4 posts categorized "Portfolios"

A Recipe for Great Design Case Studies

Sassy Web Layout Sauce

Everything I've ever learned about writing case studies for design projects, I've gleaned from Cook's Illustrated.

Every recipe that magazine/show produces is 100% food porn, following an explicit formula that yields not only deliciously readable prose, but also an understanding of what working process the chef/recipe optimizer went through. Much like a taking part in a design project, they're identifying problems, churning through failure after failure to find that most delicious outcome for you, the reader, to enjoy.

We designers may be spending more time in our kitchens making web apps and identity systems—which aren't as simple as, say, making a great crème brulée—but there are certain ingredients we can steal from the articles of CI to put that extra oomph into how we promote our design efforts to prospective clients.

Here's a taste of what I mean, broken up into the five key areas that comprise a great long-form design case study. Video and brief pictorial case studies are their own challenge, which I'll talk about at a later date. In this post, I'm describing those double-sided sheets of paper you may hand a client in a meeting to take home and peruse at their leisure, or more detailed case studies on your website. Some may argue that these kinds of case studies have gone the way of the dodo, but if you're working to be hired by a large organization with a long and elaborate sales process, you need a few case studies to pass along to all those people you don't get a chance to talk to you along the way.

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Designer, Promote Thyself

Promote Thyself

Self-Promotion for Designers Now Lacking in Traditional Media; Blogger Makes Case for Teaching Designers Basic Format of Press Releases

Seattle, WA, Thursday, May 7--David Sherwin is admonishing working designers and agencies for not using press releases more often for both self-promotion and coverage of client projects. Even with full-time projects for designers in decline, there are still ways to reach outside the blog and speak to the press.

Traditional media opportunities are on the decline, but they are not out of the picture. "If you don't promote yourself now, when opportunities are slim, you will risk gaining the proper level of exposure when the market improves," Mr. Sherwin said to his empty living room after eating two bites of dark chocolate. "Even if you're a highly active blogger, it doesn't hurt to reach out through traditional media channels. It can aid your blogging and self-promotional efforts when applied effectively."

As part of Mr. Sherwin's ongoing PR education campaign, he outlined the following basic structure for a press release that any designer can use. Whether you've completed a small project, won an award, or have seen the impact of your efforts over time for a client initiative, the form of a press release is always accommodating.

A great press release will contain:

  • A headline and an optional subhead. Designers should seek a concise description of the angle you're taking for the overall press release, summarized in a strong headline. A subhead can be added as necessary to "unpack" the drama inherent in the headline.
  • The lede. The first paragraph of any press release must include the who, what, when, where, and why of your overall story. Ideally, the lede will be concise enough to be reprinted without any editorial effort on the part of a wire service, press outlet, or blogger.
  • Supporting context and quotes. The following paragraphs should provide the grounding for your lede, helping to deepen your argument and create a greater context for your story. Adding in quotes from yourself -- as much as it may hurt to put words in your own mouth in the third person -- is critical. The addition of client quotes is also a great idea, being mindful that you will need to likely write their quote and have them approve it.
  • If necessary, long-form data in bullet points. If you have a ton of information to cover, a bulleted list such as this one can provide the right format to showcase the depth of thought required behind a piece of work or an overall campaign. "Quotes can also be included in these data sections as well," said Mr. Sherwin, "which helps liven up lists."
  • The boilerplate. Every press release should conclude with boilerplate language, which is where you fully describe who you are, what you do, and how you can be contacted via the Web or phone.
  • Showing the work. If you're discussing a campaign or a creative product, consider including photographs within your release or providing links out to downloadable files that journalists and bloggers can reference.

"Closing your press release with an expert point of view can further aid your argument," said Paul Rand, who was contacted by the author via time machine. "But to remain completely professional, be sure that you get written consent from your contributors, unlike David, who decided to utilize my name in conjunction with this fabricated tripe."

About David: Ah, forget the boilerplate. The author of this release would like you be very aware of whom you contact with your press release. Many bloggers do not appreciate being emailed with press releases. Create a list of people whom you feel would appreciate being contacted by you, and then reach out them via email with your story. They will appreciate it, and be more likely to provide you with a PR opportunity.


What Are You Really Good At?

Clear All That Don't Apply

Quick: Tell me what you're best at as a designer.

No, you can't say you're really good at print. Can't you narrow it down to packaging or collateral, branding or advertising?

No, you can't say you're really good at creating Web sites. Do you focus on blogs, big dynamic sites with thousands of pages, non-linear Flash experiences, IM chatbots?

This may all sound a little facile, but every designer struggles with how they brand themselves. We know that having a design process can often yield great results, no matter what the tangible deliverable. And as we gain experience, we gain knowledge of more disciplines and tangibles. But we can't master them all.

The above exercise is humbling. And it serves great purpose, because when you're looking for work, clients ask you this sort of question all the time, and in many different ways. They want to know where your sweet spot lies when it comes to tactics. This is something you need to know now, not when you're on the spot.

So, I propose the following simple rule of thumb for working designers: Do three things well, and one thing better than anyone else. At least on paper. We can try to be good at applying design to everything that we see, often with terrific results, but the age of the generalist is slowly waning. We need to prepare for it.

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Design Richter Scale

Design Richter Scale

This week, after reviewing a ton of portfolios, it struck me that the very best design work I've seen recently inspires calm, awe, and respect. Emotionally, my response to each piece of work was narrowly focused. I was feeling what the designer wanted me to feel.

The weaker design work, by contrast, caused a wider range of emotions. Since many of the pieces that I saw weren't cogent design, I would see what the designer was trying to do. The effect of the work was all over the map. Hence the above chart, which inverts the Richter Scale.

In an earthquake, as you zip up the Richter scale the magnitude (and destruction) increases exponentially. When reviewing portfolios, it's the opposite. Really great design work that makes an impact on society has an exponential, focused effect, but instead of leveling cities, it simplifies decisions and inspires emotions (including envy). Weaker design, on the other hand, destabilizes the populace and becomes another layer of visual clutter.

ChangeOrder charts and cartoons are now on Flickr...