Sep 252017

Typeface collections are a fundamental yet expensive asset for designers. This might have caused some creatives (whisper it) to steal fonts in the past. But thankfully, a new cloud-based font library called Letrs is here to help fight piracy and shake up how designers work with typefaces.

Touted as a "Spotify for typographers", Letrs offers an enormous library of fonts for a monthly fee. It means designers will no longer have to buy fonts – instead you'll just use what you need. It offers a way to easily manage a library of fonts and there's also the option to collaborate with a team, so you can share groups of typography styles with your co-workers nice and legally.

The app (which has been in Beta up until now) is ever-growing and currently offers roughly 2,400 fonts from different foundries for users to play around with, all for a single monthly fee.

Letrs hasn't revealed exactly what this monthly fee is yet, but we have asked for this information. With a launch date scheduled for tomorrow, we shouldn't be left waiting too long to find out what the damage will be.

The service already has thousands of fonts free for subscribers

"We plan to change the way agencies, design studios, and independent professionals consume digital fonts," Letrs says on its Twitter profile.

To use Letrs, simply download the app, install the software and register. From there you'll be able to use any of the fonts from the catalogue, or even to use and manage your own typefaces by dragging and dropping them into the system.

Once you've downloaded Letrs you'll be able to access your fonts from any computer. Letrs is also totally compatible with all Mac OS apps. To choose a typeface, simply click on a style and you're away. Watch the Letrs team explain everything that the app has to offer in the video below.

The idea of a cloud-based typography library is a great one, and Letrs provides a handy alternative for designers who don't want to sign up to Typekit.

Just like Letrs, Adobe's Typekit is an online subscription library of high-quality fonts. As it is, Typekit offers more typefaces but its pricing structure varies depending on how many styles you want to access.

Letrs could be an alternative for designers who don't want to go through Creative Cloud, and if the catalogue's collection continues to grow, it could even work out to be more cost-effective. (It all depends on that mysterious subscription fee.)

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Sep 252017

As we click back into action after the summer holidays, we’ve been focused on buying guides this month on Creative Bloq. Whether you’re looking for a new graphics tablet, or the best laptop for photo editing or graphic design, we’ve got you covered.

But what about new tools for graphic design out this month? Happily, there have been plenty of new releases that aim to speed up your workflow or increase your industry knowledge.

From brilliant new books to brushes, actions, hardware and software, you’ll find nine of the best new graphic design tools right here...

01. The Elements of Logo Design: Design Thinking, Branding, Making Marks

  • Buy The Elements of Logo Design, UK: £24.99
  • Buy The Elements of Logo Design, US: $25.21

Designer Alex W White has put together this new, comprehensive guide to learning the art of logo design. With over 400 examples taken from across advertising, editorial and web, the book seeks to give readers a clear understanding of universally shared graphic design principles, before applying these principles to logo design.

Chapters cover everything from logic in design to hierarchy and structure; how to build a logo using type, image and space; semiotics; and more. If you’re interested in learning more about the art of branding, The Elements of Logo Design: Design Thinking, Branding, Making Marks will make for a fantastic resource.

Also read: 25 logo design tips from the experts

02. iPad Pro (2017) with iOS 11

With the final release of iOS 11 this month, Apple's top-end iPad and the wonderful Apple Pencil have received some significant updates, turning the pair into an unbeatable portable companion for your desktop.

The new dock has support for drag and drop, and is supported by Split View functionality, which powers up multitasking capabilities to provide desktop-like functionality. And thanks to Apple's A10 X processor, this is a seriously powerful tablet.

Meanwhile, iOS 11 updates to apps such as Serif’s Affinity Photo and Savage’s Procreate help make the iPad Pro a fantastic tool for photo editing, designing and illustrating on the move.

Also read: iPad Pro (2017) with iOS 11 review

03. The Design of Dissent, Expanded Edition: Greed, Nationalism, Alternative Facts, and the Resistance

  • Buy The Design of Dissent, UK: £16.99
  • Buy The Design of Dissent, US: $16.37

A new, expanded edition of Milton Glaser and Mirko Ilic’s 2005 tome has been released this month – this time with celebrated designer and writer Steven Heller’s input, too. Within the 296-page book you’ll find a global collection of socially and politically driven graphics that voice dissent, challenge status quo and speak truth to power.

From the Arab Spring to the Obama presidency, Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter, the election of Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin’s continuing influence, the Women’s March, the ongoing refugee crises, immigration, environment and humanitarian issues, and much more, this title totals over 550 images. 

It not only stands as a testament to the power of imagery, but also acts as an urgent call to action.

04. Really Big Bundle of Illustrator Brushes

  • Buy the brushes: $29

Guerillacraft has bundled up 367 Illustrator brushes for a bargain $29. Inside the bundle you’ll find a 1950s artist brush pack, pencil craft brushes, mid century-inspired brushes, ornamental style and a lot more. (They’re suitable for Adobe CS3 and above.)

05. Notes: Colorful Geometric Pattern Notebook

As the weather changes we’re still in back-to-school mode, which makes this colourful new geometric-patterned notebook from Nifty Notebooks especially timely. It’s wide-ruled, with 175 white pages. And at 6 x 9 inches it will fit in your bag as well. If you’re looking to offset the approaching winter with a splash of colour as you jot down ideas and notes, this one’s for you.

06. 18 Procreate Smudge Brushes

  • Buy the Procreate brushes: $8

Seeing as the redesigned Smudge tool has been greatly improved in Procreate 4, Swiss-based Creative Market user MiksKS has created a set of brushes specifically for smudging and blending.

So what do you get? The 18 brushes include a range of textures and colour blending effects, such as charcoal and pencil, paint and watercolour and more. However, they’re best used in Procreate 4, so you will need to update to that version before using these brushes.

Also read: 30 of the best Procreate brushes

07. Fog Effect Photoshop Action

  • Buy the fog effect Photoshop action: $4

Speaking again of changing seasons, this handy fog effect Photoshop action will speed up your autumn designs no end. It’s just $4, adjustable, compatible with CS3 and above, and comes with a useful Help file as well. 

Also read: 60 free Photoshop actions

08. Lightning and Electricity Brushes

  • Buy the lightning and electricity brushes: $6

You get 102 high-res lightning and electricity Photoshop brushes in this $6 pack. If you’re looking to add drama to a thunderstorm or some extra shock into your latest design, this bundle is worth a look.

09. Pioneers of German Graphic Design

  • Get Pioneers of German Design, UK: £70
  • Get Pioneers of German Design, US: $77.90

Author Jens Müller explores the relationship between the groundbreaking early inventions of Germany's graphic design pioneers and the nation's explosive politics in this fascinating 384-page title.

Telling the story of German graphic design from the late monarchy to the Wirtschaftswunder after World War II, the book looks at how Lucian Bernhard prompted a revolution in poster design, and how Wilhelm Deffke and Karl Schulpig invented the modern logo.

It also includes a section on Herbert Bayer, who expanded the language of form at the Bauhaus, as well as celebrated typographer Jan Tschichold. This is a highly recommended read for anyone with a deeper interest in graphic design.

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Sep 252017

A crucial part of your job as a creative is to market yourself – whether you're a freelancer, in-house designer or head of a design studio. Half of this will involve having a slick, up-to-date portfolio – but the other ingredients are savvy self-promo and the ability to network. Here, we're going to focus on self-promo. 

The fundamental secrets for crafting a sharp self-promo campaign are the same, whatever your medium. Whether you’re using a piece of tactile print collateral to catch a commissioning editor’s eye, or enticing a prospective client to click through from your e-newsletter, make sure you hit all the right notes with these seven expert tips.

01. Think about figures first

The Jacky Winter Group's field guide is simple but effective

Think carefully about costs before you start. While you’ll be hoping for quick, positive results, be realistic about how much you can afford to spend based on current finances. Set – and stick to – a budget that won’t cripple you while you’re waiting to reap the benefits.

A little budget doesn't have to mean compromising on quality, though; take a look at our guide to dealing with a tiny design budget. And it's not always the most outlandish ideas that make an impact.

The Jacky Winter Group is a creative representation agency that produces an annual 'Field Guide' to its artists. Perforated pages ensure potential clients can tear out and keep any work examples they particularly like. It's simple but effective.

02. Work out your call to action

A great self-promo campaign starts with a clear objective. While the ultimate aim is to win work, you’ll need to identify a more immediate call to action – whether that’s viewing your website or using your branded product. Your self-promotion materials and communication should always be created with this initial response in mind.

03. Target the right people

James Curran's 30-day GIFathon got him noticed on Instagram

You’ll need to have a clear brand message in mind. You need to know exactly what you’re selling and who you’re selling it to, before you think about the how. 

To make sure your carefully crafted campaign reaches the right person at the right time, pick up the phone and do some research. There’s no point writing to an abandoned inbox, sending parcels to an obsolete address or targeting someone who’s abroad at a trade show.

London-based animation director James Curran played to his audience with his 30-day GIFathon that saw him post a new GIF on his Instagram page every day for a month. He showed off his skills and gained around 10,000 new followers in the process.

04. Find a hook

Think tactically about your target audience and what’s most likely to grab their attention. A time-pressed art editor who sees numerous portfolios may appreciate the convenience of a click-through from a digital mailer, but tactile print collateral that’s designed to wow will always cut through digital noise.

05. Execute properly

Agency B&A printed examples of its artists' work on matchboxes

A cracking idea is a great starting point, but the execution needs to do it justice: craft matters as much as concept. This doesn’t have to mean spending a lot of money – it might simply be a case of putting in the time and effort to make your campaign great. 

Remember: no self-promo campaign exists in a vacuum. It’s part of a wider branding system and needs to work well with your visual identity – your logo (if you have one), colour schemes and so on – unless it’s a deliberate change.

New York agency Bernstein & Andriulli showed off its illustrators' work by printing thumbnail examples onto matchbooks for potential clients to keep and use. A slightly different approach helped the company stand out and stick in clients' memories.

06. Pay attention to detail

Liam Blunden repackaged his portfolio to act as a leave-behind at interviews

Pay very careful attention to the finer details of your campaign and enlist other people to check over the final product before you send it. Your amazing first impression could all too easily be scuppered by a spelling error or printing mess up – you don’t want to be remembered for all the wrong reasons.

And do an initial test run to iron out any delivery issues before launch. The fact that you’ve underpaid on postage, your email looks wrong on a major operating system or you’ve hidden a video from public view isn’t something you’ll want to hear from other people.

When visual communication student Liam Blunden was invited to a job interview, he decided to make a lasting impression with a leave-behind inspired by the Pantone colour guides. Blunden's miniature portfolio featured a laser cut acrylic cover to make it sturdier, and was pocket-sized, perfect for carrying around. While a PDF portfolio could contain the same work, the attention to detail on this made a real impact.

07. Don’t be a stalker

Contact recipients to check they received your promo, ask what they thought and suggest a meeting, but don’t become their new stalker or expect instant attention. 

A week is often a good time to leave it, as your promo will still be fresh in their minds without you seeming over-eager.

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Sep 252017

Every designer knows just how important it is to be able to lean on stock art from time to time. Having the right image to work with is important, and having access to great stock art makes it easier to achieve the visuals you're aiming for. If you're a designer, you need to get your hands on this lifetime subscription to Stock-Graphics, available for just $29 (approx £23).

Stock-Graphics is a royalty-free library that has everything you could need to make your next project come to life. You'll find a seemingly endless supply of essential assets, from one-of-a-kind vectors to a huge collection of editable images waiting to be used in any way that you see fit.

There are more than 13,500 photos and 2,900 vectors available now, with new content being added every single month. Download as many images as you want and put them to use in all of your work.

A lifetime subscription to Stock-Graphics usually runs at $4,999, but you can get full access on sale now for just $29 (approx £23). That's a massive 99% saving off the full retail price for an essential asset for any designer, so grab this deal while you can.

Creative Bloq deals

This great deal comes courtesy of the Creative Bloq Deals store – a creative marketplace that's dedicated to ensuring you save money on the items that improve your design life.

We all like a special offer or two, particularly with creative tools and design assets often being eye-wateringly expensive. That's why the Creative Bloq Deals store is committed to bringing you useful deals, freebies and giveaways on design assets (logos, templates, icons, fonts, vectors and more), tutorials, e-learning, inspirational items, hardware and more.

Every day of the working week we feature a new offer, freebie or contest – if you miss one, you can easily find past deals posts on the Deals Staff author page or Offer tag page. Plus, you can get in touch with any feedback at:

Sep 252017

Editing and illustrating digitally makes a lot of sense, especially for commercial illustration projects. Last year, I first started working on a tablet – the iPad Pro. Despite having worked in traditional pencil for over a decade, using Apple Pencil and the Procreate app came surprising naturally to me.

You can work on the iPad in the same way that you work on paper, using a very basic approach – an initial sketch outline layer, which you can then build up in colour. I stick to a maximum of three layers, but often just work on one.

01. Seek inspiration

This day trip to Kent was organised by Wild Life and Sky Birds of Prey

The first step is to find subjects that inspire you to draw. A lot of my work is nature-based. I'm a huge animal lover, but living in London, getting up close and personal with nature can be a struggle. To get around this, I travel and attend Wild Life Drawing classes every few weeks. They're much like normal life drawing classes, but with animals, and are an amazing opportunity to create quick observational sketches and take lots of reference photos.

The piece I've created for this tutorial stems from a mix of reference photos and sketches of a tiercel peregrine falcon. These are from a drawing day trip out to Kent, which was organised by Wild Life Drawing and Sky Birds of Prey. 

02. Set up your canvas

Perhaps the most appealing thing about working digitally is the ability to zoom. Depending on what the illustration is being used for, take some time to chose a canvas size. If you want this to be a printable image, make sure the resolution is high enough. 

I usually work at 6144 x 8196 pixels, which is huge! This means I'm limited to six Layers, but it enables me to zoom in on tiny details, and to potentially print to billboard size. 

Go to Settings > Preferences > Advanced Gesture Controls to ensure that Apple Pencil is the selected tool, and that Touch is set to Gestures Only. This helps avoid accidental finger painting.

03. Find your brush

If you're making the transition from paper to digital, it's important not to rush into your first piece. Take some time to play around and customise the different Brush settings. 

Depending on your style, and which mediums you use on paper, different Brushes will suit you. Each Brush type is fully adaptable, so spend time tweaking it until you achieve a setting you're comfortable with, and don't forget to save it. 

I mostly stick to one customised Pencil setting, which perfectly mimics the physical colouring pencils that I use. You can also customise a fine tip to create a slight bleed (mimicking ink on paper) or create a Brush to realistically mimic the running of watercolour or ink on paper.

04. Create a rough sketch

O'Sullivan combines a number of different sketches and photos into one sketch

The first step in creating a piece is to make a quick observational sketch. You can either sketch this directly onto the iPad or draw in your sketchbook then scan this in to use as a base Layer.

For this example, I've sketched a simplified version of my paper sketch directly onto the iPad. I find it useful at this stage to reduce the Layer Opacity, so that my sketch is only faintly visible.

I also have a number of photo references to hand. The beauty and challenge of drawing wildlife is that your subject is never quite still, so I combine a number of sketches and different photos, to hopefully capture the movement and essence of my subject.

05. Play with colour

Playing with colour is an important part of O'Sullivan's work

Playing around with colours in illustration work can create distinctive results. Before starting, take time to look at areas of light and shade, and pick out certain tones to exaggerate within the piece. Choose an initial colour palette of about five main colours that work well together.

Try to get these down as quickly as possible on a new layer of flat colours, under the baseline sketch Layer, using a large HB Pencil (under Sketching) or Studio Pen (under Inking). The goal is to create a sense of form, focusing on light and shade and expressing this through different colours. 

You can then choose different shades or tones and introduce more colours using the colour wheel. As you work, switch between colours by double-tapping the illustration.

06. Add detail

After creating a base Layer, O'Sullivan then uses her customised Pencil to add detail

Once you have the base colour Layer, switch to a customised Pencil. You can change the Opacity and Size using the slider controls. Create a new top Layer on which to pick out key details from the sketch Layer. Once these are in place, you can turn off the sketch Layer. 

Then I usually flatten the whole piece to one Layer so I can treat the drawing as if it's pencil on paper – but that's up to you, you may prefer to blend your Layers at the end. 

Pick a point of most detail, such as an eye or a beak, and work your way out from there, adding detail and introducing different shades and tones from the base colours. 

Birds are fascinating to draw as their anatomy is so interesting, and you can break them down into key shapes and patterns in an abstract way using different line patterns and colours.

07. Resist the Undo button

O'Sullivan advises not overusing the Undo button while drawing

Being able to zoom in and edit are huge benefits of working digitally, but you should resist perfection. Working in real colouring pencils means it's difficult to rub out marks and start again, so you accept all the little mistakes – my illustrations are never perfect, and I don't strive for perfection. 

For me, the main appeal of the iPad is being able to create art in the same way I do on paper. So I continue to resist perfection and leave in the accidents. These can make an illustration come alive, both on paper and tablet.

This article originally appeared in Computer Arts issue 268. Buy it here.

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Sep 252017

There are a range of painting techniques you can use for digital painting, but sketching a 3D scene such as a castle from scratch can be difficult. Picking the best angle for a complex 3D scene can be challenging from black and white sketches. Moreover, if you're not a fast modeller, attempting to make a 3D base might slow you down.

Enter SketchUp, a simple 3D drawing tool that is surprisingly easy to learn, with functions to speed up the painting process. Here we'll take you through how to use this free tool to create 3D bases that we'll then take into Photoshop to turn into digital paintings.

We'll share how to understand a complex scene from every possible camera angle.

We’ll also explain a few important digital painting notions along the way, such as value structure, applying textured brushstrokes, adjusting colour temperature, painting over photo textures, adding character for scale and so on. So, let’s get started.

01. Explore SketchUp's core tools

You don't have to master the essential tools to create a good model quickly

Our goal with this software isn’t to master it completely, but rather to get to grips with the essential tools that you need to accomplish the modelling process quickly and effectively. 

The tools you'll probably use the most are the Line, Arcs and Rectangle tools, the Push/Pull and Offset tools and also the manipulation tools, such as Move, Rotate and Scale.

02. Add recognisable architecture

Using reference imagery gives you a quick idea of how the image will look

To speed up the modelling process, use real-world architecture references to help you place features such as windows, arches and towers. Here we cropped some photos of Las Lajas Sanctuary, in the Columbian city of Ipiales. 

To apply the textures, click the object faces, then select the small folder icon within the Material panel to browse to the texture you want to use. Placing this rough texture pass on the basic 3D volumes helps you decide when you're ready to continue with a more detailed modelling pass.

03. Model a simple 3D base

A rough 3D model is a perfect foundation for painting

Here’s the model we're making in SketchUp. As you can see, this isn’t a fully completely 3D scene. Some structures are floating in the air, and the edges can be worked on a little bit more. But this is more than what you need as the base of a painting. 

Don’t fall into the trap of making everything perfect in 3D. We’re making concept art here, not a 3D final product.

04. Use SketchUp's various Style mode

SketchUp Styles work like Photoshop filter effects

Styles dictates how your model will be displayed in SketchUp, a bit like the filter effects on images in Photoshop. You can view the model as line art, brush work, simple textures and so on. 

For this painting base, we need two Styles: line art style and the simple style. We’ll use them as passes to guide the painting process.

05. Enhance the shadows

Shadow settings let you choose the location and time zone of your scene

Shadow is a powerful tool to create interesting compositions. The Shadow setting in SketchUp enables you to pick a specific time zone, date and time of the day, to see the effect of different shadows and light on your model.

06. Explore different camera angles

Rotating the 3D base lets you find the best angle for your painting

SketchUp's Scene Management tool enables you to save different camera angles. Being able to examine your scene from 360 degrees is probably one of the biggest advantages of having a 3D base, compared to traditional thumbnail sketching. 

Not only you can rotate your camera freely, you can also easily adjust the field of view. This makes it possible to use a wide lens and telescopic lens. In the Scene Management window, you can click the different thumbnails to switch between the saved camera angles and to pick the best option for your painting.

07. Move into Photoshop

Passes can be loaded into SketchUp quickly thanks to a handy Photoshop function

Now after all the hard work you’ve done in SketchUp, bring the passes that you need into Photoshop. 

Just in case there are many passes to be imported, you don’t need to open each of them and drag them one by one into the painting window. Photoshop has a great function for this: simply go to File>Script>Load Files into Stack.

08. Spread on some colours

Don't let the 3D passes restrict your painting style

It’s important to let the 3D passes work as a guide for you, without allowing them to limit your creation process. Here we reduced the simple texture layer’s Opacity and created a new layer on top of it. We then used a textured brush to spread colours freely on the canvas.

As you can see, you don’t need to let the colours on the basic texture layer dictate the palette – we used a light purple/blue tone to bring up the colour vibrancy in the painting.

09. Overlay the 3D layer

Resurfacing the 3D base helps to nail down architectural details

At some point during this freestyle painting process, you'll need the 3D base back to give you more guidelines for the architectural structures. So, duplicate the simple texture layer and overlay it on top of the painting. Adjust the Opacity of the layer to blend it with your image.

10. Add depth and lighting

Backlighting and foreground fog give the scene some depth

Take a step back from the painting to analyse its value structure. Here we planned to do a backlit lighting scenario, so at this point we brightened the sky to pop out the castles’ silhouette. We also applied a fog layer at ground level, to give the foreground more breathing space and the image greater depth.

11. Bring in photo textures

Photo references can still be used at this stage to add detail

Apply photos to the top of the painting to add more details to the main castle structures. Here we used some cathedral photos from a trip to Mexico, as the architectural details are ideal for the upper part of the castles. We cut out the parts that we needed and used the Transform tools to distort the perspective to make them fit nicely with the painting.

12. Paint over the photos

A small textured brush continues the feel of the painting

Be careful with the photo integration part, because you don’t want it to destroy the nice brush feel that you’ve developed so far. Use a small textured brush to continuously paint on top of the photos so they can blend better with the rest of the painting. Paint on top of the photos and erase part of the photos, repeating this cycle for as long as it’s needed.

13. Develop edge contrast

Edge contrast silhouettes keep the different forms distinct

To keep the brush feel in your paintings without the impression of losing details, use edge contrast. Every important form, object and character in your art needs a clean silhouette. The silhouette can be painted with textured brushes, but its value needs to maintain certain contrast levels with its surrounding values. 

This ensures the viewer can distinguish the forms without being distracted by the brushstrokes.

14. Add life and hint at a story

Nothing says story time like a big old dragon!

We are almost finished. At this stage, add some characters to show the scale of the scene and to hint at some vague storyline at the same time. Here we added a dragon to further enhance the fantasy theme of the painting. We also added some birds in the sky – an old but effective trick to bring some life into large-scale compositions.

15. Make final adjustments

Only click OK when you're completely happy with the painting

Finish your painting with a few adjustment layers to tweak the contrast, colour temperature and brightness of the scene. You could also apply a subtle chromatic aberration to the image (simply to go Filter> Lens Correction…> Custom, and play with the Chromatic Aberration sliders). Click OK once you're happy with the result.

This tutorial originally appeared in ImagineFX issue 147. Subscribe here.

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Sep 252017

Whether you’re designing a brochure, poster, flyer, website or app in your agency work, you’re probably going to need some imagery to bring it to life. The standard go-to is photography, but don’t discount the idea of going down the illustration route.

There’s something about illustration that can sometimes engage with audiences better than even the best photography. 

Perhaps that’s because it takes a step back from the starkness of real life, when photography can sometimes seem too immediate and obvious. Perhaps it’s to do with our deep and lasting relationship with illustrated children’s books. Or maybe it’s just because it offers a great way to convey simple shapes, silhouettes and ideas quickly and simply, without any associated surface noise. 

So what kind of illustrations should you use, and how? In this post we offer eight pointers about how to get the most from illustration in your designs. 

In an ideal world, of course, you’d always be able to commission your illustrations. But timescales and budgets don’t always allow for that, especially when the best illustrators can be booked up for months ahead.  

The good news is that iStock by Getty Images isn’t just a world leader in stock photography, it’s a major provider of stock illustrations too. So it’s the perfect place to find a huge range of exclusive, royalty-free illustrations by high-end professional illustrators, plus powerful search tools to help you find the perfect images quickly.

01. Minimalism can be magical

Seagull Ocean Banner by filo. This illustration could be used, for example, in the header of a website about boutique seaside hotels

When looking at illustrations for inspiration, the designer’s attention will often be drawn to detailed, intricate artworks. But after you’ve finished marvelling at the artist’s talent, you also need to step back and ask how well it will actually function in your design. Because to grab people’s attention and conveying a concept quickly and easily, you’re often better off with something simpler. 

That doesn’t mean it can’t be beautiful, of course. Some of the most aesthetically pleasing and engaging illustration work out there harnesses minimalist styles, including the wonderfully concise work of Misha Petrick, the stripped-down stylings of Christian Jackson, and the simple pop culture forms of Dennis de Groot.

02. Make an emotional connection

Young couple in love outdoor, by Grandfailure. This illustration could be used, for example, as the hero image of an upmarket dating app

Ultimately, the holy grail of any design is to forge an emotional bond with the viewer. So why not go straight for the jugular, with an illustration where a sense of emotion is already baked in? 

If you do go down this route, of course, you need to steer clear of cheap sentiment and focus in on the kind of work that genuinely pulls at your heartstrings. After all, if it does for you, it’s more likely to do so for others too. Illustrations that evoke strong feelings in the viewer include the intense and raw work of Ivana Besevic, the delicate, feminine lines of Weronika Siwiec and the wistful wonderings of Kailey Whitman.

03. Confound expectations

Open your mind to the wonders of the universe, by Yuri Arcurs. This illustration could be used, for example, for a sci-fi book cover or promo

Sometimes you really want to arrest a viewer’s attention with your design. That’s something that high-quality photography can achieve, of course. But by freeing themselves from the real world, illustrators have the ability to go further in turning reality on its head and producing something truly fantastical. 

Illustrators with offbeat and original visions include the likes of surrealist Sebastiao Peixoto, the softly subversive Langdon Graves and the king of cut-out colour, Pierre-Paul Parisea.

04. Maximise colour

Future City by SmallArtFish. This illustration could be used, for example, as an editorial illustration for an article about the latest smart home tech

‘Make the colours pop’ may be the client demand designers hate to hear. But have you considered that the illustrations you use can do that job for you? 

More and more illustrators nowadays are playing with bright, vivid and kaleidoscopic colours, and their creations can all help bring an otherwise unremarkable design to life. 

Illustrators known for their strong use of colour include Malika Favre, known for her ‘less is more’ approach; Laura Breiling, who takes a bold and daring approach to editorial illustration; and Kiki Ljung, whose geometric styling are filled with a sense of fun.

05. Harness the power of retro

Pop art woman crying thought, by timoph. By adding text to the empty thought balloon, this illustration could work well as part of a social media campaign for a youthful brand

While once nostalgia was just nostalgia, now terms like ‘retro’ and ‘vintage’ describe an approach to illustration that’s not about looking back but looking forward. 

In the iTunes era, when a cheesy 80s pop song can share space in the chart with the latest Grime release, retro all about requisitioning, remixing and reinventing the past. Illustrators working with an inventive take on retro include Zara Pickens, Mads Berg and Tad Carpenter.

06. Experiment with styles

Line art close up of a young woman's face

Whether you’re working in print or digital design, the temptation is to use illustrations that fit in with mainstream contemporary style. But if you’re looking for a way to make your design stand out, maybe you should consider seeking out work that takes a different approach to the norm and experiment with illustrative approaches. 

The faux-naiive cartoon stylings of Jean Jullien, the seductive ‘glitch’ oil paintings of Andy Denzler and the dreamy swirls of James R Eads are just some of the illustrators pushing the boundaries and playing with your expectations in delightful ways.

07. Delve into doodles

Joy Unstoppable by dino4. This illustration could be used, for example, on a flyer for an arts and music festival

Doodles were once just something you did by yourself when you were bored. But in the 2010s they’ve become a new and exciting sub-genre of illustration. 

Doodle illustrations are a great option for a design that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and encourages the viewer to engage with it in a fun and relaxed atmosphere. Noted illustrators working with doodles include Sam Cox, aka Mr Doodle, Jon Burgerman and Pez.

08. Craft

Origami made hot air balloon and cloud by thanaphiphat. This illustration could be used, for example, on the e-newsletter of a romantic-themed travel company

The rise in digitisation that has swept popular culture over the last couple of decades has prompted an equal and opposite counter-revolution in the form of physical, craft based illustration. Many of us crave the physical, tangible and touchable, and you can harness this trend in your designs by using illustrations based on paper art and other physically based techniques. 

Illustrators working with craft materials include paper artist Elsa Mora, Zack Mclaughlin, who uses wood and feathers, and multimedia illustrator Kim Sielbeck.

To see all of the illustrations featured in this article, and thousands more, check out the wide range of stock illustrations at iStock by Getty Images. Until the end of the month, you can also get 10% off credits with code ZKFPC46N at checkout.

Sep 232017

Most designers choose to freelance because they love their craft and they want the freedom to do it on their terms. That, or they loathe the foibles of traditional employment, like the nine-to-five grind, meaningless meetings, or how Greg from marketing thinks his wacky ties are the same thing as a definable personality trait.

Whatever your reason for freelancing, it always comes with a cost: responsibility. Quite simply, the financial side of running your own business is difficult. There's a lot to know, and even more that can go wrong. That said, freelancing can empower more meaningful work, a better work-life balance, and a bigger bottom line. It's never easy, but it is almost always worth it. 

Here I'll explore the four most common financial challenges that freelancers face on a daily basis – and how you can overcome them effectively...

01. Define a pricing structure

The cliché formula is that time equals money. But as a freelancer, your time is worth more than just a financial figure: it's the opportunity to experiment, to build relationships, and to make room for what really matters to you.

That said, tying a financial figure to your time is an important aspect of making the most of your working hours and ensuring you don't go bankrupt. 

"Understand that you're really selling time, since services take time to provide," says Josh Hoffman of Epic Freelancing, an online community for freelancers. "Whether you actually charge per hour or not is one thing, but it's imperative that you get a handle on how much time you're investing relative to how much you're making." 

Assuming you're a full-time freelancer, the simple way to calculate your hourly rate is to take what you want to earn in a year and drop the zeroes. If you want to earn £45,000 this year, you need earn at least £45 for every hour you spend on your business. 

The maths to get to this figure is simple. If you take two weeks of holiday a year, then you've got 50 weeks in a year left. Working 40 hours a week, you've got 2,000 billable hours a year. 

Many new freelancers bill by the hour

Cut those billable hours in half because (at least) 25 per cent of your time will go into business upkeep, such as marketing your services and invoicing (and chasing) clients, and roughly 25 per cent of your income will go on things like taxes, a pension and insurance. These incidentals add up to approximately 50 per cent of your time. 

That's why you can take what you want to earn in a year (e.g. £45,000) and divide it by the 1,000 billable hours in a year to reach your hourly rate (e.g. £45 per hour). Remember, these are ballpark estimates, not fine-tuned figures. You can adjust this basic idea to take into account how much holiday you want to take, how many hours you plan to work per week and how much you pay out in tax, insurance, and so on. 

You can bill a client by the hour, day, week, or month. You can even bill by project or deliverable. In my experience, the most common billing method is by the hour. 

Charging by the hour makes sense when you're first starting to freelance because it's so simple and easy. Clients don't need an explanation for what's being provided; they are quite literally paying for your time.

However, hourly billing has shortcomings. Tracking your time in hourly increments can be useful, but it's also an easy way to lose focus. Clients tend to nitpick the details of your invoice with this style of billing, which can become a time sink. 

This is particularly true with short billing periods, as you reveal more about how you're spending your time. It's easy for a client to look at your itemised invoice and systematically dismantle its contents. Some clients will begin to micromanage you, or even worse, undervalue what you do.

And Co is an invoicing, contracts and payments app for freelancers

Also bear in mind that as you move forward in your career, you'll get better at what you do. You'll be able to do it faster too. Your reward for being better should be working less, but instead, an hourly rate starts to slow you and your earnings down. It also discourages regular clients, because if you're better and faster than you used to be, you should be charging more – but most clients will squirm at a rate increase.

"If you can do the highest quality work, in half the time, you should be paid the same or more than the other guy," says Leif Abraham, co-founder of AND CO, an app that supports freelancers. 

"Instead of raising your rate, you should structure your gigs to charge for the value you deliver." That's why most first-time freelancers charge clients according to the time put into a project. More experienced freelancers charge for both time and effort, and are also better at convincing clients they can deliver value.

02. Understand and sell your value

Don't undervalue your work; plenty of clients will do that anyway

Designers with less experience tend to undervalue their work. Most clients have the same bias. To them, a logo looks like a few letters, a squiggly line or two, and some nice colours. They don't see the time, effort and training that went into the final product, nor do they necessarily appreciate why a logo is worth the bill. 

Ultimately, it's your job to bridge the client's 'understanding gap' and to communicate the value of your work. The best way to do this is to align your work with a client's concerns. A client's specific interests will vary from business to business and person to person, but clients usually care about the same two things: making money or saving money. 

"Connect the dots between how your services will put clients in a position to make more money, save more money, or ideally a combination of both," says Hoffman. 

A logo is more than a two-tone symbol. It's more than a business' first impression, too. "It's an opportunity to catch people's attention in a noisy world," explains Hoffman. "By better catching people's attention, you'll be in a better position to compete in the attention economy, wherein attention is the foremost currency. In other words, you won't touch people's money if you can't command their attention." 

Freelancers who have things figured out charge for the value of their work. They take the time to explain this value in terms that matter to their client. 

To get better at this, when you first meet a prospective client, try to understand what problem led to them hiring a designer and what they are hoping for as a result. Perhaps their outdated logo sticks out on their site like a sore thumb, and they're hoping a new one will convince their customers to pay their premium prices. 

Once you have your information, leverage your work as the bridge between the initial problem and the potential solution. Doing this aligns expectations and positions you as the key to your prospective client's success. Whatever you charge, frame it with the negative implications of not fixing this problem and the positive benefits of having you solve it. 

Next page: more money-making tips for freelancers

03. Figure out your client's problems

Work out how your clients will benefit from hiring you, and sell yourself on that basis

Freelancers typically bill according to what others are charging or what the freelancer has charged in the past. Instead, they should be billed to the client's needs or goals, such as, 'Why does the client need this?' and, 'What are they trying to accomplish?'

Even if you ask the client these questions, their answers may not be perfect. Ambiguities often arise because the client doesn't completely know the answer, or they haven't explored the issue in great depth. You should help them find out, and if they continue to be an obstacle, try to help them understand that you're not looking to rip them off; you're looking to meet their needs and goals in the most effective way possible. 

Brennan Dunn of Double Your Freelancing suggests asking yourself the following four questions: What series of events led the client to seek you out? What problem pre-empted contacting you? (Note that these first two are not always the same thing.) What effect will this problem, left unsolved, have on the client's business? And what will solving the problem do for the client and their business?

"Specifically," Dunn says, "what's the financial upside for the client if you solve the underlying problem?"

The answer to those questions will inform how you quote the client. If a client is building a website to sell tens of thousands of dollars' worth of product, they should be willing to spend a portion of that profit to make sure the website facilitates this. 

Present yourself as a catalyst for the results that the client needs or wants. This way, you're not an expense: you're an investment in the client's business. They're going to spend a little money on you now because you're going to help them make more later. 

Keep in mind, more money isn't always the client's goal for the project, but it is almost always a factor in the equation. Whatever your client is looking for, present yourself as a guide for the client getting there. "No one has ever paid you for design," says Dunn. "Let that sink in for a second."

"Clients hire us because they need our design to do something valuable for their business," continues Dunn. "Once you internalise that, it affects how you market yourself, how you sell, what you deliver and what you charge for it."

04. Learn to negotiate your rate

Don't lowball yourself; start with a high price then let clients negotiate you down

Always avoid reducing your rate to accommodate a client. For a lower rate, you should be reducing the scope of your work or the deliverables. The only time your rate should be reduced without a decrease in workload is if you're getting something out of the deal that makes it worth it for you, such as a longer commitment from the client (so you don't have to spend as much time on marketing or finding new prospects) or better usage terms.  

If you must negotiate your rate instead of the scope of work, start at a high figure. Few clients will say no outright. Instead, they'll try to negotiate you down. "It's far easier to negotiate down than up," says Joe Phelan, a freelance designer with over 10 years of experience. "If a client thinks they are getting a good deal, more the better." In some instances, a client may forgo negotiations and just say yes. If that's the case, it's probably time for you to increase your base rate." 

When you enter negotiations, don't approach it as a cutthroat, you-against-your-client scenario. Instead, approach it as you would any other project. Work with your client to define the scope and deliverables, and negotiate your rate from there. This exercise gets the client mentally and emotionally invested in the idea of your services and what you can accomplish together. If the client's budget doesn't meet your rates, reduce the scope or deliverables, not your rate.

"With art and design being so subjective, it's best to outline the processes involved as much as possible," says Phelan. "Talk the client through your thoughts and ideas. Listen to theirs. Build trust and understanding."

You should always come prepared with evidence proving the value of your services. A case study that communicates how your work solves problems or meets clients' needs is a persuasive tool and a tangible proof of concept. Salary surveys are widely available and knowing that range is always worthwhile. Professional associations are also quality resources, as are others in your industry.  

Never reveal your past salary, even if pressed. Typically, a client will assign this value to you as a benchmark, and you'll be negotiating against your past self. Rather, focus on what you're worth right now. Always have your minimum acceptable rate in your back pocket and never negotiate below that.

Finally, don't underestimate yourself and your value. It doesn't matter is another designer is charging half what you are. You're not them. Your style and your various points of difference are why you command your rate, and that's why anecdotal evidence – even from quality salary surveys – should be a tool to use, not a rule to obey. 

This article originally appeared in Computer Arts issue 268; buy it here.

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Sep 222017

There can be few brand turnarounds as mind-boggling as Lego's. Here is a Danish toy manufacturer, with its roots carved by Ole Kirk Christiansen – a small-town furniture store owner – that has spawned into the biggest brand on the planet.

Its fleet of movies, spin-offs and tie-ins propelled Lego beyond the likes of Apple, Ferrari and Sony to become the most recognisable and commercially successful brand on the planet. And Lego has managed this with effortless cool, embracing and entertaining children and adults alike. That's some story.

And it's an even more interesting story to tell. As The Lego Ninjago Movie, the latest Lego box-office banger hits big screens in the US, it's worth taking a look at how Lego rewrote the rules of brand innovation to become the megalith it is today.

Broad building blocks

"What Lego has is a way to bring out kids' and, frankly, adults' imagination, creativity and with joy," Dan Lin, CEO of Lin Pictures and producer of the Lego movies told Adweek earlier this year. In recent years, Lego has achieved this by adopting creative ideas in new and more daring ways.

To understand the broad-mindedness of the Lego brand, we have to look back to the 1940s. Having found success in manufacturing wooden toys, Christiansen embraced a seismic shift in product engineering by purchasing one of the first available injection-moulding machines and producing his bricks in cellulose acetate.

Taking on the advice of an outsider – British toy maker Hilary Page – Lego moved the interlocking studs to the top of the brick, and by 1958, the modern brick design was realised. Amazingly, bricks from 1958 are still compatible with the most modern design. Why change a winning formula, after all?

Amazingly, the first brick design is compatible with modern sets

Lego's story is well documented – Daniel Junge and Kief Davidson's brilliant exploration of the brand, Beyond the Brick: A Lego Brickumentary explores the history and impact of Lego and is well worth a watch – and its seminal revival and growth holds important lessons for creatives working with ailing brands. 

But it's not just the movies and franchise tie-ins of recent years that mark Lego out as an innovator. Lego's very DNA is forged from chance-taking creativity. So what lessons can we all learn from what is now deemed the most valuable brand on the planet? We've found the following four pieces of advice from the Lego success story.

01. Use disruption as a force for good

Lego's success shows that disrupting the status quo can be a force for good that can help cement your brand's reputation for progressiveness and innovation.

Children's toys used to be all made from wood. That was a given ideology that every manufacturer adhered to. Plastic was, in the late 1940s, the preserve of kitchenware and furniture, and it had no place in the toy box. 

When Christiansen decided to produce Lego blocks in plastic, his critics lined up to take pot shots at him.

Ole Kirk Christiansen took a chance on plastic when everyone else was still making toys from wood

Plastic was cheap, mass-produced and lacked the 'feel' of wood that made toys dear to kids, the critics said. 

But these critics couldn't see that there were alternatives to the accepted rules of the time, and only Christiansen had the metal to disrupt the given order of the day to try something bold and new. 

02. Have a purpose

Holding an unflinching creative vision is key for a successful project. Sure, parameters and requirements can change. Ideas can be flung back at the drawing board, and even tossed in the bin. But once set upon, staying true to your creative vision is one step in guaranteeing a project's focus and success.

Lego's overarching philosophy is ‘good quality play'. The company believes that this enriches a child's life and lays the foundation for their growth into adulthood. With a self-proclaiming brand motto that 'Only the best is good enough' it's easy to see how a determination to deliver on its purpose and philosophy is key to Lego's success.

By sticking to a core philosophy, Lego has avoided pitfalls and criticisms that other brands might not have. Famously, when it first introduced its Star Wars franchise of figures and blocks, it received criticism for associating 'war' with children's toys.

But by sticking to its core philosophy of ‘good quality play' that enriches children's lives, it managed to align what was a savvy corporate move with its core ideology as a toymaker.

03. Listen to your fans

By the mid-1990s, the Lego brand hit a trough. Sales were down, even though the brand was expanding into new markets at a dizzying rate. 

New Lego sets included entire cities, medieval castles and space collections, while the brand moved into clothing and computer games, theme parks and playing cards.

A sales dip in the mid-90s saw Lego refocusing on its core ethos

So what did Lego do? Its first stop was to call in a management consultancy to examine its business. What it found was that the brand had drifted too far from its core philosophy. 

So Lego pulled in more help – this time from from its core users. It recruited from a pool of young Lego enthusiasts who lived the motto of the business and told the brand it needed to refocus on what it does best.

04. Figure out what works (and what doesn't)

Since the 1970s, Lego bricks and characters have been used to create fan films. Whether recasting Star Wars in bricks or inventing original stories, by the 2000s Lego-based shorts were nothing new, and had long been on the company's radar.

Against the odds, a full-blown Lego film was a runaway success

What was new was the idea, in 2008, of a full-blown Lego movie. Franchised films are a stable Hollywood earner – based on theme park rides (Pirates of the Caribbean), video games (Tomb Raider, Final Fantasy and more) and comic book characters (The whole Marvel and DC worlds). 

The likes of He Man, GI Joe, Transformers and My Little Pony were toy franchises that hit the big and little screen in classic cartoon form.

But Lego opted for something different, and something totally original. The Lego Movie doesn't feel like CGI, but doesn't seem like traditional stop-motion either.

The brand went on to continued success with its Lego Batman Movie

"We wanted to make the film feel like the way you play, the way I remember playing. We wanted to make it feel as epic and ambitious and self-serious as a kid feels when they play with Lego," said Chris McKay, animation supervisor on The Lego Movie.

It's safe to say that the movie managed exactly that, and cemented Lego's place as a brand so confident in its core philosophy, it's willing to rejuvenate and take creative chances that other brands simply can't dream of.

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Sep 222017

Branding is more than just a snappy slogan or clever logo – it's how customers connect with your service across all sorts of platforms. And designers who specialise in creating memorable brands have plenty of tricks up their sleeves to make people respond to a company in certain ways.

We've already seen how colours can influence the ways people perceive a brand, thanks to this useful infographic that helps you pick the perfect palette. Now the new Typography in Branding infographic from cohesive brand creators Iconic Fox is here to show you how typography is a design decision that needs careful consideration.

By breaking typography choices down into three main styles – namely serif, sans-serif and script – this infographic reveals how the different typefaces have been used by brands over the years. Each style is also introduced with a series of characteristics and popular associations to inform readers of how they’re best applied.

For example, serif fonts are linked to tradition and reliability, so they’re well suited to print media brands, it says.

On top of this, the infographic also takes us on a trip through time. Every typeface is split into key time periods that help to give some context as to why particular styles have produced certain associations.

To use our old friend, serif typefaces, we see that the style can trace its roots all the way back to 1460 where it has a strong link to calligraphy. Perhaps this set the foundation for the typeface genre becoming the respectable style we feel it to be today?

Explore the infographic in full below, and on the Iconic Fox website. And thanks to plenty of style suggestions, there are lots of ideas to investigate on your journey to find or create the perfect typeface for your brand.

Click the icon in the top-right to see the full sized infographic

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