By Dan | Published: October 18, 2013
GoMedia asked me to chime in on how to go about setting up as a freelancer. To be honest the article makes it sound a whole lot harder than in is. Really it goes like this: Step 1) get project. Step 2) sit down and do project. Step 3) repeat. The rest sort of falls into place around that. Don’t spend 8 months honing a business plan or a mission statement. You aren’t Google. Your business plan should look like this: Get projects, do projects, repeat. In the long run if you want to start a real business, not just take freelance jobs, then you want the business plan, the metrics, the LLC, etc. Right now don’t get bogged down in that stuff. If you don’t know what I mean by having a real business you might want to read the eMyth. Basically freelance is like having a job (but without a boss or any employment security), having a business is like running a McDonalds.
By Dan | Published: October 17, 2013
I spent the day today making Risographs at the Portland Museum of Contemporary Craft with artist in residence Jason Sturgill. I brought some art and paper, he brought his Risograph machine, and we went to work. The process is somewhere between screen printing and making mimeographs.
Our Office for the day
A final three color print on tag board. Notice the poor registration and residual flecks of ink in the negative space. This is the charm of the Risograph, it’s not an exact science by any means. It’s all about happy accidents.
One of the things I really enjoyed was being able to easily experiment with paper stock. In any kind of printing you can always toss in different types of paper, but because we could fire off a few at a time and then stop and look at what we got I had fun loading all sorts of stuff into the printer. These are wallpaper swatches.
By Dan | Published: October 2, 2013
You can find the original poster for sale on my site
By Dan | Published: September 20, 2013
I’ve come to the conclusion that fair number of students read this blog. Maybe they’re the only people who read it, I dunno. But this is for you.
Its seems like a day can’t pass that I don’t read some lame article by a grizzled old timer calling the Millennials a bunch of whiney bitches, or maybe a Millennial says it themselves. Or perhaps a recent college grad writes about their difficulty getting a toe hold in today’s job market. Let me explain something, and let me be perfectly clear. Being a grown up sucks. You’ve recently found yourself tossed out of the serene bubble of academia and parental support into the shit pile that is real life. The economy sucks, the environment is collapsing, the 1% are getting richer by the minute, you don’t have insurance, you don’t have a car, your expensive liberal arts degree is worth squat, and you have no prospects. It’s tough. But, before you feel too bad for yourself let me point out a few things. The boomers, who we blame for creating this mess, you know where a whole lot of them went at your age? Vietnam. And if they didn’t go they still got to stay home and survive the oil shocks of the early 70’s. Or what about that older generation who got the sweet steady jobs with benefits and the cheap houses in suburbia? They’re all WWII vets, and they grew up during the great depression. And those sweet jobs? Factory labor putting vinyl stickers on the sides of Chryslers for 10 hours a day in a dirty, shitty factory.
The words may change, but the song remains the same. Being a kid is easy. But every generation of adults has faced uncertainty and strife. You will be no different.
I have pretty much always worked. when I was 10 I started a business mowing lawns. I got between $5 and $10 per lawn. (Thats between $10 and $20 in todays inflation adjusted dollars). After that I got a paper route. It was hard work. Seven days a week I hauled a huge wagon of papers around my neighborhood, rain or shine. In the winter I dragged them in a sled through the snow at 5am in the freezing ass cold. I made about $150 a month ($300 in todays dollars). When I started high school I got a job at a restaurant next to my school. I worked 25 or 30 hours a week. I preferred working to school. By the time I left that job 5 years later I was making $7 an hour ($12 today) and they offered health care, which I didn’t need since I was still on my parents plan.
Fast forward 5 years to after college. I’m in Eugene, Oregon. That town has a shit economy even on the best of days, and at this point both the state and national economies are in recession. I’m painting houses under the table when I can get the work for $6 and hour ($9 today). However given that it rains for 9 months out of the year I’m not doing that too much. I’m designing posters for bands at $20 a pop (about $30 today) and I’m working in a crappy screen printing studio for a dirty old man making church Tshirts for the state minimum wage of $3.25 ($5 today)
I was 23, college educated, motivated, and I was uninsured and making less than I made in high school. In fact I was barely making more than my 12 year old self was able to pull in delivering newspapers. I was miserable. Living in a rented room for $105 a month, paying back student loans, and eating tortilla chips for dinner. It was the lowest I’ve even been and it went on that way for a couple of years.
What to do? The answer will be different for each individual. I moved out of that room, worked two shit jobs and couch surfed for months in order to save money and go to Europe. Upon my return I had nothing at all. No money, no possessions, nothing. I moved back with my parents, worked two jobs again, got my portfolio together and went to design school at CCA in San Francisco. It was do or die time. I borrowed tons and tons of money (about $90,000 in todays dollars), I worked one, two, sometimes three jobs and freelanced. I never slept. My girlfriend left, I never went out, I had no friends. I crushed every single assignment. I got straight A’s. And after 2 years I was hired directly out of the classroom by one of my professors into a position that paid very handsomely. By that point I was 28 years old and my career had finally started.
From there my career has been growing steadily. However, I’m like Sisyphus slowing rolling my career uphill and every time it gets a little bigger I have to push a little harder. My monthly bills are now more than I used to make in a year. I pay for a mortgage and health insurance on a family of four, all while trying to save so I’m not on the streets when I get old. The rich are still getting richer, the economy still sucks, but every morning I get up and fight and I go down swinging every night. Because being an adult sucks, but you don’t have any other choice.
By Dan | Published: September 16, 2013
Every year I do the Flatstock poster show at Bumbershoot in Seattle. I always try and bring a new T shirt design to keep things fresh. Meet this years design, the FU Cloud. I guess it’s more subtle than I thought, I had quite a few people be all “Awwww, isn’t that cute… wait, what the fuck?” Anyway, they’re for sale on my site as long as supplies last.
By Dan | Published: May 28, 2013
What if you were asked to do your job for free? What if not only you were asked, but everyone else in your line of work was asked as well? And what if, once all your collective effort was done, the customer compared all your work and paid only one of you for your services. That is the essence of crowdsourcing. Every project is a contest, and the winner is the only one who gets paid (usually well below market rate). This model can be applied to almost any line of work. Doctors, lawyers, engineers, coders, writers you name it. If you provide a service your line of work can be crowdsourced. From the customers point of view it seems great as competition drives down prices. Looking for the best burger? Order 10 and only pay for the one you like. However for the restauranteur it doesn’t look so good. The 9 other burgers still cost time and materials to make, the beef needs to be purchased, the cooks need to get paid, so does the lease on the building. Eventually anyone interested in making a good burger will quit the business and leave the Chinese sweatshops to bang out sawdust and melamine burger product that they can afford to give way for free. Crowdsourcing is a race to the bottom. Cheap offshore labor killed American manufacturing. Walmart killed main street retailers. Crowdsourcing will kill the service industry, which is the last industry we have left in America.
Nobody likes pissing in the wind, especially me. If the market has decided that $300 is the going rate for a logo I’m not going to fight it. I’ll take my energy elsewhere and leave the low hanging fruit to people willing to bang out garbage for peanuts. Since my last post I’ve been trying to think of ways the design industry can do an end run around the crowdsource cesspool.
I see a couple of options:
1) Like I said, any service can be crowdsourced, but is there some way to make the service you provide unique enough, or the skills you have rare enough that 100 guys in India can’t do the task? Making a great logo is hard. Really, really hard. But making an ok one is pretty easy. Construction company? Make the T in the name a hammer. Optometrist? Something with glasses. No ideas? Rip off an existing idea from the hundreds of logo websites out there. Most clients can’t tell the difference between good and great, they just want a picture to stick on the side of their delivery van. Child labor in China can provide that. But what if your skills went beyond logos. Can you operate absurdly complex software? Do you provide a niche service? Do you have a style that people want? A generic design is one thing, but if you have a look and a style people want, then that will set you apart. People often come to me for design because they want my style in particular, not just some thing made by some person.
2) Get out of the service sector. This is something I’ve been exploring for the last few years more and more. I’m making more products. Children’s books, fabrics, art prints. Objects people can buy that were designed by me. They’re more fun to make, and for the time being nobody in China is undercutting me. Of course they require manufacturing and distribution, which is a pain, but it still beats working for free.
3) Join them. I’m not sure what goes in this bucket yet. I’m certainly not saying sign up and start making $300 logos at 99designs.com. But is there some way to ride the crowdsource wave and use it to your advantage? I’ll be giving this one more thought.
By Dan | Published: May 27, 2013
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the future of graphic design. Where is the industry going? What’s the next bleeding edge? Does the industry even have a future?
Back in the golden era there was a pretty small group of people making design and they were heroes to their corporate clients. Lubalin, Bass, Eames, Rand, we all know the names. This dynamic persisted through the 60’s and 70’s. Even the digital 80’s created heroes. April Greiman and David Carson, Emigre Magazine, they exploited the newfound weirdness of digital desktop publishing and rode it to the top. It was a private club and clients who wanted their products had to pay the price of admission.
Fast forward a few years and these days you can’t kick over a garbage can without 10 graphic designers falling out. Hundreds of schools are pumping out thousands of freshly minted designers a year. A lot of them are pretty good, and all of them are hungry and looking for work in the worst economy since the great depression. Top that off with the fact that any man on the street can now pirate a copy of Photoshop and toss his hat in the ring as well.
Enter crowdsourcing, the Thunderdome of graphic design. Companies looking to save a buck put briefs on line, designers work for free, and the “best” design gets chosen and rewarded with a few hundred dollars. Everyone else gets nothing. None of the design is great, but much of it is adequate. However unless you live in Angola or Papua New Guinea $300 is hardly adequate to pay the bills. It’s a race to the bottom where low cost drives the entire process, and even the winning designers get ripped off. This is the beginning of the end of graphic design as we have known it for the past 50 years. It’s no longer about fresh concepts, no longer about groundbreaking art, no longer about the best vehicle for your company’s message, it’s now all about the lowest price. Worse yet, the design offered on these crowd sourced sites isn’t vetted by anyone, so it’s often derivative at best, or flat out stolen at worst. It’s design cannibalism. Who needs skills when you’ve got Google?
Where does that leave the designer interested in making quality product and reaping the monetary rewards that come from unique ideas and hard work? Frankly I think unless you’re dealing with those companies that see the value of quality concepts and fresh design the design industry is going to have to walk away from many of the staple services of the past. No more logos, letterhead, brochures, and websites. We need to leave the easy stuff to the bottom feeders and head off for greener pastures. Where are those pastures? I’m not certain, but they’re somewhere beyond Thunderdome.
By Dan | Published: April 30, 2013
My brain pan is pretty shallow. I can only really concentrate on one thing at a time, with a couple other thoughts stewing in my subconscious mind. For this reason I have blocked Facebook and news sites on my desktop computer. Let me explain why. I’m not an idiot, I know Facebook is largely a waste of time. So is Reddit, Digg, The New York Times…
But what I’ve really come to notice is that these sites waste my time even when I’m not on them. How so? Because they occupy my mind. Here is an example. For the past couple of weeks I’ve been wrestling with a new children’s book concept. I have part of the idea, but I can’t make all the pieces fit. On Saturday I decided to take a break and paint the bathroom while my mind ruminated on the book. I got the paint, set my sketchbook on the counter, and then, like an idiot, I checked Facebook. I made an off the cuff comment on a friends image, and almost immediately got an angry reply from someone I didn’t know. Shit, now I needed to defend my stupid position that I hardly cared about to begin with. Back and forth we went, until after the third volley I did what I always do in internet arguments. I thanked my opponent for their views, made the observation that neither of us was going to change our minds, and I stopped following the thread. So, back to painting. Except while I painted I didn’t think about my book. I thought about the stupid Facebook argument. Hell, here I am a week later still mentioning it. It had burrowed into my brain. Lots of things do this. Maybe a bad interaction with a waiter, or a run in with an asshole cop. But these things are fairly infrequent. The internet on the other hand is ready 24 hours a day to feed you shit that occupies your mind. I need to focus all my juice on things that matter. Not only my conscious mind, but my subconscious as well. The term meme has been abused, now being applied only to grumpy cat images and GIFs of people eating cinnamon. The real definition is “an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture.” The Internet is a perfect way to distribute memes, but if I don’t curate what I see, I get bombarded with information that sticks in my head, gumming up the works, wasting mental time and horsepower and creating too much internal noise.
For the time being I’m keeping Facebook on my phone, but maybe I’ll get rid of that too.
By Dan | Published: April 22, 2013
I get two kinds of emails every single week. The first from flash sale sites knocking off the Fab model. The second from companies offering to sell my designs on a myriad of “cool products” they manufacture. Phone cases, Tshirts, skateboards, yoga mats, you name it. The pitch is usually something along the lines of “you give us your art, we’ll put it on this great stuff and sell it on our site, and you get money from each sale!”
In theory this may sound enticing. I can take something that already exists, give it to them to sell, and make a cut? Awesome! Except it never is. I’ve tried it once or twice, and here’s the problem:
- Will anyone actually buy it? These sites are volume based. They need to sell mountains of iPhone cases to make a profit. So they’ve contacted every single artist they can find to give them work. Your stuff may be exceptional, but it is buried under 1000 other images. There’s a good chance that nobody is ever even going to see it, let alone buy enough of them that you get a real check. Traditionally companies contract a handful of artists to design their products and then they push those designs. For instance “Here are 12 iPhone cases, by these four artists that we’ve curated, get yours today.” Rather than “Here is a bargain bin loaded with crap, dig in.” Which leads to to my next point…
- It devalues your work because you’re giving it away. Companies have no impetus to push work that they didn’t invest in. Essentially your time and effort have no value until a sale is made, then you get 5 cents. This is a form of digital consignment, which is a bad business model for the artist, because we stock their stores at our cost. It’s not like Walmart lines their shelves for free and pays Mattel a cut on the off chance that a My Little Pony play set finally sells.
- Quality, these are all digital print on demand products. Call me old school but I like products made the proper way. Screen printed, lithographed, injection molded, whatever. There are very few digital products that don’t feel like cheap shortcuts in my hands. Maybe buyers don’t notice, I dunno. But these products rarely represent the quality I want in the manufacturing of my work. Will digital production ever catch up quality-wise? Yes, I’m sure it will. But it hasn’t yet.
- It may damage your ability to license your designs to a legitimate company. Usually these operations don’t make you sign anything, but sometimes they do. Either way, if a year down the road a retailer comes knocking looking for some of your art to license they won’t be able to sign it on if it’s already under license to someone else. And even if it isn’t under contract, it certainly makes it less exclusive if the design is already out there on a half dozen print on demand products.
In the end I think most of these companies will crumble under their own weight. They simply have too many options and not enough quality control. Buyers want to go to a site and see, at most, a few dozen high quality options. That’s why West Elm doesn’t offer 600 different bed spreads. Without being curated the experience becomes similar to desperately sorting through 500 channels of crap to find something worth watching. Then again, maybe this model of retail crowdsourcing will take off, which pretty much guarantees that the quality of design will suffer, because nobody is going to invest much effort in making art they aren’t being paid for.