Graphic Design / Photography / Project Highlight

Case Study: Joe Seager – Yesteryear Album Sleeve

Now and then, I get a request for a project that really excites me. Something that’s so different than anything I’ve worked on recently that I simply cannot say no. I’d like to share with you how my last project came about, and how I worked with musician Joe Seager to create his latest album cover.

Joe’s original brief was to show a reference to life challenges faced, overcoming difficulties in the past as well as happy memories and showing hope for the future. This was to give a taste of some of the subjects he was communicating in his songs, creating a ‘mood’ to reflect the story of the album.

This project needed to be handled quite differently to most of the other stuff I work on – when I’m working for a brand, for example, I would need to delve into the person behind it, the core values, the image they need to portray, and the customer demographic. In this instance, I wasn’t selling a brand, or a company; this needed to represent the product, and the music itself. So the approach I took had to be different, too.

After speaking to Joe at length about his own ideas, and getting some background on his music, I listened to the album, making notes of words and phrases that came to mind. Once I had these, I could begin drafting out some ideas, putting together images, colours etc.

Working with Joe, we talked through some of these, and I asked him to provide me with some of his own images and photographs; memorable moments, favourite toy from childhood, favourite photo, anything which brought a special memory.

These things all came together as a kind of portrait to which I can add my design elements, and this, for me, is where the real fun begins.

Collection of starter images

The design process

Now for a disclaimer: I’ve worked with Joe before, and have created his previous album and singles covers, so I’m aware of the kind of designs Joe likes, and I’ve got a good feel for how I can use my designs to compliment Joe’s musical style.

For this design, I wanted to make sure that I used a different style from his last album, because although the genre is the same, this one had a completely different ‘mood’, and I felt it was important to encapsulate that. I wanted his fans to be able to pick it up and know instantly the kind of thing they would be listening to. Like a book, every album tells its own story.

From our conversations, we came to the idea of creating a kind of dream sequence using the images he had chosen, travelling through important events from his life in sepia tones, kind of like a montage of memories.

By using muted colours and transparent layers, I was able to highlight these images, while using the background to bring in more subtle layers to show other elements, such as the piano keys and the written notes etc.

I hadn’t really got a firm idea about the colours at this point – I knew I wanted them to be quite subtle, but I hadn’t made any decisions about how to use colour overlays. But sometimes, once everything is in place and you start the process of playing with the design, the decision is almost made for you, and that’s what happened in this instance.

The finished design

I think we achieved the result we wanted very well – from the original concept, we managed to encapsulate the style of the music, and tell the story of the album.

It always works really well when you are able to work with a client who has their own ideas of what they want to achieve, yet trusts you to deliver without difficulty, and that’s how it was with Joe. This album cover was a result of designer and client working together, from a clear brief, and willing to communicate and contribute ideas throughout the whole project.

'Run With It' Single Sleeve
'In Reverie' Single Sleeve
'Yesteryear' Single Sleeve
Graphic Design / Inspiration / Side Projects

Why side projects can be good for graphic designers

I’ve heard a lot of talk, especially during the current climate, around whether or not graphic designer should consider creating their own side projects. Opinions tend to vary quite widely on the subject – some designers see them as somehow a waste of their time, in that it takes them away from doing paid work, and perhaps sends the message to prospective clients that they’re not so much in demand. Others think that they’re a great way of doing something ‘out of the norm’ and taking it as an opportunity to expand design portfolios, and indeed knowledge within the field of design.

While I can see both views, I think that, done right, they can enhance a design portfolio, and even lead a designer off in a new direction that might not have been possible within ‘the day job’. In fact, I myself published a book showcasing my design journey, and am currently organising some events promoting local designers, both of which were things that have come as a result of my own passion and desire to push myself beyond what I normally do.

I think, as creatives, it’s easy to get bogged down in doing work for others, so in occasionally doing things that come from our own passion can be a welcome release, and a really good way to inspire us. I’ve found that, in doing these side projects, I have so often been inspired to try different techniques and designs for my client work, too.

Above: Spectra Kinetic Sculpture by Accept & Proceed

Looking around at other agencies, there are some examples of side projects that have been so successful, they have enabled the agency to take on completely new projects that they might never have had the opportunity to bid for under normal circumstances, like London agency, Accept & Proceed, who created a kinetic sculpture representing the impact of meteors on the surface of the moon that led to a commissioned project for NASA. Ok, so that might be an extreme example, but you never know…

Above: Grace-FO Display by Accept & Proceed commissioned by NASA/JPL

Of course, there is no harm at all in flexing your creativity and working on a project just for the hell of it, even if it goes nowhere. It can teach you a lot – not just by playing around with different styles and techniques, but also giving you practice in new programmes which might not come up in your usual work. Unlike some industries, the graphic design field is ever-evolving, and it’s good to try out new ways of working now and again. It might give you the opportunity to incorporate a new service for your clients, or even take your agency in a different direction.

And they can be so varied – I’ve seen designers doing online courses teaching others simple design techniques, YouTube channels showcasing everything from ‘a day in the life’ to time-lapses of works in progress, blogs and magazines, photography…the list is endless.

Above: Part of our visual proposal for a community project documenting a day-in-the-life of one of Shrewsbury's iconic buildings.

Do what you love

I know what you’re thinking – if you are busy indulging your passions, doesn’t that pull you away from the money-making projects? And yes, of course that’s true, but if you don’t make time for creating your own stuff, then what’s going to inspire you if all you’re doing is working for clients? As a creative, you need an outlet, somewhere. After all, most of us got into this industry from a place of love for creation and design, and if we fail to keep doing what we love, then there’s a danger that working could become monotonous.

A fresh perspective – for you and your clients

Of course, there’s the added benefit of being able to show your clients a different side to what you do. If you’ve been designing as a job for a while, you tend to end up doing the same kinds of things, but think about this: what if the very client you are designing that website for is also in the market for some photography, or a new identity, a video…if they are not aware that you have a talent for those things, you could be missing out on a whole new set of projects.

All in all, I believe that there can be great things to come out of doing side projects. So why not plan for them? Even if it’s simply a one-off, or a few hours at the weekend? It could be great for both your mental health, and your career.

Branding / Design Strategy / Graphic Design

5 design strategies to bear in mind for your business

Marketing is a vital part of any businesses plan, but it always surprises me how little though is put into using good design when a business is thinking about marketing. In fact, graphic design should be at the front of your mind when you are planning your marketing – here are 5 design strategies you should be considering.

Logo

Branding starts with your logo – it’s an essential marketing tool which ties together all of your marketing messages, creates the face of your brand, and helps you to connect with your customers. Your logo is the image that people will most remember, so it’s important to get it right. It should communicate who you are, what you do, and what you stand for in one simple image. Also consider this: nobody buys anything because of a bigger logo.

Fonts

The right font can tell your customers the mood, character and tone of your business before they even start reading. There are so many different fonts available, it can be overwhelming, but there are things you should consider.

Your font should be easy to read, especially if you’re using a text-heavy approach. People won’t read a lot of text if they are having to put in too much effort to decipher it.

Using the right style of font is important. If the overall design of your branding and website are contemporary, you need a font which will complement it. For example, if you were using something like a brick wall effect background, you wouldn’t want to use Times Roman – it would look out of place. You’d instead need to consider something bold, perhaps a font that hints the use of a stencil or paint.

It’s also an idea to consider using the same font across all of your branding, and committing to just 2 or 3 fonts across all of your marketing. Use the same font in all of your titles and headers, and compliment that with your main text.

Colours

When you apply it to marketing, and even branding, colour plays a big part in your customers decision making process. If you look at some of the bigger, well-known brands, you might start to see a pattern – they’re playing on something called colour psychology.

According to the theory, every colour sparks something different in our minds. It’s why brands like Netfix, Lego, Coca-Cola, and Virgin use the colour red – because red is the colour most associated with happiness and youthfulness. HP, Dell, and Facebook are blue, which is thought of as trustworthy, strong and dependable.

So it’s worth thinking about the colours you use in your branding and design, as it can have a huge influence on the people you reach.

Images

Now that social media is such a big part of our lives, we are seeing a lot more images in our marketing. We have the capability to take instant images with your phones, edit them and upload them in a matter of seconds. With this in mind, it’s so important for us to make sure that the images we use in our branding stands out and gets noticed. It needs to have an impact, and make people stop scrolling and look at what we’re doing.

All of your images need to be of high quality, and they need to be consistent in style. Like your logo, font, and brand colours, people will come to recognise your images, and know that they are yours without any context. And if you can achieve that, you’re on to something good.

Cross-platform optimisation

Something else which often gets overlooked, especially with website design, is cross-platform optimisation. In other words, does your content read well on mobile devices, as well as desktop?

According to research, more people consume content via their mobile phones that they do on their desktops. If your website doesn’t translate, you will be missing out on a huge audience.

Make sure that during the design process, all of your content is optimised for mobile too.

Of course, there are many things to consider when you’re thinking about graphic design – these are just a few. If you’d like advice on how to use design in your branding, please give us a call. We’d love to help.

Design Community / Graphic Design / Inspiration

The Benefits of a Design Community

I wanted to talk about a subject that I touched upon in a couple of earlier articles, where I write about why I went back into education to complete my design MA, and then about being a designer working within a smaller community. I’ve been thinking a lot about my own working location, a small-ish market and college town, and how perhaps larger places have a much closer design community.

Shrewsbury, where I live and work is quite a unique, and in some respects, vibrant town. It comes with a lot of history, and is also a great hub for businesses.

What surprised me, though, is when I began to look around at my own industry, there really isn’t much of a community at all. It’s not for lack of designers or design agencies in the town – if you know where to look, there are some very successful designers here. But they seem to be quite isolated; hidden away from view. Seemingly keeping to ourselves, not through lack of interest, but more because we don’t go out of our way to know about each other. There is simply no interaction between us.

The discovery led me to look around, at other places, and how they have come together to collaborate and communicate, creating a ‘hub’ for their design communities. I looked at some of the most successful ones – the Graphic Design Festival Scotland, and closer by the Birmingham Design Festival. These designers seem to not only willingly collaborate, but celebrate doing so. They come together for events such as these – perhaps because, rather than see each other as competition, they see the value in working together on occasion, in pulling together to learn from one another, and creating their own ‘hub’ in their own communities.

The positives of design communities

There are many positives that can come from being part of a close design community – and creating local festivals and exhibitions to celebrate and collaborate. Of course, it does have the obvious benefit of showing off our work in order to give publicity to our individual studios – but I think it does much more than that.

Being so isolated, in many ways, can be such a negative. For starters, by working in such close quarters, you lose that sense of the world around you – you become self-absorbed in your own work. And yes, you might argue that we are all part of the ‘online’ community, but is that really the same thing? Is there really any substitute to getting to know what’s going on in the immediate community, what’s happening in your own industry, in your own town?

The opportunity to bounce ideas with each other, to learn for each other’s experiences, to come together to work on bigger projects, can only help us to thrive as designers.

Being part of such events as the ones mentioned above can be such a positive experience, a moral booster, and give us a sense of where we are going, as an industry collective. There’s such a lot we could learn from each other.

Can we create our own communities?

This is where I am right now. This is the big question I’m asking – how can I facilitate putting together something in my own community which can bring together other designers?

I’m looking at other local events – there are regular, and successful events for other creatives in my town. There are exhibitions for local artists, both traditional and modern, festivals for writers and comic book artists, amongst others. So there is scope – and some really great venues in which to host such things.

I’d be interested to learn how other places do it – perhaps you have even been where I am, and have seen the opportunity in your own town or city. If you have, maybe you could give me the benefit of your experience. Tell me how you did it, what obstacles stood in your way. Were you successful?

Shrewsbury, I think, would be the perfect place to host a festival for graphic designers – and I’m hoping that in the future, I can facilitate that. I can see a huge benefit in raising the industry profile in the town and surroundings.

Branding / Graphic Design / Logo Design / Rebranding

Your logo – the face of your brand.

Often, your logo is the first image people see. It’s the one piece of your branding that people make their first judgement on, and can be the difference in attracting customers, or not.

While it is only one element of your overall branding, it’s a really important one to get right. Because aside from the message it sends out to your customers, it also sets the precedent for the rest of your branding, your image, and even your voice.

Your logo, in a way, is the very personality of a business. It’s the image that people will most remember, the one they will expect to see when they visit you, on- and offline.

Creating a logo – a designer’s view

When people approach me and my team at The Severn Agency to create their company logo, they expect it to be a quick process, because ideally, they want something simple and unfussy – but it’s a process that takes more time than they realise to get right.

The process starts with a conversation. I want to get a feel for what the company represents; and that means getting to know the people behind the brand, how they see the business or product range, and the type of audience they want to attract.

From those conversations, we start to collate ideas in the form of a mood board, collecting examples of colours, styles, symbols – and we ask them to do the same. Sometimes the client doesn’t want to do that, they just want us to get on with the job – and that’s ok, but it’s always really useful to have a visual idea of what’s in the client’s mind.

In my opinion, the most effective logos are those with a symbol which includes the name, or the name as text with a treatment added, not just an icon with the name typed next to it – I always try to do them like this but it isn’t always possible.

My five favourite logo creations

It’s always hard to choose favourites. Every project is different, and as a designer, you tend to put a lot of yourself into them. But saying that, there are always the ones that you remember. The ones that bring a smile when you remember working on them, and that you feel proud to have created. And these are the ones that do that for me.

Iron and Rose: The client asked me if I could make it look like a seal or stamp, something to give it a sense authority. The central icon represents the rose but we added the small rivet onto the flower head to suggest it’s made from cast iron. The deep red/purple comes from the colour of the wine…

Glouglou: It’s a strange word which we thought sounded squashy or liquid. We hand drew it so it looked more flexible, and made the letters all individual. Originally it was just going to be the lettering, but at the last minute the client asked for some sort of symbol to be included. It was difficult to get something to fit into the shape, so we played with the sizes to create a gap into which we could add something. The shape doesn’t really stand for anything definite; the viewer can interpret it as whatever they want it to be: a tap, a flower or just a splat or spill of liquid.

Concrete Futures: This was one was at the start of the year for an exhibition stand at Futurebuild. The letter shapes show a cut through representing a rising bar, moving forward, onwards and upwards, etc.

Cafe Concrete: A project for the same client as above – this one was for an event, a series of lectures promoting the use of concrete in architecture. The logo is a strong cast block which is, unusually, used as large as possible every time.

Ashmolean Museum: The three blocks come from the curve of a ridged column at the entrance to the museum – as the column curves towards you, perspective makes the ridge wider as it comes forwards. The type and layout of the logo gives it a Romanesque look to match their building, they didn’t go for it anyway…

All of these logo designs are simple concepts, yet portray the essence and personality of the brand. It’s important when people see the logo, they get a sense of what the company does, who they are, and that then spills out into the rest of their branding.

Branding / Graphic Design / Logo Design / Rebranding

Branding – it’s more than just a logo

Some people think that when they start a business, they just need a simple logo, a half decent website, and customers will come in droves. However, there’s so much more to it than that – these days, competition between businesses is sharp, and in order to stand out, and to succeed, your branding needs to be strong.

Since starting the Severn Agency, I’ve seen my fair share of branding, and in fact, when I’ve had the opportunity to work with new businesses in creating their branding as a whole, that’s when I’ve been able to create some of my best work. I talked about this a bit in my last article, where I told you about how I came to create the branding for a local wine bar.

So, let’s think about this in a slightly wider sense – how, as a small business, or a start-up, do you begin with creating a brand?

What branding isn’t

People often mistake the logo for a brand. They believe that by designing a simple logo, choosing some pretty colours and an image that vaguely represents what they’re about, their work is done, and they can sit back and wait for the customers to come.

Sorry to say, that won’t cut it. Your logo is just one tiny element in the whole branding process – and even that is so easy to get wrong.

I’ve seen so many mistakes made by companies who have put their logo on the top of a website, their social media outlets, and their printed material, and then have failed to recognise that the rest of their image is so shoddy and inconsistent that it just ends up falling flat – and when it does, any potential customers are turned off and take their money elsewhere.

Branding takes thought. It needs to reflect who you are, what you do, and what you stand for. And all of those things need to be apparent to anyone who reads your content online, sees your social media posts, or receives an email or brochure from you. If they visit your premises, they should immediately know where they are, because they recognise your branding.

What branding is

If I had to sum up what branding is in one word: consistency. Your brand should be instantly recognisable, whether you’re seen online, in print, or on the high street.

As a branding agency, I consider the whole business. What do I mean by that? Well, I mean that learning about the personality of the business, who you are, and what you represent, is always my first priority. Because without that, I can’t imagine what your brand will be.

I need to know the essence of what your company is, and only then can I start to put together what your branding should look like.

So, what do I mean by branding? The logo, although it’s an element, is not necessarily where I begin. Branding encapsulates the entire image – and that includes many elements, from the colours that you use, the fonts and image styles, the tone and voice portrayed in all of your content. It’s all of the visual elements, the corporate style, even the materials you use for your printed content.

Branding and design

Design is more than just an image – it’s the ambassador of your brand. As such, your branding should communicate your message, and that’s really where a branding designer comes in.

A good branding agency will be able to establish your brand personality, and pull everything together to make it visually beautiful, appealing, and most importantly, consistent.

And in doing so, no matter what medium your customers choose to find you, it will be immediately obvious by your branding who you are.

Collaboration / Graphic Design / Remote Working

Are there benefits to working remotely as a designer?

This is a question that someone recently asked me. What is it like, as a designer, to work away from a major city? It’s a question which kind of stopped me in my tracks, and one I’ve been thinking about ever since. Are designers who work cities like London or Manchester, for example, better placed than those who are not? While I think there are some benefits to working in busy hubs like these, things have definitely changed over the past decade or so – freelancing is becoming commonplace, and remote working can be done from pretty much anywhere. Interestingly, being away from those major cities is becoming more and more attractive, as people are finding that living and commuting to these places is becoming so much more expensive. I wanted to share some of my own thoughts and experiences with you, and talk a little bit about the changes which have led us here.

Digitalisation and design trends

The way in which businesses work has changed in many ways, and continues to do so. Most aspects of design now are done with digital tools, for digital media. And this in itself has huge benefits, in the freedom we have as designers, and where and how we work.

In theory, a designer can work from any location, anywhere in the world, whether that’s a large city or a tiny village, as long as we have a decent internet connection. Basic as that sounds, the tools of our trade are now simple and portable, at least on the surface.

Is there really anything stopping a young designer with a lot of flair and passion from setting up shop, even if he or she is based in a remote location in the middle of nowhere?

The pros and cons of working remotely

I used to work in a small market town, where there was a strong student community (thanks to two colleges nearby), a few established businesses, and not much else. It was perfectly workable, there were plenty of cafes and bars within easy reach, the rents were cheap…

But it was mind-numbing!

It didn’t take long for my inspiration to wane, and there was practically no stimulation to ignite my passion for design. It felt pretty stagnant.

Since setting up The Severn Agency, we made the decision to relocate to a larger town, and settled in Shrewsbury. Here, there’s a lot more going on – though it is a market town, it’s much more vibrant and it has much more of a community. From a design point of view, there is never a shortage of things to see and do, which is so refreshing. I also find that it’s much better located for meeting people to discuss work.

The future

Would I like to work in a city? I can see that there could be benefits in that. For starters, there are a great deal more designers working out of places like London, and I’d imagine that it could be a great place to find fresh inspiration, and be in the centre of new innovations.

But do I need to work in a city? Absolutely not. I think designers, and freelance designers, are in an age of great opportunity right now. We really can work from anywhere – and we can be as portable as we like. With the right tech, we can work on the move, from client’s offices, from home. The limitation which in the past tethered us to our locations are quickly disappearing. It’s exciting to think that in the future, location will no longer even be a factor.

Collaboration / Design Community / Education / Graphic Design

Reasons for Graphic Designers to go back into education

Graphic Designers – never stop learning

I’ve worked as a graphic designer for a long time, graduating from Wrexham Glyndŵr University in 1993 and working in various studios, bringing me to launch The Severn Agency in 2017. You might say that I’ve made it – that there’s nothing else that I need to achieve from here. But you’d be wrong. Graphic design is a fluid industry, ever changing, ever evolving, and to stay in the game, it’s important that I don’t sit still, because chances are, if I do that, I’ll fall behind, and things will move without me.

Digital Evolution

In the early 90’s, things took a real leap in the field of graphic design, as it was in 1990 when we saw the first version of Photoshop arrive on the scene. This changed the industry a lot, as it meant that designers could experiment with graphics in a way that we’d never seen before. The techniques it allowed were ground-breaking, with overlapping text, image overlays, and faded elements, which previously had been impossible to achieve on-screen.

By the 2000’s, the tech had become much more powerful, and we saw a surge in portable devices. Graphics evolved again with this new technology, and images with movement came into focus. Corporate design and logos began to look much more like they were in motion, using new techniques with angles and shadowing.

Now, trends change year on year, and there are so many styles and techniques open to us in the graphic design industry. But both design and technology continues to change and evolve.

The next step

This year, I have embarked on a Master’s Degree in Graphic Design. Why? Because I want to safeguard my future in this industry, and I want to be the best that I can be.
And that is the reason for my writing this article. Whether you are a graphic designer, are looking to get into the industry, or are pursuing another job entirely, I think there are huge benefits in going back into education in order to get better at what you do and advancing your knowledge.

It can be a great refresher on what you’ve already learned, or it can take you to the next level in the evolution of your career. And of course, it gives you the opportunity to learn about advancements within the industry, whether that’s technological changes, changes in trend, or changes in the industry that you might otherwise have missed out on.

As well as this, you could be connecting with people who are at the same point in their career as you, which gives you the opportunity to learn about what others in the industry are doing.

Why go back into education?

For me, going back into education, to get my Master’s Degree in Graphic Design, is about me keeping up with the industry, and becoming an expert in what I do. But there are many reasons for you to seek further education, whether you’re already working in the industry or not. And you can do it at any age.

It could be that the career path you’ve chosen is no longer a good fit for you, and you’re looking to change. There are plenty of people who decide very late on in life which career path they have a passion for – it’s a myth that everyone who leaves college or even university has a clear idea what they want to do for the rest of their lives. People change, and so you shouldn’t be afraid to make changes in your career, no matter your age.

Perhaps you are in your chosen career, but have come to the end of your potential, either by salary or skill. If this is the case, you might decide to take the next step and go back into education in order to climb the ladder and further your career.

Or it might be that you simply want to learn something new, to accompany the education you’ve already got. There are plenty of jobs in which graphic design feature, and having some kind of formal education can do wonders in enhancing your skills.

Graphic Design never stays still – and whatever your reasons, learning the skills needed to keep yourself current in the industry is always beneficial.

Article / Graphic Design / Inspiration / Self Publishing

People of Print: TENYRSLTR BY SEVERN

People of Print: TENYRSLTR BY SEVERN

posted by POP MEMBERS June 12, 2018

Graphic Designer Tony Clarkson tells us about his journey that led him to create his hardback book that promotes his new studio venture: Severn. “I’d been pretty restless at the old studio for quite a while but told myself that it would be ok, that things would change and things would…

Go to peopleofprint.com

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