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November 05 2013

07:30

BamBam! The One and Only Collaboration-Tool for People who Really Need to Get Things Done


  

There are collaboration tools and there are tools that really help with collaboration. As a creative professional I bet you know a lot of collaboration tools. How many of them did you turn down already for not meeting your expectations? Today we will be introducing you to BamBam!, a new tool made in Poland. We are sure you will be impressed – to say the least…

April 09 2012

11:00

Tips to Find Balance Between Personal and Paid Work Before Life Rips You Apart

I am sure all of us have a lot of work to do during our freelance workday or even during the full-time agency job. But I am also sure that most of us have side projects as well. While some can be beneficial for your pocket and experience, sometimes you just want to develop your own tool, write a blog post or design something for friends or do some pro bono work. After eight hours of work, it is highly unlikely that you want to continue doing the same thing at home, so the question is how to manage doing both while still remaining motivated and focused on the goals. Moreover, if talking about what catches our attention all the time – money – personal projects are not usually the ones that put cash in our pockets.

If we look at the issue from the other perspective, it’s easy to spot designers or developers who only focus on client work and forget side projects entirely – even if they would actually like to create something on their own. While working more and more for money, the time for side projects is less and whereas this helps us grow in the business and drives our career forward, it doesn’t allow us to experiment with our ideas and achieve success on our own. And let’s face it, it doesn’t make us excited and motivated either.

Image by onetwo.

Finding a balance between personal and paid work is a crucial skill designers and developers need nowadays, therefore in this article we will cover some tips on the issue and, hopefully, by the end of it you will know which way to take from now on.

The importance

We covered why both concepts are important for us, but let’s explore the topics a bit more.

Working full time is not only important for paying the bills (although this might be the real reason behind it), but also for our careers. Having a lot of experience in the industry can only be an asset and will drive you forward whenever you need – it will now and then even land you that dream job if you are good enough.

But the downside of it is that you don’t really create anything for yourself. Everything you work on goes to a client who uses it and besides being able to show it off as your work, you will never get close to that project again. Doing work for others is not always going to make you enthusiastic and will in most cases only be work for money. The lack of real enthusiasm will kill your motivation at some point in time and we all know this is not beneficial.

Your client work may suffer because you don’t dedicate time to personal projects. Now I am not saying this is the case all the time, but the thought behind it might be:

Why work on each pixel to be perfect when the client will not notice anyway, and I will not be able to use the work afterwards?

There are lots of debates about this on the web and I will not take part in them; the only thing that I can assure you of is that working for yourself will always end up with better results.

People who are dedicated to a cause or a project often deliver work at a better quality. Money is not always the most important factor. I know lots of designers who would give up their non-exciting jobs for being able to work on something they like for the minimum amount of money they need. And I know some of you think the same.

On the other side, spending way too much time working on personal projects or pro bono work is highly unlikely to bring you the money you need to survive, much less tuck some away for new gear. It will keep you in better spirits, but on the other hand money is important too.

Image by atconc.

The bottom line is that while we need clients to pay for our work and keep us financially happy, we also need side projects which keep us enthusiastic and excited. This is the balance all of us need to reach.

Finding the balance

If you are a freelancer, there will be times when there is no time for side projects at all. We are all aware of them. And it is totally understandable! I do not think doing both every day is the solution. Paid work has to be prioritized and finished first. If you aren’t ahead of schedule, don’t think of side projects.  This is my rule, I don’t start personal projects if the work I should have done is not finished. Case closed!

There is no problem in putting paid projects back in the queue, if the deadline is not approaching fast, so you can work on something personal. But doing too much of this can get you behind schedule and this creates problems, as work projects need priority in most cases.

There is, however, time for side projects whenever you are ahead of schedule. If there are no deadlines you have to meet in the near future, you should have enough spare time. Some tips to find the right balance could be the following:

Check the finances

Client projects are the ones bringing you the big bucks. They pay the rent, the bills, the holidays and the taxes. They have to be your main focus, I can’t stress enough about how important this is. If you know that by the end of the month you need a specific amount of money, work for it. That is your goal for the month.

Working on your personal projects can also be considered kind of a vacation from the client work. You may even find yourself feeling relaxed while working on something you enjoy. If you think it relaxes you, do it in the afternoon – use an hour or a specific amount of time before going to sleep. This way you have something to look forward to every morning. I have a better suggestion though…

The 1/7 rule

There are seven days a week, five working days. Using one of them for personal projects is something I personally enjoy doing. This will help you focus on your client work and make you look forward to the specific day when you take on your side projects. Working on them will be like a holiday for you – as they will allow you to relax.

Image by Elphie17.

This method might be better than the first one because you will make a clear differentiation between personal and paid work. Monday – Thursday only paid work and Friday side projects, for example. This means four days when you work entirely on your paid projects, then one for the rest. I think it sounds quite fair.

Instant inspiration

Sometimes you might get hit by instant inspiration, which doesn’t happen too often. If the deadlines for the client projects aren’t looming over you, then move on to your side projects and work there. Afterwards, use the allotted time for side projects to get back on track with the paid work. This way you ensure that you deliver quality projects both for your clients and for whoever it is you are working for when working on extra projects.

We talked a lot about side projects. When talking about doing something you enjoy this doesn’t necessarily mean designing. You can maybe blog, take pictures, learn to cook or something else. Working on side projects doesn’t mean doing the same type of work as you do between 9 and 5, but doing something that relaxes you and keeps you motivated and focused. The bottom line is that whatever hobbies you have, you can combine them with working on your full-time job and still end up doing both properly.

Conclusion

I’ve heard many people say side projects are a waste of time, as they do not always bring you good money. It’s not always about money. Actually, once you have the minimum financial success you need in order to live a decent life, it is not about money anymore. Personal satisfaction is very important in our lives and if you don’t aim reaching it, you career will suffer too.

If you are open-minded you will notice side projects can only be beneficial to your career and you will start finding time for them in your schedule right away. None of us is so busy that we don’t have time for personal projects anymore. Time can always be found, all we need is the will to do it.

Until next time… how do you combine your side projects to the paid work you do? Do you have a better way or some other suggestions on the topic?

March 04 2012

10:00

Things to Consider When Estimating for a Website Development Project

Do you sell website development services? If so, then you are well aware how difficult it is to keep projects in scope during the website development process. Oftentimes website designers price website development jobs according to the specs initially presented by their client. Unfortunately, the client doesn’t always know everything that he needs/wants until after the project has already been scoped. This leads to website development companies either eating costs or having to have very difficult conversations with customers in order to get paid for the additional functionality and features that clients request during the development phase. I like to refer to this as “scope creep”. This article is going to talk about how we can avoid scope creep OR be prepared to deal with it effectively when it inevitably occurs. After you’re finished reading this article my hope is that you will be better prepared to estimate your website development projects.

Website Development is a Tough Business

Building a website takes a lot of time and effort. The client doesn’t always realize just how much work goes into it. If you don’t properly set expectations and price things accordingly up front, inevitably there will be scope creep. The client will keep requesting things that weren’t scoped for during the proposal process. The client will also continue to put in requests long after the website has launched, which again, if not scoped for up front, will lead to some uncomfortable conversations or even worse, you eating costs. We don’t want that. Here are a few reasons why it’s so tough to estimate costs for website development projects:

  • Customers aren’t comfortable with what goes into building a website. This lack of knowledge leads them to think things are easier than they may actually be.
  • Customers can’t visualize a website prior to it being built therefore their needs change throughout the project
  • Oftentimes customers ask for more rounds of revisions than were scoped for because as the process unfolds they are continuing to look at other websites for ideas
  • Customers think that if they see something on another website that it can easily be incorporated into their website
  • Customers don’t realize that they will need additional support after the website launches. They don’t like to pay for that up front, but then they ALWAYS come back with email requests asking for changes once you’ve completed your end of the agreement.

5 Steps for Making Estimating Website Development Projects Easier

website project proposal

Now that we know the reasons why scope creep occurs during website development projects, we can start to focus on how to do everything possible up front to avoid it. Here are 5 steps for making website development estimating easier. Start step 1 after you receive a request to build a website.

  1. Create a standard list of questions that can be semi-customized for each customer. Customize those questions for your current proposal and send them over to your prospect before you even have a phone call with them.
  2. Meet with the customer to review their responses to your questions and to dig deeper into their needs.
  3. Create your initial proposal and submit it to the customer. Schedule a meeting immediately to walk the customer through the proposal.
  4. Set customer expectations based on the initial proposal. Collect changes to the scope of the project based on the initial proposal and your expectations setting conversation.
  5. Finalize the proposal and begin work.

Great, so we have a plan for how we are going to go about estimating for a website development project, but the steps above lack critical details in order for you to actually follow them. So let’s dig into each step in more detail.

Create a Standard List of Website Development Questions

Having a standard list of questions that you can send off to a prospect who’s asking for a website development proposal from you will help you get answers to important elements of building a website. It also forces the person requesting the proposal to think through the project up front. You can always refer back to their answers throughout the process if there is ever a need to do so. This critical first step also allows you to make step 2 much more effective. If you skip step 1 and go right into a meeting with the customer then that conversation is going to take much longer than it needs to. Be prepared for step 2, complete step 1 first!

Some initial questions might include the following:

  • How many web pages do you need for your website?
  • Who is responsible for creating the website design, architecture, and content?
  • How many decision makers will have to approve the website before it launches?
  • What’s your timeline for the project?
  • Who will be hosting the website?
  • Do you have an internal IT person who can update the website after it has launched?

There are a lot of other questions that would probably be valuable to ask up front, but this list will definitely get you started. Once you have these answers you can move on to step 2.

Have a Face-to-Face Meeting with the Customer

Having a face-to-face meeting with the person or people who are going to be decision makers for this website development project is critical to the success of the project. They must get to know you, and you must get to know them. Website development can become contentious at times, when you have a better understanding of the players involved, and have taken the time to build a relationship with them, most of the issues that come up can more easily be resolved.

website estimate

Now, just because you must have a face-to-face conversation with your customer doesn’t mean you have to be there in person. Use tools like Skype, FaceTime, etc. to facilitate these meetings if you’re not in close proximity to your customers. A side benefit is that your use of technology will probably impress them. It may be that you must have more than one meeting. If that’s the case then doing so via Skype will be much easier. Once you’re satisfied that you have as much information as possible about the project it’s time to create your initial proposal.

Create an Initial Website Development Proposal

It’s time to create your initial website development proposal. I say “initial” because proposals for website development almost always change once you’ve had a chance to review them with your customer and set expectations. Basically what you need to do is take all of the information they have given you, match that with your recommendations, create a long list of assumptions, break it down into a few areas of focus, and put pricing behind each area of focus. Areas of focus might include:

  • Design, architecture, and content development
  • Website Build
  • SEO
  • Hosting
  • Post-Launch support

The key here is to give your customer enough information so that they understand just how much work is involved, but not so much that it overwhelms them or provides them with too much to nitpick. I usually like to pad hours for website development projects as customers inevitably ask for a reduction of costs, without cutting down on the tasks. Once you’ve put the proposal together, reviewed it, and are OK with it, go ahead and send it off to your contact. Be sure to request a meeting ASAP. Don’t let too much time go by without walking the customer through it.

Set Customer Expectations

During your proposal review meeting, you absolutely have to start setting customer expectations. You do so by explaining each area of the proposal, explaining what it includes and also what it does not include. You want to make sure that everyone is clear as to what is covered and what is not. I even recommend that in some areas where you did not include something, but you can foresee it becoming an issue future-forward, that you bring it up during the call. Explain to them that although it’s not covered in the proposal, you think they should consider including it OR simply remember that if they request it after you’ve started work, you will have to submit a change order to the project costs.

Another thing to be sure to openly discuss during this meeting is change orders. You can be honest with them. Explain to them that in your experience website builds often have scope creep. Cover the reasons why that is. Let them know that it’s OK to change the scope as long as they are all comfortable with the fact that when the scope changes, they should expect your budget to change as well. If you get your customer comfortable with this process up front, then they will be prepared when you send them an updated budget or change order.

Setting customer expectations is the single biggest step in this entire website development proposal process. Those who do it well will experience much less pain moving through the website development process.

Finalize the Website Development Proposal

Here it is… the final step in winning a new website development job. Finalize your proposal. Take everything that was discussed during your initial proposal review meeting, incorporate it into your proposal and finalize it. Be sure to put in a list of “assumptions” based on what was discussed at the meeting. If your customer said they are providing all of the content, be sure to state that. If they said they do not need post-launch support, include end dates for the work. The biggest thing during this step is to just be smart and think it through before you finalize your bid. If you do that, then you should make things much easier on yourself once you start work.

Website development is a tough business. We all know it far too well. Things can go South quickly and people can lose money even quicker. If you follow the steps we’ve outlined in this article you will be doing everything possible to minimize that risk. Start your website development projects off right, follow the steps above, set customer expectations, keep open lines of communication, and you should be just fine.

What do you think? What’s been your experience when it comes to estimating website development projects? Do you have any other tips that might help all of us when we are scoping work? Please leave your comments below. We can’t wait to hear them.

January 17 2012

21:00

8 Things Designers Should Teach Their Clients

When starting as a designer, you might encounter some issues along the way, especially in the relationships you develop with your clients. This happens mainly because the clients quite often have the wrong  idea of what we actually do and think that “anybody can design a website”. In their opinion it is as easy as opening Photoshop and drawing something, then writing three lines of code and there you go, you have developed a website.

We all know the reality of is totally different, but until we explain this to our clients, they will not start understanding us and will not value our work any more than they currently do.

The way of improving their opinion is trying to give teach them different lessons, either by telling them directly or by letting them understand through your collaboration. However, it is more likely to help if you do it before signing a contract, because your working relationship will change and will be clear to them from the beginning. This way you can set some expectations and they will better understand who they’re collaborating with.

1. You are an artist, not a laborer


It is good to start with this one. Explain to them from the beginning that what you do is called creative work. Tell them designers need talent, skills and experience to be able to deliver highly-rated products. Like any other kind of tradesperson, designers/artists know how to do their jobs. Nobody tells doctors how to do their jobs and this is because people know that their doctor knows much more than they do about their health. It should be the same with designers. Just because clients know that blue and red make purple or what an anchor or container is, doesn’t make them experts.

Tell your clients that regardless of what they may think, design is not easy, that’s the best designers are paid to make it look easy. Explain to them that even though you accept feedback (we will talk about this a bit more down the road), you are the expert and you’ll only do what you believe is better for the final product, even if they may disagree with you.

Image by toomas

This happens mostly with freelance designers. If you work in a studio, you will most likely be left to do the job the way you want it. The situation changes for freelancers, however. Clients think that because you’re a freelancer and don’t have an office or work 9-5 Monday to Friday (which many of them do, by the way), you are not a professional. Tell your client that you have working hours like everybody else and don’t allow him to call you at 10:30 at night asking for a one final small adjustment before the flyers go to print the next morning. By setting these boundaries clients will also be more cautious and will think twice before calling you too often or outside of your office hours.

2. You are the expert, not them


This is a huge one and I tell you this because there have been many times that a client has called me and told me how to do my job. The bottom line is that you know the web better than they do and they should not doubt that. They shouldn’t come and give you lessons about social media, usability and design, because you already know those – and most likely he or she doesn’t know them better than you.

Many people think that just because they know how to open Illustrator or made a nice wedding invitation in Microsoft Word once that they are designers. Establish from the beginning who is the expert, but be careful about how you tell people this, you don’t want to sound harsh or arrogant. How you can handle your clients depends on so many things that I can’t tell you how to properly explain this to them, but here are some ideas:

  • Try to explain all the reasons behind the major decisions you make. By hearing that you did something with a clear purpose they will realize you know what you are doing.
  • Showing data or research to support things you say is very powerful. Google this and use it if you can, clients will always believe in your solution when they will see that many other people do.
  • You could also use books, design rules and principles or even academic discussions or files to show that the way you do things is industry standard (or truly ground breaking and different).
  • The power of example is very useful if you know how to use it; show your clients other important web sites using the same technique or principles. By showing him that “big players” use it, he will ask for it himself.
Image by sachyn

There might be some other stuff you could use, such as showing up on time to client meetings, dressing appropriately, being organized, writing professional and well-thought e-mails and, obviously, meeting deadlines. The most important is to be taken seriously by the client and you can’t do this if you don’t follow these simple rules.

3. Feedback is taken into consideration, impositions are not accepted


This is another important one, especially when everybody thinks they can be a designer. Feedback should always be accepted and considered, because others might have better ideas. They might also have some ideas that will improve the final results. Moreover, if the web page you make heads in a direction that the client doesn’t want, this is not really good for your reputation, so always accept feedback.

There is a clear difference between feedback and imposition. If a client starts giving you guidelines and ideas on how to do everything, you should stop him and explain that you know what you’re doing. Assure him of the fact that the final result is going to be actually better than the one he wants, because you are the expert, as mentioned above.

However, it is a really difficult to explain your clients, so take care about not being too harsh. Take some time in the beginning to listen to their questions and answer them as accurately and precisely as you can. Most of the clients will feel that their need to be involved in the project is lower once you have a talk with them about it. Explain in the beginning that you would like feedback from him up until the deadline, but you will be the one who makes the final decision.

4. Communication is crucial


It is very important to have a good relationship with your client during the project and also after it. Therefore try to maintain close contact with the client while you work together. This is also important because it is the only way you can find out what your client thinks and wants. Don’t just show up after three weeks with the final product done for delivery. Even if you respect the deadline and work within the budget, the client might still not be happy because he was not involved in the development process at all.

Image by YOdesigner

Many clients tend to be too involved in their projects so many designers try to stay away and only show up on the delivery date with the project, charge the money and leave. This is rather likely to end your relationship on neutral terms and the client will never come back to you for more work.

If you involve the client a bit, he will feel that he is part of the project and that he is the one who makes the decisions – although we know it is not like that. Explaining from the beginning or better yet specifying in the contract that you will ask for client meetings a few times is a good idea to make the client feel he will be part of the development process more than he actually is. Including clients usually means they have a great appreciation for the work you do as they see it develop from basic idea to final product.

5. Web is not print


There is a general misconception out there that web and print are very similar. Well, they’re not and we know it, but how do we explain this to our clients that are mostly familiar with print? They might want a web site that looks like a brochure – while you don’t. It is important to take the time and explain to your clients that the web is very different from print (even though I think we can all agree that until you know the difference it’s easy to understand why people think they’re almost the same) and there are different rules. We just decided upon who is the expert, so why not show you are one and educate your clients? You don’t need to read them a whole design book, just explain some basic principles and provide examples – clients will be more than happy to accept you as the expert when you show them and act like you are one.

6. “One small final change” does not exist


If you have even the smallest bit of experience you’ve heard this quote already. Another problem is that this usually comes at the last minute before the deadline and it affects the whole process, including the probability of you meeting the deadline. Even the simple process of changing a color might be complicated, because you need to go back and re-export the files, change the stylesheet and even make general design changes to complement the new set of colors.

In my opinion one the most important clauses you need to stipulate in a contract is the revision clause. Explain to the client in detail that for every change from one point in time on, he will have to pay extra. Allow them one or two revisions (depending on the size of the project) and charge money from then on. They will think twice before calling you with four hours before the deadline with a small, minor final change.

7. Set reasonable deadlines


We know that all the clients want the product as fast as possible, but some clients don’t understand the time it can take for even a simple website (for example our first lesson) and set difficult or impossible deadlines. Explain to them that a web site can’t be designed, developed and deployed in two days and don’t sign the contract if the deadline is not reasonable. It’s better to avoid these clients than work for them and not get paid, or get paid less because you didn’t deliver by their difficult deadline.

This is not easy to explain either, but you can actually come with a schedule draft and explain to the client what will you use each hour for. There is a high probability that he will understand. Another tip is to never deliver a schedule draft that you think is just enough for that kind of project. “Just enough” is never enough. Double or triple the time you think you need – the client doesn’t know how much the design phase takes anyway. Now I’m not saying to scam the clients into paying you more than you work for, but you need to make sure you have enough time for those minor, small changes and for the emergencies you might encounter.

Another good thing about setting such a deadline is that clients will always be happy to get the product earlier than expected. I always say: “Under promise, but always over deliver.” This makes clients think you worked more on their project than you should have and they will be happy to pay you at the end of the collaboration and even hire you again some time soon.

8. The contract is not just for fun


We’re not playing the designer – client game. This is serious business and the contract you sign with the client has to be respected. It is important to have a strong contract, but regardless of what kind of deal it is, always turn back to it if needed. Moreover, tell the client from the beginning that the contract is important and you want it to be respected. He will actually get a good impression about you and will see that you are serious and professional about what you do.

To give you some ideas about what should the contract include I made a list for you, as it follows:

  • Client meetings
  • Work hours
  • Contact hours
  • Milestones
  • Licensing (who owns the product at the end of the project)
  • Budget
  • Payment rules
  • Revising rule

This is not everything, but those are some of the most important clauses you want to include in a contract with a client.

Keep in mind that this tip is not about having a contract (we shouldn’t even talk about this), but about revising it together with the client. Make sure he knows what’s written there. Nobody reads contracts nowadays, especially with banks, car rentals and many, many others. Therefore keep it short and force the client into revising it by being there when he signs it.

Bottom line


Being a designer or developer is not easy and I am not saying this only because of the amount of skills you need, but because you need to work with people and they are always different. You will never have two clients or projects that are the same. Challenges and difficulties in communicating with them always appear and it’s up to you to solve them. It is not easy to stand up to someone who pays you, but it is worth doing. They will respect you more after you do it and most of them will just accept the rules. Don’t be afraid to share these lessons with your clients, only be aware of how you do it.

Have you encountered these issues with your clients? How did you solve them, or you just worked without working anything out?

October 29 2010

13:55

Take The Initiative and Create Your Own Projects

Smashing-magazine-advertisement in Take The Initiative and Create Your Own ProjectsSpacer in Take The Initiative and Create Your Own Projects
 in Take The Initiative and Create Your Own Projects  in Take The Initiative and Create Your Own Projects  in Take The Initiative and Create Your Own Projects

During my last job with a large corporation, people started to get laid off. Many fellow creatives came to me, as they had no idea what they would do if they were let go. I had come to that small city from New York and my experience was varied and impressive to those who started their careers with this company. Their parents had hoped for their own children to work there and eventually retire in the same homey place. They were anchored in this town that held no other industries. Like layoffs in a town that has a steel mill, there weren’t many options to those looking for work.

“You’re creative,” I would tell people before my turn came in the next to last round of layoffs (which is some comfort). “You can do so many things that are creative. If you get pushed out the door, make your own projects!” Then advise them where to go and spend the rest of the day creating a book, or painting a series for a gallery show, or create postcards, greeting cards, dolls and websites. This was usually followed by the persons to whom I was speaking to, to ask about something they obviously wanted to explore; leading to a discussion, usually joined by others as well, on how to achieve it. The dividing line is how badly does one want it?

[Offtopic: by the way, did you know that we are publishing a Smashing eBook Series? The brand new eBook #3 is Mastering Photoshop For Web Design, written by our Photoshop-expert Thomas Giannattasio.]

Take The Initiative!

Tailor in Take The Initiative and Create Your Own Projects

Tailor (A) gives creative (B) a snappy new “power suit”, SO irresistible that the client (C) hugs the suit (D) causing it to hit paddle (E), smashing expensive vase (G) and wasting a perfectly goof head of cabbage (I). Further destruction reigns havoc (K – P), dousing all competitors with a toxic chemical (Q). Illustration by Rube Goldberg.

I’m a big believer in self-propelled initiatives. It’s how I make a living. Writing for Smashing Magazine is an initiative. Everything is done before Smashing ever sees it. Authors have to come up with the idea, research it for presentation, get the approval and then write it and submit it. It’s initiative. As with what you may perceive as easy to pitch an article, most initiatives are simple!

All of my career I’ve had people come to me to relay that they have written a book and need a cover or images for the inside so they can send it to a publisher. I tell them they don’t need all that. Just send in the manuscript with a self-addressed-stamped-envelope (many publishers have digital submissions on their sites) and the publisher will choose cover designers and illustrators themselves.

Some people smile at the realization that their dreams were an easy step closer. Some didn’t believe me and insisted I design something for them (and draw, because I’m an “artsy-type!”). I look over the pages and tell them it’s an idea that shouldn’t be “set aside lightly”. They smile and then I tell them it should be “thrown with great force” (with apologies to Dorothy Parker). Some people want it to be done for them. Maybe it’s the prompting of a contest or a “might-as-well-take-it” project.

Would you rather be working on a low-paying project that is screwing you up at every turn or invest in yourself with the time put towards your dream project? It’s not hard coming up with an idea and creating the images, code or what-have-you. The difficult part is making yourself do it and then selling it and that’s where most people fail.

One of my recent favorite self-initiative stories was about an injured creative with time on his hands and a need for income. Dave is a designer at the Iconfactory and responsible for the ultimate Twitter icon Ollie the Twitterrific bird; he had broke his foot while playing soccer over the Fourth of July. That meant that the poor guy was relegated to staying off his feet at home. Rather than wallow in self-pity, he decided to use the opportunity to keep himself from going completely Rear Window and offer up his design skills to the large Web community — and successfully so!

Self-initiative is not easy for most people. Working for someone else provides a regular paycheck, security, after a fashion, and someone telling you what to do. No self-motivational projects needed. As one person commented on a past article on crowdsourcing,

“I recently participated in the LG “Design the Future” contest (yeah, I didn’t win)… but rarely do I get the chance to design a cell phone like product… it was a great exercise in creativity and it really let me flex my muscle… and they had some substantial cash prices (first prize was $20,000)… I feel like competitions like that are great for the industry. The rules were pretty relaxed and it really let people go hog wild and show off what they can do. Too often you’re forced to roll with the clients vision. It’s great to have a contest that let’s you be you.”

As I was arguing the pros and cons of crowdsourcing in that article, I just had to reply for his edification:

“I understand your point, but let me play devil’s advocate and explore another option. So you submitted something you really enjoyed designing and it stretched your creativity. You loved your final submission. You didn’t win and the client, I assume, owns it anyway. What if you had designed it but not submitted it and then sought out companies that might purchase the rights to the design? You would have taken a cue to create your own initiative and owned the product rights.”

Was the prize worth giving away all rights to the winner? What would the client have paid a design firm or freelancer to do the work? I’m guessing that the prize cost was considerably less than the one that would have run the company. So, who was the real winner? Which avenue held a better chance for him? The odds of him winning the contest and giving up the idea anyway without winning, or the odds of him being able to sell the design on the open market, or  maybe not, but owning it to try again? I can’t say.

Persistence in selling the idea and protecting it can be daunting. Even though, sometimes even an e-mail comes back right away that says, “I love it!”… and a check eventually arrives. (Note: you shouldn’t participate in such speculative design work as a professional in the first place and here is why — Smashing Editorial)

What Will Get You Started?

Tidalwave in Take The Initiative and Create Your Own Projects

A tidal wave of ideas or bills (A) will motivate another creative nearby to foolishly open an umbrella (E) in a lame attempt to hold back the flood, causing what looks like a giant earring (H) to fall and pull the hammer (J) so it strikes a piece of metal (K), waking up the baby (L) who must be rocked to sleep (N) by a trained and poorly-paid dog (M), causing the attached backscratcher (O) to tear at your flesh until you decide it’s better to get off your rear and do something. Illustration by Rube Goldberg.

Your idea. Your dream. No one will do it for you. Even if you have to work at something non-creative — use the money to live, but make your dream the priority. Crappy job gets in the way of your dream? Find another crappy job! They’re everywhere and except for the slaughterhouse idea, they won’t drain your creativity. Have the idea? Now set your plan. Just like your previous boss who had always made projects go around and around, it’s finally time to make your own plan, knowing it will work better, and make it happen!

First, research who your customer is. Using Web sources or going to stores are the best way to find out some helpful examples of consumer habits (yes, marketing people never leave the office, they rely too much on figures supplied to them). See what people are buying and talk to them. I used to go to stores that carried products made by the company for which I worked for, and watched what people bought or didn’t and asked them why.

I would smile as I approached them, excuse myself and explain what I was working on and gathered their opinions. This is probably why my products sometimes sold very well. Know your consumer base!

Also, figure out costs and how you will cover them. You may need a loan or investors. What website and functionality will you need? Packaging, having stock, shipping, advertising, taxes? Is your dream project for you to start a business or do you want someone else to produce it? If you are producing it yourself, you can get a business loan, but you are about to take many, many risks. Get legal and financial advice next. It’s well worth the money and will give you the final tally of whether or not this will be your dream or nightmare.

If you are creating something to pitch to a company for their purchase or licensing a property (certain photos for calendars and cards, for instance), there are a similar but different set of rules.

Start with the idea and marketing, create a style guide and/or presentation. A friend of mine wanted to publish a graphic novel for a pitch for a property she was trying to sell but couldn’t afford upfront fees for an artist and writer and printer, so I told her to use a WordPress blog to post her promotional material that she already had and that would give her a great presentation — the easy way.

Research which company you think would want to take on the project. Again, go online or to a store and look around. Want to really impress potential clients? Ask the store’s permission to set everything up; take videos of shoppers and their answers. What better way to produce proof of a need and then give clients the means to fulfill it!? Let your imagination run wild! As with the man who was so excited by the contest he entered, stretch yourself creatively.

Found the perfect prospect? Do your research and find the people you need to reach. There are many business networking sites. Search the company and find people and their titles. Get addresses and phone numbers. Call the receptionist and ask her/him who is the head of marketing or if they have an R & D contact person. If they don’t know, ask to speak to the secretary of the VP of marketing. Maybe she/he can get you closer. Also, use your network. Do any of your contacts know someone you are trying to reach?

Sounds difficult? It isn’t really; just keep in mind that it takes a lot of persistence, patience, as well as a good sense of humor. Once you lost one of those, you won’t make it.

A Non-Disclosure Agreement Is Standard

Feeding in Take The Initiative and Create Your Own Projects

While feeding yourself (A), the spoon pulls the string (B), flipping a piece of drilled iron into the head of a parrot (E), who is knocked unconscious and knocks it’s beak into a bowl (G) which spills parrot food into a bucket (H) that sets of fireworks (K) inside your house with a razor sharp sickle (L) attached to it, cutting the string (M) and forcing you to remember the paperwork to enforce your rights by smacking you in the face with a contract repeatedly! Illustration by Rube Goldberg.

It’s standard to either have your own Non-Disclosure Agreement or pick up a copy of Tad Crawford’s book on contracts and forms. Bigger companies will insist on using their own. Bigger corporations, to their own detriment, usually have no access point for outside ideas. They are afraid your idea may be something they are working on and they will be sued down the line. Middle-sized companies will just tell you they happen to be working on the same idea. Document your contacts and submissions well.

I was recently told over a dozen product designs would not be used. I later heard the products were available in every catalog world-wide. Did they think my price would go up if I found out how well the work did? You bet it will! Keep your expectations high (expect the middle to low high) when negotiating. A recent question came in from an artist in Mexico who ran across a sleazy representative in the United States who was basically ripping her off for one of her licensed characters. She had jumped at the chance because it was her first time working in a licensing arrangement. I hope she followed my advice.

As with any business transaction… think! Anyone who rushes your decision is up to something. Do your research and see what you find.

Bless The Web And All Who Surf It!

Extended in Take The Initiative and Create Your Own Projects

Extended and dangerous hook (A) catches old fashion sign (B), causing electrical shorts that start a fire and the boot to swing back, kicking the football (C) over the goal post (D) and into a colander (E) which tips the watering can (G) to soak the creative’s back, pants and shoes, which will lead to misunderstandings and new nicknames. The string (I) pulls open the cage (J) allowing the bird (K) to go to eat the worm (M), as the bird had been starved in retaliation for all the Twitter fails, causing the shade to be pulled down (N), which reminds the creative to mail that proposal in his pocket. Using theiWeb only takes half the steps. Illustration by Rube Goldberg.

The Web holds a billion of possibilities. As I mentioned about my friend who built a blog, rather then going through the costs of print, you can hardly lose with a great idea and the ability to bring it to life on the Web. With e-commerce made so easy, how can you not have a site that sells something? At least most of the people I know have a Cafepress or Zazzle “shop”.

When I first started with web design, back in the days when processors ran on mud and sticks… and fire, which was new, I put up sites for my infamous chili recipe, one for each of my kids, a site for toy collectors, and it went on. Why? The Web was young and there were probably only 73 sites live and forty of them were mine!

Use your down time. Partner with friends and split the rewards. Ever hear of a group of social outcasts who got together and created something called “The Onion?” No? I haven’t either, but I do hear good things and that they crawled their way up to be, I believe, the number one humor site in the world. It must have started with an idea and someone’s dream.

(ik) (vf)


© Speider Schneider for Smashing Magazine, 2010. | Permalink | Post a comment | Add to del.icio.us | Digg this | Stumble on StumbleUpon! | Tweet it! | Submit to Reddit | Forum Smashing Magazine
Post tags: creative, initiative, projects, spec

January 18 2010

06:48

Creative Spotlight: Un.titled

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Creative Spotlight: Un.titled

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