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Final Assessment Advanced Typography

I am critical of myself regarding my interpersonal skills. I often feel like my interactions are awkward and even though that may not be true, the awkwardness that I feel goes on to affect my perception of myself. Sometimes in class, I feel like I am too eager to speak up or contribute. There’s some ingrained idea in my mind that I shouldn’t be over eager or too quick to share. It’s possible this is some ingrained sexism which makes me think I should be hesitant and meek. Or possibly it’s leftover from childhood bullying. In middle school, I learned to be quiet and blend in so as to avoid teasing. I think that every time I speak up, there’s some part of me that worries I’m being too loud or conspicuous. However, I am working on it and I hope that eventually, I won’t feel so uneasy when I assert myself both in the classroom and eventually, in the workplace.


Small dogs like balls…

And big dogs like balls…

all dogs like balls, even people dogs!

Yes to Spec Work?

It’s a Sunday night in October and I’m working in the lounge of my dorm because it’s the only room with enough table space to set up my assignment for Drawing I. I’m sketching out what seems like the millionth cube this semester when my phone buzzes. Happy for the distraction, I take a look and see a text from an old friend, asking for my help. Josh Halff wants to know if I can help the pledges of AEPi with their Halloween party. Of course I, a student at a different university, was the only person they could think of to help with their design work – “spec work.”

Spec work is when you do work for free that may or may not be used; and then the client own the rights to the design whether they end up using it or not. Spec work is the root of all evil, at least according to any respected graphic designer. I haven’t been in the field long, but almost every professional designer who I’ve heard speak about their work has warned against it. There’s an entire website devoted to discouraging designers from doing spec work. The American Institute for graphic arts has an official statement discouraging spec work. I have to admit, it does sound pretty crappy. However, I would like to argue the unpopular opinion that design students should do spec work. Controversial, I know. The argument against spec work is that as a designer, you’re selling yourself short. Working for nothing means that you’re saying that you’re worth nothing. Well I don’t think that you’re working for nothing in this case. As a young designer, you’re working for experience.

Getting a job after school depends on one thing – your portfolio. Your book is your life. A good book has to have more than just the work you’ve been assigned by professors. You’re not going to get hired by showing that you can follow directions. If students think the projects we do for school are boring, imagine what design firms think. Doing outside work is key. One route is to do a bunch of passion projects, designing for imaginary events or making art for yourself. School is the only time that you really have to do work for yourself. Explore what you like and dislike, set your own parameters and deadlines. The most important thing is to make work. Personal projects will definitely fill your portfolio, but I think there’s a lot to be learned from the experience of designing for other people. Graphic design is a client driven field and we don’t focus on that nearly enough in the classroom. I think that it’s up to design students to make our own client scenarios. This is where spec work comes in.

Suprise! College students are poor. They are not going to want to pay for design work, so you can bet that the ones you’re friends with are going to cash in on that friendship when they need a t-shirt design for their juggling club or a newsletter template for the “save the squirrels” organization they’re trying to start. When your friends come to you asking for help and can’t offer much in return, know that you are getting experience in the world of designer–client relations that you wouldn’t have otherwise. Pay attention to the process: figure out how you’re communicating and whether that works or not, notice how you present your designs, be mindful of how you’re interpreting their ideas and translating them into visual representations of the initial concept. Spec work gives you the opportunity to do all that while still in school. It’s a low stakes way of getting experience with the “people skills” aspect of graphic design that is often bypassed in formal design education. That’s why I said yes.

So for the next two weeks I spent a great deal of my free time helping a bunch of nice Jewish boys put together their “Heaven and Hell” themed Halloween party. I was well on my way into research about client–designer relationships and excited to put what I’d learned into practiced. They already had an idea of what they wanted and some initial sketches, which made things easier, but at the same time was very limiting. I didn’t have to do as much leg work, but I also wasn’t free to do anything I wanted. When Josh told me the the theme for the party, I immediately turned to Pinterest and started my research. However, I was soon informed that everything had to be pre approved by the pledge trainers (fraternities are weird) and that pretty much everything was already designed – they just needed my help executing it. I was a little bummed at first, but still happy to help out. Who doesn’t like painting with a bunch of cute frat boys? When I arrived, I realized they would need me more than they thought they did. I was able to help make sense of their basic ideas and turn them into something that could actually be done in their time frame. For example, they were very into the idea of a “fireball wall.” I took their initial design (made in Microsoft Word, eek!) and brought it into Adobe Illustrator, cleaned it up, got it re-approved by the pledge master and then painted it. This is very similar to real work that a graphic designer has to do to help their client move a design within a company. I was also able to offer my own artistic skills because let’s face it, these boys couldn’t make fire look that good if they tried.


All in all, it was a good experience. I got to put into practice the visual skills that I’ve been learning as a designer as well as practicing communicating within the relationship between designers (myself) and clients (Jewish frat boys). While most professional designers say no to spec work, I’ll be saying yes. As a student, the experience I gained by doing this work is more valuable than anything these pledges could have scraped together to try and compensate me for more work, not that they didn’t try…