Monday, June 1, 2009

Every Designer's Struggle

The goal of designing for me is to give hope to my clients, to help them grow and achieve! But no matter how much I believe in my ideas and concepts, or how solid the design, or how confident I might be in its ability to communicate, there is one wall for it to break through first. That’s right…. APPROVAL

For it to be effective, it requires no only the qualities of an impacting design, but it HAS TO be backed by the client’s confidence in it. If he isn’t passionate about his logo or sales material, every time he puts people in contact with it, he’ll be ashamed of it. It will fall apart from him not standing behind it boldly, or believing that it’s doing its job, even if it is, he has to believe it, or the fresh box of business cards in his desk might never even see the light of day or the touch of some else’s fingers. It’s a tragedy.

So here is the problem... everyone has opinions! And you can’t help it. When dealing with artwork and design, it’s always a subjective situation.

Love it - Hate it - It’s amazing - Its crap - Not sure what I think – I liked it, but my best friend hated it - I think we should start over - Lets run with it – I don’t like it, but I’m not sure what it needs

So what do we do...? Knowing that the client signs the checks and puts food on our table, do we let our hands be tied and nod politely when they continue to push in a direction you know will fail them? Even after explaining to them why their ideas will not be effective, they continue to defend it to us with even greater passion and ask "See what I mean, I really think it will work." and then even ask "What do you think, I want your input." It’s enough to make your head explode, and thus they end up with a design they confidently stand on, but it falls out from under them.


Being passionate about what we do, we poor our heart into our designs and when they are challenged, we fight like cornered pit bulls until we make them submit, or drive them away. Then they end up with a design they feel forced into and timid to stand behind it, and will probably feel as though they went to the wrong place to get there artwork done.

Obviously we have to find a middle ground, becoming not only designers, but also salesmen. We must effectively communicate WHY we are passionate about our designs. Show practical reasons why we believe in them, gain their trust and nurture their confidence in our work. It’s hard, no doubt about it! Come prepared to present your ideas in a way that makes since, and is relevant to your client and his target audience, and anticipate questions. The best is learning from experience and other’s experiences. What questions have you heard already, and what have other designers in your social circle encountered before. Any time you get a group of designers together, at least one is bound to start talking about “the one that got away” a design of theirs that got slaughtered by a client, it happens to us all. Learn and never, NEVER stop growing!

Another thing to do… step back from your design and back away from your heart driven passion filled thoughts and ask yourself, “Does this design truly need work, can it be better?” One of the most humbling experiences of my career so far was working on a project that the client was never happy with, it was SO frustrating, and I kept putting more and more into it… and in the end, comparing the first proof and the final, the design was MUCH more effective in the end. I just had to get my big head out of the way and realize it wasn’t perfect when I thought it was.

One more tip on the subject. When we design, and we believe we have the perfect concept and game plan for a project, find the second best that is a 180 in style from the first. Be prepared to have to develop a second approach, it will save you money on pain pills, and keep you from flattening your forehead against the wall.

Leave a comment about how you address the situation, questions you’ve had to deal with, or maybe even some sales tips.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Current Campagin of Intrest

I've been really impressed with Pepsi's marketing lately, and this is beside the fact that I believe them to be the god of all cola! First, in their last promotion, the idea of having people able to design there own Pepsi can and submit it was genius. Having cans that each time you picked one up, it came with a new piece of art to view, and shelves of these cans set them apart to the eye instantly! While the Design Our Pepsi Can website is down now, I hope you got to check it out while the promotion was going! These uniquely created graphics showed-off all types of influences, from simple and flowing, to gritty and urban, this "customer" created artwork was never dull. They all begged to be picked up and looked at, to see "whats on this can?" It continuously kept there look new and fresh.

So how does Pepsi follow a look like that? By taking a 180. Pepsi still draws my eye with their sudden shift in direction for their designs. Creating a new look that is simple and bold. A slight revamping of their logo, and now solid blue cans and simple but strong typography. These cans are well done! (Besure to check out the "yesterday" section at to see the history of the Pepsi logos and advertising) The sudden change calls my eyes to them again. Just when you get use to the wild cans from before, here is something new, something fresh again. I like to think its more than my personal feelings of Pepsi's superiority with taste, but their graphics and designs always grab my attention. There is always something new and different to see. Also with their billboards they send a clear message. I love that they went with solid bright colored backgrounds to set the board off of any city/landscape and sets it apart from any other board on the road.The company seems to be continuously looking for new looks and different ways to market themselves, but always keeping one thing at the root of what they do, generations. So this is my nod to the folks behind Pepsi's marketing, great ideas and great works!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Bitter Season Album Art

Creative block is something that plagues all creatives. It has the power to cause huge amounts of friction between the joy of creating, and the exhaustion of the process, that at times could even bring about tears. This project for the band Bitter Season was the most fun, and most frustration I've had for a freelance job so far. But what I took away from it in the end, taught me a priceless lesson in dealing with my own creative blocks.

When I was contacted by the band to design their CD packaging, they told me about an image they were using for their background on their bands MySpace page. After checking it out and hearing them talk about their music, I had the challenge of creating something that combined the look and emotion of this image they had, but also wanted my own feel and inspiration to it. The challenge of every designer; merging the concept of the client with the art and style of the artist.

I made a mistake on this job, as I usually send 2 - 3 concepts of an album cover in the beginning, I was sure I could hit it down with one. I was that confident in my idea. I wanted something with a feel of bitterness and desolation, with minimal color and use lots of white space to convey this since of being alone. I created this cover proof and sent it to the band, 100% confident that it was a winner. After the proof was emailed, I started to compile a mental note book for the other elements, how they would come together, the insert, CD face, and tray card. I had it all planed out and waited to hear back from the band. When I received their email, I was told that they wanted something darker, and closer to the image they had mentioned before. My first reaction, as most designers and artist who are passionate about what they make, was not a happy one. Now, not only did I have to abandon my artwork and start anew, but my whole plan for the album had to be thrown out also, and left me with a HUGE case of creative block. (which I admit was self inflected ) I created their new cover rather quickly, closely based on their concept, but for the rest of the album, I was a huge blank. After a few days of nothing but mediocre attempts at creating something for them, my creative block was pushing my frustration meter to the max, I needed some down time. I decided to take my camera and get some night pictures around my apartment complex, just to get away from the computer and do something I enjoy.

It was amazing how this impacted my creative block. Now to fully understand this, there was a big fight from some of the other occupants a few nights before, a mother and daughter. Luckily I was out of town for it, but it really affected me, and was depressing to know of plus to see the effects from it... however this served as great inspiration for the emotion of the album, and I worked it in. Using the feeling of hardship from domestic violence, I incorporated the photos, my own drawings, and some Photoshop brush work, and created something that had a nice feel for what they were looking for.

The things I took away from this experience with dealing with creative block have been a life saver…

1. Get away from the project
2. Do something you enjoy
3. Let your mind open back up for fresh input

It’s important as creative’s to keep the flow of inspiration fresh. Sitting and staring at your screen or sketch book for 8 hours or more tends to put a kink in the creative flow. Get away and get some new fresh input to your senses, it will do wonders to work out those kinks. You never know what will move you to a new creative direction!

Note: This job was done under Front Street Album Art & Design, this was before I changed my name freelance identity to Lantra Design.

Monday, May 12, 2008

D = H

The hope that design brings… having my eyes opened to the relationship of design and hope has greatly influenced my life and professional career. Before I get into what D=H is all about, I want to give credit to Oran Parker for helping to stimulate these thoughts and ideas.

So what is this about design equaling hope? As designers, what do we really do? What does a client truly want from us? What is it that they are actually investing their money in? Let’s look at a hypothetical situation. Let’s say a ceramic artist, a potter, comes to you. He tells you that he has never had any form of advertising for his ability. He loves what he does, is passionate about pottery, he’s good at it, and wants to spend the rest of his life making and selling his artwork. So he wants you to develop a logo, online gallery for people to buy his work, brochures, business cards, press kit, mail-out postcards for his art openings as well as billboards for when he has upcoming shows. He even wants you to help develop his show room for his location. So what is he asking from you? It goes deeper than just your knowledge of computer software, or your ability to think creatively, or a business card with a nice logo.

He is asking for HOPE.

This man wants to make ceramic art for the rest of his life, and to do that, he needs people to know who he is, and know that he is good and what he does, and have an image that is professional and visually communicates a since of trust in him. His hope is that you will give him that, and it will increase his business, and he will make more money, and be able to do what he loves the rest of his life. He is investing more than money in your services; he is investing the hope of his future. I honestly believe you could go as far to say that your success does not rest on winning an Addy Award, or who makes up your client list, or pulling in a certain bankroll. It’s about your client’s hopes becoming a reality because of what you give them. That makes a successful designer! If you achieve that, the awards, client list, and money will fallow.

You can apply this to anyone. Our clients are looking for hope; they are looking for the means to heal more sick patients, to fix a person's broken car, or to bake delicious cakes. No matter what it is, their hope is that we can help them achieve more business to do what they enjoy. Now, our tools to give them this, comes from our creative thinking, and technical skills. But spending each day using those skills alone is not what we do!

For me personally, I saw and felt this for the first time at the end of my last big project before I moved to Oklahoma. I was designing a vehicle wrap for a for a pest control company. It all started with him coming in and wanting to wrap his Jeep, so that he could take it on calls and do sales trips. When he came in, we talked about what he wanted this wrap to do. He wanted it to WOW people, and help get his name and logo more recognition, and create a look that he would use in his print communications. In the first meeting with him, I could tell he was passionate about what he does, and would normally end our meetings saying, “I’m off to chase down some termites.” As funny as it sounds, he loved what he did as a “pest controller”. He was passionate about protecting people from termites, and informing people about pests. It was what he enjoyed and you could see he genially cared about it.

As the project developed, I pitched him two concepts, then after choosing one to pursue, he came in at about 3 hours into the design. Looking over the rough layout, we made a few more changes then kept going. He saw the work in progress a couple more times, then we approved it. Now in every meeting, I could feel the excitement in him building, he was getting fired up. His plan was to debut his Jeep during half time at our arena football team’s home game. Drive it out on the field for all the fans to see and have his company talked about over the PA. This was a BIG deal to him, and soon became a BIG deal to ME. It was a great idea for him to instantly get his name and wrap out in front of a large group of people, to show it off. Soon his hope in this vehicle wrap became my hope as well, it was now something we both were investing in. Every day we got closer to finishing the job, I could see his hope building and becoming more confident in what we were creating for him.
I will never forget the day he came into pick it up. He even brought his wife and kids to see it. Once he saw it complete, he shook my hand and I could tell, we gave him exactly what he came to us for. We gave him hope! I will never forget the smile on his face when he shook my hand and told me thank you. Trying to put it into words is hard, it’s just what being a designer is all about.

So, do more than give someone a design, bring light to their HOPE!

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Thats A Wrap

It seems that the trend of vehicle wraps is finally settling into the Lake Charles area. When traveling to larger cities, you see these things everywhere. You can't take a trip through Houston without seeing at least a few on the interstate. The instant popularity of these lies in the wow factor. When you see a vehicle that is covered in vinyl, you can't help but look at it. In traffic it pulls your eyes instantly and your forced to look and ask "what's that?"

• Wraps VS Billboards

Another big draw on these guys is pricing. While some are more than others, a vehicle wrap is going to run you about the same as three to four months of billboard space, based on some averages here in Lake Charles. So the question is what's a better investment, four months on one street corner with a board? Or three to four years, and it goes where ever you go? Even when you’re not driving it, park it in front of your business during the day to draw extra attention to your store front, or wrap your company's install vehicles for extra advertising every time they go on a job.

• Tips on Design

Luckily I've had the benefit of being involved at the beginning of vehicle wraps coming into the area. So I've had the chance to learn how to effectively design these things at the start of their popularity in Lake Charles. I've learned tons by trial and error and want to share a few things that might help any designer doing their first wrap. Hopefully you won’t make the same mistakes I did, and some I've seen others make. If you’re interested in seeing wraps I've designed, check them out here

Pre-concept Work - If you’re not a designer at the company that will produce and install the vehicle wrap, then first off, find a quality production company. If you get clients like I do at times, they come in with a grand idea and their own concept for you to start with. When doing your first vehicle wrap, do not commit or tell your client that you can achieve a certain effect or look before talking to a production company. Find out how they install it. If you get the chance to go somewhere and see one being installed, do it! It will change the way you think about your concept. Also, some companies that are more experienced with installing wraps might tell you they can achieve different things based on techniques they have learned.

Another thing to look into that might seem odd, look for a place that installs there wraps indoors. It make a huge difference in how the vinyl is applied, specially how much it stretches. Some production companies have different print capabilities, and different levels of quality for installing. The one thing that can kill your design the fastest is a poor install. So do your research when looking for someone to produce your wrap design, it will pay off in the end.

Also, there is a need to communicate to your client that this is not a paint job for their vehicle, but explain it as a traveling billboard. There are high chances for some imperfections, such as small creases in the vinyl and splicing around some corners.

The techniques, tools, & materials are growing rapidly for the wrap industry, and I have seen some flawless wraps, but I've also seen a lot there are not. When viewed at its proper viewing distance, even just a couple feet away, these imperfections are not even visible. More things to talk to your production company about, see what they can achieve before settling on one.

Two things that I've done and seen people design in wraps, that at first look good on paper, then get destroyed in installation -

1 - Critical design elements that wrap from the side of the vehicle to the rear. These areas are difficult to install, and are also the places that the vinyl is stretched the most. An example of this was a home audio and video company that wrapped there installation van. In their design, they had movie film strips that went around the side of the van, to the back. When the vinyl is printed for wrap, it’s done in panels, so when trying to line up these design elements, after the vinyl has been stretched around the back corner, it’s almost impossible to match it up. Textures and solid colors work best for rounding corners.

2 - Not considering negative space. What will the vinyl not stick to? How accurate is your template? I've seen lots of wraps that the type is visually cut by things that the vinyl wasn't going to stick to. Consider how graphics are going to have to be cut during installation. Again, all things that your production company can tell you.

Think 3D. Any design can look good on paper, but how's it going to work on a vehicle. When the design is wrapped around finders and body lines, how is it going to affect your type and logos? Some areas are unavoidable, while some aren't as bad as you might think, but you have to get your head out of 2D, and think how it’s going to form to the vehicle.


Once you get your concept going, you have to set up your file size. Now... unless you want an extreme exercise in patience, do not set your file up to full size. A lot of people that design for the print industry tend to set files up for large format printing at actual size, and at 300 dpi. Doing this on a vehicle wrap will cause you to certainly dispose of your computer though the closest window you can find. Not only will it frustrate you, but the crew member that has to open your file will want to hunt you down after spending 15 mins or more waiting for your 1.7 gig file to open. Most of my wraps average out to about 500 to 700 mgs. Also staring at a processing bar after a transform in Photoshop for several minutes is enough to drive any designer crazy. Not only are you losing just time in processing these types of changes, but also it throws up a roadblock to your creative flow. If you’re like me, while you’re working on one area of your design, sparks are flying in your head about the other areas, and waiting on your machine to process the things you do, is like pouring water on the creative fire. My suggestion to get a good print, and not over the top file size, is to set up your file at half scale and 150 DPI. You'll still have to wait on processing, it will not be near as long, and more machines out there can handle it better.

If you sell your client on a design that can be done all in vector graphics, then go for it, but most wraps involve high res images and Photoshop work. When designing your wraps in Photoshop, try as much as you can to use vector smart objects from Illustrator. Specially with logos. This helps a ton with being able to resize your elements over and over without losing resolution. Big thanks to Adobe for that added feature. And give yourself lots of bleed, but again, talk to you production company to find out how much, and think in 3D about how much of that bleed will get sucked up in rounding corners.

Unless they ask for it, do not bring your layered file to the production crew. Flatten your design, crop it down with the necessary bleed still there. Then bring them a JPG of the wrap, and a print out of it on the template for the installers to follow. Trust me, they will love you for it!

When designing a wrap keep in mind you have a short read time on these. Keep your designs low on info, and heavy on eye candy. You want to accomplish three things with a wrap,

1. Draw in people’s eyes. You want people to look at it.

2. Who you are. Logo and brand recognition.

3. What you do. This has to be done using minimal type. When people are traveling, there not interested in a list of services or products, they need and want the basics.

If your client pushes for more information try and explain to them that print communications, such as business cards, brochures, and other hand outs, are for people to learn about a company, not their vehicle graphics. I even push for people to not put their phone numbers. It’s one more thing to compete for attention in a already short amount of time. Think about it, how many times have you written down a phone number in traffic, or remembered one that you saw somewhere while driving. I'd be willing to be bet maybe once, if any. Encourage people to put a website vs a phone number. It gives people a easy word association. Which will you remember when you get home after seeing a wrap, Joe's Painting (318) 398-2593 or Joe's Painting


Unless you’re a sign company that does wraps, or a vehicle wrap company, you probably don't own vehicle templates. They do come in handy, but never trust them fully. ALWAYS see the vehicle before starting, it’s a must! If your using a pre-made template, get measurements from the actual vehicle, and check it against your template. Once its printed, sizing mistakes are going to cost someone, the client, you, or the production company. And building trust with the production company, that they won’t have to reprint things you send them because of size issue, is a good thing. When they know that your files are easy to open, scale up 2x there size and ready to print, they will love doing business with you.

So... on that note, its tutorial time! How to build your own 1/2 scale Photoshop template for any vehicle. First off we need pictures. A few digital shots of the sides, rear, front, and hood, (on vans, both sides are necessary, you have sliding doors, or panel doors to consider, and some box trucks have different hardware on either side) For the hood, you might need a step ladder. Also, consider your angles when taking the pictures. Get as square to the vehicle as you can, this may take kneeling for taller people, so you don't get a downward angle. And make sure the whole vehicle is in the shot, bumper to bumper.

Now we need some reference measurements. I usually stick with doors, measure the width of the driver or passenger side door, the width of the back door or tailgate, or anything that you can use as a reference point. And the same for the hood.

Let’s say the measurement for your door is 40 inches. Make you a new PS doc at 20 inches wide, at 150 dpi. The height can be whatever you want, I usually do around 50 inches.

Drag our guides from your sides, place one on each side. So now your guides are 20 inches apart.

Now paste in your image on a second layer and start transforming. You will have to zoom out before you start enlarging your image, but your goal is to get the area you measured on the door, to fill up the width of that PS document. So now you should have a file that is skinny, and all you should see is the door, or area you measured.

Now bump up your canvas size, till you see the whole vehicle, then crop it back down so that all you have is your image, with enough bleed of course.

Now trace out all the areas you plan vinyl to go on either with your pin tool, or a marquee tool. I prefer using the pin tool, with it set to paths, not shapes.

Once I get all my area traced, I right click and make it a selection, then I go back and trace out all my negative spaces. Any door handles, or other things that may be cut out. Subtract them from my selection, then cut it out of the image, then paste it back behind everything.

Now you have your template at 1/2 scale. You can design between the layers, and if its a white vehicle, you can put what your cut out on top, and set the layer to multiply, and it can give a look of truly being on the vehicle.

Now once you have it designed, flatten your design layers, remove your template layers, and save, what I call a print file, as a JPG. And bring it to your printer.

Good luck, and have fun!!

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

What this Blog is for me

I've just recently been drawn into viewing blogs around the internet, and also recently have seen the value in having one of my own. As a graphic artist, I hope this blog can become a place to share thoughts, experiences, and opinions about the industry. As well as talk about projects and give a few tips I've gathered.

My roots as a designer are thick in the sign industry. While I've recently started doing freelance work in print, what I've learned working with vinyl graphics and large format printing are still at the core of what I do, and constantly influence how I set up my graphics. Hopefully I'll get to share some things from the life of a "sign designer" that people can learn from.