As a designer, there are a great many things that are essential for you to be able to do your job, whether you’re working from home or in a design office. For me, the most obvious things are my Mac, broadband, a space to work in, eyes, a very large coffee, and a brain that’s not too sluggish from being in the pub the night before.
So there are lots of things that I need, but what couldn’t I live without? What would be the absolute worst thing to not have during a whole day of work in the studio? To answer this question, I’ve put together this list of 10 things I see as essentially to my working day as a designer.
01. A Wacom
This nifty bit of kit has been with me since I started out and it’s been as loyal and reliable as my own husband (maybe even more so). I think of my Wacom now as an extension of my hand. It’s so wonderful, I haven’t used a mouse in six years. It’s made the transition between sketching everything on paper and then wrestling with the pen tool in Illustrator a lot more fun and definitely a lot faster.
The control I have is amazing and it makes digital drawing much more fluid and natural. Not only that but it is definitely a very beautiful gadget, all smooth and curvaceous. (In case you can’t tell, I really like my gadgets.)
For those of you who haven’t a clue what this is, think of it as a piece of paper and a pen that transfers every stroke you doodle on to your machine so that you can digitise the work. It’s pretty darn wonderful and if I had to live without it? Well, I’d just be sat in front of my machine with no idea how to make the cursor thingamebob move.
I don’t just use it for artwork, I use it instead of a mouse or a track pad for everything. I really am severely attached to it, so please don’t take it from me!
02. A sketchbook
This may be an obvious one but it’s definitely an essential item. With my face planted in front of a 27-inch screen all day it’s sometimes good to break away and do a little super quick five minute doodle.
I take my sketchbook with me wherever I go because you never know when someone is going to be late to a meeting and leave you twiddling your thumbs. Or maybe I’ll have a brainwave for a new project and need to jot some ideas down before the idea flies away.
I also keep a notebook by the side of my bed. I’m not a great sleeper so I quite often do think about projects and work during the night. And sometimes I get some great ideas so it’s perfect for spontaneous project planning.
My sketchbook is pretty much my Bible. It’s got doodles in it that have been turned into infographics and motion graphics, so it’s like a diary of sorts. It’s great to look back on. The only downside is that I just have stacks of old sketchbooks all over the house and the studio. Oh well, maybe they’ll be worth something someday.
03. Post-it Notes
I definitely couldn’t work or live without Post-its. I’m talking about the actual real, physical kind, not one of those sticky pad applications you can download to your computer. In fact, I’m probably keeping the Post-it manufacturing industry afloat all on my lonesome. In the way that my sketchbook is my idea jotter and doodle Bible, Post-its help me organise my day and keep on top of tasks.
I do use a digital calendar as well of course, inputting all the tasks I need to do for the next day so I have a clear list of to-dos. But my Post-its are an extension of that and a way to keep everything at the forefront of my mind. I can close a calendar but if I’ve got Post-its in front of me all day, along with lists, there’s no way to get away from what I need to do and that keeps me focused.
I also use Post-its for personal encouragement and goals. If I see a phrase that really jumps out at me, I’ll jot it down on the nearest Post-it and stick it in view. Or, if I need an extra kick of motivation, I keep specific goals I want to achieve in view.
For instance, in three years’ time I want to have hired two junior designers and be working for more overseas clients. These little reminders keep me motivated, energised and focused.
Explore the benefits and failings of off-the-peg website builders.
In many ways, DIY website builders are like box cakes. For a variety of situations, they offer a great balance of ease of use, flexibility and cost. They provide those not familiar with web development an avenue to create their own professional website. There’s something wonderful about that level of dissemination of web authorship.
Why then, with the proliferation of affordable site builders, would a client ever choose to pay an agency tens of thousands of dollars for a bespoke website? In an age when anyone can make a surprisingly high quality website, is there any use for dedicated development agencies? As a developer at one of these agencies, I would argue that the answer is an emphatic: yes! Here are some reasons why.
One of the most immediate advantages of a custom website is the design itself. While the quality of templates available from DIY solutions has vastly improved, it’s hard to deny that there’s a certain amount of homogeneity amongst them. We live in a world of layer-cake homepages and washed-out stock photos. Even if a website’s message is unique, a generic design can cause it to get lost amidst a sea of visually similar competitors. Having a site that doesn’t just display a client’s product to a user but truly communicates with them can make the difference between a captured sale and a bounced visit.
Another benefit digital agencies bring is their broad base of experience with various external web platforms. A successful site interacts with a myriad of third parties to deliver a holistic experience. DIY builders can provide a certain level of interaction with popular platforms, but how do these builders deal with an outdated financial reports API that still uses SOAP calls and XML responses? A development team can pull together all those disparate threads in a succinct, maintainable way that ensures that the site continues to serve the client for years instead of months.
Perhaps the largest benefit of working with a development agency is also the least tangible: a comprehensive digital strategy. This can often be the most difficult aspect to sell to clients. After all, most sites are relatively simple systems. Is it really necessary to spend hours aggregating existing content, poring over URL structures and creating complex user flow documents?
In 2009, Amazon hired a UX team to help it increase its sales. After a few weeks of rigorous user testing, analysis and brainstorming, it recommended a single change to the registration form. That one well-informed update increased Amazon’s yearly profits by $300,000,000.
In an age when anyone can make a surprisingly high quality website, is there any use for dedicated development agencies?
Without putting in the legwork to deter- mine how users were experiencing the site, Amazon never would have even known there was a problem to solve. A beautiful website with no strategy behind it is like a Bentley without a steering wheel (at least until all cars become self-driving, at which point this metaphor starts to break down).
Creating a site on Squarespace is a great solution for many situations. Like my beloved box cakes, it’s affordable, easy and provides increasingly high-quality results. But when a client needs a site that goes beyond mere adequacy, that speaks to the user in a meaningful way, it’s still vital to work with a talented digital agency.
At the end of the day, companies pour their lives into creating amazing products and services; shouldn’t their website work just as hard?