Tag Archives | Design

Happy OneWebDay

Today is the second annual celebration of OneWebDay, a celebration of the Internet. Dubbed on their website as ‘the Earth Day for the Internet the mission of the day is simple “to create, maintain, advance and promote a global day to celebrate online life.” People are encouraged to share how the Internet has impacted their lives because they are responsible for its existence and the quality of its being. Sir Tim Berners-Lee (creator of the World Wide Web) created a video blog to commemorate the day as well. He makes a few points of note in this video message. Namely:

How has the Internet impacted my life?
Well its been both a blessing and a curse. A blessing in that it has provided me with a path of career change. When I started out of college I only had dreams of graphic design. The World Wide Web just came into existence the summer I graduated from college and would take a few years to begin to collect critical mass. But once I logged onto the web for the first time I knew this medium was for me. So, it has been a blessing by creating a way for me to eek out a living. It has also afforded me and anyone else the ability to do research on any topic for simple knowledge or to help make a decision–for that I love it.
It is also a curse because it is my hobby as well and has been known to literally suck time away from me. I have spent a great deal of time working and playing in the Internet. To put it simply this can, and has, caused time management issues. The good that comes from this experience is reflection on what is important in life. Should I work and surf the Internet right now or spend my time in other ways?

Balance and moderation is key.

Everything counts in large amounts…” – Depeche Mode

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Rock-em Sock-em Information

I have two pieces of conflicting information that are applicable to my business life right now. It’s time for Rock-em Sock-em Information.

Representing the blue robot is this blog post from Tim Ferris author of the 4-Hour Workweek (which incidentally is a great read and comes highly recommended). His post gives this post gives five reasons to be a jack-of-all-trades.

Representing the red robot is a small book I picked up at a conference titled Positioning Yourself: Defining Who You Want to Be by David C. Baker founder and principal of ReCourses Inc. specifically within this book there is an excerpt titled Specialization as a means of attracting clients.

The conflict comes in the form of deciding whether to keep my design firm position as a generalist, meaning designing for print and interactive media and whatever comes my way, or positioning my firm as a specialist solely in interactive media. . My background and skills are certainly in line with the ideals of being a jack-of-all-trades. I do enjoy reading and learning about a variety of things simultaneously. I agree with Tim’s blog post about “diversity of intellectual playgrounds,” and “boredom is failure.” And he makes a qualification in that last point, “over-specialization” guarantees boredom (more on this later). I love art, design and technology and have been immersed within them for the better part of 16 years. I love the intellectual stimulation that comes from the variety.

To reinforce this I went to an AIGA studio tour last night hosted by AIGASB at Studio 2050 with founder Glen Derbyshire. It was a really interesting tour. Glen spoke about the many “re-inventions” he has gone through during his career as a photographer, graphic designer and now in the role of ‘producer.’ Glen thrives on the variety of challenges that come his way. Interesting that I find myself at a point of re-invention with my business. Ah, but the conflicting information…

So now to the excerpt Specialization as a means of attracting clients by David C. Baker. David asserts that the key to attracting the best client is to position your firm the way they (the clients) want to see it. One needs to highlight the key points that are critical in the initial decision making process. Clients want to know that you specialize in what they need. But if you say “I am a plumber, an electrician, and a carpenter” and another guy says “I only do plumbing with 20 years experience” you most likely will pick the specialist. The catch is that by declaring that you are a specialist you will turn away clients and projects that could be fun to work on? Most likely, but by ‘being’ a specialist you may attract more work–more profitable work. And that is where I would like to head.

My thought about the conflict resolves itself this way. I will define my company as a specialist in interactive media. However, I will not turn away any type of traditional graphic design (i.e. ‘print’ work) should it come my way.

It appears as if neither of the robots got their heads popped off. We’ll call this a stalemate.

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I ride my bike to work. On my ride today I passed by a crew of workers inside deep holes in the ground. They were obviously working on underground infrastructure–things like electricity and plumbing that service the houses and buildings around us. As I continued on my way to work I rode over several large pieces of metal covering holes that are dug into the ground so that these crews can access the underground projects they are working on.

This got me thinking about infrastructure. In particular the infrastructure that is out of sight and out of mind. It’s these things that are under the hood that we don’t think about very often until we either experience the inconvenience of not having what they provide, or tragedy as was the case weeks ago in Minneapolis when the interstate bridge collapsed for apparently infrastructure issues. So, when infrastructure is ignored over time it can, and will, come back to bite you.

Relating this to business and entrepreneurship brings to mind items such as business plans, operations manuals, company policies, forms, and contracts. All of these items and more are typically not thought about on a day-to-day basis. However, their impact at crucial moments in the business life cycle can have profound repercussions. Presently I am working on an operations manual, and reviewing my forms. I plan to review my business plan next. I’m also working on a new marketing plan, the first-ever for my business,and this activity is causing me to reflect upon much of what my business provides and how it provides it.

So, be mindful of infrastructure. Take stock of those items you do not think about on a daily basis and assess the impact on your life and the life of your business if one of these pieces of infrastructure were to break down and not support you when you need it most.

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Summer is over. What happened? Where am I now?

These are very good questions. What did happen to the summer? It was filled with family, traveling, and a great deal of work. What it was not filled with, unfortunately, was a great deal of blogging. For some strange reason I feel guilty for not writing. Weird.

So, where am I now?

I have been doing a great deal of reading research and writing in relation to my business. A large question at hand is specialization and whether or not that will serve my business. Right now my business has a “Jack of all trades” feel to it–a least from my perspective. Much of the reading I’ve been doing indicates that specialization not only helps focus the business but presents a deeper understanding and fuller expertise within a given area to potential clients. However, some of what I’ve been reading also indicates that if you have an area of specialization and there is a downturn in the market place your business could suffer. Although it would seem to me that the area of specialization the reading is talking about has to do with a specific industry like health care, or banking. When I think of specialization I’m thinking of a service rather than an industry. For example website design and development is what I have been contemplating as my businesses area of expertise. I have over 10 years of experience designing and developing websites. I know I can serve clients well in this area. But just as I had the fear of starting my own business, there is a fear of specialization. Will it limit my business? Will my business be victim of a marketplace downturn? I’m not sure but what I am sure of is that the business model I have now is limited in terms of its growth. I feel the limits come from a lack of focus which is what specialization will bring me. So, putting fears aside, I am moving forward with the idea of specialization.

I have been rewriting my existing website copy for my business and creating some new content that is client-centric. I have written a concise positioning statement and will soon work out the layout and design of my company’s website. in addition, I am also going to embark on my first ever marketing campaign. Marketing in the traditional sense of actually sending out messaging that is focused on driving traffic to my website to create interest. But right now my focus is on getting the website complete and then I will shift my sites to the marketing efforts.

This post may not be all that cohesive, but my posting has been absent for over two months–mea culpa. Okay time to get back to work and getting my business on track and online.

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Day Zero

This morning I head off–literally when I post this entry–to my new office. I have been working at home for the past two years of my startup design business. I’ve been fortunate to find great clients and have kept a steady stream of work coming in. However, I have found that in order for me to be more productive at work and less disruptive at home I need to separate home from work.

For me home life and work life were woven together tightly. Work was always in the other room. As I type this sitting at the dining table of my house I can look into my now empty office. All of my equipment, files, and cables have been moved. There are still a few incidental items that will get moved down over this next week, but for the most part my work life has been surgically removed from home life–hence day zero.

The irony of this is that I really wanted to not work in a cubicle for “the man” yet here I am going back to a cubicle. Difference is its my cubicle because I am “the man.”

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A brief rant. Design is an industry dammit!

Initially when I started writing to this blog, my intention was to avoid ranting.

However, today I experienced something while filling out a form online that is a common experience for me. I was on some website filling out a form where they ask you a variety of questions about your occupation, how big is your company, what is your company’s total gross sales, etc.

Now here is where the rant comes in, there is typically a pull down menu titled “What is your industry?”

Inevitably this list of industries that shows up in the pull-down has to be at standard form element somewhere and everyone is using the same damn thing. Seriously, can the world be whittled down to a mere 15 to 20 industries?
What really perturbs me is that the field of design is never available. This could be industrial design, graphic design, information design, landscape design, any number of a variety of design fields. What irks me is that design is not listed as an industry. Advertising/marketing is always listed, but really this is not my specific industry. I don’t produce advertisements and I’m not a marketer in the true sense of the word. Perhaps what I really am is a mash-up artist. Taking disparate elements of computer code and pixels, mashing them all together to create something of value for businesses. I don’t know, sometimes a little thing like that pull-down menu can really set me off.

Okay, I feel much better now and I have a new category called “rant.”

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My Business, Version 1.5

This past week of work, the first week of February, was an interesting one for me in terms of my career and my business.

Last week was a transition period and if felt like it all week. January was a very busy month for my business with the first two weeks filled with many meetings about new projects while at the same time working on many of my current design projects already underway. At times it felt as if everything was up in the air and I had no control over anything. I guess this feeling of “losing control” is not uncommon. I read recently that the sense of control one feels as a business owner, or just a plain human being, is really nothing more than an illusion anyway. Who really has control over everything at every moment? I mean isn’t reality nothing more than your perception of the present? OK, I digress…

Anyhow, the beginning of last week had me scrambling to finish tasks on projects that I had worked on over the weekend, catch up on other projects that had been put on the back burner because of meetings in the first couple of weeks in January, and start to develop proposals for the new work that I had the meetings about the weeks before. Whew!

I did manage to make it through the week because I was looking forward to Friday. Friday, February 2nd, was my first official meeting with my new VA (Virtual Assistant). Now I can tell that I was very excited for this phone call because it was an actual “line-in-the-sand” if you will with regard to a transition for me and my business. I was now going to have someone other than me involved in the “day-to-day” activities of the business. Furthermore this person is invested to help my business succeed. As one of my business mantras in “your success in our success” so it is with my VA. This is cool for a number of reasons.

First, what I already said above. Second, once we iron out workflows, etc. this relationship will help me be more productive by allowing me to focus on what I do best, help my clients. Third, I should get to have a bit more sanity in my life by not having to do absolutely everything for my business. Fourth, I can’t think of a fourth at the moment but I know it exists along with a fifth, sixth, seventh, etc.

The most intriguing part of starting this phase of the business comes down to one thing for me, delegation. I must admit that during our one-hour phone call I felt completely disorganized (although I asked and was told that I was actually pretty well organized). Before we had our meeting I filled out and sent a few pages of questions relating to what things I need help with in terms of tasks. However, when I was on the call my brain was like a giant void.

The question was asked, “What can I help you with right now?”

A long pause–my brain scrambling for a task. I honestly could not put my finger on a task. How stupid I felt. Lucky for me we had already stumbled across a significant task, helping with data entry to get my companies new project tracking system online (btw, if you have not seen or heard of activeCollab, I highly recommend it!)

So, for now I will close this entry here. I could probably ramble on for longer but this is enough for now. I’m sure to have more to say soon.

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February first is around the corner

Next week the month of February will start. Other than making me realize that the end of the first month, one-third of the first quarter, is done it marks a time of transition for me and my design business.

I’ve been in business now for 19 months. I am closing in on the “24 month” threshold that is the old tale that any business that can make it past 2 years is going to last. I must admit when I started the venture of starting my own business I was unsure I would get enough clients to pay the bills. I’ve been fortunate to sustain and slowly grow my business completely through word-of-mouth.

However, now I find myself at a threshold. I spend a great deal of my time “managing” the business and work, and not doing the work itself. It’s a paradox I’m sure every person that has started out on their own has come to face.

I’ve decided to search for a virtual assistant. A virtual assistant is a qualified business professional that can offer a wide variety of business support services. It really depends on what your needs are. I have gone through the process of filling out a thorough form, received inquiries from qualified candidates and then had phone interviews with four people. From those four I selected “the one.” I am starting the new phase of business this February first that will begin to allow me to focus on the things I do best (think billable!) versus the things I can do (think unbillable!).

It really is a simple solution. I find myself spending from 40-60 hours per month managing my business. If I get half of that back in billable time, my inflow will increase overall not to mention the good feeling that will come in having someone other than me invested in the success of my business.

More will come in the next few weeks as we start working together.

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Business Matters

Tonight I attended a seminar hosted by AIGA of which I am a member. I went into this event with pretty high expectations. Usually when I do this I come away dissapointed–like the many movies I watch.

However, I was pleasantly surprised. The speaker for the evening, Errol Gerson, was knowledgeable, intelligent and fun. Errol has been teaching at the Art Center for over 30 years with a solid education in business (MBA, CPA, etc.). So, needless to say he knows design AND he knows business. He spoke to a room of about 40-50 graphic designers who are considering going into business for themselves or are already in the early stages of business, like me.

Errol covered the forms a business can take, sole proprietorship, LLC, and corporations. He spoke about the forms of insurance that are needed, what type of accounting method, accrual vs. cash, you should use, how to read profit and loss statements, how to perform a break even analysis, and the list goes on. There were some things I was aware of because of my own expereince in starting up my own design business in California, but when he covered the aspects of the financial side I was all ears. It also made me think, especially during the question and answer period, that there are organizations, like AIGA, that run these types of seminars to help educate design professionals about doing business, but there are not very many centralized resources for this type of information.

I began my business just about 19 months ago and have figured out how to get things done. How to incorporate, how to get a business licence, a loan, insurance, accountants, etc. There are a TON of things you need to do to get your business setup legitamately. I think I will cover some of those things in some posts.
It really was an invaluable evening.

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10 Best Intranets of 2007?

How can this be?

I recieved this in my inbox this morning from Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox.
How can we already know the top 10 of 2007 when we are only 3 weeks into the new year?

Perhaps he meant “10 Best Intranets of 2006?”

In any event, possible error aside. An interesting review of global Intranet design. Apparently Sweden is the best scandinavian country at Internet design—huh, who knew?

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