Plan your Responsive Emails!

Recently, I was tasked with taking an existing client email and making it responsive. Since this was my first foray into the hardcore responsive realm, I jumped all over this like an eager little squirrel. Many cups of coffee, gray hairs and tears later, I realized this task was fruitless and called Time of Death on the project. With many hours already sunk into this project and a deadline well in the past, it was the general consensus that starting this bad boy from scratch was the right way to go, so we carried on in this direction. Luckily, the client was receptive to this, understanding that we could provide a better solution with this approach.

 

I’m currently taking charge on this project and it’s going 150% better than the first go around. Why? PLANNING FOR RESPONSIVE DESIGN. Taking an old email with fixed widths, random images and multiple columns and making it responsive is HARD. Plain and simple. I didn’t have a ton of time to sink into the all important planning stage, but the fact that there is any time for this at all is crucial. I sketched, I took notes (that resemble the ramblings of a mental patient) and consulted the expertise of colleagues who are far more experienced than me with responsive email design.

 

So what the hell is responsive design? Here are some resources that will help:

http://blog.exacttarget.com/blog/email-design-4/email-design-for-all-the-mobile-inbox

http://www.campaignmonitor.com/guides/mobile/targeting/

http://blog.lyris.com/us/email-inspiration-six-great-responsive-email-designs/

 

Bottomline kids, plan your responsive email designs. You’ll save yourself a ton of heartache and time. You’re welcome.

Growing and Learning on the Job

I talk a lot about growth and learning as a creative professional and its importance to our success in the work force, but it’s not always as easy as it seems. I’d love to say that I come home every night after working the 9-5, work on challenging freelance projects, do tutorials and read design blogs until my eyes bleed, but that never happens. I don’t have the energy or time to cram that much into my brain. If you do, awesome, but for the rest of us that aren’t chugging 5-Hour Energy, we have to get our learn on in more practical ways. One easy way to do this is learning on the job.


On the job training is great because A) you’re getting paid to learn and B) you will hopefully have people or a team to learn from as well (and vice verse). Reading books and doing tutorials is great, but I learn best when I’m talking with people and through trial and error. Take on challenging projects and use the real life resources around you. You may not know the answer to a tricky HTML situation, but your coworker might. Learning from your peers is easy and whatever information they have to give you will stick like a Post-It Note in your creative mind. I can read ten blog posts about a topic I’m trying to figure out and still be confused, but if I have a flesh and blood person show me how to do something, I’ll remember it forever.


Conclusion

Ask questions. Use your professional network to progress as a creative individual. I’ll admit, I’ll try and try to figure something out on my own before I ask for help, but in the end it’s the people around me that help me solve problems. Never forget that if you’re having an issue in Photoshop or with some code, chances are a colleague or fellow freelancer probably has too and will be happy to help. Questions are your friend, grasshopper.

HTML/CSS Not For Every Graphic Designer

I’ve been trying to become proficient in HTML/CSS for a few years now. Time and frustration usually got in the way, but I’ve made strides in my adventure to learn these languages in the past few months. I’ve done tutorials, analyzed sites I like with Firebug and offered to take on pro bono web design and development projects to further my knowledge. What spurred this quest? Quotes like this:


“A designer who does not write markup and css is not designing for the web, but drawing pictures.”

— Andy Rutledge (2011)


I’ve been hearing this for years. A person who considers themselves a web designer should be able to code their designs. I started learning code because I heard this everywhere. Look at the postings for graphic designers on chances are they will be expected to have expert knowledge in InDesign, Illustrator, Photoshop, Flash, Dreamweaver, HTML, CSS, Javascript, PHP, C#…the list goes on (maybe I exaggerated, but you get the idea). News flash employers, this isn’t the a job posting for a graphic designer or even a developer. Why not seek out employees that are experts in their chosen fields of development and graphic design, instead of one person who is mediocre at all the qualifications you seek? I thought to myself, ‘well, I can’t just be a good designer, I have to learn code in order to eat too!’ This isn’t the case. The current company I’m contracting for has a team of developers and a smaller team of graphic designers and they understand that the project will fail if they don’t have people working in positions that fit their skill set.  Companies looking for graphic design “ninja” with a working knowledge of a million coding languages is either cutting corners or out of the loop about how a design TEAM should function.


I’m ranting a little but my point is a graphic designer/web designer might benefit themselves from being at least knowledgeable of html/css, but we shouldn’t be expected to be able to code a 40 screen e-commerce site. That being said, since I’ve started learning how to code, I’ve found that I really enjoy it and being able to code will help make my transition away from print and into web design. That’s just me, it’s not for everyone. If you’re happy and making a living not relying on HTML/CSS knowledge, more power to you! Partner with a developer you trust and the sky is the limit.


Conclusion

My point here is to not get discouraged if you pride yourself on being strictly a graphic designer. There are still companies out there that are looking for graphic/web designers to just design. However it never hurts to learn something new. Never limit yourself.

Check out these articles/the inspiration for this post/rant:

http://ignorethecode.net/blog/2009/03/10/designers-are-not-programmers/
http://intenseminimalism.com/2011/designers-shouldnt-code-the-digital-duo/

Graphic Design in the Real World

Often times, we graphic designers will be handed a project to design with the knowledge that once that design is complete we may never lay eyes on the finished product. This especially applies for freelance graphic designers, if you aren’t handling the printing process for a client, chances are you won’t see the final piece unless it’s for a publication you can get your hands on or for a big campaign. I work with small to medium sized businesses so once I’ve designed their business card, brochure or letterhead, I send it to the company for them to print as they see fit without my involvement. I often ask for them to send a finished copy of what I’ve done with either their payment or out of the kindness or their own hearts, and most clients usually oblige me, but not always. What am I getting at here? Sometimes you don’t have to ask clients for a copy of the finished product because it will pop-up when you least expect it.

The TechStop dasher board highlight Indianapolis, IndianaHockey isn’t too popular around where I’m from, even-though the weather here tends to drop below freezing more times than I’d like to think about during the personally uninspiring graphic design season of winter. Ice hockey just isn’t a sport many Hoosiers gravitate towards. I, however, love the sport (maybe it’s all the fighting and angst) so when a beloved client of mine asked me to design a dasher board for his companies that would be displayed around the Indiana Ice hockey rink during home games, I jumped at the opportunity. He owns two companies in the Indianapolis area so he needed two designs. I created them, got the design approved and that was that. Until last night when I actually went to an Ice game, and saw the dasher boards I had designed in the real world! To be honest, I’d forgotten about this project and didn’t realize I might see them until I actually ran into my client at the game. Needless to say I was quite please with the results and very excited that my work, albeit very simple, was being seen by a large crowd of people (The photo you see here was taken with my trusty iPhone 4, but isn’t the greatest quality due to our position in the stands). The other dasher board I designed was located on the opposite side of the rink on the side we were sitting on.

Conclusion

Always attempt to get a copy of your work for your portfolio and be on the lookout for your designs in the real world. Be proud of your work and always remember it’s not just you admiring your design, hundreds and thousands of people might be admiring it too!

Selling Out on Freelancing?

I’ve been working an on-site freelance gig and it turns out that the company I’ve been working for wants me to stay on, full-time, and I’ve accepted the job (hence why I haven’t blogged for over a month). I keep going back to a quote in Michelle Goodman’s fantastic book, My So Called Freelance Life:

“Know this: Taking a temporary trip back to the cube doesn’t mean you’re a freelancing failure. Instead, it can mean you’re taking care of yourself…”

Right now, these are words to live by for me. Honestly, I’ve been feeling like a huge sell out lately. I’m back to doing something I vowed wasn’t possible anymore, working in a office for someone else. But like the quote says, I have to take care of myself, and for me that’s financially and mentally. When I started freelancing, I didn’t have the obligatory six months worth of money saved for bills and groceries. In reality, who ever does? I took the plunge and made a living, I got by. I took a big step and was able to buy a house with my partner. Living in a two income household really helped my freelancing success but hosues are expensive and the debt started to mount. That is my main reason for taking this job and jumping back into the cube, money. I need to pay off some debt and since freelancing doesn’t yeild a steady paycheck (usually) so I thought it was in my best interest, and the interest of my mental health that I bite the bullet and do what I have to do. Taking care of your family and not having debt collectors calling round the clock is important, and sometimes putting a dream on hold to get your debt and bank account squared away is justified.

Conclusion

I plan to continue freelancing while I’m working full-time, and I’m looking forward to adding more quality work to my portfolio. I really like my coworkers and I feel like I’m going to make some great friends and contacts while working with this company. Many or my coworkers freelance on the side too and I know I can learn a lot from them. I’m starting to look at my situation in a more positive light. If you find yourself in my situation, do what you need to do to pay your bills and take care of your responsibilities and yourself. There’s no shame in going back to the cubicle if life demands it.

Seasons of Graphic Design

Fall LeavesHere in the Midwest, the seasons are changing. A welcoming chill in the air is creeping across the fields and the anticipation of the leaves changing is at an all-time high. We’ve had a particularly unbearable summer so folks around here are excited to see the summer sun secede to the brisk feel of fall. This got me thinking. What is the most creative season to be a graphic designer? This is of course a matter of opinion among designers. For me, it’s obviously fall. The colors are inspiring and the drop in temperatures make it more possible to enjoy the weather and draw inspiration from it. Nature is a fantastic source of inspiration for designers. Taking a moment to get away from the computer and enjoying a popular hobby of creatives, like going on a walk or bike ride, is a great way to recharge your creative juices. For me, the falling red and orange leaves during the autumn season make it the best time to draw inspiration from nature. It also probably doesn’t hurt that I love Halloween.

Your turn!

What season do you find yourself the most creative? Whether you enjoy the muted color palette of winter, or the freshness of spring I believe that every designer has a season where they find themselves the most creative.