Designer In The Spotlight (DITS) is a weekly feature that I run every Sunday (or more) to help particular individuals in the design community get their name ‘out there’ and to educate the community as a whole. It is a series of questions that asks the designer about themselves and their job as a designer. If you would like to be featured in an upcoming DITS post fill out the form here.
1. Please tell us more about yourself, your background, education and what you do as a designer.
I was born in Northern California, but was moved out to central-Missouri when I was 9.
For the longest time I wanted to be a comic book artist, but by high school, journalism and painting had become my passion.
After a semester of intro-level art classes in college, I decided to combine my passion for communication and aesthetics into a design major, which led me to get my BFA in Graphic Design and another in Illustration.
Upon graduating in 2007, I moved out to Los Angeles to take a job at a small design and production studio. A year later, I resigned and started up my own sole-proprietorship multidisciplinary studio, Colin Is My Name.
2. How long have you been designing and what made you become an artist / designer?
If comic books count, I’ve been designing since I could hold a crayon. I think it was the editorial cartoons I did for my high school newspaper that really redirected my attention toward design over art or journalism. I liked the idea of being able to communicate SOMETHING to just about anyone who looked at my work.
Something I say to people who ask about how I view art and design as different is this: art is like masturbation… it’s selfish and introverted and done for you and you alone. Design is like sex, in that there is someone else involved, their needs are just as important as your own, and if everything goes right, both parties are happy in the end.
3. Where do you work and what is your daily routine?
I work from my home office.
The day usually starts out with a visit to the office, check email, handle any emergencies or quick tasks, then downstairs for some breakfast and green tea.
Then back upstairs, work until I remember to eat lunch (usually mid-afternoon), back upstairs to work more.
Around dinner-time I try to work some personal time in with my girlfriend, then back to the office, likely until 1 or 2 am.
Oh, and that’s a weekend.
4. How did you market yourself in the beginning of your design career and how has that differed to how you market yourself now?
I knew when I left my last job that I wanted to go a different route than the traditional studio. Working in a 9-to-6 office just seemed so clunky and unnecessarily expensive, not to mention the immorality that was bred and bad work that was created by the need to make lots of money on every project.
I decided to position myself as a young, reliable and multidisciplinary creative. What this entailed was taking on a lot of grunt-level Photoshop and website-editing work until a certain level of trust was built between myself and my clients. In a few months, these clients were using me for most or all of their design work, from conception to completion, all the while recommending me to all of their friends and associates.
From there I wanted to carve out a niche for myself, and fortunately I have always felt very strongly about the issue of sustainability. This allowed me to focus my attention toward jobs that required ‘green,’ eco-friendly practices, which is a sub-genre of design that most people are not familiar with.
I’m now working on carving out another niche, but this time in the blogosphere, discussing the economics of sustainable design, business and technology for my new project, Green Loves Gold.
5. What are your tools of the trade? This could include hardware, software and traditional tools.
Mac Pro (w/ 30″ monitor), MacBook Pro, iPhone 3G, old eMachines PC (to check browser compatibility), many external drives, Wacom Intuos tablet, CS3, Final Cut Pro Studio, Evernote, Lightroom2, Microsoft Word 2008, heavily-customized Firefox, X-acto knives, Micron pens, Indian ink, all kinds of paints and markers, a variety of DSLR and point-and-shoot cameras… the list goes on and on.
6. How do you manage the business side of design such as accounting, invoicing and bookkeeping?
I’ve had to learn the business side of things largely through trial and error, though I had to opportunity to run two businesses while in college (a studio and a culture magazine), so I was able to get a lot of the big mistakes out of the way then.
These days I keep it simple: make up a Confirmation of Engagement for every project, keep track of billable hours with On The Job app, write everything down in the Moleskine, complete project, invoice, keep check stubs or some other evidence of payment for taxes. Repeat.
7. Where do you get your inspiration and how do you keep up to date with what is happening in the industry?
I get my inspiration from anything and everything. I’m a voracious reader, and I’ve always got a half-dozen side-projects going at any given time, so fortunately I’m rarely at a loss for ideas.
I find it’s good to have a variety of hobbies and ambitions in related or completely unrelated fields of study.
For example, right now I’m working toward a degree in Marketing and a degree in Computer Science in my free time, I’m also setting up a secondary blog business and reading two books on Chaos Theory.
8. Can you please guide us through a typical project from start to finish.
When I first speak to a client, I try to get a feel for what they want to achieve. From there, I work up a few ideas for the direction and scope of the project, and then a Confirmation of Engagement so that we’re both on the same page as to what will be delivered, when and for how much.
At the outset of a project, I’ll take a look at the notes from the conversations with the client and then dive right into sketching, usually freehand on paper, but sometimes right in Photoshop or Illustrator (or InDesign or Motion, depending on the project). I’ll knock out three sketches and pass them to the client. We’ll have a conversation, get some feedback, and generally by then I’ll have a more solid direction.
From that point I’ll generally just work on finishing the project as quickly and professionally as possible, stopping periodically to check in the with client, make sure they like what I’m doing so that there’s no drama later on.
Upon completion I pass all the deliverables over to the client and go about finishing up the business side of things, making sure the final payment is on it’s way and that everyone is happy with the results.
9. What are your top 3 websites / books and why?
Gmail/Google Calendar: without Google, I’m pretty sure I’d know nothing, get nothing done and most likely be bald, overweight and sad. Very sad.
Lifehacker: I swear I learn something new from this site every day.
QBN: I’m not the kind of designer that browses other people’s work day in and day out, but when I want to know what’s going on in the ‘design scene,’ QBN is pretty much the most straightforward and authoritative site I’ve found.
Atlas Shrugged: This book put words to many feelings and ideas that I’ve always had, plus it’s a damn good (and timely) story.
Guns, Germs and Steel: Another book that fundamentally changed the way I looked at the world. I’ve always been a history and sociology buff, so GGaS hit all the right nerves.
Tipping Point: Aside from being a book that was personally recommended to me by Milton Glaser, Tipping Point (and Blink) shifted my marketing world-view and allowed me to more concisely target my audience when communicating (through design or writing or anything else).
10. What is the biggest piece of advice you would give to someone just starting out?
Stick to your guns. If you like your style, and other people like your style, who cares if other other people don’t like your style?
Be knowledgeable. About anything and everything. This will allow you to relate to more and make you a more effective communicator.
Don’t be above anything. Sometimes the small jobs can lead to big ones (though don’t take a job just because a larger one was dangled in front of you).
Jacob: Thank you Colin for taking the time to fill out this interview: If you want to be featured as the next Designer In The Spotlight, please fill out this form.