The world has changed rapidly due to the effects of COVID-19 on how we convene, work, and play together in virtual space. It has completely sped up our technology use, and more of us are working from home than ever before. The graphic design industry has not existed outside of the reach of these changes. As more graphic designers collaborate remotely, research shows that achieving a healthy work-life balance is more accessible than ever. Designers can enjoy the freedom of working on projects anywhere in the world, at any time, as long as we meet our deadlines. As an added bonus, cutting out commute times in exchange for virtual work fosters greater global connection and in many ways only brings us closer together. That said, remote work can be a challenge for some designers who aren’t familiar with this level of self-regulation. They may not have the discipline to approach their work strategically or know how to create impactful designs from the tools available within a remote workspace.
Take a breath. Creative Repute is at your service, and most of my team members within the agency are collaborating virtually these days.
I was lucky to start my remote-work journey in 2017, long before it became the norm. I was a student, studying business administration when I felt the desire to branch out and explore more creative approaches to marketing. That’s when I designed demo work with the help of online classes and I posted my portfolio to a few websites. With a little patience and a lot of effort, I finally found consistent work with the Creative Repute team in 2018. I’ve been working remotely with this amazing agency ever since, and I’ve learned a lot along the way.
Here is how I optimize my day as a remote graphic designer and how I create impactful designs.
I always plan my days.
Here’s the truth: remote work can be messy. The key to meeting deadlines, and making time to breathe, is having a solid strategy for how I’ll plan my day.
I know I do my best work in the morning, so I schedule my day around that. I wake up bright and early to check for messages from clients. Then I take a few minutes to prioritize the projects so that I maintain focus on the most pressing priorities throughout the day. Once I’ve finished organizing tasks, I don’t wait around–I get right to work!
Sometimes I will receive requests for new projects during the day. I am honest with everyone about what I can take on. If I don’t think I can meet the deadline for a new project, or that it will hinder me from completing the one I am already working on, I politely decline. I also avoid working on multiple projects at the same time. It’s just too easy to take on more than you can handle and wind up disappointing clients with missed deadlines. To be effective as a remote worker, I firmly believe in focusing on one task at a time.
If you want more advice on keeping your remote work life organized, read our piece on habits for a healthy home office.
My favorite tools for design, workflow management, and communication:
These days, there are so many online tools available that can help you stay organized and keep your clients happy.
As a designer, my favorite tools include Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, Indesign, Canva, and Figma. Canva and Figma are particularly useful for their collaborative possibilities. These tools allow me to create stunning works for logo designs, style guides, flyers, social media posts, booklets, vector designs, and more.
When it comes to workflow management, the Creative Repute team prefers Milanote. It’s an amazing tool that allows you to organize your ideas and projects into visual boards, edit with collaborators in real time, and share results (this comes in handy for a design team in which many files need to be exchanged). We also use QuickBooks Time, formerly TSheets, a simple application that makes billing and time-tracking projects easy.
For communication and meetings, we primarily use GSuite applications such as Gmail, Drive, and Google Hangouts.
Here’s how I gather information before starting a graphic design project:
Every client that I work with has unique needs. Understanding their goals is all about asking the right questions. My Creative Repute team members will conduct an initial brand audit with clients and share the notes with everyone assigned to help bring the project to life. When a project is assigned to me, I review the notes to answer these questions:
- How would you describe your project?
- What is your deadline for this project?
- What are the long-term goals of your organization?
- What do you want your designs to accomplish?
- What similar work do you have for me to analyze?
- How are you different from your competitors?
- Who is your target customer base?
- Who are a few luminaries that have inspired your mission?
- Do you have any color preferences or existing brand colors?
- Are there any colors I should avoid using?
- What adjectives should best describe what we deliver for your project?
- What feeling or message do you want your designs to convey to those who view them?
- Where will your designs be featured?
For every client, I review the records of their responses in detail. This becomes the brand audit that informs my design choices (such as colors or the overall graphic style). If a client isn’t clear about what they want, it helps when the Strategists on my team provide me with demos, similar work examples, or a more in-depth discovery process that pulls market research, analytics, user personas, and more.
Of course, once I gather and sort through answers, there are two more things that I need to ask myself:
- Do I fully understand the project’s needs?
- Will I be able to complete the project on time?
I only move forward if I can give both questions a resounding “Yes!”
Additional things that I like to consider as I’m working:
I always prioritize the client’s needs as I work on their designs. What are their goals and vision for the final product? What colors represent their brand? How can I visually communicate the right emotions through the designs?
I always follow brand guidelines or style guides to ensure that I’m maintaining consistency in colors, fonts, etc. Think about sizing and whether the project will be for print or the web. If a design project will be printed, I consider things such as color mode, printing cost, print formatting, sizing, bleeds, margins, and more. Depending on the complexity of a project, I find that it can also be a good idea to create multiple options for the client to choose from.
Above all, I see the importance of making sure that I work non-destructively on each project. This will give me the ability to quickly make changes upon request because it allows me to undo changes made to the design at any point in time. For example, Photoshop comes with a “smart object” feature that preserves an image’s source content, enabling me to perform non-destructive editing to each layer if I want to see a design in different colors.
Here’s how I create impactful and unique designs:
The art of knowing how to create impactful designs can be pretty simple with curiosity and planning.
First, I don’t immediately jump into the work. I don’t even open my design tools. I begin by approaching the project with a fresh set of eyes. It can be easy to rely on the same methods of design every time I begin a project, but that leaves little room for creativity. Want to know how I create impactful and unique designs? I’m always willing to play and try new things.
Brand audits, style guides, and research gathered in the discovery process are also helpful to create impactful designs.
Even if I feel you’re confident in my ideas for a project, I never know what inspiration might strike from a quick Google search. I like to stay up-to-date on new design trends because it can spark additional creativity. Plus I may learn more about the project or client by researching them. I try to exhaust my resources before settling on an idea. This is how I’ve produced some of my best work.
That said, I also believe in never copying someone else’s work. The adage “great artists steal” is a popular one in creative communities, however, it’s not as simple as it sounds. Truly great artists are inspired by the works of others, and they use that inspiration to create something new. It’s less like plagiarism and more like joining a conversation. There is a wonderful book on this subject called Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Taught You About Being Creative by Austin Kleon.
Once I believe that I have a great idea, I begin sketching. Use this opportunity to explore even more. I come up with various layouts, play with different shapes, and see what else comes to my mind. I have fun with it! Once I complete this step, I am ready to deep-dive into translating my ideas into a design. With all of the work I’ve done to prepare, the design itself usually doesn’t require much time.
I believe in taking breaks and going gently.
Remote work comes with a lot of freedom, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Balance is key. As remote workers, we must take care to plan our days, commit to deadlines, and also take breaks. The better we maintain our peace of mind, the more impactful our work will be, and the happier we will feel. For more advice, follow Creative Repute on LinkedIn.
– Written by Bhavesh Satani. Edited by Cori Shoemaker.