Tips For Designers

4 Reasons To Use Mockups In Your Creative Process

If you’ve perused any Behance profile or graphic design blog, you’ve encountered the exciting tool called the “mockup.”  They range from billboard signs to coffee cups to every iPhone generation. But even though they are easy to be seen, not all designers utilize them and are missing out on some amazing benefits of using mockups.

They are ideal to use down the homestretch of your creative process for these four reasons:

1. Allows you to troubleshoot. 

This is before you present final files to your clients. It’s common to become so immersed in your design that you lose sight of its functionality in a real-world setting. Plugging your designs into mockups can help you troubleshoot issues with your designs. You might realize when using a billboard mockup that a line of text is proportionally off. Or the logo you designed doesn’t translate well to greyscale. I’ve seen many “logofolios” that are busting at the seams with logos on a plain white background, stretched across the width of my screen. But in actuality, very few of the logos are truly functional. The use of a mockup can help gain proper perspective on your designs.

2. Helps clients visualize designs. 

I often forget that the people I work with aren’t always as visually-driven as I am. I can explain an idea for a design and perfectly see it form in my mind, but that doesn’t mean they’re seeing it the same way. Using a mockup is ideal for allowing the client to see your designs functioning without actually physically producing anything. And if you have a client that insists on pursuing a certain path that won’t work, a mockup is great to show them why it wouldn’t make sense or isn’t plausible.

3. Increases professionalism. 

Like stated in the previous point, not everyone can look at a design and visualize it in action. Using mockups in your portfolio and your website allows your work to shine and show people what you’re truly capable of. Mockups let you expand projects without the expense, such as showcasing an entire ad campaign without ever paying a cent for prints and billboards and the works. Using mockups to flesh out your work increases your value and your quality.

4. Gives the opportunity to upsell. 

Mockups are fantastic for showing clients where you can take a project. If you’ve designed a logo, spend a little extra time to create a business card design and mock it up. Then pitch an expanded project scope to a client. Seeing your designs in action is an easier sell than asking your clients to imagine what you can do. I suggest doing this for additional designs that would take minimal time, in case they opt not to expand the project.

Whether you do digital or print design, there are mockups available for whatever you need, and are a fantastic addition to your creative process. To find some, you can check out my store here, places like Creative Market, or a specific Google search for whatever your mockup needs are!

Tips For Businesses, Tips For Designers

The Manipulation Of Design

A chilling winter Saturday found me on an urgent journey to Drug Mart, desperately seeking a pack of Ramen noodles to comfort me while I battled an unforgiving cold. I was quite single-minded in my quest, until I was jolted out of my aggressive search by something that could only be described as stunning. There, gracing an end cap, was this can so beautifully designed, I stopped dead in my tracks and Ramen noodles quickly fled my mind.

I didn’t think twice about purchasing it, without second thought it joined the suddenly lesser-appealing items in my cart. I have a habit of this. My desk and surrounding surfaces are ornamented with various packages and papers that struck a chord and demanded that I obtain and promptly display them.  

This is how designers interact with the world. We love making beautiful things, and we equally love admiring beautiful things. Sometimes it seems surreal when I become actively aware that the way someone designed a product is the sole reason I’m compelled to buy it. In reality, this happens on a regular basis. We buy branded products because they have a logo we recognize. Or when looking between two similar items, we instinctively reach for the better-looking one.

When asked to describe what I do, I’m tempted throw out buzzwords like “branding” and “visual elements.” But I think the best way to explain my job is by saying I control people without them knowing. Not surprising, this gets a few raised eyebrows and a few steps taken back. But it’s an accurate way for a designer to think of themselves. Our task is no easy one. We have to create something that will compel a person to pluck it off the shelf without hesitation, just with an inane sense that it’s the superior choice. We are needed to put elements together in a way that can lead someone through a task without any wrong turns or mistakes. We have to embody the soul of a company that can be reduced to a one-color image.

This post doesn’t have a three-step process to make better designs, or the top ten things you should look for in a beverage. It’s simply the acknowledgment of the manipulation of design. There’s a high chance you aren’t aware how molded you are by design, how easily it plays you like a puppet. Becoming aware might not make you a better businessman, designer, consumer, or whatever you are. But I hope it makes you more in awe of the power of design.  

If you’re a fellow designer, this is just one big “congrats” for doing the near-impossible. If you have the pleasure of working with or hiring designers, this is a boosted signal for how powerful design is, how valuable it is. In the weeks ahead, I’ll be publishing posts breaking down what I love about some of the packages and products that have been collected on my shelves, including that gorgeous Bai can. But for the moment, no matter where you find yourself though, whether walking down the aisle or browsing through Amazon, I hope these few words have cause you to become more aware of the manipulation of design.

Tips For Designers

The Homework of Finding Clients

I used to think the days of cold pizza and warm root beer were behind me. I had been ready to burn any college-lined notebook in a blaze of glory. I thought I was done Googling answers for everything. I was sadly, sadly mistaken.

Turns out, just because school is over doesn’t mean the homework stops.

In my journey of freelancing, I’ve learned a designer’s job doesn’t begin with sketching, but rather with homework and research. My clients are the bread and butter of my business, so it would be sloppy of me to take them on blindly. So if you’ve ever been curious how deep a designer goes into research, here’s the top four things I look at when scoping out a potential client:

Their Validity:

I get a lot of messages from people who appear to think they’ve founded the next Apple. As much as I would love to believe they’re Steve Jobs reincarnated, I’ve learned it’s best to do a little digging before hanging my hat on their dreams. The first stop I take is LinkedIn.
(Tip: If you want to land a quality designer, ensure your LinkedIn presence is professional and appealing.)
Unless you’ve never had the joy of connecting to WiFi, you no doubt know that LinkedIn is the professional’s Facebook. I usually don’t feel secure if a client is not found on it, because it speaks to their level of investment in their company. While there’s always a rare case, the lack of a LinkedIn profile gives me great levels of doubt.
My second stop is always a Google search. If someone has had bad press, or terrible reviews, it’s hard to hide it from the all-seeing Google gods. I like knowing as much as possible about a potential client before even initially responding, so a few minutes looking into their company or even whatever personal information is available helps me begin to determine if we’d be a good fit.

Their Mission:

Sometimes I get an email that gives a wonderfully detailed outline of what someone is looking for. Sometimes I get five words. I treat both with the same homework. A very important aspect I look at is the client’s WHY. If they’re asking for a logo, I want to know WHY they’re asking. Do they already have one but it looks outdated? Are they a single mom who’s decided to take her basement business to the next level? Are they unhappy with their current designer and need a fresh take?
If I’ve learned one thing from freelancing, it’s that no two projects are the same.
So I spend time trying to find out the why, usually through a website or social media presence.

Their Size/Reach:

If you’ve spent any time on my blog, you probably know I’m not a fan of free work. It devalues the industry, and I believe the best creativity arrives amidst acknowledge respect. But there are MANY people in the world who disagree, which is why I often am asked to do work for no reward other than “exposure.” You can find many students who fall for that, and I used to be the same way. But if you get burned once or twice, you learn pretty quickly that exposure is almost never equal to cold, hard cash. But I am often willing to work at a reduced rate for certain clients, such as:
  • Non-profits with a cause I believe in
  • A project that I don’t have much experience in, but I want to gain more
  • A super-fun project that reaches a massive audience and gives me creative freedom and direction from a company that is proven to be successful and respects the skills I bring to the table

A lot of people think their project falls into that last one. I’ve learned that kind of client is the unicorn of the industry: as rare as they come. So more often than not, the promises of “exposure” and “unlimited future work” fall on seasoned ears, and I maintain my rates.

Their PR:

I’m very aware that my name and my business is attached to my work. So I’m very careful of the kind of clients I work with. I’ve turned down work if there’s anything risqué or unsavory involved, since that’s not the type of work I want to produce. I’ve turned down work if it goes against stances I believe in, because I have the freedom to choose what kind of work I invest into. I also evaluate a company’s public relations standards. If they have a lot of negative reviews, they go on Twitter rants, or they bash competitors, I don’t work with them.
This is a tip to fellow freelancers: Money isn’t equal to the headache that can come from being associated with a bad company.
I view my clients as partners, so I take time to ensure that I’m partnering with the right people. If you’ve received some helpful info, or you have any homework to add to this list, please share, comment, and like!


Tips For Businesses

5 Tips For Giving Great Feedback

This might be a surprise, but a design project is not one-sided. Even when you hire a solo designer, it is still a team effort. You, the client, are on the same team as your designer, so to make sure everyone is happy and effective, you need to be a good team member. Your role in the team is initially informative: you provide the designer with all the material and knowledge they need to fulfill the scope of the project. But once they hit the ground running with the designs, you step into a very important role: the critic. A good designer will seek your feedback often to make sure they maintain the right course and neither time or money is wasted on wrong directions.

Offering feedback can be very intimidating, and giving poor feedback can be very hindering to a designer. Below you’ll find five tips that will help you become a great critic and an outstanding team member!

1. Be specific.

This is the first thing learned in any creative class. Saying “I like it,” or “I don’t like it,” is a waste of time, because it gives the artist nothing to work with. We need to understand the WHY, so get down to the nitty-gritty details. Instead of saying, “I don’t like it,” say “The color orange is too bold for my taste, I’d like to see other color options.” Even just saying, “I like it,” isn’t as helpful as you might think. While we appreciate the kudos, it doesn’t help us understand how you interact with the work, which is a designer’s constant goal. So instead, say “The colors make the important information stand out, and readability is always at the top of our priorities.

2. Be honest.

Many a project has been sabotaged because someone withheld their true feelings. Here’s an insider tip: Designers have thick skins. It’s a job requirement! Our livelihood is built on satisfying strangers, so we’ve learned how to take it. When asked for your opinion, don’t hold back, because it will just lead to both of us being unhappy, and a lot of time and money will be wasted.

3. Look once, look twice.

When you get the emails with the designs you’ve been anxiously waiting for, before opening it, grab a pen and paper or open up a Word document. When you first lay eyes on the designs, jot down your initial thoughts and reactions. Remember, be specific and honest! Walk away for a while, then return again and jot down your thoughts and opinions on your second interaction with the designs. The first look often is biased, influenced by your expectations, emotions, even how the designer worded their email. It’s still insightful, but not necessarily a clear vision. Returning for a second look allows the shock or newness to wear off and you can see things that might not have been evident the first time.

4. Do research.

A good designer will often ask for samples of related work or styles you like or don’t like at the start of a project. But as the project develops, continuing to identify elements in other designs that strike a chord with you can give your designer a clearer path.

5. Be open.

An important part of feedback is allowing your designer to explain choices they made. There should always be solid reasons behind their designs, and sometimes those reasons must trump your opinion, especially in regard to production or distribution. So be open to your designer’s choices and suggestions!

These tips should help your communication with your designer thrive, and result in happiness for both of you!

Tips For Businesses

3 Things Prices Tell About Your Designer (The Elephant in the Room, Part 2)

Last week, we covered the designer’s side of the price talks, which you can read here. Now, we’re going to dive into the other side.

Although money is a weighty topic between designers and clients, it can also be a tool in finding the right designer for your project. And no, I’m not saying just go with the cheapest! In fact, I strongly urge you to never go with the cheapest. If you’re on the hunt for a designer, always bear this in mind:

You get what you pay for.  

So many times, I encounter people who are dissatisfied with the results their designer delivered. And so often, they are paying meager dollars for them. It’s nice to think that no matter what you pay for a designer, they’ll always go above and beyond, delivering the most stellar designs they can imagine, blowing your expectations out of the water. But here in the real world, that rarely comes to pass. To avoid that scenario from unfolding, here are three things that prices can tell you about your designer.

1. How much they value themselves.

Believe it or not, most people don’t like making $4/hour, and designers shouldn’t be much different. Except there are many designers out there whose prices are so low that they’re lucky to bring that home in the end. When factoring in their time marketing, landing clients, maintaining their website, communicating with clients, honing their skills, keeping the books, networking, etc., you realize that the hours a designer actually spends designing needs to cover a lot of unpaid hours. A designer who charges low doesn’t value their time, and you shouldn’t expect them to value yours.

2. How much they value their clients.

It’s a simple equation: the more money you pay me, the more I value you. If you’re paying someone $50 to design a logo for the business you put your blood, sweat, and tears into, they value you and your business at $50. If that doesn’t sit well with you, that’s good. Design is an investment and you’ll get out what you put in. A good designer knows that and will price their services accordingly.

3. How much they value their work.

I’ve never been proud of a project that I only spent an hour on. And that’s not a testament to the speed at which I work, but rather the fact that great design takes time. I’ve encountered many people who think it’s ridiculous to charge anything more than $50 for a logo, because in their mind, a logo can be done in 45 minutes. You might get a logo, but it won’t be on par with a logo that someone invested 20 hours into. A good designer knows their process and won’t sacrifice the quality of their work just to land a job.

You can peruse Upwork or Freelancer and find bucket loads of designers that charge $5/hour, or promise a logo in a day for $35, or can build a website in two hours. Choosing designers in that pool is like playing the lottery. You might be the jackpot winner, but you’re nearly guaranteed to sink money into something that leaves you disappointed. Design is no different from the real world. You get what you pay for. 

Tips For Designers

Pricing Talks: The Elephant in the Room (Part 1)

Money! Have I got your attention?

For a lot of people, that word is always followed by an exclamation point, because money makes them so happy. For designers, it’s followed by an exclamation point, a dot dot dot, and about six crying emojis and the one that looks like he’s about to explode. So, if you’re a fellow designer, consider this post a sympathizing pat on the back and a calming voice saying, “Chin up, buddy. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel.” And if you’re a client on the hunt for a designer, take this as a backstage pass to the circus of a freelancer’s life. Talking about money doesn’t have to be scary or stressful, so let’s delve into the world of pricing and maybe come out of it breathing a sigh of relief.

Many clients experience frustration because while scouring the Internet for designers, they realize almost none of them have their prices on their website. It may feel like a glaring oversight, or the foundation for a scam. But there’s a reason why it’s not common, and that reason is a huge part why talking design prices is such a daunting task.

No two projects are the same. Therefore, no two projects should be priced the same.

This is important for both designer and client to understand. A designer can feel pressure to find the secret formula of pricing all their projects ahead of time. A client can be puzzled why one designer will charge them $100 for a logo, and another will quote $6,000.

The first step is a point of controversy in the design world, but I think it’s the ideal way to bring about stress-free price talks, and to always be fairly compensated for your work.

1.Charge an hourly rate. 

Many clients balk at the idea of an hourly rate. They like knowing what the price is upfront, and find it hard to justify paying a designer a rather large hourly rate.

Don’t let this mentality deter you. The most important thing is being upfront. I tell my clients that their project should take around x amount of hours, but it could be more depending on xyz factors. This way, there aren’t any ugly surprise around the price of the project.

Finding the formula for your hourly rate is quite simple. Calculate how much money you need to make a month, as well as how many hours you spend designing, and divide those to find out your operating costs. Then increase that price to result in a profit margin that reflects your talent and experience. Research what your

competitors are charging and make sure your hourly rate fits in the range.

Now, you’ve shared your rate and the hours estimate. You’re ecstatic that they agree to it and you sink those late-night hours into the project to deliver beautiful designs. But then a nightmare unfolds and you find out that your “perfect client” isn’t as forthcoming with the payment as you believed they would be. Sadly, you are not alone in your experience. Nearly any designer who’s dabbled in freelance has experienced the gut-wrenching realization that you just got burned.  

This happened to me fairly early on in my business. And I learned an expensive lesson:

2. Always work under contract and require a down payment. 

You might think taking someone to court over a little money is a daunting thing, but a contract is a wonderful way to weed out the honest clients from those who just want free work. A contract and down payment do three things:

a.) A contract outlines and clarifies the agreed upon aspects of the project. Be as thorough as possible, because emails and phone conversations can be loosely interpreted. My contract outlines the price, the deliverables, the distribution of rights, any deadlines, and a release in case things go sour. I send it over to the client and it has to be signed and returned before a minute of work is invested.

b.) Down payments ensure the client has access to money and values your time and skill. I’ll be honest, I’ve gotten too excited by the prospect of a cool project, or the promise of exposure, and have ended up doing some work for someone before they pay me. And even if it’s watermarked to high heavens, it does nothing to guarantee I’ll later be compensated for my time. So I’m still reminding myself that the most valuable clients are the ones that value me. Which leads to:

c.) Both a contract and down payment show that you know your worth. Plain and simple. Take yourself seriously and your clients will have to do the same. This is a very important aspect for someone who wants to take their business from a hobby to a steady source of income.

Hourly rates, contracts, and down payments are the perfect start to saying goodbye to stressful price talks. Now I can attest that it doesn’t prevent you from ever having to think twice about your prices, but it will eliminate the dark cloud that often looms over a frazzled designer’s head.

Next week, we’ll swing over to the client’s side of the pricing battle and talk about how a designer’s way of handling money can be a huge indicator of things to come!

Tips For Designers

Top 5 Skills Freelancers MUST Have

Everyone dreams of being their own boss, but taking the leap into freelancing is daunting at best. One question looms over the head of every aspiring freelancer: Will I be good at this? Your ability to design is obviously the biggest factor in your success, but there are other skills that are integral to being a happy, lucrative freelancer. So before quitting your day job, here’s a quick checklist for the top 5 skills needed to succeed at freelancing!

1. Communication

Many designers are more used to working in a dark corner, torching their eyes with the glowing light of a Macbook on their lap then they are to being in a crowded room full of business owners. Freelancing is built on the ability to obtain clients, and sadly they don’t just walk up to you and ask for work. You need to be proactive and network, which means brushing up on your communication skills. And once you land the client, you need to be able to clearly understand the project scope and articulate your thoughts and opinions of the designs you send to them.
A great way to learn how to network, talk to strangers, and speak your thoughts clearly, consider joining Toastmasters. They have local groups that regularly get together to practice public speaking in a constructive environment.

2. Drive

Although freelancing sounds like a dream job, there are going to be days or weeks where you feel like you’re screaming into the void. What keeps you going during these stormy times? It’s not the money, but rather the passion behind your craft. If you find designing boring, or you lose interest after 4 hours of work, chances are you’re not going to last in the freelancing world. A 9-5 job that allows you to forget your work once you clock out is probably better for your bank account and your sanity.

3. Dependability

Unlike regular jobs, the only accountability you have in freelancing is your client. That means you need to stay on top of things and deliver by your deadlines. It might even mean you need to learn how to establish deadlines so you don’t end up cramming 13 days of work into 24 hours. A good habit to get into is utilizing time management tools so you don’t overbook yourself. Trello is a solid choice, or even taking advantage of something simple like Google Calendars.

4. Efficiency

Whether you charge a flat rate or an hourly rate, producing work at a slow rate doesn’t help anyone. Either you’re going to be working far too many hours for what you’re getting paid, or you’re going to have angry clients who are upset that you take four times as long as someone else and they’re paying dearly for it. Now this isn’t to say you should do poor quality work. But being able to work efficiently becomes a prized skill that sets you above other designers, both in the freelance world and the agency world.
Some things that help streamline your work is time management tools, having an organized filing system on your computer, and learning shortcuts for Adobe programs (check out a useful chart here.)

5. Confidence

You’re not going to be a household name overnight. Heck, designers are rarely household names, no matter how incredible they are! So remaining confident in your skills despite the lack of recognition keeps the job from draining your passion. Most importantly, this doesn’t mean being satisfied with where you’re at, but rather pushing yourself to improve. Seeing the quality of your work grow is the most satisfying confidence boost you can receive. Having a Behance portfolio is a good way to receive constructive feedback, as well as plugging into a Reddit or Dribble community.
Improving these five skills can help make you a better designer and a happy person. What are some of skills you think are crucial to successful freelancing? I’d love to hear your thoughts and highly value shares! And if you like what you see here, check back next week for more tips, tricks, and inspiration.