29 March 2010

recommended article: pre-bid discussions

Alright, so here's the thing. I've finally accepted the fact that I'm not a real – regularly posting – blogger. Obviously. But more importantly, I've finally come to accept that this is okay.

I'm not blogging to get hits or drive traffic to my portfolio site; that approach bothers me with its inauthenticity and it's really not what I'm about. Occasionally I'll feel the urge to break out of my private-and-wanting-to-keep-it-private-for-my-own-sense-of-sanity world, and want to share something. You know, just something I come across, or what I've been working on lately. But I think I really just need to keep the sharing to times when I feel there is something to be shared, and not push it to be something it's not.

I'm simply not cut out to do this on a regular basis. I would love it if I was, don't get me wrong – and there are several people whose blogs, business or personal, I follow on a regular basis – I'm just not cut out to be a blogger. And really, I think it's okay.


That said, I did come across a really interesting article this morning. No, let me back up a bit.

My normal weekly schedule allows me to open up my huge amount of bookmarks neatly organized and awaiting such an occasion, places that are sure to provide visual inspiration or an interesting article in the world of graphic design. But because of some interesting drama involving a contract for a new project, I've been pretty much offline for the past few weeks. (You know the whole "trial by fire" thing? Yep. I am now an expert on SO many more business-related things than I have ever been before. Everything's a learning experience, though, of which I am always grateful.)

Anyway, this morning I felt like giving myself the treat of browsing for a little while, and I came across an article from Andy Rutledge's site, Design View. The whole topic of the article, pre-bid discussions, is something I've experienced firsthand these last few weeks, with a couple of different projects/clients. (By the way, I'm happy to report that one proposal has been approved (a book project!) and we're very close on the second, so I have some upcoming projects that I'm very excited to be a part of.)

The whole process of finding and winning a new client is never a sure thing, and can't really be handled with a series of prescribed steps that are sure to work for everyone. Every relationship is different, and it's especially tricky to maneuver through the negotiations with someone who you haven't worked with before. But all the more important, because let's face it, you really want the job!

Anyway, I found this article to be refreshing, and this is one of those things that aren't talked about too much, unfortunately. There's a ton of resources out there for creating your own contract, proposal/estimate forms, and all the necessary business templates for a freelance designer, but when it comes down to actual advice about the details of negotiations, there's not a whole lot out there that I've found to be helpful. And of course, it's when you need this advice the most that it's the hardest to find, right?

I feel like I've finally reached that line between taking any project that comes my way in order to pay the bills, and becoming more selective in the clients and projects I choose. Which, after 10+ years of designing, is really an exciting thing! And this is sort of what this article addresses – the ability to make a distinction between having the capability to successfully complete the work and having a successful project.

Highly recommended article for any freelancers out there – design or otherwise. Because hey, we all want successful projects, right? Who would be freelancing if they didn't already have a drive for success?

Here's to the very real possibility of producing our best work for clients we love working with. Imagine.

26 January 2010

personality type

I spent the morning doing online research (i.e. multiple tests) to determine my personality type. Not that this is anything new for me; I go through this every so often, and have ever since high school. I've noticed a pattern, that whenever we go through a big change and the dust and the quietness settles, I feel the need to take a step back and re-evaluate myself, to find my identity. Because after every major life change, every move, every new environment in which I find myself, isn't it necessary to adapt to my new situation/surroundings and change a little bit of myself in the process? Through this thoughtful analysis (something my personality type cherishes) I realized this is a normal and necessary part of living.

ISTJ - "Trustee". Decisiveness in practical affairs. Guardian of time- honored institutions. Dependable. 11.6% of total population.

But a new personality altogether? If you follow the link above, it describes my apparent personality (which came up the same way in several different tests today), and it says right there: an ideal career for someone like me would be a statistician, a data analyst, an office worker! Aaah, aaaah and aaaaaaaahhhh!

My personality seems to have changed drastically from a few years ago. I used to be this light, somewhat sociable idealist, ready to take on and change the world (whatever that means), and now it seems I'm nothing more than a pragmatic realist, rushing to get from place to place and check things off her list. What happened? I do find beauty and yes, actual peace in being organized – guilty – but that's always been the case to some extent. It just seems that this trait has been slowly moving itself to the forefront, along with a host of other, non-creative, non-intuitive functions.

What happened to the girl I once knew?

I guess the results of this new round of tests sort of sadden me. I don't recognize this new person. I get more accomplished now than ever before, and I have become a business person, owning my own design studio – but at what cost? And speaking of design, how does personality type figure in to my working habits? Creativity? Has my right brain, with its creativity and intuitive feeling power, just shriveled up with its (ostensible) non-use?

I've always been interested in the study of right brain/left brain function and how it relates to the field of graphic design. I personally feel that a good designer is made from a balance between the two hemispheres: the ability to think outside the box and be a creative artist (right brain), with an understanding and appreciation for order (left brain). But of course, my opinion could be tainted a bit because I've always tested straight down the middle; I'm constantly in battle between the two.

Anyway, I don't know what this says about me, except that in my quest to start thinking like a man – my secret formula for becoming a businesswoman – I may have altered myself significantly. Or perhaps this is a temporary change because moving overseas for the enth time requires vigilant organizational skills to keep the world from unraveling... I don't know. I just know that I want to get my other secret formula back – dreaming.

21 January 2010

I'm shutting off my email

I did something appalling today. I shut down my email program.

It all started because I am perpetually running out of space on my hard disk, and until I can afford to get a bigger (yet another) external hard drive and move some things over, I am forced to operate on an as-needed basis, rather than my personal preference of having a million applications open all at once. It makes my working method of impatience more effective, if I don't have to sit and wait for Photoshop to open up every time I need it.

So I reached a point early this morning when I was unable to function due to low disk space, and there seemed to be just one thing that was eating up a massive quantity – not sure if it was email or not, but at this point it doesn't matter. As soon as I closed my Mail application, I just sat there, sort of staring at my screen with a quiet curiosity.

Oh, is this what freedom is like?

And a thought hit me. What if I... ah... left it off? I have my most important account coming through on my phone, so it's not like I'm cutting myself off cold. (Please.)

It would just give me some breathing space, so my eye isn't flickering to that screen every 30 seconds, just in case a new email came in and I didn't hear the ding or didn't see the new highlighted line come up in my peripheral vision. You know. I'm actually thinking this might be a good thing, to be unplugged from this obsession, for the sake of productivity. Perhaps?

In the meantime, I've discovered the root of my space woes, and it's not Mail, but maybe I will keep it off for a while. I think I may just survive.

What about you, dear readers? Has anyone else experienced such an epiphany, and if so, how is it going? How do you handle your stream of incoming information? Curious to hear other people's experiences.

13 January 2010

zoe organics: handcrafted organic skin care

OK, time for a shameless self-promotion here: I've branched out a bit in recent months, and am partnering with a friend of mine to start an organic skin care company. It's actually been pretty eye-opening for me; I've mostly been doing research about package design (and some web design, though I'm a bit timid to admit this, because I'm just clueless when it comes to the subject!), and I've been learning a ton: how things are made, where the materials come from, what the printing options are, etc. etc.... and I feel like I've only just seen the tip of this iceberg.

But some of the things I've been wanting to do (if I ever did start a company) turn out to be pretty hard, if not impossible. Using recycled glass to make the glass jars and bottles for the products – this I thought would be a piece of cake. Turns out, if you can only order small quantities of things and don't have the budget to custom-make your containers, you're actually very limited in your options. Oh, there are options – don't get me wrong – they're just not what I'm looking for, stylistically or aesthetically. (And what's more important than that??)

I read a book last year called Cradle to Cradle, and I feel like there's been a giant shift in my perception of what it means to live sustainably. Seriously – like what it means to recycle, and how being good by recycling isn't really good enough when it comes to preserving our resources. But what I love the most about the book is that it's not really a guilt-inducing, finger-pointing type of manifesto; it's actually pretty inspiring, and makes me want to try to create totally new ways of making things. (Try! I said.) The sweet spot here is to find a way to manufacture your product so that no waste at all is produced (or, I should say, the "waste" that is produced can go back into the system as a benefit for something else). It's all a system, after all, this world we're living in, and currently severely out of balance.

I'm paraphrasing here, and pretty awfully I might add, but that's kind of the general sense of the book. Anyway, it's become quite a buzz phrase, "cradle to cradle," and not to jump on the bandwagon or anything, but there are companies out there who are making major changes in the way they manufacture products – and how amazing would it be to actually initiate change on this level? Hm.

All that to say, I've been inspired by this book. And I hope to have the chance to do some things differently, when it comes to the making of our packaging and products. There are lots of things to consider, of course, and believe me it can get overwhelming, but I've finally accepted that this is a process, and I'll just continue on this road, and see where it leads.

Change is hard. But often, a very good thing.

Oh, and by the way, here's the link to Zoe Organics. Cheers.

04 January 2010

a cardboard cup and a laptop

So I'm sitting here in a coffee shop* drinking my tall quad Americano (2 decaf) on this bright (i.e. still dark) and early Monday morning, grateful that they've put on some non-Christmas music and taken down, well, most of their decorations – and all of a sudden on comes this country, I repeat, COUNTRY song. What the what?? Come on, people. This is Hong Kong, for heaven's sake, and who even likes country music outside the States? I suppose I should be happy it's not Bob Marley or Jack Johnson, which seems to be the staple coffee-shop music anywhere outside of the U.S., but still.

Anyway, um, good Monday morning to you, and I hope everyone had a good break, for those who were fortunate enough to take a break. And now it's back to the grindstone. Caffeine-laden am I, and therefore now ready. Ta-da.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

*I strongly hesitate to admit that I am indeed sitting in a Starbucks** – but the thing is, along with my phone and water bottle, I also forgot to bring my coffee mug this morning. So I had the choice of either putting my head down and getting on with the day while continuing to be grumpy and slovenly, or making the most of this opportunity to have a nice hot cup of loverly, while simultaneously putting a stop to the impending headache that will come if I don't.

**Not that I hate Starbucks in its entirety, mind, I suppose it's just the whole corporate-world-domination thing that gets to me. You know. But as much as I openly despise Starbucks, Wal-Mart, et al. (and increasingly IKEA) – the cold fact remains that I do visit these places on occasion. My mantra, for the new year and beyond, is "do what you can" (and when you really get down to it, that is actually a rather freeing statement). And that, honestly, is all I can ask for.

14 December 2009

appearance vs. functionality

I've always been a firm believer that design – print, web, interior, architectural, horticultural, whatever – is nothing without functionality. All the style in the world can't make up for a design that doesn't in some way improve the life of the user.

Here's an example: I just moved into my own office space, a tiny, tiny room (with a window!) in the heart of the city, here in Hong Kong. The rent's a package deal, including high-speed internet, air conditioning and a tabletop and chair. Sweet, right? Except that the chair – the stylish designer chair that's featured in all the ads for this place – is really a lounge chair, designed to be set in front of a coffee table. Not in front of a desk. Sitting in it is worse than anything I've ever experienced, comfort-wise; without the emergency pillows I stole from home, I would have had to raise my hands above shoulder-level in order to reach the keyboard. Yeah.

So needless to say, by the time I was able to order my own real office chair and get it in here, I had complained and moaned to just about everyone I know. And the thing that bothers me the most is that the people who put together this whole office rental package and signed off on the marketing plan KNEW it wasn't an appropriate chair for this setting. But hey, it's much more attractive than a black foam thing that swivels, right? It looks better in the pictures. And here I come to my point: in this case appearance was more important than functionality. And that, my dear readers, drives me absolutely crazy.

So to get to my point of this post, there's a book in the works that I'm really quite excited about. It's called "Cadence & Slang," and it's about interaction design – the art and craft of making technology easier to use. Not something that I have a whole lot to do with as a print designer, necessarily, but something that's fascinating to me nonetheless. And besides, I fully agree with the author when he said in this lovely book review that good design is universal, and that everyone experiences and benefits from it. Here's some more info about the book on kickstarter – which I'm brand new to, but it looks like they've got a really great thing going.

So as I sit in my comfy, well-designed office chair, I am grateful that there are some things in this world that are well thought-out. My sanity (and my back and shoulders) are safe once again.

03 December 2009

poster design series

My bread and butter usually comes from pretty basic, utilitarian projects, but every once in a while I'll get a chance to work on something that's artistic, truly a form of visual expression. And because I'm still working my way up toward the goal of being able to hand-pick my projects, my regular source of inspiration comes from other designers' work. Specifically, posters and book covers.

There's something so pure about the limitations of posters and book covers: all of the meaning, the message and the beauty have to fit into one panel of space. Simplicity is a forced rule. And as a result, the good ones are really, really good.

I came across a beautiful series of posters done by Simon Page, a self-taught graphic designer from the UK with an emphasis on typographic art, illustration and geometric design. His recently published posters are featured on David Airey's blog. Great stuff.

02 December 2009

here we go

Alright, my peeps, after a long summer/fall trip to the States to visit family, including having unexpected knee surgery, I can finally say we've arrived in Hong Kong! Our year in London was great in so many ways, and I'm grateful for that experience, but because my husband was in graduate school during that time, it's nice to finally move on to a place where we can have two incomes again.

That being said, what an amazing city we got to live in for a year... and what an amazing city we get to move back to now. There are certain things I definitely missed about Hong Kong (we had lived here for two years before London), and it's good to be back. And the most exciting thing of all: I now have my very own office space in the city! Hooray for having to commute for an hour and battle the crowded sidewalks and bus exhaust to get to work! No, actually I'm totally serious. I couldn't be more excited about getting out of the house (the kitchen, to be exact) that I've been working in for a while now, and nothing yells importance like your own office space on the fifteenth floor in Causeway Bay. Ask me in a few months' time if I'm still excited about the commute. I bet you I will be.

And... one of my goals for Oratia is to start blogging, on a reg-u-lar basis. (Something, as you can see, that is outside of my comfort zone.) I hope this blog will eventually become a resource for fellow designers out there, in Hong Kong as well as around the world. Not that I'm a great writer or anything – far from it – but there are plenty of great writers out there who have some great things to say, and I'd like to point out the places that I've personally gleaned some knowledge or inspiration from, in the hopes that others will benefit as well.

So stay tuned, and thank you for your support.

05 August 2009

new identity!

So yes. I haven't written ANYthing since the beginning of June. My loyal readership (of approximately two) has had to find some blogging elsewhere to fill their screen time, and for that I do apologize. But I'm happy to finally say that I officially have a new logo!

More about the design process later; for now, let me just re-introduce myself and my little blog, and say thank you for hanging in there.

And yay! New logo! New identity! Our little Oratia is indeed growing up.

02 June 2009

re-branding time

Alright, so as a freelancer in these economic times (yes, we've heard it all before), it's not easy to get new work coming in. Pretty straightforward. And I've never been truly satisfied with my logo/identity for Oratia Design. It's always been on the back burner, for years now, and every once in a while an idea will pop into my head and I'll sketch and/or play around a bit in Illustrator. Well, nothing during this time has stuck. And, to be honest, I already have something, even if it's not what I'm happy with, so it's been pretty easy to let it slide and remain in the background.

Until now. I'm feeling the pressure to get something new out there, some sort of self-promotional piece/printed portfolio that I can send to prospective clients. Really start the promotional push that I've been lacking so far in my business. I've been fortunate, actually, that all my clients have come by word-of-mouth, so I haven't really needed to do any sort of organized self-promotion. But now, it's time. I need a new logo/identity package for my studio, as well as a printed piece that's first of all cheap, and despite the price limitation, well-designed and effective. Because that is always the bottom line, after all, isn't it? Good, cheap and effective.

So lately I've been poring through design annuals, best-of compliations and other design books, spending hours in Borders with my piles of books and Americanos, trying to take it slow and really trying to dissect what other logos are made of – how they became what they are. I'm really inspired by the process that other designers go through, how they get from a blank piece of paper to a printed piece of letterhead, complete with logo, colors, paper choice, printing options, everything.

And through all this, one thing has remained perfectly clear: designing a logo for yourself is probably the most difficult thing of all. I know it is for me.

I'll post more of the process when I have something semi-solidified. And until then, I'm off to make some more coffee. Nose to the grindstone! Off we go!