Posted 10.05.2010

Brand New Day and Breaking the Curse

Blog friends, how I’ve missed you!

I’ve struggled to blog, but as Seth Godin would say, I’ve been busy shipping.

“What you do for a living is not be creative, what you do is ship.”

One of the projects that we got proofs back on yesterday was the LifeWay Kids Conference Listening Guide. It’s a conference in Birmingham, next week, themed “Brand New Day.”

It’s funny…well, not that funny. Most of the people on my team have been struggling creatively, myself included. We’ve affectionately(?) called it “the curse.” I know every creative person experiences it. Those moments when designing comes easy and then the moments when it’s pulling teeth, beating your head against the wall, and considering a career move. The hard part? The past month has been filled with those moments. It’s not just me, it’s been our video producers and writers too.

I’m not sure that we’re all necessarily out the dark, but it has been a good learning experience. Once we all came to the place where we admitted we were struggling, we were able to sit down over a two hour lunch to discuss how we got there and how we can help each other get out.

All that’s to say, this project, Brand New Day, has been that project for me.

When I started out, I wanted to do something similar to Carsonified’s Chirp Conference. It’s a beautiful site with great attention to detail.

Chirp Website

With Brand New Day, we were trying to communicate a new look, sunshine, breakfast, Saturday morning cartoons…a brand new day.

Definitely, not wanting to copy Chirp or rip it off, I went with a green color scheme, which naturally lent itself to a farm. In my head, I was thinking Garfield and Friends. Anyone?

Garfield and Friends

This is what I came up with:

When I walked away from the cover, I knew something was still missing, but knew I’d come back to it. Well, I struggled even more with the interior pages.

Finally, I talked to Darrel, my creative director. The good part was, I wasn’t attached to this design. So, when I had the conversation with Darrel, I was willing to walk away from “Farmville.” He was fantastic and encouraged me to go to the grocery store and look at pictures of cereal boxes.

The hardest part with the shift was feeling like cereal boxes are gaudy…which they are…but embracing that. The new (and much improved) cover:

One thing I love about the kid’s team projects I’ve been able to work on is that I can interject some personality — like saying on the cover “Free schedule inside.” Well, of course you’re going to get a schedule! Or making a cut out watch with the head of the president of our company.

I also love hiding things. We have a list of exhibitors and sponsors. Boring. How can I make it interesting? I made a word search. Not only is that better visually, but it actually helps our sponsors and exhibitors. People will spend more time looking at their names trying to solve the puzzle than they would have before. (Plus, I hid “Haywood” into the puzzle. grin )



Posted 08.28.2010

Posted 08.28.2010

How to document a freelance project

Some of my most popular posts are on how I handle freelance clients

You seem to enjoy reading about it or at least you’re willing to click on the link….so I thought I’d share a little more.

I’ve already shared about the folder of templates I have set up on Dropbox. I also keep all my documentation in Google Docs. Anytime, I get a new client or project, I will duplicate the Google Spreadsheet for them.


Why Google Docs?

I like being able to access it anywhere: on my phone, on my computer at work, at home, etc. I could even share it with a client if neceessary. (Share > Publish as a web page)

Each spreadsheet has five sheets that way I can keep everything together in one file.


1 – Production Notes

Google Docs - Overview

This is the project overview.

  • name of the project
  • due date
  • directory I save it on, on my computer
  • contact information
  • where the proposal document is
  • where the sitemap is
  • the current site URL
  • the approved comp file name
  • where the production files are
  • where the content is
  • any miscellaneous information
  • where the templates are saved
  • the color palatte – either an image file and / or actual hexadecimal values
  • fonts I’m using
  • username and passwords for FTP, Database, Site Admin (if I’m using WordPress or Expression Engine), Google Apps information

The username and password information is the most valuable section.

I know some of this information seems obvious if I keep my file structure and naming conventions the same for every project. But, it’s invaluable if I have to hand the project off to someone else or if I have multiple revisions of the same file. Which is the most recent? which one got approved?


2 – Time Sheet

Google Docs - Time Sheet

This sheet is the one that I visit the most. As soon as I sit down to work on a project, I will record the date and the start time. When I’m ready to move onto someone else, I record the end time, what I was able to accomplish, and the amount of hours I spent on the project.

Believe it or not, I’ve had clients question the amount of time a project took. I was able to pull up my time sheet and explain how every hour was spent. It makes a difference when you’re able to provide documentation!


3 – Estimate

Google Docs - Estimate

If I’m doing a site build, this sheet gets visited up front. I try and break down the project by items. One of my problems is I like to operate out of what I would like to accomplish versus what is realistically possible. This sheet helps me. I can say, “Oh that project will take 10 hours,” but if I start breaking it down by task, I quickly realize that my estimate may double: develop assets, design the comp, slice and dice, set up the CMS, hook it up to the CMS… you get the point.

The most helpful line on this document is near the end: 10 – 20% contingency allowance. A lot of times I underestimate the amount of time it will take. This section has saved me. Other times, I’ve been right on. When I only bill for the amount of hours actually spent, this section makes them happy because it looks like I’ve saved them a buck or two. Under promise. Over deliver.


4 – Expenses

Google Docs - Expenses

This sheet is self explanatory. Here, I track anything I purchase for the project, an expression engine license, stock photography, fonts, etc. I want to make sure that I foot the bill to the client.


5 – Meeting Notes

Google Docs - Meeting Notes

On this sheet I track any meetings and / or conversations I’ve had with the client. This helps when I’m trying to rmemeber what and when something was said. I include:

  • meeting notes
  • thoughts
  • action points
  • attendees
  • location
  • duration
  • attachments

The thoughts section is good. It allows me to reflect on the meeting, either things that I said or did, things the client mentioned that I may need to consider down the road, etc.

Action points makes sure that I have a record of what I said I would do and what the client said they would do. A meeting is a waste of time unless an action point comes out of it.

If any files were exchanged during the meeting, I’ll list them under attachments.


Honestly, some project I’m more diligent about recording these things than others. I’ve found, though, that the more I document, the more smoothly the project goes, the less trouble.

Access it yourself.

I’d like to share my document with you. Do with it what you will.



Posted 08.10.2010

Designing the CentriKid Camper Devotional Book

Now that the summer is over, I’ve enjoyed sharing some of the things I’ve been working on throughout the year, such as the CentriKid staff photo, the CentriKid set, and the Bon Appetit theme logo and art direction.

Well, add the CentriKid camper devotional book to that list.

Like the set, I drew everything first in my moleskine, scanned it in, and then traced it on the computer, in Illustrator. I did this for a couple of reasons. First, I’m not as good at freehanding it on the computer. Second, (and more important) when you create things on the computer, they tend to look perfect, exact. Take a straight line, for example. I can draw the straightest line you’ve ever seen on the computer. Click and drag. Cake. Give me a pen (no ruler), I’ll draw a “straight” line. It will have waves. I couldn’t draw a truly straight line if my life depended on it. —part of the kid art direction this year celebrated those waves. It embraaced the jagged edges and crooked angles. It was easier for me to keep the integrity of those lines if I drew it by hand first.

Moleskine Drawings

I did a lot of visual research for this project. First off, if you’re not a graphic designer, you may giggle at the term “visual research.” I know when we throw it around at work, people snicker because it sounds like a fluff task, an excuse to play around online, but there is so much value there. When I went to a design conference at the beginning of June one of the things they talked about was your art collection, images of things (or the actual objects themseves) that inspired you, challenged you, things you admired. A big chunk of graphic design is being able to make connections with things that you’ve already seen.

So I googled pictures of chefs, trying to think of new poses I could put the characters in. See the sprinkling in the bottom left picture, look familar? Look at the drawing included above

Chefs Collage

I also spent a lot of time going through Flickr. There are several collections there where users have uploaded pictures of vintage cookbooks. — These proved invaluable.

Vintage Cookbooks

Vintage Cookbooks

The first thing I designed was the cover. It actually went through several variations before we finally landed on the one that went to print.

This one was never finalized. You can tell, I’m struggling with spacing with the logo and title of the book.

I made headway here, by moving the logo to the top. But, I’m still struggling with spacing with this cover.

This one is getting close. I haven’t added the circle around the logo and the CentriKid logo is at the bottom on the back cover.

Here’s the final.—Definitely the strongest option. It’s all part of the process.

Then, I began to lay out the copy. —and there was a ton of copy! That’s the thing about working for a publishing company, they their love copy.

In some cases, I could pull from the library of characters I had already created and design the page layouts with them in place. But, on other pages, I added the characters last. I printed out what I had already designed and overlaid tracing paper and drew the characters on the tracing paper to see if I could get the positioning and spacing right.


The thing that I loved about this project was I was able to interject some of my personality and hide some easter eggs.

When I was working on the copyright page, I was trying to figure out what to write. I couldn’t delete that page, we had to have it. So, I included “boring copyright information, the lawyers made us” — which is so true!


For the memory card cutouts page, I put “cut along the jagged line.” When, I was creating it, I thought “this sure is a jagged line more than a dotted line.” —So I used that.

Cut Along the Jagged Line

A clean kitchen is a happy kitchen? Anyone?

A Clean Kitchen

The last few pages were reserved for notes. When, I was creating it, I thought, “How many kids are actually going to take notes? They will draw all over these pages.” So, I wrote “Notes or Doodles.” *Plus, I got to draw a pie in the face


If you look carefully in the bowl of alphabet soup, I hid my name. grin

Amy in Alphabet Soup


I’ve already started working on next year’s theme, Shipwreck Island. In fact, yesterday, we finalized the logo. It should be a fun project too.