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Communications Design Industry Discussion, Inspiration, & Tutorials

Jul 25, 2013

Know When to say Yes

By On 03:28
I recently read a blog post on idealist.org about saying “No” without committing career suicide. It’s a good read. Check it out.

Today I want to talk about the opposite side of that coin:

When faced with the chance to say no, weigh your options and see if you have a better reason to say YES. 

In a previous job I never had the choice to say yes or no to office social events; company picnics, birthdays, baby showers, and the like. Attendance to all such events was mandatory for those in my department. This came from the VP in charge of my division. For someone like me—who gets wrapped up in interesting design projects and relishes the satisfaction of completing a project then jumping feet-first into the next—these events were painful to endure. Each day that I was encouraged to leave the office early and drink beer with my professional peers was a day wasted.

Today my director and team participate in numerous departmental and organization-wide social activities—including  volunteer opportunities that allow the university community to mix with the larger community where we’re located. At times I’m encouraged to participate or I’m invited by the big cheese, but rarely is anything ever mandated. I feel at liberty to pick and choose events, and ultimately feel good about attending. Plus, it’s a rare occasion where I’m staying at my desk for hours after quittin’ time trying to make up those lost hours. It’s liberating.

I recently had an invitation thrust upon me with almost no notice, and had to choose whether to take it or pass. The invite came four days before the event. An industry conference held four states away, days before my birthday. My first instinct was to pass—my media development duties—as well as creating a curriculum for the class I  teach next semester are all still on my plate, along with working on my house after work and battling insomnia all night long (yes, I block out time for that too).

Happily, I took this opportunity to say yes; projects, home, and lack of sleep will still be there when I return. Making an inconvenient jaunt to New York directly after work is little sacrifice for what I gain in trade. This conference helps me develop, grow, and learn about industry trends.  It helps me see where we are in relation to our professional peers in the field. It helps make me a valuable member of the team.  Plus, who knows what higher education budgets will look like a year from now; this could be a one-time-only opportunity.

Jul 18, 2013

Book (cover) Review

By On 17:11
I know I should be ashamed that I'm finally getting around to reading this book. It's been on my reading list for over 15 years--no kidding. When on our honeymoon in June, we stayed at a lovely B&B in Annapolis, MD; Chez Ami. One of the decorative books placed around the room was a hardbound copy of the Oscar Wilde classic. I began reading it on our first night while trying to beat back my chronic insomnia. I got through four chapters before nodding off. Then we left the inn for the second leg of our bike trip.

Click to view full
I'll stop right here and say that this is actually more of a review on the design of this book--the Penguin Classic paperback version of Dorian Gray.

On the third leg of our trip, we spent the night in Washington, DC. And in the morning we headed off to find the Rock Creek Parkway bike trail into Northern Virginia. My new husband surprised me with this book after we crossed the bridge and I was elated!! When we paused for a water break, I examined the book jacket and became disappointed in the Penguin Classics graphic design team.

Wilde's descriptive prose--and my imagination--drew a picture of a dewy youth with light eyes and a warm complexion whose androgynous good looks could charm men, women, and the stars from the skies. Regardless of the text, I pictured this unlined boy with dark hair that contrasted with his pale eyes and added  a bit of rogueishness to the cherubic innocence that Wilde presented.

Folded cover, detail
The Penguin design team didn't agree with me. Instead, they gave their readers a pasty- faced, rosy-cheeked fop, with fair close-cropped hair, and very little attraction or appeal. When I pulled out the book to continue reading, I realized that the cover portrait was ruining my enjoyment of the book. I folded the cover back and continued reading.

Between, biking, strolling, dining, and enjoying the wonderful company or my new hubby, I finished the book. It was a *good read. In it, Wilde alluded to the exploits of Dorian in the chastest of terms (by today's standards). Our young Mr. Gray was a sociopath, who used his appeal to poison the lives and reputations of others. He then killed without remorse and easily placed the blame for his actions on the innocents who loved him.

FYI, the cover portrait is a John Singer Sargent piece painted in 1900.
*Wilde, like many of his contemporaries, is a great lover of the English language. His words paint a canvas in the imagination and he leaves nothing to chance. That said, it's a departure from the utilitarian style of modern fiction writers.

Jul 16, 2013

This Week: Preparing a Seminar on Online / Hybrid Course Design

By On 09:28
Online Course Design is Web Design

I really can't go into all of the details right now, but I will make the presentation available online to the Instructional Design Group for feedback once my first draft is complete. The goal of this training is to help instructors organize their course content to keep students engaged. Too often, academics believe that online instruction is akin to in-person, and it's not. Lectures no longer work. Therefore, presenting wordy blocks of text and exhaustive lists will get your course content ignored. Period.

Broken down to the barest of facts,  effective course pages and homepages both:

  • introduce the subject matter, 
  •  present clear navigation, 
  •  are easy to visually scan, 
  • and lead to more in-depth, robust content.

Jul 13, 2013

HtML5 VIdeo: Use VLC MEdia Player to Convert Video

By On 17:28
A recent project I built a HTML5 video player. For these players to work across all the major browsers redundant video formats must be created. There are several free online services that will convert video formats to ogg theora, mp4, and webm for you. However, once you get to long/large video files, they act up (require payment, or freeze).

VLC media player is free and will convert your vids to the desired format, relatively quickly. One drawback is that you can't run more than one conversion instance at a time. If you need to convert, say 1000 videos, then you'd better get some help.  Here' the quick and dirty of using this player to make your job easier:

Jul 12, 2013

Where have all the Graphic Design Jobs Gone??

By On 13:29
For the first time in recent history--four years or so--the graphic design job market does not lead the pack in creative services job postings. A newly graduated friend sent me his portfolio to review and then wanted to talk about the fact that his job search seemed to be in limbo. He's been applying for a couple months now, with nary a nibble.

I've also noticed that the number of job offerings for "keyword: graphic design" seems light. On a search last week the SimplyHired.com interface yielded exactly two new jobs offered in a 7-day time frame. Graphic designer positions are being replaced by interaction design, web and social media design, UI/UX design, and instructional design. Can we see a theme developing here? 

The jobs of yesteryear that focused on print marketing, direct mail, and analog client contact are now replaced with the dynamic and/or social design positions. We can't get away from it. The medium is changed.

So, what does a designer who is adept at print do to compete? Grow. Evolve.

I had to remind my friend of his strong portfolio and highly developed creative skills. Moving from print to electronic media is a natural progression; while the platform changes the comprehension of good design, audience and research doesn't. The to-do list--we penned together--included taking some professional development and then expanding his freelance base--taking on a couple social media building/management clients to get started.

"Look for free or inexpensive ways to get professional development."

I'm looking forward to hearing about his progress--and he can take me out to lunch after he lands the next awesome job.

Jul 11, 2013

Mock-ups Round Up

By On 16:50
Photoshop Magazine Mockup
When I originally put together my online portfolio and printed leave behind, I took several photographs of my samples so that my work would be well represented in both media. It was a mostly successful project. However, some of my conceptual pieces--ones that never went into production--had to be altered to fit stylistically. There were ways to get around this. I found an awesome Photoshop mockup that allowed me to share more of my work. I also created so ad hoc mock up scenarios that were also successful.

For conceptual posters, I photographed gallery walls and inserted appropriate sized design samples into frames or in a salon style hanging.

Poster Mockup II
Here are some other great mock up options to help get your portfolio a second glance:

Jul 9, 2013

Three Job Search Pet Peeves

By On 08:48
In no particular order...

First: I’ve always made the argument to soon-to-be or recent grads that they should narrow their job searches; applying only for positions in industries where they want to work, instead of casting a wide net. I usually add that folks should have some idea about where they want to work before they graduate. Then I challenge them to consider design firms, nonprofit agencies, corporate arenas, finance, legal practices, medical centers, etc to help them decide.

Some graphic designers completely disagree with me.  They make the reasonable argument that the goal of early jobs in our field is to gain expertise and test-drive different industries. That may be the right thing to do for some, but my approach may work for others.

In undergrad I was offered an agency job with a company whose major clients included a car manufacturer and a soda company. As someone who advocates for non-processed foods, low-carbon footprint lifestyles, pushing polluting private vehicles and promoting obesity was not for me. An advertising agency could never be my creative home. I declined the position and opted to work for a non-profit that promoted women’s health and education instead.

 Today, I still run into a few people who are three or four years post-graduation floundering to find their niche in the professional world.  I’m talking about the "graphic designer" who can’t decide what to apply for when the choice comes down to entry-level designer, program coordinator, or child minder. Our education was an extensive and expensive one. We should be out there using our skills to pay back those student loans, spreading the gospel of good design, and propelling ourselves closer to our life/professional goals.

Next: What’s up with inappropriate resumes hitting hiring managers’ desks? An over-designed, or unsophisticated resume is the main thing that gets applications overlooked. Design firms and creative companies expect applicants to showcase their creativity with a well-thought-out identity and maybe even an infographic resume.  Corporate and non-profit agencies expect applicants to submit traditional-style resumes in application for jobs—even in their design departments. Sophisticated design is expanding the traditional definition of a resume, but origami still won't fly in most arenas.

When we use inappropriate formats and odd-sized paper to apply for design or communications positions, we send the message that we know little—if anything—about the company, industry, or position. That equals apathy, and get’s resumes discarded.

Finally: We should always be on the lookout for robots! Robots pre-screen online job applications and resume submissions. If application materials don’t contain keywords found in the original position posting, then the entire application gets discarded before a human being has set eyes on it.

One more thing: Can we stop submitting Word doc resumes? PDFs retain any special formatting and styles regardless of computer software and versions. This is just common sense.

I recently had a potential employee apply for a job with a Word file and when I opened her submission, two sentences were pushed onto the back page. I knew that this was a mistake, but I still asked her why she made that design decision during our phone interview. Frankly, if she came up with a convincing answer, I may have given her a shot at the job.

It feels good to get all that off of my chest, 

Jul 8, 2013

Dos and Do-Not-Dos: Student Portfolios

By On 13:07
I got a question from my former intern last week and had to share. She’s ready to graduate and is now looking for her first ‘real job’ (thanks).

Her question: Do I Include Student work in My Portfolio?

Were this anyone else my answer may be different. In the past four years she has built a portfolio of exceptional student work, freelance projects and a few pieces from her internships.

My answer: In the 7-10 projects she includes, select those that best display her talent, creative range and technical skill. In short, go for it.

The caveat is that student work need not have a blazing neon sign over it singling out the projects as “student”. Instead they can be called conceptual design or not be labeled at all. Think about this if your portfolio is predominantly assignments and school projects.