28 Things I learned as a full-time graphic designer

Written on Sep 11 by Preston Lee | filed under Creative Jobs

I recently decided to make the switch to Freelance Design after working for a local production agency. In this post I have encapsulated some of the most important lessons that I learned while I worked as a full-time designer there. Please feel free to add your suggestions in the comments.

The Creative Process

1. Graphic design is a problem-solving process.

2. When you focus on function, a design becomes naturally beautiful.

3. A creative brief is of great importance.

4. Going the extra mile in both design and client relationships enhances the design process.

5. Run your ideas past people before getting too deep into them.

6. You should always make sure your design fits the occasion.

7. Most people don’t know what they want but claim they’ll “know it when they see it”. Convince them that what they see in your design is absolutely what they were looking for.

Client RelationsClient Relations

8. One of the most important aspects of design is client relationships.

9. It’s important to explain your creative reasoning to others – especially clients.

10. The customer is not always right. Handling this issue well is vital to success as a designer.

11. Always design with a purpose.

12. Keep in mind your target audience when designing. Don’t do what attracts YOU, design what attracts THEM.

13. Everyone thinks they are a designer. Find your own RESPECTFUL way of reminding them they are not.

14. You should never call a client in to look at a piece until you are fully satisfied with it.

15. You should never talk negatively about a piece when a client is present.

16. You shouldn’t wait until a client angrily calls you to update them on the status of their project. (I had a co-worker who did this)

Time management

Time & Project Management

17. It is useful to get opinions from others who aren’t designers.

18. Full time designing is much better than part-time. Ideas seem to flow more easily.

19. Procrastination is horrible in the design business. (okay, I already knew this, but it’s an important one)

Necessary abilities and skills

20. A good designer will never stop learning.

21. Critique from fellow designers and others should be embraced and appreciated.

22. Formal education is important but that which you take initiative to learn on your own is what really makes you a good designer.

23. Even if you just want to be a graphic designer, you better know how to design for the web.

24. There are certain attributes that professionals look for when hiring creative people. If you don’t possess them, you should get them.



25. Working at a desk isn’t always bad. (Freelancing’s great don’t get me wrong. It was just nice to not have to manage the books and stuff.)

26. Building your own wordpress theme isn’t really that hard after all.

27. You probably know a lot more about design than a lot of people. You also know a lot less than many people too.

28. Graphic design is not fine art. If your design doesn’t fulfill a purpose, it’s just illustration or art. It’s not design.

What other suggestions would you add for those who want to get into the business of being a full-time graphic designer?

14 Freelance design mistakes you might be guilty of

Written on Sep 8 by Preston Lee | filed under Freelancing

This article contains a list of common mistakes that freelance designers make. If you enjoy this article you may also want to read “10 Steps to becoming a successful freelance designer” and “22 logo design mistakes you might be guilty of“. Here we go:

1. Charging too much. Unfortunately, we have to face the fact: most people hire a freelance designer above a creative agency because they think they can get a better price. Finding a balance between charging too much and not charging enough is one of the hardest aspects of freelance design.

2. Charging too little. On the other hand, many freelance designers do not charge enough for the services they provide. Although freelancing is not the same as running an entire business with employees etc., as a freelancer you have overhead too. Charge enough that you can make money and advance your freelance career.

freelance-mistakes3. Billing per the hour. It’s a logical fallacy. You tell a client they will be charged X amount per hour and when you finish the job, you send the bill. But think about it for just a minute. Why would you punish yourself for getting a job done quickly? Charging by the hour means if you take 12 hours to do a 15 hour project, you are losing money. Find an effective way to charge on a per-project basis.

4. Waiting to bill until a project is completely finished. There is nothing wrong with asking for payment on work you have completed. I like to include the design process in my client contract. I tell them what stages we will go through during the process and at what point(s) I will bill them. This ensures I don’t go weeks or months without getting paid.

5. Saying yes to everything. It’s okay to say no. Sometimes you don’t want to take on a project because it doesn’t pay enough, or because your morals go against it. Often times, you may have too much on your plate to take on a huge project. If you feel like you cannot fulfill your end of the bargain, don’t simply agree so that people “don’t hate you”. Most clients will respect you for being organized enough to know what you can and cannot do.

6. Ignoring small clients/jobs. Surprisingly, all of the high-paying “big” jobs I’ve ever received were from clients who started out “small”. Many times a company may ask you to do something simple like a brochure or business card design. Take advantage of that situation and Read the rest of this entry »

Build your first wordpress theme with 4 easy-to-follow tutorials

Written on Aug 31 by Preston Lee | filed under Blogging, Creative Tips, Web Design

The wordpress theme used here at Graphic Design Blender is the first theme I ever attempted to create from scratch (patience with glitches are therefore appreciated).  I’m no web programmer. Designer, yes, but when it comes to coding, I have a lot to learn. Assuming there are a lot of designers in the same boat, I would like to present to you 4 easy-to-follow tutorials that will help you build your first wordpress theme.  After reading through these tutorials, please include your suggestions for newcomers to wordpress themes in the comment section. Read the rest of this entry »

Name that brand: Which top global brands can you identify?

Written on Aug 25 by Preston Lee | filed under Branding and Identity

I recently read a study done by MillwardBrown on the most valuable global brands of 2009.  It got me thinking about the power of branding and thought it would be interesting to see how many people can identify even the first 25 of the most valuable brands in the world.  Give it your best shot and leave your guesses in the comments of this post. In a few weeks I will release the answers and you can see how you did. I’ll also be posting similar activities in the future for global brands 26-100. Be sure to subscribe via email or RSS to stay updated on the branding adventure. Read the rest of this entry »

How to reduce clutter in web design

Written on Aug 11 by Preston Lee | filed under Creative Tips, Freelancing, Web Design

The truth of the matter is visitors who come to a cluttered web site are frequently turned away because they are confused about where to go first or how to find the content they need.  This article contains several solutions to help you reduce clutter on your web site.

1. Organize:

noclutterMake it easy for visitors to find what they are looking for.
The first step in designing a less cluttered web site is to create a site map.  This will help you (and you client) to understand what content needs to be included, where it will be stored, and how it will be accessed.  Creating a site map also helps you learn where you may have duplicate or unnecessary content. This will help you reduce the amount of clutter.

Continue to use your site map as you develop the site.  If you already have a web site and are trying now to organize it more, create a site map of existing content. Decide what you can live without or ways the content can be better organized.

You should also ensure there is a contrast between headings, body copy, links, buttons, ads, and other content. This will allow for quick navigation for your visitors. Read the rest of this entry »

How to lose all your design clients right now

Written on Aug 5 by Preston Lee | filed under Creative Jobs, Freelancing

How to lose design clients

1. Don’t return their calls for at least a week

Don’t be fooled by thinking that when a client calls you about something, they are actually in a hurry to get a task done. They’ll understand how important it is that you fix that flat tire on your motorcycle, go for a quick ride, and then finish that movie you started a few days ago. When you do finally call them back be sure to remind them they need to follow your example and prioritize their life.

2. Finish their projects at least a day late

Clients always give you deadlines that are a few days early because they know you will give it to them late anyway. Three or four days late may be pushing it, but finishing a project a day late isn’t really Read the rest of this entry »

Tips to help you be ready for your next design job interview

Written on Aug 4 by Preston Lee | filed under Advertising, Blogging, Creative Jobs, Creative Tips

Graphic design jobs are frequently few and far between. It’s important that you are prepared for any design job interview you might be lucky enough to land. Below you will find a number of tips to help you be more prepared for your next design job interview.

interview1. Update your online and print portfolios.

Tastes, styles and opinions are constantly changing in the design industry. The most important factor in landing your next design job, therefore, is the quality of your portfolio- both in print and online.  Before visiting with a potential employer, go through your portfolio and consider the following:

  • Is your personal branding and style up-to-date and consistent?
  • Does your portfolio contain only your best work?
  • Are there any pieces that injure the overall impression of your portfolio? If so, remove them.
  • Have you put your best foot forward by highlighting your best work?
  • Are your portfolios easy to navigate and understand? Read the rest of this entry »

22 logo design mistakes you might be guilty of

Written on Jul 27 by Preston Lee | filed under Branding and Identity, Creative Tips, Freelancing

mistakeI’ve seen my fair share of poorly designed logos. I’ll even admit that in my early days of designing I created a few horrible logos.  The following is a list of common mistakes in logo design. Do you fall in to any of these categories?

1. Unoriginal Design. Your logo should be original to the task at hand. The logo and branding strategy go hand in hand so be sure to create something unique and memorable for your client.

2. Vague. Every logo should convey a message to the viewer.  If potential consumers know nothing about your client after looking Read the rest of this entry »

The 5 phases of professional logo design

Written on Jul 20 by Preston Lee | filed under Branding and Identity, Creative Tips, Freelancing


The research

Dare I say this is most important phase of the logo design process.  Research may include asking the client questions about their preferences when it comes to the design of the logo.  It should also include research of the competitors logo and creative work.  In addition, you should research the target audience and makes plans to tailor your design to their needs.  Remember, you have been hired to design a logo for a lot of reasons but the most important reason is to help the business or organization become easily recognizable.
Read the rest of this entry »

Interview with Designer/Blogger Brian Hoff

Written on Jul 16 by Preston Lee | filed under Blogging, Creative Tips, Freelancing, Interviews

I recently had the opportunity to chat with graphic designer/blogger Brian Hoff.  Brian’s blog, the design cubicle recently celebrated some great achievements and I thought it would be a great time to get advice from such a talented and successful designer & blogger.


1. Please tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do.

My name is Brian Hoff and I am a graphic designer from Philadelphia. I specialize in identity and logo design, but work in all mediums of print and web design as well. I also run a popular graphic design and freelancing blog, the Design Cubicle, which aims to help other designers and clients appreciate design, inspire them, and keep them educated in the field. It also showcases my work and personal insights and achievements. You can also read more about me here.

2. When and why did you first become interested in graphic design?

Growing up painting and drawing and love of technology brought my towards graphic design. Plus I love problem solving, which is essential to be a successful designer.
Read the rest of this entry »

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