Doing Business as a Designer: Monitoring Performance

A guest post by Jae Xavier from KnowledgeCity.com

My best time for running 2 miles is 10 minutes and 13 seconds. But before that, I did it in 15 minutes and 45 seconds. It took me 4 weeks to get that low.

I improved by monitoring and adjusting:

  • Arrival times at certain waypoints
  • Running strike (toe vs. mid)
  • Bursting interval (burst on the last waypoint)
  • Breathing pattern (deep vs. shallow)
  • Cadence

I consistently drove my times down by a minute or more each week because I knew the intricacies of the route and of myself.

So how does my experience relate to you designers?

In the Information Age, obviously information flows freely. And in that flow information can take on the form of words and even visual art. Information is aggregated, channeled, packaged, repackaged, socialized, and consumed.

Here is an example flow of information:

After posting your artwork on your website it gets…

  • Searched by Google, Yahoo, and Bing
  • Gets Tweeted by curious web surfers
  • Tweeters see the Tweet
  • Gets Tweeted again by there 2000+ followers and their 2000+ followers
  • Then someone emails to their friend
  • Then it gets forwarded to other friends
  • Spreads on FaceBook
  • Blogged about by art aficionados which gets sent out by an RSS feed
  • And finally someone sees and prints your design on t-shirts without your permission and makes a lot of money

From a designer’s context, when you follow and monitor this flow you’ll begin to ask questions (after all humans are curious).

  • Where does the information go?
  • How does my design get spread and consumed?
  • What is their reaction?
  • How do they feel about the design?
  • What brought visitors to your client?
  • What design elements are they attracted to?
  • Is the design understandable?
  • Will they come back for more?
  • Is it popular?
  • Is my client seeing favorable results?
  • How does my design fare against their competitors or even my competitors?

Why is this important? Because it tells you what is or what’s not working. Just measuring revenue is not enough.

Information can be monitored especially on the web. And in each sector, market, and industry there are sets of metrics that determine successes and failures. Find out what metrics matter to your client when you consult them. Then you can draw out what metrics relate to what design elements.

If you are not doing this already, start now. AND if your client is not doing this already, it will make your job an up hill battle because the Attention Age is upon us. If you’re designs are not capable of getting attention, you’re more likely to fail.

About Jae – he has intense interests in art and business. He has founded KnowledgeCity.com, an online education company for the general market. Jae has been a designer of all sorts for 15 years, runs two other business, and has never been to college.”

Is Selling Websites Really that Easy? 6 Steps that can help you Understanding More what you Sell

A guest post by Pawel Grabowski

I recently had a lunch with one of my clients, a well-known and successful graphic designer. At some stage during the meeting our conversation shifted to the way our businesses and sales are going. And it was during that part that I was really stunned by my clients views.

He simply stated how easy it is for him to sell a website. His observation was that you can be pitching hard any graphic design related work but it is the minute you mention a website that your prospects eyes widen. Not to mention that he finally starts paying attention.

And I guess it’s true. Everybody wants a website these days. And with all the technology that surrounds us that we’re so used to, talking about websites is much much easier. All you need to do is mention some technology related stuff and you are an expert.

But there is a danger in this. Selling websites may be easy but it’s also really easy to promise a large system you can not deliver thinking you’re signing up for a simple site only.

I see this happening all the time. Just look at any web related forum out there. It’s full of designers trying to get advice on coding issues, or setting up servers, installing CMS systems and many others. And most of that only because the job exceeds their skills and capabilities.

So, what’s the solution then? Not selling websites at all and stick to print?
Definitely not. Those of you who know me know also that I am a big believer that design studios should expand and incorporate web services into their offer. To me, it is the only way for them to develop their business. And with the times to come it may be a single thing that will actually keep them in business.

What I am also constantly advocate is that in order to build a web career you need to learn, discover and master it. As one of my friends had put it, it’s a big jump from print to web. And you have to train really hard to land on the other side.

So, what do you need to know to understand more what you sell? And ultimately know what you need to deliver.

1. Understand the difference between web and print and realize one important thing, users do not visit your sites for their design.
No matter how silly this sounds it is actually one of the main reasons for many designers failing in delivering web projects. Designers tend to think that their work is the sole selling point of the website but in reality it’s the information contained on the site the only thing that matters to users.

2. Learn how to organize that information.
Learn how users read on the web, what helps them to scan your copy and find information most relevant to what they are looking for. Also you should know what makes great copy on the web and how to write a content that focuses on fulfilling your users needs.

3. Learn how to structure the site as well.
Master ways to build the sites structure so that your user has no problems whatsoever in finding what they are looking for.

4. Learn the technology behind websites.
Just like at the start of your design career where you had to learn the basics of print processes, with the web you need to know how the technology running the show works.

5. Investigate actual limitations of the design material you can use.
Fonts, colors and images all work different than with print. Once you know that difference the whole process of design will become much easier for you. Otherwise there may be some not so nice surprises waiting for you at the end of the road.

6. Understand how the code works.
If you design the site you should have at least a basic understanding of it. But by all means you don’t have to know how to code. All you need to know is what might cause you potential problems. You will be able to avoid those things at a design stage.

Now, all this seems like a lot. But when you think of it, these are really only the basic stuff that you need to know. Once you know them though selling website will be even much much easier. And you will be sure that you know what you sold and what you need to deliver.

PawelPawel Grabowski is a web usability and front end development specialist at think two, an Irish web consultancy working exclusively with designers and design studios. We help our clients win and deliver web projects of any size. He also publishes his own blog at www.papertopixel.org

An Introduction to Web Usability for Graphic Designers

A guest post by Pawel Grabowski

How to make sure that the site you work on is going to be easy to use to it’s visitors: an introduction to web usability for graphic designers

Have you ever got irritated with a site just because you couldn’t find any information on it? Or maybe you got lost within the site’s structure? Or simply didn’t know where you were and decided to abandon the site altogether?

Sure you have. Just like all of us. I don’t think there’s anyone who hasn’t felt this at least a handful of times.

But let’s go further. As a designer, have you ever had a client calling you saying that their users complain as they can’t use the site, can’t find the information they are looking for or maybe simply got lost?

Now, who’s going to be brave enough to say I have?

Well, it surely happened to me in the past and I know how terrible feeling it is. And after an initial shock my answer to that was to rethink my approach to web design. Before that I simply understood design for web as a continuation of my work as a graphic designer. Afterwards I discovered that design although important is only one of all factors of the website’s success.

It is the usability though, or how the definition puts it “the approach to making websites easy to use for the end-user without requiring him to undergo any specific training” that can make or break the site. In other words if your site can not be easily used by anyone, no matter how beautiful it is it will cause grief to it’s visitors and will most likely be quickly abandoned.

But how do you ensure that your user can use the site without undergoing a training beforehand?

Start by following those few steps. There is of course more to usability than that and I would recommend digging deeper into the subject but for now you should always remember to:

1. Design the site’s structure to be clear to the user, not you or your client.
You do not design for your client but for their users and always have that in mind. It’s very easy to create structure that only you and people you explain it to will understand.

2. Make sure that the navigation is clearly seen straight after logging onto the site and that it’s easy to use.
Avoid complicated navigation bars, make your navigation as simple for the user to operate as possible. Also place navigation in a prominent place on the screen. There are conventions for that and you probably can tell them already after viewing hundreds of sites. Stick to those conventions, they were created for a purpose.

3. Ensure that your visitor knows exactly what the site is all about after logging in.
Make sure that each page contains enough information to reveal what the company does. Remember to have that information on every page. You don’t know which page the user will land on first.

4. Tell the user clearly where he is within the site’s structure.
There are two proven techniques for that. Mark the page in the navigation where the user is. You’ve probably seen this many times before, the font may be bold and/or in different color. Or you may change graphics behind the button. The possibilities are endless but remember to mark the page the user is currently viewing.

5. Leave breadcrumbs on your track.
You have seen them many times as well, the “you are here:…” listing on a page. Breadcrumbs help the user to recreate the path they have taken to get to a place they are in now and may provide a great help, especially on large sites.

5+. Test test test
This is a crucial, yet most commonly forgotten step. Always test your site for usability. Run the site by some users, be it someone you know or ask your client to present the site to a handful of his clients. No matter what you go for, always test your site before it goes live and gather feedback.

Of course such testing is only a limited version of a proper usability test conducted in a lab but even with that you should be able to pick up some basic problems with your site.

PawelPawel Grabowski is a web usability and front end development specialist at think two, an Irish web consultancy working exclusively with designers and design studios. We help our clients win and deliver web projects of any size. He also publishes his own blog at www.papertopixel.org

5 Comebacks to Client Questions

A guest post by Danny Outlaw

Client “I was looking at your portfolio and really liked design X. Can you do something like that for me?”

Designer Thanks for the compliments on my work. Im glad you like that project and I promise yours will be up to the same standards. As for designing something like that for you, I think a fresh approach might be a better idea. Why do what others have already done when we can create something new and unique to maximize your project?

Rather than base your design on others that are already out there, lets make yours unique and design it from the ground up. By building and designing from the ground up, we can create a design that serves your clients well and by default will become unique and distinctly yours. This approach may seem scary at first, but as the project progresses, I assure you that you will be presently surprised with the outcome.

Client “I think I changed my mind about the revision, can you try something else?”

Designer Im sorry you no longer feel that the design you chose is what you are looking for. Per our contract, we agreed on X amount of concepts and revisions. This additional revision is out of the scope of the initial project. However, i will be willing to modify one of the prior revisions for you at a rate of $$$ or create a new concept from scratch for $$$.

Please understand the initial design process is one of the most lengthy parts of the design process. To spend more time on your project would mean I would have to take away time from my other clients. Surely you can understand this, as you would certainly not want to be the client I had to take away time from.

Client “I really like this color scheme and want to incorporate an eagle into the design.”

Designer The color scheme to shared with me is certainly very well put together. However, Im not sure it will really fit your needs. Can I ask why you choose these colors? I’d like to point out that in your creative brief you said that your target market was males that were into extreme sports. Do you think that these types of consumers will be draw to earthy pastel colors like that of the color scheme you shared with me?

As for the eagle, you never mentioned it in the initial create brief. Can I ask where this is coming from? If it serves a purpose to your business Im sure we can tie it into the design. The fact that you failed to mention it in the creative brief would lead me to believe its not that important to the over all design. My suggest would be to continue on our original path and see if the finished design feels like its missing something. If so, we can conquer that task then.

Client “Can we add this, this, and one of these?”

Designer Those are all great ideas on their own, but might overpower your desired outcome. At this stage in the process it can be hard to grasp and visualize the bigger picture. In my experience, it is best to focus on the key points and concepts of the business. Adding too much early on can have an unwanted effect. May I suggest finishing our original project and give it some time to be digested by your customers? If, later on, you feel like these items would better serve you and your customers, we can talk that over then.

Client “I dont like where this is going. Can I get my deposit back?”

Designer Im sorry we dont seem to be seeing eye to eye on this project. Perhaps we can suggest another designer that might better fit your needs. Unfortunately, as stated in our contract, the deposit is non-refundable. We have spent a considerable amount of time on your project and can not justify refunding your money. If you feel this is a breech of contract or in anyway unfair, we will be happy to provide you with the contact information for our lawyer who will handle this conflict.

Please remember that the ideas and concepts that we have shared with you are protected under copyright laws. We are sure you wouldn’t think of stealing our ideas, but must bring this to your attention. If you decide to go with another designer, you are not allowed to share or use these designs with them. If we see that you end up with a deign similar to the one we created for you, we will have bill you the full amount of the project or have our lawyer contact you.

DannyDanny is the brains behind the Outlaw Design Blog. He is a Jack of all traits who works as a freelancer, travel writer, photographer, whitewater raft guide, and a dog musher. He currently left the rat race and is living it up on the Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica. At any given point in the day he may be asleep in a hammock or on the computer in a hammock. Danny’s blog can be found at www.outlawdesignblog.com

20 Signs You’re Working for the Wrong Design Company

A guest post by Louisa Nicholson

Listed in order of importance, the top 20 signs that you’re working for the wrong design company:

20. You aren’t making what industry says you should for your area. For the United States, reference the AIGA surveys

19. The clients like you better than your boss.

18. You work overtime when you don’t want to.

17. If you had to sign rights away to do competitive work and you enjoy working freelance on the side.

16. You’re ashamed to say you work there.

15. You don’t feel challenged anymore.

14. You work fulltime but don’t receive decent insurance options.

13. You think you can make better business decisions than your boss does.

12. Your boss doesn’t push your ideas or concerns to the clients.

11. Your boss won’t let you try out ideas and take the time to mock them up.

10. Your coworkers are annoying, enjoy gossip or create office politics.

09. You aren’t getting recognition for your work or you are never thanked.

08. You’re unexplainably depressed every time you have to go in.

07. Boredom.

06. You’re ashamed to give away your business card.

05. Nobody communicates.

04. You find coworkers lying about your work or taking credit for what you did.

03. Your boss is a nightmare, take the bad boss quiz and a single YES answer qualifies as a bad boss.

02. You only get paid on commission when it’s the salesperson’s job to find the work in the first place.

01. Your boss edits every piece before sending it off, leaving you with no footprint of your own and no portfolio piece.

People get stuck at bad companies in the same way people can get stuck in bad relationships. Try to talk it over with your boss and if change hasn’t happened yet, it won’t, these symptoms will get worse just like it would in a relationship that just isn’t working out. We tell ourselves it’s our fault for some reason or another and it doesn’t matter if it is or isn’t, if you experience many of the symptoms above, it’s time you went somewhere else. Whether it’s a new career change, going freelance or simply finding that ideal design firm to work for, it’s time to make the career leap of faith. Sometimes after you’ve given notice your boss will try and convince you to stay as well, even match the offer, but do not give in! Feel resolved and stick with it, you’re making the right decision.

Don’t burn bridges though, no matter how hard it is not to be completely honest. You will be surprised how much work I get put into my lap from past employers. Thank them for all their hard work, the opportunity to having worked with them and give them ample notice of when you’re leaving. When asked why you decided to go someplace else, be honest, tactful and humble about it. Ask them how you can make this process as easy as possible and how you can wrap things up before you leave. Make sure you take notes on what improvements you have to make as an employee. Also, make sure to research potential employers better; during the interview ask them how they could improve their own company. My best advice though: don’t judge your current or future job based on money, you will be unhappy again in 6 months.

If you’ve decided to quit in order to start your own business or go freelance though, remember that you may end up creating a worse atmosphere than your last workplace or boss, especially if you started the business because you were angry at your last workplace. No one said you’re automatically qualified for the “Boss” title. Take a vacation after this, work somewhere else, and if after 6 months if you still feel the same way, then you can go for it!

What are things you look for in being employed at a good design company? What advice could you give everyone?

LouisaLouisa Nicholson is a graphic designer, interface designer, web developer & creative writer in Greensboro, North Carolina, USA. Her day job entails creative development for numerous clients ranging from small business to Fortune 500, corporate to organization. You can view her web portfolio and other projects created by Louisa at www.louisanicholson.com.

Hit the Road! (The Nomadic Designer)

A Guest post by Milosh Zorica
portfolio – www.coroflot.com/miloshz

Being a design consultant allowed me to travel a lot. Most often all you need is a laptop and a decent Internet connection. Some other tools might be needed as well. Traveling is not luxury affordable only by the richest. Well, no more. Just about anyone who can perform their work using Internet and phone can become a nomad.

There are different ways how freelancer can become a nomad without loosing their freedom. Reason most of us are both, freelancers and nomads.

The first one is by landing contract work in country you’d love to live and work. Contract might be either project-based or time-fixed. They last from a few weeks to more than a year. Such contracts are widely available in the industries like game and multimedia/interactive/web. Even though you’re on the road you’ll be living in the same place and having daily routine. Sure, in different scenery and with amazing experiences. Very important advantage is that most likely you wouldn’t be involved in client-handling so you’ll avoid issues that arise. Your network – expanded! Gained experience – priceless! The best way to discover a country or a city is by working there. Professionals with international business experience and multicultural knowledge are highly demanded nowadays.

The second one is by working for your clients (back home and scattered world-wide alike). If you can maintain the same level of reliability and quality of services regardless of location and Time Zone, freelancing on the road is something you might consider. Unlike contract work it’s more demanding and you need longer extensive preparation at an early stage. Quite often you’ll wonder more on where you can find wi-fi hotspot than museum/gallery/nightclub. On the other side it gives you freedom whether you’d love to work from a café in New York, sandy beach in Puerto Plata or a cozy wooden house in Irkutsk. Sure, as long as you have connection (wi-fi, 3G, EDGE, cable, ADSL, LAN, etc.). How the clients will react is way individual. In my case it was mostly from sympathetic to envious (sure, in a positive way). Honestly for a while I was even hiding the fact I don’t work in an office but a hotel room, café, friend’s apartment/office, library or you just name it. Gregory Moulinet is even branding his business based on being a nomad. So far it goes well for both, thank God.

There are plenty of other ways how you can make money to support your travel while utilizing skills and knowledge you have and most important – your imagination! I’ve just mentioned two most often, with what I have an extensive experience!

Various issues are to be considered and resolved. But, it’s highly rewarding!

Useful links:
www.nunomad.com
www.workingnomad.com
Where Neo-Nomads Ideas Percolate
How startups go global
Going Bedouin