Archive for February, 2012

Graphic design is a field that is quickly changing, both creatively and technically, and while it is easy to get caught up in learning new technical skills, it is just as important to focus improving and pushing the limits of our creativity.

Here are a few tips, exercises and practices that have helped me continue learning, strengthen creativity and become an all around better designer.

Become a collector
Each time you see a design that inspires you, collect it, bring it home and file it away. I have hundreds of brochures, posters and other collateral that I have collected over the years that is stacked away in folders and boxes that I can quickly access, a great source of inspiration when needed.

Buy books
Having an extensive book collection is always essential to learning. I try buying a new book at least every 2-3 weeks that range from inspirational, educational and technical topics.

Read design-related blogs
I can’t stress enough how much information I have learned by reading other great designers blogs. The web is an invaluable resource of information, take advantage of it and actually use it!

Start a design blog
Having started my blog only a month ago, I have found it to be extremely useful and educational for myself. It has made me more aware of the design community and more analytical of my own work.

Join and be active in the design community
As a designer, joining the online design community is a must. Not only does it keep you up-to-date in the design world, but is also great for feedback and critique.

Network with other designers
I always try to search out the designers that have more experience and talent than I do. I know – it’s hard to admit someone else is better than you, but networking with people of higher skill levels will push you to work harder and learn more.

Take lots of photos
Pictures of building designs, textures, shapes of shadows on walls, etc. Basically anything that interests me from a design stand point.

Create fake projects
Whenever I find myself with free time I create fake projects. Create a fake brand for a company. Design a logo, stationary, brochure, website. It’s good to do this once in awhile because it keeps design fun and let’s your creativity run wild without limitations. It’s often easy to get caught in a rut when clients start dictating and your work no longer becomes “yours”.

Redo your old designs
I know what it feels like to look at your early days of design and think “Oh my! What was I thinking?! I need to get rid of that immediately”, but it is important to keep that work. It will help you see if you’re moving forward and improving your skills. Instead of throwing away or deleting old projects, try reworking them.

Take classes
Many local colleges allow you to register for classes without enrolling full-time. It will not only teach you some new things technically, but also put you back in a classroom of your peers.

Learn something new
Whenever I am in a creative slump I try something new or do something completely unrelated to design. Getting your mind off things and into something new, usually has a funny way of working itself back around.

Grab a sketchbook
Helps you work through ideas quickly and without limitations of design software. Has made a HUGE difference in my designs.

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Animated image based on Image:Rivertree_1_md.j...

Image via Wikipedia

Many people comment on certain photographers having an eye for taking great photos. In part, that is skill and experience you are seeing. Another part is the expression of art with an understanding of some basic rules. Of course, like any artist, you can take some great shots that ‘break’ all the rules, however, it is safe to say that taking into consideration the following items will help improve the quality of your photos and create more interesting images.

Keep It Simple
Think to yourself, “What am I taking a picture of?” and keep that in mind. Identifying the subject matter of interest and avoiding distracting backgrounds will help to keep the picture clear. Zoom in to clear out irrelevant parts of the scene and capture just what you’re looking for, avoiding objects like signs, buildings or people that take the viewer’s eye away from the point of focus.

Rule of Thirds
Picture a tic tac toe board: two horizontal lines intersected by two vertical lines. This creates an easy formula – line up the horizon of the shot with either of the two horizontal lines, and line up the subject (either a person, building or the focus of your picture) with either of the vertical lines, ideally where the lines intersect. When viewing a scene, try to overlay this map into the viewfinder – with only a little adjustment, you can quickly create more visually interesting images by simply adjusting (or cropping after the fact) what you see to line up with these invisible markers. When dealing with a moving subject or a person, it’s often preferable to have them looking or moving ‘into’ the picture from one of the two sides.

Lines and Shapes
We all remember our geometry classes, dominated by circles, triangles, and snake-like curves. Applying these simple shapes to your subject matter can help to simplify complex scenes and add visual interest. Consider trying to capture an image of a person walking down a long, straight street. Instead of shooting straight down the line, move yourself five or ten feet to the side and shoot that road at an angle – having that line crossing through the intersecting lines of the imaginary tic tac toe board from the rule of thirds can create the illusion of movement as they lead the eye through the picture. S-curves are even more dynamic, while repetitive lines can also create movement of the eye through the picture, like repeating waves of sand on a beach or parallel row houses along the side of a road.

Vantage Point
Most images taken by amateur photographers are taken at eye level – this means most of these pictures are taken from the narrow range of 5 to 6 feet in height. Taking a picture from a lower vantage point (for example crouching or even lying on the ground) can add splendor and significance to the subject, while getting more height (from climbing up a tree, fence or steps) will reduce the significance of the subject in your scene.

Balance
When considering what you’re capturing, look through the lens and pick out the dominant subjects, like people, buildings, trees or mountains and arrange them so that they compliment each other. This can mean either symmetrical balancing, where objects of equal size are positioned on either side of the picture’s center or asymmetrical balancing, where objects of different sizes are used on either side of the picture’s center. Asymmetrical pictures are often more interesting and visually stimulating as the viewer’s eye moves from object to object.

Framing
Framing, as it sounds, is a way of drawing attention to the subject in the picture by blocking off or framing parts of the scene using natural or artificial barriers, and however accomplished can add prominence to the subject, and will help add a sense of depth to the photo.

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ORLANDO, FL - DECEMBER 12:  The  'Swoosh' logo...

Image by Getty Images via @daylife

Logo design is rapidly becoming an underrated process. We live in a very entrepreneurial age and it seems that everyone you meet is starting his or her own business. All of these business owners know they need a logo and very few of them can afford one.

Enter the quick fix. All one has to do is run a Google Search and become overrun with options for logo design services. Fifty bucks for a logo! Twenty-four hour turn around time! It’s a smorgasbord of symbols. How’s a new business to go wrong among such abundance?

It’s easy to assume that we’re looking at a buyer’s market here and that one logo design company is as good as the next. It doesn’t help that many new business owners (and many established business owners, for that matter) just don’t fully understand the design process. It’s all just pretty pictures, right? Well, yes and no.

We buy paintings for their aesthetic value, but graphic design has so much more work to do than just look good. Graphic design is about communication. It’s about conveying a message to your clients. And this communication all begins with your company’s logo. A logo just isn’t something you slap on your business card and call it good. Used properly, your logo is the very heart of your company’s identity. This one little graphic carries the weight of your brand and connects you and your products to your customers. It’s a big job and, frankly, some quick $50.00 piece of clip art just isn’t up to the task. This is something these quick-fix logo design shops will never understand.

Some companies approach the development of their logo with the same mindset they take in looking for a long-distance service. It’s a necessary evil, so might as well find the cheapest option available and get it over with quick. It really doesn’t help that many of these quick designs are substandard and wholly ineffective. This only reinforces the notion that logos aren’t really deserving of all the hype. Logos wind up losing their value through misuse or poor design.

On the other end of the scale are businesses that see a highly successful brand, such as Nike, and want that for their business. They become jaded when their logo doesn’t generate the same instant recognition as Nike’s swoosh, little realizing all of the millions of dollars Nike has spent to make sure you recognize their logo.

Caught in the middle is the design agency that suffers from either a lack of expectation or over-inflated expectations. So let’s clear one thing up about the process: No ad agency in the world can promise to design the equivalent of a Nike Swoosh for your business. If one does make this claim to you, put on your Nikes and run. Fast. The best we can do is work to come up with a design that reflects the personality of your business, a design that is a solid foundation around which to build your brand. This isn’t a process that can be done overnight. It isn’t a process that can be done dirt-cheap. And this isn’t a process that should be tackled by anyone less than a professional.

When it comes to the marketing of your business, your logo is the most important investment you will make. Properly conceived and executed, it will serve as the anchor that makes everything from your business cards to your advertisements coherent, consistent, easier and, most importantly, effective. A good logo design and its effective use isn’t going to be cheap, but it doesn’t have to break your bank, either. Many companies will still insist on going the quick fix route. I don’t begrudge them. I only wish them the best of luck and offer the best piece of advice I know in such a situation: You get what you pay for.

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