Part of my job as a professional designer is doing good work. Excellent, appropriate, on budget, in time design and web solutions for clients who are trying to accomplish something in the marketplace or non-profit space. Clients who, with great aspiration, are trading their dollars for my knowledge and skill, hopefully to the betterment of their endeavor.
But that’s only part of my job.
No matter how good and appropriate pitched work may be, there’s still the matter of convincing the client that it’s good and appropriate. Often good, appropriate work doesn’t stand on its own as obvious because the people with the ability to say “yes” or “no” to it don’t have the skills to know what they’re voting on. After all, if they possessed those skills, maybe they wouldn’t need you in the first place.
Image credit: Drew Dernavich
The oft-quoted saying “graveyards are full of indispensable men” comes to mind. The world is littered with the discarded bones of great designs that never made it out of a conference room to live and move and interact with people. Sometimes good work just dies.
In the modern world of business, it is useless to be a creative original thinker unless you can also sell what you create. Management cannot be expected to recognize a good idea unless it is presented to them by a good salesman.
Ogilvy was a consumate salesman (I highly recommend his 1983 book Ogilvy on Advertising—I keep a copy on my desk). He helped create the modern art and industry of advertising, and clearly knew a thing or two about selling products and services to people. But he also understood the other part of our job—selling our work to the people who are paying for it first, before we get the chance to sell it to the public.
So How Do You Do That?
If you do good work that constantly gets shut down before people interact with it, let me (humbly) recommend a few options:
90% of the stuff made for public consumption is terrible. As designers (developers, business folks, what have you) we have a chance to contribute and grow the 10% of things that are good, useful, beneficial, well-designed and well-intentioned.
But doing the work is only part of the work.
1. Some great books to help you learn how to pitch better (and give me an Affiliate kickback if you’re so inclined to buy): Design is a Job, The Art of Woo, All Marketers Are Liars, and It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want To Be. ↩
Peter Mendelsund is the Associate Art Director of Alfred A. Knopf Books, Art Director of Pantheon Books, and the designer of some of the my favorite book covers of the last few years like The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Played With Fire.
Anyone who puts out that variety of excellent, thoughtful work likely has an excellent, thoughtful process and approach to that work. To wit:
My job as book designer and art director is predicated on the idea that I will help sell a book, and to the extent that I do that, successfully position a book in the marketplace by making the appropriate jacket for it, I am fulfilling my responsibilities to the publisher.
—Excerpted from this excellent interview
But he goes further than the business goals of the project:
In terms of my responsibility to the author and the book…representing the text is not (at least not patently) something I’m paid to do, but I see this act as a moral imperative. Characterizing, explicating, interpreting a text visually is the most interesting and gratifying aspect of what I do. When I fail at this task of signifying what a book is (or I am urged or directed in some way to betray what I see as a book’s essential nature) there’s a palpable sense of loss and guilt.
It feels important to me that a book’s cover should not be dissonant with, or oblivious to, the text within. A book cover should be a book’s true face; which is to say, optimally, a jacket or cover will be a kind of visual translation of the book in question. So—to the extent that I successfully describe or epitomize a book—its plot, its themes, its affect…I am fulfilling my responsibilities to the book and to its author.
—Ibid., emphasis mine
A moral imperative. Palpable loss. Guilt. Questions of dissonance and appropriateness.
This is an articulation of something I’ve felt for as long as I’ve been a professional designer (going on 11 years now). I have a responsibility to represent—graphically, textually, gesturally, experientially—the core concepts and message of the content, the product or service. Without that sense of responsibility, I don’t know how to best serve the content or the client because I simply don’t care enough to take some measure of ownership or stewardship. A lack of care of my part ensures I’m not delivering the best results and solutions to my clients.
Naturally, this means I’ll fight (metaphorically, occasionally literally) for what I see as best, given the constraints and culture I’m operating in. Why? Because it’s a moral imperative. Because it’s a “Mission from God” as Elwood Blues would say. Because good content deserves good packaging and appropriate, honoring, harmonious design. Because if I don’t, we all lose something, something great or useful that might have been if we had only cared more, fought harder, or simply kept our eyes on [the thing].
It’s all about [the thing], whatever the thing is in your context. The typical U.S. oath of office comes to mind…
[I do solemnly swear/affirm] that I will support and defend [the thing] against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same…So help me God.
Supporting and defending [the thing]. Bearing true faith and allegiance to [the thing]. That’s what I do. That’s what all designers should do. No matter what. Cut through the cruft and personal preferences and the possibilities and the “wouldn’t it be cool if…” to defend the core of [the thing] against all enemies, foreign and domestic*. If we’re not doing that, we’re admitting a kind of defeat. We’re valuing something else with our actions, at the expense of what we say we care about.
Image credit: Bill Watterson
The strangest part of the design process is how little your enemies look like enemies. Most of the time our nemesis is apathy. Indifference. Laziness. The easy mantra of “So What?!”
“Should this widget do this action?” “It doesn’t matter.” “What kind of language should we use here?” “Just comp something in.” “It seems weird to use this font here…” “It’ll be easier if we do. Go with it.” Every one of those exchanges, killing [the thing] bit by bit. Who need competitors when we do such an amazing job of sniping ourselves?
“But this isn’t us!” “So What?!”
When the core of [the thing] is sacrificed, even in small ways, I feel a loss—a grieving over what could and should be, a fully perceived sense that we are wandering away from what we should hold holy and sacrosanct.
As Saul Williams says of modern Hip Hop in Telegraph:
Perhaps we should not have encouraged them to use cordless microphones
For they have walked too far from the source and are emitting a lesser frequency
When we lose our way, wandering too far from the source, what we make becomes less potent, less important, and less likely to stand out in an increasingly noisy world. In short, our work is less likely to work.
If design isn’t a moral imperative, we sacrifice [the thing] for convenience, fashion, trends, opportunities, or just something shiny and new. We abandon the truth of it. It becomes something else, losing its soul in the process.
Design is the forever fight against entropy, apathy, and confusion. These are the enemies that cumulatively make it difficult for our work to communicate, or to accomplish goals. But when I care, when I craft, and when I fight, I can go to war against dissonance and, hopefully at least, design things good and true.
And at least if I fail doing that, I can sleep guilt-free at night.
*I assure you, domestic enemies will kill [the thing] long before foreign ones will. Most branding campaigns, product designs, experiences, etc. are destroyed from within, one off-mission decision at a time, through laziness, apathy, or indifference.
At its most simple, a wayfinding system helps guests find their way in your environment and makes the information they need accessible. That system might include signage, icons, text, environmental art, and architectural cues (like the dominance of entrances or a clear deliniation of public and private spaces). The system helps direct, identify, inform, and restrict/permit guests.
Why Should You Care?
We all need to get places, to do things, and we need help navigating the world. Most of us interact with wayfinding systems in large scale ways, like the US highway system or an international airport, and in smaller ways, like the handful of signs that direct you through the drive-thru of your local In-N-Out or Chick-fil-A. Wayfinding is such a normal part of our daily visual landscape that it typically fades into the background and, like so many design decisions that are made, we don’t even notice it. At least until it fails us.
I’m currently up to my eyeballs in wayfinding system planning and implementation for two campuses we’re building, and these are the main things I try to keep in mind:
1. Good wayfinding loves people
Love might seem like an odd attribute for a system, but good wayfinding proves you love people and want them to enjoy your environment.
One of the most basic human needs is a good place to pee. If you don’t tell a guest where they can do that in your environment, you’re not serving them in their time of need. (And yes, confused peepee dancing definitely counts as a time of need.)
If you show a guest the way to their destination with minimal effort on their part, they’re much more inclined to enjoy your environment and stick around, and maybe, just maybe, listen to what you have to say. Wayfinding is just like any other relational exchange—if you help me, I like you.
2. Good wayfinding is intuitive and self-navigable
A clever font or stylized icons may look interesting in the vacuum of your computer screen, but when a guest is making their way through your environment, do your indicators make sense? Is the text readable? Is it readable from a distance? Does a guest have to repeatedly ask your staff where to find certain things? Are there clear, logical hierarchies to rooms, naming schemes, etc.?
Give your guests a clear path to follow, and don’t force them to be dependent on informational/cultural gatekeepers or too-clever visual metaphors to find their way.
3. Good wayfinding is consistent, always
If you implement a wayfinding signage system that begins in a parking lot, carry it through every nook and cranny of your environment. Don’t leave a guest marooned somewhere in the depths of a building. If you’re not willing to be consistent, everywhere—with all the effort, maintenance, and budget it will take—don’t start. An inconsistent environment is not a loving or intuitive environment.
4. Good wayfinding enables a decision everywhere a decision can be made
People have to make too many decisions everyday. The universe fights against them. Entropy. Thorns and thistles. Difficult to navigate environments. Peepee dances. When a guest has more than one directional option in front of them, enable them to make that decision through a familiar signage system or a clear visual sightline. Repeat anywhere there’s more than one directional option.
5. Good wayfinding is designed with the first time in mind
It might feel like overkill to implement a wayfinding system, but never forget you’re not the guest—you know your own environment. You’ve spent time there. You know all the intricacies, oddities and inconsistencies. And once a guest has visited your environment a few times, they’ll likely get comfortable, too. But during their first visit, in their first impression, never assume they know where anything is. Design and plan for fresh eyes.
Bonus: Arrows should never point to text
This is less a core value and more a personal preference, and you can fight me on it, but I think you’re 100% wrong. Yes, in the aforementioned vacuum of your computer screen, putting all your arrows/icons down the left (or right) side of your signs might seem preferable. It’s certainly easier to implement. But it just makes your job easier, not the guest’s.
If an arrow sits on the left side of text and points to the text, you’re forcing the guest to read the text left to right, then scan back to the left to know which way to go. If you have multiple destinations on one sign, you’re forcing them to do it repeatedly. Stop it. It’s poor hierarchy and usability. Physical things have UI/UX, too.
I’ve had to learn this stuff through years of repetitive trial and failure, so I hope this helps you save some time, should you ever need to help people find their way, at whatever scale you find yourself designing for.
The web is full of lists. “10 Ways to Get Fit Now,” “101 Photoshops Tips for Turbo-Tacky Text Effects,” “20 Underrated Mildly-Deformed Movie Villains”. We can’t get enough lists. But if I see another list of “Like, Totally Awesome Logos” I think I might cry.
The problem with these lists is that logos don’t do anything outside the context where they exist and the environment where they live. A logo in a big list of other logos is simply one more visual cue to identify something. It’s not a brand, it’s just a logo. Logos, in and of themselves, are far less important than we think they are.
With no context of what the represented company, organization, product, etc. is or how that logo is supported by typography, colors, standards or more importantly, culture, people and ideas, logos are fairly worthless. A logo can be described along the lines of “a combination of letters and/or graphics arranged in a distinctive design used to identify something in advertising and promotion.” They are a calling card, a big nametag. Some of them are ugly, some are beautiful, some are clever. With the right strategy and personnel, a logo is easy to manage, use and/or implement. In most cases, we directly control the destiny of your logo in terms of how it makes its way into the public eye. “Reproduce no smaller than 50.8mm,” “Use Pantone® 17-2031 TCX for print,” “80lb text weight with raised lettering for letterhead”. We’ve got our visual identity on lockdown, so we’re good, right? We’re like, totally branded.
A logo may communicate modern, friendly, and professional but the people who interact with our brand may see unclear wayfinding signage, a poorly-navigable website or, perhaps worst of all, lackluster customer service. Even if you hired a professional designer who picked the “right” typefaces, the bold complimentary colors and the coolest award-winning letterhead ever, all the logo in the world can’t change someone’s impression of you because everything meant to support your logo actually says the opposite about you.
Do you ever wish you could hear what other people are saying about you when you’re not around? Those are the conversations that define you and your brand. Did you catch that? You’re not in complete control. Your brand is who you are, what you do. No amount of standards, guidelines, rules or forbidden phrases will reign that in completely. A brand is built from perceptions, impressions, experiences — all of which happen in the mind of someone who isn’t us. How can we possibly think we can control that? Your brand has a life of its own the minute you interact with people for the first time. We can do our best to direct the conversation, to be transparent and open, but we have to admit (revel in!) the fact that our intentions in creating a brand are often irrelevant in the way that brand will be interpreted by others. You may have turned the ignition, but you’re just along for the ride.
Your brand should be ever-changing. Branding endeavors should understand and implement strategies that acknowledge the relative smallness of the logo in the overall take-away impressions of what we do. By all means, have a great logo. Make people jealous. Win awards. Be Big Chief Awesome Logo. But more importantly, make sure you’re actually living up to what that logo conveys in all your interactions.
Brands, branded, branding — the terminology is all wrong for what we need to be doing. If we want to be effective in our brand-building, we can’t approach it as an attempt to sear our message onto unsuspecting people (whether they like it or not). Branding like that is only skin-deep. It doesn’t add value to others, it imposes our rigid view of who we are onto them. It doesn’t involve anyone else. It isn’t interactive (and how can anything survive right now if it isn’t interactive?)
If our strategy is so dogmatic and inward-focused, we’ll always be limited by what we perceive ourselves to be. In turn, we’ll burn those same limitations into the people we’re trying to reach. We’ll never grow beyond the initial mark because we’ve choked all the life and possibility out of our brand by dogmatically trying to define it as a static, fixed thing. That disrespects, diminishes and seeks to manipulate people by shaping them into our image when we should realize that they’re the ones defining us.
I tend to define design as “the intentional ordering of components” or “logically solving problems.” That’s a much broader definition and meaning than we usually attach to design, or for that matter, to designers. It’s typical to view design as the window dressing, the Photoshop files, the pretty stuff, etc. Design is about the way things look, right? You hire a designer to make things look nice, to pick typefaces or colors, and draw logos, don’t you?
That’s partially true, but deadly false if it’s your sole viewpoint. If design doesn’t show up on our radar until the end of a project and we see it as nothing more than the icing, we’ll probably get a pretty looking, icing-covered poop cake. From a distance, it looks great; the closer you get to it, the more you realize something stinks. And let’s hope no one has to actually use it, because they won’t walk away happy, much less ever wanting an encore performance. Second chances are hard to come by for those that don’t value design.
Good design is not a slick add-on or an optional extra. Good design is an essential part of every interaction, every touchpoint, every service opportunity, every creative endeavor, and every communication between your organization and your customers/guests. The wayfinding signage in your local mall or the international airport, the best path of traffic from the door to the register in an electronics or grocery store, the number of steps it takes me to accomplish a given task through your system, the flow of an event—all of these things are designed, or at least should be.
Design is a choice. It is intentional. For every dollar you spend and hour you devote to improving the design culture of your organization, you make a succinct, profound statement about what is valuable and important to you—about the character of your organization. Good design reflects the core of what you stand for and what/who you value. An all-encompassing design culture and strategy in every aspect of your thinking is a more tangible representation of your identity than any clever mission statement or advertisement. And if your design sucks, it simply means you don’t care about people. You don’t bother with their experiences, their perceptions, their take-away impressions, the way they move through your environments or see your world. You don’t care about them.
We can show people that we value their experience(s), top-to-bottom, and that we’re constantly thinking of how to solve problems, ease friction, remove barriers, and serve them in World Class Ways. We have a huge opportunity at changing someone’s expectations (not a word to be taken lightly), but a consistent culture of poorly designed experiences, communications, websites, and transactions shows the opposite. In that, we choose not to alter their perceptions or challenge the status quo. We do business as usual, which isn’t nearly enough.
Tom Peters says:
[Design is] damned hard work, and it requires constant care and attention and love and affection and obsession.
If you can’t sustain it, don’t start it. Don’t even bother. But if you don’t start it, it means you don’t see it as a valuable enough endeavor (too soft a word? How about mission?) to find or build a passionate design culture that owns every experience you create at every level.
Like Tom said, it isn’t easy. But it matters.
Ryan Singer wrote a great short post on hiding your design process versus designing in the open. All the comments are intriguing, and I especially loved this one from Ryan:
[Regarding the fear of being micromanaged as a designer], the question is whether or not you want to learn. If you see design as a learning process, then you will want steady feedback to tell you how you are doing.
The first difficult thing most designers have to give up is the fallacy that their first draft should be finished and pixel perfect. Designers need the constant feedback loop. Designers need direction. They need help. Cooperation. Collaboration. They do not need to hide. And they don’t need to waste time crafting every detail of their version of a perfect first draft all at once. Design needs room to breathe and change, because everything affects everything.
The fear for the director is becoming a hovercraft. But if you don’t engage, you’re not really directing are you? You’re just managing. Those aren’t the same thing.
The designer’s fear of showing work early and often and the director’s fear of micromanaging are both rooted in pride. So what are you more concerned with? Being embarrassed or doing seriously amazing work? You can’t have both.
I firmly believe that as a designer if you have an intimate relationship with the manufacturing and the materials that you’re working with your designs will have more meaning and integrity.
—John Cho Moore
My friend Matthew Smith organized a small gathering (conference? alt-conference? nonference?) in my proverbial backyard this past weekend. The first Greenville Grok was a blast for a handful of locals and out-of-towners.
So, what’s a grok anyway?
[grok] — verb
1. to intimately and completely share the same reality or line of thinking with another physical or conceptual entity
2. the intermingling of intelligence that necessarily affects both the observer and the observed
The weekend was equal parts 10 or 20-minute presentations/questions/thoughts (here’s a spreadsheet of topics), relaxed conversation, shared ideas, food and drink from local eateries, and good old fashioned camaraderie.
I’m an introvert by nature and I admit to not being much of a “conference guy,” so this format was very appealing to me. No fluff, no filler, no lines for the bathroom—just an onslaught of ideas and feedback with a stellar group of people. Here are a few highlights and orphaned thoughts from my notebook…
On Project Managers:
Project Managers without any subject matter expertise are glorified secretaries.
On free [journalism] content:
If it’s free, it’s dead. Either no one’s going to do it or everyone is going to do it and it will suck.
On side projects:
Getting stuff done isn’t the only thing.
On articulating the mission first:
Unless pixels help you hone it, iterate goals and your message before you begin development.
There was much more to chew on regarding business, clients, teams, side projects, language, trust, paywalls, journalism, apps, beer (oh, the way these gents love their beer…) and I was only there for one day of the three. I can get down with that kind of return.
Many thanks to Matthew for organizing and everyone else who attended—you filled Grok chock full of amazing content. Let’s do this again sometime soon.
Some variation of this statement happens in almost every conversation we have with potential vendors, “Wow… you guys really care about design.” And while statement is deadly true, what they typically mean is, “Wow… you guys really care about the way things look.” Veneer. Window dressing. Aesthetics.
But we mean what Steve means:
Design is the fundamental soul of a human-made creation that ends up expressing itself in successive outer layers of the product or service.
Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.
Because we know that:
Content precedes design. Design in the absence of content is not design, it’s decoration.
The dumbest mistake is viewing design as something you do at the end of the process to ‘tidy up’ the mess, as opposed to understanding it’s a ‘day one’ issue and part of everything.
And we believe:
Before you can execute the design, you’ve got to live the design problem.
People ignore design that ignores people.
And then we try to live all that out in such a way that:
Good design is obvious. Great design is transparent.
I hope we’re succeeding. Miles to go before we sleep.
Well, the knee-jerk reaction is that you want to get out there and start making amazing work like all the work that you’ve been looking at while you’re at school. It doesn’t always work that way. That’s okay because it takes time to really develop a sense of yourself and a sense of your own style, a sense of your own taste, and I think it’s totally okay. There’s always time to do good work.
—Jason Santa Maria, from this On Your Way Here conversation
Patience, practice, woodshedding, and taking the time necessary to become a craftsman are highly underrated endeavors for young designers (a group I still very much consider myself a part of).
I booked a hotel online this past weekend in Charlotte, NC. I did my typical due diligence on reviews, sifted through a few negative ones, and then decided to take a bit of a chance anyway. Lesson learned. You should probably trust (the average of) peer reviews.
When I walked into The Blake Hotel, I got the impression that it doesn’t quite know what it wants to be. The Blake is frozen in time, seemingly mid-renovation, with the bare minimum of effort, furniture, and fixtures to suspend the facade. The labyrinthian walk from the parking garage, through the attached conference center, and eventually into the hotel is a bizarre journey through the last few decades. And once I got to my room, I imagined I could take a ladder, set it up in any corner, and, if I pulled hard enough, remove the entire pseudo-boutique facade, like peeling off sheets of fresh latex paint.
Which is how most of us approach communications and design. A little gloss here, some fancy words there, and poof, all is well. But if you start from the outside it’s just a facelift. If the bones are rotten (or, in the case of The Blake, woefully outdated) putting on a coat of paint and throwing some modern touches at the problem won’t give you a cohesive, intentional, or finished result. Smart folks will see the cracks and feel the dissonance.
All your attempts at updating your look or your voice have to begin with the internal, or any attempt at a facelift will be wasted effort.
Aaron Weyenberg wrote an excellent article asking Is Realistic UI Design Realistic? He cites some great examples of the glut of skeuomorphic design cues making their way into UI design recently, especially on the iOS platform. (Dribbble’s popular shots are often icons or illustrated elements straddling that real/fake line as well.) Aaron does a great job of discussing tradeoffs, inconsistencies, and shortcomings of the skeuomorphic route.
Designers abuse history when they use it as a shortcut, a way of giving instant legitimacy to their work…historical reference and outright copying have been cheap and dependable substitutes for a lack of ideas.
—Tibor Kalman, Good History/Bad History
Salt Lake City-based designer Geof Crowl posted this shot to Dribbble with the simple question, “What state do you live in?” Five days later, there are 300+ rebounds (Dribbble’s version of a follow-up response) from designers stateside and abroad, including my nod to my homestate. I’m a sucker for good typography and variations on a theme.
Here are a few of my favorites so far:
clockwise from top left: Utah by Geof Crowl, Oregon by Frank Chimero, Pennsylvania by Preston Brigham, Texas by Phil Coffman, Texas by Trent Walton, Washington D.C. by Brent Jackson, Connecticut by Brian Cook, New York by Tyler Thompson, Colorado by Luke Lisi, Minnesota by Bryan Knauber
It occurs to me that in the grand scheme of 2002–present some of you might be new to this site. I think it will be helpful to save you from the hassle of rummaging through too much older content—I’ll just give you the highlights of the last year or so. That should set some expectations for what you might see in the future, should you decide to lend me your internet attention from time to time.
Sometimes I write about web design and development like How I Develop Websites Without an Internet Connection or how IE6 isn’t dead yet.
Sometimes I write about the web in more general terms and topics, like print vs web or the entitlement baggage of social media or how easy it is to complain instead of create or telling people they’re doing it wrong or the stupidity of social media without strategy.
Sometimes, rarely (and with good reason), I write about politics and a relentless fury of comments often follows.
Sometimes I write about Christianity, like our crazy Pseudo-Christian/Hyper-Political American subculture (the comments on that one are stellar) or more personal thoughts about leadership and legacy.
But lately, mostly, it seems like I write about work—the office, the team, the tools it takes to make extraordinary things with other people. Getting out of your own way so that you can build something worth spending the 9–5 (and beyond) on. Here’s a few favorites:
So, if you’ve made it this far, perused even half of those links, and you think “I like this place, I think we could get along,” stick around, subscribe to the RSS feed, join the ragtag bunch of brilliant commenters who frequent the site, and know that I’m humbled you’d trade me your time for something I have to say. Onward and upward, new internet friends.
Looks like today was a good day for launching things. Canadian designer Tyler Galpin has a gorgeous new site and portfolio—be sure to check out the classy layout on his Process page—and friends at Weightshift have unveiled Interhoods, helping SF, NYC and CHI designers and developers connect by neighborhood. Great work, chaps.
As far a design firms go, I’m a bit of a Pentagram fanboy. Their recently announced hire of new partner Eddie Opara (formerly running The Map Office) does nothing to curb that—he’s got an amazing track record.
This week’s installment of Oh Great Yet Another Portfolio That’s Better Than Mine is brought to you by Matt Lehman, a ridiculously talented designer, illustrator, art director friend from Nashville. He’s spent the last three years making CMT/MTV Networks look good fulltime, and he’s open for other business.
My team currently has two openings, a Web Developer and
Junior Designer, and we just hired a Project Manager. I’ve been spending ~15% of my workdays lately sorting through portfolios, reading and sending emails, and following up with potential applicants. I think most people in Director/Principle/HR-type roles are too busy to explain why an applicant gets rejected, but I want to throw some ideas out there that I think might help you if you’re a design/developer on the job hunt.
1. Show Lots of Work…
Actual, Honest-To-God, well-thought-out, proof-that-you-can-problem-solve WORK. There are 12 year olds with a copy of Photoshop who can set some cool type on an image. Your grandma could learn basic HTML/CSS (hyperbole, maybe—but also probably true). Where’s the proof that you can turn complex thinking into seemingly simple solutions? Proof that you can take a client’s needs and translate them into real work?
If you’re a designer, show a variety of design solutions (include sketches and failed attempts, too—process is important). If you’re a developer, show live code examples (not just “I worked on this website” statements). If you don’t have real clients yet, try your hand at unsolicited redesigns. Just get out there, find problems and solve them. Do it on your own time and show a potential employer/client that A) you can hustle and B) you’re capable of solving problems for them.
2. …in an Easy-To-Browse Portfolio*…
I had a wonderful client/friend (amazing combo if you can make it happen) who once told me he typically browsed through dozens of portfolios looking for the right talent for new projects. “Don’t make me click a lot,” he’d say, “just show me big pictures of great work.” Word to the wise from a guy who hires talent for huge clients.
*Bonus points if I can look at your portfolio on my phone. I’m not a super-busy guy, but I’m also not always at my desk in front of a 30″ monitor. Mobile is the future of how we interact with the internet—if you aren’t thinking about it now, you’ve got catching up to do.
3. …with A Stellar Cover Letter
Make me look twice. Being a vital part of a team is about more than a skillset, so your résumé is only the price of entry. Who you are determines whether you get to stick around for coffee. Is there a person behind the portfolio? How is that person different from rest of the stack of emails I’m getting? Standouts get hired, not résumés—have a voice. Articulate why you’re different.
4. Sweat the Details
Proofread your damn résumé. Make sure your website works. Spell the company’s name right. The care you put into the details of presenting yourself to a potential employer/client is a good measure of the care you will put into the work you do for that employer/client.
I once got a cover letter that led with, “My objective is to obtain a Junior Designer position at [local advertising agency’s name].” Since I received this letter and résumé for a job opening on my team, I replied, “I wish you luck in your objective to obtain a Junior Designer position at [local advertising agency’s name].” Details matter, always.
5. Follow the Instructions
Be as creative as you want to be, but make sure you follow the instructions in the job posting while you’re doing it. See #4.
6. Be Passionate
Please love what you do. If you’re not energized and excited about the job you’re pursuing, stop, reassess and pursue something else. In a typical week, you’re going to spend 35–45 hours a week with your coworkers—no one wants to work with passionless people. Find something you love to do and run after it.
Read Kevin Fanning’s Let’s All Find Awesome Jobs. It’s full of great, practical advice.
Posting ’round these parts has been sparse of late, as my day job has kept me busy. Our “web team” is a team of two, and in addition to other duties, myself and Mr. Spooner have been todo-list-ing our way through a complete top-to-bottom overhaul of the NewSpring Church website for the better part of the last 10 months. The previous version of the site was launched two years ago, and served us well for that season, but I’m turbo-excited about the new site’s potential.
With Spooner’s skillful bending of ExpressionEngine to our will, we added a Stories section to the site to take advantage of the exceptional content a rather large church makes possible. Taking visual cues from some talented people exploring editorial design on the web (mainly The Bold Italic, Laura Miner‘s Pictory, and Jason Santa Maria) we developed templating system that enables fairly quick turn-around (2–3 hours for design, typically less than an hour for coding/publishing) on new stories without sacrificing unique visuals and layouts. For example: Zac’s story, Kacie’s story, and Neicy’s story are all from the same “visual family,” but unique members nonetheless.
Some of the changes were big. We retooled the sermon series pages to give more flexibility on bringing the series branding to life in a bigger way—page designs like Practical Atheist and Identity Theft weren’t possible on the previous iteration of the site. I look forward to exploring and designing for that canvas in the future. We also made sections like Watch & Listen much more about search and discovery, and improved general site search as well.
Some of the redesign process was more about small improvements to existing pages and userflows. Previous pages on the old site had way too much visual prominence, when they only served as a sort of pass-through or filtering page. For example, Ministries doesn’t need a huge visual of people “doing stuff”—I likely just want information about a certain Ministry and I want to get to it quickly. We don’t make a big deal out of singling out individual campuses, as we tend to stick with church-wide events, so we combined all the location and service time information onto one page. Anywhere we could simplify, we tried to. And the places where we felt like visuals could make a more appropriate, succinct impact, we made flexible.
There is still much to do. A website, at least a good one, is never finished, only launched.
But man it feels good to launch it.
This week’s installment of Oh Great Yet Another Portfolio That’s Better Than Mine is brought to you by Angus Macpherson, a third year graphic design student at Leeds College of Art. Top-notch typographic and print layout work, as well as photos—and not just “for a student.” The sky’s the limit for talent like this.