Monday, May 1st, 2006


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A few weeks ago a student from the Ontario College of Art and Design, named Ivan Ha, contacted me with a series of questions. He’s in his fourth year of studies, and wanted to get a little feedback from someone working in the industry. We often receive similar emails, so I thought it might be useful to post some of the answers to Ivan’s questions for others who may find them useful.
Q. When did you know that you wanted to be a designer?

A. When I was quite young, but I wouldn’t have called it that then. At the time, the title I understood was “Commercial Artist”. That dates me, doesn’t it? I think I first tried my hand at logo design when I was around 9 or 10, and thought that publishing was very exciting even early on.

Q. What did you learn in the business that you couldn’t have learned at school?

A. That no one is going to clean up your messes. In school, there are still safety nets. On the job, you are responsible for yourself. If you don’t get the job done, you have to pay the price.

Q. Was there anything that wasn’t covered at school that you wish had been?

A. No, I think that school was pretty good at the time. I was just too young to invest in some of the great opportunities that were there.

Q. How long did it take for you to become established in the business?

A. I’m still working on that.

Q. How has the business changed in the time you’ve been designing?

A. I believe it’s gaining more awareness, and that has its positives and negatives. On one hand, everyone knows what a “font” is now, but that means that most everyone believes they are capable of building competent design. That can sometimes devalue the contribution professional designers make to the world around them.

Q. What have you done to deal with these changes?

A. We’re steering our studio to work progressively more from a functional perspective. A more thoughtful and strategic direction helps us quantify the difference between what we are doing, and that of amateurs.

Q. What is the worst experience from a business point of view that you’ve had to deal with?

A. I’m not sure about this one. Overwhelmingly I have found business to be a really strong learning experience. Right now I’m struggling with time management. As our firm grows, I’m simply learning that I can’t do everything, no matter how much time I put in. That’s a hard idea to get used to.

Q. What are some highlights that you’ve had during your career?

A. I think that I have most enjoyed the days when we have created something that I had believed beyond our capabilities. That makes it feel as though we are growing, which is particularly rewarding.

Q. Has the computer influenced/affected you in anyway?

A. Yes, we use them extensively. I love how they help us manage projects better. I dislike that so many young designers trust in them to solve problems that need a pencil, or some more thoughtful consideration, instead of a new filter.

Q. Do your clients require a “buy out” or “work for hire” on assignments?

A. I’m not sure what you mean by “buy out”. We generally bill on a per project basis, but use hours to track our effectiveness, and as a benchmark for billing. If they wish to have copyright of most projects (aside from logos/wordmarks), they must pay for that privilege separately.

Q. Do you belong to an association? Does it carry or do you have disability/health or liability insurances?

A. Yes, the GDC. We don’t rely on them for disability/health, or liability. We take care of those issues on our own. I’m not sure if they actually offer that. I do like the access to their community resources and studies however.

Q. Have you had to take court action against any client re copyright infringement or collection?

A. No, and I hope that we don’t ever have to. That would be a real drag. Most people are generally honest and respectful about what we do for them. Those who aren’t we try to avoid working with.

Q. In running your own business, what do you feel are the most important considerations you need to be making?

A. There are so many, it’s hard to know where to start. I think that perhaps a good place to start from however, is to determine what one’s motivations are for being in business, and what they are best suited for. I think many designers would enjoy their work more if they didn’t have to run a business.

Q. What is your marketing/self promotion formula?

A. I think I may have to skip this one. That’s something that would take much more time to go through. Perhaps we’ll sit down over a beer someday and I can chat about this in greater length.

Q. How do you manage the ups and downs of work continuity and cash-flow?

A. We work all the time, and try to not spend money that we don’t have yet. That way, if there’s a downturn we’re not hit too hard. I also suggest prospecting and selling while you are busy. That sometimes helps to smooth out the peaks and valleys?

Q. Do you provide a written quote with your terms and conditions and do you require client purchase orders on projects?

A. Yes, we provide an exhaustive estimate at the beginning of a project which includes terms and conditions. We do not require purchase orders, but they are nice when working with large operations.

Q. How do you formulate a quote?

A. We look at similar past projects, and try to extrapolate how different the project in question may be from the experience we already know. This generally gets us pretty close to an accurate number. I find that one gets better at this with time.

Q. If you were to take more courses to expand your education, what would you like to learn more?

A. I’d love to enter a grad program and work on a book. Perhaps in a couple of years I’ll get to do that. :-)

Q. Have you worked outside of Canada? (U.S., Europe, Asia, Africa etc.) If so, are there any notable differences?

A. No.

Q. If not, are you willing to work abroad?

A. Yes.

Q. What inspires you the most?

A. Making things.

Q. When do you feel most accomplished and satisfied for being a designer?

A. When I can better articulate my ideas and beliefs, either in written or visual form.

Q. Do you have any interesting or fun experiences that you would like to share with?

A. I don’t have anything off of the top of my head. I would suggest checking over the blog: I try to keep some accounts of our more interesting happenings there.

Q. Why do you blog?

A. It allows me a place to work through an idea that I’ve been toying with. It seems as though the act of writing an essay on a topic helps me better understand my own feelings on an issue; additionally, it allows me to share ideas with peers. It’s fun.

Q. Do you have any advice to tell me and many other “future” illustrators/designers?

A. Just work hard and stay humble. I only improve when I remember that I’m not very good yet. Removing ego from a project, as much as you can, opens you up to new opportunities.

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