The Dubious Joy of Seasonal Graphics

I have never been able to get myself “up” for seasonal graphics.  Clients love ‘em, though!

Client: “Let’s make a site header for each season … we can put a Santa hat on the header for December and we’ll just swap it out at the beginning of December and take it down on New Year’s Day. We can create a theme set of graphics and use them on everything! Won’t that be swell?”
Designer: “Absolutely stellar idea! We’ll need to push them ahead of the annual report first proofs and how would you like them described on the purchase order req?”

merryfridayThose of you maintaining web sites can go ahead and groan now.  You and I both know that the Santa hat is still going to be there on January 5 – because that’s when the staff gets back to work – the “Happy New Year!” popping cork long forgotten.  Clients may love seasonal graphics, but they hate holiday overtime and rush upcharges.  I’m just sayin’.

I guess I can see the point for retail graphics.  If you’re a big seasonal seller, then okay, maybe a little holly here and there in December and a tulip or two in April.  But for corporate clients … other than the occasional holiday fund-raising event, do you really want your highly talented, skilled and trained graphic designers spending their time putting a blinking red nose and antlers on the picture of the CEO? Because the cost of that seasonal shamrock and sheleighly is the same as any other graphic you order throughout the year.  Designers don’t usually give holiday discounts, but we do suffer superfluous-request burnout on occasion.

And then, even once you talk us into doing something for the holidays, the inevitable brand compliance issues come up. There are brandinistas lurking behind every Menorah and bouncing Jack ‘O Lantern.  Then someone worries about political correctness and you find yourself trying to fit “Season’s Greetings and Happy Kwanzaa” on the two-inch wide visitor’s badge that now needs to be printed before Kwanzaa starts … and when is that, anyway?  And in that meeting on Friday the fellow from Regulatory asked whether it should be “Season’s” or “Seasons’” greetings.  Now who has the most recent edition of the AP Style Manual?!!!

Well, I’m retired now and don’t have to worry about it any more.  I have my own small craft business and when asked to make seasonal items … I declined.  It was swell!

With that I leave you all by saying, “Merry Christmas!!!”  Remember the Reason for the season and have a joy-filled and meaningful holiday.  — Melody


Dear Graphic Design Client …

Well, the time has come. It’s time for me to retire.  Yes, retire!  After 35 years of working as a graphic designer for other companies and corporations, I am now going to work for myself.  Which is the graphic designer’s equivalent of retirement.  Because, you see, you just can’t quit cold turkey!  First, I’m building my own Etsy shop, then there’s always the freebies for family and friends, and then charity work. It’s always good to give graphically.

But before I go I wanted to send a note to all graphic design clients.  I have a small list of three that may help you when working with another of my creative ilk.

1. There is no such thing as a graphics emergency.
Let me be brutally honest. Unless you call 911 and the EMT tells you that the only thing that will stop the bleeding is a well-designed graphic, then the problem is simply that you did not plan ahead. Oh, I know there are some genuine “rush” scenarios.  The CEO’s parachute didn’t open and the new fellow takes over a week before the annual report is being printed.  That’ll cause a bit of a panic graphically speaking. But, really, how often does that happen?

2. Graphic design is a linear process from one point in time to another.
It’s a time-intensive. We start with a blank piece of paper or monitor and go from there.  Building and adding elements, text, shapes and colors. We test ideas and toss ideas until there is something to present to the client.  Graphics don’t grow on trees and we cannot produce them fully grown at the snap of a finger. I know it’s hard to believe, but I have never been sitting on a fully developed concept just to have a client call and say, “That’s exactly what I wanted!!!”  Oh, don’t get me wrong.  Graphic designers have tons of wonderful ideas and we play and draw and create all of the time. But not once has one of them been ready before a client asked.

3.  Sometimes it’s not about what a client “likes.” 
This is a hard one.  I had a client that would never let me use green.  She didn’t like green. One of the brand colors was green, but we never used it on her projects. (Try to design an Earth Day poster with no green.) The project request and approval should be about what solves the current project dilemma and brings everyone closer to the goal of a finished presentation.  Corporate branding, time constraints and various limitations may mean that on this project you won’t get your best-ever concept done on time or budget.  As I said, this is a hard one.

That’s it. Just three things.  I’ve tried to find non-abrasive ways to say these things to clients over the years. Sometimes I managed and sometimes I just gave up.  But even as demanding and pesky as clients can be, there is no better way to make a living. Really.

The “Good Old Days” in Graphic Design History

Laundry Care TagsPeople talk about what period of history they would like to live in. The old West? Victorian times? Ancient times? Somewhere in the Future? Well, not me. I love the time I’m living in right now. I’ve completely enjoyed watching the computer age get its legs. Especially in the way computers have affected the graphic design business.

I was born for this career! I remember scratching out drawings on mimeograph stencils for a school flyer or the church newsletter when I was in fifth grade. Then in junior high (we still called it that) my Dad bought me a portable, electric typewriter to use for homework. A “Smith-Corona” if I remember correctly. My Mom was a Lockheed contract secretary for twenty-seven years and her one, oft-repeated piece of advice was, “Learn to type. You can always get a job.” And it turned out to be amazingly true. With that typewriter I honed my typing skills and set myself up for jobs in the publishing industry as a typesetter.  First, with the IBM Selectric and then with the IBM Selectric Composer version that held 4,000 characters in memory! That was the 70s. I worked on the AM Varityper Comp/Edit 4510 from 1983 to 1994 when I got my first Tandy Computer. The Comp/Edit font disks were $500 each! For one font!  The Tandy computer’s “output” was dot-matrix and wonderful!!! I spent hours watching those little dots appear and form words and images.

I remember type galleys and wax machines, X-acto knifes, drawing boards with Maylines, darkrooms and stat cameras. Illustrations were done by hand and photographed. Photographs were retouched by airbrush professionals. I also remember the sheer terror when you saw your first “blueline” … and then your first press check on any color project. Because you always worked in black and white and had to “imagine” the colors of the inks you used. You would put hundreds of dollars into a project for color separations, fonts, typesetting, photography and proofs before you ever invoiced a client. It was awesome! The adrenaline pumped 24/7. Projects took weeks to complete and hand-trucks to deliver.

But, since the first time I realized that I could “raise” the watermark on my Dad’s company letterhead with a No. 2 pencil, and this fine, lazy Saturday when I was able to crank out a vector set of full-color, high-rez printables to sell as digital files in my Etsy shop, I’ve been in love with type and graphics. I was trying to decide whether this set of laundry care tags would have been possible in 1990. Maybe it would have been, but it would have taken a couple of weeks to pull a team together to photograph or draw the illustrations, purchase color separations or stats and then have the type set on a phototypesetter. Then produce the “mechanicals” or art boards for the printer with type and FPOs (for position only) images in place. Then have the negs shot and the plates burned and bluelines created from the plates as a first proof. Then rush over to the print shop to be there when they printed the first press check.  Making sure everything came out the right color, facing in the right direction and landing in the right place. When it didn’t, you literally had to go back to the drawing board. Then the inevitable meeting with the printer about who was going to absorb which cost overrun. I remember a lot of Rolaids during that period of the biz … and booze.

Now I work with unlimited font selections, unlimited images in any format I need for pennies each! Adobe has changed my life for the better and I live from one Adobe Illustrator tutorial to the next and spend my spare time making Photoshop actions. I can automate tasks I used to have to do by hand, literally. In the “olden days,” — with any luck —  I didn’t cut myself or overdose on the fumes from the can of Bestine that was always within reach. Nowadays, I can be infinitely more creative. Work alone and sit in one place (which may or may not be a good thing) and print my own color proofs and know exactly what’s going to happen when the client prints their files. My first typesetting machine had a 17k (yes, “k”) memory buffer and my current XPS Dell Desktop has a terabyte of memory with 16 Gigs of RAM and backs up to four one- to three-terabyte external drives.

I love the period of history that I live in. I’ve enjoyed watching the digital age redefine the graphics business and seeing the creativity in the industry that’s come as a result.  These are definitely the “good old days” in graphic design.  I do miss the Bestine fumes …. and sometimes even the booze.

Not So Handy Hints

Spice LabelI remember a story my sister tells about the time my brother-in-law walked into the living room, picked up her well-worn copy of Heloise’s Handy Hints, walked to the trash, ripped the whole book in half and threw it away. Apparently he was “up to here” with Heloise and her hints. The “hint” that did it was saving small bath soap chips — we hate to throw them away but they are too small to use — and putting them in the toilet tank to keep the toilet fresh. (It was the seventies, we were just learning how to reduce, reuse, recycle.) Apparently, the small soap chips had clogged the plumbing, built up a nice thick, foamy  head in the toilet tank … pardon the pun … and overflowed all over the bathroom. Slick, gooey bubbles everywhere.

It’s a cautionary tale.

Nevertheless, I still have a quick “handy hint” I’d like to share. I like to make my own Mexican spice blend and give it away to friends and family.  No, I’m not giving the recipe away.  I still haven’t given my daughter the recipe.  The only problem I have is filling the little bottles. I can never find my funnel. I have about eight of them, but they don’t seem to have their own “place” and so get stashed here and there in my kitchen and when I need one, I can’t find it. So in order to fill the little spice bottles I use a sticky note.  Fold it over so that it sticks to itself and slip it in the jar and you can easily fill the smallest jar.  Then just throw it away.

I’ll teach you how to use the car jack to make it easier to vacuum under the bed.

P.S. I also like to make my own jar labels.


Home Office Decor … On a Budget

Inspiration BoxMy dream studio or home office would have everything in its own storage bin or box and all of the containers would match or at least complement each other in color and style. (Thus satisfying my OCD … big, deep sigh.) Currently the storage containers in my office are oddly shaped coffee cans and large, flip-top boxes from my husband’s shoe purchases. He wears a size 11. My various receptacles are all very functional … and free.  They hide things and they stack nicely, but my studio décor resembles the décor at that smog-check station on the south side of town. So, I was looking at various sites to see what one of those decorative desk sets would cost and found that I would need to spend at least $85 to get what I wanted. But the problem is I didn’t really want it that badly.  More …

Being Creative: Our Purpose

maiteI love to see people making things by hand.  I write about “Inspiring Handmade!” and really mean it.  I’m convinced that working with our hands fulfills our purpose and is an intended part of the design of mankind. It’s in our DNA to be creative. To solve problems creatively. To conceive beauty creatively. To make practical use of the world around us creatively.

Last year I started selling on Etsy.  At first it was just digital files … printables  for small businesses and online craft shops. My idea was to help some small businesses appear more professional.  It’s important.  Late last year, by popular demand, I started selling custom-printed sew-on fabric labels for crafters and small businesses to use on their items for resale. I am having the best time with that!

I purchased a special printer, some special inks and fabrics and started designing original styles for labels as well as working with folks to provide their “vision” for a label for themselves. On occasion customers send me photos of a label I’ve made for them and I’m always so impressed with the things my customers make. Here’s just one sample. This is from Maite in Spain.  She creates the most adorable clutches and coin purses. So very creative.  The colors and textures are wonderful and the workmanship is outstanding.  The labels she sews inside are her own custom design idea which was easily executed and printed for her.  You can find her at  Stop by and say “Hello!!!”

Long Live the Handmade Revolution!

Long live the handmade revolution.Yes, there is a revolution–local, handmade goods are at the root of our economy! Hundreds of thousands of people working with their hands to create unique, extraordinarily clever and useful items to either sell online or in their communities at local craft and art fairs.  Mother’s Day is this Sunday, buy online, buy locally, buy handmade!  Inspire handmade! Support the handmade revolution!

Are you making things by hand?  Need supplies like fabric labels, gift tags, sales tags, hang tags?  Visit

Are you making your own Mother’s Day Cards?

One Thing Every Graphic Designer Needs to Know

PhotoshopWorldI like to hang out at electronics or art supply stores. A good office supply store can fill up an afternoon for me. I dream of trips to Best Buy, Staples and Blick. In a dry spell, I’ll even wander the school supply aisle in Wal-Mart.

When I’m in any of these stores (well, maybe not Wal-Mart) and get into a conversation with one of the bright-eyed young sales assistants, the fact that I’m a graphic designer usually comes up. (Sometimes my Photoshop World hat gives me away.) When they find out that I’ve actually made a career out of graphics for over 35 years … well, I become a rock star! Because, it seems, everyone wants to be a graphic designer. It is a great gig, no doubt. I haven’t had to wear shoes to work since 1982. Invariably my new fan is currently taking classes in some type of graphics. There are so many cool jobs when you have skills in digital design. It’s a big field. And in most cases these bushy-tailed art students want to design game graphics or work in films, be a famous 3D illustrator or fashion designer. That’s great! and totally possible with skills and a bit of talent.

Inevitably they ask, “What advice can you give a new graphic designer?” I pause for dramatic effect, gaze into the distance, then, with a benign smile and the soft voice of wisdom, proclaim, “Learn to put a graphic in an email.” Then I pin them with my most penetrating look to emphasize the gravitas of what I’ve just said. My new friend looks around for the men with my afternoon meds and tries to back away.

Really, though, if you do want the advice of someone who’s managed to maintain a fairly busy graphics career, then read on. You’ll need to learn all of the graphics programs … my skills and choices have led me to specialize in desktop publishing type projects, so I’ve learned Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign. But I’ve also learned Microsoft Word and PowerPoint—programs not usually considered to be necessary for creatives. Some designers are afraid of “diluting their body of work”—of somehow making themselves less valuable in the eyes of the graphic design world. Well, first, when I design a newsletter for the salon on the corner and they ask me to set up their mailing list … I don’t have to put it in my portfolio. Some things can remain my little secret. And frankly, I’ve always been more concerned about how I look in the eyes of my landlord than in the eyes of the graphic design world at large. Bless their hearts.

Face it, the largest market for graphic design professionals is the corporate world. Millions of fresh-faced MBAs who think dropping purloined clipart into a Word document is the sum total of graphic design. Bless their hearts. So … after you’ve designed their annual report and art directed the new product shoot … they may ask you to make a press release look better by adding the company logo—in Microsoft Word. The corporate world has some very practical needs. Needs for which they are willing to pay you. I’m serious when I say, “learn to put a graphic in an email.” It’s a valuable skill. Being able to take graphic design into email layouts is really important—or charts, spreadsheets and presentations. And it’s not actually all that easy. It’s all about making yourself valuable to your client. The more services you can provide, the more work you’ll always have. And you can continue to work in – or near – your chosen field and won’t have to work at Starbuck’s part time because all you know how to do is draw the world’s most beautiful Bezier curve. Which, I will agree, is a very worthy skill.