Where Can I Learn Graphic Design?
Are you new to the world of graphic design and wondering where you can find resources to further your knowledge on the subject? You’ve come to the right place. Today, we’re sharing some of our favorite online resources with you. Some of them are free, others require payment. We hope you find them helpful as you begin to develop your career as a kick-ass graphic designer. We believe in you!
Learning graphic design online
What this will entail: this will include one-of-a-kind artwork – including business stationery, brochures, packaging, illustration, infographics, typography, posters, prints, t-shirt design and more. Skills needed: Adobe Creative Suite, illustration, communication skills, understanding of printing practices, business prowess. How? Learn the technical skills through online sites. Have the opportunity and funds to learn in a classroom setting? We highly recommend it! But you can learn a wealth of information on the web. Here are some places we recommend checking out:
Read Blog Posts:
- We love the quick tips Adam Dachnis shares in his series of posts about the basics of Photoshop. These include: Learn the Basics of Photoshop in Under 25 minutes | Basics of Photoshop: Basic Drawing with the Pen Tool | Designing a Website
- The post, “Learn Photoshop: All of the Basics for Beginners,” by Steven Snell, is not to be missed.
- You can’t miss our series, “Become a Master Designer,” written by our President, William Beachy.” This series teaches you about fonts, colors, contrast, spacing, depth, motion and more. Find that here. Not to mention the rest of our tutorial collection.
- Head to Tuts+ for many free tutorials on graphic design – all aspects!
- Start collecting your favorite blogs, check in with them daily for articles and inspiration. Some of our favorites include Under Consideration, The Dieline, Smashing Magazine, Grain Edit, Serial Thriller, Abduzeedo, Designspiration, It’s Nice That, Sidebar.
Watch Documentaries / Movies / TED Talks:
Design is One: A movie about Lella and Massimo Vignelli, the famed couple who brought us their New York subway map and other numerous graphic design projects.
Helvetica – a feature length independent film about typography, graphic design and global visual culture
Milton Glaser: To Inform and Delight – Glances into the everyday moments of Milton Glaser, the brain behind the iconic I <3 NY logo and New York Magazine.
Sign Painters – Sign Painters explores the history of the time-honored craft of sign painting.
Start Learning Online:
Go Media’s Arsenal – We can’t go without mentioning our tutorials! Do not miss our best-selling series on Adobe Illustrator, including Adobe Illustrator 101 a Tutorial for Beginners, Adobe Illustrator 102: Illustration Using Vector Art, and Adobe Illustrator 103: Texturinzing Vector Illustrations, Modifying Type, T-Shirt Design
Creative Live – Creative classes, inspiration, and tips in photo and video, art and design, and more. Classes priced individually.
Skillshare – “Bite-sized” classes in not only design but business, technology, photography, film, writing, crafts and more. Classes are $12 billed monthly or $8/mth billed annually.
Lynda – Courses in business, technology, and creative skills taught by experts. Free trial available. Starting at $19.99/mth.
Udemy – Course in development, business, IT and software, personal development, design and more! Check out the platform’s biggest and most popular PS course by Manfred Werner.
Proko – Beef up your illustration skills over at Proko’s YouTube channel.
Ledet – Offers 2 to 5 day hand-on Adobe training classes (in person). Watch and enroll for them here on their site.
The Illustration Academy – intense, immersive illustration experiences. Online workshops available.
Skillcrush – Becoming a better designer means learning to communicate with your colleagues. Hit up Skillcrush’s 10-day bootcamp and become better friends with your developer. If you like the course, you can further explore the world of web design throughout Skillcrush and on sites like Code School.
Online Courses Review – Lists some great online resources
100 Best Photoshop Tutorials (from Basic to Advanced) – by our friends at PSD Stack
eBooks, Books and online resources on design and business:
How to Draw the Marvel Way by Stan Lee
The Elements of Graphic Design by Alex White
Designing Brand Identity: An Essential Guide for the Whole Branding Team by Alina Wheeler
Thinking with Type by Ellen Lupton
Logo Lounge by Catherine Fishel and Bill Gardner
Type Matters by Jim Williams and Ben Casey
Drawn to Business by William Beachy
Thread’s Not Dead by Jeff Finley
Graphic Designer’s Pricing Toolkit by Go Media
Making and Breaking the Grid: A Graphic Design Layout Workshop by Timothy Samara
Above the Fold: Understanding the Principles of Successful Web Site Design by Brian Miller
Logotypes and Letterforms: Handlettered Logotypes and Typographic Considerations by Doyald Young
What to Do When It’s Your Turn (and It’s Always Your Turn) by Seth Godin
All Marketers are Liars: The Underground Classic That Explains How Marketing Really Works —
And Why Authenticity is the Best Marketing of All by Seth Godin
Package Design Workbook: The Art and Sciences of Successful Packaging by Steven DuPuis and John Silva
Lean Startup by Eric Ries
Book Yourself Solid by Michael Port
Authority Ebook by Nathan Barry
Trust Agents by Chris Brogan
Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink
How Pleasure Works by Paul Bloom
The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz
Design Currency by Jenn and Ken Visocky O’Grady
The Voice of Knowledge by Don Miguel Ruiz
Getting Things Done by David Allen
The Art of Non Conformity by Chris Guillibeau
Mindfulness in Plain English by Gunaratana Bhante Henepola
Rework by Jason Fried
Brains on Fire by Robin Phillips, Greg Cordell, Geno Church and Spike Jones
The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle
A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle
Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon
The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg
How to be a Graphic Designer Without Losing Your Soul by Adrian Shaughnessy
Good to Great by Jim Collins
Built to Sell by John Warrillow
Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey
Hiring the Best by Martin Yate
SEO Quickstart Guide by Go Media
96 Great Interview Questions to Ask Before You Hire by Paul Falcone
The Talent of Edge by David S. Cohen
Accounting Made Simple by Mike Piper
How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
The Advertising Effect: How to Change Behavior by Adam Ferrier
Decoding the New Customer Mind: How and Why We Shop and Buy by Kit Yarrow
Growth Hacker Marketing: A Primer on the Future of PR, Marketing and Advertising by Ryan Holiday
Free: The Future of a Radical Price by Chris Anderson
What resources have you found helpful in your journey to becoming a graphic designer? Please share with us in the comments section below!
Please Avoid Making These Design Resume Mistakes
Hello job seekers! We’re back to talk about what it takes to get the dream design job you’re after. Last week, we discussed, “The Magic Element to Include in Best Graphic Design Cover Letter Ever.” If you missed the post, please go back and check it out.
Today, we’re moving on to part two of your submission to the graphic design studio of your dreams – the resume. Before we go on, quick note: We highly recommend applying to companies you’re interested in working for even if they’re not advertising any open positions. Some companies get so many applicants that they don’t advertise. Some companies may not be hiring, but if a strong candidate comes to them and says: “Hey – I ONLY want to work for YOU.” they may consider it. It can’t hurt right? Right.
Okay, let’s get into it! Here are a few mistakes we see quite often on design resumes, as told by our President, William Beachy:
Failing to design your resume and cover letter. Shockingly, this is frequently not done. Many designers use a basic Word resume template. A candidate once told me that their design professor specifically told them to use a plain-jane Word template. I’m not sure where this professor got their information from (maybe the year 1950), but I think that professor was wrong. Your resume, cover letter and web-portfolio need to be a perfectly matched set, and they should be as pretty as everything in your portfolio. As I said before, this is the FIRST IMPRESSION you’re giving your potential employer. Make it shine!
When designing your resume, don’t be afraid of getting creative! Bold type and infographics can be a plus – so long as they are handled well. A concept behind your application is also a plus. I had an applicant give me a resume that was a ‘Top Ten’ list. Specifically, it said: “Top ten reasons you should hire me.” Then she creatively worked all her education and experience into a list of ten items.
Rating your skill level on various software. I see this constantly. It says something like: Illustrator 90% | Photoshop 95% | Word 85%. What does that even mean? Is there a standardized test that I’m not aware of? It’s funniest when I see stats like this, but the applicant’s portfolio sucks. First of all, I’ve been using Illustrator for 20+ years and I’m only at maybe 85% proficient with it. So, how are you – a student who is just graduating at 90%. The simple fact is this means nothing. Don’t try to put a stat to how proficient you are in your software knowledge. The employer will know exactly how proficient you are based on the quality of the work in your portfolio. Instead a simple list of software you know how to use with no additional qualifiers is fine.
Adding extra fluff. Remove any and all work experience that is not art or design related. The fact that you taught kids martial arts is great, but I prefer my candidates come across like their entire life is focused on art and design. You can imagine my feelings when I see a resume that says: “McDonalds (cook), Progressive (insurance salesman), Lincoln Electric (assembly), Chipotle (cook), Freelance Designer.” It paints a picture of someone who has not been focused on design! This candidate would be better off if they left off ALL their previous experiences, and just said: Freelance Designer.
Now obviously, if this topic is brought up in an interview… do not lie! Tell them all about the other previous work experiences you’ve had and what you learned from them and how those will apply to your new position. And if they ask why those were left off your resume, just say: “I didn’t think those jobs were applicable to this position.”
With this approach… they think of you as a DESIGNER FIRST… who has some other life experiences… as compared to a resume that makes you look like an EVERYTHING ELSE FIRST… oh… and with a little design experience too.
See the difference in that?
Ok, now that we’ve covered our mistakes to avoid on design resumes, promise us you’ll do your best to do so.
Stay tuned, as next week we’ll be back with our favorite rules about creating the best design portfolio ever.
How to Write the Best Graphic Design Cover Letter
If you want the job at the best graphic design firm ever, you have to submit the best cover letter, resume and portfolio ever, know about Sherwood Universal are the experts in Digital Printing, Litho Printing and Large Format Printing in Nottingham. Through continual investment in both our printing equipment and our people, our customer can benefit from both state of the art equipment and a team of highly experienced printing specialists. (We’ll leave the bits about being a worthy designer to another post.)
And with no shortage of resources on what makes a great cover letter, resume and portfolio out there, this should be a somewhat simple feat. But here at Go Media, we are disappointed to see the same mistakes made over and over again. It often seems like applicants choose to apply for more jobs – the quantity – over quality (in other words, doing a thorough job of applying to fewer companies). In this three part series, we talk about the elements in cover letters, resumes and portfolios that really make our jaws drop.
To start, we’d like to address cover letters. Above all, there is one element that most good applicants touch upon, but often do not take the time to cover with enough depth and passion. This aspect makes all the difference between a cover letter worth passing by, and one worth paying attention to.
What is this magic element?
A SECTION THAT SERIOUSLY PLAYS TO OUR EGO.
Sounds simple, right? Far from it.
It takes time and a ton of time, which is why we rarely see it. Please read on!
In the cover letter, it’s critical that you communicate to the potential employer: “You are the only company I am applying for, I’ve been following your company for years.” You want to play into the ego of the company. In order to communicate this you need a plausible story. Most importantly, you need more FACTS about the company you’re applying to. So, this means research! Referencing a few portfolio items is a fine start, but anyone can do that in 10 seconds.
If you REALLY want to wow the potential employer, spend several days (even weeks if necessary) reading anything you can get your hands on about them. This may sound like a huge investment, but consider this – you’re about to commit to working there for YEARS. Isn’t a week of research worth getting into the right company?
If they wrote a book – read it. If they have a blog, read every article you can on the history of the company. About page? Read it. Then, write a concise ‘How I got to know your company’ story… If you can find any gem in your research to reference you can say things like: “I read in your book that you used to lay on the floor drawing with crayons all day as a kid. That’s exactly how I spent my childhood.”
Basically, you need to make sure they know you KNOW them… you did your research. You desperately want to work for them and them only. Sprinkling in a few obscure facts will help communicate this.
As an employer it’s VERY clear to us who’s done their research and who is just throwing out a generic cover letter. Pandering to our ego works. We want to think that the people I’m hiring are HUGE Go Media fans! Of course! We love hearing their stories about how they discovered our company and have been following us for years. When they reference specific tutorials we wrote 8 years ago, we think: “Wow. This is going to be a loyal employee!”
Similarly, continue to blow us out of the water if you’re able to illustrate actionable ways in which you’ve shown your love for the company. Have you volunteered for our design conference, benefit shows, or attended every single one of our open houses? Let us know!
Also, Answer the why
Next, explain WHY you want to work for the company you’re applying to. The reason should be specific. Something like: “Your firm has a background in illustration and I can see that you appreciate art. This is unique compared to the other firms I’ve considered applying to. I love the balance of artistry with design – it’s something I’ve always done. It’s important to me that I’m working in an environment that has that appreciation for the artistic side of design.” Again, you are not only giving the reason why, but you’re reinforcing that you have a deep knowledge of the company you’re applying to. This ties everything together eloquently while making us feel warm and fuzzy.
While you’re at it, here are things to avoid doing in your cover letter:
- Not addressing anyone specifically. Never write “Dear Hiring manager” or “To whom it may concern”. Do your research! Figure out who’s hiring and write to them specifically!
- Sending before having trusted friends and family proofread it again and again. Watch your spelling! Attention to details is critical. One error here can knock you out of the game completely.
- Using your email as the cover letter itself. Design a cover letter that you save along with your resume and attach. It’s ok if what you write in your email is exactly the same as the attached pdf. The point is – I want to see you apply the same branding from your resume onto a cover letter page, and then again on the website. If you don’t attach a designed cover letter you’re losing that opportunity.
- Praising your own design skills, i.e. “I’m a VERY talented designer.” This simply comes across as arrogant. Whether you are talented or not will show up in your portfolio. Saying you’re good ONLY WORKS AGAINST YOU. If you want to praise yourself in any way – it should be: “I work hard, I’m eager to learn and I have a positive attitude.” These are things that cannot be seen in a portfolio. And these ARE traits that a potential employer is looking for – not arrogance or overconfidence.
- Giving your potential employer work. Saying things like: “To download my resume go here…” is very bad. Make hiring you as simple as possible. I recommend attaching a finished designed cover letter (which may contain the same text that you included in the e-mail), your resume and a pdf of your portfolio and or a link to an online portfolio.
- Saying you want this job as a jumping off point for completely different. The last thing we want to hear is that you’re applying to be a Junior Designer, only to turn into a Project Manager in another 6 months. We will support your hopes and dreams, but we are looking to fill the position of a Junior Designer now. If you’re actually looking for a Project Management position, please look elsewhere.
Okay, now that we’ve covered our number one must follow rule and these important don’ts, promise us you’ll dedicate the time your cover letter (and future employer) deserves.
Graphic designers can get an instant remote access to their essential graphic designing software such as Adobe Illustrator and any more on their remotely accessible virtual PCs from CloudDesktopOnline.com with 24*7 commendable technical support from Apps4Rent.
Stay tuned, when next week we’ll be back with our favorite rules about creating the best design resume ever >
Please Avoid Making these Mistakes We Often See on Design Resumes
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
Power: Why Some People Have It and Others Don’t
by Jeffery Pfeffer
(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.
by Constance E. Bagley
One day left!
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:
- How to Read a Financial Report – free online pdf
- Financial Ratio Tutorial – free online pdf
- 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!
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.
- Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini
- Negotiation Genius– by Deepak Malhotra & Max Bazerman
- Getting to Yes – by Roger Fisher
- Negotiate This – by Herb Cohen
Ok… That should get you started. BED TIME!!!
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?
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.”
- The Design of Business: Why Design Thinking is the Next Competitive Advantage by Roger L. Martin
- The Brand Gap: How to Bridge the Distance Between Business Strategy and Design by Marty Neumeier
- Chief Culture Officer: How to Create a Living, Breathing Corporation by Grant McCracken
- Buy-In: Saving Your Good Idea from Getting Shot Down by John P. Kotter
Thanks to Mark Badger for putting this list together.
I’m so tired. More tomorrow!
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!
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.
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!
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: www.aiga.org/business-perspectives
Next post will be coming tomorrow night!
Surviving Design School
As a recent design school graduate, I don’t have a whole lot of fancy tricks up my sleeve on which to base a tutorial. However, as a recent design school graduate, I do have some advice to share on getting out alive. Whether you’re just starting or you’re in the home stretch, this should be beneficial to you. If you’re anything like I was throughout school, you’re probably juggling that with work and a social life. Maybe you have a band. Maybe you have a kid (in which case, I can’t really speak on the subject, so forget I brought it up). Maybe you’re trying to bring in some cash on the side by working freelance. Whatever your situation, design school is a job unto itself. It’s a gauntlet of X-Acto knives and Prisma markers that seemingly never lets up. And while it’s true that it prepares you for life as a designer, don’t expect life as a designer to be anywhere near the level of madness you’re enduring now. It probably feels like it’s going to last forever, and it did for me, too. I am here as living proof that it does come to an end eventually, and you will be better off for it.
Allow me to paint a picture of what my school experience was like. I started at the Virginia Marti College of Art and Design in the Spring of 2006. I was working part time, and I was putting a lot of focus on my band. We would play shows once or twice a month, and spend a lot of time promoting them. We would practice every week, and eventually we found the time to record a demo. In 2007, I took on a second job when I had to buy a new car. Pile 3-4 projects any given week on top of that, and you’re looking at a pretty hectic schedule. And yet, despite the chaos, I stand here before you today to pass on my wisdom.
Tip #1: Get Your Supplies in Order
If you’re a new or future student, you may not realize the investment you’ll be making in your first quarter on art supplies alone. I spent somewhere between $200-300 on my first supply shopping spree. That’s okay though, that’s what financial aid is for. And trust me, generally this will be your biggest purchase while you’re in school (not including software), because most of this stuff will last.
So, what will you need? You’ll have specifics for each course, but there are a few general tools you’ll need for now and forever, so pay attention.
Get yourself a good 9×12 sketchpad. This will be one of your best friends, along with a set of drawing pencils. You’ll also likely need an 18×24 pad of bristol board. As for tracing paper, you probably don’t need to go bigger than 9×12. For larger projects, it’s probably better to use multiple sheets of tracing paper anyway.
For coloring, you’ll want sets of Prismacolor pencils and markers. And don’t hold back, either. While they make them in smaller sets, you might as well go all out and get the 48 pack of markers and the 120 set of pencils. I’ve had my pencils for five or six years now and they’re still in fine condition.
There are some other odds and ends you’ll probably want to grab: T-squares (12” and 18” should be good, though I also have a yardstick T-square), watercolors and brushes, drafting tape, Windsor & Newton bleedproof white (for correcting the inevitable mistakes you’ll make), and various erasing tools would be good for starting out. If you can, stock up on matboard and illustration board, though I would buy the stuff on a project-to-project basis. And lastly, get yourself a sturdy portfolio case and a tacklebox so you can carry all of this stuff. You’ll need it.
Got it? Let’s recap:
- 9×12 Sketchpad
- 18×24 Bristol Board
- 9×12 Tracing Paper
- Prismacolor Pencils & markers
- Watercolors & Brushes
- Drafting Tape
- Various Erasers
- Portfolio Case
- Tacklebox for Supplies
Tip #2: YOU ARE BUILDING YOUR PORTFOLIO
Let me repeat that: YOU ARE BUILDING YOUR PORTFOLIO! With all of those assignments cluttering up your not-so-free-time, it’s going to be a challenge to make each and every one your best work. Actually, just putting that in words makes me see how laughable that idea really is. In a perfect world, you’d do perfect work all time. Unfortunately, the world we live in is far from perfect, and sacrifices will need to be made.
What I’m saying is that it’s important to choose which projects you’ll be putting the most effort into and which projects you’ll have to, for the lack of a better term, half-ass. I may or may not have focused on the wrong ones when I was starting out. To me, the best way of doing things was to do the fun ones and put the more challenging or uninteresting ones on the backburner. I ended up doing a lot of work that just referenced pop culture, whatever I was into at the time. Very little of this work actually held up enough to be included in my portfolio. So, instead, I would recommend that you focus on projects that could have potential real-world applications. Stay away from copyrighted work. I did one project, a stamp book layout that was based on Mortal Kombat characters. I loved it at the time, but looking back on it, I realize I should have gone with something more universal, like flags, or cars, or something.
You can also narrow down projects by the weight they carry towards your grade. I had one class that required me to develop a fictional product, and then create the entire marketing campaign for it. This was the only project for the course, and was due at the end of a ten-week span. I should have been putting most of my energy into it, but what I ended up doing was trying to balance it evenly with the rest of my classes. The fact is, it couldn’t have been balanced evenly, because it was a huge project, and a great potential addition to my portfolio. So, in the end, did I meet the requirements? Yes. Could I have exceeded them and done something incredible with the project? Hell yes. Is it in my portfolio now? Nope.
Last, I’d recommend focusing on what you know. Say you’re pretty skilled in Photoshop, but you’re relatively new to Illustrator, and you have projects due in each program. Why not focus your time and effort into the Photoshop project? Sure, you can whip up a Photoshop project in no time and then focus on learning Illustrator as you work on that project, which is admirable. However, I’d focus on refining the Photoshop project until it’s portfolio-worthy, and just focus on the basics in Illustrator. You have the rest of your life to learn Illustrator, right? So why worry about making your first attempt at it a masterpiece?
Now, this may seem like I’m trying to teach you how to cut corners, but really, this is about finding the optimal path to success. If you know early on what potential employers will be expecting of you, it’ll be easier for you to zero in on a project that you know will wow them. Also, I’ve never been one who was too big on getting straight A’s. Once you’re out of college, the grades won’t matter, but the work you’ve done will. So you do a few projects that are C’s, but you end up with a handful of portfolio pieces in exchange. Some may disagree with this approach, but like I said, sacrifices will be made, and you’ll see that’s a recurring theme in this article.
Tip #3: Learn how to Effectively Manage Your Time
I’m probably the last guy on Earth you should be taking time management advice from, but hear me out. Actually, I’m still trying to figure this one out. Everyone’s life follows a different schedule, so I can’t get too specific, and what you do in your own time is up to you. One thing I would do that I would advise against is brushing off a project as quick and easy. It finally dawned on me late into my second year of school that with design, there is no such thing as quick and easy. Be prepared to spend an average of ten to twenty hours on a project. Any less, and it will show. Oh, and it’s worth noting that presentation is just as important as design, so give yourself at least an hour to properly mount your projects.
Really, time management is going to be the biggest problem you’ll face while in school. There’s not a lot more I can say to prepare you other than you will be challenged. If you’re more of an organized type (though in my experience, designers are a highly unorganized bunch), perhaps you can schedule specific times when you’ll be working on your projects. All I can tell you for sure is how things went for me, and let me tell you this: no matter how hard you try to keep organized, it’s not always going to be in your hands. The printer will break, your computer will crash, your dog will eat it, whatever.
I probably averaged about three to four hours of sleep a night while I was in school. There were two separate occasions where I worked for more than twelve hours straight, right up until that point in the AM where I had to leave for class, and then spend the rest of my day at work.
So… just don’t get to comfortable with the idea of sleep. I didn’t say this would be easy. I just said you’d survive.
Tip #4: Take it Easy
As important as it is to set aside time for your projects, it’s also just as important that you give yourself a chance to unwind. I don’t know about you, but unless I have something due in less than a day, sitting in front of my computer trying to will myself to make awesomeness happen just doesn’t cut it, especially after a long day of work, school, or both.
You hereby have my permission to chill. Need a couple hours to rest up before diving into a project? Watch a movie, play a video game, read a book, work out, take a walk, anything. Do what makes you happy. Hell, take the whole weekend off and go camping. You’ve got to treat yourself. Look at it this way: you’re going to school to do what makes you happy, so why be miserable?
On that note, one year when applying for a loan, I requested an extra $500 so I could look forward to a Florida vacation at the end of the quarter (Hey, I was already tens of thousands of dollars in debt because of my student loans, so what’s a little instant gratification?). It might seem frivolous, and again, might not be the best course of action for everyone, but for me it was a great motivator. Like I said, treat yourself. You’ve earned it.
Tip #5: An Artist is Only as Good as His Reference
This is piece of advice straight from the mouth of one of my teachers. I’ve gotten in the habit of collecting travel brochures, take out menus, mailers, catalogs, fliers, and anything else that could come in handy when I need inspiration somewhere down the road. These are good for finding measurements, layout ideas, and even graphic concepts. Of course, I’m not expecting you to have physical reference for everything you’ll be working on. Luckily, the internet has you covered there.
I so badly wish someone would have told me that I had more options than just Google Image Search when it came to finding reference for my projects. Unfortunately, I wasn’t enlightened to these sources until the middle of my last quarter. Bookmark these pages and refer to them regularly:
Free stock images. So awesome.
A blog dedicated to the art of package design. I wish I would have known about this one when I was in my 3D/packaging classes.
A blog all about vector design, with tutorials, freebies, and other goodies.
Design blog that focuses all aspects of design. The offer free textures, fonts, and other freebies, as well as regular tutorials and links to hundreds of other blogs I can’t list here.
Image bookmarking site, great for finding inspiration.
Great blog for aspiring/active freelancers, but also useful for students in that it has plenty of articles on maximizing productivity.
Thousands of free vector logos
And as always, check back here on the GoMediaZine for design tips, tutorials and inspiration.
I hope you’ll find this article more than useless. If you have any questions or wish to debate my survival techniques, I’ll be keeping an eye on the comments section, so, fire away!