Creatives, make the most of your day close
As a creative in a medium-sized digital agency, I often find myself juggling five different projects at a time. It demands concentration, finesse and a great playlist (I recommend Yuksek). I appreciate these moments, they create adrenaline and are hugely motivating.
When a big wave of work passes, and all the designs have been sent, it's suddenly a lot calmer at my desk. I call it the “waiting for feedback” period, or the “in between” stage. It can be great, but as someone who thrives on pressure, I don’t like sitting there with nothing to do. So I’ve come up with a list of things I do, that you may find useful.
You'll thank yourself later
Your personal library
When it’s hectic, you need things quick: photos, icons, buttons. Looking for them on a website, designing them, or picking them from another file costs precious time that you could be using more productively. So I bring them all together on the same PSD. Having everything together in the same place means no mucking around. Organise it like a pro and name all the layers. Doing this from the offset means you won't have to re-name each one of them on your final design... and we all know that’s a pain.
Be consistent with guidelines
Having all sorts of raspberry shaded colours for your links, or 5 different sized fonts, all fighting for their supremacy within your design, is always going to start looking like a dog’s dinner in no time. Templaters will be pulling their hair out on the development side if you present them with something inconsistent. So I create guidelines. A base on a photoshop file with the HTML colour codes, the font used, and the size for title, subtitle and content. Being as precise as possible, I use it for each of my projects instead of creating a new one. Then all I have to do is pick up elements as and when I need them.
Wave your “availability flag”
When I’m not 100% work mad and I’ve finished my projects, I happily let my mind wander. This is the time to go for a walk around the office, wave your availability flag and be nosy. Designer mates might need help. Project managers may bring some new insight on future projects; or your boss might have some news on upcoming pitches.
Discover what's going on around you
Being up to date with what’s going on in the agency isn’t everything, it’s also really important to know what's happening outside the office in the fields of design, gadgets and informatics. Everything evolves so quickly in the digital world and technology is developing constantly. It's important to know what you are talking about and what is, and isn’t possible.
If I get any down time, I go hunting through my “Must read this!” bookmarks. Mashable, Smashing, and many other art/digital magazines are on the list. Igoogle normally has some tasty news. Thinking about what’s going on outside your immediate environment can pay dividends, Tmobile did this brilliantly with their adaptation of the Royal Wedding (around 23 million views) http://www.youtube.com/user/lifesforsharing?ob=5.
Hang around on your favourite design blogs and refresh your mind. Check out your competitors’ websites. And my personal favourite: awards websites. I'm always amazed by some ideas and it helps me think deeper and forget about boundaries. I am the design eyes of the agency; so if I find something great, I like to share it.
Open your mind, observe and learn
Watch out for great exhibitions
Plan your weekend. I am a pro when it comes to last minute planned weekends. Time Out London, Spoonfed and other websites are packed full of arty days outs. British people, you don't know how lucky you are being able to step in a museum for free. I had to pay a fortune back in France to access Beaubourg, le Louvres and le Musée de l'Orangerie, even with my Art student card! So now I visit exhibitions as often as I can: pop into galleries and practice street photography with my old Olympus. It teaches me to think about my shots and act with my mind rather than my finger. There is always a book shop on the way treasuring interesting books about Design, Art and Digital. Things you've seen, photos you’ve taken, people you've talked to, places you've discovered will all inspire you.
I’ve never understood the distinction between designers and techies: after all we all do both, it’s just that my specialism is in the look and feel and theirs is in the build. Designers have to be technically aware and techies need to be creative - or at least they do in the world of digital. So, if I have an idea, however outlandish… I find picking a developer’s brain can pay dividends.
Back on the bench
In design, you need to be proficient in several softwares: Photoshop, Illustrator, Premiere Pro, After Effects... and their versions evolves all the time. There are always new shortcuts, new actions, new filters... if watching tutorials is not enough it's time for a course. Constructively use some of your free time to look out for interesting courses to improve your current skills, or help develop new ones. Photography is great for being able to master all sides of a photo shoot. Yoga or strategy courses to calm yourself, focus, and inspire your inner temple. Anything that helps you discover the unknown, gives you added value and helps you enjoy life.
Finally, one of my multimedia professors told us once to be passionate about your projects. That was one of his main criticisms, you must be able to understand the subject fully and you must produce a piece of design in complete symbiosis with its purpose, respecting its target. To illustrate his point he told us about a salsa website he was working on that made him end up in a ... salsa class (if you saw him you’d find that hard to believe). Anyway, I’m waiting for a luxury spa project.
So, immerse yourself in your project, become the target, read books and magazines around a subject, think about it all the time, become a geek.
Or... write an article and enjoy your downtime, however fleeting it may be.