Treat Designers Like Everyone Else

This week I was shown this video “What is Spec Work?” by a professor of mine, and it got me thinking.  Spec Work is cover language that means working for free.  The video makes a few good points on the topic, that I think all young designers should keep in mind.


The first is that you should never do free work for established companies.  If you are needing more material for your portfolio then start by finding smaller projects for family, friends, and local businesses, and do them for dirt cheap if you need to.  Most professional designers get paid somewhere between $80-$400/hr so asking for $30 bucks to design a flyer isn’t breaking anyones bank.

There are two common ways that companies try to get spec work out of designers.  One is by asking multiple designers/firms to create sample work.  The other is by holding contests.  Ideally you won’t ever find yourself in this position, because the best work is produced when both the designer and the client are working together to produce a final product.  In this way, you as the designer get to do great work and get steady income, and your client gets a design they can be proud of because their feedback was a part of creating it.

We talked about how to avoid this, and the power of the all-mighty contract.  Contracts make sure that both the designer and the client are invested in the project.  And makes both parties clear on exactly what is to be expected.  By taking this step you make sure that the work you create is safe, and that terms remain the same over the course of the project.

The point of all this is to take yourself seriously as a professional.  When you’re just start your career, understanding how to evaluate your own talents is crucial to establishing your brand.  Most of what we do as designers if fun, but you have to development some business savvy to go along with the passion for design.

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Ignore Everybody: 3 Tips for the Creative Type

I recently read a book by cartoonist Hugh Macleod titled “Ignore Everybody: And 39 Other Keys to Creativity.”  The book was a brief, comical, and incredibly worthwhile read highlighting 40 lessons Macleod has learned over the years working in creative industries.  After reading the book, I found some of my favorites and thought I’d share my insights.

1) Ignore Everybody

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In a field where feedback is key, this can seem like an odd idea.  Paying attention to constructive critiques and taking inspiration from other design is part of the process.  Macleod means that when you have a great idea, it can often change the balance between you and your peers.  As a result sometimes your favorite ideas will get a lot of early questioning.  Macleod stresses the importance of an artist having a well formed idea, and keeping the goal of the design in mind throughout the work.

2) Keep Your Day Job

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I’m planning on working more than one job at a time in the coming years.  Some people see this as a bad thing, for a while the idea of having to work a job and freelance on the side was intimidating to me as well.  But Macleod’s perspective is that keeping a more steady (even if slightly boring) job is more than worth it.

First of all keeping a steady job means steady income, never a bad thing.  But also it means that all of the jobs you take on the side can be the most most fun jobs, where you can keep your original ideas your own.  By having both as a source of income, both become relatively low pressure because you aren’t entirely dependent on either.

3) Honesty Works

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This one is simple.  He is saying that people know when they’re being sold to, and tend to really hate it.  When someone is speaking to a crowd, it’s different than having a personal conversation with them.  This is true for your ideas too.  The strongest ideas speak for themselves.  When an idea is great the truth is most convincing, and it doesn’t need selling.

The Value of Design

We can learn an incredible amount about our own work by examining that of our betters. Animagraffs is a site run by entrepreneurial graphic designer Jacob O’ Neal. I came across the site and found myself being captured by skillful use of his minimalist and colorful design style. After looking at the rest of his portfolio and learning about him as a designer, I thought his lessons would be worth sharing, in addition to his very inspirational content.

The first thing I came across about O’ Neal was a series of motion graphics explaining how car engines work. I’ve been proudly called a car nerd in the past and loved the content of the page, so I explored further into the site. O’ Neal had done a series of projects, including the mechanics of a car engine, the firing mechanism of a handgun, the movement of a tarantula, and how to pull off the perfect moon walk.

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O’ Neal’s style is simple and bold, which makes is fantastic for understanding complex ideas. I began thinking of how useful motion graphics are, for a wide variety of industries. Furthermore, it got me thinking about graphic design as a form of education. Through this lens I think can learn quite a bit from designers like O’ Neal about both style and our industry.

As designers our purpose is to take complex, multi-faceted ideas and simplify them into simple relatable designs. We will be hired throughout our careers to communicate the ideas of your clients to the public. Our designs can and do actually educate people about the ideas were representing.

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O’ Neal mentions in his portfolio that he’s a self-made success, and chose the entrepreneurial path to being his own boss. I’ve found that many designers share common feelings towards starting their own business, but often fear failure or the risks involved. Regardless of your choice of career path, I think O’ Neal shares some wisdom for everyone.

O’ Neal seems to have found his niche for design. His ability to use design to simplify complex mechanics and structures is incredibly useful, and valuable, and he highlights it.   If you’re planning on starting a design company, then to get business you will have to communicate the value of your work, and the same goes if your looking to get hired for a company or freelance.  For a young professional designer I found two major takeaways.

  • Educate clients on the value of design, and it’s purpose for educating the public.
  • Find a niche that works with your strengths and style, and highlight that work to increase it’s value.