Creative Business : Believe in Yourself

Why you should believe in yourself as a creative! (don’t worry, this isn’t a touchy-feely post, its more of a believing-in-yourself-will-make-you-a-better-designer type of post. )

1. When you believe in yourself, you value your work

believe in yourself

One of the most common questions I hear from my students is about charging. Should I charge my family and friends? How much should I charge? How do I know when to raise rates? These are all excellent questions (and I answer them in this class), but before you can ask these type of questions, I think you need to ask yourself, do you believe in yourself? Do you value your creative work?

When you value yourself, this question of “how much should I charge” changes to “what is the value of the work that I am providing, and what price is that best reflected? ” Do you see the difference of that mindset?When you believe in yourself, you value you work, you value your time, and it is easier to charge people.


2. When you believe in yourself, you work with others

believe in yourself

I find that it is all too easy to look at other’s websites and their talents, and then start to devalue your own. This can be paralyzing, and super detrimental. When you believe in yourself, you look at others with talent as inspiration, and not with jealousy. You see a chance to learn, or someone who would be a good friend, and you stop trying to compare yourself.

When I find myself starting to think, “oh man, this person is AMAZING. I wish I could do something like this” I know these are warning words. That’s when I know its time to meet the person behind the website. I try to get to know them, and I oftentimes try to work with them in some capacity.  I can’t even begin to tell you how many dear friends I have been able to work with and get to know because of this process.

Isn’t that great? When you believe in yourself, you change these feelings of jealousy into an opportunity to work with others, to learn and grow from them, and admire that person as the person they really are.


3. When you believe in yourself, you put all of your guts in

put all your guts in

When I first started my own business, I was scared, nervous, and super anxious. I worried about my design skills being enough, and I worried about getting clients, I worried about balancing it all, and ok.. well.. about EVERYTHING. I was a big hot mess. And then one day, it dawned on me: I had NOTHING to loose. Literally. When I realized I had nothing to loose, I was able to believe in myself, and put all of my guts into each project. And that was a great place to start, because when you put all of your guts in, you win! Your work reflects that. Your clients sense that, and you reflect that in your attitude and in who you are. It’s an amazing thing.

4. When you believe in yourself, you live the journey

live the journey

Believing in yourself doesn’t mean that you will succeed right away. It doesn’t even mean that you won’t fail. You probably will. Working with all your guts is a risky business. But when you believe in yourself, you know that each failure brings lessons you couldn’t learn any other way. (It’s true, my greatest failures & mistakes as a designer have taught me the most important lessons)

It will take years to create what only you can envision. But when you believe in yourself, you know it takes time. You know that each triumph is important, wonderful, and something to celebrate. When you believe in yourself, you live the journey. You love being creative, and you love your job

Creative Business: When Things Go Wrong

Obviously when you are running a business, you don’t plan for things to go wrong. However, when you are hustling and working hard towards your goal, things are going to occasionally go sideways. No one is perfect, and so it goes without saying, no business will be perfect. You are going to make mistakes, and these can range from: printing something the wrong size, accidentally offending a client or incorrectly estimating how long a project will take to complete. (I will note here that I have made all of these mistakes at some point!)

When I have made mistakes in my business and when things have gone wrong for me professionally, I have a found the following things can make all of the difference:

  1. Remember that all successful creatives have made mistakes in their career.

As I mentioned above, no business is perfect. If you take the time to talk to other business owners, you will find that  one of the biggest unifiers of successful entrepreneurs is failure. But what makes a successful creative different is that they have the courage to accept these mistakes, and move forward. Knowing that I am not alone and that other’s have made big mistakes as well has helped me tremendously.

I remember the first time I had a client who was unhappy with me. I had worked super hard on the project and though they were happy with my work, they were furious at the cost. I had explained my rates over and over, but looking back, I probably didn’t do a great job at explaining the time that I had to put into the project. My client felt that I was taking advantage of him, and I felt like my client was taking advantage of me. I was so anxious about what to do — I wanted to be paid for the work I had poured into the project and I had been counting on that money. However, I struggled knowing how to handle the situation in a way that we could both win. Thankfully, I was able to talk to another business owner who had been in the same boat before — they helped me decide what to do and eased my stress about the situation.

  1. Remember that every client is different and that you are not a good fit for every client.

In the past 5 years, I have worked with dozens and dozens of clients. All of them have had different personalities, opinions, and creative views. This has made it a constant learning process for me on how to work with different types of people. Most of my clients have been a dream to work with, but occasionally, I have had some challenging clients. Sometimes the fault has been mine, sometimes it hasn’t… and sometimes it is just a matter of different creative views!

So if this has happened to you — take a deep breath! Everyone has different creative opinions and that is part of what makes our world so beautiful. If we all envisioned and created the same type of art, the world would be a boring place. We need different perspectives, different opinions, and different definitions of beauty.

I used to beat myself up when I couldn’t create the “perfect” design for a client. Now after several years of experience, I recognize that when a client approaches me, one of the first conversations I need to have with them is to determine if me and my design style is a good fit for them. And I have learned that sometimes I am not. You will have to learn to say no to clients! It is hard, but it will save you hours of headaches and anxiety in the long run.

But what do you do if you already agreed to work with a client, only to find that after hours of work, you have different creative views? This brings me to my next point.

  1. Stay calm and positive and “own up to your mistakes.”

In any bad professional situation, staying calm and positive is essential. It sounds obvious, but sometimes you have to stop and remind yourself! Staying calm can help you hear out an upset client without turning anxious or defensive. Staying calm can help you think clearly through how you may have miscalculated a cost, missed a deadline, or misprinted a final design. And staying positive will help you to continue to be creative — when I am bitter, resentful, or upset, my designs are NEVER good.

So whatever trick or game you have to do to help you be positive, do it! I know for me, working out and exercising has solved dozens of design problems, and helped me work out aggressions so I can stay positive and calm when I revisit the frustrating situation.

And at times, when all was said and done, I realized that I have sometimes been at fault. Maybe I hadn’t done a great job at calculating my time or been late on a few emails. I have always tried my hardest, but again, nobody is perfect and I have been the culprit. Own up to it! Sometimes all you need to say to a client is, “I am sorry, this was my bad.” That can instantly turn around a bad situation and get you on your way to making it good again.

  1. Learn from it and let it go!

Sometimes when things go bad, it’s not your fault and it might really be nobody’s fault. That’s just one of those stinky parts of life. When that happens, the only thing left to do is to let it go. Let it go, and realize that these lessons and failures will actually make you a better creative. If there is anything that I can say with conviction, it is that the failures and things that I have done wrong have made me a better designer. Though some of them have been tough, I  have learned more lessons from 1 failure than from 1,000 successes.


A Guide to the Best Books for Creative Designers

A Guide to the Best Books for Creative Designers

One of the things that has most helped me progress as a designer, is that I try to continually educate myself. I absolutely love to read, and I have found that by research and study, my skills have increased dramatically over the years. In my opinion, good design comes from a few key things: education (which can be self taught or self directed), motivation, research, practice, and hard work!

I often get questions from my students about my favorite design books, and to be honest, the list is continually expanding. But I thought it would be fun to compile a list of my absolute favorites. You’ll want to add these to your holiday wish list, and I promise you won’t regret it!  So here is my gift guide, and down below, I have added a few details about why I like the book, so that you can pick out which one would be best for you!

A. Graphic Artist’s Guild Handbook of Pricing and Ethical Guidelines, Graphic Arts Guild

This book is a MUST for those who are freelancing or starting their own business. It is a great starting point for how to price out your services, and a good gauge of what other creatives and designers across the board are charging. I open this book at least once a month for reference. 

B. Thinking with Type, 2nd revised and expanded edition: A Critical Guide for Designers, by Ellen Lupton

If you love typography, this is hands down my favorite resource for good information about typography. It is a good blend of simple and complex and the information is presented elegantly and in the most helpful way. This has been one of my favorite books for about 7 years now, so I guarantee if you love typography, you will be obsessed with this book too. 

C. Graphic Design: The New Basics, by Ellen Lupton and Jennifer Cole Phillips

Another awesome resource from the talented author Ellen Lupton, this book delves into some basic principles of graphic design that are helpful no matter your level of design. This is such a great resource to have if you’re looking to push yourself and improve as a designer. 

D. Creative, Inc.: The Ultimate Guide to Running a Successful Freelance Business, by Joy Deangdeelert Cho & Meg Mateo Ilasco

I love this book! It’s a hands on approach to running a creative business, and has lots of insightful information from artists everywhere. It’s simple and a quick read, but chalk full of information. It’s a great one if you are just getting started on your own business. 

E. Scripts: Elegant Lettering from Design’s Golden Age, by Steven Heller & Louise Fili

Can you tell I am type obsessed? I absolutely adore this book! This is a great resource for those who love hand lettering or using a more classical style of type. It has been a HUGE resource for me, and I have opened it up so many times since buying it for help and ideas in my design work. One of my favorites for sure!

F. Meggs’ History of Graphic Design, by Philip B. Meggs & Alston W. Purvis

This is one of those books that I consider a MUST to own. I believe that you have to know about the “greats” of design to really progress as a designer, and this book really delves into the best artists and designers throughout history. I find that this book is a great resource for helping me progress, but in pushing myself for ideas and a fresh new take. So many designers focus on the current design trends, but it is equally important to surround yourself with past, classic design. If you do, I promise your design will improve, and you will be able to learn many things from the masters of design. This book has been an absolute favorite of mine for about 7 years now!

G. 100 Ideas that Changed Graphic Design, by Steven Heller

Steven Heller is one of my favorite authors on design, and this is another great book that is full of historical design, as well as current design. It’s a great resource to pull out and review, to help you get ideas, as well as to learn about design practices that you should be using in your work!

H. Communication Arts Subscription 

It doesn’t cost very much to subscribe to this magazine, and receiving this magazine every few months is like candy to me! The magazine is filled to the brim with the best design that is out there. I have been subscribing to this magazine for over 6 years now, and I keep and treasure EVERY magazine. I pull them out at least weekly for ideas and inspiration, and to me, these magazines are about a hundred times better than Pinterest! They help me see what is professionally considered the best work, and have really elevated me as a designer over the years. 

I. Logo Design Love: A Guide to Creating Iconic Brand Identities, by David Airey

If you are working with brands or creating logos, this book is another must have. It does a great job  of going through the work process of logo design, and is full of fantastic ideas on how to work with a client. I discovered this book just this year, but it is already a go to!

J. Elegantissima: The Design and Typography of Louise Fili, by Louise Fili

I have to admit, that I don’t have this book yet, but it is on my wish list for this holiday season. However, I feel confident in putting it on the list because Louise Fili is one of my all time favorite designers. Her design sense and talent is breathtaking, and it makes me so excited to know that she has compiled a book full of her work, as well as her inspiration. I know this book will become a huge resource for me!

K. Don’t Make me Think, by Steve Krug

If you are designing blogs or websites, or interested in how people behave online, this book is a needed resource. No other book does as well in describing the user experience online. Reading this book was life changing for me as a web designer, because it helped me grasp how I needed to change my design based on how people interact with design. I think this book should be a staple for all designers — at some level or another, all of your design and art will be online, even your portfolio, and this book will really help you understand how to make the most of it!

L. The Power of Starting Something Stupid, by Richie Norton

This book is absolutely fabulous. Not only is it inspiring, but it is really motivational and empowering. This is a perfect book for those of you starting, or currently running your own business. It is great for all types of creatives — not just designers. It really helps motivate you to set your priorities, and then to just make it happen. This is a book that will be sure to set a good foundation in your business, and motivate you time and time again. 

I hope this guide to my favorite books helps you! As I have noted after each book, I use these resources at different times for different uses, so before buying any, please research and decide what would be best for you! Every designer and artists is different,  and I would love to know what books have helped you since I am always looking for new inspiring reads. Are there any that I am missing on this list? Let me know!

Saving Time in Photoshop with Bridge + Camera Raw

Saving Time in Photoshop with Bridge + Camera Raw

I will never forget the first time I opened Photoshop — I was a poor college student, working in a professional film photo lab. It was my job to painstakingly go through the scans of EACH and every photo in Photoshop (we are talking hundreds of photos per day) and remove any sand grain that might have blown in, and make basic adjustments. Digital cameras had just come out and were beginning to be used by professionals, but the digital photography world really hadn’t exploded yet. Photoshop was a new, exciting program, but there weren’t very many ways to speed up your workflow.

Now before you start thinking that this was decades and decades ago (and that I must be reaaally old) — let me remind you that the the growth and development of Photoshop has been very recent, and fast. Each version of Photoshop has had tremendous changes. If you are a nerd like me, you can read it’s history here, it’s quite enlightening! So no, this wasn’t too long ago, but it was many Photoshop versions ago!

Thankfully, the Photoshop wizards (as I like to call the Adobe team) have come up with some amazing workflow shortcuts in the last few versions of Photoshop. I cannot begin to emphasize how many hours of time this has saved me! If you are like me, you probably shoot 50 photos for every 5 that you really need. It’s one of the biggest problems of our digital era — how to handle the masses and masses of files we have without loosing your sleep, or your mind! Enter in the best part about Photoshop: Bridge & Camera Raw. These are digital plugins that are used as part of Photoshop, and will truly turn you into a Photoshop Superhero. Let’s go over some of the “highlight reel of Bridge & Camera Raw” today, and why you should be using it!

Saving Time in Photoshop with Bridge + Camera Raw

1. Bridge will help you quickly sort & organize your photos.

As I mentioned above, most photographers are guilty of shooting hundreds of photos. Trying to go through them quickly, organize them where you want them to go, and then highlighting the ones you want to actually spend time adjusting and editing can take a lot of time! Before Bridge, this could take HOURS! However, with Bridge, you can thumb quickly through photos in minutes. The Bridge program quickly loads thumbnails of all of your photos, so you can compare your photos to others–side by side, and batch by batch. You can rate the photos with stars, highlighting which ones are your favorite photos, and the program will “remember” these preferences. This means that  later (even years later) you can come back and within seconds quickly find which photos from that batch were your best photos. So what does that mean as a photographer or designer? That means organizing your files will be easy, fast, and painless. And once you develop a system, you will be set for years and won’t have to go searching for that “one awesome photo” you took years ago.

Saving Time in Photoshop with Bridge + Camera Raw

2. Bridge + Camera Raw will help you make quick adjustments to your Raw & Jpeg images.

One of the best parts about Bridge, is it’s Camera Raw plugin. You can open up your raw image (or jpeg images for that matter), and make all of your most basic adjustments at once. Suddenly, you can change the exposure, saturation, contrast, and more within a few seconds, and change them in relation to each other, to make the best most possible adjustments. This is so much easier and faster than opening up each file in Photoshop, and then manually making each adjustment one at a time (which is how it use to be). If I had this Camera Raw plugin at my first job, I probably would have saved myself hundreds and hundreds of hours. It is pretty awesome.


3. Bridge + Camera Raw helps you “remember.”

Not only does Bridge help you remember your favorite photos, and helps you sort them, but it also helps you remember the original data and info about each picture. So even if you make all of these adjustments to the photo, but then decide you want to go back to it’s original, you can quickly uncheck and view these adjustments with a click of a button. In the example below, I took these photos a whole year ago last Halloween! As I was looking over them, I realized that I had adjusted several of them, but I wasn’t seeing the adjustments. I was able to click on them, find my “previous adjustments” and then quickly click back to that version. So I was able to see the photo perfectly adjusted, without doing it again. So Bridge has a terrific capacity to remember your original photos (as you took them) as well as any adjustments you made while working on them.

Saving Time in Photoshop with Bridge + Camera Raw



4. Bridge allows you to batch your photos!

Not only can you make quick adjustments to individual photos, but you can batch those edits across hundreds of photos within minutes. I go over more of this in my Photoshop 101 class, but for a quick summary: let’s say you took 50 photos in all in the exact same lighting and conditions (like these Halloween photos, that were taken in about 5 minutes before we went trick or treating.) I could pick one photo to make basic adjustments to, changing the exposure, fill light, etc, and then copy and paste those edits over the whole photo session. This takes seconds! Literally just a few clicks of your mouse, and you can have a whole photo session adjusted. This can save you hours and hours of time! Hundreds of photos adjusted without even opening them. So much awesomeness here, it’s really hard for me to not to be ecstatic about this particular feature of Bridge.

Saving Time in Photoshop with Bridge + Camera Raw

5. Bridge saves you time!

I cannot emphasize enough how much time Bridge & Camera Raw have saved me. Being able to sort, organize, filter, rate, and make basic adjustments, and then batching them have saved me hundreds and hundreds of hours. And that is not an exaggeration, because remember, that was my WHOLE job in college! With a few clicks of a button, you can find your best photo, make basic adjustments, and then apply those adjustments across your whole shoot. Then, after all of these quick steps, that have taken you minutes, you can pick out your photos that you want to edit further in Photoshop. Having all of this power with a few clicks is purely amazing, and the time you will save yourself is worth learning how to use Photoshop!



Saving Time in Photoshop with Bridge + Camera Raw


6. Bridge & Camera Raw are first and essential steps to Photoshop.

So, after reading all of this, some of you might be saying, why do I need Photoshop at all? First off, Bridge and Camera Raw are considered part of the “Photoshop” package and simply plugins, so you can’t have one without the other. They all rely on each other, and work together. In my Photoshop 101 and Photoshop 102 classes, we go over Bridge and Camera Raw in the first and second week, and I teach it as an essential step to the photo adjusting and editing process. After sorting, filtering, and making these basic adjustments in Bridge & Camera Raw, then you are finally ready to open up that file in the Photoshop program itself, and take it one step further.

For example, in the photo below, you can see the original, then the adjustments I was able to make in Camera Raw, and then finally, the adjustments I was able to make in Photoshop. So think of it as a whole package deal — as a process to helping you have a better workflow for adjusting and editing your photo.


Did you find this post helpful? Sign up for my Photoshop 100 Essentials class on atly!

The Importance of Research in Creating an Identity

One of the things I am most passionate about as a designer is creating an identity, or a logo. I always tell my clients and my students that it is the hardest thing I do — but it is also the most rewarding. A good logo and identity are the foundation to a company. It is a visual voice and a visual interpretation of what they represent and it helps them reach and connect to their target audience. Good branding tells a story and engages viewers by helping them feel connected. And at it’s best, a good logo and identity can make viewers and customers loyal.

But how does one go about creating a good identity? I go over this process in depth in my Creating an Identity class, but today I would like to go over one aspect in particular: research. It can be easy to overlook this step, as it’s not always the most exciting part of “designing.” It takes work, patience, and time. However, this step is essential, and pays off richly by leading to better concepts, better ideas, and will help you create a good design that represents what your client has in mind.

So what are some of the steps for researching an identity?

  1. Spend time talking to your client & gathering information

Chances are, your client is a pro in their area of business. You can be sure that they at least know more than you! Take the time to gather information from them, asking them detailed questions** about their company, their competitors, their target market, and their vision for the identity. When you finish talking to them, you should have a really, really strong idea of exactly what they do and how they do it. (One of my favorite parts about designing for so many different clients, is that I know a lot about so many different random industries. It’s very interesting if you love to learn!) If you really want to capture the essence of a company in a logo, you better understand them and feel like a part of that company.

**In my class, I give an example of a detailed questionnaire that I go over and fill out with my clients to better understand them. This helps me cover all of the research points I need to know.

The Importance of Research in Creating an Identity(sketches made for a past client after talking to them and going over their research)


  1. Find out your client’s goals & their vision for the future

Not only should you understand everything about what your client and company currently does, but you also need to know about their goal and future vision. This is crucial, because no one wants to invest time and money into developing a logo, and then have to change it a few years down the road. So you are better off understanding how their company will grow, so their logo and identity can grow with them. If my client has specific goals for their company, I often take that into account when I design their logo — I want my design to capture how their company is and how their company will be! This makes the research process more difficult, but believe me, when you take the time to ask your client about goals and visions, they know you care about the company — and if you want to create a good logo, you really do have to care.


The Importance of Research in Creating an Identitycohesive designs and materials for freshly picked (a past client of mine)


  1. Research Competitors and other similar companies

You might have already talked to your client about their competitors, but you should take the time to research them on your own. What do competitor’s logos look like? What are they doing that is working? What are they doing that isn’t working? How will you make your client’s logo and branding better? How will you make it different? These are things you need to think about, write down, sketch out, and just generally know. This also can help you explain to your client why you made certain decisions, and also why you recommend certain design elements.


  1. Research the target market of your client

I hate to include this step at the end, because it is so integral to the process! I cannot stress enough how important it is to grasp and understand the target market your client is aiming to capture. You should understand the current trends and behavior for their target customer. What is their purchasing behavior? What is their behavior like online? What types of styles and designs are “in” for that particular crowd? This part can be intuitive at times, but it helps to take the time to learn about the target market so I can put myself into that mind frame as I design.


The Importance of Research in Creating an Identityall of these logos were designed for various clients of mine–all with a more male dominant audience that needed clean, type focused logos, which is reflected in the overall design.


  1. Research Design Trends & Be Familiar With Industry Standards

This is perhaps the most fun step! As you design for a specific industry, be familiar and proficient for what type of logos that industry needs. For example, a product logo (of which I happen to be working on one now!) will need logos that work online, in print, and oftentimes in 3d packaging. You have to plan and know how that logo will work cohesively across all platforms. Each industry absolutely has different identity standards and practices, and it is essential  that you take the time to familiarize yourself with them.

Perhaps the most fun of all is researching design trends. I love looking over past and present logos on Pinterest and in magazines. One of my most favorite design magazines, Communication Arts, often has a whole section dedicated to identity design — it is so helpful and inspiring. It is helpful to look at present design, not to copy, but to be inspired and pushed to be better.

The Importance of Research in Creating an IdentityHere you can see the research (on the left) and the final logo for a past client of mine, EEI. Their focus and needs was for an environmental logo, and I spent a bit of time researching what current environmental companies were doing, and what type of standards they would need to follow. We needed it to be circular, and to feel earthy and yet modern.

  1. Have fun!

One of the most important things to remember as you research, is to enjoy the process. When I try to speed up or hurry through certain aspects of design, I forget to have fun. Taking the time to research reminds me to enjoy being a designer, to enjoy learning about new companies, products, and industries… after all, the more research you do, the more you will grow and learn as a designer and the better all of your designs will be!

If you enjoyed this post and want to learn more about creating your own logos and brands, sign up for my Creating an Identity class on atly!

Typography in Use

When I tell people that I teach typography, I often have to explain what it is: “It’s the study of fonts,” I generally say, “and once you learn about it, you will see it everywhere!” And that is always one of the first things I hear from my students — how much a little knowledge about type can go a long way. It really is used everywhere, and knowing about typography can take your design skills up a notch. I use my typography knowledge everyday and in all areas of my design.

Let me show you how typography has helped me in my recent design work:

Typography in Use

In this website I designed for my client Caitlin Wilson, we used a lot of different but coordinating type (and a lot of it!) throughout the website. Knowing about typography helped me break up type in a pleasing and readable way for the web, and how to vary fonts and styles to make things pop and stand out.

Typography in Use

In this logo I recently designed, type was the main element used so I had to make it strong, clean, and know how to connect and combine the type to create an engaging and powerful logo. Typography is used in SO many logos all around us!

Typography in Use

For my client The House of Smiths, we worked on pairing type with patterns which you can see in the business cards (the button design is not mine). It’s a small space that needs to command attention — and knowing typography really makes a big difference.

Typography in Use

Again, when working on logos, a bit of type knowledge goes a long way. This logo for my client Cotton and Curls was simple, modern, and based a lot on the type so it had to be perfect.


My favorite thing about being well versed in typography, is that I have been able to use it for my family. I designed the above birthday poster for my daughter on her birthday — she LOVED it and it made a great statement piece for pictures.


Finally, I designed the above poster for my house. I had a huge wall that needed a big statement piece, and I am a big fan of the Beatles and of course, love. So using my typography knowledge, I created this piece and I love how it turned out.

Typography seems like a small part of design, but it really does make a big different in the quality of your design. Learn more about how it can help your own work by enrolling in my Typography course on atly!

Design Q&A

Design Q&A with Melanie Burk

One of the most important things you can do when you are learning is to ask questions. I notice that my students who progress well are actively engaged in the learning process — asking questions, searching for feedback, and open to critiques. As a professional designer, I have learned to ask questions myself and to search and read when I don’t know the answer.

I get emails from my students a lot (which I love!) and inquiries via the blog, and there are a few questions that are repeated over and over. Here are answers to some of those oft asked questions (and a warning: they cover a variety of topics since these are from all of my photoshop, web, and design classes):


Q: Where are some places to get free fonts? Which fonts do you recommend?

A: I hear this question from all of my students, and especially my Typography students. I have posted lots of of lists of my favorite free typefaces on the blog, and  you can check out these lists here, here, and here. Also, you can check out my list of condemned typefaces (what not to use) here.


Q: (Web question) What is your suggestion for sidebar links on a blog? (If you must have them)

A: Good question. Sometimes it can be hard to work in everything you need on a blog. There are so many things that can be important to a blog, so my number one rule is, less is more. When I am working with a client, we really try to identify what their viewer needs. So start there — think of your average viewer. What do they look at? What do you want them to look at? How can you make it easy for them to find things? How can you help keep them reading?

The typical sites I design have archives, categories, and maybe some “favorite” posts on the side. I also like to have other common links, like press, support, faq, (depending on the blog). Then lastly, it’s important to look at how to link in sponsors.. How are you going to treat it and integrate it to make it seamless? There is no cookie cutter answer here, it really depends on you, your viewers, and what you want to focus on in your site/blog.


Q: What is a good minimal WordPress template to start & work with?

A: One of my favorite bloggers, Swissmiss, did a great post not too long ago on good minimal WordPress themes. You can see her suggestions here. I am really digging a few that she points out here and here. Although there are some great ones here as well. So be sure to check all of those out. Another great place for WordPress themes is themeforest, but beware, you will have to do a bit of sifting here.


Q:  When you are creating your logos on the computer, what size do you work with?  Do you work in 300 dpi mode or rbg mode, or what do you recommend?  And what generally is the font size that the final logos are in?  

Great question. I tend to design on a 8 1/2 by 11 sheet, and design the logo to be about a quarter of the page. That way I know that it can size smaller (which I am always sure to check) and also scale bigger (which I am always sure to check as well). The biggest challenge with logos is that they must look good big and small. As far as size of type, it just really depends. I would try looking at the logo at a business card size and then also at a big poster size. How does it look?

Also, I always design it in Illustrator as a vector, so the dpi doesn’t really matter because it is vector it can scale. I also recommend working in CMYK mode, and giving them coordinating Pantone swatches.


Q:  When starting out do people work for free to build their portfolio?  How do you know you’re ready to start charging more and not cheat the industry as well?  And I’m not even sure what a good starting point is to charge at while I’m still growing myself.

Such a good question as well. It is such a challenge when you are first starting to work. I go over this a lot in the last week of my Creating an Identity class. But I will answer this question briefly here.

It’s all about starting somewhere. When I first started, I did do a few projects for free, but it was always for people who would appreciate it — a non profit organization (I still do work a few times a year like that for free) or for a really good friend who you know won’t take advantage of you. However, for everyone else, I charged. Maybe it was ridiculously low, but you have to start somewhere. Also, when you charge, you will take it more seriously and so will your client. Do you know what other people are starting at? Ask them! I know that when I first started (as in, when I was still in college) I charged $25-35 an hour. And that was scary to me! What do you want to make? What do you think is right for your skill level and time? I obviously don’t charge that starting rate anymore, because I have worked for years and my skill level, my speed on the job, and my training has made my designs and therefore my rate worth more. And now, I also charge per project as a flat fee.

A great chart about working for free is this chart by Jessica Hische. She also has some great writing about it here. It is a learning process for sure, but you have to just start, and believe in yourself. You can do it!

  1.  My typefaces are all messed up on my computer! I think in the typography class you mentioned you use font suitcase?  Is there a way to organize typefaces easier into serifs and san serifs, and cursives etc?

A: I used to use font suitcase. It’s not too expensive, and it is really wonderful. The only reason I don’t use it now, is because I am completely obsessed with typography, and I know them all a little too well now. I had it, and then realized I was never using it. But font suitcase is wonderful, and it’s great especially as you are getting started. You can organize typefaces into groups. So let’s say you want to choose a typeface for “weddings”. You could have already grouped the typefaces that you wanted into a “wedding group.” I highly recommend it, and I used it for about 3 years until I got the hang of it.

  1.  What do you think about Etsy accounts?

A:  I think its a great platform. It just really depends on you (or your client) and what their needs are. Etsy is a great place to start because you can become part of a community, and don’t have to worry about advertising right away. You know that your products are part of something so its actually a great place to start until you are ready to go out on your own. Then I would recommend Big Cartel, which is an inexpensive solution to creating a beautiful, simple easy shop and is actually easier to set up than Etsy.

  1.  Was there a point in your career where you wanted to design a logo for someone, or a project for someone but weren’t sure how to create it in Illustrator or Photoshop and so had to research and learn to develop your skills?

A: Absolutely. Part of being a good designer is constantly pushing yourself. I am always trying to learn how to sharpen my tools, become better, and learn more about the programs I use. I am consistently trying new methods, whether it’s just for fun or part of a professional project. It is essential to challenge yourself, or you won’t progress! I often look back on work from 2 years ago and cringe — and I take that as a good sign. If you are looking into your work from a few years back, and thinking it is your best work, you need to push yourself harder!


Q: Do you have exercises for practicing good typography?

A: This is a great question! One of the best exercises for practicing and improving typography is making yourself design things without any other design element. When I know that the type is it in terms of design, then I really, really have to nail it. Even if I am including other design elements, I always try to start with the typography element, then add color and designs, so that I don’t slack on the type. Most students when they are new to design tend to throw in the type last, which can really be dangerous in the design process.


Q: Can fonts from and be used in artwork I sell?

A: It depends! For Da Font you need to make sure and check the copyright to each and every typeface (font) you download to check the usage and rights. You need to make sure its copyright extends into commercial uses.

I really like Font Squirrel for this reason — it only posts typefaces that are free for commercial use (meaning for artwork you sell) so you know you are safe if you download a typeface from there.


Thanks everyone! If any of these questions intrigued you, check out my classes on atly!


Learning from failure

I remember sitting around in college, looking at the long list of majors and future career choices. Many of them seemed overwhelming, (I knew anything medical was completely out since I pass out at large quantities of blood and I have no idea how the body really works), many of them seemed uninspiring (accounting . . . yawn), and then there was a few that I had never heard of. The listed “graphic design” caught my eye as it was in the art section. I am completely embarrassed to admit that at that time, I had never heard of graphic design. In fact, I didn’t even know any professional artists growing up.

I began reading about this unknown “graphic design”, and asking anyone and everyone what this career entailed. The more I heard, the more I wanted to learn, and the more I learned, the more determined I came to be a graphic designer. Even my parents’ fear of a “starving artist” on their hands did not deter me from my vision of one day being a designer.

brittany scott painting

painting by Brittany Scott

The years have gone by, and what started out as pure ignorance of graphic design has grown to a full obsession. I eat, sleep, and dream it–it factors into almost every decision I make (what products to buy, what book to read, what movie to watch, what restaurant to eat at, etc). I work more than I want to know, but most of the time I feel like I am playing. I love what I do.

I am not saying that this journey has been all roses. In fact, I have to pay a hefty price and learn a lot, as all of us do. There are no free tickets in this life, and I can’t even begin to tell you the many failures I experienced in my journey to learn design. I will tell you that a) most of my professors disliked me, and did not even know my name, b) I am well acquainted with rejection letters and statements that you will never succeed, and c) any success comes at a painful price.

My college education was a difficult tumultuous time, and I left wondering if I would ever be able to be successful. In fact, when I started my business–I cried almost everyday, wondering if I would ever succeed and if anyone would ever hire me and why hadn’t I majored in something useful like accounting (sob).

Thankfully after a lot of works, tears, sleepless night, and a lot of self imposed learning, I have been able to carve a small space out for myself. I would not trade the last ten years for anything in the world. I have learned more from my failures, then I could have ever learned from success. Through my failures, I allowed myself to learn and study more, and garner a determination that I would be successful no matter what. I learned to look around me, and read as many books/blogs that I could. I reached out to others, eager for them to teach me all that they knew.  I learned to ask questions and not be afraid of the answers.

This love of learning has made all the difference in my life. As a mother and teacher, I constantly try to instill this love in my own children, and in my students. I want to help them learn from my failures, and know that they can succeed. I want them to be ready for their own failures, and to know to keep pushing, because big failures mean big successes later on, as long as you  work your way through it with determination and zeal.