Unsolicited Advice: The Whole Point

Unsolicited Advice from Adam J. Kurtz

Maria asked:   I major in graphic design right now and the more I do it the more I understand that design is what I do best. However, while I know that my ‘design sense’ or what have you is on point (yup), I know that I have so much to learn in the realm of techniques/coding/etc. etc.

 

Something I’ve been asking myself lately that I’m asking you now is:
How do you find a balance between doing work that you love that is totally ~you~ but still pay attention to other design(ers) and learn new processes/techniques WITHOUT just becoming a copy-paste designer?

 

Like, there’s design I am attracted to that I would like to be able to make, but then if I make it, am I just copying what I see and not really contributing to the ‘greater good’ of design (whatever THAT means)? Am I thinking about it too much? I just don’t want to be puking out what everyone else is doing, you know? It’s like sometimes I battle between completely ignoring what everyone else is doing or looking at others for inspiration and trying to reach the heights that (I feel) they have reached. Maybe this is okay because I am still learning.

 
My first reaction to this question when you sent it (over a month ago, I should add) was “omg omg omg omg fuck what do i even say.” It’s important that I own up to that reaction, because this is such a real, honest, legitimate question, and one that we basically all face. But you’re right. It is really hard to know what you should be doing, and the answer is even worse: Trust your instincts.

It is awesome that you know what you love doing. Graphic design is a tough one, because it’s art but its beauty is in its subtlety, and its perfection is often marked by invisibility, making the whole thing pretty hard to wrap your brain around. But it sounds like you also know the truth. Graphic designers have a voice just as much as illustrators, photographers, or any other type of art-maker or artist.

Trusting your instincts is hard when you aren’t sure what they are. You’re already ahead of the game if you know you really love design and are good at it. Add bonus points for knowing you have a lot to learn (because there’s ALWAYS something new to learn). Then sprinkle some more points for struggling with authenticity, originality, and care for the “greater good.” You’ve got points coming out your ears at this point. And that’s the actual point.

Sit down with a pencil and paper, and see if you can write a list of the things that matter to you. Do you want to be a “famous” designer? Do you want to work on “selling things” or “making things” or just “making” without the “things” part even defined? Great design is when the information and hierarchy and message is just all so perfect that it seems as if it all just fell that way. Great design is design that feels innate. Great design appeals to everyone, and sure, other designers like to know who made what, but the average person is just looking for the off ramp or their stop on the subway or the right hospital room to deliver balloons to.

It’s good to want to do your own thing, and good to not want to be “puking” out work. But also sometimes puke is exactly what you put into yourself in the first place. Puke is extra. Am I getting too metaphorical with body waste here? I did start this whole response with “HOOOOOOLY SHIT” before editing for digestibility. What’s all this food talk? Am I just hungry? The truth is, critical thinking matters. Critique your own work. Critique your process. But sometimes, take a step back and stare at the tiny baby you have just birthed and SMILE AT HIS DOPEY BABY FACE BECAUSE HE IS OF YOUR FLESH AND HE IS ADORABLE.

Think smarter and harder, but not too hard. Take a break but not just for coffee or a cigarette, take a break for you. Take ten minutes on the front stoop to look at dirt or trash or count steps or count freckles or stare at the clouds or stare at the sun (but not for too long) or just take a bunch of really deep breaths. And then get back to work, making, selling, crafting, coding, or doing, whatever it is that makes you feel happy. Bonus points if you get a paycheck.

Let’s talk about art, design & whatever “real life” is…

If you are in need of somewhat-unsolicited advice, you can email hello@adamjkurtz.com or ask right here! Your question may be answered in a future blog post, and if chosen, you’ll receive a surprise in the mail from me too!

 

Who is Adam J. Kurtz?

Adam claims to be a “graphic artist & media designer,” but that could mean basically anything. He graduated from UMBC with a degree in Graphic Design in May 2009, and has worked for some awesome clients since – but you’ll probably know Adam best from the internet (he’s all over it). He runs a killer blog, shop, and you can check out his portfolio here. If that wasn’t enough you can follow him on flickrinstagram too. He didn’t write this bio, but I did edit it. Oh, oops.

Unsolicited Advice: Do It Your Fucking Self

Unsolicited Advice from Adam J. Kurtz

Creative work is frustrating. You come up with an attractive, useful solution to a challenge or prompt, and your clever design or awesome illustration gets shot down. It’s not the right fit, it’s not what the client had in mind, it’s “too something” or “not something enough.” That’s okay, that’s just the reality of things. Other times work is great and you make a ton of stuff that is perfect and appropriate and you are proud of your accomplishments, but you feel underutilized or maybe a bit bored. Or maybe you’re not even in that world yet and you pay bills by waiting tables at a diner. Dude, I’ve been there for all of this, and here’s my advice: Do It Your Fucking Self.

Sometimes the best way to make the work you want to make is to just make it. Draw, design, photograph and build, whatever the fuck you want, and don’t look back. Find the time for yourself and explore your ideas fully. Share the work on your own. You don’t need anyone! We live in a world where you can publish work instantly, you can get feedback nearly as quickly (“FIRST!!”). With print-on-demand services, anyone can produce prints, books, and other objects in a cost-effective and relatively simple way. I’m not even talking about printmaking, which is not nearly as daunting as it may seem (though it will require supplies, space, and time).

So get started already! Make something tangible. Hold it in your hand and give it a big smile like you’ve just given birth to a beautiful baby, because you have. Recognize it as the product of your efforts, and feel warm and gooey inside. That feeling is pride, and it’s just a step away from motivation if you give it the right push. Make more work. Create more stuff. Post something on Facebook and see what your friends have to say. Update your blog. Tweet your tumblr post. You just made a set of greeting cards. “Favorite, like.” You just produced a zine. “Add to cart.” You’ve got a new t-shirt. “Buy later on Svpply.” You can do this, trust me! “Share: On Your Own Timeline.”

When we’re in school, it’s all prompts and problems, studio sessions and short deadlines. In the real world, it’s whatever you’re doing to pay your bills, and then a whole lot of nothing. Nobody’s going to send you a concerned email if you don’t turn in your first draft of a personal project, but you should still be concerned. Stay active! Stay busy! Push yourself to do what you love before you forget how to do it. You have a fucking talent! Make birthday and holiday gifts. Design party invites. “HAVE YOU GONE MAD? ARE YOU A WITCH OR NOT?” (Ron Weasley, noted motivational speaker).

Start off small. Create “a thing.” Then one more. Make what you love (& love what you make, see “given birth” above). Don’t worry about the bigger picture until, if you’re lucky, you may have to. D-I-Y is alive and well and you can get into it! Tap into a network of like-minded buyers on Etsy (and do it right). Grab a Big Cartel shop for your website. Participate in independent craft fairs and meetups happening in your city or bigger ones nearby. Sell small works and zines on commission to local independent bookstores and boutiques. If you’re producing great stuff, people are going to be excited about it, not just because it’s unique and special, but because you are too.

Sometimes I write advice that I should take more of myself, but this time I’m sharing advice that has kept me from going literally insane since graduation. I’ve just produced a new zine, and while I used to work in a print shop, this one is entirely home-grown, printed on my trusty laser printer, cut with the paper guillotine I keep under my bed (seriously), and assembled with my beautiful long-reach stapler. Not everyone has a small army of tools stashed around their bedroom (I’m at “Claudia from Babysitters Club”-levels, seriously), but maybe you’ll get there too. It just takes one project to start.

You can do this, your magic is real, I believe in you.

Let’s talk about art, design & whatever “real life” is…

 
If you are in need of somewhat-unsolicited advice, you can email hello@adamjkurtz.com or ask right here! Your question may be answered in a future blog post, and if chosen, you’ll receive a surprise in the mail from me too!

 

Who is Adam J. Kurtz?

 
Adam claims to be a “graphic artist & media designer,” but that could mean basically anything. He graduated from UMBC with a degree in Graphic Design in May 2009, and has worked for some awesome clients since – but you’ll probably know Adam best from the internet (he’s all over it). He runs a killer blog, shop, and you can check out his portfolio here. If that wasn’t enough you can follow him on flickrinstagram too. He didn’t write this bio, but I did edit it. Oh, oops.

Unsolicited Advice: Personal Branding

Unsolicited Advice from Adam J. Kurtz

Last time, we talked about resumes specifically… But what about your personal brand as a whole? I remember being a nineteen year old college junior, staying late after class to talk to my professor about managing a personal brand when i could barely figure out how to brush my hair. It’s sort of an odd thing to have to worry about, but we do really end up packaging ourselves into digestible bites.

Some schools build this component into their curriculum, some don’t. You take your initials and create a typographic form that serves as a logo, which you think is really cool for the duration of freshman year. You work on a traditional branding system for yourself as a business entity. You build yourself a portfolio website and you stylize your name… and then you use the same font on whatever resume you scrape together. Or you don’t.

Ultimately, whether we want to deal with it or not, we do end up needing to brand ourselves. So instead of dealing with it on a case by case basis, take a step back and thing about it. Figure out what your needs are, figure out what you have to offer, and decide what you want to accomplish.

Some of us are pretty straightforward. We need some print pieces for interviews, we have a traditional print portfolio, and we’re interviewing for jobs, until we land one. Others manage larger web entities, from a portfolio site geared towards freelance clients, to a small press, to an online shop, blogging platform, and more. What category do you fall into? Where do you want to be and where do you see yourself?

Some things to consider:

What is your voice? – Are you more straight laced or a little goofy? All business or a little personal? The answer might be in your work — do you do clean-cut design work for more corporate clients, or are you polishing a signature style doing editorial illustrations and occasional etsy prints? Get an idea of where you’re trying to steer yourself as an entity so that you can design branding elements that reflect that goal.

Who is your audience? – Are you creating branding pieces for interviews and professional purposes exclusively, or are you styling your personal blog? Figure out who you want to be primarily viewing your content before you figure out how to package it. If it’s all business, keep it more straight-laced. If it’s a little more party, have some more fun with it. This is pretty obvious but it matters. Your 90s throwback green slime .gif logo is fuckin’ sweet, bro, and I will totally buy a 5-panel snapback from your big cartel shop, but i’m not totally sure I want to hire you to do that custom wordpress site for my specialty pet food business.

What do you actually need? – Think about the full extent of your needs. Logo treatment, business cards, resumes, portfolio site, letterhead, blog
design, twitter icon, product packaging, email newsletters, stickers. Some logos are harder to reproduce, some colour schemes aren’t convenient for all purposes, some typefaces are less versatile across print and web applications.

Put it all together – Get your pieces down and then start to apply them and see what happens. Experiment a little bit. You know you have a logo treatment, primary typeface, and colour scheme, so if one day you realize you want to make stickers to distribute at an event or with print orders, you have the pieces to put together something quick.

Ask for help! - Not everyone is a graphic designer, but chances are you know some. See if you can trade your illustration/photography/etc skills for design services, or even crazier, even pay for them, because your brand is going to represent you before you even get a chance to, and it might be the deciding factor in whether or not you get considered for a work opportunity yourself. This matters so invest in getting it right. If you do create it all yourself, get some outside opinions from friends and peers. It’s no secret that it can sometimes be hard to see yourself objectively. Seek constructive criticism, and don’t be afraid to make changes.

It’s also important to remember that nothing is permanent. You are not the Walt Disney corporation. You do not have a 100 year legacy. Your branding can evolve as you do as a creative type. Your portfolio will grow and need to be redesigned. You will wake up and realize you cannot possibly maintain several single-topic blogs anymore and consolidate into one general purpose design/lifestyle/soapbox tumblr. Your style will grow and you will sneak new elements into your bag of tricks until you realize that once smaller pieces of your branding have actually become the most consistent and unifying. Your branding, just like your own personal style, will evolve as you do. So don’t sweat it.

Let’s talk about art, design & whatever “real life” is…

 
If you are in need of somewhat-unsolicited advice, you can email hello@adamjkurtz.com or ask right here! Your question may be answered in a future blog post, and if chosen, you’ll receive a surprise in the mail from me too!

 

Who is Adam J. Kurtz?

 
Adam claims to be a “graphic artist & media designer,” but that could mean basically anything. He graduated from UMBC with a degree in Graphic Design in May 2009, and has worked for some awesome clients since – but you’ll probably know Adam best from the internet (he’s all over it). He runs a killer blog, shop, and you can check out his portfolio here. If that wasn’t enough you can follow him on flickrinstagram too. He didn’t write this bio, but I did edit it. Oh, oops.

Unsolicited Advice: Resumes

Unsolicited Advice from Adam J. Kurtz

Colin asked: I was wondering if you might be able to give me some advice on writing my resume. It’s been a few years since I’ve had to think about it but I need to produce a new one and I don’t have the faintest idea of how to begin. I know it’s not an easy question but any thoughts would be very very greatly appreciated!

 
A friend emailed me for some resume-writing advice. No clue why they asked me, because all my jobs happen by accident or dumb luck, but I collected some thoughts together in an email and sent them his way. Feel free to reply with your own advice or thoughts on the subject, especially because I think it really varies based on the industry!

Click to enlarge
Randy’s resume reads left to right, with most basic details in the first column. Secondary information floats outward. View larger.

Black and white — This is probably outdated thinking, but I’ve always believed it to be true. People load up their resume with colour and while I don’t think it’s detrimental, I do think there’s something to be said for a traditional black and white resume. Doesn’t mean it can’t be done up in other ways, like a coloured paper maybe. But not that linen “resume” paper with your type set in Garamond so it looks like a “Microsoft DIY Printables” wedding invitation or restaurant that isn’t as high-end as it’d like to be.

Hierarchy — This is most important, see I’ve already fucked it up by not including this one first. Name and contact info need to be at the top. You want them to contact you and if it takes even five seconds to find your information, that’s five less seconds that they even bother looking at your other content.

Be a little clever — There are ways to inject your personality into your resume, you just need to think about who you are and what you want to portray. I did a pretty “cool” but simple resume for a friend who wanted a job at a popular store that gets dozens of applications a week. I printed it on the white backside of a neon pink paperstock… It was still black and white, like I prefer, but with a twist. Though his experience is the reason he was hired, I’m sure the resume didn’t hurt his chances of standing out in a pile.

Short and sweet — Giving some detail on what you did at past jobs is good, but long, full sentences aren’t necessary, I don’t think. A few bullet points written in a way that shows action should be good. “Worked with design team to create new branding system,” boom. This really goes for the whole resume — don’t overload it or reading it will be a chore, and that’s the last thing you want.


Paul-William’s work experience was relevant and extensive, but he needed to stand out in a pile at a popular retail store.

But don’t be too clever — I think personality is a good thing, but I feel like those long paragraph resumes that try to incorporate everything into a written, quirky paragraph are just obnoxious. “Oh hello there I’m Adam and I am a photographer, designer, artist, blogger, and social media enthusiast!” I don’t even want to hang out with that person so I can’t imagine what someone hiring would think.

Play up your specific experience — Focus on the experience that matters for the job you want. I have foodservice and retail experience, but that’s not on my primary resume because that’s not the kind of work I’m looking for. When I had less work experience I did list some of my earlier “teenage” jobs, but focused on the relevant tasks, like office management duties, basic computer skills, and customer/”people in general” interaction.

Education and grades — College graduates (at least in the US) often include a GPA with their educational information. I think after your first “real” job, you can ditch that. If you have a degree, include your school name and city, maybe your graduating year, but I don’t think you need to break it down. I have an Art History minor that hasn’t been mentioned on my resume maybe ever, and a Media Studies certificate that says I basically did the entire program save for three credits. Does anyone actually care? Focus on what matters for the job, and don’t spend too much precious space on this stuff.

Click to enlarge
Dustin Maciag‘s resume doesn’t fit with much of this advice but it’s PERFECT for him and his work. Go ahead and do your own thing, just keep it legible! View larger.

Objective and References — I feel like these things are filler for lighter resumes. Some people do them, some don’t. I think it’s pretty obvious that if you’ve worked for several years, there are people who can vouch for your work. If a job wants some references, they can ask (or will have asked) for them. Your objective is more useful for retail jobs or internships maybe, where your reason for taking them on isn’t necessarily obvious. You can tell a high end boutique about your passion for the fashion industry and your hopes to work amongst decision makers or some bullshit, maybe that will matter. Most of the time this stuff can go in a cover letter.

Fuck resumes! …maybe? — To be honest, and I don’t know how accurate this is, but I feel like resumes hardly matter. I mean, you should have one, sure, but I really think my own resume has been requested maybe four times ever, and only one or two of those were for actual design jobs. Being good at what you have to offer is more important than the perfect resume, at least in creative fields, I think. Of course, a really awful resume is a big warning sign — as designers, we’re expected to manage content well.

Obviously I’m not the expert, and there are tons of awesome resumes that don’t follow with much of anything I’ve said. Figure out what works for you, tailor your resume for the type of job you want, and just make sure your contact information is readily available.

This article originally posted at jkjkjkjkjkjkjkjkjkjk.com/post/19792600045

Let’s talk about art, design & whatever “real life” is…

 
If you are in need of somewhat-unsolicited advice, you can email hello@adamjkurtz.com or ask right here! Your question may be answered in a future blog post, and if chosen, you’ll receive a surprise in the mail from me too!

 

Who is Adam J. Kurtz?

 
Adam claims to be a “graphic artist & media designer,” but that could mean basically anything. He graduated from UMBC with a degree in Graphic Design in May 2009, and has worked for some awesome clients since – but you’ll probably know Adam best from the internet (he’s all over it). He runs a killer blog, shop, and you can check out his portfolio here. If that wasn’t enough you can follow him on flickrinstagram too. He didn’t write this bio, but I did edit it. Oh, oops.

Unsolicited Advice from Adam J. Kurtz

Unsolicited Advice from Adam J. Kurtz

Anonymous asked: such a tacky question, but what’s your advice for someone who’s interested in pursuing graphic design as a future career?

Not a tacky question! I am going to answer with a bunch of thoughts based on my own experiences and those of my friends, but there are a lot of designer friends who follow this blog so maybe they’ll chime in too.

  • When I was in school a lot of people in my classes said shit like “I like art but wanted to be able to get a job.” That is crap. Not all artists are graphic designers. Many are definitely not graphic designers. I “know of” plenty of photographers who are like “oh I have photoshop! i can be a designer” and then they cover their beautiful photos with ugly watermark “logos” that they make for themselves. Illustrators who do amazing pieces and then screw them up with bad type. Graphic designers are not artists. Design is organization. Designers arrange content in meaningful ways to effectively communicate a message. A lot of those artists from school who wanted to be designers were really not very good. Decide if you are an artist or a designer. If you’re both, make sure you understand the difference. I think I am a pretty decent designer sometimes but I am only an adequate photographer, and I can’t draw for shit. I also make a lot of little things and post a lot of bits & pieces that I wouldn’t necessarily refer to as “my design work.”
  • Design jobs aren’t necessarily easy to come by. In a lot of ways, “designers” are as ubiquitous as “DJs” and “waiters.” People think they can just moonlight as designers, and in a lot of cases I think they really can get away with it. There never seems to be a shortage of designers and you just have to hope that you’re good enough to stand out. What do you have to offer beyond your knowledge of the Adobe Creative Suite? Do you have typographer leanings? Are you obsessed with printmaking? Can you bind books in ten different ways? Master of the pen tool and vector illustration? Coding genius? Make sure you have some tricks up your sleeve.
  • As the print industry changes and, you know, everything moves online, more and more people want a true double threat. If you’re starting out, now is the time to take coding classes. It might suck, but you’ll be glad you did it later. Learn as much as you can. Not just the basics. Take a PHP course. Pick up as much as you can because that’s going to really help in the long run. I am not the best at coding but I’m not the worst, and that’s how I primarily make my living. Sure, you can get a job just doing mockups and pass the coding along, but if you can work on a project from sketches to live sites, you’re golden. It’s also really great to be able to do things for yourself. Portfolio site? No problem! Lots of designers and artists have great work that gets lost in crappy portfolio sites (mine is a maze of shit right now but at least I know it). You can spend a lot of money paying for a portfolio hosting service and a webstore and whatever else, or you can buy some server space and do it all yourself.
  • You have to really like this. I have a lot of friends who got “real” jobs after graduation. They’re in-house designers, they work with the marketing team, they work for local magazines or companies. I am thinking of specific people when I say that I have friends who tell me now that they hate design. They have steady jobs with benefits but they don’t even want to look at photoshop when they get home. They don’t do personal work. It’s just a job. I don’t think that’s necessarily the worst thing… after all, most people have a job, do it, then go home. That’s how life is. But designers also end up working tons of overtime, have crazy deadlines, and you know, it’s not necessarily an extremely high-paying industry. This isn’t mechanical engineering. You are not a surgeon. If you don’t love this stuff you are going to hate your life pretty soon.
  • Freelancing. Ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh freelancing can be great or it can be horrible. I am the wrong person to talk to about this. I am still in my “CAN’T BE TAMED” phase and am actually freelancing right now, going on six months with one company. I’ve been offered salary a few times and I keep turning it down because I like the flexibility, but in reality, I know that I’m pretty safe so it’s easy to say that. Other times you can really get fucked and end up with no job. It’s scary. Taxes are a mess and I won’t even pretend to know how my accountant does everything. Freelancing for random people is a whole ordeal too. I infrequently take on individual projects and really should have a contract written up but I don’t, which is dangerous and stupid. It’s also hard to be your own boss when you’d rather nap and there’s a new episode of SNL on Hulu. There are probably lots of resources on this elsewhere online, but freelancing in the industry is a real big deal and it’s important to know about this stuff. I think a lot of design programs encourage taking a business course as well. I wish my program had prepared us better and if you are just starting out, do yourself the favor. Learn how to sell yourself and learn how to cover your ass when it comes to taxes, contracts, and tricky clients.
  • You really really need to take time to create for yourself. I talked about people hating their life at jobs they don’t love, but there are also plenty of my design class friends who don’t currently make a living doing design work, and they also never make anything for themselves. You don’t have to sell prints or do freelance, but you need to create SOMETHING, SOMETIME, or you will lose it. You can have a blog and you can put some shit up. It doesn’t have to be serious and it’s not a portfolio, but in the same way that illustrators have sketchbooks, you can have your little bits and pieces. I think the best way to not hate your life as a designer is to just keep making things. You might be a designer full-time, but work on extremely boring and unfulfilling projects, because you know what, nobody is going to pay you to do a cool type treatment of a quote from Parks & Recreation. But at 11pm on tumblr, that shit is pure gold.
  • Keep current. I am shitty at keeping up with design blogs. I know I’m supposed to be obsessed with SwissMiss and stuff but I sort of fell off of the Google Reader bandwagon and it’s hard to get back on. Instead, I follow lots of cool design folks on tumblr and see things through their filters. It’s important to know what people are doing so that you can be inspired to try new things, shape your personal style (though good design is invisible and you need to know when to keep your own aesthetics in check), and know when something is dead. Keep Calm and Carry Nothing. Be extremely careful with Futura. Sure, I am not the expert and I can get caught up in trends, they’re trends for a reason, they’re cool and exciting. But know when things are moving along and try to keep up, in addition to learning the fundamentals in your courses.
  • Learn how to talk about design. Know about kerning, leading, and tracking. I don’t think anyone gives a fuck about picas but you know, that’s unit of measure that exists. Why is that poster “nice”? Why is that logo effective? Your design education will be what separates you from the coding genius who gets stuck doing web design too or guy who got photoshop for Christmas and got a gig doing club flyers.

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