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’m a brand developer and designer currently based in Brooklyn, NY, USA. I use the term ‘brand developer’ to show that designers need to be strategists as well. My focus and expertise is in brand identity and packaging, although my background is generally varied print and web design. For better or for worse, I enjoy being an all-arounder.
My design training came on-the-job, working in-house, freelance, and for agencies before completing my bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering, of all things. After that, I enrolled in a Master’s course at the Surrey Institute of Art & Design in England.
2. How long have you been designing and what made you become an artist / designer?
I like to say that my design career began 10 years ago, when I was a production/layout designer for my high school’s award-winning newspaper. Although I was young, I learned a lot about deadlines, budgets, and workflow. My fascination with branding and identity began back in 2002, or so.
3. Where do you work and what is your daily routine?
I work mainly as an on-site freelancer/contractor, so I have no steady routine. I’m in and out of many different companies and agencies, so I have to change my wake-up time and commute all the time. It’s actually incredibly exhausting.
I have some clients and projects of my own, so I do work from home sometimes.
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’m actually quite terrible at self-marketing; I insist that I am a “well-kept secret”, which of course does me no good. I was lucky in my earlier jobs that most of them came from either online want ads, or word-of-mouth referrals.
Lately, I blog a lot. I put my thoughts out there and try to start conversations about design. Being a self-declared expert means I have to present and defend my opinion, even if everyone disagrees. I enjoy having a large and accurate Google footprint, and I show samples of my work on my site. It’s part of my self-branding, which is a whole other issue.
But like I said, I’m rubbish at self-marketing.
5. What are your tools of the trade? This could include hardware, software and traditional tools.
I work on Macs with Adobe Creative Suite 3. Currently, I have a G5 PowerMac (dual-core 2.3 Ghz, 2.5 GB RAM) and a Powerbook G4 (1.5 Ghz, 786 MB RAM). I also have an Epson 3170 Scanner and Epson 1280 Printer. I currently only have 1 Samsgung 20.1″ display. Yup, my stuff is a bit out-of-date.
I’m a fiend for 3rd-party Mac system hacks like DefaultFolderX, TextExpander, and AppZapper. Apple should really add these to the OS.
I like to sketch using a blue pencil and simple spiral-bound notebook. I’m not into those moleskine books or other fancy stuff — mine is just copy paper bound with wire-o binding.
6. How do you manage the business side of design such as accounting, invoicing and bookkeeping?
I’m usually pretty good at tracking the hours, I try to fill in a timesheet at the end of each day. If I’m working on multiple clients, I have to track as I go or I’ll lose track. A simple post-it usually covers the hour-by-hour.
7. Where do you get your inspiration and how do you keep up to date with what is happening in the industry?
I’m addicted to blogs and I read the news (design industry and general) multiple times a day. I also subscribe to a few magazines and listen to tons of podcasts. Whenever possible, I like to gossip with industry peeps about what’s going on. I try to pry a bit of controversy out of people.
I like to get inspiration from jazz music and from the architecture of New York City. There are plenty of shapes and lines to kick-start an idea.
8. Can you please guide us through a typical project from start to finish.
For a logo/identity project, I like to start with three approaches, one “classical”, one “evolutionary” and one “revolutionary”. For each version I’ll do a number of sketches on paper before going to the Mac.
In Illustrator, I’ll do a bunch of versions of the sketch concepts. I’ll move things around and play with scale and spacial relations. At this point I’m still working in black only, and looking for shapes.
Then I’ll choose one or two concepts from each approach, and expand it into a full logo or identity. This might even include mocking up other materials like packaging or stationery.
At this point, the client usually gets involved and decides which approach is best. Based on that decision, I’ll make two or three expanded, refined concepts, and work on those. When the client chooses again, it’s for keeps.
Next, I’ll test the logos for random trouble spots, like how it goes through a fax machine, to see if it needs any re-tooling.
Once everything is solid, build the different versions for different applications, and get busy designing the various touch points. This is also when I have to write the identity usage guides, which can take a seriously long time, depending on how many versions of the logo you have, or how many sub-brands or products are included.
9. What are your top 3 websites / books and why?
10. What is the biggest piece of advice you would give to someone just starting out?
Make friends with everyone. Make sure you have people, upon people, upon people who you can call to collaborate with to make a job referral, or even just to chat and blow off steam. Don’t be that mad-scientist type who stays locked up all day… get out and make friends.
Jacob: Thank you Prescott 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.