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Becoming a better designer and illustrator with my side project The Dandy Dons

derek-mcinnes-aberdeen

jonny-hayes

As an illustrator, graphic designer and web designer I use my side project The Dandy Dons’ website and Facebook page as an online sketch book.

On the page I develop styles, gain new skills, experiment, turn ideas around quickly, and test social media marketing practises. I then receive instant feedback and the opportunity to evaluate my work in a way that does not work for me with portfolio work.

This makes me a better designer and illustrator, which in turn helps me deliver better solutions for my clients. It also connects me to an online community where we share our passion for Aberdeen Football Club.

The website has vague aspirations of becoming a conceptual art project, but is ultimately just a blog about a football team. thedandydons.com. COYR as we say.

 

 

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Advice for new students at Gray’s School of Art, Aberdeen

Grays School of Art Aberdeen

This image is copyright Grays School of Art , Aberdeen

If you are about to attend Gray’s School of Art for the first time, you probably ought to know, Gray’s School of Art is the best art college in the world – if you want it to be.  Look at the building, look at the surroundings, look at the library, really what else do you need? On top of that, the most important reason it is the best art college in the world, is YOU are there.

Having been a student at Gray’s School of Art, Aberdeen in the late eighties, here is my advice for new students. I am well aware there will have been significant changes, but some elements will be similar to my time.

Enjoy the city of Aberdeen

The city of Aberdeen is a magnificent place. The granite buildings are beautiful, the people are nice, there’s mock chop suppers, and a wonderful football team. At Gray’s School of Art the building is a fantastic piece of architecture. The area of Garthdee is close to the centre of the city, and you are a couple of minutes from the beautiful Deeside countryside.

What to watch out for

Avoid at all costs any students with a whiny Central Belt accent constantly whinging about how much better everything in Glasgow is – in particular Glasgow School of Art. They are almost certainly just homesick, missing their Mum, and using a front of superiority to cover this up. Ideally there should be a toll at the Tay Bridge that stops these people getting that far North.

Ignore your tutors

Or listen to them, it’s up to you. Being a tutor at an art college is really not that hard a job. You take talent, you point them in the right direction, off they fly. The idea that at Edinburgh, St Martins, or anywhere else there are better art tutors with better qualifications, or better people skills is just academic elitism. Your perfect tutor maybe doesn’t exist. Your art comes from within. Listen, evaluate, go with your instincts.

And finally

Try not get chucked out at the end of second year. Like I did. It’s a long hard struggle without a degree to make it in design, but it’s not impossible. And if ever you come across former Gray’s School of Art head of Graphic Design Ian Cargill, say hi from me. You can read more about the supremely talented and gifted trio of Ian Cargill, Malcolm Brown and Professor Eric Spiller here.

P.S

You are welcome. I suppose an honorary degree is out of the question?

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Fake it until you make it as a designer

Fake it until you make it is a great piece of advice for designers. Or a slightly more accurate piece of advice that doesn’t scan quite as well, is Fake it until you become it. Act like you believe in yourself, act like you are a serious professional, act like this meeting or whatever is an every day occurrence, and eventually it will be. It also gives you something to concentrate on (the acting) rather than dealing with nerves or stress.

 

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And once you have made it, sit back and watch everyone else faking it…

Here is a fascinating Ted Talk on the same subject. www.blog.ted.com/2013/12/13/fake-it-til-you-become-it-amy-cuddys-power-poses-visualized/

Patronising advice for students – The art of selling for designers and illustrators

advice-for-designers

In another in my series “patronising advice for students” I explain what I know about selling. For some the art of selling is natural and easy, and for others the concept is a complete mystery. Here is what I know and how I came to learn it.

Avoid wannabe childrens’ book authors

A few years ago I met someone who was an aspiring childrens’ book author. Would I be interested in illustrating his book with a view to sending it to a publisher to try and get a deal.

I read the book, it seemed alright, so I went for it. After quite a few weeks of work he sent the book off, with my illustrations. Then I got on with other work, knowing well how hard the children’s book market is to get into.

Around a year later I met the aspiring author again. He told me what happened. He got a reply from the publishing house rejecting the book.

I was furious. As I told him, JK Rowling was turned down at least half a dozen times for Harry Potter. I asked him if he was sure anyone from the publishers had even read his manuscript. Was there anything specific in the reply that showed it was read. This was a concept beyond this person’s realm of thought.

Selling myself door to door – the cold sell

I was working in bars and hotels in London. Living-in gave a nice disposable income, and it was fun for a bit. Until I just couldn’t fill the ice bucket up any more or empty the glass machine. I had been doing the artwork on the blackboards for the various places I’d worked, and was aware a few others did it for a living. So to save me from ever having to pour another pint, I started up as a full time blackboard artist.

This would involve me going into pubs, asking if they were interested in having their blackboards painted… I had an A4 portfolio with examples of boards I’d done, and a business card to leave behind. As a shy person that was a living hell. The first day I did this, I was almost physically sick. It was a horrific experience. I probably did it two days in a row, and didn’t get any work. Two weeks went by then my ‘mobile phone like a house brick’ rang. First customer. Ten minutes later I got my second customer. I was off and running.

I did this job for about two years. What I came to learn was for every twenty pubs I went into, I always got a minimum of one new customer. On being ‘rejected’ by a pub I then saw this as positive. I was one closer to twenty, which would always get me a customer, and therefor I was positively motivated to keep trying more pubs or restaurants.

The big lesson – don’t sell

What I also learned was I wasn’t selling, or persuading people to use my skills. They needed their blackboards painting or they didn’t, end of. As the business became more successful, the pubs, restaurants and hotels came to me.

When I first arrived at a pub, the manager  would  ask where I wanted to work in the pub. This shy awkward young man wanted to be as far away as possible from the public. Even working in a refrigerated cellar on occasion, rather than be in the public gaze. One day I had to work on a large outside board that was fixed to a wall. Had to do it there on the street. While working I picked up about three new customers. From then on I worked in public, always! It became like a street art performance, and I would amuse myself counting the number of times people said ‘you spelt that wrong mate…’.

Don’t meet your heroes – or work for children or animals

I am from Aberdeen. I support Aberdeen Football Club. When I lived in the city I was a season ticket holder. I’d contributed cartoons to the AFC fanzine The Northern Light and the Aberdeen Press and Journal newspaper. But what I really wanted to do was work for the club.

So I got together some illustrations of the stadium, and the players. This is pre-digital. I worked for months on it. Sent it away. And waited.

I don’t think they even replied. Between other work, a couple of years later I tried again. Nothing. I think I tried one more time, and gave up.

A good few years later, my work now digital, a friend asked for one of the illustrations of a player to be turned into a birthday card for his 11 year old nephew. A career high! Reluctantly I did it. I also decided to print off another copy of the illustration, and send it to Aberdeen F.C.

I sent it in such a relaxed, disinterested way, when the club’s marketing manager phoned me up a couple of days later, and requested more like that, I genuinely couldn’t remember what I’d sent him… I went on to work for them for some time.

Learning from experience

Why had they rejected me previously? Why did they then decide to use my work? They accepted my work because my work landed on the correct person’s desk on the correct day. The times I was rejected, it didn’t.

So how do you get your work to land on the correct person’s desk, on the correct day? You send out a lot of work, regularly to increase the chances of this happening, and ignore any rejections. Exactly what the author in the first story did not do.

Selling as a freelance designer

When I go to a client’s for an initial meeting, I am not selling, I never sell. They will have got in touch with me as they are interested in my services. All I need to do is listen to their needs, explain the concept, explain how it could work, give any advice on any specifics they are interested in, irrespective of whether they have agreed to work with me or not. And most importantly of all, be honest. If I don’t know the answer to something, I tell them I don’t know, and also say if I can find out for them I will.

Generally all my client meetings have a positive result.

 

Logo design with subtle hidden messages

In logo design, a message doesn’t have to be obvious. In fact it could be years before you notice the message or never at all. This fantastic infographic from madebyoomph.co.uk looks at some great ones.

logo design messages

My top six bad logo designs

As a logo designer I love to look at logos all around me. This involves me having plenty of opinions, positive and negative.

Designers are sometimes accused of looking at design as a designer and not as a viewer/potential customer.

So perhaps the logos and subsequent branding below have lead to greater brand recognition, better awareness with the correct market, and a massive increase in profits. Or perhaps I’m correct, and these logos are really bad.

Leave a comment at the bottom of the page, or nominate a bad logo design.

So here’s my top 6 bad logo designs!

Number 1. BP. Oil company

Bp logo
Whenever I see it, I think ‘Adobe Illustrator tutorial’ and ‘hay fever’. You can read BPs justification explanation here. One hates to kick a failing logo when it’s down, but the lower case minimalist lettering doesn’t work either. Looks suspiciously like Minion Pro, the default font on Adobe Illustrator. Web design has also given logo designers issues regarding the shape and amount of detail that a logo can carry. A quick look at the top left of BPs website shows the drawback of a logo as high as it is wide. It is just a bad logo design.

Number 2. Masterchef. British world-wide franchised TV programme.

Masterchef logo
Chefs do not cook with electric hobbs, they cook with gas. Nice design, but should not have gotten past the sketch version. You can read about the design here.

Number 3. Glasgow’s very own STV. (Scottish Television)

STV logo

A combination of a play button and a section of the Scottish flag, this logo simply does not work.  There’s the curves of the lettering, fighting the sharpness of the play button triangle. The closeness of the end part of the ´v`to the edge of the button… very strange.
As Taggart would say, ´It’s murder!`

Number 4. Sonofon Danish telephone company.

Sonofon logo

 

Insipid colour, meaningless ugly shape, and the 3D effect is at best ‘a bad choice’.

Number 5. The London Olympics.

London 2012 Olympics logo

Unforgivable. The terrible font, colours, shape, even the Trademark symbol in ghastly italics.

Number 6. Gasprom. Russian oil and gas company

Gazprom

Another one that just doesn’t work. From it saying G Gazprom to the gas G symbol being ´weak`. Gazprom, call me!!

Logo fail

Very amusing failed logos

 

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A splendid website and a very amusing article on failed logos at www.boredpanda.com/worst-logo-fails-ever/

From Bored Panda ‘This is an actual logo designed in 1973 for the Catholic Church’s Archdiocesan Youth Commission. It even won an award from the Art Directors Club of Los Angeles.’

London 2012 Olympics logo

When bad design is inexcusable – That’s you London Olympics 2012

I’m writing this fully six months after the London Olympics 2012. An Olympics which were highly successful, particularly from a British perspective, both in terms of organisation, sporting success and spectacle.

olympics-opening-ceremony-london-2012

From the sheer genius of Sir Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony (above), the 2012 Olympics was a complete success. Then there’s the logo. Released a couple of years earlier to widespread derision. Not helped by the £400000 price tag.

Many of those attempting to defend the logo at the time of the release said it would grow on us. That it was visionary, we would ‘get it’ later. Well now we are in the future, let’s have another look.

london-olympics-logo

It is atrocious. The colours, the font, the shapes. It had to be pointed out to me, the shapes represent 2012. Thank goodness the brand became the opening ceremony, the stadium and the athletes. Showing an excellent product can survive a terrible logo. But it must be truly exceptional.

When you are in a hole stop digging

I found this interview with the logo’s creators Wolff Olins on Wired magazine. www.wired.com/design/2012/08/olympic-design/.

‘Wolff Olins didn’t try to clamp the same exact image on everything. It’s a factor of their design that allows schisms — the logo, the colors, pretty much everything they created can be adapted or altered to fit the needs of different users.’

‘Schisms’? So different versions and variations of a logo subject to different needs. So, pretty much what every brand does with it’s logo then. Look for example at the variations used on Carlsberg or Coca-cola lorries, as opposed to their product packaging. Different environment, different solution, but within some shared rules. Although the more inconsistent the logo, the weakening of the brand, and shows a lack of confidence in the core logo. A clear sign Wolff Olins knew from the beginning, their logo didn’t work.

Dig dig dig dig

“The logotype emerged from what we called an energy grid,” says Wolff Olins chairman Brian Boylan. “Its shape comes from a grid which lies behind, and that grid in turn was used to create pattern which was used for the look of the games. If you look at the stadium itself, the color pattern for the seating is taken from this grid.”

Really!? Did you manage to say that with a straight face? The dreadful font, best described as ‘comic sans sharp’.

‘Pleasing the crowd wasn’t part of the goal, says Ije Nwokorie, Wolff Olins’ managing director.’

So, having been told by pretty much everyone they didn’t like the logo, they then claim that that was deliberate, like a particularly obnoxious spoilt child, that must always be right.

If only Wolff Olins were as good at design as they are at talking ‘branding bollocks’.