Going Beyond Design

these-ancient-writing-utensils-may-actually-help-to-keep-your-fragile-mind-intactOne thing I always think about is: What makes a great designer?

Could it be the amazing typography? Or is it the excellent layout skills? Or perhaps it is the ability to design different styles catered to different industries and niches. I believe all of these things are key to helping one grow as a designer. But if we look past the swatch books and the Photoshop, we discover another crucial part – being able to write.

Writing is a large part of what designers and art directors do on a daily basis. We write letters and proposals, send emails to clients and develop content for websites and blogs. Writing helps you expand your skill set and helps broaden your capabilities to set you apart, not only as someone that can make things look pretty, but someone who can communicate past the visuals.

Being able to write also builds confidence. By writing, you become more knowledgeable in that field and have the confidence to give tips and tutorials, eventually becoming a mentor to others. It also becomes valuable when working directly with copywriters.

I love the fact that I work at a company that gives employees the opportunity to exercise their writing skills, no matter what position you’re in. Here is a quote that I came across that I feel truly hits the nail on the head:

When you write, you share
When you share, you help
When you help, you make the world better
When the world becomes better, living becomes easier
Living easily means more happy people
Happy people are inspired people
When people are inspired, they share
And what they want to share, they write


My First Photo Shoot

072914 Photoshoot 4 I recently had the opportunity to participate in my first photo shoot. We planned a day shoot and the goal was to capture a culinary shot plus three, possibly four, product shots. Once we received client approval on photographer and location, we had a pre-production call with the photography team. The team included the photographer, photographer’s assistant, food stylist, assistant food stylist, prop stylist and art director (in addition to our client, Greg and me). During the call, we walked through the plan that the photography art director had put together. We discussed each photo and planned out how we wanted the shoot to flow. On the day of the shoot, I was at the Charlotte airport bright and early. This was also my first trip to Chicago and I wanted to experience as much of it as possible so I made sure I had a window seat on the plane – I really enjoyed the view of the downtown area as we flew over Lake Michigan. After we landed, I took the ‘L’ train (as I learned from Allison, our admin in the Chicago office) to the nearest station to the photography studio. As I traveled the rest of the way to the studio, I noticed three distinctive things about Chicago: the ‘L’ train ran really close to some buildings (mainly houses and apartments), there were lots of really great murals and graffiti on various structures and that more people rode their bikes in this city than any other I had ever been to. When I arrived, the photo team was already preparing the food and lighting. I really appreciated the creative environment of the studio – it was open, with lots of natural light and easy access to the outside. As we waited for the client to arrive, we started setting up for the culinary shot. I was volunteered to be the hand model, so I put on an apron and stood behind the table as the prop stylist set up the location of all of the cooking items. I didn’t mind being in the photo because it gave me an opportunity to get a closer look at how the food was set up and how to take direction from the photographer. Once the food was ready, the food stylist carefully placed the meat sauce on top of the pasta that was on the plate. I held the skillet of sauce in one hand and a spoon full of sauce in the other and slowly moved the spoon back 072914 Photoshoot 1and forth from the pan across the late of pasta as the photographer took multiple shots. The rest of the photos were shot close up and in shallow focus. Lighting seemed like it was the most difficult for the team to set up – the main issue being the color differences in the products. We needed more light for the beef, but not so much that the details in the bread were lost. We used stand-in product to get the shot set up and then, once we had everything in the place we wanted it, the food stylist would come in with the best product and do her magic. She used paint brushes and tweezers and all kinds of other tools to make sure the food looked great (even if it wasn’t going to be edible when she was finished with it). I liked watching the stylists and the photographer as they set up before we took the final photo – the smallest tweak in lighting, camera location or placement of a prop could change the entire photo. I don’t think most people realize how much work goes into making a photo of a simple burger look so enticing. 072914 Photoshoot 6By the end of the day, we were able to get all of the shots in that we had planned on. I’ve worked with the planning part of the photography process before, but it was a really great experience to be able to have input while the photographs were being taken; not to mention how much easier it made the design process once the photos were complete. I think food photography is such an interesting thing to be a part of and I’m looking forward to being more involved in that process in the future.

Stop and Think.

I once saw a poster on display in the “creative pen”, at an advertising agency that had retained my superior abilities, and knack, for running errands. At the time, I passed the poster everyday without regard, a proverb without much meaning, as seen on walls anywhere and everywhere, generic and typically ignored. The poster was that of an art director sketching feverishly, at a drawing board (yes it was THAT long ago), crumpled paper tossed about. A few pieces had made it into a trashcan beside the art director; most however, were dashed about haphazardly on the floor. Floating above a few of the discarded crumples were illuminated light bulbs; some brilliant in their color, some fading into the ether. The headline simply read, “Haste Makes Waste.”

To this day, that poster still stands out in my mind. As I’ve progressed in my advertising career and gained many experiences during my journey to become a creative director, I’ve seen more examples of that poster than I care to admit. At times, I’ve been that art director with great ideas scattered about due to my full panic in the moment. Other times I’ve been a silent witness to many wonderful ideas’ slow demise.

The one element all occurrences had in common was a lack of ability to focus due to, what at the time, was a crushing pressure of an oncoming deadline. A deadline that overwhelmed an ability to think properly. And yes, deadlines are real, even necessary, but if only in those times of panic we‘ll remember to slow down and imagine our idea a little further along we might just save ourselves some time and bring to life an idea otherwise lost to the ether.

In the end, there are lots of exceptional ideas out there, dazzlingly brilliant light bulbs just wanting to be brought to life. Unfortunately, most of their lights will be extinguished simply because in times of self-imposed panic we tend to lose sight and focus on the wrong object.

Einstein once said, “If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.” He was a much smarter man than I…