Oct 172017

For today's daily deal, we've got you a great discount on a bundle of courses that will teach budding web designers essential frontend development skills. And if you're after more amazing deals for web designers, graphic designers, illustrators, artists and more, bookmark our Best Black Friday deals 2017 page.

Web developers are always working behind the scenes to keep the gears turning on all of our favourite applications and sites. It's a career that rewards structure as much as it does creativity. If you want to get in on this exciting field, grab the Ultimate Front End Developer Bundle on sale now for just $39 (approx £29) – plus save an additional 50% off when you use the coupon code BUNDLE50 at the checkout.

If you're an aspiring web developer looking for a place to get your start, look no further than the Ultimate Front End Developer Bundle. This collection of eight expert-taught courses can help even an amateur learn how to code with the most important languages in web development, from JavaScript to HTML5 and CSS3.

As you work your way through this great collection of courses, you'll start to bring your dream designs to life as you work through 48 hours of actionable lessons.

You can get the Ultimate Front End Developer Bundle on sale for just $39 (approx £29), or 96% off the usual full retail price of $1,016. That’s already a massive saving on a bundle that could help you launch a new career, but today you can save a further 50% of that if you use the coupon code BUNDLE50 at checkout.

The full titles of all eight courses in this bundle are:

  • Complete Guide to Front-End Web Development & Design
  • JavaScript & jQuery Basics for Beginners
  • Learn to Code JavaScript For Web Designers & Developers
  • The Complete HTML & CSS Course: From Novice To Professional
  • The Complete jQuery Course: From Beginner To Advanced
  • JavaScript: Gentle Introduction for Beginners
  • Advanced JavaScript
  • Website Wireframing with HTML5 & CSS3

About 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: deals@creativebloq.com.

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Oct 172017

Erik Spiekermann’s experimental letterpress workshop, 98a, is the birthplace of post-digital printing

Change Is Good is a new fiction book by Louis Rossetto, co-founder of Wired, about the birth of the dot-com age. And fittingly for a book about a revolution, it's the first book to be designed and printed by typography legend Erik Spiekermann's new printing process, which he calls 'post-digital printing'.

This method will use a combination of new laser plate cutting technology and letterpress to print 1,000 copies of the book, which is available on Kickstarter. We caught up with Rossetto and Spiekermann to find out more about this printing process.

What are the benefits of letterpress printing compared to offset?
Louis Rossetto:
Offset printing handles colour really well. But at the same time, when you're reading a book that's only text, offset doesn't deliver on a quality level like letterpress used to. On the other hand, letterpress has the limitation of not being able to do typography well. 

What Erik's able to do in developing this new technology is marry the advances that have occurred in typography over the last 30 years to the clear benefits of letterpress, in terms of its black type and sharp forms impressed into the paper. The whole package ends up being startlingly better than what we're used to.

What's the process for this new printing method?
Erik Spiekermann:
We bought an image setter machine that cuts into polymer plastic with a laser, and then we can print from those plates. 

We put these plates with metal backs in our machine, which has a magnetic base. It goes into the printing press, and stays there. And then we get the impression, the raised surface, of the letters.

You can see the printing process in action in the video above

Tell us about Change Is Good...
Change Is Good is a story about a moment that changed the world. In the 90s, there were young people with fire in their eyes, with big ideas and a passion to make change happen. Change is Good is about those people and their challenges.

It's utterly appropriate that the story of this era of revolutionary change is brought out on new technology which will revolutionise printing.

Change is Good is the first book to use Spiekermann's new print process

Are there any types of books that you think wouldn't print well using this method?
Text is where letterpress shines, but we can imagine printing books using a mix of processes, for example, full colour offset and black type, or other combinations. We are no Luddites, and we like all types of printing on paper – including using our Risograph.

What's the future of post-digital printing?
Bringing together the best of each technology: digital type and typesetting offer more choices and better precision. Letterpress printing makes type look better than watery offset.

We've already printed two books for a major German publisher, and will print another five titles this year.

What advice do you have for someone wanting to get more from letterpress, who doesn't have your resources?
Come and buy plates from us. We need to get our money back on our investment.

This article originally appeared in Computer Arts issue 270. Buy it here.

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Oct 162017

Once you've come up with an idea for a fantasy creature, the next step is to bring it to life by painting it with believable colours and textures. Here are our workflow tips for painting creatures in pencil and watercolour. 

If you're having trouble coming up with ideas, take a look at our guide to designing imaginary beasts. Then, follow these steps...

01. Brainstorm

A theme may help you to brainstorm ideas

First, get those ideas down on paper. Usually it’ll take me a while to create any shapes that I like, or even anything that I’d want to take further. Sometimes they appear fully formed and others will never make it into a painting. I use my heavy blunt mechanical pencil to make loose designs and then refine them with a sharper point.

For the thumbnails above, my theme was ‘enchanted forest’ – and anything that popped into my head that may exist in such a place was extracted from my brain.

02. Use a wide pencil for rough ideas

Using a wide pencil keeps ideas rough and quick

Most of my creature ideas begin with a very rough thumbnail. I prefer to use a very large 5.6mm heavy mechanical pencil by Koh-I-Noor, which stops me getting obsessed with detail. I wanted to create something darkly mischievous with this guy.

03. Try a watercolour sketch

Use a light wash to sketch with watercolour

My next step from thumbnail is sketching with watercolour. Instead of damaging the watercolour paper, which is easy to do with lots of erasing of pencil lines, I use a fine brush (my favourite is size 3 Series 7 Winsor & Newton sable) and using a light wash I draw the creature directly onto the paper.

04. Depict the fine details

Work from light to dark to build up the painting

Once I’ve sketched the design in watercolour, I make a pass with a darker wash and figure out which areas I want lighter and darker. With watercolour you need to work from light to dark. The process is time consuming, but well worth it for the final result. 

I’m a big fan of detail so I use very fine brushes for this. It also enables you to go steady with the value range, which in this instance I hadn’t decided on until I started the painting.

05. Build up layers

Building up layers is particularly important for painting fur

In the case of this Darkling Glib creature, I didn’t quite capture the dark and creepy nature of the initial rough thumbnail. However, I was really pleased with the result. With any furry creature it’s worth taking the time to slowly build up layers of washes to paint fur.

06. Throw out all your plans

Drop paint onto a wet board and watch abstract shapes emerge and spark your imagination

This is another valid way of coming up with an interesting creature. For this piece I started by soaking the illustration board (a Strathmore 500 wet media board) using a misting spray bottle filled with water. I then mixed some paints and started dropping the colour onto the paper.

This made for some wonderful accidental shapes. With this approach, eventually you’ll start to see something appear among these shapes and you can then start to refine it.

07. Go with the flow

Let the happy accidents roll in

For my magical being here, I saw a face, so I started to build on that. I used the interesting shapes that the watercolour made as it dried (a very handy tip is to have a small hair dryer at your desk so you can speed up the drying of each wash).

Once I’d started picking out a nose and some eyes (plus an extra one!), I could continue working around the painting and further develop the face more. The great thing about using watercolour paint, particularly into wet paper, is that it’s unpredictable. It’s the perfect setup for generating those happy accidents.

08. Splash paint around to create texture

Use real creatures as a reference for your fantasy beasts' textures

Have fun with patterns and shapes to give the impression of scales or knobbly textured skin. I used reference from the mouths of lizards and also crocodiles for this dragon’s jaw and then mixed it up a bit.

Splash paint around and let it dry in various textures, then use the patterns from those dried splodges to guide where you might make marks. I like to keep things fairly organic-looking.

09. Use a rigger brush for fine hairs

Rigger brushes create perfect fine lines for hair

I used a fine rigger brush to create the very fine long hairs all over this little chap. The rigger is a wonderful brush for keeping control of fine lines and they hold a fair amount of pigment, which is always useful. The brush’s name comes from the brushes that were created to paint the rigging on paintings of tall ships.

10. Develop the eyes

Again, studying the eyes of real creatures will add realism to your fantasy creature paintings

Eyes are possibly the most important thing to bring a creature or strange being to life. The final dots of watery reflection in them can make or break a painting.

Make sure you study lots of pictures of eyes – consider finding some eyes that don’t belong in a human face and put them there, such as the eyes of an octopus! These are the things which can create an unusual, original creature. I chose a contrasting colour for the eyes of my green man so that they instantly pop out from the greens and purples.

11. Use Acryla gouache for glossy eyes

Painting spots of light on the eyes suggests wetness

Glossy eyes are essential, especially in a mammal. Once I’m ready to add highlights to an eye I bring out the Acryla gouache. This medium is permanent and behaves much like acrylic, except that it dries completely matte – just like watercolour.

I use this all the time for highlights in my paintings, and it can be mixed with watercolour to tint it (or you can buy other colours in the same medium too, of course). As well as the main highlight on the eye, I always add tiny spots of light around the lids of the eye to give the impression of wetness. 

This article originally appeared in ImagineFX magazine issue 151. Buy it here.

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Oct 162017

Free 3D drawing software SketchUp is pretty straightforward to use, but with the right textures you can create impressive 3D art. The tool makes it easy to import SketchUp textures and modify them with its editing tools. You can even use Photoshop within the program to create the exact look you require.

SketchUp supports pretty much every image format, except DDS. So any JPEG, PNG and PSD files are fine, and you can even use V-Ray’s .vismats files if you have the V-Ray rendering tool add-on.

TIFs give the most realistic rendering, as these are print-quality images with super-high resolution, giving your textures the added detail that's particularly important for games design and animations.

Despite this, it can be a little tiresome to collect enough high-res imagery to build up a sufficient and diverse collection of SketchUp textures to use in your 3D projects, so we’ve made it easy with our roundup of the best SketchUp texture packs that can easily be added to your catalogue. Use them for all your design needs – whether that be for your latest gaming project, or an interior design commission.

01. Wood Textures

Creator: Lost & Taken
Price: $10

Caleb Kimbrough runs the blog Lost & Taken with the simple goal of providing the best SketchUp textures available. On his DeviantArt account, he offers a whole host of textures for free, but in order to keep his dream alive, his full sets (and they are pretty substantial) cost a few bucks. 

These 52 different wood textures are a solid start if you want to a nice wood grain effect for any project. The full pack comes at a reasonable price, but for the budget (read: free) version, you can download six of Lost & Taken’s wood textures here.

02. Fabric Patterns 

Creator: WebTreats Etc
Price: Free

This pack of eight tileable SketchUp textures includes the most common fabrics you may want to recreate within your 3D composite, including denim, wool, leather and cotton with a variety of weaves to play around with. The textures are offered in two resolutions and as both PSD and JPG formats.

03. Concrete Textures

Creator: Vandelay Design
Price: Free

Concrete textures vary hugely, and are incredibly useful for things like urban landscapes (post-apocalyptic or not). Steven Snell is a part-time web developer, blogger and dog walker, not to mention editor-in-chief of Vandelay Design. He has graciously compiled a great list of 30+ concrete textures and a set of free, high-res textures that are available to use in your own design work.

04. Marble Textures

Creator: GraphicBurger
Price: Free

GraphicBurger is a great little design source for all your graphic needs, and volume 4 of its collection of high-res marble texture images are brilliantly easy to import into SketchUp. These real marble images will add a touch of ancient elegance to your architectural design, and can be used for free in both personal and commercial projects.

05. Stone Walls

Creator: David Chumilla Liccioli
Price: $6

Spanish 3D digital artist David Chumilla Liccioli regularly offers up textures for free on Gumroad. These four realistic stone wall tile textures are based on Photogrammetry meshes captured in rural and urban environments. The artist suggests a scale of 2 or 2.5 metres per tile.

06. Stone Textures

Creator: Joost Vanhoutte
Price: Free

Digital 3D artist Joost Vanhoutte runs Texture Ninja, a textures site. Although most of his packs are completely free, he appreciates a donation to keep his textures site alive, so you can support him via his Patreon. This pack includes a whopping 111 different stone textures, so you're sure to find one that suits your project.

07. Road Textures

Creator: Ezekeil_HQ
Price: $40.60

This pack of 225 road textures features both JPG and PNG formats of tileable, seamless images, entirely based on real-life photos of roads worldwide. The pack contains stripes, lines, marks, arrows, manholes, reflectors, patches, signs, dust and dirt and details of various roads, making it easy to realistically recreate cityscapes or lost highways.

08. Surface Imperfections

Creator: Clement Feuillet
Price: 7 EUR 

Surface Collection 1 offers a fantastic selection of 80 textures of surfaces and imperfections in high-res TIF format – plus, most are completely tileable. This SketchUp textures pack was compiled by French digital artist Clement Feuillet. The pack includes dust, scratches, liquid, stains, cracks, grunge effects, rust, dirt, fingerprints and more to enhance your 3D digital scenes.

09. Dirt and Soil Textures

Creator: Holypixel
Price: $6

These 10 Seamless Dirt and Soil Textures have been designed at a resolution of 1500 x 1500px, and are sure to bring your organic digital world to life. Available in both JPG and Photoshop PAT files, they are perfect for 3D visualisations and rendering. They're completely unique, too.

10. Glass Textures

Creator: Dragon Woman (dbstrtz)
Price: Free

Glass can be hard to capture digitally without some serious rendering skills, but with the help of Dragon Woman’s seven-image pack on Deviant Art, you can recreate a variety of textured glass to insert easily into your 3D designs. She regularly compiles free packs, so check out her stone and wood collections too!

11. Wet Sand

Creator: Fiat Lux
Price: $21.60

Fiat Lux specialises in 3D materials, textures and light rigs. This particular collection of five 4K textures is already fully mapped, allowing you to easily recreate the wet sand materials. Each of these SketchUp textures has been created procedurally, so they tile seamlessly. Included in the pack are a general beach sand, white sand, red clay sand, white river sand and black lava sand.

12. Metal Textures

Creator: Scott R
Price: Free

Metals are another common texture required when building a 3D model. Although this pack is small, it contains a great variety of metallic textures and patterns, including rusted, scratched, galvanised, polished and perforated options. Plus, all of these were created using the SketchUp program itself.

13. Wallpaper Textures

Creator: Rich O’Brien
Price: $1.99

Whether you design for the real world as an interior designer or architect, or create your own digital worlds as a games designer, having a selection of wallpapers can really give your digital set a homely and realistic feel. Not all walls are bricks or concrete, so easily give them that splash of colour without the fuss of illustrating it yourself, with these 24 seamless wallpaper textures.

Read more:

Oct 162017

For today's daily deal, we've got you a great discount on a bundle of courses that will teach you coding skills. And if you're after more amazing deals for designers, illustrators, artists and more, bookmark our Best Black Friday deals 2017 page.

Knowing how to code is becoming an essential skill for all sorts of professions, and it's never too late to learn. You can pick up the fundamentals of the coding languages that makes our favourite websites and services function with the help of the Ultimate Learn to Code 2017 Bundle. Get it on sale now for just $49 (approx £37) – plus save an additional 50% off when you use the coupon code BUNDLE50 at checkout.

It doesn't matter if you want to learn to code just for fun or if you'd like to eventually launch a web career based on the skill, you'll find a course that can help you in the Ultimate Learn to Code Bundle 2017.

This massive collection of courses will give you the know-how necessary to become a talented web developer with the skills to craft great projects with your coding skills. 

With more than 80 hours of actionable content and 10 courses on everything from Python to Ruby on Rails to Java, you’ll be building your own apps and sites in no time.

The Learn to Code 2017 Bundle usually retails for $1,186. Right now, you can save 95% off the retail price. That means you'll pay just $49 (approx £37) for an incredible bundle of courses that could change your career course, so grab it today. Don’t forget to use the coupon code BUNDLE50 at checkout to save an additional 50% off.

The 10 courses included in this bundle are:

  • Python for Beginners 2017
  • Java From Beginner to Expert
  • Practical Web Programming 101
  • The Professional Ruby on Rails Developer with Rails 5
  • JavaScript Specialist Designation
  • The Complete HTML5 & CSS3 Course: Build Professional Websites
  • Angular 2 with TypeScript for Beginners: The Pragmatic Guide
  • Learn Xamarin by Creating Real World Cross-Platform Apps
  • iOS 10 & Objective-C: Complete Developer Course
  • Learn Fundamental SQL Programming With SQL Server

About 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: deals@creativebloq.com.

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Oct 162017

Last Sunday, Rich McCor, Thomas Kakareko and Nathalie Geffroy touched down in Los Angeles ready to set off on an epic road trip across America, courtesy of Adobe. We're now a week into #RoadtoMAX17, and what a week it has been!

On Monday the trip kicked off in style, with the group rising early to catch the sunrise over Los Angeles. The trio made sure their pre-5am wake-up call was worthwhile by capturing some incredible images, before taking in the sights of Santa Monica Pier, Venice Beach and Redondo. 

Armed with their own shots of the sunny morning, the group made their way to Malibu to meet up with world-famous music photographer Guido Karp. Part of the aim of the road trip is to use collaboration, new tools, and plenty of experimentation explore the world through fresh eyes, and this was the ideal opportunity for the photographers to break out of their comfort zones. 

Along with Karp, the trio discovered how to shoot from an entirely different perspective, using El Matador Beach as the backdrop.

On Tuesday, the group journeyed to Salvation Mountain, taking in the Aerial Tramway in Palm Springs and the Cabazon Dinosaurs along the way, before heading East to Phoenix, Arizona and – of course – the Grand Canyon. En route, they captured, edited and developed work based around themes of nature, people and the artificial world, with the help of Adobe's full suite of desktop and mobile tools.

Since then, the photographers have been continuing their trip across the continent towards Las Vegas, where they'll arrive in time for Adobe MAX, The Creativity Conference, which runs from 18-20 October. The entire road trip is being documented, so you can follow along on the journey. Follow @AdobeUK #RoadToMAX17 for live updates or check out the official Adobe Spark travel diary.

Oct 162017

Earlier this year, Computer Arts magazine polled over 80 top creative directors, studio founders and design course leaders from across the UK to discover which industry peers they most revere and respect, to produce its annual UK Top 50 studio rankings. 

Now in its fourth year, this list is all about peer reputation – regardless of the studios' number of staff, operating budget or awards won. In short, the 50 world-class studios on the list are there because their fellow designers think they should be.

We'll be releasing the full rankings over the coming weeks, but scroll down to see who snagged spots 31-50 in 2017. Or if you can't wait, get your hands on a print or digital version of Computer Arts magazine issue 272 now to see the whole list.

As well as revealing all the winners, this special issue comes with an incredible, collectable glow-in-the-dark cover, designed exclusively by Studio Sutherl&. See how it was printed in the video above.

Buy your collectable Computer Arts #272 now

Read on to discover who made the cut in the UK’s Top 50 studios 2017, and stay tuned to find out which tiny studio rocketed to the top spot after an incredible year.

31. Nomad Studio

Founded: 2016
Location: London
Number of staff: 6

“Last year it was really all about survival,” contemplates Stuart Watson, partner and creative director of Nomad Studio. “This year it’s going to be all about the work: launching Sky Sports in partnership with Sky Creative. It was a pretty tough ask for a small studio, but we’ve made it work and we’re really proud of the team.”

32. Zak Group

Founded: 2005
Location: London
Number of staff: 8

“2017 has all been about us expanding our work in the digital field,” says Zak Group director, Zak Kyes. “Right now, we’re in the process of developing a flagship digital platform for M+, the museum of visual culture in Hong Kong, as well as the website for the renowned German art school, Städelschule in Frankfurt am Main.”

33. NB Studio

Founded: 1997
Location: London
Number of staff: 10

Nick Finney, co-founder and creative director of NB Studio, sees the last 12 months as a mixed bag: “Battles were won, lost and drawn,” he says. “Talented people left and talented people joined. Clients were wowed and records were beaten.” And the biggest highlight? “Virtual reality landed in the studio and it’s an exciting project,” he enthuses.

34. Studio Makgill 

Founded: 2007
Location: Brighton
Number of staff: 5

“During 2017, it’s felt like we’ve had to hold on really tight at times, but as long as you enjoy the moments of calm, all is okay,” says Hamish Makgill, creative director and founder of this Brighton-based agency. “The biggest highlight of the year was two massive projects landing in the studio on the same day.”

35. Design Bridge

Founded: 1986
Location: London (plus Amsterdam, Singapore, New York) 
Number of staff: 400

“Our new global brand identity for Hellmann’s launched in March this year, and we’re now seeing it applied to all brand communications and touchpoints,” says Design Bridge’s group brand guardian Birgitte Woehlk. Also this year, CCO Graham Shearsby has been appointed as a D&AD trustee, and the agency has been acquired by WPP.

36. B&B Studio 

Founded: 2009
Location: London
Number of staff: 24

“2017 has felt like a year when we’ve been attracting the right sort of clients,” reflects B&B creative partner Shaun Bowen. “Brands that aren’t afraid to be challenging, like BrewDog. Brands that are willing to be challenged like Higgidy and Firefly. Brands that are defined by their ethical purpose, like Snact and Kit & Kin.”

37. Commission Studio

Founded: 2013
Location: London
Number of staff: 6

“In 2017 we’ve worked with fashion brands like & Other Stories and Léon Bara, speciality coffee brands Volcano and Old Spike, luxury goods companies LVMH, Rimowa, and Moët Hennessy,” says co-founder and creative director Christopher Moorby. “Working across lots of industries keeps things interesting and we also often get to cross-pollinate.”

38. Rose Design 

Founded: 1999
Location: London
Number of staff: 8

“Despite the political climate, we’ve had an exciting, challenging, yet ultimately rewarding year,” says Simon Elliott, owner and creative partner at Rose Design. Highlights have included launching its long-awaited new website, and publication design work for the 2017 Islamic Solidarity Games held in Baku, Azerbaijan.

39. Moth 

Founded: 2015
Location: London
Number of staff: 7

“This year has been a landmark for Moth, says producer Ifor Ashton. “We recently made a big shift from being a collective to a full-time production studio, and that really came to fruition in 2017. We were also lucky to spend a lot of time in New York earlier and work directly with Facebook on a big rebrand.”

40. Here Design

Founded: 2006
Location: London
Number of staff: 31

“The projects that stand out in 2017 are those unexpected enquiries,” says creative partner at Here Design, Caz Hildebrand. “A kombucha brewery in Suffolk, barista training for young offenders, a book on the joys of punctuation. Going into 2018, we’re planning to redesign our own company structure, to better reflect all the diverse things we work on.”

Next page: Top UK studios 2017 numbers 41-50

41. Moving Brands

Founded: 1998
Location: London (plus Zurich, San Francisco, New York)
Number of staff: 64

“We’re working in a whirlwind of huge technological leaps and cultural shifts,” says John Faye, UK/EU marketing manager at Moving Brands. “In 2017, we’ve been partnering with some incredible leaders, entrepreneurs and organisations, such as IBM i. And we’ve taken time to boost learning and empower teams.”

42. Supple Studio

Founded: 2013
Location: Bath
Number of staff: 4

“This year has seen Supple Studio pass a number of milestones, says creative director Jamie Ellul. “May gave us our first D&AD Pencil. In July, we moved to a beautiful, three-floor studio. And designing the products and collectibles for the Royal Mail’s David Bowie stamp issue was a dream come true.”

43. John Morgan Studio

Founded: 2000
Location: London
Number of staff: 3

The scope and reach of John Morgan Studio extended further in 2017, as its titular founder began a professorship at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf. The year’s biggest highlight was the launch of Four Corners Irregulars, a new series of books about modern British visual history, while 2018 will see the studio launch a new type foundry.

44. Love Creative 

Founded: 2001
Location: Manchester
Number of staff: 52

“In the last 12 months we’ve seen our brand and packaging reset for
Häagen-Dazs go live, as well as our latest packaging work for Haig Club, known as The Clubman,” says executive creative director David Palmer. “We’ve also expanded the business onto two floors and picked up a whole bunch of awards.”

45. Pearlfisher 

Founded: 1992
Location: London (plus New York, Copenhagen, San Francisco)
Number of staff: 120

“In 2017, we’re celebrating one of the best financial performances of recent years,” says founding partner and CEO of Pearlfisher, Jonathan Ford. “Highlights included rebrands of iconic tea and coffee brand Taylors of Harrogate, audio lifestyle brand B&O Play and art product brand Reeves – its first major rebrand in 250 years.”

46. SB Studio 

Founded: 2009
Location: Liverpool and London
Number of staff: 9

“The past year’s flown by,” says Benji Holroyd, creative director at SB Studio. “Our highlight has been the full renaming and rebrand of Innovators Hub, now affectionately known as OH. The first product of our design sprint process, all in one week. Fast, relevant, no BS and a beautiful result.”

47. Julia 

Founded: 2008
Location: London (and Rome)
Number of staff: 3

Julia is a small London studio making its first appearance on our list this year. “We’ve been working with well-regarded institutions, that’s probably increased our exposure a bit,” reasons co-founder Hugo Timm. The studio has also just opened an office in Rome and plans to do the same in Paris in 2018, the year of its 10th anniversary.

48. Magpie 

Founded: 2008
Location: London
Number of staff: 10

“Demand’s been high for Magpie’s services in 2017,” says co-founder David Azurdia. “Having worked so hard to keep the quality of our work so high, it’s really nice to feel as though people value it.” And he’s optimistic about 2018, despite Brexit. “As bleak as it’s all looking, we’re creative thinkers: we adapt and survive.”

49. GBH

Founded: 1999
Location: London
Number of staff: 25

GBH co-founder Peter Hale cites two big highlights for the agency in 2017. “Firstly launching the GBH book, Charm, Belligerence and Diversity, celebrating almost 20 years of working together,” he says. “Secondly, working with Vincross, a fanatical team of Chinese entrepreneurs and developers in Beijing on a robotics project called HEXA.

50. Together Design

Founded: 2003
Location: London
Number of staff: 18

The last 12 months have been a period of consolidation at Together, says brand planner Robin Kadrnka. “We won a number of design awards for different clients, and we were excited to maintain the variety of projects that we enjoy so much, including London’s Eat 17 store and restaurant chain.”

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Oct 162017

Whatever design course you’re on, you’ve probably noticed it’s a little behind the times. And to a certain extent, that’s unavoidable. From a practical point of view, it takes some time to put together a workable syllabus, and when it comes to updating it, the gears of university bureaucracy tend to grind slowly.

And actually, there’s nothing wrong with that. Ultimately, you’re there to learn the fundamentals of design, and those remain timeless. When it comes to your first job, your creative director is going to be far less concerned about, say, whether you’re au fait with the latest Adobe software than if you understand the basics of good composition and following a brief.

But it’s still worth catching up with a few recent trends that may have passed you by in the meantime. In this post, we’ll bring you quickly up to speed with 5 design industry trends.

01. Design is becoming more important

Turner Duckworth is one of many firms expanding in response to greater demand for design services

We’ll start with some good news: you’ve chosen a good time to study design. Because nowadays it’s not just the subordinate of wider business goals, but increasingly the driver of them.

“It’s an exciting time,” says David Turner, joint CEO and CCO of Turner Duckworth, which has recently moved to a bigger offices in London and expanded to New York. ”We’ve seen design become more and more important in the rapidly shifting world of communications, and design excellence is more and more valued as a true differentiator.”

In short, design is no longer an optional add-on or a subset of marketing, but an integral part of business strategy, says Nicki Sprinz, managing director of ustwo. 

“Clients are asking us to help them introduce new ways of working alongside the products and services we are building with them,” she explains. “A huge number of companies are going through digital transformation, and we're partnering with them to make the transition easier.”

A good example of this is ustwo’s work with the Co-op, which has asked the Co-op to help drive efficiencies in its food business over the next five years. “These big strategic challenges are super exciting and they have the potential to make a massive difference to our clients’ business,” she says, “although it does mean that we are working in new ways and in new areas that at times take us out of our comfort zone.”

This probably won’t directly impact you in your first design job; expect most of your time to be spent on commonplace tasks such as colour correction and preparing images for print.

But in a broader sense, the trend means that opportunities are expanding, both in terms of agencies and in-house design departments. So rather than jumping at the first job you see, it’s worth having a look at what’s on offer and working out where you and your skillset can best fit.

02. The fundamentals of web design are being disrupted

CSS in JavaScript is changing the way we think about web design. (Image by Jonathan White)

If you’ve studied web design on your course, you’ll no doubt have covered the basics. So you’ll know that HTML is used for content, CSS for styling and JavaScript for animation and interactivity.

But what may not have been mentioned is that there’s a new growing movement to do things differently; namely, styling your documents within JavaScript itself.

Driven by the React community, this practice remains controversial to say the least. But with its emphasis on creating reusable components, it does promise to save web designers a lot of time ‘reinventing the wheel’, so it could well become an established practice in the near future.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with the methods that your tutors have taught you, of course. But it’s probably worth getting an overview on this new trend too. Check out this Medium post by Jonathan White to see what all the fuss is about.

03. Disciplines are merging and regrouping

Subscribers to the Creative Cloud get a wide range of software that makes it easier to switch between disciplines

Is your design course specialised into a specific discipline? Do you consider yourself a graphic designer, web designer, motion designer, UX designer animator or 3D artist, specifically?

If so, that’s not a bad thing. Employers like applicants who have a clear idea about where their interests lie and what they want to achieve. But just be aware that not everyone in design has such clearly defined roles. In fact, in many ways, the boundaries between different disciplines are becoming more porous.

That’s partly because of new hardware. For instance, in a world where even magazine covers and ad campaigns are being shot on iPhones, the idea that you’re not a “real photographer” unless you own expensive equipment is fast disappearing.

It’s also to do with the evolution of software. Nowadays anyone who subscribes to Adobe’s Creative Cloud has access not just to Photoshop and Illustrator but to tools like After Effects and Premiere Pro, and common features and interfaces across the suite makes picking up such new skills quicker and easier.

Overall, we’d call this trend good news for students. Because it means that over time, you’ll be freer to push your creative development in any direction you want - rather than having to restrict yourself to one unchanging one, the moment you start your first job.

04. Social media is increasingly central

These days, employers are as likely to see your work via a social platform like Behance as through a formally submitted portfolio

Once upon a time, employers would take the time to respond to a speculative letter and check out your portfolio. Nowadays, though, they don’t necessarily need to do that. That's because they’re finding that the best work from promising graduates often appears before them miraculously, through the magic of social media sharing.

So if you’re not sharing the work you’re most proud of (whether that be freelance work, college assignments or personal projects) on a social platform such as Instagram, Twitter, Behance, Dribbble or ArtStation, you’re probably going to miss out.

We’re not quite at the stage of social media dominance that other creative industries have reached - not yet anyway. For example, if you’re a model these days, no modelling agency will interview you unless you have at least 10K Instagram followers. A graduate designer doesn't need to have thousands of followers, but if your work has no social existence at all, it may well count against you.

That said, don’t try to do too much. If you attempt to populate all the different social media platforms, you’ll probably make a pig’s ear of it. You’re better off picking one social platform that’s right for you, and focusing all of your energies and attentions on that.

05. The industry is spreading out

The critical and commercial success of agencies like Music shows that you don’t need to be in London to make a name for yourself

Think you need to be in London, New York, Paris or Tokyo to find a decent design job? Well, it probably won’t hurt. But technologies like high-speed broadband have made the world a lot smaller, and the design industry a lot more diffuse, over recent years. And that’s a trend that can only continue into the 2020s.

So you’ll find a number of influential design agencies outside capital cities nowadays: check out our list of brilliant Manchester agencies, for example. And even in smaller towns and cities, you’ll find a surprising range of creative agencies, web startups, print shops, animation studios and in-house design departments if you dig deep enough.

So rather than think: ‘Where do I need to go to find work?’, it may be better to think: ‘Where do I want to live?’ and go from there. Good luck!

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Oct 152017

The Wacom MobileStudio Pro tablet PC aims to give professional designers, illustrators, artists and photographers  the convenience of a mobile tablet, alongside the full power of creative apps like Photoshop and Illustrator

It comes in two versions: a 13-inch model (£1,399.99 - £2,299.99) and 16-inch (£2,199.98 - £2,749.99). And, like the Surface Pro, the hybrid mobile computer – this is far more than just a drawing tablet – offers the full Windows 10 experience. So does it strike the right balance between usable power and portability? And should you buy it? 

Wacom MobileStudio Pro: portability

The Wacom MobileStudio Pro is a world apart from its Cintiq range of devices. Sleeker and less boxy, it feels high-end before you even power it on. The choice of materials is exactly what you'd expect from a device of this cost, and the weight adds to the solid feel. 

The Wacom MobileStudio Pro isn't light, but then this isn't a casual Surface or iPad Pro. It’s a professional-level content creation machine that users will lean on heavily and, as such, needs to be sturdy. Lets face it: when it's on the desk, the weight is a definite bonus.

It certainly doesn't need to be carried with a keyboard or mouse (although that can be done) as the eight fully customisable ExpressKeys, touch ring, and various switches and pots are well-placed for right or left-handers. They’re also numerous enough to enable the most common shortcuts to be programmed (globally or by app too). 

Wacom MobileStudio Pro: screen and pen

The biggest talking point of the Wacom MobileStudio Pro is its screen and pen interface. Wacom's Pro Pen 2 boasts increased capabilities – including 60 degrees of tilt, over 8000 levels of sensitivity and pixel-level pointing accuracy. And while that might seem overkill, it really helps make the whole drawing experience feel more natural. 

This leads onto the most important element of such a device: the screen. The 4k display is colour accurate enough for most, and positioned very close to the etched glass screen, making it a real joy to use (and it gives out much less glare than, say, a Macbook Pro). 

Paired with the Pro Pen 2, the screen has just the right amount of friction to make for a consistent and enjoyable experience. The large, soft, rubber grip of the stylus helps ease fatigue, while simultaneously making all strokes – from small detail to large canvas-crossing movements – feel accurate and easy.

The contrast and brightness of the display are above average, powered by good quality Nvidia Quadro GPU, perfectly suited to pro 2D and 3d work. This GPU choice is paired well with the i5 or i7 CPU RAM, depending on which model you’re using.

The higher spec model has a 3D scanning camera, which some users will ignore, or at the most try out a handful of times. However, if you're a 3D artist, or have use for such a peripheral, the fact that it’s built into the Wacom MobileStudio Pro might be a bonus – especially considering it comes bundled with Artec Studio 11 software, making this an out-of-the box solution.

Wacom MobileStudio Pro: accessories

Our main gripe with the MobileStudio Pro is that the adjustable stand is an optional extra. This feels a bit cheap considering the initial outlay - and the stand lacks the innovation of solutions from cheaper tablets, although it does fit in with the model Wacom uses across its product range. That said, as a professional device it’s likely that some users will already have their own drawing board setup.

Wacom does offer some good accessories, such as a breakout box that lets you connect to a third-party computer, opening up use as a standard Cintiq. This offering will be of more use to some than others, of course.

Real world use sees an easy four–five hours of battery life, depending on the task. This isn't too far from the advertised six hours for this kind of machine, and should comfortably cover most on-the-move work.

The two models cater to most users’ needs, with 8-16GB RAM, 256-512GB SSD, bluetooth, Wi-Fi and even GPS is on offer. Even if you remove the excellent display and pen capability, the remaining PC is still pretty good for a mobile machine. 

The cameras are functional, but nothing special. In reality they are a cheap addition for Wacom and it's rare that you'll want to use a two-plus kilo, 16-inch machine as a camera, especially when you can use the bluetooth connection or SD slot to quickly move files over.

Wacom MobileStudio Pro: conclusion

We like: the display and screen combo, the Pro Pen 2 and battery life. We don't like: the price or the weight (at least for travel). Also, the lower specced versions can feel a little underwhelming compared to the range topper. If you can stump the extra cash, then do. You'll not need to upgrade for some time.

If you’re in the market for a portable device for light computing, the odd game and some office tasks, then the device is massively overpowered and overpriced.

However, if you’re an artist or designer then you can't do better than the Wacom MobileStudio Pro. 

The screen interaction is a true joy (the etched glass is the same as found on the Cintiq range), the Pro Pen 2 is both fun yet detailed, and the spec of the underlying PC makes for a workhorse machine that can easily replace a notebook PC. It might not be cheap, but it succeeds at every task it was designed for.

Also read: The best drawing tablet: our pick of the best graphics tablets

Oct 142017

Whatever your political leaning may be, it’s hard to argue right now that we’re living in anything other than interesting times. The year 2016 served up two enormous helpings of the unthinkable. Firstly in the form of the referendum, which saw the UK vote by the narrowest of margins to leave the EU (read our Designer's Guide to Brexit article), and then later in the year when Americans chose Donald Trump as their president.

Spin forward to now and Trump is already teetering on the verge of impeachment, while in the UK there's been a snap general election that’s blown up right in the government’s face, leaving the country with a hung parliament and Brexit talks starting for real. 

The only certainty now is uncertainty, and it’s perfectly natural to feel nervous in such a volatile world

The only certainty now – death and taxes aside – is uncertainty, and it’s perfectly natural to feel nervous in such a volatile world. And if you’re running your own web business or trying to get by as a freelancer, this feeling is only magnified. Prospects might look bleak, but are things really that bad?

We’ve been speaking to web professionals and studio heads to get a feeling for how the web industries are coping in these uncertain times, and here’s the good news: they’re broadly optimistic that things will work out. It might be a rough ride, but as players in a business where rapid evolution is the order of the day, they’re sure that they can adapt to whatever’s thrown at them in the coming years.

The negatives…

Which isn’t to say that everything’s fine. “The referendum itself and the election were hugely disruptive for a lot of our UK local government customers,” says Suraj Kika, CEO at Jadu. Fortunately this didn’t result in any cancelled projects; however it did result in delays that play out over months afterwards. “No one enjoys that kind of disruption,” says Kika.

Delete employs team members from outside the UK, which could lead to post-Brexit problems

Confusion about freedom of movement post-Brexit is another cause for concern. Alex Ellis is managing director of Delete, and employs numerous team members from outside the UK, both from Europe and further afield. “The uncertainty around freedom of movement and the effect that will have on them, as well as their family and friends, has understandably caused a lot of concern,” he tells us. “Bearing in mind the vast mix of countries that the talent within our industry in the UK comes from, this could have a bigger impact than is currently being discussed.”

Brexit has slashed the value of the pound in relation to the dollar, and remote staff are far more expensive than they used to be

Harry O’Connor, VoodooChilli

The impact of Brexit on the value of the pound has naturally had a knock-on effect for businesses, particularly those who employ staff overseas. For Brown&co, an outsourced-model brand collective, this has already been an issue. “Many of our collaborators work and live elsewhere in the world,” explains co-founder Troy Wade. “With the weaker pound post-Brexit, we are having to pay them more than we were to match or beat their local earnings.”

There’s a similar story from Harry O’Connor, managing director at VoodooChilli Design. While most of his staff work out from the main office in Hereford, the company also works closely with talented people based around the world. These workers are paid in US dollars. “Brexit has slashed the value of the pound in relation to the dollar,” explains O’Connor,“ and remote staff are far more expensive than they used to be.”

… and the positives

Of course, the devalued pound can have its upsides as well as its downsides. “The service industry in the UK has got significantly cheaper for overseas clients with the drop in the pound,” reveals Ellis. “Soon after the Brexit decision, we saw clients in both Switzerland and Italy re-issuing briefs to us for a number of key projects that had previously been paused. From talking to our European clients, it is being seen as another advantage.” 

Ellis understands that this may only be a short- to medium-term advantage, but nevertheless it’s one to leverage while it’s there, and Delete isn’t the only agency to recognise this. 

O’Connor notes that VoodooChilli’s quotes to American clients have become far more competitive thanks to the weaker pound, and Wade points out another positive: that foreign clients are now seeing British agencies as a more attractive prospect. 

“We are completely set up for remote working (with collaborators and clients) so it really doesn’t matter where our clients are based,” he tells us. “Our two biggest are currently in the Netherlands and Turkey. Through a combination of our model and the weaker pound, they can now afford to work with a top drawer British firm.”

Brown&co’s outsourced and distributed model makes it well placed to ride out any local storm

And it’s possible that Brexit could make life a little easier for anyone building the web; for Kika, it offers the opportunity to say goodbye to a thorn in a web developer’s side. “The Cookie Law, a piece of legislation that requires websites to get consent from visitors to store or retrieve any information on a computer, started as an EU Directive and was adopted by all EU countries,” he says. “Hopefully we’ll see that thing become part of the past!”

Preparing for the future

While it’s impossible to predict the future, it is at least possible to recognise potential dangers and adapt your business so that it’s ready for anything. Kika is rethinking how his company will grow across Europe, and anticipating the need for different financial processes for European customers and employees. 

But Jadu has been preparing for uncertainty in another way: “Two years ago we anticipated that things might start hitting the fan. We launched a cloud-based customer service platform called ‘CXM’ which focuses on helping customers connect to organisations that service them. Sort of a ‘digital concierge ’, CXM is real-time case management and instant messaging rolled into one.”

Jadu’s work with local government customers has been disrupted by Brexit

The success of CXM has led to a wholesale shift in Jadu’s business, seeing it becoming a cloud SaaS service provider and giving it an extra degree of diversity and versatility in the face of the unknown; an excellent survival strategy that’s already paying off.

Meanwhile Jon Davie, CEO at Zone has found that despite political and economic uncertainty, most things are carrying on as usual. When it comes to post-Brexit, however, he expects that Zone will have to put more effort into attracting and retaining digital talent.

Anything that makes the UK a less attractive place to live and work is a risk – we’re already in a competitive market for the best people

Jon Davie, Zone

“Anything that makes the UK a less attractive place to live and work is a risk,” he explains. “We’re already in a competitive market for the best people, and we’ll have to work even harder to find and keep our people happy.”

Ellis agrees that there’s a danger of talent leaving the UK, and Delete’s approach to managing this is more about prevention than adaptation. “In this industry your team is key,” he says, “and we are very proud of ours; my focus will be on ensuring we continue to invest strongly into our teams at an individual level to ensure that Delete, and the UK, continues to be the right place for them.”

Shall we get out of here?

After the EU referendum there was plenty of talk about getting out of Britain and moving to the EU, and in the financial sector that still appears to be a likely prospect. However, as far as the web is concerned, cooler heads seem to be prevailing. 

“For weeks after the result, I seriously contemplated leaving the country, which may have been a knee-jerk reaction,” says Adam Cowley, a small business director with seven years’ experience as a freelance web developer and technical lead. 

“In reality, as a freelancer you could be based anywhere in the world. Many UK companies currently outsource to non-EU countries, I don’t see why the EU would be any different. Luckily, countries – EU or otherwise – will always be looking for highly skilled, knowledgeable workers so the option is always there if things don’t work out well.”

Technology allows many face-to-face meetings without anyone needing to be physically face-to-face

Troy Wade, Brown&Co

Delete is taking a pragmatic approach and looks set to stay put: “Our three-year plans have not changed, so we are definitely not looking to relocate wholesale to the EU,” says Ellis. “We are continuously reviewing the market in the EU, including the number of leads we are receiving and growth of our existing clients, and will plan any physical presence in the EU around that.”

The advantage of the internet, of course, is that it doesn’t matter where you are, as Wade agrees. “Technology, if used correctly, allows many face-to-face meetings without anyone needing to be physically face-to-face,” he tells us. “It also means we can work seamlessly with collaborators in any country we choose, when the need arises, and without having to have an office there.”

Kira is thinking along similar lines. “We aren’t sure ‘offices’ in the traditional sense are where we are going,” he suggests, “rather we’re likely to invest in facilitating remote working regardless of location.”

Brexit: The endgame

There’s always the possibility, mind, that all this is just a big fuss over nothing. While Article 50 has been signed and the UK is on the road to leaving the EU, it’s not guaranteed that this will actually happen. This summer’s general election appears to have knocked the wind out the hard Brexit sails, and with a long process of negotiation ahead that no-one here seems to be ready for, who knows where we’ll end up?

Ellis is hopeful about what will happen. “Ultimately I believe it will result in a deal that works for the UK,” he says, “whatever that ends up being. The UK is not just going to shut up shop and the EU doesn’t want to crush us, so despite the twists and turns I am confident about the end result. Honestly, for me the riskiest part of this is the next two years, during the uncertainty of the process, rather than the end result.”

Not everyone shares Ellis’s optimistic outlook, though. “I can’t see a lot of good coming from it,” comments O’Connor. “I think long term, costs will go up for the average person in the UK, and businesses will need to charge more in order to make ends meet. I suspect prices will eventually be forced down for web designers.”

Jon Davie from Zone recommends keeping up with the latest technologies as a survival strategy

Cowley is also concerned about how Brexit may end up playing out, believing that negotiations will be difficult and we could end up leaving the single market in order to control the free movement of labour. “This could be damaging for the tech industry in the UK if the skilled labour isn’t available,” he notes. “When I recently helped with employing a full-time developer for a London-based company, the majority of applicants were non-UK.”

For now, though, we can’t be sure what will happen. “I think recent events have shown us that only a fool would try to predict what will happen next week,” says Davie, “never mind how the next two years will play out!”

Are we doomed?

With so much uncertainty, it’s easy to get caught up in doom-mongering. But really, is it worth it? From what we’ve been hearing, there’s plenty to be optimistic about. “I’m fundamentally optimistic about our business and the digital market generally,” says Jon Davie. “People with the skills to help clients adapt will be well placed to benefit from that disruption.”

VoodooChilli isn’t spooked; 15 years in business has given it perspective

O’Connor sees uncertainty as a great opportunity for anyone whose job is helping other businesses succeed. “Selling websites in uncertain times is like trying to sell water in a drought,” he points out, “It’s not a difficult sale!”

While he thinks the next few years will be up and down, Ellis thinks this situation is temporary. “The fact is that no matter what the future brings, to prosper you need to be positive,” he says, “and with an industry that is full of creativity, entrepreneurial spirit, talent and pure grit we will survive, and I believe thrive, throughout and beyond.”

Whatever happens, Wade is ready. “This is the new normal, ” he concludes, “and we’re excited about it.”

This article originally appeared in issue 296 of net magazine. Subscribe here.

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