What makes designer’s tick?

What makes designer’s tick?

Graphic design is a profession with eclectic influences. There are strands from fine art, from pop culture, from all forms of media, throw in history, aligned occupations, a dash of experimentation and wide-ranging interests from outside commercial work. Constant curiosity about the world is vital to keep imagination firing and updated on industry trends. Each designer will have their own set of topics, ideas and activities that intrigue them.

We highly recommend student and entry level designers have a broad range of interests to visually energise their thinking. It might be as simple as a daily walk through a park to experience the weather and its ever-changing patterns. It is important never to limit your visual horizons. All designers should aspire to life-long learning.

Niche collections

Designers from all professions are known for quirky personal collections. Some may seek out obscure album cover art. Some hunt around for historical packaging of one specific product category. There are collections of original Penguin book covers, matchbooks, Matchbox® cars, hats, shoes, figurines, menus from cafes, postcards, watches, and jazzy tea pots. Literally as broad as the limitations of time and budget. The important take out, is always seeking and curating, learning about the world beyond daily parameters.

Wide ranging artistic activities

Creative outlets are not limited to collecting. Some designers apply their skills to cooking, making fancy baked goods or complex recipes, admiring the culinary art of chefs. Some will collect and grown bonsai, immersing themselves in the intricate patterns and small cuts required. Fine art painting, printmaking, illustration, calligraphy, and life drawing are also popular. Many designers will take up gardening, starting with a few pot plants and increasing the scope throughout their life. Visiting art galleries, museums, architectural landmarks are also high on the list of engaging activities.

Music and musicians

A cursory search will demonstrate the close and inextricable link between all forms of music and graphic design. The interchange is obvious, and the trove of cover art is a testament to this. There are many celebrated musicians who studied at art school, and in particular, graphic design, prior to their musical careers. Charlie Watts and Ronnie Wood from the Rolling Stones, David Byrne and Jerry Harrison from Talking Heads, David Bowie, Pete Townshend and Freddie Mercury, to name a few. In turn, many designers have music as another creative pursuit. For example, playing an instrument, joining a band, or going to gigs, not to mention, listening to music while working.

Non-commercial work

If you question a designer, many will have a non-commercial outlet for their personal projects. This is the space where their creativity can run free. We are going to share some of ours here.

Kym Ramadge / Design Director: in my spare time I pursue fine art photography, primarily working in black and white, focusing on long exposure, minimalism, detail, texture, and pattern. First introduced to photography during high school and codified during tertiary studies, in the last 10 years have reached obsessive levels of interest, as time permits. Working as a professional graphic designer has meant collaborating with many talented commercial and landscape photographers. I’ve learnt something from each of them along the way. The difference with my personal work is, I am not under pressure to get the shot on the day, I can take my time, refining, re-shooting and re-visiting locations. Working primarily with digital, I have also joined the current Zen wave, slowing down and again shooting 35mm film. I was humbled to have three of my images commended in the 2022 Mono Awards.


Emma Echter / Lead Designer: in my spare time I alternate between illustration and quilting. During the Melbourne lockdowns, I invested a lot of time honing my illustration skills. As a young girl I dreamed of being a professional illustrator – creating illustrations for all my school projects. I started quilting about 15 years ago, and quickly fell in love with it – it is tactile, versatile and when hand-pieced, portable. Quilting is a way of illustrating and creating graphic patterns that is as close to 3-dimensional artwork as I can get. The next step in my creative journey is to find a way to combine illustration and quilting, and with the availability of digital fabric printing, the possibilities are endless…


Planning a website build

Planning a website build

Developing a new business website is exciting. It’s the digital home for your business. Just like a real shopfront, you need to be sure that the foundations are secure.

Developing a website can be a little bit of a chicken and egg situation. It is literally not there until you add the content. Once you add the content, it springs up almost like magic. This isn’t strictly true – there is a lot of thinking, planning, and building that has to take place to make sure everything is in the right place and is searchable and logical to a visitor.

Plan your user experience

Content needs to be planned in a way that makes sense to a visitor. Think of them as a virtual customer in your real shopfront (if you are a retailer). What is the customer journey?

How can we mimic that experience online?

What do people expect from a website in your industry?

How can you incorporate standardised features to smooth the experience for your customers?

This should be discussed thoroughly with your designer – being so close to your business or idea, it can often be difficult to see where new user questions may be. Your designer can look at your business with fresh eyes and place themselves in the role of customer to help configure your site plan.

Organise your content

Once you have your structure in place, gather images and write content. While websites use low res images for speed, provide your designer with high resolution images that they can crop and optimise as required. If you are struggling to write the content, engage a copywriter – a professional may be more affordable than you think. The site plan you have created will be helpful to know how many text segments are needed, and how long they should be.

Generating traffic

Once you build it, how will people find it? Search engine optimisation is an art and science. Be sure that your content is well written and useful. Publish content of value and don’t add fluff pieces to bulk out the site. Become a source of useful content for your industry.

Incoming and outgoing links are useful to add validity to your content. Incoming are particularly useful to becoming a ‘trusted source’ within your industry. Add content and update regularly so your content does not become stale – don’t create another abandoned blog. Set a realistic schedule for new content and plan ahead.

Consider starting a news section where you can publish updates – think content that you might publish on social media. This way, you have control of the content, and are not dependent on social media platforms to showcase your brand. If a social media platform ceases to exist, you loose all the content and engagement you generated, unless you have it on your website too. You can also direct people to your site, where they are less likely to be distracted by other offerings on a social media platform.

Make sure your URL is memorable and accessible – add a link to your email footer, to your social profiles, anywhere you communicate. Then when you integrate analytics to your site, you will be able to see how people are accessing your site and tailor any future marketing activities accordingly.

Editing and future-proofing

One of the best things about websites is that they are not static. You don’t just finish them and walk away. Connect up your analytics and see what content is performing. If something isn’t getting the traction you want, change it. Engage with your site, update whenever something changes in your business – by keeping it current and relevant you are more likely to engage your visitors.

Be sure to keep any CMS software you use up to date. One of the most popular CMS systems we use is WordPress. WordPress is open-source software – making it free to use – but it is constantly evolving to improve and to combat malware and hacking. Keep it up to date to reduce the risk of your site being hacked. Also, backup your site regularly so that if anything goes wrong you can restore it quickly and easily.

Download our website planning guide to get started

Our practical tips for illustrators

Our practical tips for illustrators

Here are our tips for all illustrators, both traditional and digital. If you are starting out, these should help you on the way. If you are experienced, you might pick up a new idea or two.

Tips for all artists:

Number one is to thumbnail your concepts. Keep these rough, you are trying to get an idea down. Once you find something you connect with, explore the idea more by refining it. The time you spend on thumbnails will be tailored to the project brief. It will vary between 5 minutes and much longer, depending on complexity and elements required.

Tips for digital artists:

  • Firstly, split your windows. Set up one window for you to work with and another to view, scaled to the size of that window. This way, when you zoom out your artwork, you will have kept what you have drawn to scale.
  • Secondly, it is important to check your drawing by duplicating and mirroring it. This will help you check the shapes are even and/or correct to the physicality of the subject. Some illustration programs have a setting to allow ‘canvas flip’. The important point is to do this early and frequently. This tip also applies to branding or icon development in Adobe Illustrator®.
  • Layers are one of the handiest tools for digital artists. Make as many of them as you need. If the file processing slows, save a new version of your work, merge and remove layers no longer required.
  • When incorporating program effects into your work, keep experimenting and check the effects enhance your visual. Don’t be afraid to try these effects, used with skill they can add great depth to your work.
  • Save your work regularly. This cannot be stressed enough. If you are using lots of layers and effects, the last thing you want is a computer freeze or crash resulting in hours of detailed work being lost.
  • Create a layer/new document for your palettes. If your art program doesn’t allow you create colour palettes, then make your own. We suggest creating a layer or a new document and place a rough circle of the colour in use. Then if needed again, use the eyedrop tool to pick it up.

Final thoughts for all artists:

Working with graphic designers

Working with graphic designers

Perhaps you’ve never worked directly with a design team? Or you might be a recent marketing graduate wondering how to engage graphic designers, so you speak a common language?

Tips for getting the best from your design team

You may have experience working with designers and want some insights on improving professional interactions. The following are thoughts from us. These are by no means exhaustive or industry-standard, however, they may spark an idea on where to start.

Details, details and more details

First and foremost, designers are detail-driven. Of course, there are projects where you want an out-there solution. However, it is likely there will be parameters. The design team needs as many specifications as you can find. Make sure when briefing the project to get measurements/spec sheets from external print suppliers. If there is a booking number for an ad, supply this. If there are other vendors involved in the project, let the designer know so they can work cooperatively. If you cannot get details, let the design team know, so they understand what is missing. It’s a rare task with an open-ended budget or time, and to keep everything on track, specifications are necessary.

Second is to explain the context of the project. The more the design team understands about your company, the wider industry, your niche, competitors, or small nuances, the more considered the solutions they will come up with. Designers are by nature curious individuals; they love research and kernels of fascinating information. Discuss current local/national/international events, how is this impacting on where your product/service is performing? Do the sales team have valuable feedback? Is another division working on a project tangentially aligned?

Getting to know you

Inject your personality into discussions. Sure, there are plenty of serious projects/topics however, it is remarkable how the sparking of conversations between client and designer can alight on a strong solution. Loosen up a little and allow the discussion, within reason, to meander. Your enthusiasm for the project will be catching. If you are engaged, this easily translates to the design team. Like team building within a company, an open and friendly professional rapport between client and designer often makes for the best working outcomes.

Don’t worry about being a ‘visual’ person, that’s the designers job. Some clients provide simply a scribble or wire frame. Some projects require a mood board – a collection of images, colours, styling ideas, previous projects – which can be valuable. The thing to remember is that the design team will take care of the visuals. It is unnecessary to spend time creating mock-ups or layout drafts to show the designer. Your time is better spent collecting information and writing the brief / preparing content, depending on the project. We suggest Milanote as an online mood board resource.

Providing information in a practical way

If you are marking up an older/previous project for updating, we suggest using Adobe Acrobat® and making clear notes in a logical progression. Some projects may require markups and a Word® file or Excel® spreadsheet to be supplied. The more concise and organised your markups, the more efficient for all involved.

From the first draft, offer constructive criticism. Avoid generalisations. “I don’t like it” might be your first reaction but the best course of action is to analyse the draft/s against the brief. Check the colours, fonts, images, positioning, prioritising. Narrow down what is working for you and what is not. There are projects where clients need to see various options to figure out what is right, and if this was agreed in the scope, then its ok to say, for example: “I like this here as its working according to the brief. How about we combine it with this other element which is also working”.

Being open to new approaches and ways of working

Occasionally, projects go back to the drawing board. This is ok too; it may be as the client you realise the brief was not quite right. The design team will let you know if this is a change to the agreed scope.

Related to this is to allow the design team space to provide creative input. If the project is too restrictive you are not maximising the skills your design team has. Step back and trust in your briefing and allow them to make suggestions. Its ok to ask the designer questions and have them explain the thinking behind the artwork. Often this will be the quickest way to clear up any queries or work out a plan for refining the layout.

Occasionally, certain projects may end up emotionally charged. This can be the case with branding. Experienced designers understand the impact a brand has on a business and should always be mindful of this. It is important to remember that while some artistic elements may be subjective, graphic design is a commercial practice that uses universal theoretical foundations to ensure enduring and functional results. There is no one set ‘answer’, try to keep an open mind and work cooperatively to ensure the best outcome.

Writing a design brief

Writing a design brief

The aim of a design brief is to ensure both the design team and client are clear on the project outcome and can work with efficiency. It is a project management document and can be likened to a map.

Organising your ideas

To get your thoughts and briefing started, organising your ideas into bullet points is an excellent first step. The brief needs to be both succinct and detailed enough to inspire the designers. It is a reference for them to check back they have met the goals discussed in the meeting when going over the written brief. It also supplies a clear outline for project quoting.

Most design studios/agencies will have a briefing sheet they can supply to get you started. There is no industry standard however a briefing document should cover the following:

• Contact details (brief author, date issued, brief version)

• Project scope

• Project/Product overview

• Value proposition

• Background, including market conditions, competitors

• Business objectives

• Communication objectives

• Key messages that must be conveyed by the project

• Single minded proposition (one sentence to explain the most important factor)

• Target audience (primary and secondary including demographic information)

• Actions the creative will inspire when people receive/interact with the piece

• How will the design be used?

• Project timing/s with clear requirement of deliverables

• Current branding requirements to be followed/considered

• Further information to assist with project scope

Requirements and restrictions

The trick to writing a brief is to make sure the project requirements are clear and that you have left room for the design team to input their creativity within these requirements.

A vital inclusion in briefing design teams is to make sure the project has context. This may be explaining how the business sits in the marketplace; plans for expansion; feedback from customers; feedback from your sales team. It might be a technical consideration/process or material. It might be a walk through the workplace or project site or dig through a room of archives. No one knows precisely which small detail will ignite the idea or tie the project together. Often, contextual information that is beyond the immediate project scope is the key to bring a design together. Experienced designers will mesh this information and pull the strands into their visual solution.

Providing content

If the project requires content from the client, the next step is to prepare the written material and collect hi res images. We suggest Word files for text, with Excel for specification documents. Hi res images should be kept in a folder and named clearly. If you have captions to write, suggest numbering a grid in Excel with image names, so it is clear what belongs where. Alternatively, embed a small image thumbnail in Word, with the caption.

The key is organisation and being methodical when collating content, which will make the project streamlined for all.

The act of creating a full design brief will help you focus on exactly what you want and need the project to be and achieve. It will also make working with a designer simple and enjoyable as ideas become reality.