Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Reaching "the zones" with a soundtrack ...

Recently, a Facebook friend posted a blog article about the pros and cons of listening to music while working on design projects. It's tricky asking for one's thoughts on the subject, since I feel it depends greatly on individual work habits. Without even trying to be objective, here is my take on "unplugging."

Fellow artists and designers may agree that to dip into your creativity you have to reach your "zones." I have identified two zones that I do my work in. The first zone is that state of mind where I'm oblivious to everything else around me that distracts from my inspiration or my creative thought process. In this zone is where I organize ideas and plan a project. The second zone is mechanical, where ideas are executed. Ideas have already been formulated ... I just have to physically assemble the pieces and pause once in a while to step back and make sure the work is progressing as planned.

For myself, the first zone can't have music. Music is like a crying baby during the planning stages of any project. While I'm taking notes, sketching, or arranging a draft layout, I'm already susceptible to distractions. My environment affects this planning process, and that considered — music would be a catalyst to any influence that I seek to avoid while I'm brainstorming. A pencil, pad of paper and some coffee is all I need to achieve my zone.

The second zone is an entirely different situation ... The music is most welcome, especially when a deadline is looming over my head. I'm producing ... done with the major thinking. I'm the machine, and the music is driving me to the completion of my project. Depending on what I'm working on, I could listen to almost anything from big band, techno, industrial or 80s (no country or rap please). When I'm pressured by deadlines or the project has been a beast, I go harder ... the music turns me into charging rhino. Everything else is great for keeping my pace steady, although I have to be careful with the 80s stuff (I tend to sing aloud). At this stage, I'm not concerned about mistakes ... there will always be mistakes. A designer that's bored working on a monotonous layout will make mistakes. That's what proofs are for ... and sometimes, you make "perfect" mistakes, but that's for another post.

That said, I don't like buds shoved in my ears. At the office, I plug in only for deadlines when I'm so annoyed that the ear buds don't bother me. At my home studio, the gloves are off ...

My preferred "Zone" soundtrack:

  • Any 80s pop, "big band" era and even gothic songs are easy to listen to and have fun with while working. I'll work to Cole Porter, Sisters of Mercy and Flock of Seagulls just the same. 
  • Techno and electro (Switchblade Symphony, Curve and Thrill Kill Kult are favorites) keeps my work going at a constant pace.
  • Harder techno and industrial music is reserved for deadlines. Ministry, Frontline Assembly and NiN would just throw me off if I listened to them while not time crunching.
  • The only exception to my NO COUNTRY would be Kenny Rogers ... The Gambler and Lucille are just too catchy. I'm not kidding.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Confessions of an In-house Designer

My name is Jack Hernandez, and I am not a full-time freelancer. But, I'm glad that I'm not. The idea of being a fully dedicated freelancer is as romantic as an artist making a living without commissions... only a designer can't hawk brochures in Soho on Sundays. Don't get me wrong ... I still freelance, and I enjoy it immensely. Having a daytime alter-ego means I can have more fun doing it.

Working for a national association in D.C., I've had the opportunity to work on a diverse range of projects. Because of workloads and time restraints – the quality of my work varies, but occasionally a project comes along during a slow period after a conference or an internal client gives you copy well in advance (bless em). It's those projects that I love ... I can dedicated my creativity to developing a design without using templates. The best projects inspire me to create original artwork. The reward of working on such projects is the creative freedom ... the trust that a department manager in you to make his/her program look good ... and seeing the end result when I've achieved that goal.

Some samples of in-house work for the National Association of counties ...

Working for a firm is probably the best way to get your hands into high-profile projects, but working within an hierarchy isn't for everyone. If you ever get an opportunity to work for a company or organization with an in-house graphics department ... take the job, especially if you're a newb hungry for instant experience.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Project Packrat

Sometimes a project takes longer than you want it to, but EHL Creations is finally good as done. It's not active yet, but I'll post the link when it is.

Hording is usually a habit that needs some intervention and serious counseling, but where a graphic design project is concerned, it's an excellent way to catalog  your work process and file away resources for future use. My style of art involves a lot of searching (both online and physical) for  graphic elements that I can incorporate into my project. In the end, I always have a lot of leftover images that I don't use, including draft designs that don't make the final cut. I would not dream of tossing them away.  Every image is a gem, and every concept is an idea that can help inspire a future project ... really ... I'm not kidding.

The great thing about most of my work is that my resources, in some form, always end up digital. Even hand-painted or constructed pieces eventually go through my scanner. Digital images and files do not create clutter ... well, as long as you don't save your files in 10 different folders. It's common sense to keep all your project-related files in one folder. Follow this single rule, and after you are done, your project folder will effectively double as an archive. Everything should be organized in the project folder ... sub-folders for resources, working files, finished images, documents, etc ... should be labeled clearly. Because all the items are related, the "archived" folder is themed -- and easier to reference when you're looking for a certain style.

EHL Creation's folder is a perfect example. If you click on the image above for a larger version, the hierarchy of all the project elements are clear. I only used a fraction of what I compiled in the resources folder ... grabbing images, scanning visuals as my creative process dictated. It's not a waste of time. If I was to update the site, I'd have a ready library to dip into. If I need a retro looking frog or some antique designs for a different project, I would know exactly where to look ... "Oh I remember that EHL site had lotsa old pictures ..." Better yet, many of the images will have been prepped, resized and vectorized -- making my work easier.

My next big project is Fisticuffs, a site with similar design elements as EHL Creations ... and a spot-on example of how resources can be recycled and shared in order to create something totally different.

I'm also working on a simple site for Happy Heads DC, a charity that knits and collects hats for underprivileged kids. That'll be my weekend project.