Building blocks of designAfter having been in the creative business for some time now I’ve noticed specific patterns among the processes involved in developing designs for clients that might warrant further discussion. Let’s focus on the “management” aspect of design in order to identify potential problems that could arise between designers and their clients.

Clients come to us to help them put together designs for a wealth of projects from new brand identities to PowerPoint presentations. I have my share of the last minute calls from clients asking us to put together designs in haste, whether due to time constraints, last-minute ideas or procrastination. This is often the nature of such design needs. Clients are often asked last-minute to run a promotion, present to colleagues, or submit a project that they themselves were not given much time to plan or execute.

So, as we “creatives” know, these are often funneled our way much to our chagrin. We are driven by innovation, translating creativity, quality in creation, and a design process that ultimately helps us render a refined product to our clients. The catch here is when we are given either rushed content or timelines from our clients. Poor content and limited timelines inevitably render equally unimpressive designs. Having that “eye” for design, that innate ability to construct aesthetics in a pleasing yet functional manner is not something that tends to mesh well with a rushed timeline or underdeveloped content.

With this said, here are a few key elements to consider when seeking out the services of a graphic designer or team.

Forecasting-
If the project affords you some time to prepare, make solid use of that time. If you have a design team in mind, let them know the project is coming and share any insight as this will help the designer(s) prepare and begin conceptualizing ideas.

Content Development-
A beautifully designed project from a designer can be rendered inept if the copy/content isn’t fully structured, well edited, and finely tuned. Ever been at a sporting event such as a bike race or neighborhood ball game and seen that guy with the ridiculously expensive equipment and immediately feel a little intimidated when you look at yours in comparison? Then, when it’s his/her turn to perform, the skill level doesn’t quite match up to his equipment. The same conflict can arise on a project if both the design and content aren’t fully developed.

Participation-
In the past, I have experienced a few clients that only provide a rough idea of what they are looking to have designed. Novice designers get excited about this. What they don’t realize is that without clear specifics as to desired elements, forms, colors, placement and imagery the design will undoubtedly run into issues with respect to taste, style or layout differences between the designer and the client. So frank discussions and frequent communications are key here.

Design Time-
Plan ahead and allow for adequate development and editing time for both content and design. Remember, the less time allotted here for conceptualization and implementation, the more likely the design will lack the desired refinement.

Review-
Once the content and design have been combined into a proof, ample time should also be planned in to allow for editing the proof. Regardless of how much effort was put into either the design or the content, when merged together there will inevitably be aspects and elements needing editing or adjustments to placement. Designers build this stage into their design cost specifically due to the fact that a simple merge does not make a final product. There will always be further fine-tuning needed. Plan for it!

Review footnote – Please understand that in the editing process, a slight shift here or a new image there (depending on the platform one is working on) can be easily construed as a simple fix by a client. The designer knows otherwise. Some adjustments can be very labor intensive or time consuming regardless if they are visually minor or not. It is the designer’s responsibility to communicate inherent difficulties in the design process. Communicating these issues up front will allow for a better work-flow and better mutual understanding on both ends of the process.

Steve Muth
scm designs

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a new partnership

03/03/2010

Pressbriar.com

SCM Designs is happy to announce a new partnership with Pressbriar.com to bring you new website design and services.

With this new partnership, SCM Designs can now offer valuable website services to clients such as web design, SEO and optimization, hosting, and much more.  SCM Designs and Pressbriar can offer both WordPress self-hosted site construction and design as well as static, HTML based web design.

Pressbriar offers unique web development and marketing strategies based on the WordPress content management systems/blog platform and in HTML based static web pages.  We offers site building and content management of your site using hundreds of plugins and widgets, including tools for search engine optimization, account settings, site stats, forms, user registration, social networking, browser verification, and user comments to name a few. I am more than happy to walk you through the entire process.

We will also offer to install hosting and domain registration through GoDaddy or any other hosting service upon request.  This way your web design, domain acquisition and hosting service is all hands free for you.

SCM Designs

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processing design

02/01/2010

Designers across different creative fields truly only have one thing in common – creativity.  Funky graphic artists to chique apparel designers, to web gurus all create with a personal process of getting from concept to reality.  Some begin with a sketch, others take a walk in hopes of striking sudden inspiration from their immediate environment – or maybe a good thump to the head to rattle something loose inside.

Where do you find curious sources of inspiration?  Do you strike creative gold when walking through the local art museum, or from that tattooed mongrel you tried to not make eye contact with in the metro?  Do you seek out novel ideas through others work, or do you purposely steer away from them to maintain your clear sense of self-identity in your ideas?  What’s the strangest thing you’ve drawn new ideas from?

Next comes the process of taking your idea and turning it into reality.  How do you do it? Do you jump right into CS, or do you start by sketching, stretching or building?  Let’s find out who has the most unique process of turning thought to final product.  Tell us anonymously, or proudly proclaim you curious process.  Either way, this could be a fun exercise in discovery.

Steve Muth
SCM Designs

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What constitutes a good logo design?  Here’s a question that has been asked over and over again throughout the world of “creatives” and designers alike.  Frankly, there is no one right answer here.  Designers and creatives all develop their sense of construction and style via their own eye’s perspective.  When you combine this with the fact that the same applies to the clients each designer works for on each individual design, you end up with a subjective juggernaut of opinions and conflicting interpretations of what a particular logo should look like, represent and invoke.

With that said, there are a core set of principles to live by when taking a logo from conception to delivery for a prospecting client.  These core elements drive the basic themes and ideas that should essentially be embedded in the process behind every logo design.

(1) A thorough inception
First and foremost, a designer needs to spend time meeting with the client to get a feel for the client themselves, the product or service they are providing and the general culture of the company or individuals seeking the design.  This is vital for one simple reason.  If one does not take the time to familiarize themselves with their clients, there is no way that they can then build a design that would represent them best.  Without an ample understanding of their vision, culture and background of your client, you simply can’t put a design together that will best represent their brand in an effective or responsible way.

(2) Research comparable marketplaces
Once you have developed a strong understanding of the client themselves and their internal ambitions, then it’s time to turn to the market they will be competing in.  Study their competitors, market-specific trends, tendencies and data on what to avoid.  Identify how to differentiate your clients logo from the crowd, while still providing a direct or indirect association with their respective marketplace.  Their design should not result in an imagery that might inadvertently place them in another marketplace via color, form or imagery associations.

(3) Creative Development
If both step 1 and step 2 are fullfilled, then a designer can then move forward into conceptualization.  This is the time to put marker to dry-erase board, pencil to paper, or whatever intitial medium one choses to literally start throwing ideas around and see what sticks.  Some may create 4-5 initial thoughts, others more.  Honestly, I think a designer needs to apply a bare minimum of ten initial concepts (but only rough ones) – not to the client, but to themselves.  I say this beacuse every time I have stopped short of that, I later come up with a design idea that ultimately becomes the final draft.  Don’t settle!  If you’re not excited about a design, neither will the client be. The key here is to take brakes when the creative juices stop flowing.  Go back to it later if need be.  Take a walk around your neighborhood and you’ll be surprised by what might give you a sudden idea or burst of inspiration.

(4) Invoke an an emotional response
This is a step in the design process many designers skip right over.  This is a crucial element of a well designed logo. Once an initial concept is developed through the designer’s conceptualization, it is then time to step back and absorb the visual message it/they translate.  Does it tell an internal or evident story?  It should.  Does it appeal to some human sense?  It should.  What innate associations arise from it?  These natural, human tendencies to see something visual and immediately associate it with something else is very common and must be taken into consideration.  It is part of how a human brain functions – sectioning off certain stimuli and categorizing them with other similar connotations. Be aware of this… be very aware and address it accordingly.

(5) Presentation and feedback
Once a designer has addressed the above steps, it is now time to present your work.  Designers should not approach this too proudly.  If they do, it will present to the client that the designer feels they know better than them.  Not a good start. Only present your strongest design concepts is a common theme among  logo designers.  I personally think this up to the designer.  If only a few final designs are presented, then yes, just present the strongest ones.  But if a designer wants to approach the presentation by offering numerous solutions to the design, so be it. Maybe the client might choices before the process can be focused better. But be sure to have some very strong ones within the mix.  If you have good ones mixed in with the really powerful ones, they can sometimes help accentuate the ones the designer wants the focus to fall upon.  Be careful though, offering too many options can render confusion and indecisiveness with the client.  Part of a designers job is to bring focus and solutions to a visual identity, not create more questions to ponder over.  The presentation is also crucial, in that this is the time to listen, not defend your designs.  Take the feedback and work it into the design.  This is time when you need to follow your mother’s advice and “be a good listener!”

(6) Refine and Solve
Now it is time for a designer to take the feedback back to the studio, address it within the design that solves both the client’s and the designer’s internal dilemmas.   There is no place for ego here.  This is where the designer needs to ask themselves whether they’re in the business to build a portfolio or address their client’s needs.  Decision time. I have been stuck between these two rocks before, but stepped aside, then reengaged and found that I could address their needs while satisfying my desire to render in a particular way.  If designers do this, they will succeed in the final piece.

By utilizing these basic principals throughout the design process, a successful logo will demonstrate to the client that a great deal of time, effort and critical thinking went into the final rendering – which adds a great deal of value and appreciation for the work performed.

SCM Designs

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A colleague came to me today and asked me provide any input I might have on a summary she was presenting on Baby Boomers and marketing strategies to a group of co-workers.  I’ll be the first to admit I am certainly no statistician or marketing guru regarding Baby Boomers, but after combining some pre-gathered info with a brief web search I was surprised at the insight I found.

As a graphic designer, I came across certain aspects of my brief digging worth sharing.

“…some companies may have to reinvent their images because boomers don’t want anything that smacks of being stuffy or stodgy. More youthful models should be selected because boomers relate better to younger images” —

“…baby boomers seek immediate gratification, but seek it out in products and services that are well packaged, reflecting sophistication, a green slant and simplified”  —

“Boomers will always try to act much younger than their chronological age.” —

“They also want products designed to fit their individual needs, so customization, or the illusion of it, is important” —

“Environmental and social awareness will strike a responsive note in some boomers, so they should be highlighted” —

I particularly took note of the second quote as this is directly related to how a company, big or small, decides to promote themselves and their products and services in an era when Boomers will become a significant spending gear in the marketplace.

Business as usual is no longer the norm as this generation will be changing the competitive marketplace in how they choose to spend their money.  Boomers do not like to look at themselves as aging, and they will emphasize this by how they chose to identify with brands and products.  They see themselves as special, unique and are driven by instant gratification (as are the Gen Y’ers). The more youthful, green and value-added a brand image is, the better off you’ll be, according to many sources.

So, companies may want to rethink their brand images, logo designs and even print and online promotional materials to meet the needs and wants of this new significant spending power.

A refreshed logo is the first place to start as it is your brand “stamp” in your competitive marketplace.  It will differentiate you from you competition.  Creating an “ageless” image through your logo, Boomers will better identify with your company and product/service as they are a very selective demographic.  Small companies and start ups can really benefit from this as they are inherently more flexible with branding ideas and how they choose to brand themselves.

The more a company can create an image as a “specialty-niche” and not a “do-everything” identity, the better off you’ll be at reaching out to the Boomers.  A clear, sharp and unique brand image is a vital key in absorbing valuable market share.

Steve Muth
SCM Designs

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logo stories

08/03/2009

Henry Ford once said,

Every object tells a story. You just need to know how to read it.”

When designing logos, the same should apply. Not for the sake of the designer, but the the benefit of the client and their customers.

We all know the reasons behind our designs, but does a story emerge when discussion arises about it?  It should.   Logos don’t only serve their purpose in the few split seconds that they’re seen by the average viewer, but add real value and identity to those we design them for.   If a logo can be developed with a tangible meaning to the client, the inherent value of that design jumps ten-fold.

For a lack of a more decorative manner of expressing it, the logo should take on a personality similar to the culture of the company it represents.   To use the poor analogy that dogs always seem to resemble their owners, logos should also reflect the key elements of a company’s personality and culture to the point that when they’re not seen together a viewer would still interpret the similarities in tone, character and mood.

Granted, the inherent challenges of making a typelogo or graphical image to all this is significant. Each concept, each company name, can either help or hinder this effort depending on it’s relation to it’s parent company.

Conceptually, a logo really appeals more to your client’s ego then their intented customers and this needs to be kept in consideration throughout the design process.

In most cases, designers should only present their strongest concepts, but this lucky company in the video had a handful to chose from.

Steve Muth
SCM Designs

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Apple's Jonathan Ive

Jonathan Ive, esteemed Senior VP of Design at Apple, says that what makes a designer a true designer is the way we look at our world. We see things differently. He states that desingers are cursed as we’re always wanting to know why something is created as it is and not another way.

I would certainly agree.  I find myself constantly analyzing marketing collateral, identities and design – whether they’re television commercials, logos, signage I see every day or, most commonly, my own work.

Watch Jonathan’s interview on the documentary “Objectified” to hear him describe design as he sees it.

In my quest for  higher design, I follow several other designers on Twitter. Their sites are essentially web blogs/pages on which other designers logos are featured, discussed and critiqued.

What I really find most interesting when reading other designer’s comments on the site is how critical they can be without providing constructive feedback to the designer.  Many simply post comments like, “I don’t like it” or “It doesn’t do anything for me.” What they fail to acknowledge in many cases is that the design was rendered for a client who guided the design process to where it is for a reason.  We, as outsiders, looking in without knowledge of the developmental process that took place, are all too quick to be critical of others work without getting even marginal insight into the constructive thought process.  Remember, modesty and constructive feedback are traits well- liked in any profession.

One critical thing I constantly try to keep front-of-mind when designing a piece is something I’ve observed in many fields – but more so in creative professionals from clothing designers to graphic artists.  As in any profession, it seems the more “accredited” one becomes in their field and the more advanced their design “consciousness” becomes, the more apt they become to disconnecting with their intended audience.  Many would say that the more “proficient” one is at their craft the more innovative they become.  This is true, but only to a certain degree.  Designers often developed such advanced design aesthetics and methodology to a point where they become lost in translation.  It can sometimes become a show simply for the sake of a show.
At what point do we as designers need to think about self-editing to maintain concise, purpose-driven mechanics in design theory and practice?  What really constitutes good design?  Keep in mind that design is subjective – driven by emotionally subconscious associations mixed with personal aesthetic taste.  Frankly, I most enjoy the lesser known sites and their content, logos, etc. simply because they feature lesser known artists with some fresh, new ideas.  Many other graphic design sites have a tendencies to fall into a pattern or trend, which is a bad model to follow in the creative world.

So, if Jonathan Ive is right, we should be looking at ourselves as much as others in how we develop and communicate our designs. After all, we are all seeking out new business with those who are outside our field. As difficult as it may be, given our self-proclaimed superior vision, aesthetic values and immaculate taste, we may need to think more of our clients motivations and less of our own.

SCM Designs

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