Category Archives: Design

All things related to general design.

Wacom Inkling Review

I buckled. I did. I looked at the Wacom Inkling on that Amazon page and thought…it’s available! …….again. I was one of the early crowd that was excited about the invention of this amazing little pen. But the fiasco with its release caused me such annoyance that I cast the idea aside and sent Wacom’s would be product packing. I mean, we’re talking several MONTHS of waiting. Not just “it’s coming out soon” kind of waiting, but the “we’re going to release now…uh…nevermind” kind of waiting. MANY times!

But the stars aligned and I found myself with a small chunk of change and necessity for a tool like the Inkling. And lo and behold, I have my product!

What is an Inkling? It allows you to draw using a pen-like tool (in this case, an actual pen with some digital modifications). The small box sits at the top of your page and captures the information as you draw so that later, through the graphical editing tool of your choice, you can use the image that you created in your digital project.

Why is it necessary? Tablets are not the cheapest thing and not always the most convenient thing to carry around. Let alone some kind of Cintiq unit that is actually a drawable display. And when you’re out and about, you need something that’s compact and easy to use. I always have my notebook with me. And it’s easy enough to attach the digitizer at the top of the page and start drawing. It captures my work, and most importantly to me, allows me to create LAYERS of art so that later, I can separate the elements and make any fine-tuned adjustments that are necessary.

The Pros:

The pen and receiver are very compact. Easy to port. It’s a little bulky for a pen, but the design is nice enough to fit into my style of drawing. Keeping the tip of the pen in the viewing area of the receiver is easy enough. Importing into Photoshop was a breeze and all the layers were definitely captured. LOVE LOVE LOVE that it captures layers. Simple button click starts a new layer. Squeezing the receiver actually starts a new file. The thinking here is that you’re removing the receiver from the paper to start a new drawing. The software is fairly intuitive, though it took a little bit of research into the Help doc to export the right file format. There were a lot of complaints about being able to capture the movie of your art being built. Not a requirement for me. My end result is the file. I was getting used to HOW to draw with the product, so some of my work came out misaligned and rough. I had success with one of my drawings, so I just need to learn how I did that and do it from now on. For me, I think the issue was more user error than software or hardware, so I may have to do a follow up. Another great piece of this hardware is that it’s compatible with REGULAR pen tips! No proprietary equipment there. Nice.

The Cons:

Keep in mind that my experience was specific to a smaller notebook, I was just getting used to the pen and kept moving the receiver (whether with my hand or by moving my notebook), and I was in a rush to use it for the first time on a project I had to get out the door. SO!

First off, squeezing the receiver to start a new file is smart, unless you accidentally push your digitizer off the page and have to re-clip. This is a nuisance when you’ve completed a lot of your drawing because it creates a new file. This is especially annoying if you’re going into a shading mode and just wanted to create a new layer (Note: the workaround for this is to create the new layer/file, do all your shading, and then re-align in Photoshop.) The pen, like most ballpoint pens, has to be rolled a couple times to get the ink flowing. Not a big deal. But when you’re tracing your pencil art, the ball stops rolling a few times. The key here, I think, is to use the pen from start to finish. I’m a pencil guy, and so I did several sketches first, assuming I could just go over it with the pen later. I may see if there’s more of a quill type pen or something that flows easier than the pens they give you. Finally, the price point is nothing to snicker at! $200 for a digital pen, while much cheaper than a tablet, is still about twice as expensive as some of the solutions out there. Does the layer feature make up for it? I’m thinking…yes. 🙂

Overall, this product does exactly what it says. There’s some calibration that needs to happen, but I’m excited to apply it to my other art projects. I give this a B- since the first version of anything out the gate usually has some flaws. I hope this doesn’t go to the wayside. Talkin’ to YOU, Wacom!


Using the Bezier Pen Tool – For Newbies

We’ve all seen it. That little quill pen tip that puts little dots all over your workspace, connecting them with a single line and allowing you to fill or stroke the final result. But what does it do??

If you’re like me, you’ve found the wonders of the lasso tool. Select areas, and if you’re handy with a ball mouse and the OPT key, can make your way around just about any shape. The tighter and more numerous the clicks, the softer the curve. But have you ever tried to lasso a circle? Magic wand works to a point, but what if you have a complicated background? Screwed? Hardly.

Time to click on that nifty little quill pen tip and start working on your curves. Yes, you can work out if you want, but I’m talking about the mathematics and magic of the bezier pen tool.

Bezier pen tool in actionFirst of all, what the heck is it? You love the lasso, but are finding it hard to get those smooth curves you long for when cutting out a hi-res head. You love the magic wand, but hate the pixelated, dirty edge of the moon you’re trying to cut out of the image you just downloaded from Either way, you need some smooth curve action and you need it fast. The bezier pen tool was named after Yeyelnitz Bezier, the famous curve maker of Amsterdam who found that using the quill tip of a pen produced better curves than his chalk counterpart. OK, I totally made that up. If you quote the above because you failed to read the rest of this paragraph, I get PWNT rights for the remainder of your miserable, ADD existence. (Do you really want to know what the Bezier pen tool is named after? Google Pierre Bezier. This isn’t a friggin’ history lesson.)

Dragging a point with the Bezier pen tool.

If you’re wanting to draw complex curves, the Bezier pen tool is the tool of choice. By placing points on your workspace and dragging out the handles that come with the point, you can affect a curve based on that point.

Like with other tools, holding the SHIFT key down will allow a constrained “pull” vertically, horizontally, or even at 45 degree angles. Pulling the handles further out will essentially broaden the curve of the line you’re creating. You can also opt out of pulling the handles. In this example, the first point has no curvature. The 2nd point, however, creates the curve of the line. Notice also how the ANGLE of the curve is changed based on the angle of my pull. You know what they say about the angle of the dangle!

You can experiment with pulling the curve short and long. Know this: the curves you see are affected between the points created. In the next example, you can see how the curve is affecte by the 3rd point.

Bezier pen tool - 3rd point
Selecting the Bezier pen tool shapeHence, adding additional pulls to points on the line will affect all curves and lines attached to it. So you’ve messed around with it and found that you can actually close the shape by clicking on your original point. Now what? I can change the position of points with the Direct Selection Tool. I can grab the handles and adjust curves. But how do I USE this newly created path? Took me a minute, too. But the keyword here is “path.”  Click on the window labeled “PATH.” This shows the newly created path with your awesome curves. For me, I usually use the path to cut out or create complex objects.  When I want to select the final path, I go to the PATH panel and COMMAND+CLICK the layer of the path. This will essentially select the entire path area and allow me to use that shape however I want. Whether I delete the area within the shape, inverse the selection area and delete everything else, fill the shape, create a mask…whatever!

Time for a real-world example. Let’s say, ohhhhh, I wanted to cut a building with some curves out of a photo. Not too creative, but it was the first image I came across on Google. Your first inclination may be to jump into the curvy parts. I say, NEE. Think of the end point. What do you want coming INTO your final destination. Do you want to end on a curve? Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s a pain. Either way, these are things to think about as you begin. As for this one, I like to start on a point that’s on a straight edge. That way, I know right off the bat, I won’t be needing to create any curves. And preferably, none going into the end point.

Bezier pen tool - start on a straight edge

Note: My screencapture tool shortcut is Shift+Command+3. Shift+Command is also the Photoshop shortcut for the Direct Selection Tool. That’s why you see the white arrow instead of my Bezier pen. Friggin’ Photoshop. Read my mind!

From here I, can simply drop another point at the corner of the straight edge and the start of the curve.

Bezier pen tool - next selection

As you can see, or not, the Bezier pen tool automatically connects the two points. If you switch tools by accident and want to pick up where you left off (Yes, coming BACK to the Bezier pen tool will allow you to start dropping a whole new set of points), just make sure you click on the one of the open ends of your path with the tool. You’ll a little “/” symbol appear next to the pen. Click on the point and then continue dropping points on your screen. OK, now it’s time for the first curve. My general rule of thumb is to try and find the center point of the curve and drag from there. It doesn’t always work that way. But as you get more experienced with how the tool works, you’ll find what works best for you. Sometimes a curve requires multiple points. Sometimes it requires one point, but one of the handles has to be pulled in a little tighter than the other. I’ll show you how to do this later. 🙂

Bezier pen tool - first drag

Note: Why does my image look so pixelated? For smaller, more accurate curves, enlarge your image by 200% or more. It will help you drag across those minute curves for a more accurate cut. You’ll understand pretty quickly how to drop points and click/drag points to create curves. Now look at what happens at the top of the building. There is an odd curvature to the roof. Here’s where finding the center point doesn’t always work.

See? Where my final point is to the right of the building? I can drag all I want, but I can’t get the curve to line up with the building. I also know that if make this curve match the roof, my angle will be off for the next point! What to do? What to do??

Here’s where we jump to the Convert Point Tool. One of the subtool sets of the Bezier Pen tool! Yay. Click on the Bezier Pen tool and wait for the submenu to pop out. Then click on the big sideways V. This allows you to change the direction/length of just ONE of the handles. Be careful, if you should select the point with the Direct Selection Tool (white arrow) FIRST so that both handles appear. THEN, use the Convert Point Tool to drag ONE of the handles. Clicking on the point with the Convert Point Tool will allow you to change the overall curve, making both handles equal in length and angle.

Again, due to my screencapture shortcut, the Convert Point Tool looks like the Direct Selection Tool. The point here is that my handle is not only shortened, but pointing at a different angle than its counterpart handle. If I were to use the Bezier Pen Tool to continue my path, the 2ndary handle (the one pointing down) would cause a new curve. So I’ll use the Convert Point Tool to shove that bottom handle back into the point. This is like telling my next point that there is no curve to calculate.

Convert Point Tool

With these basic concepts, I can continue around the house til I have clean path created.

You can see by the white/grey outline, that I’ve selected the entire area around the house, following the curves of the house itself. Now, I do a COMMAND+CLICK on the layer in the PATHS tab to select the path.

From there, I can inverse my selection using COMMAND+i, delete the area, and I’m left with a clean cutout.

Note: This is still at 200%. At 100%, the curves are much cleaner:


And that’s how you’ve just graduated from newbie to Bezier Pen Tool user! Happy curving.


Tight Deadlines

We’ve all been there. Clients need something by the next day. Your boss wants something by the end of the day…and it’s 4:30PM. A friend calls up with an emergency and it was due an hour ago. I actually got called 10 minutes before a deadline for something that, on a normal day, would take about an hour to complete. Luckily, I honed in on that supersonic plane that we all have worked on and got it done in 40 minutes (I EXPECTED a 30 minute extension because I was uninformed that a-I was UNDER a deadline and b-that I NEVER promised ANYONE I’d be done at that particular time.)

What do you do? There’s ALWAYS options. Seriously? You need it by the end of the day? Why? So you can look at it for 30 minutes and turn my files into your vendor the next morning?? Here’s a couple questions you should ask yourself when faced with unrealistic or unknown deadlines that have been imposed upon you:

1. Will anyone DIE if this doesn’t make the deadline? Usually, the answer is no. But by all means, if that answer is YES, move your ass.

2. How important is the client? Have they not paid their bill? Screw it. I’ll get to it when I see the check you owe me. Have they paid their bill but are just big pains in your carpal tunnels? Ask for an extension. What’re they gonna say, No? Fine. Drop some rush fees on them. When THAT happens, they’re usually more than happy to accommodate your hectic schedule. Are they friends and family? How good of friends and family? This scale, however you see it, should relate directly to whether or not you do the work.

3. How important is the project? Does this project reflect directly on you? Or is this one of those anonymous, Alan Smithee projects that you reluctantly accepted a fee for listening to your client dictate why their logo should overshadow the message…you know…for branding? If it’s an important project. Get it done. No? Ask for an extension.

4. Is this simply for review? What a fun term. Anyone that wants a project by the end of the day is simply going to take it home and look at it on their own time. Leisurely…several hours later. Ask for an extension. Does the client need to review it with several team members? Ask for everyone’s email address. You can copy the entire team. Do they need to meet and talk in person? Get it done.

5. For fulltime employees, unfortunately, you have more than just yourself facing clients. So often times, REGARDLESS of whose fault it is, the project still needs to get done. And in the end, the more miracles you can pull off, the better you are. Think of it as job security.

For future reference, can this type of experience be mitigated? What kind of processes is your team putting in place to avoid last minute issues. Is your team communicating? Are you laying down CLEAR guidelines for your client as to what their impact is on the schedule and how you are NOT responsible if they take their sweet ass time.

More importantly, remember this: EXTREME DEADLINES HEIGHTEN STRESS. Try to take a step back and dissect the project. What is the client TRULY needing to see. Where can you ask for extensions of time? Can you work directly with the vendor? Is the client willing to stay up a little later to do reviews via email? Hell, they’re asking YOU to stay up late. (I know, I know…every situation is different.)

In the end, it really comes down to a simple needs analysis. Do you need to get this done? If the answer is Yes, stop thinking about how pissed you are and who’s to blame and take the higher road. If not, don’t fret, put out the dreaded email and work on it in the morning.

Divorcing Your Ideas

I’ve heard the term a few times, especially in writing: Don’t be married to your ideas. But so many times, I see the artist or creator confuse that sentiment with giving up your creative morals or principles. I was even confused by the term for a couple years. But as I grew to understand the creative process for myself and others, I began to realize the many levels of accomplishing a goal. And as I always tell my clients, design is ALWAYS subjective. There is never just ONE way to do something. Granted, some may be massively more successful than others…but I guarantee, no one EVER knows if their idea is going to be “the one.” You simply throw what you’d like to see, read or hear out there. And if you’re working with others, you try to find that synergy and reach a solution that everyone can be happy with.

Your idea is the baby of your creative world. You are the mommy and daddy, with delusions of knowing you have all the right answers for your baby. But if you ever work with anyone other than yourself, you may find yourself dealing with, what seems to you, a homewrecker. That insolent being that wants to come in, sleep with your wife and break apart the family that is your project. OK, maybe he’s the guy that just wants to convince you to have dinner with your wife. Either way, your ideal family is no longer yours. What to do?

Unless you’re paying for the project and get final say over the end result, remember one thing: The client is king…or queen as it were. You say, “But what about this?? What about that??” Yes. There’s exceptions to every rule. You have to use your best judgment on when and why to push back. The ideal situation? They absolutely trust you to do what you do best. Yay for you! But more likely, your client wants to hire you for your insight and skill set and then explain to you the vision they want you to bring to life. Because in the end…it’s their project. You may want this cool new opportunity to be the platform that propels you into the awards hall of fame. I’ve been there. And I’ve seen my vision changed into some of the worst choices in design simply because the client has a different vision in mind. So you have a choice. Abandon ship or help your client get to the destination they’re trying to get to, regardless of the end result. Here’s a great example:

Even better are those projects that are run by committee. I see these often with larger corporations. No way around that. You just need to make sure you set down guidelines before you start working so that you’re not trapped in that endless cycle of changes. Like this poor guy:

Haha! “…and our partner logos.” Both of these videos encompass the best of the worst experiences that every designer has gone through at some point in their career. And if you wallow in sorrow that is your vision gone awry, you will never be happy as a designer. Instead, follow that motto: Don’t be married to your ideas.

What does it mean? It means be open enough to understand that design is subjective. What may appeal to you may NOT appeal to someone else. And vice versa. I have a great interview with comedian/actor Robert Kelly that talks about that very same thing. He loves bold contrast and the basic color palette. I love other things.

Divorcing yourself from your ideas means to bridge the gap between what you see for your client and what they want. (And what they’re willing to pay for.)

Designing for Stadiums

If you were to ask my neighbors who the biggest sports fans are on our block, I wouldn’t even make the list. Now…if you were to ask my neighbors who, on our street, knew football and baseball, America’s favorite past times…yeah, I wouldn’t make the list either. I watch Obscure Sports…on the OCHO! Seriously, I have always been into non-mainstream sports: Martial Arts, Soccer, Diving, Gymnastics, BMX, Rock Climbing, and even Ping Pong. These are types of sports not normally shown at your neighborhood bar & grill. And that’s OK. That’s why I have cable. And so I found it extremely interesting that in the last couple of years, I’ve somehow attached myself to the world of mainstream professional sports with clients like the KC Chiefs, San Antonio Spurs, Miami Heat, KC Royals, Sporting KC and more. And in those connections, I’v’e been tasked with designing interactive games for the big screen or on mobile devices. And I’m talking the BIG screens. I mean, the ones that loom over stadiums and arenas and show scores, replays, and anything that can help get the audience hyped up. These are the fillers between the game or event they came to really see!

If you’re new to designing multimedia for stadiums, and we’re not talking the thin LED screens that surround the arena or stadium with looped messaging and animations, the most important thing to remember is the attention span of the audience. Like with TV, you’re trying to grab them at very short clips. LEDs, the scoreboards and even the great visuals that dangle precariously over indoor courts, are like banner and window ads on a website. They just become the white noise on the page. When focus isn’t directed at the event, it’s to talking, finding your coat, keeping kids in line, and anything other than barrage of sponsor ads that grace anything that emits light. In my experience, designing for these venues boils down to two things:

1) How does the crowd get to interact with what’s on the board and how quickly can they do it?

2) What is the incentive for the crowd?

First, let’s talk about WHY you’re engaging the crowd. Pretty simple. It’s really not to keep them hyped. It’s about getting names. Data is the holy grail. Know who they are so that you can stay in contact with them. Sponsors EAT UP anything that lets them get back in touch with the crowd. Brand awareness is another reason. The guys with the money want you to associate this awesome event with THEIR brand. The more you see it, the more association you have with it. Fond event? Fond memories of the people who paid to put it on.

Second, let’s talk about WHEN you’ll be showing your awesome work.

Text-to-screen campaign

It all begins with the time before a game starts. As would be expected, if there’s no action on the field/court, the attention turns to activities available on the boards or throughout the stands. It’s at this time that you should, with your eye-catching graphics and inventive campaign, get much of your interaction. One campaign I worked on incorporated text messaging to the board where audience members texted their messages to a shortcode and, after admins approved the messages, would appear on the board. The message: Text your message to 80802. Simple request for action. Immediate response. It’s the age old vanity of concept of “HEY! I WROTE THAT!”

Miami Heat at Sprint Center

After the game starts,  you’ll be shooting for those moments during the event or game where the audience is basically waiting for the action to start back up. Time outs, inning changes, blah blah blah. They’re short. In baseball, you’re looking at a max of 45 seconds unless a timeout calls for more time. Yes, it’s longer than some commercials, but you’re talking about games, interactivity, and audience members that take their sweet time just to notice that your amazingly awesome interactive feature is even on the board. Not to fear. Most venues do a great job to prep the audience beforehand. But wants you’ve got their attention, get into it. Get the interaction started.

Scanning on Crown Vision

With another team, we developed the first ever Wii game played on the largest screen in the MLB. It was breakthrough! But it took a lot of prep. Imagine starting the clock on your 45 seconds and you’re trying to get the remote out and explain the game to an audience member who may or may not even know what your “Wii” is. Luckily, the stadium crew does a good job of prepping members BEFORE it’s time to play. Often, they’ll have the camera crew and contestant ready to play at the next timeout or break. With the contestant prepped, they truly have about 30 seconds to interact with your game. 10-15 seconds of explanation for the rest of the stadium and a solid 20-30 seconds of game play. So your multimedia elements, whether a 3-card monte, Family Feud, or any other game that requires audience participation, should be easy to understand, easy to play, and quick to execute.

Sprint Center Jukebox

Finally, let’s talk incentive. Most games that simply fill the void are sold as sponsorships. A company buys a game spot, puts their logo at the start and end of a game, and the audience member goes away with a prize if they win. For the audience member, the prize is the thing. For the sponsor, again, it’s either brand awareness or data gathering. So the more times you can incorporate some kind of information gathering on the attendees, the more mouthwatering your interactive sponsorship will appear!

The Gadget I’ve Been Waiting For

There are a few products out on the market today that capture your drawings, sketches and writings. Some require special paper, others only function as an OCR (Optical Character Recognition) tool. Others simply capture your drawing as a JPG or flattened graphic from which you are bound to a specific size or resolution to work with later. Not anymore…and in that same breath…not yet.

The Wacom Inkling is a new take on some current technology. And a logical next step! It allows you to sketch as you normally would with a ballpoint pen. However, like Wacom’s digital pen technology, captures pressure. It uses a proximity device that requires a clear line of site to the pen. The writable area maxes out at about an 8.5×11 sheet of paper. Perfect for me because I use a much smaller sketch book. The most important features about this new device (at least to me) are:

1. Can import into Photoshop AND create layers on the fly. No more trying to magic wand around your drawing. No more trying to create channel masks to recreate your drawing.

2. Creates vector lines. WHAT?? No more scanning at super high resolutions! No more importing into Illustrator to convert to vector lines. It imports the lines directly into Photoshop for easy editing with the Bezier Pen Tool! Yes, please!

The bad news. It’s not out yet. It’s SUPPOSED to be! Since I found out about this gem in August, I’ve been waiting patiently as Wacom updates its website with delivery dates to come. In October, the site said “Available mid-October.” And so I waited. November 1st rolled around and nothing. Communication with Wacom’s Facebook team rendered me a simple “Sigh.” response. Finally, a new update. “Available mid-November.” Oh, Wacom. You tease of a technology vixen. I will wait for you. Until someone else beats you to the punch. 🙂

Bridging Gaps – Part 2

OK. Yay. You got to work in the field you wanted. But how? How did you bridge the gap between corporate communications and entertainment work?

Quick side note. I worked in the music industry for a little bit in L.A. and I would always listen to these stories of how writers, musicians and artists went from being broke to being successful. And 99% of the time, they skipped the part about how. I take that back. They always left out the details. The story always went something like:

I was broke and didn’t have a job. And I figured, no one is going to make my dream happen but me! So I worked hard and 1 year later, I landed my first deal. We went around the country playing small clubs and they got bigger and bigger until bam! Carnegie Hall! A great story. But if I want to follow in your footsteps, I’m going to need a little bit more info.

So here’s some more info. If you recall, I reached out, by accident, to the booking agent of a comedian that I wanted to work with. The world wide web was just emerging as a viable medium and I had just graduated from Future Splash to full-fledged Flash. The internet was finally able to handle some coolness and I was out on the cusp of its development. So I sent an email. The booking agent wrote me back with the simplest of responses: “Call me.”

So I did.

Here’s something you should consider before you run headlong into a working relationship. Know what you can get before you offer. You see, I had never been to a comedy club. I didn’t KNOW that often times the comedians simply hang out to talk. But to me, that was worth the design of a small website. And so I offered to design one with the promise that I could get some free tickets and meet the comedian backstage. Well, for a booking agent, tickets to ANY show of their client is like lint. Always available and they can produce them at any time. Insert Price is Right Fail music. So he hooked me up. And it was my good fortune to have accidentally emailed the BOOKING AGENT because now he had OTHER clients that could use my services.

Second note: When making sales calls, reach out to the people that have more contacts. While it’s great to be speaking directly with the end client, sometimes it’s better to set up a relationship with the guy who knows all the clients you’re trying to reach. For clarity: the booking agent works with a bunch of comedians. I wanted to work with some comedians. Had I reached out to ONE comedian, I would have relied on him to spread the word for me. Working with the booking agent, I could provide added services to his clients. Win-win.

Baptism by fire.

How did I gain these web and multimedia skills? Let’s start with web. I was a graphic designer. Knew Photoshop, Illustrator and Desktop Publishing. There was no web ability in there whatsoever. Not even an understanding. But my company didn’t know that. We were JUST starting to understand the web. So I jumped in with both feet. “I know how to design a website!” The marketing manager looked me for a second, knowing he had no other alternatives or budget to hire an agency. “OK.” So I got the gig. I went straight to the developers and said, “So…I’ve been asked to do this website. Do you have any resources you can recommend?” And they did. A great starter book. And so began my web design career.

I began devouring books. Watching tutorials. Found great CD-ROMs from Lynda! Eventually, I jumped into a couple classes here and there. All to expand the skills I knew would get me the kind of work I wanted to do. And the booking agent did his part. He recommended me to other comedians. They recommended me to each other. THEIR contacts wanted me to do THEIR websites. Eventually, I could barter my skills with favors from these entertainment professionals. What kind of barters? Here’s an example. I bartered a website for a promise that my client would read a new script I was working on. They loved it and passed it onto their son, a film icon back in the 80’s. THAT relationship sparked a writing partnership that would last 3 years. So I went from Corporate Communications to web design to designing for entertainers to becoming a script writer.

It’s how I tell people to use the side door.

Bridging Gaps – Part 1

I used to write a blog about being a writer in the entertainment industry. I have been, in one way or another, attached to the entertainment industry in whatever capacity I could. Whether as a writer, a producer, a designer, a developer, an animator, or whatever was the soup du jour. It was what I was pulled to. I LOVE the entertainment industry. It has neurotics, crazy people, driven people, some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet, as well as some of the biggest jack asses. But all those experiences aside, it was a career path I wanted to pursue. But like the connections in your brain, if one way didn’t work, I’d simply find another.

Here’s the point. No matter what your passion, just because you can’t make it your full-time mission in life, doesn’t mean you can’t make it a part of your life. What I’m talking about here is the all or nothing mentality I sometimes come across. The “I worked in the film industry, but couldn’t cut it, so now I’m serving fries.” REALLY? You just gave up?

Now I’m not dumb. There are very real financial risks to pursuing your dreams. There are very heavy burdens that come from trying to pursue your dreams after getting married or having a family. But there are ALWAYS ways. Granted, some ways are not as fulfilling as others. But it depends on what your goals are.

I have set several goals in my lifetime, having reached all but one: getting a certain screenplay of mine turned into a major motion picture. That day is coming. I used the environment around me to kick in the side doors of an industry that may otherwise have been unavailable to me through the traditional paths that thousands take pilgrimages on every day. Be clearer? How exactly? (Yeah, I hate those guys that give you the life story of how they went from rags to riches, conveniently leaving out the details of exactly how they did it. So here’s what I’m talking about…)

My first goals: Work in the motion picture/TV industry. Specifically, I had in my head these three subsets of the goal. 1) Write a screenplay/teleplay and pitch it in L.A. or NYC. 2) Be able to fly to NYC on someone else’s dime because I’m being paid to be there on an entertainment-related gig. 3) Work with celebrities.

Yep. Got all three. And I was working in corporate communications at the time. Telecom even! AND, I live in the middle of the U.S.! So what did I do that was so different? How did I not have to go to L.A. or NYC to make these connections and break down the doors of an industry that usually caters to people who can hop in a cab and be in your office in half an hour or less? It was slow. I’ll admit. But it’s an incestuous industry. They work with people who’ve worked with people they know. And how did I work with the people they know? I sent an email.

Making the first connection

I LOVE the comedy business. Love stand up comedy, love the scene, love the guys behind it. So when one comedian in particular came along that I could relate to and really get behind, I decided to offer some of my design skills for free. That’s right. I said it. FREE. You see, I was willing to show them what I could do at ZERO risk to them in order to break down the door for things I wanted to do later. I didn’t rush into presenting my script ideas or asking for autographs. I simply said I’d do a website for him if you could get me and some friends into a club to watch him perform. It worked. One fortunate accident came out of that email to this comedian. 1) I accidentally emailed his booking agent. If there’s one thing you should learn first, it’s that bathing in a river isn’t nearly as satisfying as swimming in the ocean that it came from. Because you get access to all the other rivers! I have a favorite quote from “Win a Date with Tad Hamilton.” “Your odds go up when you fill out an application.”

So I filled out the app. And from that came gigs with other comedians. Like I said. Incestuous. I charged pennies at first. Then, as my reputation gained popularity in the circle, I branched out. Pretty soon, I was doing sites, flying to L.A. and NYC, and eventually parlayed all of that into other projects with the very celebrities I watched and admired on TV. Goals 2 and 3…check.

Check out my next entry when I talk about some of the challenges with bridging the gaps of your current skills sets to achieve some your goals in a different industry altogether.

Battling the Design Rut

This is dedicated to all those designers that may find themselves in solo land. Whether working for a small team, inside the corporate wheel but without other designers, or contracting from your silo of a home base. At times, you find yourself looking at the same designs, the same inspirations, and the same old same old. It’s not all bad. All is not lost. So where do you find new inspiration?

Use your friends! Find new ones.

What’s the use of having friends in design if you don’t tap their collective cerebellum? The social network is an amazing invention. It lets you move with lightning speed through the internet, employing your network of friends as filters. I find, that the younger of my acquaintances in my field are about 10x more likely to find cool and inspirational things than I am. I admit it, I’m a part of the daily grind at times and don’t invest nearly enough time into keeping things fresh for myself. And it’s in these moments that I rely on these friends out there in the real world to help me keep my design goggles on full throttle. Follow their tweets, read their Facebook posts, IM them, click on links they send you because they think it’s cool, anything to keep your mind inspired by different things. I am constantly learning about new technologies, techniques, and inspirations that can help me keep my own designs fresh and unique.

Be social.

There are ton of great designers out there. And if you don’t know them, click the “FOLLOW ME” link on their site. I’ve been hard pressed to find great designers who aren’t willing to share some facet of their technique with others. There used to exist a “web ring.” Technically, it never went anywhere. But in this specific iteration, it existed for websites to connect to one another. Literally, you would have a short list of websites at the bottom of your page. This list of sites looked similar across all the websites that were connected to the ring. Often times, it was just a series of links that took you to something you had no interest in reading. To be fair, I GUESS you could say it was related to the original site you were reading. This was one way to surf the web and just see what was out there. Early on, you would simply follow hyperlinks all over the web. There was no de facto search engine. And in those days, there weren’t really too many things to search for. But it was fun just to click and click and click until you found yourself on some ungodly site or the coolest thing you’ve ever seen (a rarity.) Today, social networks help you surf from a distance. As lazy as it sounds, you’re letting others do the work, finding the latest trend in design, and then checking it out for yourself. And for the most part, those curiosities tend to lead you down your own paths of discovery. And it’s THOSE times that you return the favor to your friends. Ah, the circle of life.

Do your own research.

If all else fails, get out there. Pick up a magazine. Go to an art gallery. Find something/someone you like in the design realm and do some research on it. Reach outside your comfort zone. Research another field! Into Flash design? Pickup a photography magazine. Into desktop publishing? Pick up a book on new technologies? Anything to stimulate your brain from thinking down the same old road of design you’re used to. I’ve often found myself churning out the same old icons, backgrounds, buttons. Why? Time plays a factor, certainly. If I’ve got 10 projects to get out the door in 1 week, I can’t spend time getting inspired. I’ve got work to do! OK. This happens more than I’d care to comment on. HOWEVER, do make time. Even the slightest inspirations can get the wheels turning in a different direction and breathe new life into your designs and purpose in life. 🙂