Design Drama

documenting the delicate dance of design

In Which I Discuss The Conversations with Two Designer Friends About The Economy June 5, 2009

I’ve been in a bit of a funk lately. Maybe it’s the rain – maybe, whatever – of course it is. But more so I think it’s got a lot to do with the economy. I’ve had several conversations with friends this week. Mini-therapy phone sessions as I call them, and although it’s good to have a support system of wonderful friends that understand the way one feels, sometimes I feel like a broken record.

I talked to a local designer friend yesterday. We’re trying to do better about getting into the same room together – to cook, to laugh, to just be. We shared a meal about three weeks ago at her house, which was lovely, and we’re planning on a social outing next week.

Anyway, in the past few times we’ve talked in depth about the state of the economy, she said the same thing as two other designers: I paraphrase, but it was something to the effect of “I’m ready to quit design” or “I want/need to find some other profession in order to generate money other than being a designer.”

This hurts my heart.

Maybe it’s painful because she expressed and articulated out loud the thoughts running through my head as of late.

The first person I heard say this thru the Depression of ’09 (and don’t kid yourself, it IS a depression) was my best male friend, a landscape architect. He was a casualty in the second round of layoffs at his firm in Atlanta. Months of stress had been endured and as he was on the phone with me, verbally going thru the five stages of grief, he just said it: “I want to quit, I don’t love being a designer anymore!”

Remember the Sex and the City episode where Charlotte says something about needing to be taken care of by a man and Carrie writes in her column that Charlotte’s words were the sentence that single women over 30 dare not speak. The same thing applies here.

I asked my landscape architect friend this: “is it design that you hate, the job situation you endured or is it the headache that comes along with the whole ball of wax?” and he said “oh, I LOVE design, I always will. BUT it’s the constant issue of being beaten up by clients that I find exhausting.” I understood exactly what he was saying.

In the last post here, I embedded a file about how it would be if what we go through as designers was translated into real life bleeding into other occupations. Is it ludicrous? Absolutely! But it’s also pretty crazy that more often than not when negotiating a price for a project vs. the amount of work it will take to complete a design to the client’s vision, I am asked more and more often to give my work away for free. And after a while it wears on a person.

Back to the phone conversation with my local friend the designer, she expressed the same frustration and even said that she was ready to quit, but didn’t know what else she could do. The fact is, it can be hard to make a living now as a designer, for these very reasons. And she’s dealing with clients that don’t pay – a dragon I’ve yet to have to attempt to slay, thankfully enough!

I love design. I live and breathe it. But because of the economy, I’ve had to rely on the part time job I initially took to pay off credit card debt in order to live. And actually I don’t hate it. As design can be a very isolated endeavor, getting out in the public can actually lighten my mood and get my mind off the state of things in my primary business. As for gaining happiness through art, I watercolor a lot more now. Maybe I need to do something in which I can exert total control for an art medium.

I realize everyone is having a hard time now. I guess I just needed to put that out there. Design is work. And just because something looks like it took “five minutes”, it didn’t. That’s because as designers, we put lots of research, effort, thought and hours into our work.

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A How To Guide: Credit Card Confetti April 14, 2009

ccconfetti

Supplies:

One Pair of Scissors
Twenty Seven x Infinity parts rage
Three credit cards
One champagne flute

Instructions:

Allow scissors to meet plastic credit cards, apply liberally

– Put champagne flute on desk where bills are paid.
– Stare at it daily as you pay down your credit card bills with money earned
by taking every extra job you can find and putting every penny into a savings
account specifically opened to build the money to pay off these soul sucking
devices.
– when all debt is paid off, in full, empty champagne glass of all credit card confetti, pour a liberal amount of champagne* into glass and drink until champagne magnum is empty.

Prep time: varies
Card cut up process: 3 cards, 30 minutes

Suggested music:
“You Make Me Sick” – Pink
“Money” – Pink Floyd
“9 to 5” – Dolly Parton
“Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots Of Money)” – Pet Shop Boys
“She Works Hard For The Money” – Donna Summer
“Money Changes Everything” – Cyndi Lauper
“Taxman” – The Beatles

*champagne should be paid for with COLD HARD CASH<

 

MacGuyvering Seedlings – Designing a Cheap Solution April 7, 2009

If you know me, you’re aware of what a tree-hugger I can be. I can’t stand the thought of throwing anything in the trash. I’m also frugal.

I’m also a frustrated gardener. Oh, and I like to MacGuyver things.

This year, I decided to try growing tomatoes from seed. I’ve never done it before and just thought I’d give it a shot. The little guys are doing well.

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I’ve seen those little terrarium things that are sold and have never bought one, but had a stroke of genius last night as to how I could finagle my own. I save my plastics (#1 & #2 are picked up by Nashville Metro) — all other labeled numbers of plastics and glass have to be taken to a recycling pick up center. I’d eaten a few take out salads and had saved the containers and they were in the pile. I was gathering my recycling and it struck me that these could be used in the same fashion – to grow seedlings. So, I popped my basil in one as a test and it’s working like a charm.

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The only issue here is they aren’t very deep, but I’ll solve that issue by transplanting them into styrofoam cups and empty half & half cartons I’ve saved.

Nothing goes to waste around here.

 

Indulge me as I play “What if?” February 18, 2009

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about creativity and careers and all sorts of stuff that falls into and around those two categories.

I don’t know if I can properly put down my words on the epiphany I had regarding all of this, but I’m going to try.

For what’s been rattling around in my brain I’ll use, for example, Bill Gates and Leonardo Da Vinci – both masters in their fields of work and study – Gates with revolutionizing computers and Da Vinci revolutionizing art. Both found their niche in life rather early, which allowed them to excel in their respective fields.

By the same token, I know far too many people who slog through daily life at a job they absolutely abhor. These people are basically “making the doughnuts,” for lack of a better word.

But what if we have all these potential Bill Gates’ and Leonardo Da Vinci’s out there, but our greatest potential minds are not working in the field in which they would really shine and change the world? We’re in the midst of the greatest financial crisis since the Great Depression. And we have supposed great economists working on the problem But, humour me here – what if the truly greatest financial mind is a plumber working in a factory BUT he doesn’t KNOW he’s a great financial mind because he’s never put forth the effort or ever had the opportunity (financially, etc) to exercise that part of his brain?

I realize the world is imperfect and we need plumbers and all those people that do various jobs to make our world run smoothly. I guess I’m being a little PollyAnna-ish here, but I’ve thought about this a lot lately and had to put it down and out into the world.

 

Let’s talk about Customer Service February 12, 2009

Filed under: inspiration,jobs,marketing,method,opportunity — Beth D @ 4:43 pm
Tags: ,

I met up with a friend last night and we sat and talked over drinks about our respective design careers. My friend is experiencing a transition from a full time gig into freelance web design work and is doing very well for himself. I’m fairly busy as well with design, but took the initiative recently to get a part time job to get my credit cards out of my life.

We were talking and he made the remark about how he was impressed with my ability to segue into the world of dealing with the public – specifically in a fashion that he hadn’t expected as I’ve become so accustomed to working in a solitary manner.

I said this: “It’s all about customer service, whether you’re working in retail, wholesale, or hospitality — as long as you give your customers what they are paying for, treat them with respect and go the extra mile to make them happy, they will come back because you’ve given them a pleasant experience trading with you.”

And I think a lot of designers forget that maxim. Everybody wants to feel like they are appreciated.

There is a restaurant here in town that I used to frequent. I never really cared for the place – the food isn’t very good, and the staff is downright rude – I only really went because a few friends of mine like the place. I wrote the restaurant off around Thanksgiving because I just got sick of the attitude by the wait staff that they could care less about whether a customer is happy. The final straw came one Thursday night when the restaurant was not busy. A staffer walked past me 5 times before asking me for my order. It was so blatant that even the customer sitting next to me commented on the behavior. I decided then and there this would be the last time I darkened the door of the establishment, as there are too many restaurants in town who are happy to see people come in to spend their money and treat their customers with at least a modicum of hospitality.

The same is true for designers. Over the years, I’ve had clients tell me about their dealings with other designers and how “they were only interested in my money and the project never got done after they cashed the check.” This behavior is unacceptable, pure and simple. The bottom line is this: You have to care, you have to give your client attention and you have to provide the basic customer service that makes your client realize that you are going the extra mile to give them the best you possibly can.

If you don’t appreciate them, someone else will. And in this economy, people are looking for the most bang for their buck. Part of that bang is service with a smile and a “thank you” at the end.

 

The Truth About Graphic Design November 17, 2008

I’m always amused at how people find my blog. I normally get a lot of “Michael Jackson + Bubbles” or “Jeff Koons + Prince + toy poodle + latex.”

“Tonight, I saw a search for “Truth About Graphic Design Industry” in the search list.

Heh.

You want the truth?

I’ll give you the truth.

THE BAD NEWS

(A) You won’t get rich. If you’re entering this profession thinking you’re going to be printing money, I suggest you seek other avenues of employment. There are months that I do well. Others, I could probably do better asking “do you want fries with that?” or working at the Gap.

(B) If you’re thinking “oh, I’ll get to meet famous people…” — ok, in Nashville, on occasion it could happen. I’ve met, I think, 3 people of note through my job — the coolest being this lady — a friend of a client. She was ultra amazing and a total English lady in every sense of the word. Oh, and she’s still beautiful. I have photos with her and she even indulged me with an autographed press photo for my brother, a huge James Bond fan. We had nice conversations while chain-smoking cigarettes as she regaled me with stories of her time in the movies, her rounds in Hollywood and her work on “Goldfinger.”

(C) “…oh, maybe I’ll get famous, like Michael Beirut, David Carson or Stefan Sagmeister…” — don’t count on it. Chip Kidd said it best: “famous designer is like famous electrician”

(D) If you’re going into this field and you have an ego — you better lose it quick. Sooner or later (sooner, rather than later) you will have to sell out. Get used to selling out. Once, a friend of mine asked me “do you love everything that you design?” — I laughed and said “No! But the checks cash the same.” With that said, always do your best and give your all. But, note, there will be limitations — like images you have to pull from the internet or someone’s low resolution vacation photo they want to incorporate into the project. In these cases, refer to the famous words of one Mr. Tim Gunn (“Project Runway”) and “…make it WORK!”

(E) Get used to wearing a lot of hats — especially if you’re a freelancer. I’ve done the freelance thing for almost 5 years. I am the receptionist, the cleaning lady, the accountant, bills payable & receivable, customer service, order fulfillment, production artist, creative director, liaison (between printer and designer), typesetter, photo retoucher, editor and copywriter, just to name a few.

(F) To be a great graphic designer, you must learn to handle criticism well. Would I like every project to be my own ideas and a masterpiece? Sure. But there are always the clients that have their own visions. And those visions are unique to the client – and many times the client has a completely different approach that is refreshing. Learn to listen. It’s not about the designer, after all. It’s about a happy client.

(G) The client is always right. Now, mind you if they want your Photoshop files, you should refer to this post — but most of the time, you need to listen to the direction of what the client is requesting artistically.

(H) Above all else, you will be suited to this field if you meet one requirement: sitting in front of a computer and sketch book, drawing, dreaming and creating — and the whole time you’re doing these things, it is NOT WORK. I adore what I do. Do I get insane at times? Absolutely. But I can’t imagine doing anything else. I have friends who have desk jobs pushing paper — and the grand majority of them hate it with a burning passion.

THE GOOD NEWS

(A) I contain so much excitement and passion for the field I am in. There is magic in my profession. I can’t think of any other gig where you could say to 50 people “give me this product at the end, you have to use photos A, B, and C and it has to meet requirement 1, 2, 3, and 4” — and in the end you could have 50 results that meet the specifications.

(B) This is probably my favorite characteristic about my colleagues: graphic designers are a very sharing and giving community. There have been times I’ve been assigned a type of project that I’d never done before and I’ve had questions as to how to tackle the job. In those cases, I called up another designer or two – I’ve even emailed designers I didn’t really know – to seek advice; the common thread is that everyone has always been happy to help and give me counsel. We’re a tight group — we’ve all been through the war, so to speak.

(C) A fantastic perk of my job is that every day is different. There is no way to get bored. Then there are all the things one can learn — in the past few months I’ve learned about a Creek Indian leader, Pioneers of Cardiac Surgery, and the Planetarium at the Adventure Science Center of Nashville. I am always being presented an opportunity to find out new things. I feel so incredibly blessed to make a living doing something I consider fun and exciting and engaging.

(D) Graphic Designers are some of the most fun people you will ever meet. I love every single, solitary designer friend of mine. And I meet new ones all the time. We’re a well rounded and diverse group. And we usually have really fun parties or at least the invite to one.

(E) You get to write off all your cool technology from the Apple store. The iPhone is worth the blood, sweat and tears, right?

So, if you can take the good with the (sometimes) bad, then I’d say you are suited for a career as a graphic designer.

Good luck… if you’re willing to hang in there through this economy, you’re in for a treat.

 

Freelance Graphic Designers in a Wonky Economy November 16, 2008

If you’re a freelance graphic designer, or a freelancer in general, do yourself a favor, and read this