Productivity Apps for Creatives

In order to keep me on task (and sane) during the workday, I use a lot of different productivity enhancing apps and techniques. And I’m not the only one. The following are a few of my most frequently relied on techniques and technologies. I hope they help streamline your day and this post isn’t just another thing tempting you to procrastinate!

Close your eyes. Imagine your office is the set of Downton Abbey. You are Lord Grantham and you have numerous things to do during the course of your leisurely busy day. Good thing you have Mr. Carson to assist you by fetching whatever your heart may fancy. Now open your eyes. The ever-helpful Mr. Carson has been replaced with a handy little app named Alfred. If you understand the concept of a butler, you understand the benefit of an app like Alfred. It takes a little time to set him up and teach him, but the investment is well worth it. With a couple short custom key commands, he will take you directly to that project file you’re currently working on, open InDesign, bring you to the development site with the impossibly complex URL.

It happens to the best of us. You are mid-thought, on the cusp of solving a particularly challenging problem and a new e-mail catches your eye. It contains a link. If there is one thing the internet has taught us, it’s that you will be rewarded for clicking the link. Ooh, exciting. Within seconds you are viewing a new Fast Company article with a catchy title and pretty infographics. Before Pocket, I would have read the entire article immediately, lest I lose track of it and be left out of every inside tweet derived from it for the rest of the day. For shame! In the midst of staying on top of this ever important article I have now lost my train of thought and have to start my brainstorm all over again. Not good for productivity. Do yourself a favor. Next time you come across an interesting article online, pocket it, and read it later when you can devote your full attention to it. In my case, I try to clear out my “pockets” over a glass of Scotch before I go to sleep at night. I highly recommend it.

Pomodoro Technique
When I am feeling particularly susceptible to distraction, I rely on Pomodoro to keep me focused. The technique is simple: work for 25 minutes, record any interruptions, break for 5 minutes. The genius in this is acknowledging distractions and jotting them down before refocusing on the task at hand. By doing this, you learn what derails you during the day and can modify your behavior and schedule to avoid those things.

Cloud, Dropbox &
It goes without saying that collaboration is the key to success in a small office like ours. If we can’t easily share files back and forth, we are basically paralyzed. And just as not all content is the same, it often isn’t shared the same way either. There’s no one-size-fits-all app for content sharing, but I use these three the most. I depend on Cloud to give colleagues and clients alike access to screenshots and flat comps. Dropbox works well for folders with multiple files. And I recommend to clients when they don’t want to set up a Dropbox account but need to send a large file or two.

Whether your company is big or small, a start-up or celebrating its twenty-fifth anniversary, I’m going to guess it’s no Downton Abbey. Without a Mr. Carson to help you manage distractions and fetch and deliver documents—or make you cocktails—you might need a few techniques and apps to help streamline your day. Now you know what I put in my cocktail. What’s in yours?

This post was originally posted on the CHIEF blog.

We all start somewhere

I was a student not that long ago and can remember quite clearly the unsettling feeling that comes with a looming graduation date and a cloudy understanding of what the future will bring. And yes, there is also the excitement of knowing something new is about to begin, but when I talk to students, the former emotion always seems to resonate more. Seriously, with the exception of those who already have jobs lined up, how many near-graduation college students do you know that don’t have “STRESSED OUT” written across their foreheads?

We recently had a group of students from the DC area visit the CHIEF office through the Art Directors Club of Metropolitan Washington. They had quite a few questions about how to make their portfolios stand out so they could snag that first out-of-college job. Since I deal with stress by making lists (to-do lists, to-buy lists, etc.), I decided to offer my help to stressed out soon-to-be-professional designers by making a list of the top three things I look for when reviewing portfolios.

No. 3: I Look for Personal Work

When reviewing a portfolio, I like to see work you have done outside of the classroom. It can be work for a club or organization, or even the wedding invitations you created for your friend’s sister’s best friend. Non-school work shows me that design isn’t just a box you checked on a list of majors, and that you didn’t sign up for it because you saw the release saying graphic design jobs are growing faster than the national average (30% faster). Independent projects also highlight what you can do on your own, without an instructor advising, or limiting, you. These efforts give me a peek at your personality, and if I’m considering working with you for the next one, five, or ten years, I want to know who you are.

No. 2: I Look for Students Who Take Ownership of Projects and Have a Wow Factor

When explaining a project to me, please don’t ever say, “my professor told me to do x, y and z.” Even if your instructor did give you a significant amount of guidance, take ownership of what you created and focus on the things you personally did to make a design different from your classmates’. Even better, take that logo you made for Branding 101 and create a package for the imaginary product you had in mind. Make a website for it. Design some shirts, stickers, whatever would help sell the item in the real world. Hell, turn it into a real product, fund it on kickstarter and then get me to invest in it.

No. 1: I Don’t Look at the Portfolio

Okay, so this is sort of a trick. But what’s not in your portfolio is just as important, if not more, than what is in it. I listen to how you talk about your work. I Google you to see what you’re interested in outside of design. (I know, it sounds creepy, but trust me, it happens. At one of my past jobs, someone told me they knew they wanted to hire me because they liked the music I listened to on If you were referred to me by someone, I ask for feedback about you.

Many of the young designers I meet are referred to me by friends and colleagues. So do yourself a favor and start building a network early on in school. Read a particularly interesting essay by a designer you admire? Reach out. For the most part, the designers I know are friendly and always up for another cup of coffee. (We’re also a bit of a narcissistic bunch and generally excited about the opportunity to talk about ourselves.) If you really make a connection with someone, go out on a limb and propose a mentor relationship and monthly get-togethers. Do this often! Keep meeting people and learning from them. Next thing you know, you’ll have an entire network helping you get that first job, and it won’t be such a daunting prospect.

To all you young designers out there, I can’t wait to be inspired by the work you’re doing (and to fund your next kickstarter campaign). And if you’re still freaked out about finding a job, just make a list of steps you can take to get a little closer to that goal. It worked for me!


New Year : New Inspirations

So, I am about two months behind the times here. But, I have sincerely missed posting to my blog and writing about things that inspire, motive and move me so my New Years Resolution + 2 months is to post more often to my blog!

There have been a series of things I have noticed since my last post in September (ah!) that I have wanted to write about, but could not seem to get myself motivated enough to sit down an compose a quick summary. Boo on me. However, over the weekend I discovered something so unbelievably exciting, so undeniably awesome, so cosmically uplifting I could not resist sharing it with the world wide web.
And what is this mind-blowingly awesome discovery, you ask?
May I introduce to you, the Baltimore Print Studio.
I am so giddy with excitement over this discovery!
Let me explain.
Since my graduation in May, I have not been able to letterpress, litho, xerox transfer, wood cut, lino print ANYTHING (I could probably manage to do a couple screen prints, but in my entirely carpeted apartment, I would most likely only succeed in in getting photo emulsion on the carpet & powerwashing ink onto my pasty white walls- the return deposit is not looking good). I have searched high and low for an affordable proof press I could squeeze into my loft, but let’s be real here, those things are heavy, and it may just fall through my floor and onto the really quite kind elderly couple that lives below me. No good.
That is why the Baltimore Print Studio is such an awesome thing for a gal like me. It allows access to its print shop for a small fee ($15/hr) which makes me so excited I could just scream!
Here is the run down:
They have THREE (count ‘em 1, 2, 3!!!) Vandercook Letterpresses– one No.4 & 20 SP 20’s (the bigguns)
Two Pilot Platen Presses (I don’t have experience with these, but I am itching to try!)
Boxcare endgrain base (these puppies run at about $100 at the smallest size!)
FORTY SEVEN full font sets (metal)
Ten wood font sets
Oh my gosh, am I drooling? Yes.
So here is the amazing thing about all of this- up until recently, unless you owned your own printshop, worked for a printshop, or had a friend who had a key to a printshop, there was no way you could be executing your own designs in this manner. This movement the Baltimore Print Shop (and others) have taken towards turning their shops into collective creative centers is something I would like to see more groups do. I have not visited the shop yet, but believe me I am on my way there ASAP. From exploring their site, it appears as though Baltimore Print Shop is exclusively a center for creatives to live out their printing passions, and I don’t think they do any for-profit print jobs.
I am not suggesting that agencies should forgo their for-profit work, forsake their clients, and start a design commune (of sorts)! I simply think that the idea of sharing resources (even for a nominal fee) is a great way for an agency to give back to their community. Wouldn’t it be cool if local web firms allowed children without access to photoshop and dreamweaver weekend pass time to their computers? Hmm… interesting…!
Well, those are my thoughts on the matter for now! But, believe me, I am very excited to be posting more getting back into the habit!


Hello world.

So, I have had a few interviews lately, and they have really made me think about who I am as a designer and who I want to be as a designer. I keep thinking about this blog and what I’ve been posting about. I really want to stick my original intent to be posting about sustainable design, corporate responsibility, and civic design because I think that is really what describes me best.
My primary source of motivation and inspiration comes from and for the people who I am designing for- and that isn’t always the company that is paying for the project. I mean the people who ultimately use the product, see the ad, interact with the site, etc; those are the people who motivate me to do the best I can possibly do. (And that includes making a product that doesn’t destroy half an ecosystem, printing an ad with a positive message, and making websites that aren’t so frustratingly difficult to navigate they consider hurting themselves as a way out!)
Looking back, I think there were many things that influenced me to have this outlook on the world. Living in an extremely poor country when I was younger probably has alot to do with it. I encountered a book about a year ago that really captures the growing feeling in America (and the world) that there needs to be a positive change put into motion, and soon. Honestly, I cannot tell you why I picked up this huge, could-challenge-the-Bible-in-length book, but I am so very happy I did. It was designed by Stefan Sagmeister, who did a brilliant job putting it together.
But really gets me going is the content! I’ve got to keep this one short, but I wanted to post how much I enjoyed this book & what a (sorry for the pun) world-changer it is. Every story, anecdote, description, recommendation and hint is useful and worth reading from cover to cover. If you are interested there is also a great supplemental website, I totally recommend you check it out!
I’ll be positing more designs, designers, and design firms who truly encapsulate the call to be a civic designer soon, so check back! A little hint… I’m thinking my next post will be about Emily Pilloton, an amazing & inspiring designer!