The Beginning | Journey In Graphic Design
Journey In Graphic Design – Starting my first design “company” in the 1990s, you can imagine how much we have had to evolve over the years. My first design job was hand drawing flyers for our school’s bands and events. Before social media, that was how we reached our audience… handing out flyers to everyone that moved. The 1990s was a very strange time for graphic design. We were coming out of the neon-filled ’80s and transitioning to a grunge-style with bold worn typefaces and torn edges. (Check out the work of David Carson)
I knew that graphic design was for me. Flicking through magazines, staring at billboards and shop fronts, you name it. My eyes would drink in everything around me. All I can remember from that period is spending hours and hours in the library. I read everything that I could find on Graphic Design and Typography, Branding, Layout, and graphic design history. This was before the internet as we know it today. The first real (grown up) step for me was finding other people like me. In my last year of school in 1991, I found two fellow design addicts, and (long story short) we started making posters and more flyers. ‘Bear And Co Graphic Design Studio’ was born.
Naturally, the next step for me was… to go into retail. Yup. Leaving school in the ’90s meant; “GO AND GET A JOB!” So, as a school leaver with top marks in English, Maths, and Art, I had no actual graphic design qualifications, and I had to get a job. I figured that a retail job was easy to get, and I could somehow inject my amazing expert design skills (Sarcasm) with the marketing teams of a popular clothing company. Oh, the logic of a cocky teenager. Within days, I was head of the design team…not really. I wish it had been that easy. What a story that would have been, eh.
In reality, folding clothes and running into the back for shoes was my life for a couple of years. I had become a minion, and I was making no waves whatsoever. Sitting on the bus, ready for another day of customer care and painted smiles, I was listening to Queen on my Walkman, and I had a moment of “What the hell am I doing?” and my mindset made a shift back into the creative brain.
Walking into work, I was greeted by an angry manager that wanted to know why the shoe display wasn’t finished and why I was late. Now, picture this moment. A skinny 17-year-old tilting his head and locking eyes with the manager for a few (Uncomfortable) seconds before spinning on his heels with a squeak and walking out. Awesome! Now imagine that same kid remembering that he forgot his belongings in the staff room and having to stroll back in. Yeah. I had made my decision, and it was thanks to Queen and the song ‘I’m going slightly mad.’
It goes without saying that my parents were really not happy and the first of many arguments began. After long, long explanations and more storming out of buildings, I came to them with a plan and that I am old enough to decide for myself. Back to the library for me and I was happy again. A chance meeting with an old school friend and his awesome new personal computer changed everything, and I often wonder what would have happened if we hadn’t reunited. Mike told me about this new software that his brother let him borrow and the things that you could do with it.
Adobe Photoshop 1.0 (that Mikes brother got from a friend) was like nothing I had seen before. I had absolutely no computer knowledge, skills, or experience. The first time I used Photoshop was amazing. I made the most amazing artwork…not really. After about 4 hours of trying to use it, I gave up. The plan was for me to hand draw artwork and give it to Mike to “Do the computer stuff,” and that was how we started. Mike got in touch with a couple of his computer nerds.. I mean experts. I would be designing flyers and logos for us by hand and then jumping on my bike (Bicycle) to Mike’s house to digitize everything. The greatest design company name that EVER existed follows. Are you ready?
The Photoshop Digital Logo and Flyer Design Studio
It’s catchy isn’t it. Covid is catchy, doesn’t mean we want it.
Practice Makes Progress
Taking every day at a time was the key for us. Living in the moment. My average day was waking up at 5 am and sketching until 12 pm. At the library from 1 pm until it closed, reading about Microsoft and ‘Home Computing’ and everything I could find to progress my pc knowledge. From 7 pm until midnight was Mikes bedroom (Now our office) and learning Photoshop and using the book-knowledge to find my way around computers. I had become pretty damn good and was feeling rather pleased with myself until the day that Mikes brother threw him a copy of Adobe Illustrator. What the…
Adobe Illustrator 1.1 (if I remember correctly) was packaged in what looked like a bible of sorts. Visually it was beautiful (to me) 2 floppy disks (Disk 1, Program and Disk 2, Tutorial), so the first time we use it, we obviously slip disk 1 into the machine and go straight into the greatest designs the world had ever seen… hmmm, not exactly. We all stared at the screen and clicked on the pen tool. Six hours later, we were still staring at the screen with many weird shapes and nothing much else. To cut this very long story short, we zoom into the future a few years.
The internet is now starting to be the internet that we know today. I have finally mastered Illustrator and Photoshop, and I still do everything with pencil and paper before I even sit at the computer. (Today, in 2020, I am surrounded by sketch pads and pencils). Our design company has stayed fluid. Mike has moved on and started a printing company that focuses on business cards (from his home). New team members and designers have come and gone and come back again.
My focus is now on creating brands. Designing logos and finding the color pallet that sings in the same key as the brand was my passion. Our design process to this day is all about achieving the exact vision that the client comes to us with. It is our job to dig around in their mind, asking the right questions to get the spec that we need.
The main question we always ask is, “If your brand was a person, what personality would they have? What would be their approach to business? What would they wear?” Knowing these things is a huge part of finding the voice and image of their brand. It was around this time that we coined our tagline: ‘Traditionally Modern Design”. We are a ‘The Jack of all trades, master of none… but far better than the master of one.”
This is where we will lose a lot of you, and you may think that we are not running our business properly. We have never fully embraced social media. Don’t get me wrong. We have all the accounts on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, etc. We even have a tutorial channel on YouTube, but… We don’t post regularly or with any particular routine or schedule.
Why? Because our clients talk to each other, they send out recommendations and tell people about our approach to their projects. Our honesty can be brutal at times, and we have always been proud that we are not ‘Yes-People’. Our attitude to social media is simple. You want to follow us, great. We love to hear from people, and we always respond or comment to your comments but, that is the beginning, middle, and end of our social media story. So, you can find us on social media @bearbrandingco. You can follow us if you want.
Finding Your Seat At The Graphic Design Table
Today, we have Designers and “Designers.” The real, true designers have a deep and passionate understanding of the history of design, the core elements that graphic design is formed around. “Designers” have a copy of Photoshop or Illustrator and make shapes that they sell as logos or stick some wording on a stock image and call it an advert.
These people are hacks, and they make the industry dirty and full of grime. The true graphic designer has sleepless nights, little to no social life, and puts their heart and soul into each project. A “designer” puts an ad on Fiverr and undermines everything that this beautiful industry stands for. For you, breaking into the design industry in 2020 is a different beast from what it was for us in the 1990s. You have to compete with the likes of Fiverr and the like. However, if you have a passion for the foundations of graphic design, a style of your own, and your own unique way of doing things, you can make it. Talent will always shine through, and you have to (Quoting a friend of mine) “Work ya tits off until you pass out.” 2020 is not going to make it easy for you… 2020 has been a year of negative events.
What We Would Do Starting Out In 2020
Well, it all comes down to the individual and how your mind works. I don’t know you personally so I’ll have to generalize a bit.
- Decide. You have to shut down everything and sit alone and decide what you want to be, what do you want to design, how you’re going to project yourself? The thought process is, without a doubt, the first step in becoming the designer that you want to be.
- Be your Own Idol. I want to be as successful as me 10 years from now. In 10 years, rinse and repeat.
- Find A Mentor. One of my regrets was not having a mentor as I was sculpting my career. My mentors were within the pages of the books I was reading. My two main “mentors” these days are on YouTube, and they are both inspirational to me for different reasons. Get on YouTube and look up Tested with Adam Savage. His approach to every project and his ethos and general attitude is addictive. Go and watch some of his ‘One Day Builds.’ My second recommendation is Chris Do. This man has wisdom and knowledge way beyond anything that I can offer you. YouTube: TheFutur (no ‘e’). And any video that you choose to watch will inspire you and motivate you.
- Learn. Never stop learning. People often say that “Practice Makes Perfect” and that is Bullsh… it’s nonsense. Practice makes progress and the more you learn, the more progress you will make in every aspect of your career. Always be open to criticism and accept that not everyone will like your work, even if you know it is right for the project or that you spent days or weeks creating it. Be a sponge for knowledge. If you don’t know about Neoclassical graphic design, you’re not going to understand what graphic design is today fully.
- Nurture Your Niche. Whether you want to design posters for the film industry or full branding design, you have to decide your niche. Once you know what you want to design, focus on that one thing completely and get online and search for what has already been made in that field. It is imperative that you understand the fundamental basics and the historical designs that exist so that you can design at will. Be inspired. Never copy!
Yes, I wrote this down on paper before typing it up.
I think I have gone on long enough now, and you probably didn’t make it to this paragraph. Be grateful that I skipped a few years. The biggest piece of advice I can offer is to be true to yourself and your client. Don’t make promises that you don’t intend to keep. We have made it this far on reputation alone, and even that hasn’t been easy. We have reached the point now where we can’t stomach the BS. We get to the point and pull you up on any ideas that are simply useless. We have earned that privilege, and I do not recommend you try it… not just yet.
- Never delete anything.
- Save your work every 5 minutes.
- Always get a minimum 50% fee up-front.
- The client isn’t always right. It’s up to you to convince your client why.
- Don’t spend your earnings until the work is signed-off.
- Sketch everything before you sit at the computer.
- Pretend to like people that you really don’t like.
- Ignore people that say, “You can’t”.
- Never work for exposure. Your landlord won’t accept exposure for rent.
- Be honest with your client, always.
- Never say, “I didn’t get that email/text.” Ask to resend.
- 2:1 Work for two hours and have a complete break for one hour.
- Make your work area yours.
- Have Sundays off.
I wish you all the very best of luck, and if you want to message us or follow us on social media (Can if ya want), we would be pleased to see you and help as and when we can. Graphic Design is still a beautiful industry, and if you play the game right, you can make a very healthy living from it. Stay safe and get creative