Where is your audiences attention.

If there is one thing I have learned from working with teams of people throughout different companies is that there tends to be a some kind of disconnect between the marketing team and the desired audience that said company wants (granted that is their job to solve that gap.)

I find that the first people to pick up on this are the designers. Why, I am not too sure. Maybe understanding the subtleties of the story being told gives them a better insight into why the company is not getting the attention they want.

Also why I think that it is not unheard of for designers and marketers to jump between those two professions often. Some find they get one side or the other better.

A short story/example.

It was not a rare thing for me to work with a company that needed some work done on the aesthetic side of things and worked with the marketing team. Their audience was the early 20's to around 45yr old age group. Great, solid demographic to market to.

The very first thing they wanted to do was do a direct mail blast, some other printed publications and some direct email marketing campaigns.

What?!?! Blew my mind. Even though I would get paid regardless.

Anytime someone hands me a piece of paper, a brochure, information, card, or mails me something...and I did not ask for it. The first thing I do is toss it right in the trash.

I did not ask for this, I did not want it, you are selling me something or a service that I also do not want or have no need for.

Right in the trash with you.

Just the same with email campaigns. If I do not shop or use your service regularly, there is a maybe 5% chance I open it....maybeeeee 5%. That small chance I do....even a smaller chance of me clicking a link or following through on anything in the email.

Cut it out.

I fall into that demographic stated early. My attention is not on print media and good luck with email. My attention is on my phone and social media apps. That is where you have your best luck reaching me. Other then that, I do not want to marketed at.

It is like walking into a store and a sale rep coming right up to you asking you what you want, if you want to try anything and starts trying to sell me stuff.

The chance of me coming back to your store after that is low.

Understand where attention is and how to best use it.

So instead of that company wasting money on me redesigning print material, I helped them understand where their audiences attention is and helped to design digital ads for different platforms that would better reach who they want.

Design and tell your story where people are actually listening.


Go near the fringes.

Whenever I start a new design or project I do my best to tackle it from every angle I can imagine that way I have many different looks to use in my development of the design.

Having many different points of references allows you to pick the best solution for the problem you trying to solve.

Now what do I mean by work with the fringes. It means taking the design principles you learned and pushing them to a limit that often you are not comfortable with. One of my favorite examples of this is scale.

Scale can be such a powerful tool when used properly in your ability to tell powerful, convincing and dynamic stories. Scale is the size of an element as it relates to its usual physical size. The ability to use the size of elements on a plane to dictate the narrative is a next level design skill. Everyone loves drama and what is more dramatic then large elements juxtaposed against small elements. But there must be a rhyme to the reason or else you are risking the loss of computational fluidity.

I always take the element I am using and make whatever is important really big....like uncomfortably big. Just to see where the fringe is. You would be surprised at how many times what you thought would be too big is actually in the viable realm of use.

Just the same when it comes to making elements small. Scale objects down till they seem too small. This is helping you define the usable spaces around and how you will tell your story.

From here on, you will find that it is a juggling act of scale comparisons. The bigger things are, the more dramatic they seem, almost like it is shouting at you. Just the same small things are often just a whisper and sometimes can be missed altogether.

This is not to say that something large cannot be soft but it is all about the relationship to other elements.

You will also start to see that compositions that often have all the elements roughly the same size are boring, unresolved and bothersome. Now, there are often exceptions of course, we must take into account the reason for the design in the first place. But generally speaking, scale is something that really brings it too life.

Be daring and create some drama.

Be organized.

This is a short and sweet tip for any designer out there.

Be more organized with your designs. 

Be able to use grids, proper alignments, rulers etc to properly compose whatever you are designing is of the utmost importance. We often rely too much on our eye to make these judgment calls. As good as some of our eyes are, being able to make pixel perfect decisions with grid lends itself to super well organized and balanced aesthetics. 

This is super important in typography. Learning how to properly set tools is the foundation for learning and applying all other gestalt theories. I am still working on my typesetting skills myself and when they progress my eye for everything else increases and I make better choices with composition.

Design is quickly becoming integral to UX/UI. They need to learn how to work hand in hand. A flashy webpage or a slick product does not mean a lot if the user experience or interface is terrible. So designing with the user in mind is of the utmost importance. 

Make better Photoshop selections.

One thing that has really pushed my photo editing and manipulation game to the next level is my ability to select exactly what I want and need.

Those little "marching ants" is what is keep you back from some exemplary work. Even with the best typographical, composition, color theory and illustration skills. If you are making crap selections for your photography then it will painfully show through.

A lot of young designers do not put enough practice into selections simply because it is hard and tedious. Do not get me wrong, it sure can be. Understanding photo resolution, how the selection lines interact with the pixels, how to adjust your feathering, which tools are used to create the best selections needs etc. It can be pretty daunting for a newbie, let alone someone who has been at it for awhile. But with many hours of practice it is well worth the pay off.

The basic selection tools are a great way to get started. Practicing with how everything interacts with one another will help you build a quality foundation. Just getting good at those is an accomplishment.

If you want to step up your game you can learn how to use layer masks. I used masks for awhile but I found it bothersome and lacking the exactitude that I wanted and needed. At least for my liking. So i ditched that for the tried and true pen tool.

Being able to control exactly where the pen line goes has helped me create perfect selections for any type of editing need.

I cannot stress taking the time to learn the pen tool, how to use the anchors and get your ants marching just right.

But maybe you like the other tools better, maybe you have a way that is different then my own. That is wonderful. Whatever you find yourself enjoying the most is the best tool for the job.

Make amazing selections and do some beautiful edits.

The lost art of drawing.

Before anyone gets too upset, just hear me out. I came from a fine art background so I am trying to be as unbiased as possible. I'll will let you be the judge of that.

Let me say this first.

So for the most part I have always been able to draw or use whatever is in hand to illustrate. With more years under my belt I have grown my skills and have gotten to a point where I feel comfortable being able to draw well...anything and do it well.

I believe this gives you a bit of an advantage when it comes to design. There seems to be no better way to understand the concept of form and space then trying to recreate that object on a plane. For example, being able to study how the human body is put together, how the skin sits on the muscles and gets wrinkled at curtains places and proper proportionality of anatomy.

All of these observations take place in the eye and brain. Taking mental notes trying to learn. But ask someone who cannot draw to visually show that information they just learned. Even if they spent an hour studying just the eye, they would only show a poor representation of what they had just studied.

Why? Do we forget what an eye looks like? Well of course not. But we have not practiced the forms. Many of us have to learn by doing, especially something that relies heavily on observation. We have to use our hand to practice laying down lines over and over again till we start to build whatever we are observing on the paper.

This repetitive practice of using these physical motor patterns and nerves firing help us learn these forms in a better fashion. That is why the vast majority of designers who have a background in illustration have awesome understanding of the basic gestalt theories already. Why? Because they have to, it they didn't then they would most likely not be very good illustrators.

Practice recreating forms and experimenting with space and volume. Teaching your eye not to just obverse but to be able to reproduce it down these physical pathways. Eyes have terrible memory so it is up to us to ingrain the motor pattern so that our brains are more in tune with this fine detail and level of observing.

I took a summer art class when I was younger and my teacher said,"Drawing is 90% observing." Which makes sense. Look carefully and thoroughly so you can properly understand the shape in front of you.

Draw more, people.




Teaching as a way to learn.

One of my favorite ways to learn anything I find myself not doing as much as I should.

Teach someone who wants to learn what you know.

Every time I give someone Photoshop lessons I find myself constantly reminding and remembering tricks, tips, even basic fundamentals that I often overlook. The ability to take what is in your head and put it in a way someone else can understand, is one of the best ways that I can think of for ingraining information.

I will use my Photoshop example.

When I am working by myself on a project you sometimes enter this autopilot mode...where you just go through the motions, plugging away at keys and clicking the mouse till something resembling progress shows up your screen. When people have watched me work some describe it as almost robotic. Knowing what each key does, the fastest way to do things, running scripts etc etc.

While all of these things are good, I often find myself getting ahead of myself. Skipping steps or moving things around or even adding things that shouldn't even be there in the first place.

Breaking something down as complicated as Photoshop into small understandable bits helps me constantly ingrain better habits. A couple things that I am always relearning each time I give lessons.

  • Do not just rush into the program with an idea to begin with, start with paper and create lots of ideas.
  • Be organized! Label your layers, put them in proper groups and order so you know exactly what each layer is for.
  • They give you an awesome grid for a reason. Use it to balance designs. (I find myself taking for granted my eye instead of using grids) Which ends up taking less time and is often better balanced anyway.
  • Use more shortcut keys, learn them all.
  • Ctr+S saves lives, tap it more.
  • Make a back up.
  • Make a back up to the back up.
  • No not on a thumb drive.
  • Rulers are your friends
  • Keep originals of photography and of large edits.
  • Learn the pen tool, practice and master it.

These are only a small list of the things that constantly go through my mind. This is just the technical stuff too. This doesn't even touch on the the basic and fundamental design Gestalt theory.

Whether you are learning a sport, a program, a new skill anything at all. Trying and teach whatever you have learned to someone else. It will only make you stronger at that skill.


Helping myself

There has been one thing that has helped me the most in my search for growth as a designer. It is pretty simple

Do more work and make it public.

I always thought that I was a perfectionist growing up. That I did such little amounts of pieces and work because I always wanted it to be perfect. But in the recent years I have learned that that is a bunch of crap.

I was and am.... scared.

When I was younger my sketchbook was always filled with finished pieces mostly and not ideas. It was filled with things that I would be proud to show people if they thumbed through my book. I was scared to have anyone look at stuff that wasn't good, that wasn't finished and that didn't show my skills. There was some kind of irrational fear that showed itself as perfectionism. 

There was a moment where I became a bit more self aware about my own growth as a person and designer. I was stagnant and boring...there was nothing being added and I professionally suffered for it (hell even personally).

So I decided to do more work...and show people. I made a online portfolio and an Instagram account along with some other platforms to showcase my work. It forces me to continually do more work, practicing, trying new ideas trying to better myself. But most importantly I have it public. For all eyes to see, to judge, to like, to not like..to comment etc etc.

This helps to keep me honest. To slowly build a body of work that represents who I am as a designer and person.

Hopefully this lesson doesn't come too late for me. Hopefully any damage done can slowly be mended as I try to "Quiet the lizard brain." Seth Godin. And do my best to be proud of my work.

So my tip to anyone out there. Do more work....and show it.