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Moved: This is my contribution article-wise for the first issue

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#1 mbleigh


    Platinum Designer

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Posted 22 June 2004 - 04:13 PM

Michael Bleigh’s Guide to Getting Started in Graphic Design

Introduction/Where and How to Get Started

People come to graphic design from many different paths. Some major in design at college, others teach themselves everything from scratch. Some come in from an artistic background, others from a technical (web coders, etc). Depending upon your entrance into the design world, you may know a lot of the fundamentals already, or you may be completely green to the graphical side of things. This tutorial is intended to teach you many of the basics that you will need to know if you are going to be successful as a graphic designer.

When you’re looking to buy software, there’s a few things you need to consider:: are you going to be primarily a web designer, or are you going to also do logos, t-shirts, business cards, etc.? If the first, then you’ll probably just need a copy of Photoshop (or Paint Shop Pro or Fireworks or GAIM for the weak of wallet) and you can get on your way. Otherwise, you are going to need a vector illustration software package (Illustrator, Corel DRAW, Freehand, etc).

An oft-asked question is why do we need to use vector? If the logo is for a web site, Photoshop is good enough! Imagine you’re a client. You’ve just paid good money for a logo for your web site, and now you decide you want to make promotional shirts…uh-oh! The logo wasn’t vector. Now you have to hunt down the designer to see if they have a higher-resolution version, or even maybe hire someone to vectorize your current logo. Bottom line, you lose. This is why it is absolutely essential for any kind of logo that would even have the possibility of being used in other medium to be vector. It’s the polite, right, and professional thing to do, and your clients will thank you for it.

So now you have the software you need (for me, it’s Photoshop and Illustrator), and you’re ready to get started. Only one problem: you have no idea where to pick up clients! Now, the following certainly aren’t the only ways, but they’re the ways that I have used/know about to get started building up some clients.

  • Do work for a friend, relative, or neighbor – remember that neighbor of yours who runs his own business? Why don’t you ask him if he needs a web site for that business? Doing work for people you know, even for free, is a great way to start building a portfolio and honing your design skills.
  • Find freelance work using eLance or similar – this was an option recommended to me at one point, but it didn’t fit in my plan because eLance (which used to be a small, free site for finding freelance work) now charges a hefty sum to be included in their stable. But if you have the funds to do so, this might be a good option for you.
  • Design Contest Forums – this is the route I took, and I couldn’t be happier about doing so. You get great portfolio builders, contacts that can turn into clients, a chance to really do a wide variety of work, and a chance to make some friends. Of course, the down side to contests is that you are never guaranteed your paycheck, and you have to fight pretty hard to become successful, but that’s a small price to pay for the experience and contacts you will gain.

Once you find a good way to start designing, the most important part of your design education begins: just do it! You’ll find that just by designing, designing, and more designing, you can make an enormous improvement in all aspects of your design quality. I believe this is especially true of the design contest forums, because when you have to compete against people who are (at least in the beginning) significantly better than you are, you have to either rise to the challenge or just be washed over.

The Nitty Gritty: General Guidelines
The first rule of logo making is that there are no rules of logo making. Okay, so that’s a bit dramatic, but an important thing to remember is that a large part of what may make you stand out as a designer is what you do differently, not what you do the same. Find something that you do better than anyone else, and develop that into a signature style. It may take you some time to find, but developing your strengths (while not ignoring your weaknesses) can go a long way towards giving the all important “wow” factor to a client.

While there are no rules, there are some simple guidelines that can help you have a clean, professional logo. Here’s a few that I try to stick to, by no means is this a complete list.

Use Pantone Spot Colors
This is something that I didn’t know for quite a long time. In Illustrator, there are palletes you can open that are preceded by “PANTONE” in some way…these are spot colors. What is a spot color? It is a color assigned to a specific mix of inks in any printer that prints Pantone inks…by using these “spot colors” in your designs, you are insuring that no matter how many times your client may change printers, the colors that come out will always remain the same.

Don’t Go Color Crazy
Remember that for your client, the more colors there are in the logo, the more the logo will cost to print. So while your 16-color design may look super on the computer, it’s going to break the bank if they ever try to have it printed (full color processing is available, but as talked about above, this is not consistent between printers and occasionally between printings).

Know the Customer
One of the biggest assets you can have as a designer is the ability to read your customer. Does your client want something fun or professional? Modern or traditional? These are the basic kinds of questions that may not always be answered directly by the customer, so it is up for you to figure it out. You may design the best logo in the world, but if it is not the kind of logo the customer wants, you have spent your time for little benefit.

Presentation is Key
After you’ve made a logo, you may think you’re finished, but you’ve only done half the job. The way you put together the final image that the customer sees can sometimes be as important as the logo itself. Is your logo going to be used on a t-shirt? Why don’t you put it on one so that they can see it for themselves! If you can associate a strong image of your logo with their product, you will be well on your way to satisfying your client.

Online Etiquette
I know that many people are fine with people using popular “eBreviations” for lack of a better term, omg lol haha, but you should realize that your client may be a computer neophyte, using it only for the sake of getting a logo for their business. In your online communications, be absurdly courteous, well-spoken, and grammatical. Always write in full sentences (communiqué in AIM or other messengers sometimes notwithstanding), capitalize, punctuate, and above all, never get angry or insulting to your clients! Even if you have the worst, most demanding, sadistic client in the world, they are paying you. For that alone, they deserve your best behavior. If you can’t handle them, tell them with a big grin that you just can’t make it work and that you’re sorry. It isn’t fun, it’s often painful, but it’s the way it has to be.

Stand up For Yourself
You work hard at your designs, and even if you’re a thirteen-year-old working out of your basement, you deserve to be treated fairly. Be willing to say (in the nicest terms possible, of course) that you think the project is getting more revisions than you think you can handle with the current budget, that they need to give you more direction or you’ll just keep shooting in the dark. Don’t push too hard, but a client may not realize the burden they’re laying on you if you don’t bring it up to them.

Another thing to keep in mind is that even if you are just starting out, there are things that are unacceptable for you to have to deal with. I read recently something that rings true for me, which I’ll paraphrase “the people who are least willing to spend the money to get a great logo are usually the most demanding and have the most complaints about designs that come in.” Don’t sell yourself short and put up with infinite revisions for almost no money for a cranky client. The customer is always right, and you must always treat them with respect, but you do not have to work for free when it has gone beyond the reasonable expectation phase.


#2 mbleigh


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Posted 22 June 2004 - 04:21 PM

And Now, The Main Event: Logo Tips
So I’ve gotten pretty much all of the basics out of the way in terms of what you need to bring to the table to make a professional design, but I’ve barely even mentioned the most important thing: the design process itself! Here’s some tips and caveats of what to do when designing a logo.

Fonts, Fonts, Fonts!
In most (if not all) logos, the font is the absolute most important thing. It can speak volumes about your logo and the company for which it was designed, and most people won’t even realize how this happens. What this means is, you need to have a great stable of fonts at your disposal. Unfortunately, this also means that you have to have a great stable of commercially redistributable fonts. Make sure when you download a font from a resource such as 1001fonts.com that it is absolutely free, even for commercial use. You may be winding your client up with a lawsuit if you don’t pay attention to details such as these. That being said, there are a few tips for fonts that you might find helpful:

  • Never, never (ok, maybe once in a blue moon, but not often) use fonts such as Arial, Verdana, or Times New Roman. These have been so overused because of their status as the default web fonts that it is almost impossible to make an attractive, fresh-feeling logo using these fonts. It’s a sad fact, but a fact nonetheless.
  • Play with kerning! This is one of the easiest ways to make a font “pop” for a client. Kerning is the spacing between the letters, and by reducing it (so that letters become close or even touch) or expanding it (big spaces), you can have a tremendous effect on the look of the logo. Case in point: I have never used the font Myriad (comes with Adobe programs) at its default kerning (it’s just kind of ugly), but have used a –50 or +150 in dozens of logos. It’s that much difference.
  • Capitalization may be even more important than kerning in terms of the look and feel of a logo. Looking for a professional effect for a law firm or other very serious business? Try a Garamond font with all caps or large and small caps. Note that this looks 100x better than just typing out the name normally. Looking for something hip, modern or sleek (in client-speak)…all lowercase! It’s almost cliché, but knowing when and how to use capitalization makes a world of difference.
  • Don’t just let your fonts be. If you want an effect for your text and you just kind find the right font to achieve it, make it yourself! Split up words, recolor parts of letters, join and distort, do anything you want to a font. If you look at 70-90% of major company logos, they don’t have much of an icon, it’s almost always just stylized text.
     Your client’s “wow” factor is largely due to the look of the text, so make sure it’s perfect before you put it out!

KISS – Keep It Subtle, Stupid
I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to call you stupid. It’s an adaptation that is one of the most important design rules to me: keeping it subtle. By now, everyone is sick to death of the blatant Photoshop Layer Styles: the harsh drop shadow, the huge gradient, the beveling, the embossing…the list goes on, but I think you get my point. Now, that’s not to say that you can never use drop shadows, gradients, etc., far from it, these effects can often give a logo the “something extra” it needs to become top-shelf. You should be very aware, however, that a subtle effect can suggest the same thing as an overt one without quite the same headache from a blatantly obvious design.

  • For gradients – it will rarely look good to gradiate between two entirely different colors, and it will also be more expensive to print. Try a subtle 20% gradient of your spot color, see what it looks like, and tweak it extensively. There will almost never be a need to do a 60% or higher gradient unless you are trying to fade something out to white.
  • For shadows – a drop shadow should either be blurry and very translucent (20-30% at most) or just a no-blur effect for more clean, professional logos. Don’t go crazy with a 70% shadow and a 30 pixel blur, all that does is make it difficult to print a logo.
  • For beveling – While I’m going to stop short of saying “don’t do it”, be very careful with this kind of effect, as it is more overused and overdone than anything else on the internet. Try to make it look like you hand-crafted each little part of it to match your design, because if you don’t tweak it until it’s perfect, it will just look like the thousands of other logos out there.

“I want it to be Modern yet Traditional, Sleek yet Homey, Fun yet Professional”
Don’t be surprised if you hear this sort of thing often as a designer, and don’t be upset at the client. They aren’t usually used to trying to articulate the graphical needs of their design. Work with them to get as clear of picture as you can, but at some point you’re going to have to take the plunge and make something, hoping that you’re meeting their specs. To help you out, here’s my best shot at describing various design “buzzwords” in terms of what your logo should do.

  • Modern - There are a few ideas that usually work with modern. Almost always a “modern” logo will look good with a lowercase text set or a specialized font that is somewhat sexy and different. For icons, you will want to go very abstract and simple in the case of flat-color designs, but modern is where you’ll most be able to make use of such objects as gradient spheres
  • Traditional – A “traditional” logo usually entails a serif font (gives it that old-timey feel), curls and swirls, and the graphic elements will tend more towards illustration than icon. Think old-fashioned country, think arts and craft stores.
  • Sleek – Sleek is probably the most self-evident of the descriptors, it just means that the logo should be streamlined, shouldn’t feel unwieldy or cumbersome. A sleek logo doesn’t have to be horizontal, but it probably shouldn’t have a vertical focus.
  • Professional – This is a blanket term that is difficult to get a good feel for, because it can really encompass all of the previous descriptors. When people want something professional, they just mean they want it to look like a real company’s logo, not something whipped up by an amateur. What does that mean for you? Steer clear of cliché fonts and layer effects. Make sure everything is very clean and very reproducible. Almost sterile, if you want to think of it that way. The element should be simple and iconic, rarely will a professional logo have an illustrative graphical element.
  • Fun – Don’t interpret this to just mean “anything goes.” Most of the time, people looking for a “fun” logo are still looking for a degree of professionalism, you can just take this to mean that if you think of something clever, cute, or silly, go for it!

Don’t be afraid to branch out
If your client has an idea for his logo in mind and you are inspired to do something different that you think would be amazing, don’t be afraid to. You might surprise the client and knock their socks off with a new direction that they hadn’t thought of. Of course, the implicit caveat is that they may really want their own concept and be unwilling to give you a degree of creative freedom. No risk, no reward.

So that's my little beginner's guide...everyone let me know what you think of it/if there's any areas I don't cover enough/if I repeat myself too often/whatever you want to say :)

#3 bigyou


    Apprentice Designer

  • Designer
  • 82 posts

Posted 22 June 2004 - 05:20 PM

Well this is not a post ... its a book.
I'll try to read through it when I get some loose time.
Youan L. Gagnon - Graphic Designer | Portfolio

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