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Keep experimenting

Here’s some good advice for job applicants from design business owner Drew de Soto.

S grass
Grass letter by Newcastle-based design student Sarah Hanson

“A lot of applicants I have interviewed have come from a myriad of backgrounds. Some have studied fine art, illustration, and on occasion even history. Whilst influence will kickstart their minds, experimentation will deliver creativity. But what do you show in your book? Well, show some experimentation.

“Try to keep the results to one or two spreads per project. Don’t show thirty different ways of writing the same word in a different typeface, that isn’t experimentation. Do show five ways of how you experimented with the word and used different mediums.

“An example might be:

“I have no interest in the fact that you tried the name of a new brand for double cream in different typefaces. I am interested if you tried to write in cream, or grass, or whatever, and that led you to a certain type style or treatment.”

Drew is the author of the Know Your Onions book series, and the above advice is a snippet from his 2014 pocket book What to Put in Your Portfolio and Get a Job.

It made me think of a small project from some years ago. I had to create an emblem for an Apple user forum, but no matter what ideas I showed my client, none hit the mark. Almost at the point of giving up, I decided to share a few photos of an experiment. It involved carving an apple to form an ink stamp, then digitising the impression to create a vector symbol. The result was similar to some of the earlier options, but after seeing how it was created, my client found it much easier to buy into the idea, and in turn was delighted with the outcome.

Depending on how involved clients want to be, sharing experiments can be a real timesaver. Just remember not to share too many.

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5 comments about “Keep experimenting”

  1. My first Boss, John Blackburn, said to me that he gave me the job because of how I thought. A lot of this, especially David’s example, come back to one simple thing. Story. The most interesting thing isn’t always the destination, it’s how you got there.

    Having a good relationship with the client is key in this regard. Or having the gift of the gab if you are after a job. I love to know why someone has arrived at a design solution, what the thought process was and the odd funny story along the way.

    Often it’s as interesting to find out what failed as well as what worked.

  2. Experimenting is one of the most important things I learned while improving my design skills. Because over time we get used to a routine of doing the same things over and over.

  3. This is excellent advice. And this is particularly valuable for a guy who doesn’t always feel “inspired” when working on new designs. Seems like a nice trick to break out of routine, patterned thinking and maybe uncover that magic solution we’re all hunting for.

    Thank you for sharing!

  4. I agree, Lee. What leads to the end result is often the most intriguing part.

    It’s a pleasure, Brian.

  5. This is an interesting read and reminds me of an approach I took to a logo project just recently. I haven’t thought of it as “experimenting” but rather “experiencing” what I was creating in terms of my thought process and what lead me to the final solution. Sometimes I have to find the failed concepts before I end up with the one that works.

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