Hi, I’m Theresa. I’ve been interested in writing for our blog for a while, since I think it’s really important that designers are able to articulate their process and the design choices they make. A lot of this ability comes from presenting your work to others over and over again, but I figured that writing it down would help a lot. This has made me a little bit nervous though, putting your thoughts out on the internet in a semi-coherent way is somehow very different than showing design work online. Depending on how this goes, you might be hearing from me in the future. Or you might not.
I wanted to start off by going over a few things I’ve learned (and hopefully gotten better at) over the past year and three-ish months. Partly because these have been important lessons for me, and partly because I think when you become familiar with your process, you forget about the steps you take and they’re worth taking note of.
This has by far been my biggest struggle this year as a newbie. I’ve been so caught up with trying to keep up with the work and be even comparable to the level of excellence MilesHerndon is known for; I haven’t been comfortable taking risks. I make so many mistakes without the risk-taking, why would I want to open myself up to even more failure? But MilesHerndon is a place where every hire is intentional. No one is taken on without the expectation that they will work hard and they will succeed, but with that success must come some failure. You can’t learn from your mistakes if you don’t make them. Some examples of mistakes that I’ve made this year are:
I’m grateful to be in an environment where exploration and learning is encouraged, but if you’re continuing to make the same mistakes over and over again, that’s a clear sign you aren’t growing (and wasting time). What repetitive mistakes have meant to me is that I need to change my process. At X point in the project, I should do Y, so I don’t forget to ask questions later so I don’t ram my head into a wall.
One of the things we talk about a lot is developing the “brand voice.” The brand voice involves not only the words used by the brand, but the visuals that accompany it. The brand voice can include everything from the logo treatment to how that logo is laid out in advertisements. Having a consistent brand voice helps drive home to the consumer who you are.
In presentations where we’re introducing a brand, we want to make sure that the client can visualize how the logo will work in different situations. This means we’ll show the logo on its own, scaled up, scaled down, mocked up on building, mocked up on a sign, overlaid on different colors and reversed out. We use this same idea when we build out the brand into different mediums. Just because we’re moving from print materials into designing the website doesn’t mean all the type hierarchy goes out the window. It might be adjusted and expanded upon to better fit the medium but it still fits in with everything we’ve done before. Even when we’re designing the 36th ad for the same brand in three months, we have to be consistent with our previous work.
Sometimes the temptation is to make every piece of work new, exciting and different from the last thing: to make it the best piece you’ve ever done. I’ve had to learn that this is not always the best strategy because it can clash with the previously built brand voice. Changes in design should be done intentionally and fully. Not sporadically throughout the brand.
You could also see this as “ask questions” when you start a project, because asking the right questions sets the constraints. You can’t approach a project by thinking you have unlimited options for your solution. This past year has taught me to balance drawing from as many options as I can—exploring and discovering every possible solution—with answering the questions about purpose, context and audience that your design will have to answer to. Not asking the right questions up front will inevitably cost you time and compromise your work.
Some projects will have constraints that are more obvious than others. Other projects may seem overwhelming in their possibilities because “You can do anything” (Spoiler: you can’t). Thinking this way is a disservice to yourself, your time and your client. Exploring options outside the box and pushing what is expected is great and all, but do it with the knowledge and reasoning that you know who your client is, who their audience is and what their goals are. Knowing the client’s industry, their competitors and how the client uses their brand are invaluable. The more educated you are on the constraints of your project, the more prepared you’ll be when you break them.
This past year has challenged me in ways I did not expect. It is simultaneously inspiring and intimidating to work at MilesHerndon where everyone holds an expectation of excellence for themselves and the team around them. What has made that expectation a great thing is that everyone is willing to help you grow and achieve greater things because it helps the company as much as it helps the individual.
I’m excited for the upcoming year because as hard as this transition has been, we’ve all made incredible strides in the difficult task of bringing two established companies together. I’m confident that the next four months will be full of even more growth.