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Drawing on my Computer…

One of the most amusing things I feel about my job is the lack of knowledge most people have of it.  I often have people ask what I do for a living. If they know I office out of my home then I their fist vision of me is sitting around in my PJs watching opera with a diet coke in one hand and letting my nails dry on the other.  I may or may not have a computer sitting next to me, but most likely not or else it would be in the way of those feet I am propping up.

For some reason, it’s hard for people to grasp that you can WORK from home and actually make a living.  It even took my husband a long time to figure out that if I didn’t work billable hours, then I didn’t get a paycheck, therefore “NO, I did not get your 10 loads of laundry done today.” Now that he works from home one day a week to offset the cost of gas to drive to his Atlanta office, he sees that there are no bonbons or soap operas in my office.  But to those who do not see my daily routine  – it’s hard for them to imagine one having the self-discipline enough to “work from home” 

There are also those who understand the concept that I work, but not really what I DO.  In try to explain in layman’s terms that “I am a designer of all things that can be either printed on something or put on the web” That way (and I have had this before) I didn’t have to answer yes to their 30 item survey of “can you do’s” But yet even in layman’s, they still do not grasp that that billboard didn’t just magically appear on that highway or the website they use everyday to check their bank balance didn’t just come from air. It’s quite funny actually to watch the reactions people make when I tell them what I do.  Either they are immediately intrigued or they look like someone handed them a Su Doku puzzle and asked them to solve it on 30 seconds.

One of my favorite questions about my job I get every time I go home for a visit and see a particular elementary teacher who is always very intrigued by my talent.  She always very respectfully says “ Are you still drawing on your computer” I have learned just to say yes as sometimes it is just easier for people to visualize it that way. Little do they know that I haven’t “drawn” since I was in “Life Drawing” my last semester in College.  But that is okay.  To some people, making art requires a pencil or paintbrush and paper. The extremists of this line of thinking tend to believe that graphic arts/advertising isn’t really art at all.  But that is a whole other argument all-together that I will not attempt to get into. I will however, put out there for those who still don’t understand how I “draw on my computer” a little peek into my daily thought process – while I am eating my bon-bon of course!

Without too much detail, here is a sample scenario of one project I may get in a day….

Most of the time I already have at least 5 jobs in production and take on one new. Client calls after being referred to me by another client or one of my partners.  They are a new business or an only business seeing a new identity.  They need it all.  Website, collateral package, logo for starters.

I visit with the client usually for at least 30 min, sometimes with multiple people on a conference call.  This is typical with the majority of my client base being out of state.  The customer outlines their current situation – where they have been and where they want to go.  I ask them if they have competitors so I can see what our marketing is up against.  I also ask for samples of directions they like.  Some customers have the taste of a dry popsicle stick and others actually have a great concept of where they want their company to go. This is fantastic as mind reading is not part of my job description even though I have done it  –  a lot.  Once I get an idea of where they have been and want to go, I outline what elements they need.  Logo, collateral package (consisting of letterhead, envelopes and business cards sometimes even a brochure), and website.  I’ve made my notes, gotten a feel for the personalities of the client (which is VERY important) and I am ready to build my estimate.  Sometimes If I can tell that the client is on the smaller side of the business, I ask if they have a budget so I know up front how realistic their expectations are.  However if I know the client is larger and has the advertising budget to handle my hourly rate, I do not worry about asking as sometimes this can limit your creative thinking when estimating.  After I build by estimate and deliver it to the customer I usually get approval within a few days.  In the meantime I am frantically trying to wrap up other projects to make room.  When I receive the signed estimate I begin the research and concept phase.  This is the most crucial part of my job.

Because it is said so perfectly and so inline with my way of “concepting”, I will quote "The Three C’s of Design" excerpted from Jim Krause’s “Design Basics Index”:

The way in which the components of a design are visually combined and arranged.  Composition takes into account placement, grouping, alignment, visual flow and the divisions of space within a layout. 

The visual elements used within a design,  Photos illustrations, icons, typography, linework, decorations, borders and backgrounds are all components.

Abstract elements of theme, connotation, message and style.  These intangible ingredients of a design or image are critical to its visual presentation and delivery of message.

And I am going to add a personal touch to this by adding a 4th….

The thought and  vision that sets this customer’s design/concept apart from those of its competitors.  The eye-popping, get you thinking Idea behind the design.

This is the method to my madness.  I know that it is hard to “visualize” for some people, but there is a “vision” in a designer’s head before they even use their tools to built it.  The Composition, Components, Concept and Creativity are what make that Billboard catch the attention of a diver passing by at 68.5 miles per hour.  It is what makes people choose one vendor over another when searching the web for a particular item. It is what determines a “keeper” over junk” when sorting through your mail. Advertising does not work without these four C’s. 

After a day (maybe more depending on how many pieces are involved) of exploring these 4 and putting together my presentation I post these for the client to review and stew over for a few days.  Almost every time I have a unanimous decision and approval to move forward with one of my concepts within a day. Then the hard work comes in.  I collect data for the sites, build all of the pieces to flow seamlessly and work with the client for the next few weeks to get all the details just right before sending to the printer or uploading to the site.

Once approved and delivered, I most likely have already bid and started a few other jobs and it’s on to start those I go. And this folks is what I “do”, I am sad to disappoint those who were looking for the use of charcoal on a sketch pad as my final product but I will say I do sketch out concepts to get them clear in my head. So I guess you can say that I do “draw” a little.  Just not on my computer.  Hopefully this will also show for those who just don’t understand that (even though I wish it did) my day doesn’t have much room for the latest profound advice of Dr. Phil or round of “whites” in the washer in-between phone calls. I will say that without all that I have just about the coolest job there is.  Even without the bonbons.


By Wendy Arnold

My name is Wendy Arnold, owner of Arnold Graphic Design, a small design studio in Atlanta, Georgia.
I am also a Wife and Mom of two beautiful children. Web and print graphics, as well as advertising design are my passions, and my artistic brain is never at rest. When I am not involved with my agency you will find me painting, dabbling in interior design, and just recently branching out into the world of digital photography.