Photoshop Abstract Texture Tutorial

Getting our 1980s and VHS tape on with Dustin Schmieding’s cosmic fractal storm texture pack!

Introducing the cosmic fractal storm texture pack

Hello everyone! It’s Simon again on this end of the keyboard. I’m returning for another tutorial, and boy, do we have a treat this week. Dustin Schmieding gifted us with yet another fantastic texture pack, the cosmic fractal storm texture collection.


The set is composed of three-dimensional scenes, resembling cloud formations, or landscapes. Each texture is 4,000×2,700 pixels @ 150 ppi. This gives us plenty of pixels to work with, even for big size print applications (posters, flyers, and more).

Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial

Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial

Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial


Arsenal Members, you get this pack at no extra charge! (Feels like your birthday, doesn’t it?)

Using the pack: let’s play!

These assets are at home in a variety of contexts. They can be used as stand-alone assets, as background elements, as textures… We will explore some of these uses while we embark on the creation of a poster for a (fake) EDM event called Magnetic Fields.

Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial

The tutorial will have us explore tips and tricks to recreate a “VHS-like” effect, for all that analog glitch goodness.

Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial

We’ll use primarily Photoshop for this tutorial, as manipulating textures is easier with it, and because we won’t engage in complex type manipulation.

How to create a cute robot children book cover with Justin Will's hand drawn Sci-Fi vectors!

We are going to work extensively with textures. It’s a good time to remind you guys of a few base rules, and processes:

  1. Don’t know what a clipped layer is? Glad you asked! This means that the layer is only visible/applies to the layer directly below it. You can very quickly do this by holding ALT down on your keyboard and clicking between the two layers. Here’s a quick demonstration.
  2. Every time we’ll work with textures, we’ll follow this simple process: place as smart object, sharpen1, desaturate, enhance contrast with levels, and modify the blending mode.
  3. Placing the textures as smart objects, and using adjustment layers to tweak them, allows us to stick to a non-destructive workflow. We’ve explored in depth the numerous pros and few cons of such a workflow in this past tutorial: “How to Use Textures The Right Way.”

Notes: 1 – accessed through the Filter > Sharpen > Sharpen menu.

With this in place, it’s time to get started!

The concept

As hinted at during our walk-through of the product, these textures feature digital “landscapes” that make no mysteries about how they have been generated. In order to stick to the theme, we are going to give this poster a “Lo-Fi,” CRT-like screen effect. Think of VHS artifacts: scan lines, slight warps, etc.

The concert is being branded as Magnetic Fields, and will take place at the Tate Modern gallery in London, and more specifically in the Turbine Hall. It’s a beautiful industrial space, and hosted a Kraftwerk performance in the past. It’s perfectly fitting.

Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial

Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial

Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial

(Images via Leith/Tate Photography – © all rights reserved)

We’ll split our document in two columns to fit all the text (one side main event announcements, one side for the band names). The copy will read “Magnetic Field – 02.06.16 – Tate Modern – Turbine Hall – London, UK,” “Performances by chp_tnes – nu_drds – cbalt – qwerty – & lw_ram,” and “Tickets & information at”

The two typefaces we’ll use for the poster are League Gothic, and Droid Serif. They are both free for commercial use, so grabbing them is a no-brainer. They even feature an extended set of weights, for even more flexibility.

Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial

Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial

All of our band names are inspired by electronics/robotics/computer science jargon:

  • chp_tnes (chiptunes)
  • nu_drds (new droids)
  • cbalt (cobalt)
  • qwerty (look at your keyboard)
  • lw_ram (low RAM)

The event is to take place on February 06th, 2016.

Photoshop Abstract Texture Tutorial

Document setup

Even though our event will take place in the United Kingdom, we will use an 18″x24″ canvas. Designers in the UK would typically use ISO paper sizes, like pretty much the rest of the world. Let’s just say that the performing acts all come from the USA, and that the poster is put together by an American concert promoter.

Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial

As mentioned before, we’ll split our canvas in columns, three to be exact. We’ll also mark a one inch security margin around the edges of our poster. Photoshop CC’s New Guide Layout feature is priceless to generate these rapidly (View > New guide layout).

Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial

Note: if you don’t have the CC version of Photoshop, you can leverage the power of GuideGuide to accomplish the grid-related tasks quickly. The current version isn’t free, but older versions are.

Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial

Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial

With the preparation work done, we can finally start to tackle the real thing.

The background

The background will be the base for our VHS effect. The first asset we need is GoMediaArsenal-CosmicFractalStorm-03.jpg, from Dustin’s texture pack.

Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial

It needs to be placed as a smart object at X: 0.5″, and Y:12″, scaled up to 135%, and sharpened (Filters > Sharpen > Sharpen).

Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial

Once in place, it looks like this.

Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial

Starting the magic

The VHS-like effect that we will create in a few steps rests on the power of levels, and of blending modes. First, we need three copies of our texture smart object.

Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial

Using clipped levels adjustment layers, we are going to “kill” the output of selective color ranges for each of the copies. Let’s start with GoMediaArsenal-CosmicFractalStorm-03 copy. Using the clipped levels adjustment layer, we are going to change the output of blue hues to zero. This will result in a layer turning to yellow hues. Pro tip: note that the additional copies have been hidden for clarity each time.

Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial

Using the same technique, the second copy GoMediaArsenal-CosmicFractalStorm-03 copy 2 will see its greens disappear, leaving us with a set of saturated purples.

Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial

Finally, we’ll get rid of the reds on GoMediaArsenal-CosmicFractalStorm-03 copy 3.

Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial

With that done, here’s our layer stack so far.

Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial

Next, we are going to create a few layer groups: one is for the copies and their adjustment layers, the other one for the background elements in general.

Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial

Now, we are going to change the blending mode of each copies to exclusion @ 100% opacity (the copies only – not their adjustment layers!).

Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial

The result is slightly underwhelming at the moment, but we are going to address that shortly.

Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial

Out-of-synchronization frames, part one

Next, we need to carefully offset each of the copies from the original smart object. For instance, instead of GoMediaArsenal-CosmicFractalStorm-03 copy being positioned at X: 0.5″, and Y:12″, it should be positioned at X: 0.55″, and Y:12.1″.

Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial

GoMediaArsenal-CosmicFractalStorm-03 copy 2 can go from its original spot to X: 0.495″, and Y:11.95″.

Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial

Finally, GoMediaArsenal-CosmicFractalStorm-03 copy 3 can migrate to X: 0.485″, and Y:11.97″.

Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial

The effect is taking shape: we just established the basis for out-of-synchronization frames, or tape damage. To make things more legible, we are going to lower the opacity of the copies to 50%.

Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial

Out-of-synchronization frames, part two

To make the effect more believable, we are going to alter a portion of it. Let’s start by creating a merged copy of everything so far (CTRL/CMD+ALT/OPTION+SHIFT+E), at the top of our layer stack. The generated layer should be called Shear.

Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial

We are now going to apply a shear filter to it (Filter > Distort > Shear). The effect is controlled through the small curve in the effect window. Clicking on the grid adds controls points (but no handles). Holding ALT/OPTIONS allows you to reset the manipulation. Wrap around loops disappearing image parts on the opposite side of the canvas. Repeat edge pixels stretches the pixels at the limit of the canvas to the image’s edges.

Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial

After creating a curve directed to the bottom right corner of the canvas, our result is pretty dramatic.

Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial

Using our guides, we are going to create selections that we’ll use to mask parts of the sheared layer.

Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial

With the selections active, we can head to Layer > Layer Mask > Reveal selection.

Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial

Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial

With that done, we can change the blending mode of the Shear layer to color dodge @ 35% opacity.

Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial

Additional touches

To complement the effect, we are going to add some thin horizontal lines at the edges of our selections. These lines will each be 1 point thick, run the full width of the poster, be colored in 50% gray (#808080), and perfectly aligned with the edges of the visible parts of the Shear layer. These lines should be created with either the pen tool (P), or with the line tool (U).

Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial

The settings options offered by Photoshop CC 2016 allows to customize the stroke. It should be noted that aligning the stroke to the outside produces the best result.

Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial

Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial

Once one of the lines is created, it can be duplicated and positioned to the appropriate locations.

Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial

Once in place, the lines’ blending mode can be changed to screen @ 25% opacity.

Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial

And after some layer organization, our background layers start resembling something.

Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial

Icing on the cake

Because our background needs to not compete with our type elements later, we are going to darken it. We’ll use a levels adjustment layer for that.

Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial

After one last look at the layer stack, we’re ready to move onto type!

Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial


The foundations

Now that our background is in place, we can start shaping our text blocks. The first one is the main one: “MAGNETIC FIELDS / 02.06.16 / TATE MODERN / TURBINE HALL / LONDON, UK.”

The type is set in League Gothic Condensed, that is 300 points tall, with a line spacing of 272 points, colored in white, and with kerning set to optical. These settings make the copy fit the two left columns of the grid, leaving the right column for the additional information blocks.

Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial

Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial

The next block is “Performances by // chp_tnes / nu_drds / cbalt / qwerty / & lw_ram.” The type is set in Droid Serif Bold, that is 54 points tall, aligned to the right, colored in white, and with kerning set to metric. These settings make the text block fit snugly in the top right corner of the poster.

Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial

Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial

The third and last text block is for the miscellaneous information: “Tickets & information at” It is set in Droid Serif Bold, that is 30 points tall, aligned to the right, colored in white, and with kerning set to metric. These settings make the text block fit snugly in the bottom right corner of the poster.

Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial

Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial

The result is interesting, but it lacks depth.

Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial

In order to address that, we are going to replicate the VHS effect we gave the background to the main type block. Let’s start by creating three copies of the type element.

Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial

Instead of using levels adjustment layers, we are going to assign hues directly to each type elements. This works because the type is a solid color object, as opposed to the visually complex texture we applied the effect to earlier.

The bottom copy, MAGNETIC FIELDS 02.06.16 TATE MODERN TURBINE HALL LONDON, UK copy 3, should be assigned the base blue color #0000ff.

Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial

Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial

The middle copy, MAGNETIC FIELDS 02.06.16 TATE MODERN TURBINE HALL LONDON, UK copy 2, should be assigned the base red color #ff0000.

Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial

Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial

The top copy, MAGNETIC FIELDS 02.06.16 TATE MODERN TURBINE HALL LONDON, UK copy, should be assigned the base green color #00ff00.

Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial

Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial

The top text element (the original one) should stay white.

Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial

From there, we can change the blending mode of the three copies to exclusion @ 100% opacity, and of the original element to overlay @ 100% opacity.

Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial

Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial

Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial

Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial

Now, in order to complete the effect, we simply have to offset the three copies in separate directions, using the arrow keys on our keyboard.Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial

And with that done, we can move on to the last step: textures. Below is a look at our layer stack so far.

Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial


Things to grab

Before we get moving, here are three assets to grab. They are all free. The first one is photocopy by clarisaponcedeleon, via DeviantArt.

Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial

The second is Film texture – grain explosion by JakezDaniel, on DeviantArt.

Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial

The third texture is vintage-paper-textures-volume-01-sbh-005, from the Vintage Paper Textures, Volume 1 set. It was made available through the “cute robot” book cover tutorial freebies.

Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial


The last asset is this pattern tile, that we’ll use for scan lines. You should download it by right-clicking on it, and using the Save image at menu.

Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial

Putting things in place

The first texture we’ll use is the film noise texture, film_texture___grain_explosion_by_jakezdaniel-d37pwfa.jpg.

Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial

It needs to be placed centered in the canvas, rotated of 90° clockwise, and scaled down to 80% so it covers the whole piece.

Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial

From there, we can change its blending mode to color dodge @ 15% opacity.

Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial

The next texture is the scanline pattern. Let’s open the file.

Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial

With the file open, we need to head to Edit > Define pattern. This will ask us to name it, and to validate. Once that is done, our pattern will be ready to use in our piece. Let’s close the pattern, and head back to our main file.

Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial

Back in the main file, let’s create a new, empty layer at the top of our layer stack.

Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial

We are going to apply the pattern using a layer style. First, we need to fill our layer with a solid color. Which one won’t matter, it is just to make sure the effect shows up. 50% gray is a good default choice in these cases (#808080).

Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial

Next, we can open up our layer style palette by double-clicking on the layer thumbnail in the layer panel.

Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial

Let’s navigate to the pattern overlay section. It’s a simple interface. We can control the pattern tile roughly the same way we can control a layer: blending mode, opacity, scale, etc.

Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial

Let’s use the drop-down menu to select our scanline pattern.

Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial

Finally, we can dramatically scale the pattern up to make sure the lines are visible (900%).

Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial

Our pattern is applied, but we need to give it an additional touch for more veracity. Let’s convert the layer to a smart object (Filters > Convert to smart filters).

Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial

Next, let’s assign a 2 pixels gaussian blur to the pattern layer/smart object (Filter > Blur > Gaussian blur).

Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial

Finally, let’s change the blending mode to overlay @ 10% opacity.

Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial

With the scanlines in place, we can move to a slight color alteration. We are going to use a gradient overlay for it. Just like before, we’ll need a layer filled with 50% gray (#808080).

Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial

Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial

Next, we are going to change the layer’s fill to 0%. This allows to hide the layer’s pixels (the gray), but to let any effects applied through the layer style panel to shine through.

Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial

Let’s open the gradient overlay side of the panel.

Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial

In the gradient drop down menu, let’s select the spectrum gradient.

Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial

Let’s change the blending mode of the gradient to overlay @ 15% opacity, and change the angle to -50°.

Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial

This gives us a nice added depth to the colors of the piece.

Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial

The next to last texture is vintage-paper-textures-volume-01-sbh-005.jpg, from the cute robot tutorial freebie archive.

Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial

It needs to be placed centered in the canvas, rotated of 90°, and scaled up to 440%.

Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial

Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial

Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial

Blending mode: soft light @ 25% opacity.

Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial

The last texture is photocopy_by_clarisaponcedeleon.jpg.

Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial

This one needs to be centered in the canvas, and slightly distorted (width: 212%, and height: 208%).

Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial

Levels adjustments.

Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial

Blending mode: soft light @ 75% opacity.

Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial

And with that, our piece is complete! After a last go at organizing our layers, here’s the full layer stack.

Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial

Wrapping things up!

Phew, that was a long one! I hope that you enjoyed following along with the tutorial as much as I enjoyed creating it, and that your outcome matches the goals you set for yourself before diving in.

Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial

Did I leave anything unclear? Any suggestions? Don’t hesitate to reach out in the comments below! I’ll be happy to help out.

Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial

We’d love to see your tutorial outcomes! Please share them with us on the Go Media Facebook page, or on Twitter at @go_media.

Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial

Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial

And finally, I hope that this gave you a preview of the cool things you can achieve with the cosmic fractal storm texture pack, by Dustin Schmieding. The pack is available for download now!

Cosmic Fractal Storm Textures Exploration Tutorial

On that note, that’s all for me today. Until next time, cheers!

Creating Learning Material

-Creating Learning Material:
A Beginners Guide to Making
Educational Content

In 2014, back when I lived in Pittsburgh, I received the opportunity to be an art instructor at a community-focused arts organization known as Wash Arts (located in Washington county). In addition to myself, Joe Mruk, a Pittsburgh-based illustrator and one of my best friends, was asked to be involved as well. Every Saturday morning we would teach a kids class, which was then followed by an adult class in the afternoon. Joe had Intro. to Drawing while I was responsible for the Beginner’s Digital Illustration class. I should mention that at that time we had no prior teaching experience. However, this did not stop us from being beyond excited. We could not wait to share what we knew, yet wanted to do more than just provide instruction on foundational skill sets. It was our ambition to encourage and inspire, to make art accessible and break down the excluding notion that not everyone is creative or could be an artist.

As soon as we received the opportunity with Wash Arts, we hit the ground running. We did a lot of preparation: wrote lesson plans, gathered references and created learning resources. We discussed during the week what we would teach for Saturday and spent Friday nights going over each others lesson plans. Sometimes we were up late working on educational infographics and other instructional visuals. We taught for six months and while we absolutely loved it, we eventually decided to move onto other opportunities.

In this tutorial, I will share with you the class material on vectors I created at that time, as well as the steps and considerations I recommend when creating your own inspiring and insightful content!


Lecture Material 3-1

Lecture Material 3-2

Lecture Material 3-3

Lecture Material 3-4Lecture Material 3-5Lecture Material 3-6

Lecture Material 3-7

Lecture Material 3-8

Teach What You Know and Love
This is the starting point. Let’s pretend that you’re teaching outside the world of academia, where you have more freedom and are not limited to a mandatory curriculum. Maybe you’re working for a non-profit arts organization or doing a class on Skillshare. Whatever the case, here are two questions in helping you decide what you should teach:

What am I really knowledgeable about?

What am I passionate about?

If you found something that answers both of these questions, you’re off to a really good start. Ever taken a class where the teacher could care less, which resulted in you caring less? Your level of enthusiasm will affect your students’, so be sure to choose something that you absolutely love. Something you could talk for hours and hours about, all while maintaining the biggest smile on your absurdly thrilled face!

In relation to what you’re knowledgeable about, make sure that you KEEP BEING knowledgeable. You, who people will look up to, must be on your A-game. Stay up to date on industry standards and trends. Know who the top dogs of the field are, their work can be used as class examples as well as sources of inspiration for your students (and you). Attend seminars, conventions, workshops and other events (like Weapons of Mass Creation Fest). I guarantee you will come back with fresh ideas and new material to share with your students.

Determine Who Your Students Are
Are your students very young with lots of energy and short attention spans? Are they older, yet not too familiar with the computer? Or are they seasoned experts with years of experience? Knowing who you will be teaching will determine the information you will cover. If they are just beginners, then you probably do not want to jump into really nitty-gritty, technical instruction or conceptual topics that will go over their heads.

Also, who your students are will determine the “look” of your content. It would not make sense to hand out the same bright, colorful, goofy material to your adult class that was meant for a kids class. But what if you’re instructing an adult beginner class and a kids beginner class as well? What if there is just no time (or money) to re-create different visual versions of the same content? If this is the case, take that into consideration in designing your curriculum. Perhaps you go for an aesthetic that is not too “old” or “young”, but  somewhere in the middle so that it can work for both classes. (In fact, my lesson handouts were for both the beginners kids and adult class.) There are other ways to relate and appeal to your differing students, such as the projects that are assigned, the examples that are shown and your demeanor when lecturing and instructing.

The main point is this: really get to know who your students are. Find out their passions, their goals. What they struggle with and what they are really good at. The better you understand and empathize with your students, the greater success you will have in teaching and inspiring them.

Show Them Who YOU Are
You are the instructor, the teacher, the intelligent and well-versed leader standing in the front of the class. Naturally, your students are going to be curious who you are, so show them! Talk about how you got into your craft – origin stories are the best! Show your work and share your accomplishments, yet also tell of your struggles and failures. The latter is especially important. People relate and feel more motivated when they learn that the experienced, incredibly talented legend before them has also made mistakes along the way. They then feel that they too can do it!

Provide Context
Showing application and real world examples is important. Knowing why and when to do something is, if not more, just as important as knowing how to do something. Educate them on the rules so they may break them. Let them see how creativity lives in the real world. Don’t just stop at how to create a beautiful image, but how it can be used in a practical sense or even bring about change. We are not hobbyists, we are professionals. This is not only our passion, it is our careers and livelihoods. There is value to what we do. And we need to teach our students that there is value in what they do.

Introduce Concepts Sequentially
You do not read a book by bouncing around randomly chapter to chapter (UNLESS it’s a choose-your-own-adventure book). Your content needs to have a sense of order, building upon each other from basic to complex. The end of a lesson should segway into the beginning of the next.

In the “What are Vectors?” section of my handout, you’ll notice I allude to a previously taught section:

Lecture Material 3-3B
I used it to help introduce vectors and how they are composed of paths and anchors (as opposed to pixels). The lesson continues to build on that idea, showing the possibilities and nuances of working in Illustrator. The more “flow” your curriculum has, the more your students will retain and be able to apply.

Make it Engaging
Three ways to do this:

  1. Add personality
  2. Make it look good
  3. Have the visuals emphasize key points and help explain concepts

Blocks of text and bulleted lists will most likely bore your students. Utilize witty and playful elements to help get your point across. Show relevant, fun and interesting videos. Of course don’t go overboard and overload your material with silly internet memes or unrelated GIFs. Remember, employing visuals, even if they’re humorous, is to highlight the main ideas.

Lecture Material 3-4

Lecture Material 3-5
Revisit and Improve
Looking back, there are somethings I would change in my material. It’s always a good idea to review what you have taught so it can be better for the next time. Perhaps your examples are out of date or there are topics in which you need to expand upon. With software updating regularly and new versions being released every year (sometimes more), new capabilities will turn into industry standards sooner than you think. As said earlier, it is your job to be up to date and ensure your students are aware of current practices.

“But who am I to teach?”
Having never taught before, I struggled with some insecurities. “Who am I to teach anyone? Don’t I have to be really established in order for my teachings to be valid?” The truth is that you (and I) have experience that others don’t. You have skill sets that others have yet to develop. You have knowledge on subjects that people know nothing about. The focus is not on being the authority on matters, it’s about sharing what you know. There will probably be times in which your students will actually teach YOU something. Like I said, it is about imparting what you have learned onto them as well as encouraging them to surpass you. Learn and grow together.

There you have it! I hope this tutorial has been helpful. Like I said, I had no prior experience of teaching and felt like I was just “wingin’ it.” The truth of the matter is that is how everyone starts, doing their best and making it up as they go. So, if you feel unsure and nervous, know that you will do just fine. After all, We are all just trying to figure stuff out, so we might as well do it together.

Business Perspectives for Creative Leaders part 7 of 7

My experience attending AIGA & Yale’s School of Management course Business Perspectives for Creative Leaders.

It’s Friday – our last day of class. Today is only a half day. Our debriefing session wraps up at 2pm. They scheduled it this way so people would have time to get to the airport or train station. The two classes this morning were about how to organize your company for innovation. Even as designers, we can improve the way our companies foster creativity.

Organizing for Innovation:

All of the classes, including this one, were largely taught with case studies. This is a new and interesting way to learn for me. I’m more accustom to having teachers give me a list of information to memorize. I grew up thinking of learning in a very black and white way. My teacher has the information and what they know is exactly correct. This isn’t how any of our classes were at Yale. These classes on building an organization that’s conducive to innovation went something like this. First, we read a case study about a company that was very innovative. Then the teacher prompted the students to break the business model down. The students would be the ones to describe the different aspects of the business and why they worked (with just a little leading by the professor.) Next we would try to extrapolate principles. Finally the professor would say something like: “So, what’s the right answer? I don’t know.” The point is – the world is grey. Businesses are incredibly complex things. A business model that works for one set of people can fail miserably for others. Studying these cases serve to give us a direction. Finding the right path for you or Go Media will still require implementation and testing. Having said all that, here are a few things I took away from the course.

Innovation is not just about technology. Innovation can be about how you market a product, structure a business system or even how you communicate. So, don’t assume you need a chemical engineering degree to be innovative.

Innovation is all about application. Most innovations take concepts or technology that are already well know, but apply them in a new way.

Innovation requires investment. If you don’t invest the time and money to experiment then you’re unlikely to make any innovative discoveries. A good investment might be something as simple as giving your staff half of a day once a month to work on their passion projects.

Listen to your staff. The workers on the front lines have a better perspective on how their own jobs can be made more efficient. So, make a point of letting them know you’re open to ideas on improvement and then create a forum in which they can share them.

Build innovation incentives into your business model. It’s not enough to simply say: “Hey everybody, be innovative!” You have to schedule time for them, build a structure for them to share and fund the ideas that have potential.

Don’t punish failure. This is a personal one of mine. If you’re trying to innovate, you’re going to have failures. It’s part of trying something new. If you punish people when they fail then you’ll only succeed at making them to afraid to try new things. So, encourage your team to try new things. When things don’t work out, let them know it’s ok.


The last class was a wrap-up and debriefing. It started with a session where we each took turns sharing our takeaways from this week. Then Steven Permut gave us his summary of the most important aspects of building and running a business. I thought this was a great guide to keep me focused on how to apply the knowledge I’ve learned this week. I will share the points that my classmates and I had, but Steven asked us not to share his insights as they will soon be part of a book he’s writing. So, you’ll just have to wait till that hits the market!

Good business decisions start with research and testing. Generally, we make too many assumptions in business. Remember that your clients drive your business! So, listen carefully to them. Apply what you learn, get more feedback and repeat. This is also true of negotiating, building your business systems or deciding how to talk to c-level management. Do your research, apply and test!

Design is valuable to business. More companies need to recognize the value of good design and integrate it into every aspect of their organizations.

Business is valuable to designers. As designers we can sometimes be too arrogant about our wisdom in the area of how to apply design to the business world. What’s ideal for design doesn’t always work in the context of some businesses. So, while we’re asking companies to better understand our value to them, we need to work harder to understand the business side of things. Only by understanding more about the business can we understand how to best contribute with our design skills.

Ask the right questions and be a consultant to your customers.

Get to know the know the language of business. Every industry has lingo. It’s important to get to know and be comfortable with talking in the language of business owners.

Humility. Listen more and talk less.

You don’t have to be a natural born business person to get good at it. These things just require study and practice. So, make the effort.

People buy holes not drills. Understand the real value of what you’re selling. When someone buys a drill, are they really buying a drill? What’s the value of a drill to it’s customer? What is the problem being solved by the drill? The customer needs a hole! The drill solves that problem. So, in effect, you’re not selling a drill, you’re selling holes. Want proof of that statement? What if someone developed a new device that used a laser to make a sharper cleaner hole at the same cost. Would anyone continue buying drills? Nope. So, obviously, people aren’t buying drills. They’re buying holes! Keep this little analogy in mind when considering your value proposition to your customers.

Be customer-centric.

Think long-term. With every decision in business, keep the long-term in mind. Keep in mind the lifetime value of a customer. Sometimes taking a loss today can turn into profits in the future.

Reframing questions makes room for innovation. This goes to the heart of this course. Your perspective on a problem will impose a structure within which you will try to solve the problem. But if you try to look at your problems from a different perspective, or, re-frame your question then you can often change the rules and find creative new solutions.

Greater value is created when you work together. A fun example of this was given in a class. Imagine an arm wrestling match where you were given 10 seconds to arm wrestle. Each time you win you get a Honda Civic. Each time your opponent wins he gets a Ferrari. What should you do? Maximize the value you can create by working together and split it! If you fight each other you might each only be able to win one car. But if you work together, you can let your opponent win 10 times in 10 seconds. That’s 10 Ferraris. Even if your opponent only gives you 2 Ferraris and he keeps 8, that’s still a HUGE improvement in value to both of you. When looking at any situation consider the net value being created. Don’t focus only on what you get.


They actually held graduation on Thursday night so we could celebrate without concern for when our flights left town, but I decided to hold of on blogging about it until the very end. That just seemed to make sense. The graduation dinner was another lavish meal. All our professors from the week were there. It was a great time to mingle, reinforce our connection with our classmates and celebrate the experiences of the week. Jeffrey Sonnenfeld gave a mini-commencement speech and then they called us up one by one to give us our completion certificates. They were very nice and included an 8×10 glossy photo of the entire class. The course didn’t have tests. Nobody was ever in jeopardy of not graduating. But it still feels good to have a certificate. A lot of hard work went into this week and will continue into the foreseeable future.

Graduation mixer

The class of 2012

So, was it worth it?

Well, I’m a pragmatist. I went through this course with the skeptical questions of: “How can I apply this information to my business today? And, what’s it worth in dollar value?” So, I’ve left with a notebook full of ideas that I plan on implementing over the next year. I think they will easily give me a good return on my investment, but, we’ll see. A better question might be: Having taken the course, would I recommend it to others? The answer to that is easy – heck yes. The experience was amazing. The teachers are the beast-of-the-best. I think the networking was powerful. The knowledge itself is invaluable and I can’t give enough praise to the level of service we received. From the food to the hotel to the attention to details by the professors, the service was legendary. If you have an opportunity to go, do it.

Me and Steven Permut – the host with the most.

Time to put this education to work.

Business Perspectives for Creative Leaders part 6 of 7

My experience attending AIGA & Yale’s School of Management course Business Perspectives for Creative Leaders.

**These last two posts were delayed due to the internet being out at our hotel following a big thunderstorm.**

Before I get into it, here are two images:

This is Pepe’s Pizzeria. They hold the distinction of being America’s very first pizza place.

I’ve been talking all week about how good the food is. This is actually a relatively simple sandwich bar they had available to us as a mid-day snack. Most of the meals were buffet-style sit-down meals. There was also the week opening and closing dinners that were restaurant-style service.

It’s Thursday night. We only have one more day of classes before our week is complete. I’m feeling a little sad as I contemplate packing my bags. I feel like I’m making such great contacts and learning so much that I hate for it to end. Admittedly, I could not maintain this pace of writing, studying and eating indefinitely, but I think one more week would fatten up my belly and brain to just the right amount. Fortunately, I have about a year’s worth of recommended reading. So, the value provided by this course will continue to unfold for a while. And all the professors have been gracious enough to share their contact information and encourage us to contact them. What a wonderful source of power and influence! And with that beautiful segue…

Power and Influence

I found this class really interesting and am eager to read more on the subject. While we learned a ton this week, most of these classes are normally taught over an entire semester – or two. So, really what we’ve been given in class is a good overview, some important details and some perspective on how each subject relates to “creatives” in particular. And of course we’ve been given a long reading list. So, taking this course at Yale isn’t enough. No, you can’t learn everything there is to know about business in one week; even if it’s taught by some of the smartest and funniest professors in the world. Sorry.

Power is important and you should work at building it. There is a false perception in society that the pursuit of power is inherently evil and self serving. You need to get that thought out of your head. Don’t confuse having power with how power is used. You can just as easily use power to raise money to help the poor as you can use it to take advantage of someone. And don’t be naive and think you don’t want power. We all want to get things done – guess what’s really helpful when you want to get some stuff done: POWER!

Here are some other reasons you should work to build your power and influence: People with power live longer and are happier. This is partly due to the fact that they feel more in control of their circumstances. When things are bad they take action to change them. With power, people feel a sense of responsibility for others around them, so they work harder. Power stimulates the brain. Having power forces you to develop your discipline and stamina. When you don’t build and use your power it will atrophy.

Power is not typically attained through a series of tricks and shortcuts. Most of power is accumulated over time. It takes time to build coalitions. It takes time to show you’re a hard worker that others can count on. It takes time to develop expert knowledge. So, don’t expect to read a book and become all powerful.

The key traits that make a person powerful can all be learned (or at least enhanced.) The assumption that some people are just born with “it” is wrong. So invest the time in learning and practicing how to build and use power.

First and foremost power comes from merit. People are powerful because they’ve earned it. And conversely, the fastest way to lose power is to do a bad job and let people down. Just imagine a football coach. If he wins he’s considered brilliant, everyone will follow what he tells them to do. He’s powerful. What happens when he loses? His power is diminished. The players and press begin to question his judgment. He loses his sponsorship deal with the local car dealer.

There are different types of power. Know your weaknesses and develop them. A well balanced set of power types is stronger than just one. For instance, there is direct power (also known as legitimate power). Direct power is like the power of a boss over their employees. Direct power is easy because it takes little effort to use. A boss doesn’t have to work to get their employee to do something, they merely need to tell them to do it. If the employee doesn’t do what he or she is told they might be fired. But there are also softer powers. For instance, there is referent power. That’s power derived from people admiring or respecting you. An example in the work setting might be a peer, who isn’t your boss but someone you greatly admire. They’re powerful because they can get people to do things because people look up to them.

Following on this concept of different types of power, it’s important to understand and have a variety of power types. The more ways you can exert power, the more effective of a leader you’ll be. So, your boss may be able to bully you because he has legitimate power over you. But are there negative effects for him if he’s a bully all the time? Of course! His staff might start peeing in his coffee mug! Or he might lose power because his staff might go to the owner of the company and demand he be fired. So, he can be MORE powerful if he can learn to use other forms of power. So, you too need to understand the forms of power and practice different ways to enhance the forms of power that you’re not strong in.

The optimal type of power to use is based on the situation. You need to understand the situation and select the appropriate form of power to use. In other words, sometimes you do need to be a bossy jerk.

Recommend Reading:

Power: Why Some People Have It and Others Don’t
by Jeffery Pfeffer

C-Level Conversations

(talking to really powerful and important people)

This was a subject that was kind of important to me. Go Media has definitely reached the point where landing projects with a local start-up will not help grow our business. We desperately need to get in front of and then have effective conversations with top management of large companies. That’s what this course was all about.

First, don’t assume that they’re like you or me, or even anyone you know. If someone has ascended into a position of great power and prestige, they are likely not typical. Assuming so would be a big mistake. One common theme we’ve been getting this entire week is RESEARCH. And it doesn’t stop with C-Level Conversations. You need to get to know your “mark” before you attempt to engage them. The more you can learn about them the better. Try to figure out what’s important to them. Are they interested in making more money, building up their power or saving the rain-forests. Your research will help you figure out how to frame your conversation.

Be brief. Look – if they’ve ascended to a position of power, they’re probably busy. So, don’t waste their time. Talk fast and get to the point; unless of course they’re from Texas. Then you should take your time, tell lots of unrelated stories and generally talk very slowly (fyi – that’s a comment about understanding a person’s culture, NOT an insult about the intelligence of Texans.)

Create value for them. If you’ve done your homework, you know what’s important to them. You also obviously know what you want. So… …do I have to spell it out for you? Develop solutions to their problems that ALSO give you what you’re after.

Know what type of power to assert. A C-Level person is going to be far less interested in what you have to say if they don’t see power and influence in you. But there are many types of powers. So, what type of power do you have? As designer’s we have expert power. We have a very specific set of skills and knowledge. We’re teachers. We have knowledge that they want. Make sure you’re communicating the value of your wisdom as it relates to their aspirations and problems.

Law and Management I & II

Our legal course was another one of those subjects that will be difficult for me to distill down into bite-size pieces that you’ll be easily able to apply to your day-to-day operations. One disappointment that I had in these classes was the fact that we didn’t learn much about intellectual property. It was on the syllabus. I’m sure we were supposed to learn about it, but I think we got off topic and wasted a lot of time discussing insider trading. It was an interesting conversation, but quite frankly I’m really not worried about that subject. So, unfortunately, I’ve got nothing on that topic. I guess my takeaway is this: Intellectual Property was on our syllabus, so it’s probably important. You’ll have to figure out how to learn more about this subject on your own.

Here are a few tidbits that I did get from the legal class:

Intent matters. You can build two identical companies: same technology, same processes, same systems. And by the simple act of marketing them differently, one can be legal and one can be breaking the law. An example of this is peer-to-peer networking software. If you run ads for one that say: “Steal all the music you want!” Your business is breaking the law and will get shut down. But run ads that say: “Share your family photos more easily!” And you’re ok.

Be proactive. The earlier you can involve legal counsel on a new business idea or negotiation the better. It’s far cheaper to understand the law up-front and structure your business with that in mind than it is to get sued or have to dismantle your business and rebuild it properly. As you can see in the example above, it might be something small that can have a major impact on your business or contracts.

Operate morally and ethically. If you simply run your business in a moral and ethical way, you’re probably not breaking any laws. Moral and ethics was actually a topic that came up in almost all our classes – more than I would have thought. I know it’s a very important subject to Go Media. You’ll often hear the president of a publicly traded company explain their immoral behavior by saying: “I have an obligation to maximize the profits of our share holder.” Our professor said this is absolutely not true. There is no moral, ethical or legal responsibility of the leadership of a company to maximize profits. Certainly stock holders are usually hoping they’ll maximize profits. But their real responsibility is to the benefit of society as a whole. Their (and your) decisions about how to “maximize profits” needs to consider the full impact on society.

Be involved in your legal discussions. Lawyers are humans too. When working with lawyers you shouldn’t “bury your head in the sand.” Some lawyers may not be as ethical as you are. Just because you can do it within the letter of the law does not mean you should. So question your lawyers, make suggestions and work with them.

Ethics come from the top down. As owners of businesses or leaders in the industry, people in your organization will follow your lead. So, start with yourself.

Recommended reading:

Winning Legally
by Constance E. Bagley

One day left!

Business Perspectives for Creative Leaders part 5 of 7

My experience attending AIGA & Yale’s School of Management course Business Perspectives for Creative Leaders.

I’m exhausted. I really need some sleep badly. If you decide to take this course – which I highly recommend, don’t plan on blogging at night. It’s not really possible. At least, not without sacrificing something. I’ve been running on pure enthusiasm up until today. I was having a REALLY hard time staying focused in the accounting class today. So, I am going to keep this post VERY short. I still have important reading tonight and then desperately need to get a real night’s sleep.

No photos today. I’m too tired.

First the accounting. I’m really not going to be able to reasonably teach you anything here about what I learned today. However, we’ve been given some great reading recommendations. So, here’s what we were told to read on our own time:

  1. How to Read a Financial Report – free online pdf
  2. Financial Ratio Tutorial – free online pdf
  3. Analysis for Financial Management by Robert Higgins

The latest edition(10th) of Robert Higgins’ book is fairly expensive – around $100. But it’s extremely well reviewed. And is known as the book on finance that’s written for a layman. So, if you want to learn more about finance and the accounting side of your business but you’re not a “numbers” person. This is the book for you.

The second half of our day was spent on learning negotiations. I LOVE negotiations, so this class was particularly fun for me. And it translates well into practical pearls of wisdom. So, here are a few of them. Enjoy!

Negotiation Techniques

Negotiate with “friendly aggression.” Basically, most people do not push hard enough for what they want. But you must remain extremely friendly while you’re arguing for your side. Be courteous, don’t insult them and do anything you can to help them save face.

Start high. Your opening bid should be as high as possible without being insulting or completely unreasonable. This has a whole slew of beneficial effects. One is that people will perceive you as being more valuable simply because your high number has framed their perception.

Do research! This is a constant theme throughout all of the classes here. You need to invest the time and do the work. If you’re buying a new car you need to get as much information as possible before you start a negotiation. You should try to find out what the dealer’s cost is for the car. You need to find out which dealerships offer the best prices. You need to consider what other options you have available. Can you buy a used car for much less and be satisfied? You also need to figure out your walk-away price. It’s easy to get caught up in the emotions getting a new car and pay well over what you really want to.

Related to that last point is knowing when to take a break. If you’re caught unprepared for a negotiation or are feeling confused – then stop the negotiation, take some time and re-engage in the negotiation when you’ve had some time to gather your emotions and your thoughts.

Don’t be afraid to ask. The simple act of asking for more will get you more. You’d be surprised what you can get if only you’ll just ask.

The person you are negotiating against doesn’t have to lose in order for you to win. Sometimes you both want the same things. So asking lots of questions is key. And telling them absolutely everything you want is important. Because maybe they can’t give you some things, but they can give you more of something else. For instance… maybe the rules a human resources rep has will not allow them to pay you a salary over 50k. But maybe they have no limit on signing bonuses. So, if you want 60k, there IS a way you could make a deal. Just take 10K as a signing bonus! These kinds of solutions can only be discovered if both parties are sharing information.

Stay quiet. Don’t talk too much. Most people reveal too much. They negotiate with themselves. That’s not good. “But WAIT!” you say. “Bill! You just told me in the previous point to SHARE MORE. Now you’re telling me to share less! What gives?” Ok, here’s what’s important; you want to be sharing information, but it needs to be equally. If you tell them: “Hey, here’s what I’m really after.” Then you should follow that up with this question: “So, what are YOU really after?”

Make equivalent offers. By giving the other party two equivalent but different offers, it will give you information about them. For instance, from the previous point – a 60K salary and a 50k salary with a 10k signing bonus are the same to you – they’re equivalent to you. But when the HR rep says they can accept one offer and not the other, you’ve learned something! You’ve learned that their constraint is only on the salary, not on other items. Great, so now you can negotiate on other points – how about more vacation? How about a company car? Basically, you’re creating more value for yourself while working within the negotiating ability of the HR rep.

Practice your flinch. Huh? Flinch? What the heck are you talking about? Well, you practice a good handshake don’t you? A good handshake is a way of communicating: I’m strong, confident and decisive! Well, a flinch is also a great way to communicate. When someone gives you an offer and you FLINCH what are you saying? You’re probably saying: Holy f-ing heck! That’s too little (or too much depending on your perspective.) It’s a great way to communicate your dissatisfaction without insulting them. And it’s read as purely genuine. Who fakes body language? I’ll tell you who; a good negotiator.

Those are just the tip of a very large iceberg of what I learned today.

Recommended Reading

Ok… That should get you started. BED TIME!!!

Business Perspectives for Creative Leaders part 4 of 7

My experience attending AIGA & Yale’s School of Management course Business Perspectives for Creative Leaders.

Fair warning: I’ve been drinking – a lot. AIGA and Yale’s Business Perspectives for Creative Leaders course is NOT like any educational experience you will ever have at ANY university. We’re on Fantasy Island here folks. This is a place where you drink from, then spin a giant silver cup on your head. There are Spizzwinks here. The caramel popcorn here has bacon in it. This is a place where you study manufacturing principles by building sail boats out of Bristle Blocks. Here kindly old professors make the entire class sing Who Let the Dogs Out and then suddenly start stripping in the middle of the lesson – for realism. This isn’t education it’s performance art. They need to take this course to Broadway. I am easily laughing as much as I’m learning. I would like to give a shout-out to our “Mr. Roarke” of this Fantasy Island – Mr. Steven Permut. He has the enthusiasm of a 12 year old on Christmas morning. His energy is infectious. Thank you. You’re my boy Blue! (I did say I was drinking earlier right?)

Ok, a few photos, then let’s get to the k-nowledge.

Here are the Spizzwinks; Yale’s oldest underclassman a cappella group. They sang to us during dinner.

This is Mory’s Cup – one of many such large silver cups. It’s filled with some crazy mixed drink.

Once the cup has been picked up, it cannot be put down until it’s empty. It’s passed around the table and everyone takes a turn drinking from it. I think our table drank six of them – along with our beer and wine.

Who ever finishes the cup must lick the entire rim three times, then spin the cup on their head three times. Finally, they slam the cup onto the table upside down. If a single drop of alcohol is left on the table, they have to pay for a new cup!

This is Arthur Swersey. This is him after he stripped out of his suit down to these surgical scrubs. The case study he was explaining was about a hospital’s service model. I wonder how my classmates sitting in the front row felt when he started unbuckling his pants.

I do apologize for the quality of all my photos in this series of posts. I’m only using my cell phone. I figured you’re not really reading these posts for the images anyway right?

Now, today’s lessons will not translate quite so easily into neat bullet points of insight like yesterday’s classes. Today we studied the concepts behind what’s known as LEAN manufacturing and we got started on the first part of our accounting classes. We will be finishing those up tomorrow. So… I only have a few thoughts that passed into my mind as I was sitting in class. And I’ll also recommend some reading that might help you consider the knowledge this course considers important to our businesses.

First, try to think of your business (selling design services) as a product manufacturing plant. Instead of building cars, you’re building websites. How does the project flow through your organization? Who does quality checks? Are your employees specialists or can they do several jobs? Are there bottle necks in your process? Are some parts of your company over-producing with the anticipation of need? Lean manufacturing suggests that you only do work the moment it’s needed. How can you get faster? If you’re working with vendors like photographers and copywriters, how can you shift more of the work burden onto them? Can the copywriter populate the website with their copy?

You should do some reading on Poka Yoke systems. It’s all about building systems through design that “fool-proof” the results. A good example is a camera’s SIM card which can only be put into a camera one way. As designers we have lots of opportunities to “fool-proof” our clients products and websites. But it takes extra thought.

Toyota became a great company because they had such amazing quality. It was built into their culture. Anyone on a Toyota assembly line can shut it down with the pull of a cord if they found a flaw. This kind of power put a lot of pressure on everything to be extremely high quality. Because even one defect could shut down their entire plant. But they also had great quality because they built it into their systems. A good system demands and ensures a good outcome.

Demand for your services are not consistent. Of course it would be great if you could build one website a month and each month on the first of the month a single client called you with a web dev project. But that’s absolutely not how it happens. Instead, you’ll get three projects in one month, then none for a month or two. Consider what you do when three arrive at once? What can you do while you’re idle so you can work faster when those rushes arrive? Is it possible to pre-build certain re-usable parts of a website in advance?

Suggested Reading:

Here is an article I found about applying LEAN to the service industry from Harvard Business School

Here are some other books that have been discussed amongst the “students.”

Thanks to Mark Badger for putting this list together.

I’m so tired. More tomorrow!

Business Perspectives for Creative Leaders part 3 of 7

My experience attending AIGA & Yale’s School of Management course Business Perspectives for Creative Leaders.

Ok, wow. I’m pumped.

Today was better than I had expected. Knowledge is power. At least, it feels like I’ve just acquired a super power and I’m ready to lift Go Media over my head and carry it up to the promise land. Here are a few brief thoughts on my first day of classes:

The course is very aptly named. As you’ll read shortly, they are really teaching us new ways to look at our business. These new perspectives empower you to have radical insights into how you could improve your company. So, they don’t tell you: “Here is the formula for your business, now go apply it.” Instead they say: “Here is a new way to look at your situation. What do you see?”

The information is incredibly pragmatic. I had a few fears coming into this course. One was that they were going to be teaching us highly theoretical concepts that were not easy to apply at Go Media. Not so. Not only was the information incredibly applicable, they were even very respectful of the realities of life. For instance, they might follow up a concept by saying: “Of course, business is a constantly evolving science. This concept might be applicable now, but fall apart in a year. You need to be constantly vigilant in listening to the market and finding what works.” Also, they frequently said: “This is the concept you’re working towards. But I don’t have to pay your bills. We understand that this is a process.” I appreciated that level of humility and candor. They gave many examples of failed businesses and would say: “And these were well funded, incredibly intelligent people!” It’s just nice to hear a Yale professor basically say: “Hey, business is tough.”

The professors are amazing. They’re brilliant, funny and experienced. Another fear I had was that these professors would be “academics” with no real world experience. I was wrong on that too. Our two professors today had vast experience in the business world. Our second professor today, Barry Nalebuff, was the co-founder of Honest Tea (which he sold to Coca-Cola.) He was an adviser to the NBA in their recent player negotiations and he’s written six books – among other things. Basically, these professors are no joke. I wonder if I would have been an even better student if I had such brilliant professors growing up. I certainly appreciate them now!

The accommodations continue to be first-class all the way. Thank God I’m only here for a week. With food this good I’m sure I’m packing on the pounds fast. How can you pass up chocolate-dipped strawberries, organic brownies and chocolate mousse in an egg-shell. I mean seriously, this is ridiculous. Not only that, they continue to gift us. Today I got an embossed leather notebook. Even if I hated the lessons today (which obviously I didn’t) I would owe them a nice review based purely on the gifts they keep giving us!

I do have a few pictures, then let’s get to the stuff you REALLY care about – the knowledge!

The Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Yesterday I posted a picture of the outside of this funky building. Yes, those are translucent marble walls. Let me say it again; r-i-d-i-c-u-l-o-u-s!

This is the Yale Commons dining hall – used in the Harry Potter movie!

This is a mirror in The Study Hotel. I SWEAR they put these flattering mirrors in hotels. They are warped just enough to make the viewer look taller (skinnier) than they actually are. It’s brilliant. Every time I’m waiting for an elevator I’m staring into the mirror thinking: “Well, alright! I think I’ve lost a few pounds.” But deep down I know it’s just a lie.

Now, before I share this information with you, let me just say; There is no way I will possibly be able to recap all the wisdom that was taught to me today. I won’t even try. Also, I need to have a certain respect for the work that has gone into this course. It wouldn’t be fair for me to publish all the slides I’ve been provided or copy the text verbatim. So, I’m going to do my best to sum up some of the concepts in my own words. And hopefully, you’ll be able to explore them further and put them to use.

Some wisdom from my classes in no specific order:

There was a great emphasis put on getting to know and understand your customer. What is actually valuable to them? Why didn’t they hire you? I know we all THINK we know what our customers want. But do we really? When a client does not accept your proposal do you offer to take them out to lunch so you can ask them what specifically made them hire a different firm/designer? It’s not always easy to get this information from clients. So, that’s your challenge. How do you do a better job getting feedback. Why do they hire you? What are their needs? How can you improve your company? It is the CUSTOMER that determines what the business is.

You can decide who you want to work for and target them. But do you really know who you want to work for? Who is your ideal customer. It’s easy to think: “Well, I want to work for NIKE!” But in the real-world what are the true implications of working with Nike? Will you get to do branding? Will you have lots of creative control? Will it be a bureaucratic free experience? Probably not! Maybe a small start-up is actually a better customer. Do a pros and cons analysis and think about who your true ideal client is, not your perceived ideal client.

Keep your value proposition short. It’s called “resonating focus.” You determine 2-3 of the MOST IMPORTANT values to your customer and focus on those. Creating long lists of benefits or attributes of your company or product will only dilute your sales pitch. Again, this requires research! You have got to get to know your customer.

When making decisions, you should always consider the lifetime value of a customer. If you’re focused on the profitability of one project, you’ve got the wrong perspective. You must identify your very best customers and treat them like gold – even if that means losing some money in the short term.

When trying to build your customer base, don’t waste your time trying to sell your services to non-customers. Instead, try to focus on selling more to your existing customers. It’s always cheaper to up-sell an existing client than it is to get a new customer.

When thinking about growing your business, it’s easy to focus on trying to steal a bigger piece of the “pie” from your competitors. Here’s another thought: make the pie bigger! Sometimes your competitors are also your complementors. It’s a grey world! Don’t assume you need to defeat your competitors in order to grow your business. A good example is two bars located next to each other. Are they competitors? Of course. But they also complement each other. Bar goers like to “bar hop.” They can’t bar hop if there is only one bar! These bars might want to get together to open a third bar. Now people can bar hop even better. The net result is that more people will come to their bars because they’ve build a bar district. They’ve worked together to increase the value of both of their bars. They’ve made a bigger pie! Consider what businesses complement yours. Figure out how to leverage that to grow the pie!

Suggested reading:

Professional Services marketing by Mike Shultz and John Doerr

Co-opetition by Barry Nalebuff

The Art of Strategy by Barry Nalebuff

Ok, so, I think I’ve given you enough to think about for one day. Find a dark room and ponder these questions. I better get some more reading done before I hit the sheets.

Business Perspectives for Creative Leaders part 2 of 7

My experience attending AIGA & Yale’s School of Management course Business Perspectives for Creative Leaders.

Ok, so this will probably be my least informative post in this series. But I want to give you the complete experience, so despite the fact that today was just a check-in and orientation program, I wanted to share it with you.

I got up at 5am and was in the air to Philadelphia by 6:46. I had a 2 hour layover that I used to work on my prerequisite reading. The small propeller plane that took me into the one-gate New Haven airport was loud and a little bumpy but otherwise uneventful. The only scary aspect of the trip to Yale was my taxi driver that seemed to think he was a NASCAR driver. At one point he gunned the motor to cut off another driver who yelled audibly “Asshole!” To which my driver yelled back: “I know!” Then he hooted loudly and said: “Now I’m awake!”

The Study Hotel where I’m staying is super modern, contemporary and swanky all at once. It’s the sort of place that makes you feel cool. This hotel is cool. I’m staying here; therefore I must also be cool. I was exhausted so I took a quick nap then ran down the street to grab some snacks from Walgreens. At 3pm we were given a preliminary tour of the campus. It’s mostly ornate stone buildings that look like well preserved 16th century castles, churches and mansions. Mixed in are a few highly artistic ultra-modern bits of architecture. And most intriguing of all was a low lying, unmarked fortress of a building that houses Yale’s secret society similar to the Skull and Bones of Harvard.

Yale’s Secret Society Building.

After the tour one of the social sciences professors gave our group a series of team building exercises. We spent some time getting to know each other in a traditional manner. Then she coached us a bit on how to really get to know someone. Basically, the conversations went from things like: “Where do you live?” to things like: “What are you passionate about?” After that it got even more personal. She asked each person in the group to share a defining moment in their lives. Boy did it get personal. It felt like a group therapy session. I think I saw a few tears. It was really powerful in helping our class bond. After a few more get-to-know-you team building exercises we were adjourned to dinner.

Dinner took place at the Sterling Memorial Library. It started with complimentary drinks and fancy appetizers on the lawn outside. They had a string quartet playing music as our class continued to mingle. I don’t consider myself the most outgoing person, but everyone here is amazingly friendly and sharing, so it is relatively easy to strike up conversations. Earlier we were provided short bios on the attendees. They’re all very impressive. That combined with the atmosphere and the difficulty of the learning I’m facing has me feeling very privileged to be here. After a few drinks we went inside for an amazing dinner and more drinks. The senior associate dean for executive programs and the executive director of AIGA gave opening speeches welcoming us and giving us a history and overview of the course.

When I returned to my hotel room there was a gift bag with an embroidered TEC running jacket. Wow. I’m really feeling special now.

So far I have been thoroughly impressed with the accommodations, treatment, food and atmosphere. It’s late, I’m tired and I still have an hour of reading to do before I go to bed. Class starts at 8am tomorrow. I’m excited!

Business Perspectives for Creative Leaders part 1 of 7

Business Perspectives for Creative LeadersMy experience attending AIGA & Yale’s School of Management course Business Perspectives for Creative Leaders.

When my partners and I started Go Media many years ago, none of us had any formal business training. What we had was a passion for design, a willingness to work hard and the belief that we could figure out the business stuff over time. And for the most part, we have been wildly successful. We’ve been featured in design magazines around the world. We’ve been building a robust community through the Zine, Arsenal and WMC Fest. And we’ve worked for many companies large and small. But it hasn’t been all sunshine and roses. Go Media has always struggled with profitability. In 2009 when the economy collapsed we were forced to lay off four employees. And since then the company has been stagnant (in terms of annual cash flow.) And due to this stagnation in sales, our staff (including the owners) have had to accept below market wages. Last year we lost one of our very best employees to a company in California because they offered him over twice his current salary. This was a terrible blow to our company and our hearts. We knew something needed to be done.

Our strategy of “figure it out over time” business education has been working to a large degree. We have learned a ton. In fact, I’m writing a book about everything I’ve learned while building Go Media. However, there comes a time when asking your staff to “hold on till next year for a better salary” starts to get old. We realize that we needed to make a change. And after 10+ years of trying to figure it out ourselves, we’ve realized that maybe we don’t have all the answers. We need some outside help. About the time we were coming to this realization I received a flyer in the mail from AIGA for their Business Perspectives for Creative Leaders course at Yale University. In a snap-shot, it’s an intensive week long business course at Yale created specifically for “leaders” in the creative industry. It sounded like exactly what we needed.

The course has an application process and a hefty fee. At the time it seemed like more than we could possibly afford. But my partners Wilson and Jeff felt very strongly that the knowledge gained would well outweigh the costs. So, we decided to make the investment. One thing about surviving in business – you must continually fight. You must work constantly to improve your service and build more efficient business processes. If you just wait around for things to get better on their own, you’ll be out of business soon.

So, as part of my desire to get as much value as possible out of my trip to Yale, I’ve decided to write this series of blog articles. Each night after I’ve finished with my classes I’m going to recap my experiences for you. I’ll be including some useful tidbits of business information along the way. Hopefully this trip will help more artists than just Go Media.

My experience so far

After being accepted into the program, I’ve received regular correspondence from Yale. They set up a Linked In group so the participants can get to know one another. They also have a nice website that includes general instructions, class itinerary, professor information and additional registration information. The website also has prerequisite reading – tons and tons of reading. I got started last week and still have a pile of case studies to read before heading to Yale on Sunday. Lastly, I’ve received a call from the faculty program director. He asked me lots of questions about Go Media and what I hoped to learn from the course.

I’m very excited about this opportunity to learn. I’m dearly hoping to gain insights necessary to push Go Media to the next level. Our staff is amazing and truly deserves leadership that will deliver on the promises we’ve made. And I’m eternally grateful to my partners for pushing me to do this. So, keep an eye out for articles each day this coming week as I share some of my new found business perspectives with you.

More information about this program can be found here:

Next post will be coming tomorrow night!

Blank Canvas: Students — What’s Missing From Your Classes?

Go Media has a large student readership. We’d love to hear from you regarding your current classes and offered classes — what’s missing?

I know back in my college days, it was a far different environment than it is today. The school and professors were considered reputable in their field, yet I found some of their approaches to be out of touch. I imagine that situation never changes.

What’s not offered, or not given enough time in the classes you’re taking? What’s not available to learn that you feel are important skills for a designer to have in their arsenal for the future?

Are you missing out on new web technologies like CSS and HTML5? Is designing for mobile computing environments with iOS and Android sufficiently covered? What sort of information do you find yourself turning to design blogs like Go Media Zine for?

And let’s not be completely negative here — if your university is offering some kick-ass classes in areas that you feel are part of the future of design, let us know as well in the comments below.


Degree or No Degree?

Barton Damer was kind enough to let us repost this article on the zine. What do you think? Do you need a degree to be a designer these days?

Degree or no degree?

There are many potential paths you could follow in the world of “design.” Graphic Art is the term I gravitate towards the most for my own work. There’s often a fine line to distinguish the difference between graphic art and graphic design but it usually relies on less layout of typography and more visual development. A growing field for graphic artists is Motion Design (aka – motion graphics). At it’s basic level, you are simply making your graphic art move. Ultimately, it helps to know a lot about all aspects of design whether it’s web, print or motion. Eventually, you’ll find your sweet spot but you’ll need a good base in design principles first.

School is always a good option but not necessary. It’s a combination of motivation, knowledge and ability. If one is missing, the formula is incomplete. School will provide the knowledge to improve your ability. School not only allows you to learn great design principles and be critiqued by others, but you will always grow faster when you are surrounded and challenged by others who are doing the same. Additionally, the people you meet in school will go on to be in your industry and it always helps to have that connection 5-10 years down the road. School also helps you form discipline. You’ll have to be highly motivated and naturally talented to make a career out of design without an education.

Not all design students are great designers. Motivation is the key to gaining knowledge. Not school. If you have the drive to be a designer, you will find plenty of knowledge online. You can also improve your ability and be challenged by online artist communities. Not going to school is definitely possible in this industry. I have friends that own their own businesses and write code for websites from scratch without ever having gone to college. There are designers that have made great livings for themselves without an art degree. Although skipping school is probably not the norm or the suggested method, going to school does not necessarily guarantee success either. Like any major, people often graduate and do not even find a job in that field.

I went to school for Commercial Art. I learned everything from oil painting to Photoshop. My experience, however, was that I learned principles in class; but not really the software. Learning software on your own or with the aid of tutorials, etc. is a part of the design life. The classroom was more about giving me projects and critiquing them. I learned and tried web design using Flash and Dreamweaver back in the day. I quickly gave that up. I realized that I needed to be able to write code to really have a future in web. That wasn’t going to happen. I’ve learned Final Cut Pro, After Effects, Illustrator, Cinema 4d, and all sorts of software on my own since school. The software is constantly changing so even if you find your classroom setting useful for learning programs; that won’t help you 5 years after you’ve graduated school. You’ll need to learn how to keep up with software on your own. There is no rest when it comes to keeping up with technology.
Overall, I would recommend a good education. That is not available to everyone though so buying a computer and software might make more sense if you are motivated enough to learn what is needed. A strong portfolio will speak louder than a resume or degree.