Posts tagged lessons
Things I have learnt in 7 years as a graphic designer
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I can't actually believe this but from this January I have been working as a graphic designer for 7 years! I guess my experience extends a bit longer too as I was doing freelance work before that when I was at university. Anyway, that is a pretty long time and so I thought it might be fun to share some of the lessons that I have learnt in that time. So here goes...

1. Only present ideas you are happy with. Otherwise you can guarantee the client will choose the one you don't like - so it's best to not even let that be an option. Yes you probably won't like all of your ideas equally - but at least if they are all strong then you won't resent having to work on and develop them further. 

2. Come up with a good way of filing your work. Now this is something that I have not always been great at and am still working on improving, but we don't only have to deal with organising our physical possessions anymore, we now have to keep our digital possessions organised too, and there is often a lot! With your work you want to be able to find old and current work as quickly as possible. Name your files sensibly and also come up with a folder system to keep it all organised. Do this from the start and you will thank yourself down the line when you need to find old files from a client who wants an update.

3. Keep old rejected ideas. They might be useful for other projects in the future. This has worked in my favour a few times and has saved time and has meant that I have been able to re-use and re-purpose designs that I really liked and are appropriate for another project again. The ideas are yours and so you are totally entitled to use them again - but you probably need to be a bit sensitive about it depending on who the clients are. 

4. Communication is key. A lot can get lost over email - phone calls and meeting face to face are often better if possible. I have definitely learnt this recently. Often people don't love talking on the phone and it's a lot more effort to meet the client in person - but honestly nothing beats being able to present your ideas face to face and for the client to see your enthusiasm and be able to ask questions there and then. You can also get a much clearer idea about what they feel about them.

5. Don't charge an hourly rate but a total amount for the project. So this was something that I only really started to consider recently after reading quite a few different articles about it. The main idea that really struck me was that as you improve and gain more experience as a designer you will work faster. This means that unless you are increasing your hourly rate regularly you will actually be earning less the more experienced you get when people should be paying more for that experience. For me, with some clients it is just not appropriate to charge a fee for the whole project (and if they are the sort of clients that make lots of amends it can be helpful to charge hourly) - but I am going to try and do this as often as I can in the future. 

6. Knowing when to fight for your ideas and when not to. Often working with a really good client makes the end result even better. They bring ideas and feedback that are really helpful and constructive. Sometimes the client doesn't always know what's best though and in those instances you need to decide when to fight for your ideas. Part of it is about educating the client about the process but also you have to remember that you are the professional designer and that you have insight and experience that they might not have and there might be things they have not considered or thought about. It's always important to be polite and respectful and most often than not they will really appreciate your feedback and ideas and will really take them on board. I think that is when a client/designer works really well - when there is mutual respect and trust so that can share your different ideas and work well together. 

Are you designer? Do you have any other lessons to add that have helped you? I would love to hear them if you do. If you are not a designer I hope you found this an interesting insight into working as a designer. A lot of these lessons I think would be pretty relevant to other jobs too. 

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The Design Process

I have been thinking a bit recently about how I can do posts on this blog that are more helpful to people and inspiring and that actually help people learn. I guess design is what I know most about so maybe I will start a series about design with advice and tips etc. Today I want to share something with you that I remember being taught at University while studying graphic design and it was something that was really drilled into us regularly > the design process. 

At uni we had to show really clear evidence of each stage in all of our projects. I think now I use it slightly differently as I don't necessarily have that intense accountability (and assessment!) over my process and I probably spend different amounts of time on the various sections than I used to.

I still think it is a really great way to structure the way you work if you are a designer (and to make sure you don't miss out any of the important stages) and so I thought it would be worth sharing here for a reminder to myself as much as anything. I think this process isn't really limited to graphic designers either and would be useful to people working in any creative role. I hope you find it helpful! 

Identifying needs
This is the bit where you really get into the nitty gritty of what is needed for a project. In a commercial project this is where you work out exactly what the client wants and needs. Sometimes what the client wants and what they need can be quite different. It can be your job to be an investigator to get to the bottom of it all. You need to ask the right questions, give your opinion and use your expertise and then come to a decision with the client about what the brief should be. Some people have a questionnaire that they get clients to fill in to help them think about all the various aspects of the job they are commissioning. This can be a great idea and save you work later on if everything is clear from the beginning, sometimes though I am not sure a 'fit all' questionnaire will do the trick and a bit more hand holding on your part is needed. 

Information gathering
This is the time to get busy researching. To start off with you will need to find out and learn as much as possible about your client and the industry that they are in. Depending on what that is you will probably need to find out who their competitors are and what they are doing. The internet seriously makes doing research so easy and it is usually pretty easy to find out what other companies are up to when it comes to their design and campaigns. 

Analysis
This is the point where you take stock of everything you have found so far. You can start refining your brief. Often clients will want to do something similar to their competitors and stay safe but sometimes it is your job to push them and challenge them and encourage them to break out of the mould and do something new and fresh that will stand out from the pack. This is usually a scary prospect for a client so it is great to really develop their trust in you as the whole process goes on. 

Idea generation
This is the time to just let loose and come up with loads of ideas. At the beginning of this phase I just like to get down as many ideas as possible however crazy and unlikely they may seem. Part of being a creative is making connections and so often ideas can spark other ideas. After I have got everything down and out of my head and pushed it as far as I feel I can, it is good to take a break and come back to it again a day or so later. I think people (and me too) don't often totally realise the value of letting a problem percolate in your brain. It sort of hangs out there in the back of your mind while you do other things and often new ideas and connections hit you when you least expect it. When I am working on ideas for a client I usually want to present them with a few different routes to get their feedback on the initial ideas stage. The number can vary from client to client and project to project but I would say about 3 or 4 initial ideas are a good place to start. These don't have to be final designs, just enough for the client to get a good feel for what you are proposing. Getting feedback from these initial concepts can really help your client and you understand better what they like/don't like and what they are looking for. 

Design Proposal
This is where you refine your ideas and narrow down your final designs. This will often involve a bit of to-ing and fro-ing between you and the clients and it might involve quite a few iterations before the design can be finalised. It is quite likely that you and your client will have different opinions about elements of the design and it is helpful to think through which things you think are important to fight for and which are not. It is good to remember that you are the professional and the expert and you do have expertise to bring to the table that can help your client get the best solution possible. If you are fighting for some part of your design it is good to be respectful and explain your thoughts with good reasons that are backed up with research and your experience. Clients will often really respect that and take on board what you have to offer. I think sometimes as designers it is easy to give up and just make every change and suggestion that the client gives but this can sometimes be a bit soul destroying especially if you feel like it really detracts from the integrity of the design.
 

Evaluation
Now it is time to look back on all the work you have done and evaluate whether it has been successful. Have you achieved what you set out to? Did you fulfil all the 'needs' that were identified in the first stage? The evaluation can look different depending on the client and the project, but maybe you were creating a campaign to encourage more sign ups to a newsletter - in that instance the evaluation could take place over a period of time and would be assessed on how much sign up numbers increase. Maybe you created an infographic to help people understand some statistics better. In this situation it might be possible to ask for feedback from the audience. Either way it is good not to just walk away from a project and wash your hands of it immediately after it is delivered. Find out how things are working, learn from things that could be done better in the future, the evaluation stage is a great place to make sure you are gaining experience and learning lessons that will make you a better designer in the future. 

I think often as a designer client work can be frustrating because you don't have the freedom to just design everything exactly how you would like and you have to take into consideration the clients opinions and ideas. Though I think when the design/client relationship works really well, the working together and compromising element of the process can often create even better results than you could have created working all by yourself. I think when that happens I know that this is definitely a client that I could work with again. 

Anyway I hope reading through this process has been helpful and even if you are not a graphic designer actually thinking through these steps can be helpful whatever creative problem you are tackling. It is all problem solving after all. I would love to know if you found this post useful and if you would like me to do more design related/educational style posts. 

Happy Tuesday!

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What I learnt at Pinterest
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Last month I was lucky enough to go to a little workshop at the Pinterest offices in London with a few other bloggers. I think Pinterest can be a really great tool and I have heard some bloggers talk about how it is the top traffic driver to their blog. That is not the case for me and so I figured if I learnt to use it better it could potentially be a much more effective tool. Saying that I don't want it to be come too businessy because I love using Pinterest as a bit of a leisure/relaxing/inspiration thing and I guess it's kind of personal - I am hoping I can find a nice balance of business and personal use as I go forward using it.

I found what I learnt at the workshop really helpful and so I wanted to share a bit here so that you guys can learn too!

1. Board and pin information is really important - Pinterest doesn't use hashtags and that is to encourage people to write really authentic content. Having good board titles and great descriptions for your boards and pins helps people to find your content. This kind of sounds like a lot of work to me but I can totally see the value and it's something that I am going to try and get into the habit of doing. Apparently statistically pins with longer descriptions perform better than those with short ones.

2. Use rich pins - Rich pins are pins that contain more information from your blog right there on the pin. There are 6 different rich pins (app, movie, recipe, article, product, and place) - I think these rich pins are particularly good if you do recipe posts as it brings in the ingredient list so people can quickly see what they need. It also works well for article posts where the beginning of your article is included on the pin...I guess it is another way of giving people a bit more information than just the image to encourage people to click over to your blog. It can also be helpful for products as it brings the price and product information into the pin. You can find information for how to use rich pins for your blog or website here

3. You can follow 'interests' not just boards - This was something that I totally wasn't aware of but it has been great for finding lots more of what I am interested in. I started following Graphic Design as an interest and a few others. You can see how to do it here.

4. Apart from pins that are about a specific holiday (i.e. Christmas) all other pins seem to be popular consistently throughout the year -  Going back and pinning old content from your blog is a good idea as there will be people who won't have seen it and who it will be relevant for, even if it's no longer relevant to you. Content has a really long life span on Pinterest. Maybe you got married a few years ago and blogged about it. Well someone getting married now will still find that content helpful. 

5. Don't ever delete your boards - If someone has followed just that board and you delete it then you are automatically losing a follower. Feel free to reorganise your board, change the name etc but don't ever delete them. This is something that I have definItely done in the past to try and make my profile look nicer, but we were reminded that unlike Facebook or Instagram, on Pinterest people don't really look at your profile so much. 

6. You can never have too many boards - I am not sure why but I thought that having too many boards would put people off, but actually people don't look at your profile the same way they might on Twitter or Instagram. You can't have too many boards and so recently I have added so many more and I am absolutely loving it. It feels a bit more organised and easy for me to find things that I want to refer back to. 

7. Think about your audience and what they care about - Do you run a fashion blog? It would make sense that on Pinterest you would be sharing that sort of content as well, and not just your own content, but also your inspiration. My blog is mainly about design, stationery/paper products, illustrators, photographers and all things creative...so it makes sense that a lot of my boards feature that kind of thing - people who follow my blog and check me out on Pinterest will want to see what I am inspired by. It is still personal though so it is not exclusively those things. 

8. The more you pin the more you get out of it - I guess this is the same for a lot of things in life. Since doing the workshop I have been pinning more regularly and have been enjoying it a lot more and have also seen a lot more engagement. One of my boards even got featured in one of the Pinterest UK email round ups. If you verify your website then you can actually see the stats of how many people are re-pinning and engaging with your pins. 

9. Don't forget to promote your Pinterest presence - I don't know why but I always forget to do this. I have started to do the occasional tweet to let people know that they can find me on Pinterest too, and have links on my website so people can get there. If people follow you on social media channels, the chances are they would like to follow you on Pinterest too. 

10. Vertical pins work better than horizontal pins - This is something that I really need to work on for future blog posts. I see loads of people doing it really well, and I am going to start trying to make sure that I include a vertical image in my posts. It makes sense, they will always appear bigger and are more eye catching. Also, it can often be handy to add text to your vertical pin so that people know exactly what your pin is about. You can use Over or PicMonkey to do that easily. 

11. You can now schedule pins  - I recently started using Buffer to schedule some of my pins and now you can do the same for Pinterest. I think for some people this can be handy, but I actually like looking on Pinterest and pinning during little pockets of time fairly regularly, so don't really feel the need. If you are interested in scheduling pins maybe check out Buffer or Percolate (there are a few others that do it too).

A few interesting facts:
1. Pinterest is not a social platform it is a bookmarking tool
2. The average pin is re-pinned 11 times
3. The search function is the biggest way that people find content
4. People tend not to follow people they know but they follow things they are interested in. 

Anyway I hope all of this has been helpful. I still think I need to improve how I use Pinterest, but to be honest you just need to do what works for you and most importantly what you enjoy. I really enjoy using Pinterest for personal enjoyment and so I don't really want it to become too businessy, but hopefully all these things I've learnt will help me to use it better and also encourage more traffic to my site. If you have any other tips please feel free to share below!

...and come follow me on Pinterest! Happy Monday!

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