Escape the Comfort Zone: Uncanny Creativity 41

Making art often means getting out of the comfort zone.

Alan Henry of Lifehacker explains the science of breaking out of your comfort zone:

Routine and patterns minimize risk. Making something scares us. Creating something inherently feels risky. Who knows if it’ll be good?

The comfort zone feels happy with low anxiety and low stress. This is why most people never make anything.

Optimal Anxiety

Slight anxiety helps us. “Optimal Anxiety” increases performance. Too much stress and we do poorly. Comfort is the opposite of productivity. Volunteering as a designer helps me escape my routine. It can feel stressful, yet also I’m helping people.

Regularly facing fear in controlled ways prepares you better for out of control problems according to researcher Brene Brown:

Try this: Venture a new medium, performance art, visual arts, practice new tips. Small tweaks to normal ways of producing art involve exploring your curiosity.

Productive Discomfort

It gets easier to push boundaries the more you do it. Alina Tugend describes this effect of “Productive Discomfort” for the New York Times.

It’s easier to brainstorm if you’re seeking new experiences, new skills. You get used to looking at the world in new ways and question confirmation bias. Old problems will seem new.

Try this: Do old things differently. New restaurants, drive a new route, switch out apps you normally use.

Take small steps

Avoid putting things off. Keep a list of “someday maybes”. Review it regularly to see if they match with your schedule. Always wanted to paint dogs or nudes? What’s the next small step to make that happen.

Take small steps. Set small actions. Weekly daily. Think big in the long-term and small in the short-term. If you want to have a huge gallery show, first you need to slowly make painting
Try this: find clarity through action.

Remember to return to your comfort zone. Have rituals that you return to for comfort.

Try this: Slow down or speed up on decisions that you have to make. Be more spontaneous in areas where you’re usually very planned. Try being more calculated in the parts where you usually are carefree

The Sweet Spot Between Overconfidence and Anxiety

Optimal levels of anxiety tested as middle range by scientist, Business Insider explains. If we’re overconfident, there may not exist enough anxiety to focus and perform the task at hand. With too much anxiety, we’ll have trouble performing even basics of tasks. Self-described worriers tended to have “high levels of brain activity when they made mistakes”. The test became difficult compared to those with less anxiety.

Try this: Actively Practice worrying less. Actively practice worrying less. Working out. Meditate. Question and answer the facts behind your worry. Practice optimism. Seek help – friends, family, therapy.

Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.

When Creativity Feels Hard, Take Action

You might think being creative on demand is “hard”. Here’s what I’ve learned on the job.

I’m sad that society heavily sells this idea that creativity is “too hard” That we are constantly being indoctrinated into it. Adults spout tropes about the difficulty of creativity, sounding like children talking about monsters under their bed. No evidence of a monster, just fear. (See also: Face the Fear of Failure)

Hard is one of my least favorite words. Most of the time considering difficulty is impractical. When you catch yourself doing it, take it as a sign to practice. Pondering how easy or difficult a task manifests as a common procrastination habit. We place mental blocks in front of our own goals to protect us from imagined outcomes.

Anyone who got to the point where they could read this has already tackled countless difficult tasks.

Fairly early in my career, a more experienced designer told me starting with a blank page is the hardest part of the job.

So I’ve found to make it easy, at the beginning of a project I focus on the most practical parts of it. Break apart the project. Open a document. Get the size right. Put something on the page without judgment.

If it’s a particularly creatively challenge project, I name the file “Project Name Ideas”. Then it’s a super judgment-free space.

If you know any text or ideas for text, put it on the page. If it’s even more intimidating, scribble some messy thoughts on paper.

Sometimes just drawing boxes or grabbing a photo or texture works. Or make a list of steps.

Creativity doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Look at inspiration and try using very specific parts of what you like in your own idea. Draw from a few inspirations and try getting them to mesh together

Try out the bad ideas too. Afraid of becoming unoriginal? Copy something and then try to fix it until it’s unique. Make something hideous and see if you can fix that too. Even at your worst, you’ll have some usable thoughts.

The important part I’ve found is to show your work. If someone could see you, could they describe an action? Thinking is not an action in itself.

Think through actions and through making.

Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.

A Guide to Your First Graphic Design Work Experiences

When starting out in a new career or career path within your field it seems like everyone is looking for someone with years of experience. It’s always a big question, how do you get experience? Whether you are a college student who hasn’t worked, a print designer moving into their first web experiences or a web designer getting into illustration or book cover design … this guide aims to help you get the experience you need.

For all of you working graphic designers, how did you start out? Share your stories in the comments!

Freelancing

There is the always option of starting out with freelancing for graphic designers of any level. This is something much more common in graphic design than most anywhere else. Imagine that you’re a working graphic designer, but you’ve only worked with Quark and have been wanting to add InDesign to your resume and portfolio. Freelance is a pretty good way to get a working project in the new program. If you’re new to web design, flash design, book design, etc it’s great to take a test run before you dive in full time. You may find out that the area you were interested in is less appealing after you have a few projects under your belt. You’ll be much more confident on that interview.

Individuals and small businesses are often more willing to take a chance on you for their projects. Be honest with them about your level of experience and the possibility of rookie mistakes, but emphasize your willingness to learn. If the idea of freelancing for a stranger is too daunting considering you that are inexperienced, start out with a friend.

No matter how well you know the person, use a contract. The Graphic Artist Guild has a sample agreement you can adapt and start from. This is a business and you want to show business savvy. This is standard. When trouble arises, the contract is backing you up. If things begin to go wrong, you can’t just make up late fees on the spot. The contract is necessary to keep both you and your clients on track. The contract should at the very least: define the project, provide limitations on how the work may be used, describe the terms of payment and artist credit, and describe procedure in the case of a dispute.

If an oral agreement is made, writing a simple letter of agreement which puts the project in writing might be sufficient. After the experience, keep in touch with the people you’ve freelanced with, let them know if you are accepting more work, and ask for a letter of reference if necessary. For more information on this topic including a ton of sample contracts, check out the Graphic Artist Guild Handbook.

This is a great time in your career to proactively establish good business practices. It becomes much easier to communicate with clients when you have an established policy that you can quote. Simply saying “It’s my policy to work only after a written agreement is made” can save a lot of trouble. Know ahead of time that clients who have a problem signing an agreement are probably ones who don’t want to follow the terms that protect you. Having policies also helps the client better understand their role and can really make it easier for them as well. Some example policies include:

    • to only work with a written agreement
    • to not accept work-for-hire freelance projects
    • to not work on spec
    • to not quote estimates without time to fully consider the project

The Graphic Artist Guild provides these suggestions and in addition, they emphasize the importance of not signing a clients contract the moment you see it; read over it and consider the terms carerfully.

On your resume, make sure to cite your freelance experience as a professional job. Show why it is relevant, that it is business, and what relevant skills you have used that directly correlate to position you are applying to. Remember that your resume must be tailored to any position you will be applying to.

Volunteering

Volunteering is a great way to work with various organizations and try new things. You may consider doing a project for your school, church, softball league, a friends wedding, your brothers band and any other ideas you can come up with. Volunteer Match is also a great way to search out volunteer experiences to fit your wants and needs. These create portfolio worthy projects, resume worthy experiences, interview ready stories and networking opportunities. Make sure to consider your ultimate career goals and think ahead about how this fits in. Search out projects that will be exciting and will fill in the gaps in your resume. Follow professional career procedures and a letter of agreement outlining the project should still be used to make things flow much smoother.

Switching Jobs

You’re going to have to emphasize how your old skills transfer into your new position. This is true whether you’re a nurse who wants to be a graphic artist, someone who has been doing newspaper layout and now wants to design web sites or even if you’re just moving from one company to another in a similar role. There are skills in nursing, for example, that designers use. The organizational skills and people skills you’ve developed are still just as important.

Ask yourself your strengths and weaknesses. Find examples and stories that prove that you have these skills. Mention them where applicable in your resume, cover letter and ultimately the interview.

More information

Coroflot has an article called Landing Your First Design Job with some great tips. Here’s a summary of the process they describe: Research the geographic area that you’d like to work in, check out the ideal companies and learn everything you can about them. Contact the companies including a cover letter and work sample of the type of work you want to do. Make sure to find a contact name of the hiring manager. Make sure to follow up. Ask if they received it and if they have any questions. Read the full article for more details.

Also check out AIGA’s article How to find your first job. They recommend showing only your best work in your portfolio, if there is anything that’s not the type of work you want to do don’t show it. If you’re a student, present your portfolio and resume to your trusted professors for their honest feedback. Just as Coroflot suggested, AIGA suggests identifying the companies, organizations and leads that you are most interested in. Your resume should reflect simple, typographic design. The full article goes into much more detail on the job process.

Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.

Ugly Open Source Design

Using Audacity this past week has inspired me to talk about the ugly open source programs floating around. Many great open source programs don’t care about design. Searching about Audacity, many developers defend the look of the program as being usable. Usability doesn’t make something well designed, although that is definitely part of the designers considerations.

Audacity
Screenshots of Audacity. Creative Commons License photo credit: webg33k

Scribus, which I had talked about before, is an open source design tool for designers. But it’s not yet looking too good. The interface isn’t as outdated as Audacity, but still feels like something out of the Windows 95 era. It feels much more complicated and less polished than InDesign. Open Office has the throw back look down to a science. It looks very much like an early version of Office despite having many advanced features. (Microsoft has since made the Ribbon interface part of office making it easier to find underutilized features)

Firefox and Thunderbird have a great look because they’re easily skinned. That encourages the design community’s help.

Although I think that too many open source programs have pretty poor UI design (from a mass market perspective), the open media center Elisa has a fairly commercial looking pretty design too. It’s pretty much inspired by Apple, but taken in their own direction.

Design is a huge part of innovation. That seems to be a place where commercial products can beat open source. Despite the criticism, a lot of this is great software in a bad package.

Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.

Publications Vocabulary You Might Not Know

Working in publishing, it feels there are always new terms to learn every day. Here are some terms used for magazines, newspapers, books and other publications with definitions that are a bit more obscure to those outside of the business.

There’s a few about newspaper sizes which have a large effect on perception by its audiences and each format has unique design challenges.

Barn door cover
Also known as a split front cover, the barn door cover opens up with two flaps meeting at the center of a magazine cover with advertising on the inside.

Bellyband
A bellyband is a printed wrapper on the outside of a magazine or book. It usually has an advertisement on it. The name might help you imagine it. It’s usually less than the full height of the publication and must be removed to read the magazine.

Berliner
The berliner newspaper format isn’t common here in the US. It’s wider and taller than a compact or tabloid newspaper and folded in half vertically like a broadsheet. European newspapers tend to have greater innovation than the American market, and they do much better economically than the US industry. This might be attributed to the greater number of commuters using public transport and the more newspapers competing in each jurisdiction increasing the perceived need to innovate. While American newspapers are competing against the internet and other news sources, the publishers seem less reactive in areas where only there is one dominant newspaper.

Broadsheet
This is the largest of the newspaper formats. The page size is typically over 22″ in height. These large newspapers are becoming less common due to the cost of printing such large pages. The half fold of the format is what gives us the “above the fold” term that we use in web. Stories with more importance are placed above the fold for display purposes. Examples of the broadsheet format would include The Washington Post and Baltimore Sun which happen to be my area’s local papers.


“Le Monde is in the Berliner format. The Guardian is in the British broadsheet format, whereas the Daily Mail is a tabloid, and the Times a compact. Berliner Zeitung and Neues Deutschland are of sizes between broadsheet and Berliner. A piece of white A4 paper is placed in front for scale.”

Center spread
The term center spread can refer to a double truck—facing pages of full editorial content, the feature story in the center of a publication which could consist of several double trucks or it can refer to a double truck that “jumps the gutter—there are elements that are printed across both pages including the center margin.

Column inch
A column inch is a newspaper or magazine measurement referring to the width of the text column by a height of one inch. Since these publications use a design grid so heavily, it simplifies things to use column inches to determine story length and advertising space. There are generally about 25-35 words in a column inch depending on the publication size and set up.

Compact
As opposed to broadsheet, the compact newspaper has a much shorter height. The height is about halved. The format tends to have shorter stories due to its size, but it’s also considered much easier to read and handle. Compacts have become popular for publications designed for commuter train/bus travel. These tend to be smaller than even the tabloid format. It’s more common in the United Kingdom than anywhere else. My local compact is the Express which is a news aggregated digest produced by the Washington Post.

Credit line
The credit line refers to the citing of photo sources.

Display advertising
As opposed to the commonly known text based classified ads, display advertising is the more heavily design oriented advertising. Display ads typically should emphasize photographs and design elements more heavily than text. The reality is that clients don’t often understand the difference between classifieds and display, so it is up to the designer and sales staff to communicate these aesthetical differences. Display ads are traditionally placed next to editorial content. Classifieds tend to be sectioned off since they are text which could cause confusion. Billboards and signs are also considered display advertising.

On the web, the term display advertising is more and more often being used to refer to advertising that relies on the traditional print payment scheme: page views (called circulation in print) rather than click-throughs.

Double-Truck
A double truck is two facing pages of a publication that contains no advertising, just editorial photos, design, and writing.

Dummy
This is a mock-up or layout of a page. It could just contain a setup of several pages of the publication outlining what images and text should be put on one page. It could also be a more specific sketch outlining the layout in the page.

[[Folio]]
A folio can refer to a single sheet of paper forming two pages in a publications’ binding. It can also refer to the publication info printed on the bottom or top of a page including the page number. Newspapers and magazines often include the publication name and date in their folio line.

Full bleed
A full bleed is a page that is printed and then cut off to have ink going right to the edge of the publication.

Gatefold
A gatefold is a flap inside of the cover that opens up allowing for a fold out advertisement.

Gutter
This is the center margin where two pages meet in a publication.

Jump
A jump is a split in a story. Whenever you see a newspaper or magazine say that a story is continued to or from somewhere else in the publication, that would be a jump. The actual text explaining where to go or where you came from is a jump line. Jumps can be due to ad placement or just to place more stories closer to the front of the publications. Newspapers can fit more stories on their front page by jumping them.

Kill
This is when a story, part of a story or an advertisement are removed from a publication and will not be printed in a future edition. If it’s going to be printed in a later edition, then it would be “held” or put on “hold”

Masthead
While many people mistakenly think that the masthead is the logo of the newspaper, the term refers to the editorial staff box.

Open Page
This is a page in a publication that has no advertising, just editorial content.

Tabloid
Tabloid is a small newspaper size like a compact. They can be as large as 17×11″, but there are smaller formats as well. The company I work for just released a new tabloid format the almost square size of 11.5″ tall by 11″ wide. I’m designing the “Back to School” publication through the company at this new size this fall, in fact. The tabloid format is traditionally reserved for weekly publications and less breaking news. However, with the cost of newsprint becoming increasingly prohibitive the tabloid format is catching on

Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.

Defining Graphic Design

Often I read Wikipedia graphic design articles. Most articles lack basic information on the topics we all use every day in our profession. The web is big enough that some of the missing information can be found pretty quickly just by a Google search. I don’t think that many of us in the profession would turn there for these definitions. We find more focused sites about design that are secluded from the public. Anyway, it’s not so great to see the weak points in Wikipedia as a resource and not great that it’s where we graphic designers sit.

It’s not really a complete encyclopedia, so it’s probably a mistake that they’ve defined themselves that way. Wikipedia collects projects and its graphic design project remains underdeveloped. The wiki concept seems to work great on the small scale. Take a look at the Battlestar Wiki for example.

I gave it a shot and dove in and did a small restructuring of the graphic design article. Like many graphic designers, I’d rather focus on my own projects than edit over there but I did my part. So here we are back on my site… Like I said, it’s as easy as a Google search, but lets make it just a little easier. I’ve compiled a few resources and articles that give a nice overview of graphic design for further reading. What else should we see when we’re giving an overview of graphic design past and present.

The Design from a German stamp.
The Design from a German stamp. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Definitions

What is graphic design from Design Talkboard. Here’s five definitions of graphic design to start with.

What is graphic Design? from Veerle’s Blog. Commenters from around the web weigh in to create their own definitions of graphic design.

Trying to explain graphic design to a hall full of ten year olds from Johnson Banks, a London design consultant agency. Michael Johnson talks about his experience with kids and design.

History

A Brief History of Type by Thomas W. Phinney. Type is summed up through four major eras: Gutenberg, the Industrial Revolution, Photocomposition and the Digital era.

A Historical Timeline of Computer Graphics and Animation by Wayne E. Carlson.

THe History of Graphic Design and Its Audiences from the AIGA. Michael J. Golec talks about the lack of educational programs that focus on graphic design history. Most education in the field is career or studio driven.

History of Graphic Design by Nancy Stock-Allen. This is an educational site produced to help in lectures, but it’s very visually compelling and touches upon more points than I’ve seen on other sites I’ve looked at.

XIXth century advertising poster for the hydrotherapic baths of Bagnoles de l'Orne (France).
XIXth century advertising poster for the hydrotherapic baths of Bagnoles de l’Orne (France). Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.