Settling Again

lizzie-table-corner

It’s been a really busy little while lately, settling back in the studio after lots of adventures and inspiration over summer. I’m sure you know what I mean!

Along with all those holidays and long, warm days, Summer’s a great time to step back and take stock, don’t you think? Although I find it does bring disruption to a more regular work flow with commissions and projects. It can be a bit of a ‘hold your nerve’ time in that respect if you run your own business.

To make ideas sing, to get into the heart of them and find their character, sometimes a change of scene is really helpful. And then sometimes, coming back to settle at your table, and pick up your tools to make them happen is the only thing to do next, even if you find it really hard to sit still! 

But I think the benefits of stepping back are always worth it. Drifting away from summer into autumn now, I have a couple of ideas to share which linger on the inspiring moments of summer a little longer, bring them inside with us, and keep the ideas and dreams flowing through a season of practical action ahead. Look out over the next couple of weeks for those which I’ll be posting about.

Meanwhile, life here in the studio is busy as ever – a heap of projects on the go, and personal work to push myself and keep learning. I’m a bit overwhelmed to tell you the truth, but trying to heed Victore’s advice that says “Ideas without action are just BS”! It helps to have a work table that feels like a treat to sit down at, and moving into The Forge earlier this year was a brilliant opportunity to switch things up and create a space that will do justice to the plans I have in my head. It’s really nice coming back to this after summer, a safe place to let things out and breathe life into them.

No more distractions. It’s time to honour the loveliness of all those ideas and get on with making them happen!

Happy settling friends, and may your work spaces be buzzing this autumn.

Finding Forward

central-park-arrow

This little brass arrow sits in the concrete somewhere in Central Park, New York.

I was taking care of my friends’ kids for a week back in July, my first trip to the city, and we were having a lot of fun deciding where to go and what to do with our times together. So much to soak in, and maybe its because it all just makes you want to look up that you get a big, gulping sense of opportunity and ‘skies-the-limit’ sort of inspiration, so we ran around and ate waffles and swam and went to the zoo and ended up in A&E and rode buses and bought sacks of M&Ms and took funny pictures…

It was great. And I saw that arrow, and somewhere in the middle of signposts pointing in fifty different directions, I clung onto this photograph of a solid, anchored thing that shone out from the floor and told me which way to look.

After travelling through summer with a sense of barefoot freedom, its time to carry some of the fresh feeling forward into a new season of projects and plans back home. Bumping into friends all over the place, I get a sense that for many of us, this summer has been a time for rethinking, gaining clarity and gathering courage to act on new ideas or even close off old ones. It’s exciting – loads going on if we can settle back in carefully and figure out how to do what next.

But wait! Please! Don’t make me sit down at a desk and pay attention, I’m thriving out here in the world’s wide open spaces, running around, having ideas, drawing nice pictures and playing petanque on the beach!  

In the business of ideas, time out is a pure gift, but we all know it only really means anything if we get down to some practical reality and planning, and doing. 

Direction, that’s what we need, out the back of free-spirited imagining.

But I do find this hard, don’t you? A transition from one season to the next; moving through a sort of liminal space after leaving one state of dreaming and before fully grasping the new state of doing.

Direction. Commit to a path, and keep moving forward.

So this week back at my desk, despite inevitable fears, I’m having a go at making it happen. I’m filtering the coffee, working through my list, braving the thought that some of this might not work, and I’m giving it a go anyway. And I know the same is true for many of us. I think it helps to keep finding time and space to be quiet, distill the options and discern next steps – like gazing up through cool trees in Central Park after scampering through grubby, hot and hectic NY streets. Taking a breather, to figure out what to choose when you’re back to it?

Seeking stillness is never an excuse for inaction, so long as it’s done with a willingness to drop the distractions and be present to the day, and what it asks for. So along with thinking about that quiet little brass arrow, these are some of the words I find helpful at the moment:

Be still; find your forward.

Here we are, back in the loop, no more freestyle for a while but plenty of plans, and all the love in the world to make them happen!

 

{Today’s Soundtrack: Bob Moses – Like It Or Not}

It’s a Conversation, Not a Monologue

Know anyone who’s a bit fond of the sound of their own voice? It’s still amazing to me how often I come across people with a one way transmission, and we design people can be the worst culprits.

Sorry about that.

The other day out at an event with Mick, a bloke approached us and asked questions. As we tried answering, he cut us off with his answer to his questions. Honestly. It makes my eyes want to pop out of my bored skull.

Sadly, Monologue Man and Woman hit so often, these days it just makes me shut down. I hate being monologued by people. I truly hate it. Don’t you?

Reflecting on all this, I always try to remember that any chats we have about design are always better for being a conversation. I have come to know how valuable it is to be quiet and listen. It’s not rocket science is it, but like all the best wisdom, it bears repeating.

I get this with Sharon and Sonja at Valuable Content a lot. We often sit around the table and explore perspectives around a problem. We’ve both helped each other see things we didn’t really get before, and what we have after a few years of working together is a truly mutual way of working. We also have a wealth of gorgeous, emotive and genuinely useful resources, not just for them but for the people they want to help in the world.

And it’s not just a backstage chat about design, but the whole approach to sharing your messages with the world. Clearly a lot of online space is heavily weighted to ‘transmit’, but it’s always more fun if it other people join in too.

The richness of other people’s experience, insight and expertise is always great to soak in and it goes both ways.

We design people would love to be part of the conversation. Sorry for all the times we’ve shouted you down without listening, but maybe that comes from being dumbed down as “glorified artworkers”. (Yes, I have been called this recently. We don’t work together now.)

With patience and commitment, our shared insights often make for good ideas bubbling up over time, and I think my most rewarding projects are ones that emerge from true two-way conversations.

Whichever side you’re on, design conversations are exactly that — CONVERSATIONS.

Let’s come to the table with open minds, patience and genuine curiosity, full of respect for the expertise each other brings. The best ideas ever have a hope of being born this way.

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}

_how to DO things

There is progress to be had in discipline, and I’ve been catching some of that lately. 

While elbowing a space each day to work on old school lino print projects at my desk, just for the beautiful sake of it, I’ve also been feeding on the wise, often vulnerable words of experience shared by speakers at the DO Lectures, and decided to share some of what I learned here.

All this is in a fight against, perhaps, inertia, or getting stuck in ruts. It’s also an attempt to create a working environment that nurtures those faint inklings that could get lost too easily while cruising on autopilot, and without some careful TLC. Those of us who set out to shape our business around things we care about really need to be watchful, and stay plugged in.

So who did I listen to? For me, a focus on creativity, but these talks all appeal broadly. In no order:

  • Marion Deuchars, who told me how to make a genuine connection with my world, my ideas, my imagination, by making art the way a child does – in play, freely, uninhibited by right or wrong. That’s exciting, she says, because who knows where that will take us in business or otherwise?
  • Mark Boulton, who—with the opener that ‘Making things is messy’—shared five practical principles that have helped him grow successfully through years of design and publishing. One of my favourites is this: “Stay with the mess and talk to clients about that too.” Honesty, humility, and courage.
  • Tim Smit, who slightly scared me but no one can argue against this tour de force. He is on a fierce rebel mission for beauty as our only way forward, and I for one love that. Soak it up! (And then go and recover at the Eden Project.)
  • And finally, Stef Lewandowski, a lovely, life-bringing hacker who has a wonderful story behind his 15-year-long maxim to ‘Create Something Everyday’. A humble, gentle man who’s clear focus on life is infectious, and who will leave you in no doubt whatsoever that however tiny the step you make, the moment is now. “Lean in!”

I think there’s something really precious about taking time to search for shared gems like these. It means those valuable thoughts of ours that sit quietly in the background may actually have a chance of finding their way out. Thanks DO-ers!