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}

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}

_and wisdom comes

How do you find a handle in the middle of a big, explosive dose of inspiration and channel it towards anything useful, floundering?

I’ll be honest with you, I’m so inspired by company Hiut Denim on themes of wisdom, craft and their motto to do one thing well that I haven’t a clue which one thing to begin with here. But then this is the way with inspiration – it’s like an explosion going off, and by definition ideas fly without restraint.

Well, this is one of the big reasons I love what Hiut Denim are doing, and how they are doing it. It’s the story of a couple of lovely, soulful individuals who got really excited about resurrecting small town Cardigan’s jeans-making industry, which met severe setbacks in recent years. They were determined that humans working together and for each other would create something good out of rubbish:

Hiut Denim built a workshop, they sourced fabric, thread and machines, and a talented bunch of workers. 

Inspiration, explosion, boom!

But here’s the really good bit. In the aftermath of the explosion and the safety of that workshop, they settled in to a patient discipline, proud of doing one thing well—making beautifully designed and crafted jeans—and treasuring the seamsters who make them. The workshop is where they calm down and forge some order from the wildness of that first explosion, and the love of this experience has turned into a blog on their site.

From out of a thriving business, they share collected insights as Workshop Wisdom:

“The things we make, the things we think-up, we do them from a special place. We spend a lot of time in this place. We get to learn a lot here.  

This blog is here to share some of that wisdom about life and work that we learn from hour after hour, year after year, spent toiling away in our humble workshops.”

Space, patience, discipline, time to reflect, and commitment to a purpose, this is how wisdom comes.

And Hiut Denim communicate their wisdom without bells or whistles on their elegantly designed website. There’s no need for frills here. Simple, direct language echoes a quality of thought that hours of workshop focus have afforded, while evocative black and white photography poetically speaks of hearts and bones hard at work.

Pared back—in design, in language, in image, in vision—Hiut Denim bares its wise, dignified soul. That’s where I want to be.

I am massively encouraged looking at this company’s site and story. It’s about people being real, letting a creative explosion happen, then celebrating that workshop as the place from which wisdom, clarity and focus pour out and make their business shine.

Craft is so important. Settling into workshop ways with your craft—whether fabric, words, images or numbers—is about one of the most precious things you can do to enrich your work. At least, I think so.

Take time to craft something, and you will discover a true quality of thought. 

It is a quiet welcome to wisdom.

It says ‘no fear’ to the creative explosion.

Thank you Hiut Denim. We need more of that in the world.


Read more about the Hiut Denim story here: “This town is going to make jeans again!”

_people connect with people

I’ve noticed something. Lately, as we swipe and scroll and tap, I’ve noticed a visual movement back towards rough edges and fingerprints in our graphic design and illustration – that lively lino-cut illustration you liked, or the ‘playbill’ style graphic design you shared?

Through our swiping, scrolling and tapping, we seem to be drawn towards greater expression, reflecting truer personality. There’s a growing tide of design and illustration that shows a resurgence in traditional techniques, or at least reference to them: marks made with letterpress, etching, lithographic printing, pencil, ink and rollers, analogue photography, where evidence of the human hand remains. The craft movement is back. Why is this?

People want genuine connections, which come when we can embrace imperfections and one-off qualities found in honest, individual expression. 

We want real humanity in our shared messages, because it helps us sift through the mass of stuff published online to find people and ideas that we chime with – to look for good personality and character.


What does this mean for you and your visual communication? 

  • In your design and illustration, aim to speak with real character that rings true to you and your message.
  • Work with a designer who is good at bringing personality into visual communication, and who understands the kind of dialogue you, uniquely wish to create.
  • Better still, work with a designer who knows how to marry personality with clean, neat, reassuringly tidy layouts (very important for conveying the disciplined togetherness that is your business).
  • It’s alright to be subjective. It’s good if things bare the mark of human hands. This is a celebration of the individual rather than just a box-ticking, corporate fit, and ultimately could really help you define your niche, therefore your audience.

When we find signs of familiar character, of the real human being, then we can better figure out if we’re in the right place for a useful conversation.

In a world where we are increasingly rejecting the hard sell, we take more responsibility for making our own, genuine connections to help solve problems. 

It is all about YOU, because, after all, people connect with people.


~> practising what I preach, this is me at a recent workshop with letterpress legend Alan Kitching. Soaking in Kitching’s expertise is like having Neil Young show you around a fret board. Nerdy, inky, typo-geek buzz!