Bringing Samples to Interviews
I am having an interview coming up and I have some questions to ask you guys: Though this will not be my first interview, this would be my dream job if I really get it. I have some booklet pieces for my portfolio, such as a book, and some brochure and the CD packages. I wonder do I just keep them in my portfolio as it is or is it a bad idea to ask him flip through all my booklet projects?
It is best to have photographs of these books/booklets in your portfolio. You can bring them with you too, but sometimes this can be a bit troublesome to flip through a bunch of extra books on top of your portfolio and gets tough to manage what to show when etc.
Having photos of the cover and some spreads from these in your portfolio just streamlines the process of showing your work. If they seem into a project and want to see it more in depth you can pull it out of your bag and show them.
In college i feel i have learned and grown a lot as a
designer and become a better designer because of that but one thing i noticed now compared to before is that I find myself always wandering if I'm doing the project the way i should and always second guessing myself. I always end up producing great work but the process of getting there i find myself constantly feeling like I'm doing it wrong until someone tells me that I'm on the right track then i feel better about it. I feel as though i dwell on the "rules" and in doing so, they hold me back. any tips on how or what i can do to get past that?
Yup, there are several ways to get outta that. One way is to give yourself tight time constraints on work. Say you are designing a poster, try designing it in one hour, six hours, one day. You will notice that if you only have one hour to do something you trust your intuition a lot more because you don't have the time to over think things. Sometimes this is good, sometimes not. Ask your friends or a teacher what they think about the work to get a second opinion.
Another thing you can do is limit the methods of production. Say you are working on that poster again. What if you designed the whole thing using a photocopy machine? What if you just used masking tape? Or what if you had to use only brushes? What if it was only simple type or icons or photography? Those simple restraints will give your piece a very specific look that you might not achieve by simply jumping on the computer. Sagmeister is particularly good at this. His process is usually evident in the final pieces which make a good story...
Starting a Studio
Hey guys, i love your work and I too have always aspired to start up my own design studio in the future. Right now, I am just getting out of college and I have been struggling with as you say, my "transition from a design student to becoming a design professional" I really want to work at a studio that is fun and creative and that has a layed back environment, much like what I imagine your design studio is like, works hard and produces great, creative work but still knows how to have fun. any tips on things i could do to get to that point? or things you guys have done that helped you to get where you are?
To be honest, there are too many things to list. There's nothing specific that got us here. It was a build up of many difference experiences. Here is a short rundown: we always wanted to do this and made a point to collaborate from early on. Although we got jobs straight outta school we never lost the OG vision of starting the studio. We gave it a name and made a site, that gave it a public face and that was important because all of the sudden it looked real. Once we established ourselves (read, we made all of the mistakes young designers make on someone else's dime) we started saving our money and eventually got one big job which helped us quit our 9-5's..
Keeping your eye on the goal of where you want to be and working hard are probably the simplest pieces of advice to get to where you want to be though. They both seem stupid simple, but you would be surprised how easy it is to get off track or just settle with an ok job.
I'm job hunting (fresh out of school for the second time), and I wondered if you have any wisdom to impart concerning The PDF. I have a website, I have a regular-sized portfolio, but every now and then someone in HR says, " Send us a PDF of your work"...and this wasn't even covered in school. How many pages should it be? How on earth do I get some of those gigantically-sized layouts in something manageable to email? What should I cover?
That's a good questions with which we still struggle. Often our clients will want us to present in a PDF format as well. This is a problem because when we aren't in the physical room with our clients its hard to judge their reactions and its even harder to convince them that something is a good idea.
Now, when it comes to your portfolio its a little different. People usually ask for a PDF portfolio because its easy to store on file. Imagine a creative director who is very busy. Its much easier for them to flip through a stack of 20-30 PDFs rather than figure out their way around 20-30 different websites (especially ones that don't work or take too long to load).
The good thing about PDF is that you can tailor them depending on what kind of job you are after. We like when people are very selective about the work they put in. 10 good projects is better than 20 ok ones. After all, the PDF can be an appetizer for them to ask you for an interview so you don't have to show all of your work. Small file sizes are much better. You don't want to email someone a file bigger than 6mbs because it can clog up their email. The best way to compress is within indesign. When you export it will give you the option for smallest file size — that's usually ok.
Moving to New York
I'm moving to the city (New York) in a few months after I graduate. I don't have a job yet...just finishing up my portfolio website. However, is it bad out there right now? Do you think there are a lot of opportunities for me out there? I've been searching, but I feel like no one's hiring.
It is hard everywhere right now. In New York a lot of firms have been laying people off so it may take some time to break in here. This is not an easy job market in any field. But if you are talented and persistent there is always a place for you in time. It just might not be your dream job right away.
But stick with it and don't be snobby—because any lead can take you somewhere. And if you don't get your dream job make sure you are doing stuff on your own time to stay fresh and get good portfolio pieces. Because the longer you stay in a crap job doing crap work the harder it is to move to a better firm.
What are your views on taking on freelance jobs as a design student? How would you determine your pricing? Do you think students have any advantages over those who have been in the business for years?
Freelance can be a great idea for design students. It lets you see what it's like designing for an actual client with all the things that entails: keeping them happy, delivering on time, staying within a budget, making sure you are also happy with the project, etc. And you have to deal with production issues like building mechanicals, choosing materials, talking to printers, programming, rendering, etc. All these are valuable things to have experience with, that will only make you more marketable when you graduate. And the more printed or actual work you have in your portfolio the better.
The advantage that students have over more experienced designers is that you can take on jobs with budgets or a smaller scale that someone with a few more years in the game might not want to mess with. Also, you are probably way hipper and more in tune to what is going on culturally than people who are older than you. Youth and knowing what is hot on the streets is a huge asset that out of touch people will pay a premium for.
Projects Over Your Heads
Do you ever say yes to a project when you have no idea how you are going to do it? I do this a fair amount and it never fails to get the adrenaline moving. So far things have worked out okay but I never know for sure!
Now that we started our firm we run into this problem less and less. Our model is to hire freelancers when we need the extra help or when we have a specialized job. However, we still do the majority of the work ourselves. We find it pretty enticing to start work in things we know nothing about. That's one of the best things about being a designer — having the conceptual ability to think of ideas beyond what you are used to working on. We haven't had any terrible experiences with things outside our comfort zone. Although, we aren't the most talented writers, animators, photographers, (etc) we have established relationships with friends who are more talented in those areas.
As far as being a young designer (as I assume) — its the best time to experiment with things beyond your comfort zone. Our book chronicles many forays into projects beyond our capabilities. And even in our biggest failures we were taught some of our most valuable lessons.
Should every designer have a website with a portfolio?
The short answer is yes, ofcourse. You can probably get by by sending a PDF but a website is pretty much necessary. PDF's are great to send for particular jobs because you can tailor your work to the specific job. Sites on the other hand are easy for people to come back to and share with others. We recommend doing something simple, html based. Indexhibit is a great tool to put up a simple portfolio site and its free.
I am currently seeking internships, and my resume is very basic. Do you suggest, for future reference, putting a little bit of "me" in the resume? Whether it's a self portrait, or designing a resume that shows who I am, versus writing who I am?
The resume thing is tough. If you think you can add more of your personality without it getting cheesy or in the way of the communication then this could work. If it is too over the top it might shoot you in the foot though. On a first glance appearing credible and professional is more important than your personal preferences.
First Job = Career?
A lot is made of your first job and that it can determine the direction of next job or your career. I figure that if I work hard on my own stuff and take something solid in a major city it makes it easier to move to a better studio. What are your opinions on this?
Yes your first job can determine a lot. If you work for a company that is sub par for a few years chances are the jobs that will be available when you start looking again will be of the same caliber or maybe just a tad better but probably not top shelf. For sure you have a good strategy,if you can't get your dream job right out of school. Moving to the city you want to live and taking a job you are not as thrilled about to get established and pay your rent is smart if nothing else is available. You can work to push yourself and gain experience at your day job—learning whatever you can and trying to get the most out of it. But in order to move up in the game at night and on the weekends you need to do your own self initiated or freelance stuff to beef up your portfolio.
Getting to the Next Level
I just finished my bachelor in Communication Design and got a job as a graphic designer back home in Switzerland. I put myself under constant pressure because I feel I'm not good enough and don't have standard level though I graduated top 15% at the university... When did you guys start to feel confident about what you're doing? About your level of work?
In college we were both very confident about what we were doing (sometimes maybe too confident). When we graduated the reality that we were competing with everyone else in the world who called themselves a designer — for jobs, for clients, for notoriety — set in. It is a pretty competitive world out there and just because you were talented in university means little once you graduate. You are your own harshest critic and know yourself best. So if you are feeling that you are not good enough or you need to push yourself even further then keep doing it. It is easy to just give up, take a shit job and collect a check but this never ends well. All creative people are self-conscious and personally I have a fear that I will be exposed for being a hack (no matter how good I actually am). This never really happens, its just part of being a human. But let that doubt drive you to become a better designer, rather than paralyzing you from doing anything for fear that you aren't good enough.
I am currently out of work now and looking to gain some valid experience. I'm looking to try to get some more personal projects and just not sure what type of work I need.
Thanks for the note and sorry to hear that you are out of work. If you have down time while you are out of work keep doing more projects on your own but have them be for real stuff. If you want to be a book designer do fake book covers, or menu designer do fake menus. Then use these "personal" projects as promotional pieces and send them out to potential employers. Many designers get noticed for personal work and just because you don't have a real client doesn't mean you don't have a voice.
BFA or no BFA
Is it important to graduate with a BFA or not? Do you think that will be a problem when i'm job hunting?
For sure it is important to graduate from college. Both Andre and I contemplated dropping out before graduation and were glad we didn't. Your last year is where you really get to flex your muscles. You have all the bullshit our of the way; can finally think up crazy solutions, make stuff look pretty, and know all the technical stuff. If you quit before then the job you get will never be up to the level of the position you could have gotten with degree. Or not even with the degree, more with the work you make in your last year. Plus you it will probably always be in the back of your mind how you didn't actually graduate from college and how you have nothing to hang in that diploma frame next to your desk. As long as your work is good enough, the studio shouldn’t discriminate, but it could be a reason for paying you less...
Calling People Back
I recently was talking to a marketing company who scheduled a phone interview and never called, should I take it personally? I'm inclined to think they were just busy and double-booked, but then what does that say about them as a company? Care to share some insights?
Hey Dan, No, never take anything personally. The firm was probably too busy and forgot your call. You should nicely remind them to call you again. When you call, let them know that you are still interested in working for them and are just checking in on rescheduling. Honestly, we forget things like that all the time. Although it doesn't reflect good on the company, you shouldn't give up hope. Just realize that it is your job to stay on top of things, not theirs Also, contact other places and don't put all of your eggs in one basket.
Photographing Your Work
I always have the hardest time photographing posters or three-dimensional work for my portfolio. Do you have any tips how to get a professional looking picture when photographing work?
Hey Inva, you should Invest in a high quality digital SLR (around $500 these days) and a quality flash (around $200). It's best to shoot indoors at night or somewhere where you control the lighting. White balance the camera to the flash and whatever lighting you are using. When shooting, point the flash upwards so that the light bounces off the ceiling. Have a computer near by to see the photographs and adjust settings like the white balance and ISO to get the best results. It's also nice to mock up work in the actual environment. Take street photos of posters and billboards and Photoshop your designs as though they were actually on the street. That will give your projects more legitimacy.
Are there certain types of internships that are more beneficial for students, other than the fact that they involve you more in the design process?
Internships are a very personal thing John, so it's hard for us to say what is best for you. But they are a great way for you to test the places you want to work and the types of projects you are interested in without a huge commitment. The more the merrier actually because you will see what works and what is a bore, while learning how different sized companies are structured and operate. Then when you graduate you will know what you want out of your dream job. Or you can stay at one place and work your way up through the ranks. By all means if you dig a place stay on board because people love to hire their interns. They are checking you out just as much as you are checking them out.
Are Great Designers Born or Made?
If they are made, when do you know to stop learning and start doing?
We think they are made for the most part.
We got to where we are by working our asses off. Neither of us claim to be supernaturally talented, though Andre is pretty close. It took us time to hone our abilities (as you can see from all the crap work in this book). Going to one of the better design schools in the country didn't hurt, and we were fortunate enough to study with amazing teachers. There were a lot of kids in school who had more natural talent then we did, but they may not have worked as hard, been as disciplined, or cared.
Knowing what we wanted from design and having an idea of where we wanted to take our careers was huge. If you don't know what you want it's easy to end up designing credit cards, or the phone book. Creating goals big or small is a good way to avoid settling.
Also we are good at presenting ourselves. If you can't sell yourself and your ideas you will end up working for someone who can sell them for you.
Then comes luck. Luck doesn't seem to strike if you are sitting around smoking weed and tripping off your screen saver. When you work hard people will notice and in turn you will get better opportunities and be surrounded by like-minded people.
Thinking too big
What’s the difference between thinking too big, and thinking too small as far as concepts go?
This is an interesting question to ponder matt. Thinking too small can be lame — the expected solution or doing what everyone else is doing. Thinking too big can lead you to a great idea, but it might be too hard to execute on time. Deadlines and budgets play a huge roll in the creative process when you get out of school. So it’s all about coming up with the best solution within the constraints that are given or rethinking or reframing the problem so it fits within new ones. Think big when you have lots of constrains to try and push the envelope of what is possible within the parameters and limit yourself when you have nothing holding you back or else you might get lost in a sea of options.
What is an appropriate hourly rate for freelancing when you are a student? How do you make a system of pricing for yourself when you are not quite a professional, but are still putting in the work?
Matt this is a tough one since everyone is at different ability and skill levels. The first few times you quote your rate will be a learning experience since you’ll figure out quickly whether you went too high or low. We usually just put it back on whomever we are working for since most of the time they will feel bad dicking you over. If the fee sounds too low ask for more. Money is always a tough issue though; in general, bigger companies and advertising agencies tend to have more money than smaller studios or clients.
We do not work for hourly rates because this is too anal and the design process is a hard thing to measure in such a tangible calculation. Like, if you come up with an idea at night in the shower, does that count as an hour? We are not sure.
For certain jobs, we will work for little or no money because we believe in the work or we can have total creative control or it’s the type of work we want in our book. We have also been known to take on crap projects because they pay really well, but for these we ask astronomical amounts of money since working for stuff you aren’t into can be a drag.
Is it all worth it?
Is all this hard work, studying and paying really high tuition worth the hassle? Will it really land me a nice job? Will it make me better than most aspiring graphic designers out there? I have worked before full-time and i can say that studying is actually harder than working. Haha…might be a stupid question that everybody knows the answer to... Except me. Cheers!
Johann, short answer, yes it’s all worth it. Longer answer, maybe it’s all worth it. For us, hard work pays off for sure. As you mentioned, school costs a shit ton, so you might as well get your moneys worth. Plus, the harder you work, the stronger your work will be, the more your teachers and peers will take notice, and the better opportunities you will have. Don’t be concerned about being the best, just concentrate on being good and people will notice. Dream jobs are hard to get so if you don’t land your dream job right away you shouldn’t get discouraged. You can always concentrate on doing great work while freelancing at night and on the weekends to build up your portfolio so you can keep getting better and better jobs. There is nothing more fulfilling than falling in love with what you do, so yeah, long story short, it’s probably all worth it.
Is there any better way to keep myself awake apart from consuming caffeine?
Do jumping jacks elizabeth or push-ups, go for a walk, work for an hour and then take a break, or get up and move around. The more you practice staying up, the easier it will be. It’s like a marathon; you have to warm up to it. Eating also helps, but be careful since mouse clicking isn’t the most calorie intensive exercise.
What kind of designers are firms looking for? What would you do if you have a presentation in an hour, but you are about to pass out?
Present your work fast and to the point. Let the teachers ask you questions if they want to know more. Do not make any excuses about being tired or about your work and stay confident.
Is it possible to be a successful graphic designer while still maintaining some semblance of a balanced life? While sleepless nights and pouring every little bit of energy into a project can produce amazing results —how do you balance working hard with simultaneously living a fulfilling life and having time for the other things you love?
To be honest ellie, i was debating that same thing on the train home today as the deadline for our book has passed four times and we are overwhelmed with other projects, teaching, lecturing, our day jobs, and my girlfriend complaining that she doesn’t see me enough. Life is all about balance and doing things you love. I know some very accomplished designers who have balanced lives. Yes, they may have a sleepless night here or there, but they have families and do other things that don’t involve a computer. What you do can be your life or your job. There is a grey area in between, but it’s hard to navigate and realize when to unplug. Andre and i are banking on the fact that if we bust our asses we will reach a certain level of success that will allow us to slow down a little and let people do some of the work for us. But in all honesty i doubt this will happen, because it’s like an addiction. My father is 56 and still works his ass off.
What is the workload like compared to the one we have at school?
This really all depends Mathieu. School is pretty intense since you are learning while juggling lots of classes and assignments. The project deadlines are unrealistic, though, and things move much faster outside of school. You will probably be juggling 5 or so projects at a time and the stakes are higher. If you mess up in school it’s usually ok since failure is sometimes inevitable. At your job, however, this same mistake might cost the company a lot of money, your job or your reputation.
You can probably find a job where design is your career. You can coast and make ok money doing ok work. Or you can bust your ass and devote a lot of your time and attention to stuff, taking on freelance or doing self-initiated projects. It depends on what you want out of design. It doesn’t have to be this black and white, but there is always something else out there you could be working on, reading, watching, or looking at. It really just depends on when you want to call it a night.
Is it a worthwhile to buy or make a fancy schmancy book to house your work, or is that just a stupid waste of money?
We find those big books pretty cheesy Matthew. Both of us made smaller books, which we printed and bound ourselves. We created enough copies to let people keep them, so when they needed help our work would be fresh in their minds. The big wood or metal portfolio is pretty dated since most people look for websites anyways.
Did/do you ever go through phases where you question your decision to become a designer, and if so, how do you rekindle your confidence in your work?
Jess Von Sück
Hey Jess. We never really question our decision to become designers because design has taught us so much about problem solving, aesthetics, and presentation. However, we do question how long we will practice as designers. We love working in other mediums, like film, web, writing, but we still apply the same thinking we’d apply to design. This keeps things fresh so design is more fun to come back to. Rekindling confidence in your work is a whole other beast. When you have to constantly create new things and be fresh it is not uncommon to question your abilities or lose confidence in yourself. One of our biggest fears is that we will be uncovered and everyone will realize that we are hacks. We are sure other designers think this way as well, since most designers are quite self-conscious people. The key is to trust yourself, take on new challenges and not be afraid of mistakes — it’s only design.
Running a business
Why did you decide to become an entrepreneur?
Thanks for the questions rudo! We started because we didn’t want to work for someone else and we had ideas of our own.
What was the biggest challenge while planning and starting your business?
Coming up with a good name was hard. Getting enough money where we could sustain ourselves for at least a year was also tough. The biggest hurdle was the legalities of the business; things like taxes, invoicing, contracts, etc.
Was there anything that you would have done differently?
Could have stayed in touch with more people.
Did you consider (at any point) quitting your entrepreneur career?
No, starting our own business has been our dream since we were students.
What would be your advice to designers wanting to start their own business?
Partnering up with someone who has the same work ethic, but different skills and sensibility. .
Do you think your identity has any impact on the success of the studio?
Yes, its huge. We really love designing our identity stuff. The main goals are to try and make ourselves laugh and be weird. Too many design companies take their identities for granted. Standing out is crucial.
Have you changed your business identity often (or at all)? If yes, what were the reasons?
We haven’t changed our logo, our website hasn’t changed (other than updates) but we keep redesigning our business cards, though. We take business cards for companies like kinkos or dog-walking people and recreate the cards with our info on them.
Art vs. Design
A lot of times, people talk about graphic design being “commercial art,” but there are lots of projects designers do that aren’t commercial or necessarily marketable. The question that a lot of students ask is whether something that’s not commercial is still considered “graphic design,” or if it starts to become “art.”
Nelson, to me art is when I am servicing my own agenda and there is no client involved. Graphic design or commercial art is when I am doing a project for other people, I can still have an agenda, and most often do, in graphics, but the end product is for someone else and they give us money, opinions, or a pat on the back. To be honest the art versus design debate doesn’t concerns us much. We try to make good work and hopefully make ourselves laugh, no need to put a label on it. Milton Glaser and Stefan Sagmeister have both written on this subject and are much smarter.
Self initiated work
What are the challenges involved in working on your own products as compared to working on projects for clients?
Jacqueline C.L. Law
This is a great question Jacqueline and something we have dealt with a lot in the process of creating both this book and our documentary. Doing self-initiated projects is what we love more than anything else since there is the opportunity for complete creative control and to actually say something. We get excited anytime there is a chance to create the content rather than just packaging it. The problems or challenges are:
Creative control can be a blessing and a curse. When you work for someone else it is easy to say that they are making the wrong decisions, or to blame bad projects on clients. The moment you can say or do anything you realize how valuable constraints or other people’s opinions are. A way around this is to talk about the work with people whose opinions you value and respect, or to impose constraints on yourself.
Most of the time you have to rely on people to get large self-initiated projects done. This is easier said than done. Convincing them to invest time and energy into things with little to no budget can be tricky. People will usually agree because they are your friends, they believe in the project, they owe you a favor (thanks Wayne and Gibson), or because they can use the final product to promote themselves. The trick is to find people who you can count on, who share the same work ethic, and who are not totally established but looking to make a name for themselves. Even if they are your friends, make sure you sign a contract; things can get dicey.
Securing funding can be an arduous process; we paid for most of the movie out of pocket. For the book we made a proposal and shopped it around till we found someone who was interested. Usually if you believe in something, have a pretty solid idea, and a nice presentation, you can make anything happen as long as you are persistent. These things take time though; we have worked on both this book and our documentary for more than a year.