Archive: Mar 2020

  1. How COVID-19 Affects the Design Industry

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    The COVID-19 bug sweeping the world at the moment has changed life as we know it, grinding both personal lives and businesses to a halt. The design industry has been impacted just like every other sector out there. In response, President Trump announced a set of guidelines called “15 Days to Slow the Spread“. There is a PDF copy on the White House website, and mailers were sent to all American households.

    What followed was a bevy of states instituting their own stay-at-home guidelines. Essential businesses, such as hospitals, grocery stores and hardware stores, could remain open. Restaurants could no longer have people dine inside, but could do curb-side pickup or delivery. Business as the world knew it changed in a heartbeat. Since many designers work for smaller firms or as self-contractors, anything that affects companies trickles down to them.

    If you’re in the design industry, you may feel unsure about what to do next. You aren’t alone. Here are eight ways COVID-19 is affecting the design industry and what you can do to get through this trying time.

    1. Worrying About Clients

    The situation surrounding the coronavirus outbreak is stressful for everyone, and people handle stress in different ways. The CDC mentions some of the stress you might be dealing with, such as:

    • Concerns about your health and the health of those you care about.
    • Changes in sleep and eating patterns.

    Many designers worry about their favourite clients and how they’re coping in the current atmosphere. As a designer, you get to communicate regularly with small-business owners. You know their hopes and dreams and understand what frightens them. It’s easy to take all that concern and stress out over how your customers might cope with the loss of business for a two-week or longer period.

    Solution: Phone your clients and check in with them. Ask them if they are healthy and if there is anything you can do to help. Listen to their concerns. Once you’ve done something, you’ll be less likely to spend sleepless nights worrying.

    2. Fearing Lost Work

    Since many of the people who hire you or your agency may struggle to keep their businesses afloat, you may have valid concerns about losing work or even your job. There is no doubt that organisations already struggling may have a hard time surviving the hit. Fortunately, there is relief available, such as through small-business loans and a package from Congress that may help firms.

    Business Insider reports that natural disasters cause 40% of small businesses to fail. One could classify COVID-19 as a natural disaster. Thankfully, help is on the way in the form of grants, loans and people in local communities doing their best to support small establishments.

    Solution: Share information with your clients about where to find relief. You can’t control who does and doesn’t go out of business, but you can continue to do your part by helping them come up with creative solutions. Keep your marketing efforts up where it makes sense, so you gain new clients in industries doing well right now, such as grocery stores.

    3. Lacking Focus

    During any type of national situation, you may find yourself having trouble focusing on anything but events unfolding. People often have difficulty working, especially if it requires deep thinking and attention to detail, such as with design work.

    A few things you can do to help with focus, include:

    • Turn off the news during work hours. Creatives often like noise in the background while working. However, it might distract you if it is about infection counts.
    • Divide larger projects into smaller pieces. You might find it easier to focus on a small job, take a short hiatus and then go to the next task on your list.
    • Take a walk. If you still can’t focus, take a short respite and go for a walk. Try to think through the project as you’re walking, so you can return with fresh ideas.

    Solution: Give yourself a break. It’s natural to be worried about your health, loved ones and the country at this time. You may need to take more frequent rests and invest in self-care.

    4. Learning New Skills

    COVID-19 forced many people to work remotely, who might typically go to an office. Use the time to learn new skills, such as how to utilise Zoom or Skype for meetings. Figure out customer relationship management (CRM) software. Automate the processes you can, so when life returns to normal, you’ve gained some productivity from the experience. If you were planning to attend an educational conference that was canceled by the COVID-19 crisis, start looking for future alternatives.

    Solution: You likely have more time outside of work hours. Pick up a hobby you always wanted to learn or study a new language you might use in the future with clients.

    5. Figuring Out a Budget

    We aren’t going to lie to you: You might lose a few clients during this time. Your income may reduce for a bit. Now is a great time to figure out a budget for your business and personal life.

    Start by making a list of fixed expenses. Then, look at records from past months to figure out how much you’re spending on things like eating out and entertainment. Where can you cut corners if money gets a little tight?

    Solution: Create a budget. Add a side hustle in an industry not affected, such as food delivery or health care.

    6. Creating Payment Plans

    Some of your clients with small companies deemed nonessential may be drastically impacted by the shutdown. You may be in a position to help them stay afloat by offering payment plans for your services. Perhaps they need to continue marketing efforts but worry about how they’ll afford your services.

    Solution: Offer payments for clients who might be struggling. You might keep a client or help them stay in business.

    7. Filling Work Gaps

    You may find you have less work than normal, especially if you are a freelancer. Figure out creative ways to fill in gaps in your workday. You might decide to take up a new hobby and sell items at local craft fairs. Offer your services at sites such as Fivver. Get a temporary part-time job.

    Solution: Fill in gaps in your work with side gigs that keep money coming in. It’s good to have multiple streams of income anyway.

    8. Dealing With Cabin Fever

    Even if you’re used to working alone, you likely had more contact with people than in the last couple of weeks. Being relegated to your home office without seeing family or friends makes the days run together and can lead to cabin fever.

    Some things you can do safely while we’re all social distancing include:

    • Go for a walk, but keep at least 6 feet of distance between you and any other people you encounter.
    • Get outside and plant some vegetables or flowers.
    • Take a drive in your car and look at the beautiful scenery.
    • Talk to a neighbour from across the yard.

    Solution: The days might all seem the same, so look for unique ways to stay in touch with co-workers and clients. Arrange video conferences or online chats once a week or so. Facetime family and friends.

    This Too Shall Pass

    The design industry has dealt with other challenges over the years. Sept. 11 created a market crash and resulted in many small businesses suffering. The crippled economy impacted designers in similar ways as the coronavirus outbreak is now.
    Even though you might currently feel stressed, know that this situation will pass. Firms will rebound, and life will return to normal. In the meantime, take as many proactive steps as you can to get through the challenging times.

  2. 2020 is the year of the side-hustle

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    In Wednesdays article about how designers can offer help to local businesses during the Coronavirus outbreak I touched on how we can offer some out of the box thinking for businesses that might not be able to trade online naturally.

    I want to expand on that a bit more here, and broaden your thinking beyond your clients to include your own business too.

    It’s no great revelation to point out that whilst you help your clients build up businesses out of the ether, you too could probably do this for yourself. I’ve yet to meet a designer that doesn’t have a whole bunch of side projects and business ideas just waiting in the wings. Stuff they have all the necessary talents and skills to be able to put into the world if only they had the time. Well now is that time.

    Obviously the people I’m speaking to here are those that might have seen their business slow down a bit over the past week or so. If it’s been business as usual for you then that’s great, keep on truckin’, but if you’re one of those designers that are starting to feel the pinch, I urge you not to stretch out what projects you do have in order to fill your days, not to sit by phone, or wait for that email whilst you ponder if changing the font on your website would be a good idea.

    Start doing something!

    Try something new

    Now I know I started out by saying you should use the skills you have to build something up, but sometimes it’s nice to step out of your comfort zone and try something new. Also – let’s not kid ourselves here; whatever you end up doing, at some point it’ll circle back round to those sweet design skills of yours.

    For me something I’ve been wanting to try my hand at for ages has been leather working. I get mesmerised watching youtube videos from Little King Goods (also they’re really calming) – there’s something about the precision that really reminds me of web design. I know that probably sounds odd, but it makes sense to me so shut up. Plus it’s something that I can do with my hands instead of a keyboard, it’s something that not only doesn’t require me to look at a screen but actively prohibits it.

    This is of course up to you, but if you have an idea in mind that maybe sees you step away from your regular workspace, why not give it a try?

    Worst case scenario is that you waste a bit of time learning to appreciate your wallet in a whole new way, but best case scenario is that this might just turn into a new little venture for you. Something to ease the burden on your freelance design career or maybe just provide a bit of paid respite from it.

  3. 10 Tips for Remote Working

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    Working from home is something we’ve written about a lot in the past on the Design Range – and I’d highly recommend checking out some of those older articles. But today I’m going to do you the favour of distilling all of that wondrous information and run through my top ten list of tips to help those of you that are new to working from home.

    1 Keep your office hours

    The first few morning working from home you’ll stick to your standard routine and everything will be fine. Then on day three maybe you’ll realise you could have the computer booting up whilst your in the shower. Then on day four you’ll notice it switched on and maybe just check your emails before breakfast. Before you know it, sitting down at the computer is the very first thing you’re doing in the morning and you’re finally getting round to having breakfast and a shower around 2pm.

    Have a morning routine and stick to it. Do not even think about work until you have showered, eaten and brushed your teeth.

    The same goes for finishing work too. When the day is done, it’s DONE.

    2 Get Dressed

    Pyjamas are comfy, and you’re not going out anyway, so what’s the point in getting dressed properly? It’s just more washing to do.

    We’ve all been there. We’ve all convinced ourselves that this is fine. It’s not. There will come a moment where you catch yourself in front of a mirror, in your pyjamas that now have a bolognese sauce stain from… when did you last have bolognese? Was it last night? No… god when was that? How long have I been wearing these clothes… what day is it?


    3 Eat well – but not too well

    Now you’re working from home, you’ll no doubt have noticed that the kitchen is right there

    The temptation to snack is one thing I’m certain you’ll have noticed, but something you might not have realised is that you no longer need to have nasty meal deal sandwiches and pot noodles for lunch. You can actually make yourself something fresh, nutritious and delicious – and you absolutely should! I’ve found that shifting gears mid day and taking a little time out to cook something actually feels a lot more like a break than lunchtime did in the office.

    A word of warning though – just remember this is your lunch break, and not an excuse to try and get that michelin star you’ve been dreaming of. If you find yourself making fresh pasta dough or shaving a truffle, maybe reign it in a bit – this isn’t actually your job remember.

    4 Exercise

    It may be the case that you need no motivation to go work out, working from home may even make things easier for you, but for me, now that I’m at home it feels like leaving to go exercise is somehow eating into my work day. Plus the nearest gym is about 20 minutes away, so I’ve lost 40 minutes in travel before I even do anything.

    So what’s the alternative? Do nothing? No. You’ll get well fat and nobody will want to kiss you.

    There are loads of options really, but at it’s core it just comes down to setting aside the time. It may work out that incorporating some exercise into your morning routine is the best way to go, or maybe it’s what you do to give yourself a break and hit restart. Maybe it’s how you reward yourself for a days hard work… although I’ll don’t think I’ll ever understand that logic. It’s what works best for you, just get a system in place.

    5 Keep work separate

    Don’t think you can run a successful business with your laptop on your knee sat on the couch in front of the TV.

    The temptations surrounding you when working from home are insane. I mean think about it, this is literally the space you have created for yourself to chill out in, relax and just entertain yourself. Those things are generally not conducive to work.

    I’m sure there are people who can do it, who can sit there with a box set on and just churn out work in their lazy boy, but those people are wizards and you shouldn’t trust in their dark magics.

    So give yourself a set space that is designed just for work. A space that you can leave when you’re done and is away from any obvious distractions. Now for most people this is a spare room, a place where they can physically shut the door and then they’re in work mode (a good message not only to yourself, but also to anyone you live with). That’s not always practical I know – an actual home office is a luxury that not everyone can realistically give themselves.

    “I’m sorry little Billy, but daddy needs your bedroom for work… you can live under the stairs now, just like Harry Potter! It’ll be fun!”

    But it doesn’t really have to be a room. Just make it somewhere you only go when you’re working. A seat at the dinner table you only sit at during work hours, hell maybe you could even schooch in under the stairs yourself. Just try not to be in the main rooms you relax in, lounge and bedroom (bedroom especially!), but if you have to, just make sure you have your back to the tv.

    6 Be available

    If you work with a team or with a regular client make sure you’re easy to contact. Working from home puts a big barrier between you and others, so you want to do as much as you can to minimise that. That may just be having your phone next to you (and switched on) during work hours, or checking your emails on the hour. You might go a bit further than that and set up some kind of chat system like Slack or Google Hangouts. I use both of these when I working with agencies, and now I’m at home I make sure it’s in the corner of my screen at all times.

    7 Keep in touch

    Similar to making yourself available is just keeping in touch with clients and team members. With clients maybe send them an update on how work is progressing, it might seem a bit odd if you’ve not actually finished something, or reached a milestone, but no client will begrudge a quick email letting them know you’re working on their project and everything is going well.

    If you’re working in a team, maybe be a bit less formal and just have a chat now and then. Not to the extent that it eats into your day in any major way, but just tell them about the movie you watched last night or ask how they’re getting on. Just the kind of stuff you would say if they were sat next to you in the office. When you’re working remotely there can be a feeling that all contact needs to be official and work related – I’d get over that. Have a chat.

    8 Drink Water

    I have no idea what it is about being at home, but I drink way more coffee when I’m here. Maybe it’s because I’d have to offer the whole office a brew if I was making one for myself, or having the knowledge that if I used the last of the milk I’d have to go out and get more, but I just did not drink nearly as much as I am doing now.

    What I’ve started doing now is grabbing a pint of water every time I make a coffee, and I can’t get another until I’ve finished the water. This has helped me out a lot, a feel much better (in my back especially) for having all the extra fluid, plus I get loads of extra breaks now with trips to the bathroom.

    9 Tidy Up

    When your office is your home and your home is your office there is double the chance that mess will build up. The great thing about working from an office is that you can leave one mess (at least for a little while) and go somewhere else for some respite. I’m guilty of this. When I’m working on a project I have sketches and notes all over my desk at work, at the end of the day I leave it and go to my (sometimes) tidy home. You can’t do that when you work from home, it just becomes one big mess, so you need to put in the extra effort to keep things tidy. Clean your desk, wash the pots, file office stuff away, make your bed. Tidy up.

    10 Sing in the Shower

    So I was working on my own and had no reason to talk so I wasn’t doing right? Then one day I get a call from a client and I answer the phone and it’s sawdust that comes out of my mouth – I can’t even speak. You know when you wake up and the first few words you say don’t sound like you because your vocal cords are getting all warmed up again? Yeah it was like that but even worse. It took me maybe ten seconds to actually squeak out “hello”.

    So solution – sing in the shower! Yes – it’s totally a good call, solves this problem, wakes you up and gets you thinking about what you’re going to do with all the money after you win the next season of X-Factor.

  4. Helping businesses through the Coronavirus Downturn

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    Coronavirus has touched every business in the world in some way. High streets grow quiet as customers are warned to stay indoors and shop online. Businesses grind to a halt and staff are asked to stay away from the workplace or else risk spreading the virus.

    All of this has a knock on effect so that even businesses that may not be directly effected by Coronavirus are still feeling it’s reach. As designers we’re lucky that we can (for the most part) work from anywhere. This week I had to shift from my city office to my home office, and I’ll be honest… it was literally just a case of throwing my mac in the car. Other than the view out of my window, and the proximity to excellent coffee shops, little else has actually changed for me.

    But what has changed for me is the number of times my phone rings, and the number of enquires I’m getting in my inbox. With so much uncertainty in the air, a lot of businesses out there are hunkering down and saving what money they can just in case they need it down the line. For a great many business owners, that website update or a new marketing strategy has suddenly dropped to the bottom of their to-do list.

    Which is unfortunate, as for some, that’s probably the best thing they could do for their business right now.

    There are brick and mortar stores that exist in your communities that have been doing great, they’ve had plenty of footfall through the door each day, and never had to worry about things like advertising or social media. But right now their shops are shut. They are sat at home looking at their shop’s nasty old outdated website that was built in 1995 by their nephew, with it’s hit counter and scrolling marquee text, and it’s total lack of mobile responsiveness and they are shitting it.

    These places may well be able to continue to operate on a delivery basis, but they just don’t know how they can take any orders, or how they let people even know if they could.

    These places are desperate for a local designer/developer to reach out and help them!

    These business need to get an online presence setup the day before yesterday. Now it may not be pretty – and nobody is saying this is going in the portfolio, but if you can get these business set up online properly, then that’s a new client who will be forever thankful to you. It’s a new relationship you can build on down the line.

    Even if stores do have an online shop already, there’s no reason that they shouldn’t be letting people know they’re still there. People are in a unique position right now where they are being forced into buying things online, even if in the past that’s something they wouldn’t have done.

    Hell people are even being forced into buying things they’ve never even considered buying in the past.

    A few minuets ago my brother invited me to a group called WOD, and asked if I was up for it during lockdown? If you don’t know what WOD is – you’ve made me feel better because neither did I. It stands for Work Out Daily – and it’s basically a random workout you get sent every day that everyone in the group has to do – the person who completes the workout the fastest wins.

    What does this have to do with online markets? Let me tell you. I swim every morning – that’s my bit of exercise (or at least it was). I don’t have any gym gear at home. But to do this WOD thing, I’m going to need a mat and some weights. That’s something I now have to get online. I don’t buy a lot of gym gear, so I have no preference of where to shop. So if an online sporting goods store is running a marketing campaign right now, that’s probably the one I’ll see, and the one that will get my money.

    Now I know this won’t work for every business out there, but it’s a good place to start. Even for the ones that seem hopeless, this is a fantastic time to do some out of the box thinking and start building an online presence.

    Imagine a hairdresser doing a video tutorial for how to trim hair at home yourself for those that didn’t get a trim in time before the lockdown (that’s definitely me). Or the barista that gives his customers the secret to making coffee shop style foamy milk at home (it’s something to do with the microwave apparently? Don’t quote me on that).

    These are all things that you can help with, and by helping yourself you’re helping your wider community.

    This is going to be a tough time for everyone – but the worst thing we can do as designers is allow businesses out there to believe the situation is hopeless. Reach out to your communities, reach out to businesses and give them a lifeline.





  5. A message for Creatives during the Coronavirus Outbreak

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    This is a tough message to write. It’s tough because right now, I’m sat at home on lockdown with no real financial support from the government. It’s tough because several clients have cancelled or postponed upcoming projects amid fears of money issues. It’s tough because I’m not sure what to do.

    But that’s nowhere I haven’t been before. And there is some slim comfort in that.

    None of us work in this sector because it’s a sure thing, because it’s an easy way to make money hand over fist. We work in this sector despite it being a pain to find work, despite it being a pain to manage clients and eek out any semblance of a reliable income. We have kicked and dragged and clawed our way into this life of doing what we love for a living.

    Make no mistake, I’m not belittling the situation we find ourselves in right now by any means – BUT – it is important that we remember where we started out, who we are and what it is we do.

    Our jobs are to tackle problems nobody can think of a way to solve, to pull something incredible out of nothing at all, to change the narrative.

    That’s what we need to do right now.

    So this week I’ll be posting as much as I can offering any advice and ideas that come to mind that might help get you through these trying times. Likewise, if you have any advice or help that you think the community can benefit from – please let me know and I’ll share it here.

    We have the advantage that we can keep working through this. Many can’t. Let’s not waste that.


  6. Building Brand Awareness in 2020: The Do’s and Don’ts

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    Brand recognition is one of the most significant challenges facing business owners. There is a continual clamour of noise in the marketing sphere. Not only are you competing against companies similar to yours, but you’re fighting for attention. The average person spends hours each day on their cell phone, interacts on social media and sees advertisements until they begin to ignore any that comes their way. In this environment, building brand recognition can seem nearly impossible.

    Havas Media surveyed consumers and discovered people wouldn’t care if as much as 77% of brands disappeared forever. These brands mean nothing to them and have failed to create value in their lives. Not only did companies not get the attention of the typical buyer, but they also didn’t communicate anything meaningful.

    Fortunately, there are several things you can do to grab the attention of consumers and get your name in front of them. Once they are aware of you, it’s your chance to shine and show them why you’re different than all the other brands out there. There are some distinct do’s and don’ts to keep in mind when it comes to branding.

    Do: Offer Complete Social Media Profiles

    Take time to complete your social media pages. Add a profile picture that represents your brand and complete details such as hours of operation, location, website link and anything else the platform lets you add to your profile. The more detailed you are, the better first impression you’ll make. Your profiles should all look similar.

    Don’t: Get Snarky on Social Platforms

    The public will take to social media to complain. Don’t come back with sarcastic or flippant responses, as you’ll not only drive that customer away forever, but will also make others reluctant to do business with you. People watch how you respond to complaints before deciding whether to make a purchase. If you don’t treat current customers well, why would you handle a new customer any better?

    One of your jobs on social media is to build rapport and trust between your audience and your business.

    Do: Present Your UVP

    What is the unique value proposition (UVP) of your company? How are you different from similar brands in the marketplace? Your UVP needs to be something no one else is doing. Perhaps you offer curb side pickup or free shipping on your products. Whatever you can do to make your brand stand apart helps increase your name’s value.

    Don’t: Copy Competitors

    The rival company that always seems to be one step ahead of you just launched a viral marketing campaign. Seeing their results might tempt you to create a similar campaign and try to poach their customers. However, this approach is rarely successful, as people won’t find you very unique. Instead, try to come up with something none of your competitors have done. Think outside the box. Can you host an event for your customers and the media? Perhaps you should live-stream events or sponsor a youth sports league.

    Do: Create Amazing Signage

    Your signage can draw customers into your store. However, it needs to attract the attention of passersby. Make sure you use a font that is easy to read and doesn’t grow fuzzy from a distance. You’ll also want some contrast between your letters and the background so the text pops.

    Don’t: Spam People

    One thing hasn’t changed in the last decade, and that is how irritating spam is. People don’t like it when you contact them uninvited and try to sell something. Don’t send out unsolicited emails, and don’t go into online groups and start promoting your products. It isn’t a good use of your time, and you’ll turn off otherwise potential users.

    In the 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer report, researchers found about 81% of consumers said they had to be able to trust a brand to do what is right before buying from them. If you’re spamming people, they’re never going to trust you to do the right thing in other areas of your business operations.

    Do: Upgrade Your Website

    Your website is the online face of your business. It should reflect who you are as a brand with language, colours, your logo and even the typography you use. According to Internet Live Stats, there are about 1.74 billion websites online, and this number changes by the millisecond. If your website doesn’t fully reflect who you are as a brand right down to the images you use, you risk visitors bouncing away to a different site. Update your site regularly to make it usable for your specific audience.

    Don’t: Go Nuts With Hashtags

    Have you ever seen a post on Twitter that was a series of hashtags, rather than complete sentences? This approach is very distracting to target audiences. While a hashtag or two does help guide the right people to your posts as they search for those terms, filling up all the characters with hashtags creates a post that’s too hard to read. Limit your hashtags to one or two per post, even on sites such as Instagram.

    Know Who You Are

    To build strong brand name recognition in any industry, you must know who you are as a company and why you do what you do. Once you understand your purpose and your target audience, it becomes much easier to figure out what the best methods of getting the word out might be. Try new things, have fun, ask your favourite customers to share what you do with others. You’ll be surprised at how easily recognition snowballs if you remain consistent over time.