We’ve never been able to sell our services in an elevator no matter how many times we’ve tried. It tends to annoy the other people in the elevator and all we have time to say is “We create brand identity platforms for companies that want to do something a little different and we’re really good at it. Here’s our card, check out the website. Bye!”
We look at a lot of portfolios nearly every day from pros and students alike, and increasingly they’re all starting to look kind of homogenous. Maybe everyone is looking at the same Pinterest boards, following the same popular designers on Instagram or it has just become too easy to use the same templates or mockups. I don’t really know. Whatever the reason, I think it’s made us look at portfolios more critically than ever. I used to think flawless execution was important in a portfolio but it’s really the last thing I look at now since anyone can do that. What I look at first is that the work is based on a concept or idea that leads back to its reason for existing in the first place. I want to see how you think. If it’s all style and no substance than it’s a miss. The second important thing I look at is originality. What about your work makes it yours and yours only? What’s your thing? What’s your voice? I’m not saying that all work should look like it’s never been done before - that’s nearly impossible. But at least try to leave your special twist on something so that I know it was you. And last but not least - execution. You don’t score points for flawless execution but you can certainly lose points for sloppiness. There’s no magic in execution but it’s always appreciated and expected at this point. Execution can be learned but originality can’t. You either have it or you don’t!
Also, you know those visible grid lines that everyone is putting on their logos to show the geometry and architecture of their work? Don’t do that.
Curiosity. Since execution can be learned in time, we’re not so focused on what tools you know and how well you can use them. The tool we focus on the most is your mind and how well you use it. How well can you critically think and solve problems? What can you contribute to a concept that makes us all stand back and say “Whoa, that’s interesting…weird…challenging…wish I had thought of that…”
Hunger. Be willing to suffer! Not that we want anyone to actually suffer but sometimes you have to take your lumps and be willing to do the dirty work, the boring work, the unsexy work. Sometimes you have to work really long hours and miss events you’d rather be at. Sometimes you have to live off of low pay and eat crappy food. Sometimes you have to work through illness. I’m not saying those are our working conditions (quite the opposite) but we appreciate those who are willing to dive in, learn and slog through the mud without complaining about it. It’s life.
Humbleness. In this age of instant gratification, we’ve experienced a lot of young designers who somehow feel that they’re entitled to be creative directors from the minute they walk out of school or work on the best, sexiest projects from the start. We don’t care how good of a designer you are right out of the gate, it doesn’t work that way! It takes years of learning, absorbing and especially failing. So, my advice is to humble yourself to learning. Humble yourself to time. Pay your dues. You’ll be a far better designer, employee, boss and human being because of it.
Ugh. Shortly after we opened TRÜF we got our first, big, fancy, silicon valley client that needed a rebrand. We were so excited and willing to take on everything. The client was very data-driven and wanted to collect a lot of info from very important stakeholders and clients about everything from color changes to fonts. Their email addresses were top-secret so privacy was the main concern. No problem, we got this! We thought we’d made sure to :Bcc everyone and sent out the surveys. OH SHIT! We accidentally exposed everyones emails to each other and created a hot mess. Their stakeholders were angry, our client was furious, we were mortified, and we prepared for our imminent doom as they conferred with their lawyers and PR department on what to do. All we could do was admit our mistake, beg for mercy and offer to take a financial hit. Luckily, they were merciful, took us up on our offer and decided to continue working with us. It was totally embarrassing to say the least, and understandably frayed their confidence in us moving forward.
We learned a few things from that experience:
Shit happens, own it. Admit your mistakes honestly and openly instead of trying to cover them up or deflect blame, and do your best to right the situation. It’s said that the difference between an amateur and professional is how well you fix your mistakes. We buy that.
Stick to what you’re great at. You can’t do everything no matter how much you want to please a client. You’ll end up spreading yourself thin and make everyone look bad. That’s not to say that you should never learn new skills or try new things. Just be honest about your limitations.
Slow down! As much as you want to be service-oriented and get it all done, take a few minutes (even hours or days) to make sure your ducks are in a row. Do it right, not fast (but do it on time).
1. The logo (and brand identity) is NOT the brand. As powerful as we think branding can be, at the end of the day it’s only as good as the company itself.
6.(bonus): Great design is about what you DON’T do. With so many tools, choices and techniques available to everyone all the time, it’s easy for designers to over-accessorize and get bogged down in techniques rather than ideas. Techniques aren’t ideas!