A year ago at this time, I blogged about starting my own company. As I pursued this dream, I not only gained valuable insight into running my own business, but I also gained a newfound sense of self. It is incredibly empowering to set high goals for yourself and to systematically achieve them… And I found myself changed by the experience.
October marks the 6 month anniversary of striking out on my own as a freelancer. The past few months have been an amazing experience. Surprisingly, I’ve learned more about myself than I would have predicted. Here I share 6 lessons every designer (not just freelancers) should learn.
If you follow me on twitter, chances are you saw my announcement mid-March that I would be leaving Thermos to pursue my own business. It was a difficult decision: made after a lot of thought and planning. But I knew this was the right choice to make when the pieces started falling into place. So after working on my own for the past month, here are four observations on flying solo.
I know, I know, everyone seems to be jumping on the Pinterest bandwagon lately. But for good reason! I have been constantly on the lookout for a good way to organize the inspiration I find online or while out and about. Pinterest seems to be the best place for me to keep track of all of my photos from both my iPhone and my online hunting. Already on Pinterest? See my top 3 favorite boards to follow after the jump.
This past summer, I attended the HOW Design Conference and, of course, raided the conference bookstore. Of all of the great books I picked up, Shel Perkins’ Talent is Not Enough: Business Secrets for Designers has single-handedly become the best reference book on my bookshelf. Over the past 9 months, I have found myself returning to this book again and again.
If you haven’t already heard the news, I have spent the last half of this summer working on getting the little Golding Pearl no. 1 letterpress I recently acquired back into working order. She’s a great little 5×8 platen press, but in definite need of some TLC! If you are interested in following my efforts to restore her, or just like looking at nicely letterpressed objects, check out the Tumblr page I set up over at Thrill of the Chase Letterpress.
The first week of July marked the beginning of Back to School season for 2011. Naturally, I have been counting down the months for this ever since spring of 2010: mostly because I can finally share with you all that I worked on last year. This week, I scouted out the lunchbox section at my local Toys’R’Us and was able to find these goodies all sitting on the shelves.
This past winter/spring season I made good on my New Year’s Resolution to get out and be more involved in the local design community once again. One cannot live and work in a vacuum, and Chicago has a great community: due to it’s large size, there are always events or show openings going on. By far the best event, or rather program, I have discovered so far is AIGA Chicago’s Mentorship program.
Whew! I can’t believe that this conference went by so quickly! If Saturday’s sessions were all about design strategy and thinking, then Sunday’s were about innovation and inspiration. Some quick thoughts:
Adobecadabra With Rufus Deuchler
This short, little, morning session just highlighted some simple tricks/tips for using any of the latest Creative Suite software. Most notable for me were the Content Aware features in Photoshop: can’t wait to play with those.
Where Ideas Come From and Where They Go
Presented by Stephen Doyle, this session focused on his own work and life observations: very inspiring. Some key thoughts of his that I loved:
- You can’t own ideas. Rather, ideas come from others and from mash-ups of our past experiences.
- A lack of logic in your approach can lead to something logical. (Making as a way of thinking)
- It’s important to convince your clients that your ideas are their ideas.
Power of the Package
Kevin McConkey of Grip Design is one big ball of energy: this was definitely one of the most dynamic sessions I attended. His presentation dealt with packaging trends, with a focus on how to gain more packaging clients. Some of my key take-aways from this one:
- At the intersection of necessity and design is opportunity: great time to be a packaging designer right now.
- Understand your product’s cost margins and the value packaging will add. Then tell a story.
- We can’t design in a vacuum: it takes teamwork to make the dream work.
Publishing to Digital Devices with InDesign CS5.5
Rufus Deuchler also presented this session on behalf of Adobe. The talk centered around producing eBooks on the .epub format and using Adobe’s Digital Publishing Suite to create magazine apps for the iPad. I was mostly just amazed at how powerful InDesign is becoming. The only downside that I could see if you could call it that, was that these features seemed to be rather Flash-heavy. Unless I was mistaken?
The Un-Guide to Creativity and Brainstorming
This session with Disney’s Chris Chapman was perhaps my favorite of the entire day. Full of energy, Chris jam-packed the session with studies on how the brain works, how that relates to developing a creative culture, and brainstorming techniques for your creative team. Some key thoughts:
- Wrong answers are the basis of discovery.
- There is a time for brainstorming and a time to be logical: know when to use each.
- Rules [in an office] can create structure, but too many stifle creativity.
Developing Addictive Experiences for the iPad and Other Interactive Tablets
David Link’s session focused on outlining his team’s process for creating both magazine apps and other apps for tablets. It seems that most magazine apps are linear in nature, and as such are being created on InDesign right now. While most other apps are still developed using the established development process. Some notes:
- Print designers making the transition to designing apps need to know and understand how UI works.
- Keynote is surprisingly great for prototyping app functionality.
- There are not enough tablets in consumer hands to make it worth designing for more than one platform. Users with an iPad dwarf the competition.
Today’s schedule on the other hand was a short one: just two panel discussions and the closing keynote. The first panel discussion on fringe trends in the mass market was interesting, but lacked a conclusion. The second one, called Making Your Way in the Digital World, was a lively debate and packed full of good tips and insights into transitioning to interactive design. Finally, the keynote was an energizing talk on how to use your personality traits to influence others, further your career, and sell to/for your clients.
What an amazing weekend! And let me tell you, I can’t wait to do it again!
After months of waiting, the HOW Design Conference hit Chicago this weekend. I’ve been stoked: I’ve wanted to attend for years, and finally had the opportunity to do so now. Although not my first conference, it is my first one of this size, so I thought that I would share my thoughts at the end of each day before posting an over-all wrap-up at the end.
I missed last night’s keynote opener, but made it in time for the opening reception: a great opportunity to see who all was attending, run into some friends, and also check out the vendors. If I don’t happen to win an iPad from all of these vendor give-aways, I….well..I’ll keep using my laptop. Today’s schedule, on the other hand, was packed:
Design + Marketing = Supercharge Your Results
Presented by Cynthia Price and Taylor Schena of Emma, this session focused on email marketing and the technical issues of designing for eblasts. Some key thoughts:
- Social media isn’t killing email marketing: it’s forcing it to adapt and evolve.
- When designing/coding for email, think mid-90’s coding: straight-up HTML using tables and in-line styling.
- Always test your design across platforms: Litmus and Email on Acid are good tools.
Creating the Martha Stewart Living Digital Magazine App for iPad
Presented by Gail Towey, this session was different than what I expected. The session description made it sound as though it would focus on designing for iPad/touch screens. In fact, it was more of a behind the scenes look into the brand history of Martha Stewart Living. Nevertheless, there were some good take-aways:
- When designing products for mass market, you must think about the in-store experience in addition to each object’s functionality/design.
- Think about tactile functionality within your app: how can the user interact with the content? Where can you surprise/delight with interactivity?
- Use your app and other media channels to cross-pollinate your content.
- Consider your app’s findability within the iTunes App Store during it’s creation.
Influence in Business Through Design Thinking
Presented by Matthew Loyd of Method, this session focused on the design method of approaching a problem to all aspects of running a business or dealing with a client. I loved this session because I am so interested in the strategy side of our business. A lot of good information, but my favorite bits:
- The way a designer thinks and approaches a problem is typically different from the rest of the business world: we can share these skills and help provide better insight.
- Defining your company’s brand position, will lay the foundations for carrying design thinking into the rest of the business.
- Begin each problem by listening: avoid designing by template as each problem is a chance to learn and bring something new to the table.
Top Secret Adobe Technology Preview
Can I just say how stoked I am for Adobe’s new Muse to come out? I’m curious to see how coders weigh in on a program that is essentially InDesign for the web, but it looks like a great, powerful, new tool. The only downside, as far as I can see, is it’s subscription payment schedule. I’d much rather pay all at once as you do for the rest of the Creative Suite.
Using the Brand Value Pyramid
Although dense with technical information, this session led by Shannon Carter of Cartis Group was highly interesting. The way he approaches a branding problem seems highly logical and effective. Key points:
- Trust between brands and their consumers is developed over time through mutually satisfying interactions.
- A brand isn’t what we say it is: it is what the consumer says it is.
- Brand strategists make sure internal and external perceptions align.
Critiques: Powerful tool or Power Trip?
This session led by Jaime Pescia and Tip Quilter was by far the most interactive session of the day. It also seemed to be the most controversial if other audience members’ reactions are to go by. The two outlined steps that will remove any egos from the critique room and allow ideas and collaboration to flourish. Seemed pretty common sense in my book:
- Trust between team leaders and co-workers drives collaboration and creativity.
- Being a leader means being genuine and also guiding the critique to stay in line with the creative brief.
- Open-ended questions using who/what/when/where open up the dialog and help remove any ego on behalf of the leader.
- Goal is to get everyone to voice their thought-process and guide them towards a better design that is in-tune with the brief.