Gift Guide for Self-Employed Designers
Date: December 18, 2014

Gift Guide for Self-Employed Designers

Is there a self-employed/freelance designer in your life that you’re struggling to find a gift for? Have no fear, last-minute shopper. As most self-employed peeps will tell you, buying treats or gadgets for themselves tends to fall to the bottom of the to-do list, right next to updating their own website. So I’ve put together a list of things that your designer friend would be thrilled to find under the tree this year (I have a few of these, but would be thrilled by the rest, too!).

Gift Guide for Self-Employed Designers

Tech Gifts

  1. Sharkk ergonomic mouse. $16.99. I just got one of these and already love it. More importantly, my wrist loves it.
  2. USB hub. $13.99. So many things to plug in, not enough ports. This sleek aluminum hub fixes that.
  3. Inkling digital sketch pen. $68.95. Sketch on regular paper, get a digitized version. I would LOVE one of these.

For Fun

  1. Pantone mug. $17.99, your choice of color. Self-employed designers are guaranteed to love 2 things: hot caffeinated beverages, and color. Get the best of both worlds here.
  2. Page turner lamp. $19.99. Turn the page for a new illustration every day! Just a fun concept.
  3. Popular Lies About Graphic Design. $13.51. Beautifully designed and looks like an interesting read to boot.

Useful Subscriptions

  1. HOW Magazine gift subscription. $29.96 for one year. The go-to magazine for business, tech, and creative inspiration for designers. Their issues are always fun to page through.
  2. Graze box subscription. Starting at $19.47 for 3 boxes. People who are self-employed and work form home tend to be grazers. Help them keep nutrition and portions in check with this snack box service. I use this and love it.
  3. Adobe Creative Cloud subscription. $599 If you’re rocking Christmas Daddy Warbucks style, this year-long subscription to the full line of Adobe products would make any designer’s day.

Chime in, fellow independent designers! What do you hope to find under the tree this year?

Freelance Conference
Date: October 31, 2014

Freelance Conference Recap

The first ever Freelance Conference was this past Tuesday. It was billed as an event “created by freelancers, for freelancers […] those who leave a J-O-B with the dream of freedom, better income, and the ability to control our own careers.” I had met the founder, Emily Leach, through some networking events and heard her talk about this new venture. And I was excited for it. I’d never been to a professional conference before, not having an employer to sponsor my travel & ticket (looking at you, HOW Design). This one not only had an affordable ticket price, but was also right here in Austin and geared specifically towards the self-employed. That’s the holy trinity of conference specs as far as I’m concerned.

To say I jumped on registration when it opened is not an exaggeration; it turns out I was the very first person to buy a ticket. Emily actually called me out up at the start of proceedings for being the first person to support the Freelance Conference. I didn’t get the face-burny feeling I usually get from blushing, so hopefully I handled that surprise ok. Thanks, Emily!

Ok, so the conference itself. I’m glad to say it lived up to what I was hoping for, especially for an inaugural event. Here’s some highlights:


  • Affordability: it was $92 for a ticket. No problemo.
  • The time & location: Abel’s on the Lake was a great location (free parking, great water views) and I liked that the conference didn’t start super early (I’m not a morning person) or run very late.
  • Having Brad Closson start off the day’s panels with a fun twist on networking was brilliant. I liked this panel MUCH more than I thought I would from the website description, and met some lovely people as a result.
  • The Clients From Hell panel during lunch was well-done – interesting enough to entertain, but didn’t require note-taking so you could actually eat your meal.
  • All of the panels were at least interesting and kept my attention, though some were more applicable or organized than others.
  • Being surrounded by people who actually get all of the ups and downs, perks and heartaches of freelancing was awesome.


  • Technical difficulties regarding the Skype call with Brennan Dunn. His was the panel I was most excited about, and it was cut short because of this. But it works out ok, because I’m taking his free email class on the same topic now.
  • Hard wooden chairs all day. There was bruising. ‘Nuff said.
  • While all of the topics were great, not all of them included actionable steps on how to apply this new knowledge. I like my workshops/panels to be practical, too, not just theoretical.

Overall, I had a lot of fun, and I’ve come away with some new connections and a ton of new ideas for my business. Plus, of course, all of the great swag. 😉 And apparently the conference for 2015 is already in planning stages, so it will be happening again next year. I, for one, will jump on that registration bandwagon right away.

What’s the best conference you’ve been to?

Kelby Training
Date: August 20, 2010

Review: Kelby Training Live

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.

Date: August 15, 2010

Unsung Toolbar Heroes

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?

Date: March 13, 2009

IE6: The End Times

Any one who knows a web programmer even remotely well will probably have heard a rant about the Internet Explorer 6 (IE6) browser at some point. If you are a programmer yourself, you’ve likely been the voice of numerous such rants yourself. I certainly have. You build a beautiful site, it looks perfect in every major browser – even IE7, which has it’s own ‘special’ quirks. But IE6, for some unfathomable reason, refuses to recognize one little style or div tag, and suddenly it looks like your site got hit by a virtual grenade and is splattered in a haphazard fashion all over the screen. It’s a mess and fixing it, more often that not, results in the site looking bad in every other browser. So you have to do these complex, inefficient hacks on your own code just to get it looking good everywhere. This of course takes a considerable amount of time, as you can’t always tell right off which small tag is the one causing the problem, let alone hash out the work-around. It would be much easier just to ignore IE6 as a browser and focus on the other (better) ones, but for a long time that wasn’t possible as a good percentage of web users still used IE6 (people with computers too old to handle a newer version of Windows, or people with illegal copies of Windows XP who couldn’t upgrade to IE7 without a serial number).

Luckily, this has finally changed. Different web browser statistics show that IE6 usage has dropped to anywhere between 17-25% – meaning only 1 out of every 4 or 5 users to your website will still be using IE6. This is a low enough percentage that web designers are now pushing harder to ignore IE6 bugs, some even refusing to debug for IE6 altogether. A good programmer friend of mine, Jon Bolden, recently did this (see his blog post on it here) and surprisingly, the first client he took this stance on simply said ‘ok’ and they moved on. It’s good to see a client trust a designer on knowing when something is worth fixing and when it isn’t.

I also stumbled upon a recent movement to get IE6 done away with once and for all. says “the premise is simple: Internet Explorer 6 is antiquated, doesn’t support key web standards, and should be phased out.” They wrote a pretty good article detailing both pro and con arguments for phasing out IE6, asking designers and programmers if it’s finally time to “to take IE6 behind the shed and shoot it?”

I’ve also seen a lot more sites start having error or warning messages appear if a user is using IE6 to view a site – a simple banner across the top or a small pop-up. There is even a WordPress plug-in called Shockingly Big IE6 Warning, which will automatically display such warning to users. It has 3 settings: small, which is a banner across the top; big, which is a full-screen notice; and mean, which crashes their IE6 browser. I’ll admit, the last option made me laugh, and I even considered implementing it for a split second.

All in all, it looks like IE6 is facing its End of Days. Even Microsoft will no longer be offering support for it by 2010. But then again, a quick search on Google shows that there were blog posts titled things like ‘The End of IE6’ as far back as 2006, so perhaps we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Either way, if you’re still using IE6, do all of us programmers a favor, and switch to a better, updated browser.

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