their office and filled out a little form. Since I was starting a design firm – I applied for a “service vendor’s license.” Within a few minutes I was given a little piece of paper with a vendor’s license number. The total expense for the vendor’s license was $25 with no annual renewal fees. Now, I think I’m somewhat lucky because services do not require sales tax in Cuyahoga County. I only need to charge my customers when I sell them a tangible product, like if I broker printing.

Now that I have the vendor’s license the county knows I’m in business. Now they expect me to report my sales twice a year. Which leads me to my next subject – which you will need to have in order to report your sales to the county.

Sales Tax

Sales tax is different in each state. You will have to do a little research to find out how your state handles it. I will tell you how it works in Ohio so you have some understanding. In Ohio sales tax is paid to the county auditor’s office that the business is located in. The payment is due every six months. Fortunately for Go Media, design services are not a taxable item in Cuyahoga county (and in all of Ohio, I think).

We only need to pay sales tax on tangible items – like if we sell a t-shirt or poster.) To calculate our sales tax due I use QuickBooks. As you set up each product in QuickBooks you assign it as either taxable or not taxable. Then every six months I just run a report in quickbooks and it shows me exactly how much I sold and what I owe. In cuyahoga county they have a website where I log-in to pay my sales tax. I just type in my total taxable sales and the amount due, then select the payment option. I guess the hardest part is just remembering every six months that it’s due.

accounting bookkeeping graphic design

Bookkeeping and Accounting

Now, I know for most of you, this will be just about the most annoying part of your job. Personally, I am lucky. I was born with some strange passion for BOTH art and bookkeeping. Ok, maybe I wouldn’t call it a “passion” for bookkeeping, but I would say that it doesn’t bother me to keep business records.

So, how do we keep track of our sales; two words: QuickBooks. QuickBooks is accounting software. Before you go running for the hills screaming, hear me out. QuickBooks is a huge scary piece of software, yes, but you don’t need to use all of its many features. Try to remember the first time you used Photoshop. Did you know how to use layer masks, apply filters and run actions? No, you just knew how to pick the brush, pick a color and start drawing. Try to think of QuickBooks like that. It has tons of features you’ll largely ignore. All you need to do is make invoices and record payments. Over time you’ll start to explore and learn more and more about QuickBooks. Soon you’ll be feeling like an accounting wizard. You won’t be, but you’ll feel that way.

I won’t get into step-by-step instructions on how to use QuickBooks. You can probably find a book at the library. Like I said – start with the basics. Just learn how to make an invoice and record a payment on that invoice. This is a good enough start. As you grow, eventually if you have tons of transactions – you’ll need to hire someone to record all these transactions. But QuickBooks IS the industry standard, so starting on this will insure that you don’t have to learn new software in the future.

Also, QuickBooks offers super-cheap online credit card processing. I shopped around a while before I started running my credit cards with them. I think it’s a great value.

Finding/Hiring an accountant

As your business grows you will eventually need an accountant to help you with your bookkeeping and taxes. I have found that big firms charge lots of money and tend to work with big companies. So, I’m suggesting that you grow your use of accountants along with the growth of your business. When you first realize you could use some accounting advice, I would just start with a one-time consulting. After this, you should be able to employ an accountant at the end of the year. Basically, you’ll walk into one of those store-front accounting shops with your QuickBooks (digital) file and a big box of receipts.

They’ll tell you how disorganized you are and how you need a full time accountant. But at the end of the day, they’ll have your taxes done properly and it will be cheaper than keeping an accountant on retainer. Each time you go through this – just ask tons of questions. Most of the accounting work can be done by you in QuickBooks. So, ask questions like: “If a customer disappears on me and only half of the invoice is paid – what do I do with that open invoice?” Ask enough of those types of questions and you’ll have yourself an education!

When you realize that you are truly in need of some regular accounting help I would follow the same rule of thumb with finding an accountant as you did with finding a lawyer. Start with your family and friends. Try to get a referral. It helps to start with someone you trust. Even with a referral I suggest meeting with two additional accountants. Then pick the one you are most comfortable with. It’s critical that you pick a good accountant. They will become a trusted advisor that will help you make important business and financial decisions.

Payroll for your design firm

When you first start out (as a sole proprietor) you won’t actually have “payroll.” You will simply take money out of your bank account and spend it as you need it. The money you spend on the business will be a business expense and will not be taxed as income by the government. The money you spend on yourself will be considered your income and you will pay taxes on that. At the end of the year any money left in your bank account will be considered income and you’ll have to pay taxes on it. So, as you’re approaching the end of the year and you have some stuff you need to buy for your business, do it before December 31st! This will save you up to 35% in possible taxes on that money. This is very common in businesses; year-end spending to empty out the bank accounts.

When you eventually switch your business structure from a sole proprietor to a C-Corporation, you will be running payroll. A corporation is an independent entity. So, if you need money from your own company – that’s now payroll (income.) And when you take payroll you have to not only cut a check for yourself, you need to pay all the appropriate government agencies. These include, but are not limited to: Federal Tax Collectors, State Tax Collectors, City Tax Collectors, Social Security, IRA account (if you have one set up) and Medicare.

Now, you might think the government would organize this in some way so it’s easy to keep track all this stuff. After all, you’re paying them right? They should make it easy. But they don’t. It’s an absolute pain in the ass. Each agency has its own system, its own schedule for payments, its own rules, it’s own forms, etc. Keeping track of who you owe and when to pay them is very difficult. I ran Go Media’s payroll for one year. I probably spent 10-15 hrs a month working on it. It was ridiculous. And when the year was over I discovered that I had missed a bunch of payments and owed the government a bunch of money.

Here is the better option: hire a payroll company. They do everything for you. All you have to do is jump online and log your hours worked for each employee – or simpler, set-up salaries for regular full time employees. They will either mail you checks or wire the money into each employee’s account. They also send payments to every government agency – on time, with the correct amount. They pull the money from the company’s account to pay for everything. And for all of this, they charge Go Media about $60 per payroll ($120 per month.) If you consider I was spending 10-15 hrs a month to do this work – that’s a real bargain!

Medical Insurance

This is another one of those things that needs to grow with your company. I’ll admit, when I got started I had no medical insurance for about two years. But I was taking a huge risk. If I had gotten really sick I would have been financially ruined, possibly dead. As soon as I had a little extra cash I invested in a personal medical insurance plan. I was a healthy young male, so it was about $100/mo. Females are twice as expensive (since they can make babies.) As the company grew we switched over from a bunch of individual plans to a single company plan. This company plan saved us some serious $$$.


Well, that’s about it. Obviously, this was just a starter guide. The important thing is to focus on getting started and making money. Then, as you start to earn some money, improve the legal and organizational side of your business. The more money you earn, the more you need to spend it on getting “legit.” Obviously as your company grows in value you need to protect it by not cheating. The execs from Enron cheated. One committed suicide, the others are in jail. Ok, that was a little grim – but you get the idea. If you have any specific questions – leave me a comment and I will try to get back to you in a timely manner.

Go Media Office Construction Update

Hey true believers, I wanted to give everyone a quick update on the status of Go Media’s new headquarters. Well, they say construction takes twice as long and costs twice as much as you estimate. This is absolutely wrong. In fact, it takes THREE TIMES as long and costs THREE TIMES as much. go hqBut I’m not here to complain – I’m actually very excited. Real construction has begun on our new offices! Move-in will (hopefully) be some time this coming fall. I won’t jinx us by saying anything else.. but, here are some pictures of the space under construction.