Nov 20, 2014

Graphic Language: Damn It Feels Good To Be A Designer

If you're involved in the "design community" in any way, it shouldn't take long to realize that this business is unique. I believe the design world is different because it is made up of artists, and artists do not view other artists as competition (unless you're taggin' on someones turf) because the art itself doesn't compete with other art. No client would hire me to create something in someone else's style or vision. We all bring our unique qualities to our work and that is what we are hired for.

In other businesses those who would be considered competition are the enemy, but with designers we call them friends. We freely share our knowledge, talk about our current projects, and seek out others to have this conversation with because there is nothing to lose, only to gain. I have no fear in losing work by helping someone else become a better version of themselves. If I can help someone else get better, then I've made a good impact on the greater whole of design. Also, it's rewarding to be on the other side of it and connect with other designers. To share the things that bind us, and maybe learn from some of our differences.

Design conferences are important for these reasons. Not all designers are fond of them, but I think there is nothing else like it and highly recommend going to a couple a year if possible. (Weapons of Mass Creation, in Cleveland, has been my favorite I've experienced)

The time I spend working by myself is just as special. I like to run my little studio space like a garage. Maybe because I've spent a lot of time in one pre design career, but I'll either be cranking metal through the speakers and drinking a beer while I'm sketching ideas, or if I need some quiet thinking time, I'll go to a coffee shop and enjoy the cozy atmosphere there. What other profession could I do such things? It sure beats wearing a tie and sitting in a cubicle with stacks of paperwork all day. . . or digging holes for pole barns in the Florida sand. I find myself so often in any of these moments taking a second to appreciate the design profession and it fuels my passion for the work. I really enjoy doing this.

Is graphic design the best job in the world? I would say Anthony Bourdain has that; or maybe any professional racing driver. Whatever it is you love to do, if you find a way to make a living from it then it is a good career choice. Find the thing that you geek out about and something that receives your best intelligence. I never regret where I am now. This work and the people within this world make it good to be a designer.

Nov 19, 2014

What Kart Racing Taught Me About Challenges & Self Improvement

I think the experienced, in any field, will tell you that skill growth happens by 1.) stepping outside of your comfort zone 2.) surrounding yourself with others who are better than you 3.) pushing your abilities to their limits. As I advance in my design career and try to apply those 3 things to it, I am often reminded of my growth and advancement in my days of kart racing.

Those 3 principles when applied to racing become 1.) add horsepower 2.) find better competition 3.) race on a more challenging track. I doubt myself often about my design abilities; I am my own worst critic. I often avoid applying to a position or taking on a job that is a bit outside of my comfort zone. "What if I can't do it?". "What if it fails?". I have been pushing myself lately more though, to learn new things to make myself better. The confidence comes from reflecting on my experiences of racing karts, because  I've already overcome so many comfort challenges in that world. I was always challenged by things at the time I did not believe I was ready for. It always turned out that I was more ready than I knew.

Those 3 things that challenge us and mold us into better versions of what we are, were thrown at me all at once my first year of karting. I was 13, and it was the final racing weekend of a quite successful rookie season. For the final race I:

1.) Moved up to the next class. From purple plate rookie, to gold plate Junior (more horsepower).

2.) Raced against a larger number to karts (from average of 4, now to a field of 12) who were a few years more experienced than I, and all had at least a whole season with the gold plate engine.

3.) Went to a more challenging track, Willowdell Speedway in Ohio. The track that "will either make ya, or break ya". A high banked bullring that required no lifting of the throttle or braking, even for the adult classes.

That racing day, we get in a few practice laps, a "hot lap" session, about 1 minute long. "Wow, it's fast. It pulls a lot of G's. The engine is much more powerful. You get real close to that wall. . . What the hell have I gotten into?". At this point, I'm just hanging on trying not to wreck the kart.

This is a different racing format than I'm used to as well. Instead of racing in 2 heat races and a feature race, there's a qualifying session and 1 heat (the class is broken into half based on qualifying for the 2 class heats) before the final feature race, where all 12 karts will compete.

The banking at Willowdell was so steep that to exit the track, you pulled to the infield and drove through a tunnel that went under the track. To get onto the track, you drive in from the top of the backstretch. But, for qualifying, you push your kart onto the track and line up in the infield.

"You sure you can hold onto the kart when you push it out there?"

"I think so"

Nope. The kart rolled onto the banking and ripped itself from my hands and stuffed itself into some tires that lined the infield. FAIL. Gather it up, push to the line, and watch all 11 drivers make their laps before I do mine.

"You see that rut right there? You think you can straddle that?"

"I'll try".

Yea right. A huge rut in turn 3 right in the racing line and to avoid it I have to move my right side tires up the track about 2 feet more than where I was in practice? . . . Screw it, I'm going through it. And I did. Making my qualifying lap the kart jumped sideways a bit but I hang on to it. Pull to the infield, through the tunnel, push back to the pit, and find I qualified 10th of 12 karts. This puts me in the 2nd heat, starting 2nd. Front row, outside against the wall. not only a bit scary, but a huge disadvantage to be on the outside. Surely, I'll be "freight trained" and watch the whole line of karts on the inside drive by me.

I hate this damn track. Why am I here? I have no chance win and I've been winning a lot this year. I'm just not ready for this class or this track. I can't wait until this night is over. I am so frustrated with myself and the situation. Let's get this fucking heat race over with.

I win the heat race. I lead every lap. Had my foot on the throttle the whole way and never lifted. . . I think I've done something kind of special here. I will now start mid pack in the feature race and with a new found confidence, maybe I can win. Who wins their first race at Willowdell? Could I?

We're on track for the feature race, lights out on the back stretch, coming through turn 4 and taking the green flag! Half a lap down and iIm maintaing speed with everyone else. A whole lap down and I've passed one guy as we order out to single file. Going into 3 the kart in front of me makes a move on the kart in front of him . . . contact. Spin. I hit him. . . directly with my right front, tire and I knew something was bent. Spindle? Tie-rod?. Dosen't matter, we're under caution, I'm restarting 4th and I'm going for it.

I finished 11th, one lap down. The bent spindle was too much to overcome. We leave the track and I have found some great respect for this track and those drivers that win there consistently.

"What do you think about Willowdell?"

"I hated it at first but I like it now. I'd like to go back next year"

"What happened in the feature? Did you bend something?"

"Yea, it felt fast the first lap but after that wreck it wasn't the same. I had to lift a little in the middle of the turn"

"What did you learn today?"

". . . . I can do more than what I think I can. I didn't even think I was going to make it through qualifying without wrecking".

A week later I was talking with my dad. A friend of his was at the track that night watching the races. He said Bob had told him "I saw your son race at Willowdell. He won his heat race. He's really good". That's a compliment I'll never forget. That's the comment that reminds me to push myself and do uncomfortable things, to surround myself with those who are better than me, and to keep growing. And to remember that even though my own worst critic lives inside my head, I can do this.

Sep 22, 2014

Presentation, Organization, Communication 3 – Elements: Form

Form is one of the easier elements of design to define and recognize. Form simply takes a 2 dimensional shape on a 2 dimensional surface and makes it appear 3 dimensional. It’s what makes a circle into sphere, or a square into a cube. We can do this using value, color, texture, and perspective, to create the illusion of light and shadow which reveals form.



Perhaps the simplest creation of form comes from values like in the pencil drawing in the Art & Copy poster above. Imagine the drawing of the smoke starting as lines and shapes, then being filled in with different values that suggests growing, bubbling clouds of smoke. The drawing then appears to have depth that isn’t really there because its on a 2 dimensional surface. The decision for creating the smoke comes from defining a light source, and wherever there is less light, the values become darker.

The logo above is in color, but it doesn’t use multiple hues to show its form. It’s a single hue with different values added to it. The values fall the same way as before where there is an established light source and the highlights and shadows fall around the object according to that light source.


Here, designer Kris Bazen only uses 2 colors in the entire logo. There are no gradients or transparency in the shapes, so the form comes from using the lightest color where the highlights would be on the car.

On the Army Knights logo it is the same principle. It is made up of solid colored shapes and the colors are arranged by value, the lightest representing highlights and black the darkest shadows. The logo is not perfectly realistic, but is good enough to be believable. The light source is coming from the upper left and all drawn shapes are determined by that.

What is known as Flat Design usually appears as though it was made up of construction paper and is a great way to study form, because it is focused on “stacking” shapes to create it. It is usually drawn in 1 point perspective and uses solid colors like the examples before. Fraser Davidson is one of the masters of using color to represent light and create form in design. Here is a great example of that; solid colors and 1 point perspective, but the images do not lack form because of the established light source and believable application of color.

In my opinion, there is no better “flat” illustrator than Justin Mezzell. Although you can find gradients and texture in his work, I think his most impressive pieces are those that only use solid shapes and limited colors. Mezzell’s style is a bit like cubism, where for example, he will show multiple sides of a building, but without perspective. It’s as if you took a cardboard box and flattened it out. From there he “stacks” shapes to create depth and form. In the illustration above, nearly every line runs straight across the page (top to bottom or left to right) but his use of color and light creates the form of a building with protruding elements and another building in the distance.


What makes Glennz Tee's illustrations so great is his ability to create form using solid colors. He is great with light and shadow, minimal color palettes, and uses multiple perspective points (usually 2) to create form and depth. All that is being used in the Space Defenders illustration and what is different here from work like Mezzell’s is the perspective, or viewer’s angle, which keeps the work from looking flat.

The Importance of a Light Source

As we’ve seen you can’t properly convey form without establishing a light source. All of your decisions will stem from that. So what happens when a design uses color and shape randomly to create form, or doesn’t follow a light source? You can look at the below images for an example.

This logo uses a confusing application of shape, color, and value to create its forms. It has no established light source and the entire logo appears chaotic. The shapes that were drawn are randomly placed, struggling to have form. Because there is no foundation of light to start with, the end result is unbelievable.

This logo also has no established light source and the shapes that fill the logo are also randomly placed. Does the light come from directly overhead and center? If so, the highlight (yellow) would not fall on the nose/snout as it does, which appears as if the light is from the upper left. The black and purple shapes fall randomly as well; there is purple where there should be black (according to the light on the horns).

It doesn’t take a lot to get started on the right path of creating form, it’s all about the light source. From there, the values fall from light to dark as the light disappears. If you’re using multiple colors, remember that the lightest color represents the brightest highlight, or try using warm colors for light and cool colors for shadow. Below are a few links to help you develop your form skills further:

How to Draw Perspective Shadow (YouTube) 

Jun 27, 2014

Well, I Fucked That Up. What I Learned & What I Still Don't Know

A recent logo project of mine started as any good one does. The client and I had good conversation via email, setting up a schedule, a budget, and had a good brief and good ideas to start the project. This was one of those where when I sat down to gather images and make notes to sketch off of I thought "I'm going to crush it!".

Where I Went Wrong

No Contract - I don't always do contracts with clients. It's rare that I don't get paid for my work, especially when I hold the files hostage until final payment, but a contract will make sure you do. At least, it gives you some legal power. This project started so well, I thought there was nothing to fear and everything was going to go smoothly. I received 50% upfront payment to begin and trusted I wouldn't have any problems with the client.

Overly Confident - I guess a better way to say that is I was cocky about what I thought I could do, because I never mentioned fees for additional rounds of revision. I always do 1 for free if it is needed and thought that would be all I would need for this project. I was excited about this and thought there was no way I could fail.

What Happened

I usually do 1-3 logo concepts to show a client. For this, I presented 4 because I felt really good about all of them. And when I say good, I mean I truly felt each one was a version of something they wanted, that followed the brief, that was of a quality I approved of, and worked in every application they needed. (We just didn't have color selected yet).

The client didn't like any of them. At least not any as a whole, only elements of some. I said I would get back to them in a few more days with more concepts. I was a bit stunned, these logos just "wasn't what we're looking for".

Gathering myself and still feeling confident because I had some other designs in the sketchbook and in the original Ai file, I took the best remaining 4 logos, went with their input from before, and put them into a PDF presentation, but this time with a couple of pages that broke down the aesthetic of the images of logos they liked which they supplied me with. It was detailed, pointing out patterns and connections between everything they liked, how I carried that over to this new batch of designs, and another page which explained what inspired my designs and how it related to their business.

The client didn't like any of them.

At this time, they still had not lost hope, but I had. I felt like I absolutely nailed it. . . and the client wasn't interested in anything I was showing them. I then gathered 4 more designs I had previously considered and presented them, keeping in mind the previous comments they had before. We then started changing shapes, fonts, and they gave me completely new designs to go off of. They supplied colors. I changed a stroke from 12pts to 6 pts, added strokes, tried alternate color applications. I gave them whatever they wanted, just to get the project over with because there was nothing more I could do myself to help them, except to build what they were telling me to. So I did, sent off 3 more of their ideas for designs and took a 3 day break from the project.

When I got back to the emails, there was suddenly a deadline and it was the next day. Not only did I have 1 day to do more of their final request, but I was up against the clock too, and my 3 day absence was not appreciated. They "would liked to have had more time to do the final design".

So, I did it, matched their final request perfectly, sent a preview image of the final design, sent the invoice for the remaining 50% initial payment (with no revision rounds charged) and held the design hostage until payment was received.

All I received after was an email saying "due to the lack of progress on this project, we decided to move in a new direction. We felt like we weren't getting an acceptable level of work". Without a contract biding them to this project, There was nothing more I could do. I got screwed, but it was my own fault.

What I Learned

Do A Contract - At least with people you've never worked with before. There are 3 clients I've had for years now and our projects always go smoothly and turn out awesome. I like being able to crank out a quality design for them without any paperwork or worry about if I'll be getting paid. But I have to realize that not everyone is that awesome to work with.

Stay Grounded and Prepare For Everything - I won't ever go into a project again without laying out all the possible delays and charges for those additional hours. Have a system of work/payment and stick to it. Don't ever think you're going to crush a design so hard that there's no way anyone wouldn't like it or want to change it.

What I Still Don't Know

Suddenly, A Wild Deadline Appears - There was never a mention of it before. It was on my schedule and we were in contact every day or 2.

Why The Logos Weren't Good Enough - They saw 12 original designs and didn't like any of them. I did exactly what they wanted when they showed me exactly what they wanted, and they didn't like any of those. I have no idea what this was about.

What Is Good Enough? - I hope I get to see their final logo. It's probably not a good thing to do, but I think I want to see it because I want to compare myself to it. It has to be a really creative, smart, well crafted design I think. It's got to be something that makes you feel dumb because you didn't do it first. I guess I'm looking for what I missed in the project.

Stay thirsty, friends.

Jun 2, 2014

A Logo For $50 & My Response

I thought this would be an interesting share. I'm sure if you're a designer and have been for a few years, you've gotten that email from that guy who wants you to do some work for them on the cheap. The very. very cheap. It's happened a few time to me, and tonight I felt I should respond in a bit of a different way. Here is the original email and my response below. 

My name is X owner and founder of X. I came across your portfolio a few weeks ago, and was extremely impressed by the work you do in the logo and identity branding field.
X is a small company that we are just kicking off that illustrates collaboration on projects amongst designers while executing the highest perfection those designers can commit. I am sending you this email because I would like you to be a part of our roots, and grow this business with us.
I am offering you a position on the team at X for which you will work on mascot design to the best of your abilities. Like any other position, the pay gradually gets better as you go, but there are conditions and non-traditional factors about the income for employees of this company, so let me explain - [Below]
Steps towards your individual project completions for X:
1) I give you a name, or a theme, or an idea of a mascot logo for you to execute
2) You complete the mascot logo / branding for me, then securely send the files over to me
3) Either myself or one of our other designers will use the logo you created to construct a large package of social media designs such as Twitter graphics, YouTube graphics, etc, as well as phone and desktop wallpapers using the logo for all
4) This whole package - Logo, Twitter graphics, YouTube Graphics, and the Phone & desktop wallpapers - will be sold to a client willing to claim the package for $100 - $129 depending on the quality of everything in the pack.5) Once it is sold, I will send you 50% of the payment that was received for the creation of the logo put in the pack
Keep in mind, the price for these packs will get higher as we grow our business. Also, the amount of new clients we get will increase over time, as we begin to show the world the power of beautiful logos and brandings. We hope that you enjoyed hearing our ideas and strongly consider joining our business as we see it an opportunity for all designers alike.
Hope to hear from you soon & have a great day!
- - - - - - - - - - - -

Hello X, 

Thank you for writing and thanks for the position offer at X. I gather that this is sourcing opportunity where you pay me as a freelance designer to execute the logos for the projects you need? In this case I must charge my regular logo rate starting at $550. This cost is based on a simple equation of what i want to make per year (allowing 2 weeks off for vacation and holidays) which is within the average salary of others of my profession with similar experience and "skillz", in my same area of the country as tracked by the AIGA, divided by how many projects i need to do monthly to make said salary, and spaced out in a schedule that is achievable. This cost covers the week I will spend . . .

1.) researching the client and subject

2.) gathering information and files (usually reference photos and "inspiration")

3.) sketching ideas - i usually take 2 to 3 days on this part. it is essential to the end result of the logo. this part of the process often involves lots of "creative thinking" and doubts about my choice of profession and what i'm doing with my life, followed by long walks through the city pondering the project and hopefully not getting lost like that one time in Columbus when i ended up in an area that gave me an urge to listen to Eminem and develop a strange "hood accent" so that kid who asked "yo, do you smoke?. . . you do drugs?" wouldn't think i was educated or had anything of value and just leave me alone cause i'm trying to crush it on this logo project, man. 

4.) sorting out the best sketches and thinking hard how they will work in the real world and most of them are kind of crap so i revisit my anxiety about life and if i'm going to be able to pay the bills when i'm only able to do work that is so average and why can't i generate great ideas like Banksy? he's so damn good. 

5.) taking the best sketches that i believe will work and doing "tight sketches" of them so i have a blue print to build from when i import it to Illustrator

6.) even most of those look like crap now so have to cull those down to the best 1-3 ideas left and hope one of them will work.

7.) the last day or two is building those sketches into actual vector logos and somehow making them into a respectable design that the client, his audience, and i are proud of and the more i re-draw and refine my work the better it becomes, so i'm usually doing about 5 versions of the same idea, only better, and it takes time to do that and sit at my computer starring at the work and finding new flaws i hate about it and need to correct. 

from there on, clients usually want to make changes to the logo, which i will do 1 round of for free but charge $40 for each round there after. i do this to deter the client from going on and on with changes which eats into the time i have for other projects and before you know it 2 weeks later i've done 7 rounds of changes for nothing, haven't been paid the final 50% of initial cost ($550) and the client ends up with some terrible bastardized version of the original logo i presented them and can't even use in my portfolio because its so horrible but his wife and nephew love it so, what the hell, they have to live with it. 

That is why i must charge a starting flat rate of $550 to be able to ride the bus, feed my son (think about the children!), eat things from Wal-Mart's grocery, and pay that damn evil Verizon company. But to stay within your budget of $50 - $60 per logo i can send you some loose sketches of any ideas i can come up with over the next 1 to 1.5 hours based on the mascot you provide. 

Brandon Moore