He gave us his take on life as a freelancer, the keys to a great website & how to bring a company's identity to life.
Before we dig into your design process, let's start from the beginning: Why did you become a designer?
I’ve always loved art and design. As a kid I used to spend hours drawing cartoon characters from the Sunday comics. When I was in grade school I wanted to be an architect but the advanced math and science requirements persuaded me to consider graphic design instead.
I'm glad I did. I love the process of developing visual solutions that inform and inspire.
Plus, I’ve now infected my kids with my design-geekness. They can instantly spot a poorly-kerned word or a badly-Photoshopped image.
After working as Creative Director at Newfangled for 15 years, you decided to go full-time as a freelancer. Why’d you make the jump?
I had been considering working for myself for several years before I finally transitioned out of Newfangled. An opportunity presented itself last year to go out on my own and I took advantage of it. I decided that I didn’t want to look back twenty years from now and say, “I should have done that.”
Going solo means you have to reel in your own fish. How do you acquire your clients?
Mostly by word of mouth. The most effective way for me to stay relevant is networking and collaborating with designers and other creative people. Regularly attending networking events and working a couple of days a week at a shared space like Founders League makes sure I get out of my home office once in a while to meet new people (and prospective clients). LinkedIn has also been a helpful networking and marketing tool.
Now let's dig into your process. How do you help companies find their identity?
My process is not that different from most other designers (discovery, concept & design, iteration, production & implementation) but the key to the process is communication. Take the time to understand your client’s business and their needs and develop a short list of design goals and objectives that become the touchstone for the project and keep it from going off the rails (in budget and scope).
Many designers short-circuit the communication process for two reasons: it’s not the most glamorous part of the process, and they’re more interested in impressing the client by designing something “cool.”
You’ve done a lot of web design over the years. What are the keys to a well-designed website?
Your designs have widely varying styles. How do you decide which style to use for each client?
The visual inventory is a survey of websites and website elements collected into a single document (usually a Keynote presentation) to generate conversation about design: colors, typography, conceptual direction, etc.
In the second phase I deliver the element collage, a collection of content elements (taken from an interactive wireframe I create for the new site) with a visual style applied in order to develop a visual language. The element collage is a close cousin to style tiles and mood boards.
Once the visual language has been established, I create mockups of selected page templates to show how the visual language will be applied.
Despite the dominance of digital media, you’re still getting hired for print design. Is print here to stay?
You’ve also done quite a bit of logo design. What’s the biggest mistake people make with their logos?
Not considering all the different uses (sizes, applications, context) and failing to create an identity system to address them. Designing a logo for a single use (i.e. a website) is one of the unfortunate reasons why you can buy a logo for $5. Check out this article for my thoughts on other drawbacks of cheap logo design.
Providence is full of young designers following your footsteps. What advice would you give them?
Also: take advantage of any design business courses you can find. They’ll pay dividends down the road.
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