Speckyboy Design Magazine » Freelance http://speckyboy.com Web Design News, Resources & Inspiration Mon, 28 Jul 2014 14:58:01 +0000 en-US hourly 1 What Designers Can Learn From Copywriters http://speckyboy.com/2014/07/16/designers-can-learn-copywriters/ http://speckyboy.com/2014/07/16/designers-can-learn-copywriters/#comments Wed, 16 Jul 2014 12:27:14 +0000 http://speckyboy.com/?p=50081

Designers and copywriters have a symbiotic relationship. In our modern, web-based industry, one can’t really exist without the other. Copywriters provide the engaging content that snags users’ attention and prompts them to buy, and designers...


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Designers and copywriters have a symbiotic relationship. In our modern, web-based industry, one can’t really exist without the other. Copywriters provide the engaging content that snags users’ attention and prompts them to buy, and designers provide the overall framework that facilitates a great experience for said user.

In fact, designers and copywriters have quite a bit to learn from each other. Having done both for quite some time now, I’m going to let all of you designers in on some important secrets from the copywriting side. Let’s explore some of the things that you designers can learn from copywriters to improve your problem-solving strategies and communicate better with your target audience.

Headlines Are All Important

If you can’t hook your audience with the first few words, you’re toast. Similarly, if you can’t catch your user’s attention with the initial impression of a design, no one will care how well it solves their problem. There could be a really useful article behind that bad headline, or a really useful solution behind that ugly design, but no one will care.

flat Headlines Are All Important learn from copywriters

Sure, many designers have written and spoken at length about the undue emphasis on “pretty” designs, especially among the newest crop of so-called “Dribbble designers.” Designers will post work specifically to get praise and positive feedback, and not be concerned about how it actually works. But there’s something to be said about an eye-catching design. In fact, looking good is part of the function a design serves. You have to get people’s attention somehow, after all. Pretty up those “headline” elements.

Even If You’re Preaching To The Choir

Even if people know and like your work, a copywriter will still need to work to capture people’s attention and keep them coming back. People who subscribe to email lists will quickly unsubscribe if the content gets boring or unengaging.

flat Even If You're Preaching To The Choir learn from copywriters

It works the exact same with design. Just because people enjoyed your work in the past, it doesn’t mean they will in the future. Especially nowadays, with so many things available to occupy our attention, both designers and copywriters have to work really hard to grab those all-important eyeballs.

Aim For Strategic Hooks

It’s impossible to create a winning piece of content every single time, even within the same project. Not everything can be a winner, as they say. That’s just the reality of any creative endeavor – you win some, you lose some.

flat Aim For Strategic Hooks

Keeping this fact in mind a good copywriter needs to structure their releases to hook people at key times. Holidays and major life changes (buying a new house, weddings, children, etc.) are ideal for your most powerful hooks. In fact, they might not even work any other time. Same thing for designers. You can get away with certain things for these types of events – crazy type, bold colors, skewed or unconventional compositions – that you would never be able to get away with at any other time.

People Have Less Time Than Ever

People are busier than they’ve ever been before. Everyone is multitasking – checking Twitter and Facebook while skimming their emails at work and texting their spouses about what to eat for dinner. They don’t have time to slowly peruse your boring or slow website. A copywriter has a very short window to grab someone’s attention, and if they can’t do it, they can kiss that user goodbye.

Vector Flat Time Management
Image Source: Vector Flat Time Management via Shutterstock.

Designers, you guessed it: the same applies to you. It might not be an ideal situation when someone is only giving an average of three seconds to your content, but there’s nothing you can do about it. It’s your job to adapt to reality and make sure that people are intrigued enough by your designs to take a closer look.

What Do You Think?

Do you see any other similarities between design and copywriting? Or perhaps you have some tips that copywriters can learn from the design industry? (Maybe that should be a topic for another post!) Let us know in the comments.

Image Source(s): News Concepts in a Flat Style via Shutterstock.

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Creative Personal Work Versus Commercial Work http://speckyboy.com/2014/06/30/creative-personal-work-versus-commercial-work/ http://speckyboy.com/2014/06/30/creative-personal-work-versus-commercial-work/#comments Mon, 30 Jun 2014 08:52:55 +0000 http://speckyboy.com/?p=49483

The debate between creative personal work and commercial work is one that has been going on since the design industry was born. Technically, creativity and commerciality can’t exist without each other – you need funding...


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The debate between creative personal work and commercial work is one that has been going on since the design industry was born. Technically, creativity and commerciality can’t exist without each other – you need funding to continue designing, and there would be nothing to design for pay without creativity. Is there a difference between so-called “commercial” work and work that’s done purely for the joy of creating? Should they be separated? Read on to find out.

A Jumble of Confusion?

Should you risk confusing potential clients with a mish-mash of work, or should there be a clear separation of commercial work and weird, creative stuff that is less commercial? Personally, I think that the best potential clients for you would benefit from seeing the full extent of your creativity. It allows them to more accurately judge whether you’d be a good fit, not just for a one-time project, but also for future work, and any fun opportunities you might miss out on if they only see you as a one-dimensional designer.

Light Bulb creative personal work
Image Source: Creative Light Bulb via Shutterstock.

But what will it do to your personal brand to mix styles? As I said, it can be a good thing to be weird and creative, because clients may take notice of your creativity. Personal projects are very important to maintain as a designer. They can help you open up new avenues of creative inspiration that you may never have discovered had you only stuck to your client work. I’ve heard many stories of people being hired for amazing freelance and in-house jobs simply on the basis of a great personal project that got a lot of traction.

Too Weird To Appeal?

On the flip side, you may feel that your personal projects are really, really out there in terms of appeal, and might do more harm than good if you combined them with your professional work. The question becomes: can your personal work actually be too weird to associate with your commercial projects?

Well, yes, it can.

weird illustration of a deer man
Image Source: Deer Man via Shutterstock.

There is such a thing as too much disparity between what you do for clients and what you do for yourself. If that’s the case, just keep them separate. You can make a new brand for your weird stuff, and keep the commercial stuff in its own space.

Analytics & Tracking

Keeping things separate makes it easier to track what’s working to gain you clients, and what’s not. Every piece of work you publish online, personal or professional, is going to contribute in some way to people finding out more about who you are as a designer. You want to always make sure you’re sending the message you want to send to anyone who is watching. If there’s non-commercial work mixed in with commercial work, it can confuse things as far as tracking and analytics goes.

This goes for any kind of work that you don’t want associated with the work you present to potential clients. Say you did a piece that you’re really not proud of, maybe just for the money or for some other reason. You can’t stand to look at it, but you’re afraid to remove it from your portfolio for some reason. Time to get rid of that thing! If a potential client sees it and wants to hire you to do the exact same thing, what are you going to say to them?

Never include work that you hated doing in your portfolio, because you’ll often find that that is the exact thing clients will want to hire you for the most. Don’t believe me? Just do a few more crappy projects and you’ll see for yourself.

Be Like A Mullet

You may have heard of the joking description of the mullet haircut popular in rural areas in the US: business in the front, party in the back. Sometimes, it’s good to organize your design work like a mullet. Yes, I’m serious.

man with long mustache and bushy hair
Image Source: Man with bushy hair via Shutterstock.

Put your professional work that’s relevant to meeting the needs of your clients front and center, and place your “fun” projects that you work on simply for your own enjoyment on the back burner, to be shared with your friends and other designers who are interested in seeing it. Even publishing work under two different names can help make the separation clearer to everyone.

What Do You Think?

So, what do you think about the separation of creative personal work versus commercial work? Do you separate your own work into these two categories? Tell us your own methods for controlling your personal design brand in the comments below.


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Are Personal Portfolio Websites Dead? http://speckyboy.com/2014/06/18/personal-portfolio-websites-dead/ http://speckyboy.com/2014/06/18/personal-portfolio-websites-dead/#comments Wed, 18 Jun 2014 14:09:17 +0000 http://speckyboy.com/?p=49534

We all know blogging and personal portfolio sites have been very important for designers looking to increase their visibility to clients and others who admire their work. But there are some key developments that have...


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We all know blogging and personal portfolio sites have been very important for designers looking to increase their visibility to clients and others who admire their work. But there are some key developments that have risen up over the past decade which, in my opinion, are threatening to eliminate the need for having a personal domain.

Information is spread so quickly these days through social media that it’s impossible to keep up with all of it, and the truth is that potential clients and people who like your work are rarely going to take time out of their busy day to visit your website. Today, we’re going to talk about the best ways designers should be marketing themselves in today’s world.

A Faster Way To Market

These days, you don’t really need your own website to market yourself as a designer (I don’t have one). You can reach out to the design community via social media, as we saw earlier, but there are other ways to distribute your content. You can do guest posts on other blogs, create an email list, or even do something unconventional like a podcast. All of these things will spread the word much faster than simply creating content and putting your stuff on it.

Flat design vector illustration of modern creative office
Image Source: Flat Modern Creative Office via Shutterstock.

If you’re looking to market your services as a designer, then time is always of the essence. Yes, you can still build your personal brand extremely slowly, relying on organic search traffic to send you tiny increments of traffic over a period of years. But who has time for that? You’ve got clients to get and a reputation to build, pronto!

Let me be clear here: I definitely think that websites can be an important part of your marketing plan. They do provide a certain legitimacy to a designer’s online presence that social media doesn’t – at least not yet. At a later date, you can make your personal blog as elaborate and inviting as you please. But if you’re just starting out and need a boost to your visibility, ditch the personal site and start circulating your content in a broader variety of places.

What’s Your Ideal Outlet?

You might think that blogging is a straightforward thing: you get a blog, write some posts, and voila – now you’re a blogger. That used to be the case about 8 or 9 years ago, but now, the market is saturated with others doing the exact same thing. The explosion of social media has also affected the landscape quite a bit. Designers have far more choices through which to spread their message, and each one has its pros and cons.

Seamless doodle social media pattern background personal portfolio illustration
Image Source: Seamless Doodle Social Media via Shutterstock.

Should you be blogging on your own website, or is there a social media outlet that’s more ideal for the type of work that you do? The best way to find out is to try a few of the most popular channels: Behance, Facebook, Tumblr, et cetera, and figure out exactly what’s right for you. Are you a Facebook person, or would Twitter or Pinterest be more your style? What does your audience respond best to?

Getting The Knowledge Out There

Again, I’m not saying that having your own website or blog isn’t important at all. But there is definitely a right way and a wrong way to blog as a creative professional, and, I’m sorry to say, most people are going about it the wrong way. The point isn’t to put something on your blog and have it live there forever. If you want to change minds and affect people with your ideas and your work, it needs to float out there in cyberspace, far from home, and find new homes with others who find the most value in it.

Sharing your knowledge and ideas helps connect you with others in the industry whom you can bounce ideas off of. They can also carry your message into far-flung corners of the industry which you might not be able to reach yourself. This is the science behind “viral” content. A group of readers finds your content valuable, and they each share it with their friends. Those friends find it equally valuable and share it with their friends, and so on.

personal portfolio Web development and blogging design illustration flat
Image Source: Web development and blogging design via Shutterstock.

The more visible you are, the more people trust you, and the more your opinions can be far-reaching – much more so than your actual design work. Designers like Jessica Hische, Marian Bantjes, and Michael Bierut are all vocal about their opinions on the design industry, and many people know them as much for that as they do for their beautiful designs.

What Do You Think?

Are personal portfolio websites dead? How much traffic and job offers is your personal website bringing you? What do you think about the changing face of media and how we designers need to be marketing ourselves online?


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What Should New & Inexperienced Designers Be Learning? http://speckyboy.com/2014/05/12/new-inexperienced-designers-be-learning/ http://speckyboy.com/2014/05/12/new-inexperienced-designers-be-learning/#comments Mon, 12 May 2014 09:28:08 +0000 http://speckyboy.com/?p=47956

Today I’m speaking to those just getting started in design. Maybe you just graduated from design school, or you’ve read through all the fundamental lessons offered here and on other design blogs, and you feel...


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Today I’m speaking to those just getting started in design. Maybe you just graduated from design school, or you’ve read through all the fundamental lessons offered here and on other design blogs, and you feel you’re ready to start taking on clients. Or maybe you have a couple of projects under your belt and you’re looking for more detailed advice as to what path you should be taking to propel your career to the next level.

Today we’re going to go over some of the most important things inexperienced designers need to master, and what I wish I had paid more attention to when I was just starting out.

Proportion and Composition

You may think you have this down, but, if you’ve been working for less than 5 years, I’m pretty sure you don’t know as much as you think you do. Read up on composition fundamentals and practice them in your spare time. Yes, that means cracking open those boring books you might have been assigned in school, or taking a trip down to the library and checking out some solid titles that will provide you with the information you need.

Proportion and Composition from the apple logo ratio

Color Theory

Same as above. Don’t just copy other people’s color schemes without understanding why and how they arrived at their color choices. Colors have a myriad of different meanings and associations attached to them, both by the designer and by the viewers. Just because you think a certain color scheme conveys ‘innovative technology’ doesn’t mean that everyone will feel that way. Your client and users might see ‘kid’s dentist’ instead – which is why it’s a good idea to do as much research and testing as you can before choosing a color scheme. A signature color palette is as good as a brand for a designer. Choose yours wisely.

Complete set of Desktop publishing graphic symbol utilities showing color theory for Inexperienced Designers
Image Source: Desktop Publishing Graphic Symbols via Shutterstock.

The Rules Of Typography

You need to have a solid understanding of type in order to succeed as a designer. This is non-negotiable. Don’t just leave typography up to professional type designers. Sometimes you will be asked to customize letterforms to suit a particular client’s brand image. If you don’t know what type weight, spacing, or kerning mean, and if you can’t tell the difference between an x-height and a counter, it’s time to learn. Luckily, there are tons of free resources online that can help you learn the basics, and the more you practice, the more adept you can become at giving clients the type treatments they need.

Rules Of Typography for Inexperienced Designers

Become a Photoshop/Illustrator Expert

I don’t mean just enough to get by or to finish the small projects you do for your clients. I mean knowing these programs (or whichever ones you use) like the back of your own hand. Even the weird, obscure stuff nobody knows about. There are plenty of books and online courses to help you gain mastery of your tools. The more intimately you know your software, the more clients will come to trust you with more complex work, and the more they will recommend you to their colleagues who are looking for high level designers.

Asset Libraries

Design takes time – at least if you’re doing it right. You need to develop your idea, and try variations of it in order to get to just the solution that works for you and your client. But that doesn’t mean you can’t speed up some parts of the process. You can develop a backlog of fonts, vector images, and templates to make your work go by faster. This will take time as well, but the key is knowing what is worth curating and what should be discarded. For example, if your font library has thousands of typefaces in it, and none of them are organized or grouped in a helpful way, it can be more detrimental to your productivity than not having enough typefaces. (And yes, I’m speaking from experience.)

Asset Libraries for designers toolbox vector image
Image Source: Designer’s Toolbox on AIGA.

What Do You Think?

I’m always a fan of learning the fundamentals, as the more solid your foundation in design, the more easily you can adapt to whatever new trend or demand comes along. Even if you’re an experienced designer, there are always new things to learn about design. But what do you think? What else should new designers be learning? Let me know in the comments.


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Stop Worrying About People Stealing Your Ideas http://speckyboy.com/2014/04/16/stealing-your-ideas/ http://speckyboy.com/2014/04/16/stealing-your-ideas/#comments Wed, 16 Apr 2014 09:08:43 +0000 http://speckyboy.com/?p=47964

Ideas: the germs that grow into those great, award-winning designs we all want to have our names attached to. We all get dozens of ideas constantly, which typically range from fairly good to amazingly good....


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Ideas: the germs that grow into those great, award-winning designs we all want to have our names attached to. We all get dozens of ideas constantly, which typically range from fairly good to amazingly good. Ideas are an abundant commodity that we all have, as creative people.

In fact, most designers have more ideas than they know what to do with. Yet, most jealously hide their ideas, paranoid that someone will “steal” them and do something that will undermine their own fame as a designer. We’re going to explore some important reasons why it’s stupid to worry about or people potentially stealing your ideas.

Ideas Mean Nothing

First of all, success is 99% execution. The sweat and hard work that go into making a design a reality is really what matters – that’s the important part. Only 1% of success is the idea. Ideas are useless on their own. We all get them – they only mean something if you make them happen. You can have ideas that are sort of ‘blah’, and yet still dominate your field through hard work.

designers gets an idea

The good news is, people who steal others’ ideas don’t realize this. They think it’s the idea itself that is valuable. But the truth is, a mediocre idea executed well is worth a lot more than a great idea executed poorly. So, if you have good ideas, and you work hard to turn them into something, you can always generate more ideas and have success as a designer.

Telling People Gives You More Ideas

Sharing your ideas will usually foster the development of new ideas. If you’re creative, that is (which you are; why else would you be reading this?). The person you share your ideas with can give you an outside perspective and some much-needed feedback about whether your idea is actually as good as you think it is. You can also brainstorm together with others to come up with a myriad of different ideas, each one stronger than the last.

designer confused sharing ideas new and stealing your ideas

If you only have one idea, though, that’s a bad sign. It’s important to avoid ‘one-itis’, or fixating on a single idea to the exclusion of all others. You might be completely convinced that that one, single idea is the end all, be all thing that’s going to make your career, but it probably isn’t. Success is a culmination of the little things, the daily triumphs we make each time we complete a new project that we’re proud of. So go out there and make as much work as you can.

Provide Value To Others

When you share ideas, you help the entire design community. It’s important to give back to your fellow designers who might be struggling with the same issues you did once upon a time. I’m not saying you have to give away all of your “trade secrets” (although even that’s not as taboo as it used to be). But talking out an idea and letting others transform it in their own unique ways can inspire you as well. You might see a completely different approach to an idea that you hadn’t considered before.

Someone Else Probably Thought Of It Anyway

Exactly what it says on the tin. Ideas occur simultaneously to different people all the time, often without them even knowing it. This is why some work can look strikingly similar without the designers even having heard of each other. Great minds think alike. That’s the reason you can’t legally copyright an idea. We humans are just too similar in our thought patterns.

designers shaking hands great minds think alike

The key is taking an idea that other people might have already explored and doing it in your own unique way, using your experiences and skills as a designer to put an unconventional spin on it. As the saying goes, everything has been done before, but not by you.

In Conclusion

Finally, keep in mind that ideas are rarely stolen wholesale anyway. Usually, someone takes bits and pieces of ideas from various sources (or they should, anyway). As we saw earlier, everything is a remix – not a direct copy. Very few designers who have any pride in their abilities at all will actually want to steal your idea entirely. Those are called hacks – they’re very easy to spot, and the design community doesn’t normally tolerate them for long.

Image Source: Ratch’s Portfolio via Shutterstock.

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