How To Design Better And Faster Than Trial And Error

How do you get design work done? When I have a new assignment, I’m usually eager to start sketching right away. Do you sit down immediately and draw something together? Or do you prefer to let your thoughts wander off and play around for a couple of days before you get started with the actual implementation?

I like to make the most out of my creativity. With experience growing, I identified some helpful guidelines I follow to improve the designing process – and the quality of my work.

When I accept a new design job, it’s most appealing to start off with Illustrator immediately. As I mentioned earlier though, I’ve noticed over time that that wasn’t the best approach because of the limitations the computer sets to intellectual creativity. What I’d like to talk about now is actually the part before sitting down and starting to sketch ideas, whether it is on the sheet or on the screen.

Resist the temptation!

I made it a habit not to start off immediately. And I can say, it’s pretty tough! With every new brief, I encounter hundreds of thoughts and ideas about the design and the implementation. And I want to try them out right away. Starting on a sheet of paper is hard enough, because I have to pull myself together not to skip that step and start designing on the computer right away. Not starting to sketch is even more difficult.

But it’s a good thing to take your time. The harder it seems to be in the beginning, the easier you make progress in the end. By holding on to this guideline, I got really fast!

Let things settle

“Let things settle” is a very important statement. Don’t move too fast in the beginning, as you are going to stumble sooner or later. And then all you have accomplished is the knowledge about an approach that doesn’t work, and you will have to start over with a new idea. That takes time! By separating your creativity into intellectual and visual creativity, and taking one step after another, you will become faster with every new project – and, most importantly, a lot better each time.

How to start

Start with giving your mind a few days’ time to get familiar with the topic. Think about your goal and imagine yourself in different positions for each idea you have: your client, their clients and customers, their competitors, etc. Develop a more and more sophisticated design every time you think about it. Sometimes, you’ll think about something, see something inspiring or listen to a song – and suddenly come up with a ground-breaking idea for the project. (CreativeBits’ Ivan wrote an interesting article about inspiration.)

After having brainstormed a couple of sketchy ideas, go ahead and put it to the table. Use sheets of paper to hand draw your ideas. I described this process in The Sheet vs. The Screen

Step back and take a look

After that, put it away and take a few days off again. Not off the subject, but off the need of production. Let your ideas ripen. Think them through – thoroughly. Pre-design them step by step in your head, as if you were using your favorite design application. Finish you ideas in your mind! Imagine the whole thing in color, and play with variations. All in your head.

The plus is, if you have a lot to do, like I do, you don’t have to be unproductive during the ripening phase. You can get other things done easily. You are encouraged to work on other projects, because it can enlighten your view of this one.

Now, after you’ve almost finished one composition or more in your head, here comes the best part. Now, sit down and actually start designing! Believe me, you will be done in no time. You don’t believe me now? You won’t believe yourself later.

Do believe

From the results-count-only point of view, you’ve just started to design. And finished already with a terrific and perfect comp. How is this possible?

Because you anticipated all steps of the designing process in your mind before actually getting started with the composition, you were able to look ahead and avoid problems that you would have experienced during the process. (Of course, you need to know your design applications and how to do things. You must have passed the early “I don’t know if it works, but maybe the function is hidden somewhere”-phase.) If you are capable of using your mind rather than trial-and-error, and achieve design goals better, faster and more convenient, why not?

Besides, you gain an interesting side effect if you proceed this way: You are able to accomplish more at a time, and you will impress people around you with your “geniality”. Don’t tell them where you got this from

Creating Winning Design Presentations

The subject of how to present creative to clients, and what to present, has been debated in the design and advertising communities forever and a day. Hoping to share some of my experience on the subject, I’ve developed a guide of my top five steps I take to create presentations which clients like, buy-off on, and actually work to sell products and/or thoughtfully and thoroughly present information.

1. Know Your Client & Their Products

Sit with your client before you do anything and listen. Listen to what they want. Listen to their marketing problems. Listen what they’ve done in the past that has worked and what they’ve done that hasn’t. A successful creative presentation will cover all marketing strategies, will show a client a real solution to their marketing challenge, and will provide them something they actually like.

Conduct your own research, even if it’s only a few minutes worth, review the competitions’ marketing materials and strategies. Take note of what you believe they are doing right and what they’re doing wrong.

2. Be Engaging

Once you listen, ask questions. I have found that any successful creative presentation involves engaging my clients before any designing begins. If I can enlist my client as a partner in their own marketing process, then we will work successfully as a team to create successful marketing solutions. Any good design of a business blog, logo, website, or just about anything you can think of, is being designed to solve a marketing or information presentation challenge. Ask your client if you can review their business plan before you begin their logo design. Ask your client to show you web sites they like, so you can determine any web-marketing misunderstandings they may have, before you begin a web design.

A good design is being created to solve a marketing or information presentation challenge.

And if they offer few answers or little enlightenment on how you should proceed, consider taking the extra step of offering them a marketing plan and strategy, even if it’s only a few bullet points offered as a summary of your meeting’s discussion, before you sit down to design anything.

3. Allow Your Form To Follow Your Client’s Function

Once you’re ready to design (and if you’re like me you’ve been designing in your head before even being assigned the project) review all the information you can about the client’s company, product, services, or information to be presented. Good design of marketing materials stems from strategy and not from creating isolated, well-design canvases of sparkling photos, illustrations, color and typography.

I like to keep the client’s corporate (or product/service) target demographics taped to the wall in front of me as I work, however elementary those demographics may be. I want my client to like the designs, but they are not the target audience and this is not wallpaper for their home! Is the target audience women who are between 30 – 45 years old? What magazines do they read and what websites to they visit? For product-related design, I ask what is the price-point threshold, or how much are they typically willing to spend on this type of product, for the target-audience (I can’t tell you how many high-end products I see designs created for which reflect low-end pricing). And of course, what is the competition doing and what does their marketing materials look like.

4. Create A Presentation Which Covers Everything, Including Your & Your Client’s Ass

I’ve never understood the debate between designers about whether you present only one design, or multiple designs from which a client can choose. Presenting more than one design to any client, even if you pay for it yourself, can save your project and even your career. Even if you have the great fortune of establishing a very narrow and specific marketing strategy with your client beforehand from which to work, any good, marketing-oriented designer can create an unlimited number of designs to solve the marketing challenge. Every single design you present should reflect a clear and planned marketing-strategy you have been given or have developed yourself. Period.

A good, marketing-oriented designer can create an unlimited number of designs to solve the marketing challenge.

Any successful creative presentation will offer a client a variety of visual (colors, shapes, pretty picture stuff) and textual (taglines, headlines, subheads, eyebrows) marketing solutions. I tell every client that my job in a creative presentation is to thoroughly explore visual interpretations of marketing solutions, providing them with a complete exploration of their marketing strategies so that we never have to do this again (providing obvious situations do not change). And my goal is to show them enough variety to ensure they choose a design which they will like and which will actually work for them to sell their products or services, or successfully present their information in the most user-friendly method appropriate. Now how can any designer achieve that goal by presenting only one logo design, one web storyboard, or one brochure cover design?

5. Follow A Strategic Path During Your Presentation

I recommend planning everything in your presentation. Plan the order of the designs presented. Plan to show a marketing strategy statement with each design. Plan on taking the lead for the initial presentation of designs, asking your client to hold questions until you have gone through everything once and told the complete marketing story your presentation has to tell. And don’t be afraid to summarize your presentation with your recommended and strategy and design.

Of course every project has a limited budget and of course you must work within that budget. Just don’t let smaller budgets limit your creative thinking. In short, I try to think of my creative presentations as whole and complete dart boards at which my clients can throw darts. Every dart may be a question, concern, or veto, but inevitably what is left floating is the winning design. The winning design will be arrived at by you and your client working together as a team. And that’s what I call a win-win.

Breaking Through the Hiring Paradox of Creative Ad Industry Jobs

So you’re really creative and looking to break through the clutter and get into advertising. Except everyone else is really creative too. So how do you get a job again?

While competition is fierce, so is the demand for great talent. And therin lies the paradox. How can there be supply and demand at the same time?

Think of it like restaurants. Everyone wants to eat really great food. Therefore, there are many many restaurants. But only a few get 4 stars, let alone five. The vast majority of restaurants are rated a one or a two. And for the most part, we all eat mediocre food.

Which is the same thing in the creative industry. Look at all the movies that have come out recently and hardly any of them are worth watching. Look at how bad commercials are right now. A bad economy forced creative people to leave creative jobs for more stable ones. And some just aren’t coming back.

Now that the economy is heating up quickly enough to have fears of inflation, there’s a severe lack of talent. I know, because I have to hire talent all the time. I went from perpetually not having a job, and questioning whether or not I wanted to stay on as a creative professional, to having more work than I know what to do with, and having a severely difficult time finding people to help me get my work done.

So you’re sitting there, licking your chops, wondering “How much money can I charge?” “Can I buy a new car?” Hold your horses! We said you’re creative. We didn’t say you were great. Or even good. There’s a big difference. And if you are great you still need to prove it.

In advertising we always say “good is the enemy of great.” It’s something we were taught as juniors. In fact, we were taught a lot of things as juniors – but because the industry hasn’t been hiring junior people for a long time, a lot of people are coming into the ad industry who just don’t know the basics.

And that’s the biggest problem. I recently hired a recent grad who couldn’t figure out what his rate was. Another was very talented and I hired him as a freelancer but he made many mistakes and was almost completely unreliable.

Another problem is that there are so many mediocre people out there, it’s hard to find the good ones. So no matter what creative field you’re going to, you must do something to stand out.

How do you do that?

o Make sure everything you do is creative. Design your resume – don’t just do it in Word. Design it professionally and make a PDF. Go to a paper store and buy something exotic. Print it in full color. Emboss it. Laminate it. Do something awesome. I know a great designer who I couldn’t find a new job because he didn’t design his resume. What was he thinking?

o Be funny. Humor goes a long way. Put jokes in your cover letter and resume. Be irreverent. Do not try to be all things to all people! If you worry about offending someone, you’ll just get a safe, average job. Do you think companies known for great design like MTV or Nike hire the safest employees? No! They take risks and they like people who take them too. Your goal should be that half the people who see your resume will think you’re totally unprofessional and throw your resume in the garbage. That 1/4th will laugh, think you’re not quite right for their agency but appreciate the attempt (and maybe pass you along to someone else) and 1/4 will just HAVE to interview you. I’ve had success with this and got a dream job by being irreverent. My resumes have been passed all over the industry because they were funny. And at one interview at a hot ad agency, the owner told me my portfolio was OK but he was really excited about my resume.

o Be mysterious. Create a website but don’t let anyone in. Only show 5% of your work. Say that you only show your work to people interested in hiring you. The more pieces you have on your site the more reasons people have to reject you. So don’t give it to them. Then…

o Customize! I used to type a resume off the top of my head for every job I applied to. Sound like a lot of work? Well so it sending hundreds of the same resume to jobs you won’t get. Don’t try to win the lottery by buying a lot of tickets. Win it by having the right numbers in the first place. And that’s by …

o Tell them what they want to hear. If someone is looking for a designer who specializes in package design, play up all those packages you designed. Don’t be vague. Make every resume you right sound like you’re the dream candidate. Don’t exaggerate, but certainly play up the parts of your experience that are the most applicable.

Now you have a few ways to break through the clutter. But blindly sending your resume to job listings won’t get you anywhere anyhow. No, this is the 2000’s my friend. No one gets a great job this way unless they’re really lucky. No, you need to go out and make some friends with connections.

But fortunately, you don’t even have to leave your home to do that anymore. There are lots of business social networks where you can introduce yourself to people looking for talent like yours. And who knows, making friends with them first can make all the difference.

But wait, there’s more! We briefly discussed you getting a website. And yes, you should have one. And while having your own website is great for when people ask to see your work, it’s not a great way to find your work. Think of your website as a store and you’re skills are the merch. Except your store is unfortunately not at the Mall of America, but in the middle of the desert. No one knows where it is or how to get to it.

So in addition to your own website, you need to pay to be on portfolio sites such as,, and others. There, you’ll be in front of the very people who buy creativity.

Overall, it takes a lot of work to be a great creative, and it takes a lot of work to get a job as a great creative. Fortunately, once you’re there, you’ll get all the financial rewards you deserve. And then you can try and be creative with your accounting.

Creative Scrapbooking – The Building Blocks of Memory

The concept of creative scrapbooking has changed dramatically over the years. The word “scrapbook” used to symbolize a book (or album, if you will) of old snapshots. The photos were often mounted with little black corner pieces with room left between them on the page for some scribbled notations to identify the scene and those captured in the photo for the sake of posterity. Sometimes, the scrapbook included pertinent newspaper clippings or letters describing the life, achievements or even a secret or little known fact about the past of a particular family member.

But today that’s all as passé as hula hoops, pet rocks and platform shoes. Make way for the modern era of creative scrapbooking, which has evolved into a most definite and enduring art form.

Creative scrapbooking as an industry dates back to 1976 and is attributed to the efforts of one woman, Marielen Christenson, who began designing creative pages for her family’s photo memories by using sheet protectors and placing them within 3 ring binders. By 1980, she had assembled with love over fifty volumes of family memories and was invited to demonstrate her new concept (creative scrapbooking) at the World Conference on Records. In 1981 she opened the world’s first creative scrapbooking store, called “Keeping Memories Alive.” in Spanish Fork, Utah. The business grew quickly, and by the fall of 1993, “Keeping Memories Alive” opened the very first wholesale division in the scrapbook industry, providing a source for all related goods and products. In March of 1995, Christensen wrote and published the first idea book for creative scrapbookers.

The art of creative scrapbooking provides a strong social network, and today many large companies are involved in creating and selling all of the necessary supplies and products. Around the globe, scrappers unite at each other’s homes, conventions and even on special cruises. Events related to creative scrapbooking are referred to as “crops.” Many experts claim that this hobby has surpassed even golf in popularity, and that while one in four households has a member playing golf one in every three homes has someone involved in creative scrapbooking.

Unlike many sports and leisure activities, there is no wrong way to creatively scrapbook. Memories are subjective and as such are allowed to run wild, stay calm, be recorded or even shoved beyond the realm of recall within the mind’s eye of the beholder. But for those who want to remember and have no hope of ever coming down with the luxury of amnesia, it may be time to consider posterity and your own particular place in it. Record your memories with your own unique voice for your children and grandchildren because time waits for no man or woman and no one else, no matter how sincere, can ever tell your life story from your perspective better than you can. Here are some creative scrapbooking tips. Read on, if you dare.

Memoirs take many forms, but they all share one common denominator: whatever the material utilized, it needs to be organized in some manner. Organization probably sounds as if it should be the first step along the way to creating a memoir/scrapbook, but actually it is the second. First comes the decision as to what it is that you want to organize. Most creative scrapbooking people have amassed a wealth of material for their projects, some of which may or may not be used. You may need some help in dealing with the mountain of material that stands before you, cries for attention and will not be ignored or shoved away into a closet, which already has too much stuff crammed into it anyway.

Take the time to research the Internet. There are many creative scrapbooking Web sites and chat rooms that offer a wealth of information about how best to organize ribbons, beads, papers etc. Store these ideas in a place you can refer to them later. Set aside the necessary time to organize your creative scrapbooking materials. Whether it be an hour or a few days, be prepared to dedicate the necessary time or you will never get it done. Without the completion of these first steps, progress will be halted indefinitely.

Another important consideration in the creative scrapbooking process is to decide if you need to purchase items that may not be used initially but need to be stored away. Make sure to measure your supplies first to insure they will fit into whichever container you decide on. Storage cases might be a good idea, especially those with expandable pockets. Develop a system that works for you even if it no one else understands the logic of what you are doing. (After all, no one has to. They are your memoirs, aren’t they?) In each pocket, consider placing a 12 x 12 inch sheet protector so that small pieces of paper, etc do not slide underneath. You can further separate your creative scrapbook/memoir material by color or by the type of paper (card stock and patterned paper for example). Then consider alphabetizing paper ephemera by category, as that will help you when you need to find it again.

Probably the most important single piece of creative scrapbooking equipment that you will buy concerns the album itself, which can be either permanently bound or made to allow for the insertion of pages. Usually, the 12 x 12 inch or 8-1/2 x 11 inch are the most popular sizes but in recent times smaller albums (6 x 6 inch and 7 x 7 inch or 8 x 8 inch) have become very popular as well.

So don’t just sit there and read! Get out there now and get what you need to start on your creative scrapbook journey! Don’t leave it to do for tomorrow or next week or for that rainy day or whenever “you get a chance.” No one knows what the future will bring for any of us. Life is too short and time is a thief who will not wait for even the most punctual among us. Begin to capture those memories for your children and grandchildren. Don’t let them fade into the mists of time like sand through an hourglass. Do it…today!