Finding Design Jobs During a Recession

Recessions are difficult times for designers. Less money is spent by business meaning that design studios close. Fewer design firms are hiring and those that are have their pick of experienced designers. It is not easy for the recent design graduate who lacks commercial experience. What can they do?

Can the job seeker relocate? Being flexible about the city they live in will open more job opportunities. Some people cannot relocate and they become restricted in their choices because they are limited to the opportunities available locally. Some cities and regions might not have many design jobs. Design jobs are typically found more in larger centers.

Consider finding any job to help cover the bills in the meantime (e.g. retail). Some work experience at anything establishes a track record of punctuality, reliability, professionalism and trust. A job might also provide networking opportunities where design ability can be shown. A job with limited hours leaves excess capacity that can be used to continue looking for design jobs.

Network with business people. Use social connections to let people know that this designer is looking for work. This might lead to freelance opportunities (which count as commercial experience) which might lead onto job leads. Other designers might be able to help out with freelance jobs and job leads but typically this will be limited to the crumbs that fall from their tables – and those crumbs become less during recessions. Therefore, spend more time networking with the non-designer contacts. Go to social events and occasions. Talk to people. Find the bars where businesses have their Friday drinks.

Use the Internet to help find a design job, but do not rely exclusively on the net because it is a supplemental tool only. Build an online presence that includes a portfolio. Use social networking sites to find jobs and leverage your networks. The internet is also a good source of tutorials for designers to expand their skillsets.

Build both commercial experience and portfolio: Studio work equals paid freelance which is better than charity work which is better than school work which is equal to hobby work. Build the portfolio via whatever means possible. Each piece should build commercial experience and/or improve the designer’s skillset.

Consider asking for internships in design studios. Friends who are designers might be able to help with leads for internship placements. Internships are usually unpaid but can be a networking opportunity and a chance to gain some real experience. Even a few days or a day or two a week around another job can be helpful.

Do not wait until conditions are perfect. Procrastination allows opportunities to slip past. It is not necessary to have the perfect portfolio or the perfect CV. Often these things are only finalized in response to a job lead.


Future Design Software: Streamlining Critique

Critique is important for designers to judge the appropriateness of their designs and to progress in their craft. Unfortunately for the working designer the pressures of budget and time and the difficulty of finding people to critique work mean that critique rarely happens. Future design software could change that.

Ideally designers should get critique from designer peers, clients and the target audience. Each brings a different perspective to the work that is important for different reasons. Client critique is usually built into the design process because it is the easiest to do – there is often a single client representative who critiques before they signoff work.

Critique from peer designers is more difficult to come by. There are design communities like Behance and DeviantArt that will critique but those communities are too public for pre-release design and the level of critique is often not high – despite being enthusiastic. Design critique should come from experienced people whose opinions you trust. These people are probably already in your social network (like Facebook).

Research I co-supervised for Kerrin Meek’s Honours work looked at how social media could be used for designer critique. While in the early stages, many good ideas were explored. The central idea is that by extending critique notifications into the activity stream of others and making those critiques easy to accomplish, peer designer critique might become more successful.

Facebook already allows for posting images and collecting comments. This can functionality can be extended by adding semantic differentials, alternative image voting, and critiques where hotspots can be highlighted for comment. This can be done via a third-part website that integrates tightly into the Facebook experience using the existing Facebook API.

Target audience critique is a more difficult to organize – especially with the speed demanded by many design projects. Market research companies already have large databases of willing participants sorted by demographics that are used to working online. The missing piece of future design software is a website where designers can place their work for critique in standard forms (comments, votes, surveys, questionnaire, semantic differentials), assign a budget, and have that targeted towards a particular demographic. If the process was thus streamlined through future design software then costs could come down and turn-around times improved. As costs and time decrease then the feasibility of adding user critique to a project increases.

Future design software has the potential to revolutionize designer peer critique and make target audience critique more affordable both in terms of time and money. Would you consider expanding critique in your projects?

(This is another article in the Future Design Software series.)


Research and the Design Process

Good design process starts with research. Designers have learned to research from a variety of sources and things like Google and Google image search have made research easier than before. This article covers why designers should research, what they should research, how to research and some tips on gaining the most from research.

Research has two purposes. The first is to inform designers on what they need to know for a particular project that they do not already know – or at least to remind them. Secondly research should inspire designers by pointing out areas where the designer can improve upon the status quo in order to create a true point of difference to their work.

Research for a design project should research anything where the designer is deficient in knowledge. This will usually be around the client, their business, the design works used by the competition and the messages the client wants to communicate. Target audience research is also important where the designer does not already know them well. Finally, if the designer is unfamiliar with a particular medium then the social and technical aspects of that medium will need research too.

Clients can supply answers to many of the research questions relating to themselves and their business. Larger clients may also have good research relating to their target audiences available from their marketing departments. Research into the design in use by competitors can be found either online, in the yellow pages or by visiting competitors and taking ephemera. Research into medium can also be done online and designers should consider trialing technical media skills before using them for real in a project.

While the internet has revolutionized the availability of research information, don’t forget that books, libraries, newspapers, trade shows, television and site visits are also great sources of information. While online research is fast it is not as thorough and does not necessarily gather examples of how a competitor’s brand was applied across more than just the online medium.

Designers research the design works used by competitors to get ideas on the visual signs that are used to denote particular segments of industry. For example courier companies and fast food outlets like to use red and seafood outlets use blue. This knowledge enables the designer to produce work that communicates the relevant industry segment, but does not come too close to competition’s design. Competitive research should also give the designer ideas on where they can improve the status quo because being just as good is not good enough.

The tangible outputs of research are pages of information and visual examples. The visual material may be eventually formed into mood boards. Good research should be properly completed by being summarized then having recommendations drawn from the summary. Many designers do this step in their head but for larger projects that potentially cover many designers, the summary and recommendations should be explicitly put onto paper to cover make them more communicable to the rest of the design team.

Good research does not need to take much time on smaller projects. It can be done quickly and not only informs a strong concepting round but can also avoid the embarrassment of producing a design solution that looks too much like a competitor’s.


The Client is NOT Always Right

Too often designers see clients make poor decisions. We are familiar with the phrase “the customer is always right”. This phrase is never to be taken literally – even in the medical profession where the customer can make a medically stupid decision, the right to decide is still theirs. The phrase is probably better reworded as “the customer has the right to decide”, “the customer should never be made to feel they are wrong”, and “the customer signs the cheque so they are in effect right or you’re fired!”

The purist form of graphic design communication is where both the client and designer are removed from the equation and the work becomes the delivery of a message via a medium in a way that it is clearly understood by the target audience. Ideally all decisions should be made based upon what works best for the purist equation. The selfless designer knows to remove themselves from the equation, but it can be difficult to have the client remove themselves. Clients add a whole new political dimension to the design process.

The client might have strong aesthetic preferences that do not match the purist equation. The client might see design as a chance to express themselves in ways that make no sense to the audience or add no value for the audience.

Sometimes clients are motivated by the desire to art direct designers thinking that the client makes the aesthetic decisions while the designer drives the computer. Such clients see the design process as a chance for them to be creative – often with no understanding of what creativity means in graphic design. If the client art-directs by continually making aesthetic comments about the work then try to change the conversation back to the purist equation. Get them talking about how the design enhances communication to the audience.

Respond to client suggestions positively. Show the client that you have considered their idea and have something better to show them – even if that’s still your original idea. Dismissing client suggestions outright can make them hostile and put future work with them in doubt.

The common phrases “educate the client” and “sell the design” are useful but this is best done indirectly by focusing on how your proposed design best serves communicating to the target audience. Convincing clients is easier once you have gained their trust in your abilities as a designer. This might mean backing up your opinions with research and the authority that comes from experience – but don’t be arrogant about it.

The client does know more than the designer in some areas so always listen to their opinions and reasoning. The client generally knows more about the target audience, the competition, the business environment and the unique value proposition they bring to their customers. Take advantage of their greater knowledge by directing the feedback you ask for from them. Where the designer generally has stronger knowledge is in the tactical decision of using aesthetics and media savvy to communicate the client’s message. Inexperienced designers do need to be careful here.

In the end, if you can’t convince the client then you either do what they say or you fire them. The choices are that stark. A client who orders you about is probably not likely to give much repeat business because they do not respect your abilities to make aesthetic and communication judgements. Bring all your interpersonal skills to bear to build a positive relationship where trust grows.

In summary, try to make the conversation about the purist equation and not about the aesthetics. Talk about how the design improves communication of the message to the target audience.


Style is the Message

Stylistic trends in design surround us. Shallow is a criticism that is leveled at lazy design where the underlying ethos of the style is forgotten and the forms merely emulated – often for inappropriate things. But style, used correctly, can be powerful. Just as much as “the medium is the message” (Marshall McLuhan), style changes the message too.

Style is emergent – that is style emerges from the decisions of people creating things in the visual realm of a sub-culture. There is rarely a conscious decision to create a style, the creation of style is grassroots not top-down. Even top-down styles are proposals that must gain acceptance from the grassroots creators of visual ephemera. There is not a one-to-one relationship between styles and a sub-culture. Just as sub-cultures do not have black and white boundaries, neither does style.

Fashion is the style that is in now. Fashion comes about because of the human need for novelty and newness. That means styles that are overused become tired. But style can have a phoenix like life cycle where an out style is recycled with a modern twist as “retro”.

The stages that style moves through are: emerging, now, cliché, kitsch, forgotten, retro. Emerging styles are those that are beginning to gain traction but are not yet main-stream within their sub-culture. Now are the current main-stream accepted styles. Once a now style starts to become over-used it loses the power of its ethos and newness as it becomes cliché. Eventually the cliché becomes kitsch – something humorous to poke fun at then the style is forgotten. Style can remain forgotten for quite some time before it becomes the now retro style. Retro is a nostalgic nod to the past that re-interprets the old ethos of the sub-culture in the terms of now.

As the sub-culture changes the style needs to evolve also or it risks becoming out of date. The clothing fashion industry as long understood that creators must always look forward. Creations have a life-time that extends from creation into the future. A good design will stay “now”, or “in fashion” throughout its intended life-time. Simply copying the “now” style of today means that it will become cliché sooner.

Why does style work? Style is familiarity. Style contains the visual cultural markers that help an audience determine if the message is for them. It is the uniform or the tribal dress that betrays outsiders in disguise to the sub-culture insiders. Style contains the visual passwords that determine the authenticity of the message’s voice. Style is the “spoon full of sugar that helps the medicine go down” (Mary Poppins).

Provided the style is authentic then it can ease a message’s passage to a target audience. By referencing the works of other creations in the visual sub-culture a new creation can place itself loyally within that sub-culture.

More than just easing the acceptance of a message, style also abbreviates the ethos and messages of a sub-culture. Therefore, style is a constant reinforcement of sub-cultural values

Shallow style results from inauthentic misinterpretations of the visual codes. A good designer should seek to understand a style, the ethos it represents, and the relationship it has with its sub-culture before attempting to create in that style.


The Designer Personality

Design is a curious activity that mixes many disciplines, modes of thinking and personal traits and focuses them towards achieving an outcome. The designers mind can process different modes of thought each with different value systems. Pro-designers do not even switch between thinking modes – their minds just think multiple ways in parallel. Previously eturnerx has explored how to spot a potential designer early. As an extension this article explores the personality traits that make the designer successful.

The designer is both creative and critical. Creating and to critiquing are in constant conflict within a designer. The trick is to let the creative run free and the critic come in later to provide the reality check. If the critic is too strong then the designer will become paralysed. The systematic design process even instructs designers when to be creative and when to critique (e.g. during concepting).

Design is a pragmatic activity that must balance many factors to ensure good outcomes. As well as considering budgets, deadlines and personal skill levels, designers must also consider the message, the medium and the target audience. Because design solutions are ultimately born into the real fancy theories count and elegant production count for nothing compared to just making it work. Designers first concentrate on getting it done, then (if time permits) on doing it right.

Good designers are deadline focused. They manage their time / task allocations with a keen eye on that deadline. This deadline thing is so innate that designers easily become frustrated with those with more lax attitudes to deadlines.

Designers are inherently results focused. They can sometimes become so tunnel visioned about result they want that they do not care about the journey towards producing that result. This unfortunately includes neglecting personal relationships with co-workers, friends and even family.

Designers have an obsessive attention to details. Little things annoy them. Designers have strong emotive reactions to even tiny niggles they see in the visual world around them. They will use up all available amount of time adjusting something over and over until it is just right. This behavior confuses outsiders who cannot see what the fuss is about because they do not understand the aesthetic considerations at play. One area novice designers can improve their productivity is to avoid endlessly adjusting something: just decide and move on.

In order to pragmatically weigh up the attention to detail with the deadline urge successful designers have learned to “let it go”. That is, once time is up, the work is complete. Yes, the work would be with more time – but the needs of the next job soon consume them and any regrets are soon forgotten away.

Designers selflessly remove themselves from the equation. They facilitate a client’s message via a media so that it is clearly understood by the audience. That leaves little room for artistic self expression. Designers also understand that creativity for them is not about the most original outcome but about the most appropriate outcome.

A designer is confident enough that they can take critique of their work in a positive manner. They know that while they should "sell" their design and educate the client, critique is not about automatically defending their work, the critique is usually motivated by an honest desire to improve the work. They have long since learned to deal with the emotions that go with having work critiqued.

(If you liked this article then you might also like: What do Design School Grades Mean?)


Concepting: A how to guide

Creating concepts (or concepting) is the most creative part of the design process. During this phase designers will explore widely looking for a diverse range of potential solutions. Done properly, good concepts lay the foundation for great work at the end of the process. Good concepts executed well are the ultimate aim. Poor concepts will fail even if the final execution is good.

Experienced designers will abbreviate the concepting phase – sometimes skipping concepts altogether and going straight into refinement. An experienced designer may also concept directly in their minds. Doing this successfully depends on the creative skill and experience of the designer and is something new designers will trouble doing. One reason for skipping paper concepting is the pressure to deliver to tight deadlines – though proper concepting need not take much time. When an experienced designer feels uninspired they can fall back into using a more methodical approach to concepting.

Concepting should be preceeded by research. The more familiar the designer is with the client, their industry and the target audience then the less research is needed.

Work on paper. Stay off the computer during initial concepting because the computer is not fast enough. The computer screen is low resolution compared to paper so often stacking concepts side by side is difficult and takes effort. Even with a drawing tablet there are just too many distractions.

Draw ideas quickly as they come. Hold the positive aims of the project in your head. Switch off critical thinking and do not worry about the project’s constraints and boundaries for now. Good concepting lets the poor ideas, the clichés, the unoriginal and the mistakes out onto paper so that they don’t mentally block the designer. This allows the designer to break through into the truly original ideas. Quantity of concepts has a better chance of producing some quality concepts then over-thinking during this phase so focus on drawing any idea that comes. Let the hand and subconscious be creative.

If the designer maintains the constraints/boundaries in their minds during concepting then they will concept ideas that fit too comfortably within those boundaries. This will result in small ideas that are unambitious and safe to the point of uselessness. It is better to have a big idea and then modify it to fit the boundaries then it is to try grow small ideas into big ideas. Find the concepts most appropriate for the audience and tweak them to fit the boundaries later. (see Pushing Boundaries)

Once intial concepts are on paper then they can be critically looked at to eliminate the poor concepts and select the best ideas. Most jobs will require selecting a few concepts for the client to choose from. In this case select the strongest different ideas – not the ideas that look the best. If the ideas are not strong enough then it might be necessary to rewind the process: more freeform concepting or even more research.

Concepting need not take long. It can be done in minutes on a napkin. Ideally concepting should end when the designer has strong concepts but there is never an unlimited amount of time in the budget. What elevates a designer’s creativity above that of the average person is being able to come up with high quality ideas in a limited time-span. This is something that improves with experience.

In summary: research, concept on paper, suspend critical thinking, focus on quantity, select the strongest ideas.

(Read other eturnerx articles on the Design Process and Creativity)


Creativity needs Imagination and Execution

The importance of creativity in design cannot be under estimated. Without creativity design becomes shallow copying that produces solutions that do not fit the problem. Creativity is both originality and appropriateness. But how does creativity relate to execution?

Another word commonly used for creativity is imagination. Imagination is both the ability to come up with original thought and the ability to think if a particular solution will be an appropriate solution to a design problem. The thing that links imagination to reality – the actual production of a piece of design – is execution.

Execution is the ability to take an idea and produce it for real. Good execution utilizes skills that are developed and honed over many years. The uninitiated will call somebody creative if they have an ability to execute ideas (great at drawing, good at Photoshop, good at painting). Often a person gets the “creative” label even if their imagination is low.

It is possible to be highly imaginative but have poor skills to execute. An idea is useless without execution but the imaginative-high/execution-low person can still be successful if they can find others to complement their weakness. For example, junior designers can provide high-execution ability to an imagination-high art director. The relationship is synergistic because both art director and junior designer create better design solutions than if they each worked alone.

The most successful design is that which is both a highly creative concept and is executed well. Audiences these days are so used to good design that poor execution (even with good concepts) are generally dismissed so both concept and execution must be good. A designer who is weak at execution mix for a particular project (e.g. not a web-coder) should consider employing somebody who is good, or accept that they must take longer to learn the skills necessary to execute well.

So far, this article has implied that imagination comes first then execution follows. However it works in a more synergistic fashion. Often creativity occurs when execution is underway – that is once an idea has been realised then the designer’s imagination sees further possibilities (the creative horizon extends). The systematic design process has parts that use intuitive rather than rational thinking. This suits designers with ability to execute because they can devote more time to the idea and less to the muscle mechanics of executing the idea, so therefore the idea can be bigger. An example of this is that someone skilled at executing web design will often do their concepting work directly in HTML/CSS code.

Always start with highly creative concepts and worry about the ability to execute later. Fitting a design to execution will result in small ideas that do not challenge (and thus extend) the designer’s technical ability to execute. Think of execution ability as a pragmatic boundary that should be pushed.


Design is Decision Making

Design is a decision making process. It is a search for possible solutions then deciding which of the solutions to execute. The design process gives a broad range of possible solutions that can then be agreed upon and then refined into the best solution.

A broad range of possible solutions is good in design projects for many reasons. The designer might not fully understand what the client wants or the target audience needs. There is difficultly in communicating design goal nuances and so the best way to deal with this is by proposing potential prototype solutions (“concepts”). The aesthetic needs of a project might also need exploration to avoid unoriginal clichés. A situation (the total of the boundaries) might be so unique and outside the experience of the designer that extra care must be taken in finding the best solution. Also, the creative thinking of a designer is usually done through the action of pen to paper, mouse to screen.

The design process is meant to come to the “best” (most appropriate) solution. This is great when a designer has the luxury of time. Systematic decision making, such as the design process, become less and less useful as time becomes pressured.

Fire Commanders work in a very time pressured situation where the criteria for decision making is “safely and quickly”. They know that a decision that gets the job done safely (which implies quickly before the fire spreads) is better than waiting around for the “best” solution. Fire Commanders make decisions by initially assessing a situation, coming up with a plan, checking the plan for likely failures then executing the plan. During execution they will constantly reassess the situation and tweak the plan. Fire Commanders do not have the luxury of time to consider many alternative plans. So how do they make the right decision? Experience.

Interestingly, a proposal for Fire Commander training looks very similar to the educational models used in atelier design schools. Design schools (e.g. mine) train both systematic process and experience - and so equip students well for a variety of decision making in their future design careers.

Many graphic design industry professionals I’ve spoken to work in time pressured situations so their decision making abbreviates the systematic design process until it resembles the decision making model of the Fire Commander. This does risk “best” for “expedient” – but often expedient is good enough. Again, expedient decision making is most successful when the decision maker is experienced.

The best way to learn to make good decisions is through experience. It is even better if that experience is guided by a mentor. The best way to gain experience is through doing then reflecting upon what was done. Understanding the work of other great designers can also teach a new designer how things can be done. Just looking at a design work is not enough. Understanding a design means connecting the design to its proper context by decoding the message, the medium the target audience, the client and how these all affected the work.

So, the default rule is to always follow the full systematic design process. Realistically this rule will be broken often. Rule breaking is most successfully done by those with experience. When a designer is not confident in their experience for a situation (or just simply uninspired) they should expect to spend more time and follow the full systematic design process.


Future Design Software: Ranged Imaging Cameras

Ranged image cameras are a recent technology that capture distance information as well as light. As software support develops these cameras may come to have a big impact on the way that photos are taken and manipulated for use in graphic design compositions.

A single 2D photograph that includes distance information becomes 2.5D. This is not full 3D because the camera has only captured light and distance information from a single perspective. However future photo manipulation tools can take advantage of depth information. Depth information will help software determine more naturally the objects contained within a scene so that pixel masking will become easier. Simply every adjacent pixel at a similar depth is probably part of the same object. Combining existing 2D edge detection with the distance information will make automatic object selection much more accurate and faster. So objects can be moved, moved or replaced much easier.

Depth information will allow for stretching in the Z dimension to create interesting perspective effects. By manipulating the depth information directly and recasting the perspective into 2D space rooms could appear longer, a car on a road accelerates and a scene can be flatten like an old cartoon.

The most interesting possibilities come when multiple ranged image cameras are used. A simple rig of two (or more) cameras starts to give 3D capabilities. The rotation of objects could be tweaked, the angle of the viewport could be tweaked or the position of the camera changed. Such data could be fed into 3D software or 3D painting programs with a little conversion.

If objects are moved in 3D space then the lighting will look wrong. Fortunately, in 3D with pixels and ranges, it could be possible to guess the light sources and perhaps even automatically modify the pixels as they are rotated to fix lighting effects. Or the designer could leave the lighting incorrect on purpose – relying on the near undetectable incongruity of “wrong” lighting to have an attracting effect on the viewer.

Technologies like QuickTimeVR would move in a far more life-like manner if ranged image information is taken into account. Presently zooming in QuickTimeVR tends to stretch objects that are near to the camera, but off centre from the zoom. Utilizing distance information would let QuickTimeVR handle these objects in a more natural way.

The possibilities for prosumer level ranged imaging are enormous and could have a big impact on the way we edit images in future.

(Read more articles in the Future Design Software series)


Inspiration: The how to guide

Designers work best when inspired. The muse myth externalizes the source of inspiration as something divine and therefore something at the whim of the gods/the universe and thus beyond the control of the individual. This mythic viewpoint also assumes that inspiration is beyond teaching and training. This attitude is just wrong.

Inspiration for designers is the motivation to create. A designer who is feeling uninspired feels both unmotivated and uncreative. Things that are inspirational both motivate us to create and make us think creatively. Inspirational things give us the imagination to see original possibilities and the motivation to realize those ideas.

In low-inspiration situations the systematic designer can fall back on the design process and hope that jump starts inspiration. Just forcing themselves through the process can unlock creativity and create the momentum to motivation. However the design process benefits from inspirational flair, so what if the inspiration block remains?

Focus on fixing the motivation first. Low-energy levels will reduce motivation so fix that by sleeping, eating, going for a walk or waiting for illness to pass. Do whatever it takes to get the brain active again. Deal with any negative emotional issues and distractions. Then focus on the benefits of completing the task at hand. Motivation is about positivity so visualize what completing the task will enable you to do. Complete a goal? Afford a night out with friends? A new toy?

Sparking creativity is about working the imagination. Reboot imagination by playing “what if” scenarios in your head. Think of two seemingly ridiculous ideas together and imagine how they could be related together. Look at images and pick parts of them and think how they could apply to your project. Technically inspiration can be found anywhere, but designers often find inspiration in nature, the surrounding environment (take walk), the fine arts and the work of other great designers. Being around other creative people can help you get into the right modes of thinking.

Inspiration is the mindset of curiosity, imagination and wonder. It is a space where all things are possible and all ideas have great outcomes. Expose yourself to new things, explore your imagination and wonder “what if”. Cultivate these things and inspiration will come.


Future Design Software: Studio+ Project Workflow Tools

Our current software enables us to work at the level of documents but has very little to help with the wider issues of managing a project and the associated work flows. While there is software that solves parts of this problem the real power comes when the pieces come together as an integrated whole. What might such a piece of software look like? Let’s call this hypothetical software Studio+.

At the beginning of a project client details and project details could be input into Studio+. Projects can be based on project templates from a library (or an existing project). Once all deliverables, deadlines and other parameters are known then a full contract can be generated for the client and briefs for the design teams. Studio+ will track the status of such project and alert if something is taking too long. Studio+ will also create appropriate disk directories for projects and schedule appropriate backups.

Studio+ can also create briefs for outsourcing parts of the work to freelancers. Briefs can be sent to certain people or published to an online marketplace for bids. Studio+ has tools to help project managers select from freelance bids, send out briefs, send out source files and integrate completed files into the overall project. Freelancers can temporarily be given shared access to project files.

Once the project is underway Studio+ can automatically associate files and folders with a project. This means that time-based billing can occur automatically when a designer opens a file for work – of course this can be manually modified if the designer leaves the file open while they go for lunch. While time-based billing might not be in use, studio managers will want to know how long designers are spending on tasks to better plan their future human resource needs.

Studio+ has knowledge of the files necessary to create milestone outputs. Once the project reaches a milestone then the files can be assembled and converted for delivery to the client for sign off. Perhaps a studio manager will want to do a final approval before the milestone material is sent to the client. The signoff process can be fully automated via return email.

Studio+ can also communicate status updates to clients and report both the overall progress of a project and when the client is expected to do something (sign off approval or provide content). By integrating project management tools Studio+ is able to estimate the expected finish date of a project. Perhaps clients can engage better with the design process when their role is known.

Studio+ also knows the relationship between a rendered file and the source file that created it. When a source file is changed the designer is asked if they would automatically like to update the rendered file. This applies to JPEGs, Videos, Animations and PDFs.

Once a project is completed Studio+ can archive files for the future and change the file backup policy. Internal reflective reviews can be incorporated to help designers feedback process improvement ideas to management. The account managers will also be signalled to suggest when to do follow up calls to the client.

Better project management and workflow tools can help make the studio more efficient and provide valuable metrics for the proper allocation of resources.

(This is the third article in Future Design Software series.)


Beauty is not in the individual eye of the beholder

The phrase “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” (BIITEOTB) is often misused to justify poor design – situations where somebody tries to justify poor taste by judging according to their individual preference. The actual meaning of the phrase goes further than individual taste and shared understandings of aesthetics.

One way of interpreting the phrase BIITEOTB is quite simply that an object is not innately beautiful in of itself – it is that perception of that object by a viewer that makes it beautiful or not. In a similar vein Roland Barthes proclaimed that the author is dead meaning that the reader/viewer decides on the meaning and by extension makes aesthetic judgments of beauty. The creator of an object does not make imbue an object with beauty but the creator can make an object that is likely to be perceived as beautiful.

Another way of looking at BIITEOTB is that there is individual judgment involved. Humans are not actually as different as we might suppose because many of our aesthetic experiences are very similar to other humans. Because of it is useful to divide the eye into three aesthetic judgments. These are universal aesthetics, cultural aesthetics and individual aesthetics.

Universal aesthetics are generally shared by all other human beings (see an Absolutist Theory of Beauty PDF). For example: humans are commonly drawn to symmetry and order. There is fMRI research that scanned the brains of people who looked at images and ranked them for beauty. The images with the highest beauty rankings were the ones that cause the least brain activity. This suggests that the roots of universal aesthetics are in things that are “easy on the eye.” Interestingly the Chinese word for ugly is难看(pinyin: nankan) which literally translates as “difficult to see”. Evolutionary research suggests that our love of aesthetics is rooted in judging healthy partners to create strong offspring.

Cultural aesthetics are aesthetic tastes that are shared amongst sub-sections of the human population. It’s unclear whether these are nature or nurture – that is in the DNA or learned. More likely these are learned preferences and things that a person likes because they have become used to them and have strong emotional associations with them. Cultural aesthetics encompasses things from modern tribes such as music genres or strong brands. Most target audience research in graphic design tries to uncover the cultural aesthetics of our audience.

Individual aesthetics are where individual taste comes into the equation. The effect of this is probably much smaller in normally well adjusted humans than the effect of universal and cultural aesthetics. One situation where individual aesthetics becomes powerful is in the faces of family. Repeated viewings of family faces with strong emotional ties creates a familiarity that resonates deeply within an individual and overrides the universal aesthetic. Again there is a survival evolutionary basis for favoring family over others.

Graphic Designers will study universal aesthetics and master these. Much of the teaching in typography, design principles, grid systems and colour theory are based on universal aesthetics. Further education of the designer has them explore cultural aesthetics so that they can better communicate to their target audiences. Graphic designers usually leave exploration of individual aesthetics to the fine artists, the fashion designers, the illustrators and photographers.

So next time somebody says “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” remember that eye has aesthetic judgments that are universal, cultural and individual.