Last week I wrote a blog entry about some of the basic graphic design lessons I learned while at Salem State. This time I’m going to discuss a few slightly more tricky topics.
LESSON 2. Always make more than one mock-up
even if your first design really rocks
So you made a really kickass design on your first try, way to go! Sure it took you a few hours, but you’ve done well, pat yourself on the back! After slaving over a project for a few days, hours or minutes, you’ve exhausted all your options for that design. That doesn’t mean you’re done—no sir—it only means it’s time to start over with a new, dramatically different design. Even though you have a perfectly good layout finished, trust me on this, the last mock-up is usually the best.
Maybe it’s because you are racing the clock and you didn’t have enough time to over-think it. Or maybe since you felt like you already finished the assignment (you go-getter, you!), you wanted to try something a little avant-garde. Well, I’ve seen it with my own four eyes during a critique. You can spend hours and hours on a layout, just to have your last design—that you threw together 30 minutes before class—be much more compelling.
LESSON 3. Seek inspiration from well-designed pieces
and know who your trends are
How are you supposed to know how to create good design if you’ve never seen good design? You need to explore! You need to go to museums, buy books about design, look up artist, collect well-designed pieces and go to paper stores. Find things that inspire you, find things that look good and figure out why something works. I struggled with this a lot in class because I felt that I was cheating if the layout didn’t spew from my brain. Don’t be confused, I’m not condoning plagiarism—the difference is, as a student, you need to figure out why things work, and see how you can leverage that in your design. There are so many inspirational graphic pieces, and you’re missing out!
Definitely keep up with trends, or at least pay attention to them—even if you don’t want to use them in your work. What’s so hot right now? Is it elements with gradients and drop shadows? Is it bold color palettes and sun rays? Is it blood splatter or cutesy anime characters? Well look around. Look at what the big advertising companies are doing and see if your project could benefit from those techniques.
But beware! Trends are a double edged sword. You can follow the flock, as Elliot Jay Stocks says in his Destroy the Web 2.0 Look presentation, and make something trendy and invariably unoriginal, or you can use the trend but add your own spin on it to keep it fresh. After all, you don’t want something that will look stale in a few months!
LESSON 4. Think outside the computer
or “Oh shit, I don’t have time to print this”
Designing on the computer is about 50% of the work. The rest is presentation, namely the printing, assembling, and the paper (don’t forget about the paper!). You stay up all night making a couple of last minute tweaks and all the while you think you finalized the design. Then you realize that it still needs to be printed for class! Ack! Deadlines are a bitch, aren’t they? At SSU, there is no such thing as same-day color printing. Maybe at Kinko’s or something, but you know if you want the inexpensive-but-high-quality-inkjet printing the school provides, you better get this file done before its due-date. Yes, I know this seems obvious, but a lot of the time you get wrapped up in making edits, that you don’t realize there is still a whole lot of work ahead of you:
Did you use pantone colors? Did you Preflight and Package your document: Any fonts missing? Are all your images CMYK TIFFs? Did anything get cut-off? Will there be an image bleed?
You get the idea. Sometimes you can’t catch everything when you proof it on the computer. Best practice is to do a test print—actual size, even if it means printing on multiple pages and taping them together—with the black and white printer to identify any problems that may arise, and then try your luck with the color printer. You might want to use the cheap laser jet printer before you use the inkjet. You’ll never get it right on the first try, unless you’re made of magic.
If it’s a book or two-sided flyer: did you leave enough room for the binding? Are you going to do it yourself or hand it over to the print shop? Does everything line up when you flip the pages? If it’s a package design: how much cutting and assembly will you have to do? Did you cut too much? Leave a white edge?
This shit takes time and patience. Make sure you have sharp exact-o knives—a clean metal ruler also helps—and take your sweet time cutting that black matte board. The more you rush, the more ragged the edges will be. Oh, and definitely don’t try to use the tile on your floor as a cutting board…
What type of paper are you going to use? Will glossy enhance your images? Will matte have a more satisfying flip through experience? You’ll be fine so long as you follow this one very important rule: never use the standard printer paper ever—unless it’s just a proof.
The presentation of your work is heavily dependent on the requirements of the class. Does it need to be adhered to black matte board with a tracing paper overlay? Is it a stand alone piece that needs to be assembled? Is it a book cover that should look like it’s on a book? Presentation counts, it doesn’t make up for a good design, but really enhances it.
If you take anything away from this blog entry, I want to leave you with this: No project is as simple as it looks. It takes a ton of test printing and preparation to have a finished project and even then, you may never get it perfect. You need to experiment with different papers, colors and binding techniques as soon as possible, don’t set it as your last priority! Graphic design is all about the finished project.
Thank you for reading, tune in next week for the thrilling conclusion of this short three-parter.