Monday, January 23, 2012

Time Management the Luddite Way

I seem to be off to a rocky start with my 2012 goal to write blog posts regularly, so some thoughts on time management seemed appropriate. Even with all the new devices and apps for managing time, we can still feel overwhelmed with the sheer volume of our To-Do’s, relative to the amount of time we have to do them in. Planning is the best way to avoid where-do-I-start paralysis, and keeping it uncomplicated is always better than overthinking. Here's a dirt-simple method that has stood me in good stead for years. In essence it is a semi-fancy list.
At the beginning of every week, I take a piece of paper out of my printer and fold it into thirds and again into half. I then have 6 squares. Five are labeled Monday through Friday with their respective calendar dates, and the sixth is where I put a list of job tasks that have to be worked on that week. I then prioritize those in order of how soon they're due by numbering them. Then I look in my day planner for meetings, deadlines, etc. and write them down with their hour times in the appropriate day box. I include things like when I'm going to go to the Y and anything else that is important (like a doctor’s appointment). I now have the whole week spread out in front of me and I can see at a glance how much work time I have (provided I don't goof off playing Minesweeper and reading blogs). As things come up, I erase and revise. Easy peasy. Takes about five minutes, nothing to install and it never crashes.
Yes, I know it is paper-based and seems dorky, especially when everyone else is tapping away on their devices. But the short act of doing this gives me a sense of order and control that makes it easier to get to work. All I have to do to get going is that one thing at the top of the list - take that, paralysis! The physical act of writing makes it real. I have a simple visual I can carry around in my pocket for fast reference, and it boots up really fast. I find it empowering and calming at the same time. Consider giving it a shot.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

How to Hire a Designer

Happy New Year! One of my resolutions for 2012 is to post more regularly on Laurel’sDesignDeli, and to that end, today I’m sharing a post I read recently by Steve Guy on the Spark Design Professionals Forum on LinkedIn. Steve shared his thoughts on what he would look for in hiring a freelancer. It seemed to be oriented toward agencies hiring outside help, but I felt his excellent points were applicable for businesses hiring independent designers as well. So as you contemplate new projects for the coming year, these guidelines will prove invaluable.
I am really grateful for Steve’s permission to repost his essay. View his work at

If I were considering hiring a designer, here's what I'd look for:
1. Technical competence - Can they do the job? Ask them what software they use, what type of computers or printers? Are they reasonably current?
2. Creative talent - Does their portfolio inspire confidence that they can do a project for a client they've never worked with before with excellence?
3. Do they understand your business, or can they learn? Most importantly, are they willing to learn? A really good designer will not only learn about your company, but with time be able to give you recommendations based on their knowledge. You can find out if they are this type of designer by asking simple questions about their past projects, such as how they managed them and where they got their ideas.
4. Does the designer have a feel for sales and marketing? Unless your business IS an art show, this is NOT an art show, so your designer needs to understand that your primary goal is to grow your business. We all have an artsy side, but business needs often trump artistic considerations. A great designer understands the balance between the "art" and the "function" and is able to reconcile the two to your advantage, not his/hers.
5. How adept are they at technology sharing? Do they use DropBox, YouSendIt or similar to give you access to large files? Can they use GoToMeeting or similar to share their screen with you while on the phone, so you can see their work and discuss it in real time? The advantage of technology like this has made working with designers nearly seamless for those who embrace the tech.
These questions are best answered by direct inquiry and a review of their online portfolio, or by soliciting a pdf showing specific examples of the type of work you need. Often companies fail to let a potential contractor know the nature of the work needed, leaving the freelancer shooting in the dark when sending samples. The more specific you are about your needs/wants, the better chance you'll have of finding the right person. Also, designers’ full capabilities are seldom limited to what’s in their portfolio. Look carefully at their creative process and their ability to adapt, and you may just find your ideal candidate, even though they've never done "your exact type of work" before.
While the above is important from a fundamental standpoint, the following points are equally as important in finding a match. Every freelancer has their business ups and downs. Obviously if they are connecting with you even at your behest, they can take on the work now. But:
What about three months from now?
What is their typical work load?
Do they sub to other designers when there is too much work and not enough time? Ask how they managed multiple projects at the same time to completion.

Working with a designer should not be like a bad marriage. It is like any other relationship in that it will have occasional challenges, but you would be wise to consider the following:
1) What is their basic personality? Is the designer uptight, inflexible or easily rattled by last minute changes? All designers have had clients who pushed to the max on that one, but in general, a relaxed "no problem" attitude is best.
2) Does he/she have a good handle on how to give feedback to the client (you) when your design edits cross the line into bad design? This is REALLY important. Designer’s egos should not be tied to their work, and they should be open to multiple revisions. But, and this is a big one, you also need to have someone with enough experience to know how to tactfully give you feedback when your latest modification "in their professional opinion" breaks fundamental rules of either design, marketing, or presentation (or all three). Much success in this area is found in designers who have a wide range of experience in corporate accounts, small business and individual work. Designers with this experience will have had much exposure to many personalities/companies, giving them the skills to handle this type of feedback. This is a key component of the working relationship that will have a serious effect on how successfully you work together.
3) Lastly, are they fun to work with? I don't mean they take three hours of your day every time you talk on the phone re-living their last trip to Las Vegas, but do they have personality? Are they the type of person you'd like to have a drink with? Do you share a similar since of humor? These are the qualities of people who are easily liked, and as such tend not to be a PITA to work with. It cannot be overstated how important this type of chemistry is to a long-term working relationship.
I hope this helps and gives you some ideas in your search! Good luck!