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.

Gifts for Graphic Designers: A Wish List

Whether you’re getting ready for the holiday season, a birthday or even without an occasion here’s some graphic design related gifts that are on my wish list.


PRINT Magazine

The gift that keeps on giving. What could be better than a subscription to PRINT: America’s Graphic Design Magazine filled with trends, commentary, reporting and ideas.


“STEP Inside Design” Magazine

Another magazine subscription worth considering is STEP Inside Design which tends to be a topical look at the current state of design. Each issue highlights creative people, design in the business world and hot design topics.


Wacom Intuos3 9 x 12-Inch USB Tablet

The Wacom Intuos3 9 x 12-Inch USB Tablet is an interface made perfectly for designers which allows you to access features and techniques in programs like Photoshop that you can’t access any other way. This tablet includes shortcut keys and a five button mouse.


Pantone 100 Top Colors

Pantone 100 Top Colors is an affordable (under $30) set of colors for quick reference. For the price you get a pretty decent set of 1,114 colors.


“Hillman Curtis Designer Series”

The “Hillman Curtis Designer Series” has short films featuring Milton Glaser, Paula Scher, Stefan Sagmeister, David Carson, James Victore, and Pentagram Design


“How To Be a Graphic Designer Without Losing Your Soul”

The book “How To Be a Graphic Designer Without Losing Your Soul” by Adrian Shaughnessyis a business guide to being successful in the field. This book isn’t about effects or visual tricks, but the business of being a commercial artist. New designers are often surprised at how important the business side of their career is and how little they learned about this in their formal education.


“Thinking with Type: A Critical Guide for Designers, Writers, Editors, & Students”

“Thinking with Type: A Critical Guide for Designers, Writers, Editors, & Students”, a book by Ellen Lupton, isn’t about fonts but working with type effectively on the page. Update: Read the full book review.

In “Making and Breaking the Grid: A Graphic Design Layout Workshop” by Timothy Samara the topic discussed is one of the most important aspects of design: grid layout. It seems like many designers are unprepared to deal with the grid and there is always more to learn. It’s essential to learn how to handle the many elements you will be asked to include in your designs. Learn the rules and how to break them effectively.

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

Tips for a More Perfect Design Portfolio

Trying to put your best foot forward in your portfolio is a task all designers strive to improve at. Here’s a guide to get your started.

Select the best of the best

The number of pieces in your portfolio will vary from person to person. However many pieces you decide to include, make sure they are all great work. The order counts too, make the first and last pieces the best ones to start and end on a good note. The first and last impressions are the ones they’ll remember most.

Don’t put in work just because its among your personal favorites. If they are not appropriate for the reviewer to see, they should be removed. In the end, you will be better off having seven impressive and appropriate designs rather than twelve pieces at different quality levels.

Look at the work of other designers

Don’t live in a vacuum. We all want to be original, but you need to know the trends of the day. You need to know what’s going on in the world. Be both critical and encouraging about what other designers are doing and reflect on that when you put together your portfolio. Imagine that these are the designers applying for the same gig as you and how you would tell an interviewer that your approach is the best.

Consider something unexpected

For some clients, I’ve included paintings in my portfolio to emphasize that the computer is just a tool and that I have some insights about composition and scale that other designers might not have. Consider showing a skill you have and be prepared to explain why you feel it’s appropriate to your portfolio and to the position you are applying for. You might have sketches that provide insight to your process. Maybe a very professional photograph that you took.

You might also show a piece with such a great concept that you can show off and show that you are just that creative. Remember the earlier tip that anything in your portfolio is to be as perfect as possible. If it’s sketch it should be a great sketch that you’d be proud to show and be as good as your competition.

Let the work speak for itself

Creativity is good, but don’t let the portfolio itself overshadow the works within it. You want your portfolio to be clean and present the pieces you have to display. Whoever looks at it should feel the clear focus on the individual pieces and not how they are presented. However you choose to display portfolio, make sure you choose something that you can easily edit. You’ll want to add new pieces and take out a few too depending on who will view it and what tasks and skills you are emphasizing.

Everything is more than the sum of it’s parts: each work displayed should show a greater understanding. A piece might show your understanding of a particular business, depth of research and other skills that aren’t directly related to design. If you are showing your portfolio to a medical related magazine that you want to work for, that freelance dentist project might be the one that clinches it.

The perfect portfolio is impossible. Your portfolio is an ongoing and evolving collection of works. Accept that it won’t be perfect, but continue to make it the best that you can.

You might want to check out Building a Strong Design Portfolio, a question and answer session with Nomi Altabef, Associate Education Director at DesignMentor Training.

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.