Welcome to the New Look!

Posted September 23rd, 2011 in News by Amanda Cobb

You may have noticed we’ve had a bit of a redecorating and rearranging here. It took a few weeks (ok, months) of snatching little bits of free time to actually work on my own stuff, but it is finally done and up and here and live. Hurray! My identity standard retains the same motifs (the green, the swashes in the background, logo, fonts, etc.), but this new system integrates the blog with the rest of my site, rather than having them separate as they were before. Yup, it’s ALL run on the WordPress CMS now. Sure, I know programming and can do updates by hand-coding everything and then uploading… but this is SO much faster, and I don’t have to be on a computer with an FTP program in order to do it. Heck, since I have an iPhone now and the WordPress app, I can update from ANYWHERE. This is pretty exciting, and should also result in more consistent blogging – no more months between posts!

I’ve checked pretty thoroughly for anything wonky in the new system and design and it should all be a-ok, but if you DO happen to see anything broken or not working, please let me know so I can get it fixed. Thanks!

New Venture: Dragonflight Apparel

Posted June 28th, 2011 in News by Amanda Cobb

Since no creative soul can flourish on art-for-clients alone, I’ve been exploring alternate creative outlets, and I think I’ve found one that suits. I’ve taken up screen printing – specifically, screen printing on clothing. Screen printing intrigued me because it can have a range of looks (rough and sketchy, to crisp and clean), and was something I could try myself without having to pay for fancy art classes or massive equipment. And it lends itself easily to both experimentation, and repetition – so when I find a design that I like and that works, I can use it again and again, in different colors, on whatever I want. I’m pretty excited about it. And, as a bonus, since I’ll print on way more pieces of clothing than I can wear myself, I can put the extras up for sale. Ideally, it’ll turn into a fun, nifty little side business.

Anywho, check it out:
Dragonflight Apparel

It Might Be That Time Again…

Posted January 17th, 2011 in News by Amanda Cobb

It’s been a few years since I concocted the current site design for www.amandajcobb.com and blog, and I’m feeling the itch to redo it yet again. I do this about every 2-3 years. Not because I’m particularly unsatisfied with my current design, but more for the sake of freshness and flexing the design muscles any way I want (not subject to any client other than myself). So I’m going to play around for awhile, see if I come up with anything I like. I don’t really have a deadline on this, it’s more a whenever-I-have-the-time-and-like-the-finished-design type of thing. I would say I’ll update later on this, but any update will be the new design, and you’ll likely notice.

Client/Vendor Relations: Real World

Posted December 14th, 2010 in Review by Amanda Cobb

Possibly the best internet video ever, this little gem takes some of the lines that freelancers get all of the time, and puts them in other client/vendor situations to show just how ridiculous they are. Take a look:

The Vendor-Client Relationship in Real World Situations

The Humor in the Headaches

Posted November 9th, 2010 in Better Business, Review by Amanda Cobb

Like any job, being a designer and also being a freelancer comes with some occasional headaches. I find that talking with other designers or freelancers about common problems helps ease some of the stress, particularly when the experience (in hindsight) can be made into a funny story. Here are some great web comics that do the same thing:

Employee vs. Freelancer – Freelance Freedom – N.C. Winters : A succinct explanation of the difference between an employee and a freelancer. Should be required viewing for all potential clients.

Why It Costs What It Costs – The Brads – Brad Colbow : As freelancers, we constantly face the assumption that our prices are fluid and can be negotiated down to the pittance that a [grossly uninformed] client thinks a project should cost. Here’s why that doesn’t fly.

Client Types – Freelance Freedom – N.C. Winters : I have had every single one of these.

Self-Help – Freelance Freedom – N.C. Winters : Ah, the client who thinks they can work a design program themselves. I’ve had this more times than I can count.

How a Web Design Goes Straight to Hell – The Oatmeal : I’ve also unfortunately run into this in the past.

Production Cycle – Freelance Freedom – N.C. Winters : Ah, the joys of working with a print shop whose software is from the Stone Age.

And finally, to round it out, The Dreaded Word Document – Freelance Freedom – N.C. Winters : This is a way more common occurrence than it should, and is always dreaded.

Review: Kelby Training Live

Posted August 20th, 2010 in Review by Amanda Cobb

On Wednesday I attended my first professional seminar. It was the Down & Dirty Tricks with Photoshop seminar by Kelby Training Live. I was really excited about it. Granted, I’d never attended a seminar before, so wasn’t sure what exactly to expect, but the brochure and the website, and the reviews I read, made it seem like it would be not only worthwhile, but a lot of fun. I definitely consider myself an advanced Photoshop user, but Kelby Training advertised this seminar as for everyone, so I hoped to still come away with some handy new techniques and tricks.

You can probably tell from my tone thus far that I was disappointed, and I was. It’s not that the class wasn’t good – but it definitely should’ve been marked as for beginners or novices, not anyone who already knows Photoshop really well. The instructor was engaging and easy to follow, and if I hadn’t known Photoshop at all, it would’ve been great. I did learn a few keyboard shortcuts, but even those I’m not sure how often I’ll use. There was an entire section on typography terms (what is kerning, and leading, etc.) that was a waste of time for anybody with even a modicum of design experience.

The most that can be said for my personal experience at this seminar is that it has really made me want to upgrade to CS5. Otherwise, I’m out a full day and some money, and my high expections.

Where My Clients Comes From

Posted August 17th, 2010 in Better Business, News by Amanda Cobb

I recently had a fellow designer ask me how much of my business comes from referrals. I said probably about 30%. That surprised him, and led to a discussion on where exactly my clients do come from. Afterwards, I went back through my quote request email logs for the past two years, and looked at how people said they found me (if they said). Here’s how it breaks down:

Referrals (from other clients or colleagues) – 20%

Freelancing Directories (Freelance Austin, DesignFirms.org, iFreelance.com, etc.) – 31%

Craigslist Ads (that I post, or respond to) – 17%

Google (I assume in a search for ‘freelance graphic designer Austin’, or similar) – 16%

Social Networking (Twitter, for the most part) – 1%

Unknown (never mentioned) – 15%

I was a bit surprised by these stats; I did not realize so many of my inquiries came from the various profiles I’ve scattered on freelance sites around the web. And I was off on my estimate of percentage of referrals, but it’s still my second-highest source of business. It’ll be interesting to do this overview in another 2 years or so and see how/if the stats have changed.

Myths About Freelancing

Posted April 14th, 2010 in Better Business, Highlight, News by Amanda Cobb

I get many different reactions when I tell people that I’m a freelancer. The title apparently comes with a lot of preconceptions, not all of them accurate. I run into these preconceived notions when looking at project and job postings as well. So I thought I’d take a few minutes to clear up some of the main myths about freelancing.

Freelancer ≠ employee. I do business as a small business, because that’s what I am. That means any work relationship I have is on a business-to-business level, not employer-to-employee. What does this mean? Well, I do not have a boss, other than myself; I have clients. Since a client is a business partner, rather than a boss, they are not entitled to dictate hours I need to be at my desk, or pay rate, or payment method or schedule. That is up to me. The payment method and schedule are open to some negotiation with the client, but my hours and my rates are set by no one but me.

Freelancing ≠ no life. Now, that may seem a bit harsh. No one has ever really come out and said “Wow, you’re a freelancer? You must have no life.” But some people seem to have that idea rooted in their subconscious’ nonetheless. If I don’t answer a client’s email immediately (or even within a few hours) it DOES NOT mean I’m slacking or ignoring the client. What it means is one of the following: a) I’m working on a project for a different client. Yes, I DO have other clients, and yes, sometimes they got to me before you and so I’m working on their project first. It’s not efficient to break flow on one project to deal with something else if there is no urgency. b) I’m not at my computer in order to check email (no, I do not have a smart phone). This could be for a variety of reasons: I’m eating lunch or dinner, I’m out running errands, it’s past 6pm and I’m having a social life because that’s when my friends and boyfriend start to be available, I’m in the hospital, etc. Regardless of the reason, though, I do my best to answer all client emails and needs as swiftly as possible. And if the matter is truly urgent, I am always available by phone.

Freelancing ≠ always cheaper. I recently saw the following line on a project ad: “I want to work with a freelancer because I can’t afford a firm or company.” Now, this may seem correct on the surface, but the truth is the range of freelancing rates varies just as much as the range of design firm rates. Yes, you can find a freelancer who will do a logo for the low rate of $50 – but you’ll get a low-rate design. A good designer knows that their time and expertise are worth more than that, and it should be worth more to the client, too, as they are the one who will benefit. The bottom line is that if you want quality design, you will have to pay quality rates, whether you go with a freelancer or a firm.

Those are the main misconceptions I run into. If you know of any others, I’d be happy to address them, just drop me a line.

Unsung Toolbar Heroes

Posted March 15th, 2010 in Review by Amanda Cobb

It should be noted for the record that I am using the Adobe Creative Suite 3 of programs. I have not yet upgraded to 4 or 5 because it is a) expensive and b) Adobe seems to crank out new versions at warp speed even if it’s unnecessary. BUT, that aside, it is a wonderful batch of programs that they’ve developed, version number aside, and I wanted to take a moment to highlight what I think are some of their more brilliant tools.  So here are my favorite unsung toolbar heroes, one from each of the design programs I work in.

  1. Pathfinder (Adobe Illustrator) – Holy moly, my work life has been a whole lot easier since I discovered this toolbar. Just for logo work alone, this is a lifesaver. Cut-outs? No problem! Merging shapes into one seamless whole? Piece of cake! If you need to somehow combine two or more different shapes, this is the quickest (and best) way to do it.
  2. Quick Mask Mode (Adobe Photoshop) – This is something that should be covered in the first week of Photoshop, yet is something all too often overlooked until much later, or missed altogether. When you’re dealing with selections and outlining complex shapes, Quick Mask Mode is invaluable. If the lasso or magnetic lasso isn’t cutting it, get a rough selection, then switch to Quick Mask Mode. It allows you to edit your selection by using the paintbrush tool, which is much more exact for cleaning up edges. Once you have what you want colored in, switch back to regular mode, and your nice, new selection is ready for whatever you need to do with it.
  3. Step & Repeat (Adobe InDesign) – Design is a field where patterns and [tasteful] repetition crop up a lot, but it can be a pain to create a large pattern or repeating element from one single piece – especially when they have to line up perfectly. Step & Repeat helps with that. Select whatever you want to repeat, use this tool, tell it how many times to repeat and how much to offset each repetition on the XY axis, and voila! Instant pattern. Why Illustrator doesn’t also have this tool, I don’t know.

What are your favorite tools?

A Word About WordPress

Posted February 26th, 2010 in Web Design by Amanda Cobb

If you want a website that you can manage yourself with relative ease, and without having to know any sort of web coding, a CMS (content management system) like WordPress is definitely the way to go. Contrary to popular belief, WordPress is not only for blogs. It’s one of the better blog management tools out there, for sure, but that’s not all it can do. It helps manages pages as well as multiple users, has plug-ins for things like photo galleries and mailing lists, and has one of the most intuitive user interfaces out there. Even better, if you have a designer in your corner (ahem, me), you can customize the theme to any style you want. And best of all: it’s free!

Get to know WordPress:

All About WordPress: http://wordpress.org
Free Themes for WordPress: http://wordpress.org/extend/themes/

See examples of WordPress sites I’ve done:

AC Vent: You’re already here! Yup, this blog is run on WordPress.
Social Velocity: http://www.socialvelocity.net
Myths & Memoirs: http://www.mythsandmemoirs.com
Fine Home Dining: http://www.finehomedining.com

The Do’s and Don’ts of Using WordPress:

DO keep your WordPress version and plug-ins updated. Easy as clicking the link that says Update.
DO regularly backup your WordPress database. There’s an easy tool to do so under Tools.
DON’T copy and paste directly from Word. Doing so keeps all of the font and style and color tags from Word, which will likely conflict with the style settings of your  template, and just plain look bad.
DON’T feel bad if you don’t know how  to setup and customize a WordPress site – that’s what I’m for! Drop me an email and I’ll give you a price quote.

Welcome to the New Look!

Posted September 23rd, 2011 in News by Amanda Cobb

You may have noticed we’ve had a bit of a redecorating and rearranging here. It took a few weeks (ok, months) of snatching little bits of free time to actually work on my own stuff, but it is finally done and up and here and live. Hurray! My identity standard retains the same motifs (the green, the swashes in the background, logo, fonts, etc.), but this new system integrates the blog with the rest of my site, rather than having them separate as they were before. Yup, it’s ALL run on the WordPress CMS now. Sure, I know programming and can do updates by hand-coding everything and then uploading… but this is SO much faster, and I don’t have to be on a computer with an FTP program in order to do it. Heck, since I have an iPhone now and the WordPress app, I can update from ANYWHERE. This is pretty exciting, and should also result in more consistent blogging – no more months between posts!

I’ve checked pretty thoroughly for anything wonky in the new system and design and it should all be a-ok, but if you DO happen to see anything broken or not working, please let me know so I can get it fixed. Thanks!

New Venture: Dragonflight Apparel

Posted June 28th, 2011 in News by Amanda Cobb

Since no creative soul can flourish on art-for-clients alone, I’ve been exploring alternate creative outlets, and I think I’ve found one that suits. I’ve taken up screen printing – specifically, screen printing on clothing. Screen printing intrigued me because it can have a range of looks (rough and sketchy, to crisp and clean), and was something I could try myself without having to pay for fancy art classes or massive equipment. And it lends itself easily to both experimentation, and repetition – so when I find a design that I like and that works, I can use it again and again, in different colors, on whatever I want. I’m pretty excited about it. And, as a bonus, since I’ll print on way more pieces of clothing than I can wear myself, I can put the extras up for sale. Ideally, it’ll turn into a fun, nifty little side business.

Anywho, check it out:
Dragonflight Apparel

It Might Be That Time Again…

Posted January 17th, 2011 in News by Amanda Cobb

It’s been a few years since I concocted the current site design for www.amandajcobb.com and blog, and I’m feeling the itch to redo it yet again. I do this about every 2-3 years. Not because I’m particularly unsatisfied with my current design, but more for the sake of freshness and flexing the design muscles any way I want (not subject to any client other than myself). So I’m going to play around for awhile, see if I come up with anything I like. I don’t really have a deadline on this, it’s more a whenever-I-have-the-time-and-like-the-finished-design type of thing. I would say I’ll update later on this, but any update will be the new design, and you’ll likely notice.

Client/Vendor Relations: Real World

Posted December 14th, 2010 in Review by Amanda Cobb

Possibly the best internet video ever, this little gem takes some of the lines that freelancers get all of the time, and puts them in other client/vendor situations to show just how ridiculous they are. Take a look:

The Vendor-Client Relationship in Real World Situations

The Humor in the Headaches

Posted November 9th, 2010 in Better Business, Review by Amanda Cobb

Like any job, being a designer and also being a freelancer comes with some occasional headaches. I find that talking with other designers or freelancers about common problems helps ease some of the stress, particularly when the experience (in hindsight) can be made into a funny story. Here are some great web comics that do the same thing:

Employee vs. Freelancer – Freelance Freedom – N.C. Winters : A succinct explanation of the difference between an employee and a freelancer. Should be required viewing for all potential clients.

Why It Costs What It Costs – The Brads – Brad Colbow : As freelancers, we constantly face the assumption that our prices are fluid and can be negotiated down to the pittance that a [grossly uninformed] client thinks a project should cost. Here’s why that doesn’t fly.

Client Types – Freelance Freedom – N.C. Winters : I have had every single one of these.

Self-Help – Freelance Freedom – N.C. Winters : Ah, the client who thinks they can work a design program themselves. I’ve had this more times than I can count.

How a Web Design Goes Straight to Hell – The Oatmeal : I’ve also unfortunately run into this in the past.

Production Cycle – Freelance Freedom – N.C. Winters : Ah, the joys of working with a print shop whose software is from the Stone Age.

And finally, to round it out, The Dreaded Word Document – Freelance Freedom – N.C. Winters : This is a way more common occurrence than it should, and is always dreaded.

Review: Kelby Training Live

Posted August 20th, 2010 in Review by Amanda Cobb

On Wednesday I attended my first professional seminar. It was the Down & Dirty Tricks with Photoshop seminar by Kelby Training Live. I was really excited about it. Granted, I’d never attended a seminar before, so wasn’t sure what exactly to expect, but the brochure and the website, and the reviews I read, made it seem like it would be not only worthwhile, but a lot of fun. I definitely consider myself an advanced Photoshop user, but Kelby Training advertised this seminar as for everyone, so I hoped to still come away with some handy new techniques and tricks.

You can probably tell from my tone thus far that I was disappointed, and I was. It’s not that the class wasn’t good – but it definitely should’ve been marked as for beginners or novices, not anyone who already knows Photoshop really well. The instructor was engaging and easy to follow, and if I hadn’t known Photoshop at all, it would’ve been great. I did learn a few keyboard shortcuts, but even those I’m not sure how often I’ll use. There was an entire section on typography terms (what is kerning, and leading, etc.) that was a waste of time for anybody with even a modicum of design experience.

The most that can be said for my personal experience at this seminar is that it has really made me want to upgrade to CS5. Otherwise, I’m out a full day and some money, and my high expections.

Where My Clients Comes From

Posted August 17th, 2010 in Better Business, News by Amanda Cobb

I recently had a fellow designer ask me how much of my business comes from referrals. I said probably about 30%. That surprised him, and led to a discussion on where exactly my clients do come from. Afterwards, I went back through my quote request email logs for the past two years, and looked at how people said they found me (if they said). Here’s how it breaks down:

Referrals (from other clients or colleagues) – 20%

Freelancing Directories (Freelance Austin, DesignFirms.org, iFreelance.com, etc.) – 31%

Craigslist Ads (that I post, or respond to) – 17%

Google (I assume in a search for ‘freelance graphic designer Austin’, or similar) – 16%

Social Networking (Twitter, for the most part) – 1%

Unknown (never mentioned) – 15%

I was a bit surprised by these stats; I did not realize so many of my inquiries came from the various profiles I’ve scattered on freelance sites around the web. And I was off on my estimate of percentage of referrals, but it’s still my second-highest source of business. It’ll be interesting to do this overview in another 2 years or so and see how/if the stats have changed.

Myths About Freelancing

Posted April 14th, 2010 in Better Business, Highlight, News by Amanda Cobb

I get many different reactions when I tell people that I’m a freelancer. The title apparently comes with a lot of preconceptions, not all of them accurate. I run into these preconceived notions when looking at project and job postings as well. So I thought I’d take a few minutes to clear up some of the main myths about freelancing.

Freelancer ≠ employee. I do business as a small business, because that’s what I am. That means any work relationship I have is on a business-to-business level, not employer-to-employee. What does this mean? Well, I do not have a boss, other than myself; I have clients. Since a client is a business partner, rather than a boss, they are not entitled to dictate hours I need to be at my desk, or pay rate, or payment method or schedule. That is up to me. The payment method and schedule are open to some negotiation with the client, but my hours and my rates are set by no one but me.

Freelancing ≠ no life. Now, that may seem a bit harsh. No one has ever really come out and said “Wow, you’re a freelancer? You must have no life.” But some people seem to have that idea rooted in their subconscious’ nonetheless. If I don’t answer a client’s email immediately (or even within a few hours) it DOES NOT mean I’m slacking or ignoring the client. What it means is one of the following: a) I’m working on a project for a different client. Yes, I DO have other clients, and yes, sometimes they got to me before you and so I’m working on their project first. It’s not efficient to break flow on one project to deal with something else if there is no urgency. b) I’m not at my computer in order to check email (no, I do not have a smart phone). This could be for a variety of reasons: I’m eating lunch or dinner, I’m out running errands, it’s past 6pm and I’m having a social life because that’s when my friends and boyfriend start to be available, I’m in the hospital, etc. Regardless of the reason, though, I do my best to answer all client emails and needs as swiftly as possible. And if the matter is truly urgent, I am always available by phone.

Freelancing ≠ always cheaper. I recently saw the following line on a project ad: “I want to work with a freelancer because I can’t afford a firm or company.” Now, this may seem correct on the surface, but the truth is the range of freelancing rates varies just as much as the range of design firm rates. Yes, you can find a freelancer who will do a logo for the low rate of $50 – but you’ll get a low-rate design. A good designer knows that their time and expertise are worth more than that, and it should be worth more to the client, too, as they are the one who will benefit. The bottom line is that if you want quality design, you will have to pay quality rates, whether you go with a freelancer or a firm.

Those are the main misconceptions I run into. If you know of any others, I’d be happy to address them, just drop me a line.

Unsung Toolbar Heroes

Posted March 15th, 2010 in Review by Amanda Cobb

It should be noted for the record that I am using the Adobe Creative Suite 3 of programs. I have not yet upgraded to 4 or 5 because it is a) expensive and b) Adobe seems to crank out new versions at warp speed even if it’s unnecessary. BUT, that aside, it is a wonderful batch of programs that they’ve developed, version number aside, and I wanted to take a moment to highlight what I think are some of their more brilliant tools.  So here are my favorite unsung toolbar heroes, one from each of the design programs I work in.

  1. Pathfinder (Adobe Illustrator) – Holy moly, my work life has been a whole lot easier since I discovered this toolbar. Just for logo work alone, this is a lifesaver. Cut-outs? No problem! Merging shapes into one seamless whole? Piece of cake! If you need to somehow combine two or more different shapes, this is the quickest (and best) way to do it.
  2. Quick Mask Mode (Adobe Photoshop) – This is something that should be covered in the first week of Photoshop, yet is something all too often overlooked until much later, or missed altogether. When you’re dealing with selections and outlining complex shapes, Quick Mask Mode is invaluable. If the lasso or magnetic lasso isn’t cutting it, get a rough selection, then switch to Quick Mask Mode. It allows you to edit your selection by using the paintbrush tool, which is much more exact for cleaning up edges. Once you have what you want colored in, switch back to regular mode, and your nice, new selection is ready for whatever you need to do with it.
  3. Step & Repeat (Adobe InDesign) – Design is a field where patterns and [tasteful] repetition crop up a lot, but it can be a pain to create a large pattern or repeating element from one single piece – especially when they have to line up perfectly. Step & Repeat helps with that. Select whatever you want to repeat, use this tool, tell it how many times to repeat and how much to offset each repetition on the XY axis, and voila! Instant pattern. Why Illustrator doesn’t also have this tool, I don’t know.

What are your favorite tools?

A Word About WordPress

Posted February 26th, 2010 in Web Design by Amanda Cobb

If you want a website that you can manage yourself with relative ease, and without having to know any sort of web coding, a CMS (content management system) like WordPress is definitely the way to go. Contrary to popular belief, WordPress is not only for blogs. It’s one of the better blog management tools out there, for sure, but that’s not all it can do. It helps manages pages as well as multiple users, has plug-ins for things like photo galleries and mailing lists, and has one of the most intuitive user interfaces out there. Even better, if you have a designer in your corner (ahem, me), you can customize the theme to any style you want. And best of all: it’s free!

Get to know WordPress:

All About WordPress: http://wordpress.org
Free Themes for WordPress: http://wordpress.org/extend/themes/

See examples of WordPress sites I’ve done:

AC Vent: You’re already here! Yup, this blog is run on WordPress.
Social Velocity: http://www.socialvelocity.net
Myths & Memoirs: http://www.mythsandmemoirs.com
Fine Home Dining: http://www.finehomedining.com

The Do’s and Don’ts of Using WordPress:

DO keep your WordPress version and plug-ins updated. Easy as clicking the link that says Update.
DO regularly backup your WordPress database. There’s an easy tool to do so under Tools.
DON’T copy and paste directly from Word. Doing so keeps all of the font and style and color tags from Word, which will likely conflict with the style settings of your  template, and just plain look bad.
DON’T feel bad if you don’t know how  to setup and customize a WordPress site – that’s what I’m for! Drop me an email and I’ll give you a price quote.