Lizzie Everard Design Blog

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

_how to engage with a designer : pt1




Sometimes the thought of talking to a designer or agency about your visual stuff just feels tricky. It shouldn't. 

Whether you've had experience working with designers before, or are new to the game, what's best to focus on when weighing up design services on offer? I reckon connecting person to person has a massive amount to do with helping your communication mission taking off smoothly right from the start.

I outlined some key things to think about in a previous post. Here, I'll concentrate on the emotional aspects of these initial chats, that can so often get forgotten about but which I think drive our projects. 

Today's focus is on the heartfelt considerations in choosing the right person to work with.



First of all, are they proven? 

Simple (perhaps obvious) one to start off – do you like their online portfolio and does it show their relevant skill? If it gets your heart going that's a really good thing! 

You may get excited by examples of their work and see something you feel really speaks your language. That's obviously a good sign. An emotional response means that their way of saying things is visually resonating somewhere deep down, and is a potentially powerful tool for getting your message across too.

Visual language can connect in a heartbeat. Listen to that.

Some designers have a distinct style, and it may or may not hit the right notes for you. That's okay – not everyone goes for the same things, the way not everyone likes the same music. 

Perhaps you found them through referral, so what do others say? 



Second, what does their biography say? 

Check out their track record on a biography page. Is it rounded, relevant and interesting? 

Someone with a bit of life experience will not be phased by twists and turns that inevitably go with building a business, and the changing demand on your brand design or visual content as a result. 

Awards? Well, yes of course they are nice, but they aren’t everything. I say this having won a few awards, and also spent years being out and about making adventurous projects happen too, so can definitely see both sides here.

Sometimes people with the most interesting life stories will bring just the perspective you need to make good decisions about your communication. 

Remember, this is about character. Do they have it, and do you like it?


Next is empathy.

Do not underestimate the value of empathy.

Do they get you? Do you get them? Do you like them? 
Once you have met up, have they listened to you, and asked relevant questions that help get to the heart of the matter? 

On the unusual and non-linear orbit of design and visual communication, having personal empathy for one another will really help in negotiating the right course.


And do you respect each other?

Choose to believe that that great biography counts for a lot, that they really know their stuff about how humans communicate, and are also willing to talk to you about that in plain english! 

However, in the middle of this, are you reassured that they understand and respect your expertise, challenges, market, audience, budget? This is so important. 

Mutual respect for the expertise you both bring will carry you an awful long way. Be prepared to ask vulnerable questions and listen out for wise insights they offer in response. 

To jointly realise those dreams for your business, showing trust and being able to let go a little will be important, but it goes both ways. Do aim to meet face to face, at least with a video call if not in person. We all pick up more than we imagine this way. And finally...
Don't be bowled over by swagger and bullshit. Please. The world will be a much better place without that.

***

So to sum up:

Does their work make your heart beat faster?
Do you like their character?
Do you empathise with each other?
Do you respect each other?

And DON'T be bowled over by arrogance.

When I think of my favourite projects of all time, respect and empathy have been mutually present all the way through, and have been crucial to overcoming hurdles along the way. 


I'll pick up in my next post to talk about some of more practical considerations, such as budget and project management. In the meantime, enjoy the soundtrack and do get in touch with thoughts, questions or useful experiences – it's always good to swap notes then we design people can learn how to do it better.

***

"Sometimes you feel so deserted,
  but hold on 'cause help's on the way"

{Today's Soundtrack: The Chemical Brothers – Sometimes I Feel So Deserted}

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Halfway Down a Long Path


Now roughly half way through this 100 Days project, I want to take a moment to check in with some ideas that have occurred as I’ve progressed, and the reasons for taking a break before continuing. 
As mentioned at some point in recent posts, rattling through 100 Days really is a long time to be rattling, and is rattling really a good use of my precious time? What am I learning here? What is better in the world as a result? It’s a long time to keep mechanically repeating a task or approach with either no critical judgement—"I’m just doing it for its own sake, and that is good enough."—or with no sense of direction either. 
I realise I want direction. 
I realise I want the wealth of all those days to add up to something significant.
I want that wealth of thought or effort to show either in a resolved, embedded attitude of mind, and/or better skills, and a rewarding body of work too.
Agreed – sometimes its important to just play as that’s when your mind can loosen up and become free enough to let new things happen. 
Somewhere in here though is a neat point about the purpose of regular discipline and the benefit in forming a new habit. By definition, a new habit will not be so polished to begin with. Being accountable to the world by sharing all this online amplifies inevitable personal vulnerabilities, and maybe these last couple of weeks I just needed to take a breath and then here’s the next thing I realise:
I realise that being publicly accountable with the things you make day after day is a little nerve-wracking and slightly exhausting, and quite difficult to do unless you have the strength of a rhino, which I don’t. 
This began with the question, "What could you do with 100 days of making?”
I have a new question. Now I have glimpsed what’s possible and I know the effort involved, how can I make my next 50 days really count? 

{Today's Soundtrack: Shivum Sharma – Flicker}

Friday, 17 April 2015

_how to commission a designer






Wouldn’t it be nice if we all talked the same language. 

When asking the advice of an expert, ever get that feeling we’re on different planets? 

I think about this a lot, aware of the uncomfortable times people have come to me and apologised up front for not having ‘the design jargon’. (That’s not necessary, by the way.) 

“Am I asking all the right questions? Can I trust this advice? How much??’

Design-land, and talking to designers, feels like alien territory to lots of smart people who need their help. Why is that? 

Maybe because we design folk don’t think in straight lines, solutions come from all angles, and the process seems unpredictable to many. It can look from the outside as if we’re just making things up. Well, there’s the weird thing – we are making things up, but I hope in an informed and insightful way. 

Good visual communication is about lateral ideas, making something out of nothing, creating useful focal points in an empty space. It’s all about making things up, in a good way, and it’s a wonderful, problem-solving thing to be able to do.

How, then, do you engage with this person and come to trust in a strange process? How do you gain confidence in a designer you don’t know?

Simply, at least in an enquiry and the early conversations when you’re thinking about commissioning someone, I believe it boils down to the following checklist: 




  • Are they proven – what is their online portfolio like, and do you like it? 
  • Is their biography interesting and relevant? Do they come with some life experience?
  • Do you share an empathy for one another’s mission?
  • Is there mutual respect between you as you find out about one another’s expertise?

And then practical things like: 
  • Budget – what can you expect for your cash?
  • Project management – are processes fair and efficient both ways? 
  • Deadlines – setting and keeping them.
  • And finally, do you actually like them?!


In the interests of interplanetary relations, I’ll go into each of these things in more detail through a couple of linked posts to follow, but it may be handy to keep these questions close to hand next time you want to talk to a design person about your design needs

Do keep in touch and let us know if you have experiences that would be useful to share with others about all this. I’ll leave you for now with a topical soundtrack, and wish you every success as you chart your design journeys!

{Today’s Soundtrack: David Bowie – Life on Mars}


Monday, 16 March 2015

_benefits of good design



The time has come. After working long and hard to start your business, after taking a brave leap to realise this new dream, devoting months, possibly years, to polish raw thought into clear shape, you know your new business venture really deserves to look its best when you launch into a world that badly needs it. 

You know good design and a strong brand is important for getting your message across, but can you put your finger on why? 

To give you something to hang on to, here are my five top reasons good design will set you apart.


1. Good Style

It is so important to present your business in a way you know is true to you and your mission. Your good visual style begins here, to match your good thinking, smart thinking, with appealing character – all characterised in your visual communication. 

Style is about character and personality. Fashion is about fad and trend. They are not the same. 

Done well, good design style always transfers beautifully across all materials you use in the day to day of your business. Business cards and web banners are just the tip of the iceberg, but good style can come through on anything you use to communicate with your audience because it's based on something true that comes from the heart. And it also has flexibility to adapt – so basically, your perfect capsule wardrobe that goes to work in all sorts of scenarios. 

Paying attention to good design means you always show up in really good—and appropriate—style, because you know yourself, and you know your audience. 


2. It’s about Personality

A well-thought-through approach to your design and visual communication gives you plenty of scope for getting your personality across. Good design should give the world a sense of you and what you stand for, so whether someone has a quick glance at your business card or a longer read through an eBook or slideshare, they get a feel for the type of character and attitude inherent in your business. 


3. Coherent Communications

I'll say it again. Good brand design should be transferrable across many platforms and materials. I’ve mentioned web and business cards, and consider too – proposals, blog illustrations, training material, the book you’re writing. These can all work really well for you with a strategic approach to the design. What about the signage at that annual ideas camp you're dreaming about hosting, or the campervan-freindly stickers you want to give out

Think about the stretch – how far will your company reach?

The folk at DO have a very simple approach, but they do it so well. And I like Pie Minister too (obviously). You can always spot both of these a mile off, whether a bookshelf at ten paces, or food-stall banner at a busy festival. 

Coherent design plans mean all elements clearly live in the same visual family. Not to say they all look identical – different formats are used for different reasons, but it’s important they all work together. 

Your audience should always know they are looking at your stuff. 


4. It Helps People Believe You

Done well, consistently, and over time, good design helps people to believe you – your message, your passion, your integrity and conviction, and commitment to making the world a better place. It's consistent with the key principles of good content marketing, which says wherever you speak, whenever you speak, do so in a consistent voice.

Of course, there are many more things that go into the mix, but without good design woven all the way through, well, it’s like buying a campervan and only using it for the school run.

Benefiting you and your message, and helping your audience know what to expect from you, good design really does set you apart and give you distinction by communicating in the voice only you have. 

Good design can be a mark of integrity.


And finally,


5. More than words

Sometimes an idea is so much more powerful seen visually, with a great image or some cracking typography.

Think of a painting or image you’ve seen that made an instant impression, held you glued, gazing, with no verbal explanation necessary.

I have a little fridge magnet on the radiator next to my desk, bought at the National Portrait Gallery during their Lucian Freud exhibition a few years ago. What he'd make of a fridge magnet I don't know, but I love the quote:

“What do I ask of a painting? I ask it to astonish, disturb, seduce, convince.”

Visual communication can do these things for us too, if done well. 


So that's it. Hold on to these five gems, they'll help you make good decisions as you grow your company's design.



***
If you've found this post helpful, you may also be interested in these articles: 

• My friends over at Valuable Content flesh out some of my suggestions with super-practical advice
• And in more detail, here is Newflangled with some Content styling tips

Friday, 13 February 2015

_navigating a 'creative process'



Day 9 & 10 of #100Days project – Carol Ann Dufy & D.H.Lawrence


Anyone setting foot on the path of creating—making, inventing, imagining, developing—is saying 'yes' to the so-called creative process*. Inevitably, there will be mess, confusion, both silence and noise, and probably fear too.

You are a brave and adventurous soul, agreeing to this slightly frightening mystery, so how best to hang in when the above recipe seems too sticky to stir and you just need to get something done because you're up against budget and deadline?

I don't think it's complicated.

I do think it's about courage, and faith, and accepting the mystery for a while, and just getting better at recognising what's going on when you hit those sticky points.

Simply:

Courage
In having the initial idea, there is something happening inside telling you that this thing could work. The sub-concious knows it, and is trying to get a message through to your cognitive, rational mind.


Have courage that there is sense in your hunch, and put that first step on the road. 

Faith
You have tools at your disposal to throw at this conundrum. You have gathered those through hours—years—of practice, so have a little faith that the practical tools in your kit are there because they work. Pick them up. Have a play. (What are those tools for you, by the way?)

Have faith that your tools serve a really useful purpose, and just pick them up! 

Mystery
Making ourselves accountable to journeys in which we have no idea what the outcome will be, it is all of the above (fear, mess etc) but it is also—in and of itself—a fantastic fact of life, and the better we can become at life, well, who's not up for that?

I've been really inspired by a recent interview with artist Ella Luna on The Great Discontent. "What could you do with 100 days of making?" she asks. It's a project she's running for MoMA, inviting anyone to pick up a habit over 100 days, tweeting or posting on Instagram with the hashtag #100Days.

I have lots of ideas and couldn't wait for the start date so just got on with my own version, without knowing what I expected out of it except a hunch that something new wanted to emerge. Absolutely miles out of my comfort zone here! My plan simply revolves around writing something positive everyday, and picturing that somehow. I post on twitter, Instagram and my Tumblr page, and to friends on Facebook, labelling the day number and some brief thoughts.

Now, ten days in, I realise what I've committed to – it's a big, fat, juicy mystery. That's it! But because I have faith and courage on my side, I reckon it's worth putting one foot in front of the other on this mysterious path, knowing that all those steps along the way are going to take me somewhere.

Sharing each step so publicly can throw up raw and vulnerable feelings, no doubt. But it's a kind of accountability, to myself, to my friends, communities. It is frightening; revealing.

But the mystery of a project unfolding is also exciting, surprising, and delightful, and that's what to keep pursuing in tiny, incremental little steps.  

So how about you? What's your project, or dream, or adventure, or risky business plan? Perhaps you can take some encouragement from these words along your journey, and share with us how you get on.



*
If any of this struck a chord, here are some more thoughts on the topic:

Another post on the creative process theme, looking at what resources we have in times of the mess.

And for when you're just knackered and need a break, have a read of this post!

Friday, 6 February 2015

_how to DO things



There is progress to be had in discipline, and I've been catching some of that lately. 

While elbowing a space each day to work on old school lino print projects at my desk, just for the beautiful sake of it, I've also been feeding on the wise, often vulnerable words of experience shared by speakers at the DO Lectures, and decided to share some of what I learned here.

All this is in a fight against, perhaps, inertia, or getting stuck in ruts. It's also an attempt to create a working environment that nurtures those faint inklings that could get lost too easily while cruising on autopilot, and without some careful TLC. Those of us who set out to shape our business around things we care about really need to be watchful, and stay plugged in.

So who did I listen to? For me, a focus on creativity, but these talks all appeal broadly. In no order:


  • Marion Deuchars, who told me how to make a genuine connection with my world, my ideas, my imagination, by making art the way a child does – in play, freely, uninhibited by right or wrong. That's exciting, she says, because who knows where that will take us in business or otherwise?
  • Mark Boulton, who—with the opener that 'Making things is messy'—shared five practical principles that have helped him grow successfully through years of design and publishing. One of my favourites is this: "Stay with the mess and talk to clients about that too." Honesty, humility, and courage.
  • Tim Smit, who slightly scared me but no one can argue against this tour de force. He is on a fierce rebel mission for beauty as our only way forward, and I for one love that. Soak it up! (And then go and recover at the Eden Project.)
  • And finally, Stef Lewandowski, a lovely, life-bringing hacker who has a wonderful story behind his 15-year-long maxim to 'Create Something Everyday'. A humble, gentle man who's clear focus on life is infectious, and who will leave you in no doubt whatsoever that however tiny the step you make, the moment is now. "Lean in!"


I think there's something really precious about taking time to search for shared gems like these. It means those valuable thoughts of ours that sit quietly in the background may actually have a chance of finding their way out. Thanks DO-ers!

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Bristol Media Brand You Awards 2014





What a night! Last night was the 2014 Bristol Media Brand You Awards, and I went along with nearest, dearest people having been nominated. Here's how the night evolved:

Fluttering around a busy and beautiful room full of stylish people, there we were cramming our faces with the fancy canap├ęs, slightly wary of what a free booze-bar can do to an empty stomach. While no one was looking my partner wiped a smear of salsa off my cheek while I thought, "Well, if nothing else happens these snacks are truly amazing."

The Brand You Awards were set up last year to recognise the significant input of freelance experts in Bristol and the South West's media industry. I was delighted to have been nominated in three of fourteen categories – and slightly confused. We are not short of very clever, creative people in these parts, so the room was packed with a lot of very brilliant, and some quite heavyweight competition. Some of Bristol's largest agencies were out in force, and to those of us who work alone, ploughing our own furrow, this feels very intimidating.

I was fully expecting the Brey Leinos and Mason Zimblers of the world to bag all the gongs, so when Fraser Bradshaw read my name out for a second year running as winner in the marketing category, I swiftly scoffed down my chicken goujon, did some massive(ly inappropriate) power grabs and sashayed up to the stage while my lovely friends cheered like animals!

Award winners feeling the joy

It was an absolutely wonderful moment, and a total triumph for the 'small is beautiful', 'power of one' devotion that so many of us commit to, believing we can make a difference in the world with our skills and insights.

Thanks to Bristol Media for hosting such a special night, and congratulations to fellow winners and nominees, especially Melissa Kidd who was there with Pam Lloyd PRMick snapped this lovely pic of us both:

Me and Melissa in the afterglow
Beaming with my award