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How to think like a creative, act like a businessman and design like a God.

By Drew de Soto

Thanks: Bee-bee, Harry, Simon, Rudolf and the team at Navig8.

Š 2011 Drew de Soto Design: Photography: Typeset in good old Bembo with a splash of Bodoni and a dollop of Helvetica condensed.


C ON TENTS TS CON TEN 7 Introduction 9 Thinking 21 Working 41 Designing 41 63 Layout 73 The principles of typography 95 The principles of spacing with type 105 The principles of punctuation 111 Knowledge of colour 115 Knowledge of reprographics 129 Knowledge of print 145 Knowledge of finishing 153 Knowledge of paper 159 Essential kit for the professional 162 Magic numbers 163 10 things… 163 Keyboard shortcuts 170 Glossary


5 ntrod u ction IIntroduction This book is a practical guide to graphic design and being a graphic designer, it is full of tips and tricks to make you design better, help you work smarter and give you a deeper understanding of the finer points of graphic design.

My privileged position When I was at college, there was one computer. It looked like a machine from a 1970s Russian submarine and nobody knew how to work it.You had to book it a week in advance and a technician would sit with you and point at the screen and say things like ‘try holding down caps lock’. Our tutors taught us to hand-render type with markers and paintbrushes, layout a magazine spread or design something ‘off the wall’. They didn’t teach us to be creative. We all taught each other how to be creative. Meanwhile the tutors were in the ‘computer silo’ experimenting with holding down ‘caps lock’ and ‘control’ at the same time. Anyway, that’s why you went to College/University, to be in a creative environment, see what other would be designers were doing – and drink lager. As I went along my career path, the graphic design industry changed massively. Along came computers that didn’t require their own silo. Designers acquired more and more responsibilities, responsibilities that used to belong entirely to different careers. Designers now have to be well versed in re-touching, artwork, reprographics and a stack of other skills. Today’s designers don’t even contemplate how many roles they now have to play, it’s all taken care of in the ‘default settings’. Design, good design, is like life – not about default settings. After a 25-year career in graphic design, I’ve picked up a few things and turned them into ‘custom settings’. Read this book and save yourself 25 years.


7 T HINKI INKING NG TH Creative equation As far as I am aware, there is no equation that shows an increase in creativity is a direct cause of the time spent. What I mean is; the longer you spend trying to think of an idea does not necessarily mean you will come up with a good idea. Some ideas come in a flash, like Archimedes in the bath, others take hours of ruminating to come up with good, creative ideas, and lots of them requires the right conditions. My point is this; there are ways of working that will help you and your team generate ideas quickly and collaboratively in a relatively short space of time. The final effect increases output and the likelihood of coming up with that showstopper – in less time. If I give a brief to a designer without implementing any system, chances are he or she will sit at their desk for as long as they can (weeks if you leave them to it) developing endless ideas or infinite variations on the same idea and going off on all manner of tangents. Often the designer has lost sight of the original brief and the goals set out at the beginning. Eventually, I can bear it no longer and I call the designer to discuss where they have got to so far. I have, on occasions, been pleasantly surprised and the designer has come up with a solution that ticks all the boxes – but this is very rare. Most of the time we have a conversation that goes along the lines of the designer saying, ‘I don’t really feel this is working. I know they are called Penguin Pens but I thought a crocodile smoking a pipe looked better’. Even if you work on your own, if you apply a simple process, it will help you generate more ideas, develop them faster and more coherently and with luck and effort, generate better ideas. This is how it works. When a brief comes into our office, we have a ten minute chat and go through the requirements

8 with the team. We make sure we understand what the client wants, which isn’t always what they need. We include everybody in this chat. Not just the designers, we include everybody! (Our accounts assistant came up with a name and identity of a company in an hour). Everybody has good ideas. The team then gets one hour to come up with ideas. One hour, nothing more. Use a pen and paper, not a computer, it’s much, much quicker and you don’t spend wasted time thinking about which typeface to use. The idea is to stretch the brief as far as you like, no inhibitions, just pure creativity. After an hour (no more), we have another meeting where we all take turns to talk through our ideas. There are no bad ideas – ever – other people are encouraged to chip in with comments and suggestions. This system multiplies the creativity by the amount of people in the team, the more people (within reason) the more ideas, the more comments, the more potential. This is an equation that works: The number of ideas generated x the number of people x the creative interaction = creativity, divided by time. Time No. of ideas generated

No. of people

Creative interaction


At the second meeting, one of two things might happen; either we are all floundering and we talk over why we find it difficult and start again. It’s not a problem, as we’ve only effectively spent an hour, so not much has been lost. The other typical outcome is two or three ideas hit the table that are worth working up, people offer up suggestions or a good idea comes out of a stinker (always present all the ideas in these meetings, no matter how bad). Whatever the outcome of the first hour, the meeting ends and back to the drawing board we all go, for another hour, no more.

9 We meet again. By now, it is almost certain that enough good ideas have been generated and on most occasions, we have far too many. So the Creative Director picks out three or four and someone is chosen to develop them to a higher standard. We don’t have a fixed time period for this, but because the chosen person knows exactly what is needed, dealing with the mechanics of generating it on a computer, it doesn’t take very long.

Just a thought, when setting numbers within text, if the number is below 10, then write it in words.

At this stage, we print them out and stick them on the wall. We use a really big ‘tab grabber’, the sort of thing they use in restaurants to hold up the orders. People then mill around making comments, rushing up to the work with black pens and bottles of liquid paper and writing or drawing their comments on the work and general chin stroking. By the end of this process, which usually takes three to four hours, the job is done. It is a great system, it really works, people get enthused by it, clients enjoy hearing about it and the results are fantastic. After you have been through this process a few times, you never go back. The process is easier to manage if your team is more than one person (i.e. a team) but no bigger than six people. Don’t forget to play to people’s strengths, don’t get your best typographer to work up the illustrative concept, even if he or she came up with the idea.

Follow this process:

1 Hold a briefing meeting, even if it is just you. 2 One hour brainstorm on paper. 3 Meeting and chat through ideas – interact and exchange ideas.

4 One hour development – on paper. 5 Select no more than three concepts – draw up scamps

to a higher level of finish than you really want to. Do it.

6 Look at the scamps, really look, does it all work? If it does, then start the computer up.

10 Three levels of an idea When we start a brief and go through our concept process we take a good look at the concepts. The best approach to winning a client’s heart and mind, is to give them three levels of idea. Look at the brief again. 99% of the time, the client has written in it little hints as to what they are after. If you can spot them, you are halfway there. Once you know what they are after (and if you are not sure, ring them to discuss, this makes them feel involved with the process, which they like) it is easy to give them what they want. Always answer the brief first, make sure you have a concept to bring to the table that does what you have been asked to do. It doesn’t matter if you feel it isn’t what they need and that’s not the point, you can explain that there may be a better solution, during your presentation. Now it is time to take the client on a journey. Take them by the hand, metaphorically, and show them an idea that just moves things forward a bit, something a little more innovative. Explain why you feel it is right and back up your design with solid reasoning, statements like ‘it looks better’ won’t help your cause. Lastly show them where they could and should be, show them the idea that surpasses expectations. Make sure it is still relevant and again, explain how you got there and why it will work. Never go to the table with an idea you are not happy with. Never. If you do, the client will pick it, guaranteed. Never think ‘I know, I’ll put in these two really plop ideas, next to this gorgeous ones, so that the client picks the gorgeous idea’. The better you get at presenting and understanding the clients needs, the more daring you can be, as long as the idea is relevant and practical. Remember you are a commercial artist, a designer, your designs must be commercial. On occasions, when we feel confident we have got it right, we will only present the killer idea, leaving the back up ideas in


Elizabeth Finn


Elizabeth Finn Care our briefcase. If they go for it, the backup ideas go back to the office, never seeing the light of day. Three ideas are about right, any more and it looks like you don’t know what you are doing. Any less and people can feel they are being short changed. Don’t substitute ideas for variations of the same idea. If you have alternatives of the same concept pick one – in your heart you will know which is the best version.

Stop moving things around Everyone is guilty of this. During the design process, you will be working away and eventually it will dawn on you that something isn’t right. So you sit there for hours just moving elements of the design around, trying endless versions. Stop it. This is the stage in the design process that is the least costeffective, totally useless and mind numbing dull. Recognise you are doing it. Stop it. There will be something that is inherently wrong and you have to stop work and take time to look at what you have done to see what is wrong and then fix it. Print the job out,

Evolution rather than revolution.The client had a cack logo and felt they couldn’t change it because it was so ingrained in the organisation. A tickle and a tweek (the ‘Fins’ and the type) and we’ve made a silk purse out of sow’s ear.


This should be variations

Wasting your time: Contrary to popular belief, the above screen does not show ‘design in progress’ – it shows variation of one idea – a waste of time.

stick it on the wall, or make it into a mock-up. Ask colleagues what they think, anything to stop moving things around. It may feel like this will take too long and slow the process down, I guarantee you it won’t, it will be quicker in the long run. If you have time, leave the job and come back to it with ‘fresh eyes’, if you don’t have time, ask a colleague, as they will have ‘fresh eyes’. Look at what you are doing – really look. Inevitably some elements will be right and some will be wrong. Define what is right. Then define what is wrong and move what is wrong off the page. Start by taking away the elements that don’t work. Slowly, and with consideration, start bringing back the elements to the design, consider the relationship they have with the other elements on the page, place them with care, altering their size and weight if necessary. Take your time, slow right down.

13 Variations If you really want to waste your time, just get one idea and do loads and loads of variations. This is a popular technique that helps make designers feel like they are designing, getting things done, ‘experimenting’. They kid themselves that if they do this long enough it will be home time and nobody will notice. If you have idea, think about how to execute it, then execute it, if it doesn’t work, drop it. Move on.

Economies of scale One rule that works with most designs is using scale. Simply put; make one item on the ‘page’ large and keep the rest small. Make sure the small elements compliment the design and balance the larger element. If you look at great designers work, this principle is used all over the place, from the posters of Abraham Gaines to Saul Bass. It’s all about weight and balance of information. It is a hard thing to explain, but once you grasp the principle, you can employ the technique to a myriad of designs. These posters were designed to do the same job; recruit chaps into the army – good use of scale makes the design work harder.


• Follow the idea generation process. • Give them what they asked for, take them on a journey then blow their minds. • Stop moving things around. • Stop generating endless variations. • Let some items on the page dominate, don’t design everything the same size.

14 Stuck in a rut It happens. The deadline is looming, not an idea in your head, pub is open and you want to go for a pint, but you can’t leave because you still haven’t cracked the problem. What do you do? There are lots of things people do, some people have rituals or systems to get them going again. The most common might be brainstorming, the most obvious is to go through design books and see if you can find inspiration in other people’s work. The most important thing is to recognise you are in a rut and change what you are doing. The earlier you do this, the sooner you can fix it and go for that pint.

KICK START 1 Think laterally, come at the problem from another angle, no matter how extreme it might seem. If YOUR nothing else, it will sharpen your creative mind. NOODLE:

2 Concentrate on your market, what are they

used to seeing, what would make them sit up and take note? What are the typical devices used in the sector you are designing for? A good example is the financial world, where they like to see pictures of people shaking hands, or at their computers and the materials tend to be produced in very corporate colours; navy blue and grey. What can you do to challenge this, are your ideas relevant?

3 Try the ‘what if ’ game. What if I only use

illustrations, what if I only use type, what if the type made the illustration, what if I draw it with my eyes closed… that should rattle your cage.

4 Reread the brief – it is surprising how often that can focus the mind.

5 Don’t just sit there, you would be better off just going to the pub.

15 Go the extra mile There are not many things that separate one designer from another, particularly in a client’s mind, so don’t kid yourself. Of course, creativity is a massive factor, it is your most valuable skill. Take a look at a selection of designer websites. They all say they are creative, see that as a given, if you are not creative, then give up. What does make a difference to clients and designers themselves is going the extra mile. There are a number of things you can do; from altering the size of the document so that they save paper and money, to suggesting another activity or output. If you can always deliver just that little bit more than you have been asked to do, you will be respected and appreciated and be better than your peers.

Keep early and rejected work Over time you will build up a collection of rejected work and often designers feel it is their best work. No matter, keep it. File it. What we do is keep a print out of every piece of work. We photocopy sketches and scamps and make a note of the project name. Once my pile gets an inch thick, I spiral bind it and stick it on the shelf with my other design books and bits of inspiration. If I have worked something up on computer, I copy the files into a ‘logo rejected concepts’ or ‘brochure rejected concepts’ folder. One day, you will remember that design you pitched that was rejected, you can look it up and if you have made a note of the project name, you can drag it off the archive and save a considerable amount of time reusing the elements. Nothing more satisfying than pulling a file off the archive from a few years back, where you spent hours drawing up that crocodile smoking a pipe graphic only to open it up and use it again. You will invest a lot of time working up a concept and a rejection shouldn’t mean your hard work goes to waste.

16 Protecting your designs

Creation date: A cold, hard, fact me lud.

When you present your ideas put a copyright statement on your work. It should read: © [The Year] and [your company/ your name], only on concepts, not final designs. Make it clear that the client only pays for one solution and the rest remain your property. Keep a copy of everything you send to a client. Print it out, put it in an envelope, seal it with tape and a signature over the seal and post it back to yourself. It is wise to write on the front of the envelope what the project title is. When it arrives in the post, it will have a date stamp on it. File it, don’t open it. This means you have a record of the creation date and if a naughty client says they thought of it first, you can prove when it was created. It also helps to burn it to CD, that way the creation date is recorded as well and it cannot be changed once it is burnt to CD. I have been a victim of clients (and designers) ‘accidentally’ coming up with the exact same idea for the same client. In reality, defending your intellectual property is difficult and can be very expensive. So, prevention is far better than cure. Sometimes an idea will get produced by someone else that is the same or similar to one you have had, and it is a genuine coincidence.You can either forget about it, or fill up the letters pages of design magazines, writing in and telling anybody who cares that such and such’s new logo is like the one you did ten years ago. Clients will expect to ‘own’ the idea once they have paid for it. Fair enough. We assign all copyright on payment in full of the final concept, but not all the other ones they chose not to choose.

PRotect your work:

• Always add the copyright line: © [Year] [Company/ Individual] on concepts. • Post yourself a printout in a sealed and signed envelope. • Burn the files to a CD.



19 WOR ORKKIING NG W Project management Even if you work in a vast corporate design group, with members of staff whose role is to cover every conceivable activity from ordering the paper clips to selecting the pastries, you will still have to project manage to a certain extent. If you work for yourself, it’s up to you to buy the paper clips and you probably won’t have the time or the money to buy pastries. Project management covers a few key areas for most designers. •T  iming and scheduling. •M  anaging expectations. •D  ealing with clients and suppliers. There are other things like estimating and invoicing, but to go into these in detail would detract from the purpose of this book.

Timing and scheduling Things always take longer than you expect, guaranteed. Missing a deadline should be a mortal sin in your mind. Designers are often blasé about deadlines, but clients aren’t. Don’t miss deadlines. Allow enough time to do the job and then add on a third. When a brief comes in take a long hard look at it. The client will usually tell you when they require the final product, so work out how long it will take and work backwards. Even if you knock it off in an afternoon, don’t send it over until the work is due, or just before.You only make things difficult for yourself later if you send work in too long before it is required. When a brief comes in, even if the job isn’t due for weeks, look through the files straightaway. If something is missing,

20 corrupted or you don’t understand an instruction then you can get it cleared up immediately. This not only looks good, it is good. File things properly, there is more about this in File management. During the course of a project, there will be key stages, or milestones. Often you can stave off an eager client by giving them things piecemeal. Do what is important to them first, not what you fancy doing the most. Take responsibility for the project yourself.You should never rely on the client. I have heard designers say things like ‘well I wasn’t sure what you wanted to do about that’ or ‘I haven’t heard from you so…’. If you haven’t heard from them, chase them up, if you don’t know what they mean or want, ask. Clients like being involved in the process and like being consulted, most would love to be graphic designers themselves. The Just in Time method was invented by the Japanese who are clever fellows. It basically means that company’s that use this method only order the materials they need, just before they need them (not keeping huge piles of paper knocking about).

The more proactive, organised and efficient you are, the better job you will do. The more hassle you take away from the client, the easier you make their lives, they will want to commission you more and you will be a better supplier.

Print and delivery times First of all assume it will go wrong and be delivered late. That way, no matter how smoothly it does go, you will have factored enough time to fix the problems. Printers work with the ‘just in time’ method, make sure you don’t. Even if the printer has the artwork weeks before press day, it is unlikely they will even look at it until the very last minute, so hassle them early. Clients like schedules. If they have a schedule they can go back to their managers and say ‘we’re right on schedule Gov’.

Know Your Onions - Graphic Design  

This book is practical and immediate, without being condescending or overly technical. It is like having a graphic design mentor who will he...

Know Your Onions - Graphic Design  

This book is practical and immediate, without being condescending or overly technical. It is like having a graphic design mentor who will he...