Monthly Archives: July 2015

10 Lessons in 10 Years: My Biggest Takeaways During a Decade of Graphic Design

Nubby Twiglet | 10 Lessons in 10 Years: My Big Takeaways During a Decade of Graphic Design

Ten years ago, in 2005, I took on my first freelance project. Though the project was very small, it was a start.

I put aside my fear of not being good enough and just got going and as you know, getting started is sometimes the biggest hurdle. Once you believe in yourself enough to try something new, doors will slowly but surely begin to open.

In the time since, I’ve been fortunate to work at ad agencies on projects for Fortune 500 companies and now, I spend my days running a design studio, collaborating with dozens of small businesses to make their brand visions a reality. While that’s a short and sweet overview, the learning curve has been ridiculously steep. With the good comes the bad and with the career highs come plenty of lows. Having a creative career is a nonstop roller coaster and through it all, subjectivity plays a big part in what we do.

I’ve always felt that we can learn from one another’s experiences, both in an effort to improve ourselves and also to avoid the same pitfalls.

So without ado, these are 10 lessons I’ve learned during my first 10 years as a graphic designer:

1. Trust your gut.

That old adage trust your gut gets thrown around a lot. I used to get annoyed when I heard it, partly because I didn’t fully understand what it meant. Later on, I found myself in plenty of positions when I just knew. That general uneasiness? That feeling of being pushed into a corner? That knot in your stomach that just won’t go away? Simply put, your body is telling you to trust your gut.

It doesn’t matter how badly you want to work with a company, it’s important to pay attention to the signs. If they have issues communicating during basic email introductions, balk at your contract, flake out on calls or contact you only to disappear for weeks on end, it never ends well.

An email recently popped into my inbox from a massive toy manufacturer whose products line the shelves of every big box store in the U.S. After some quick back and forth, the contact blew off our call, then rescheduled and missed a second one on the same day. They then promptly disappeared, only to pop up two weeks later with an unplanned phone call, asking if we could push aside my studio process to start the project right away. The warning bells went off and after I politely declined, they promptly hung up on me. Crisis averted!

Nubby Twiglet | 10 Lessons in 10 Years: My Big Takeaways During a Decade of Graphic Design

2. Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Start where you are, right now. No excuses. With consistency and drive, you can build an amazing company, brick by brick. The reality is that when you’re starting out, you probably won’t have a fat bank account to keep you afloat for months on end while you design a custom website with finely tuned copy, create letterpress business cards and decorate a big, modern, all-white office. And, that’s okay. Don’t let a lack of anything hold you up, ever.

I started experimenting with graphic design from my childhood bedroom and when I couldn’t afford art school, I enrolled in a community college program. My business really took off in the spare bedroom of a house I bought with my brother and it wasn’t until I’d been freelancing for nine years that I finally signed the lease on a dedicated studio space.

Even though my first real portfolio was a basic template hosted on Cargo, that was good enough to bring in steady clients until it was time to take the leap to launching Branch. Oh, and that website has never been perfect because it was literally designed and developed in 10 days flat. Only now am I going back and refining my brand with a completely new site that’s launching later this summer. Wherever you’re at right now, good enough is good enough.

3. Being “the best” is a losing battle.

Instead, strive to be original. While it’s inspiring to look at the work of creatives you admire and use that as fuel to improve your craft, I’ve learned that being the best at what you do is completely subjective. One person’s trash is another person’s treasure. Not everyone is going to love what you do so trying to please a massive audience is a sure-fire road to mediocrity.

If you’re struggling to find the originality in what you do, start small. Before you share a piece of work, step back and ask yourself if there’s a final, unique touch you can add to the mix. Those small details are what make your work stand apart from the rest. If you’re having trouble finding your voice, start by writing more personal Instagram captions and tweets. Eventually, those snappy one-liners will grow into stories. Your voice and visual style are already in there but you have to flex your creative muscles every day to make them stronger.

4. Word of mouth is stronger than Google.

Some of the project inquiries I get are directly from Google or Pinterest but believe it or not, the majority these days are from good ol’ word of mouth. I recently did a spider diagram and was shocked at how many of my clients crossed over — most of them knew one another. Good, reliable help is harder to find than you might think so if you do a fantastic job for a handful of people, they’ll be more than happy to recommend you to their friends. Take good care of your core group of clients and in return, they’ll take good care of you.

Nubby Twiglet | 10 Lessons in 10 Years: My Big Takeaways During a Decade of Graphic Design

5. Middle-of-the-road is career suicide.

I’ve always been an all-or-nothing type of person which can be intense and draining but it does have its benefits. Coasting along in a creative field just won’t cut it. Whether you have a full-time position or work for yourself, you have to be willing to hustle big time. Your ideal projects won’t just get handed to you out of thin air — competition is stiff and there’s some truly amazing talent out there. If your burning desire to create has softened, it may be time for a reboot. Read Damn Good Advice by George Lois (one of the original Mad Men) whose drive and chutzpah can inspire just about anyone.

6. Define your voice and style.

Focus on developing your personal style along with the way you package and sell your services. That packaging coupled with your unique voice is what’s really going to make you stand out from the 1,000 other choices your customer has at their fingertips. It can be easy to fall into the trap of thinking you’re really no different from everyone else but the fastest way to climb out of that hole is to refine your voice and vision.

Not sure what your style is or where to start? Spend the weekend looking through the websites of your all-time favorite designers. Take screen shots and pin the best snippets of visuals and copy to a private Pinterest board. What is it about their style that feels cohesive? Do they gravitate towards hand-lettering, botanical prints, punchy colors, a lot of negative space or something else?

Even more importantly, subscribe to the blogs and Instagram accounts of the folks you admire. Now, comb though each and compare how they share their portfolios and their services. What feels the most natural and non-sleazy to you? I call this exercise market research — and remember, everything you need to know is out there!

7. Only share what you want more of.

The beauty of being online is that people only see what you choose to show them. This might sound deceiving but I assure you, it’s not. If you work a day job doing graphics for big box sports stores (I’ve been there!) but don’t want more of this type of work in the future, don’t show it. I used to show everything I worked on — the good, the bad and the questionable were all fair game. At the time, I needed the work and the work came flowing in by the bucketload. The only problem? It was a strange brew that I didn’t necessarily love.

Once I started Branch, I tightened my focus towards small businesses with an emphasis on fashion, beauty, food and do-gooders (those who are dedicated to making a difference in the world). All the stuff that equaled a good paycheck but left me unfulfilled got axed. By only sharing the projects I feel most passionate about, there’s been a huge domino effect of like-minded folks reaching out.

Nubby Twiglet | 10 Lessons in 10 Years: My Big Takeaways During a Decade of Graphic Design

8. Bigger isn’t always better.

When I began freelancing, I knew I eventually wanted to run my own studio but beyond a few sets of helping hands, I never aspired to have a massive company. Why? Because I once worked at those big agencies and the people around me were never content. There was a feeling of more, more, more with no end in sight. More clients meant that there needed to be more employees to do the work. And naturally, more employees equaled more overhead. It was a never-ending cycle and I always felt a bit lost in the mix. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to grow your business — in fact, I encourage you to because you’ll never know if it’s a good fit if you don’t try. But, the key is to figure out what your goal for earning more money truly is. Not sure? Read Sian’s post.

9. Pitch, even if you’re scared shitless.

It doesn’t matter how popular someone is — they’re still a human sitting on the other side of the screen. Reach out and make a good pitch but always remember the golden rule of letting them know what the’ll get in return. The worst thing that can happen is that they say no and a no at least means that you stepped outside of your comfort zone and tried.

At the beginning of this year, I taped a list of goals to my wall. Six months later, two of the goals felt completely insurmountable on my own — I couldn’t seem to find the time or gather the resources so I regrouped and came up with another angle. I knew the ideas were too good to throw away so I gathered a list of creatives I could pitch my ideas to. Now, I’m working on two courses with businesswomen I admire and the ideas will be so much stronger thanks to their knowledge. If I’d never pitched, the ideas would still be there, gathering dust. Go forth and send at least one scary email today — it could change your life.

10. Stay humble.

Have you ever worked with someone who made everyone’s life around them a complete, living hell? Yes? It sucks, doesn’t it? Please don’t be that person. No matter how talented you are, nobody wants to deal with an asshole.

Kindness goes a long way and can shape a designer’s future. I still remember how unsure I was of myself during my first internship but through it all, the designers around me were so patient and helpful. We all have to start somewhere and it’s so much easier to grow into your full potential when you’re placed in a nurturing, nonjudgemental environment. Now that I have my own interns, I’m always thinking of new ways to show I care and checking in regularly to see if they have any questions. It’s cool to be kind.

There you go! 10 lessons in 10 years. The best learning happens on the job so here’s to 10 more! Thanks for reading!

Your turn: What’s been the biggest lesson you’ve learned during your creative career?


Photos: Afsoon Zizia and Shauna Haider.

The Week In Pictures: 7.10.15

Nubby Twiglet | The Week In Pictures

Nubby Twiglet | The Week In Pictures

Nubby Twiglet | The Week In Pictures

Happy Friday! How was your week? It’s been full-on over here as we crack into the design of Rock n Roll Bride Magazine. If you’ve been around these parts for awhile, you’ll remember that I designed the original three issues and at that time, it was a yearly self-published publication. Then, it went big-time and a full team at a publishing company took the reigns. Just last month, Kat realigned, starting her own publishing company and brought the magazine back in-house. With that shift, Branch picked back up the design and it’s been a massive yet awesome undertaking as we freshen up the look, redesigning much of the 160 page magazine from scratch.

The studio walls are getting more covered by the day. My design assistant, Samantha has been camped out with me as we output each finished spread on the new laser printer (highly recommend it!) and watch it come to life. It’s been really exciting to do a project on this scale — I always dreamed of working at a magazine and it’s a welcome surprise to find myself on the other side, managing the design.

Nubby Twiglet | The Week In Pictures

After long days at the office, I’ve been coming home to chill out in my room which you may remember from the tour earlier this year. I took this photo yesterday and it’s held up pretty well — with new spaces, sometimes you except a lot more shifting but I’m still pretty happy with how it came together.

Nubby Twiglet | The Week In Pictures

Here are some coffee table details — I have the sister pair of these shoes in my office colors below. Hey, who says shoes can’t double as art?!

Nubby Twiglet | The Week In Pictures

Thoughtful clients make my life! It’s those thank you cards, sweet emails and Instagram comments that can really turn a bad day around. This week, I came home to a large box and thought to myself, “I haven’t been shopping. AT ALL. Really. REALLY!” Ripping it open, I found the most amazing vase from Celeste over at The Devil Wears Flip Flops (and I promise, I’ll spill the beans on this project soon. One of my most favorites, ever.) A white vase just screams for bright flowers, right?

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On a more personal note, the last two weeks post-vacation have been challenging but I know that with challenges also comes growth and breakthroughs. With so many large projects hitting at once, my energy has been focused 90% on client work and 10% on revamping Branch — I just handed off our new site for development and the fresh (square!) business cards arrived yesterday! With all this going on, it’s made fitting in blogging harder and honestly, I miss having a more regular routine. Fourteen years in (and nearly eight years here), I still love it. It’s a part of who I am and I’m working on trying to carve out more time. It’s important to make time for those personal projects you love — life isn’t all about money and accolades. Your personal creative pursuits are what will feed everything else so give them the love they deserve.

“Creativity comes from trust. Trust your instincts.” -Rita Mae Brown

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Link Love: 07.09.15

Nubby Twiglet | Essingtonbee Designs

• 200 essential resources for entrepreneurs building a business! Damn, son!

• Bre just shared a really insightful post on the importance of brand strategy.

• Austin Kleon has gathered a multitude of ways you can graciously say no to anyone.

• If your oldest friend has stopped evolving, should you move on?

• How can you take the shame out of self promotion?

• RuPaul is a master at building brand loyalty. What can you learn?

• Expensive wine is for suckers.

• Alex shares how to get back on track with a goal when you’re backsliding.

• Would you ever consider revamping your Instagram profile and making it more themed?

• Ariana Grande wants to remind you that she does not belong to anyone. Preach!

• My cosmetics brand of choice MAC is opening its first makeup studio!

• 25 powerful commencement speeches by women.

• A great reminder: 15 golden principles of visual hierarchy.

• Why is America obsessed with perfect teeth?


Image: Essingtonbee Designs.
Check out even more Link Love columns here.

Colorful Confetti Madness at The Blogcademy London!

Nubby Twiglet | Colorful Confetti Madness at The Blogcademy London

Oh, London. You deliver every single time.

This workshop was everything I could have hoped for — colorful, inspiring and full of plenty of ridiculously funny stories (as all good classrooms should have!)

When we came up with the idea of The Blogcademy in a Vegas hotel room in 2012, I could have never imagined what it would bring to my life — meeting 1,000 women from around the world filled up my world so much. With each class, we give it everything we’ve got and in return, get so much back. There’s a light that comes through when you meet someone face-to-face. That emotion and interaction is priceless.

Nubby Twiglet | Colorful Confetti Madness at The Blogcademy London

On another note, If you’d like to join us in a live class this year, scroll to the bottom of this post for the two remaining dates and details. This is it!

What a weekend! 30 unique, wonderful women joined us for our sixth London class and I am so glad this video by Long Haul Films captured that intensely magical energy.

Nubby Twiglet | Colorful Confetti Madness at The Blogcademy London

There’s always that feeling of nervousness and excitement that fills the empty room right before we fling open the doors.

Nubby Twiglet | Colorful Confetti Madness at The Blogcademy London

The goodie bags are packed, the decor is up, the music is pumping…and then it’s showtime.

On the topic of those goodie bags, they were filled with a mix of Momji dolls, Frilly Industries ‘Hello my blog is’ badges, Veronica Dearly desk pads, Anges de Sucre marshmallows, And Smile Studio jewelry, Crown and Glory ears and Oh Squirrel pencils. Our favorite? The ones that said, “Don’t be a dick.” Haha.

Nubby Twiglet | Colorful Confetti Madness at The Blogcademy London

“HIIIIIII! Remember us, your good ol’ friends from the internet?!!!”

Nubby Twiglet | Colorful Confetti Madness at The Blogcademy London

Colorful, geometric baubles? Yes, please. Bespoke Bride definitely knows the way to our hearts.

Nubby Twiglet | Colorful Confetti Madness at The Blogcademy London

Remember those classes you always fell asleep in during school? I do! Our goal at The Blogcademy is to be the exact opposite of that — you can expect a little comedy, a lot of dramatic stories of blogging triumphs and failures, a little dancing and plenty of high fives and hugging. Learning should be inspiring, fun and encourage you to own your weirdness. Because really, that weirdness is what makes you unique.

Nubby Twiglet | Colorful Confetti Madness at The Blogcademy London

You see that sly smile? She knows that goodie bag is off the hook!

Nubby Twiglet | Colorful Confetti Madness at The Blogcademy London

We always kick off class with personal introductions. You know, the laughable WTF moments of our blogging careers and a few fun facts thrown in for good measure.

Nubby Twiglet | Colorful Confetti Madness at The Blogcademy London

But then, we turn the tables. One by one, the blogcadettes introduce themselves and let’s just say that Reshmi won me over with her story of having a pet squirrel as a child….and her homemade marshmallows were an added bonus. Londoners, visit her shop immediately — just check out those craaaaazy cakes!

Nubby Twiglet | Colorful Confetti Madness at The Blogcademy London

Nubby Twiglet | Colorful Confetti Madness at The Blogcademy London

Color for daaaays. LOVE.

Nubby Twiglet | Colorful Confetti Madness at The Blogcademy London

Two pineapples are better than one!

Nubby Twiglet | Colorful Confetti Madness at The Blogcademy London

A class just isn’t complete without a few of these moments. Just keep laughing like no one’s watching!

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Sneaker wedges are the teaching shoes of choice when you’re standing all day!

Nubby Twiglet | Colorful Confetti Madness at The Blogcademy London

The ghost of Michael Jackson?!

Nubby Twiglet | Colorful Confetti Madness at The Blogcademy London

Kat and I always team up for the still life activity and it starts out on-task….

Nubby Twiglet | Colorful Confetti Madness at The Blogcademy London

…but usually ends up like this.

Nubby Twiglet | Colorful Confetti Madness at The Blogcademy London

Nubby Twiglet | Colorful Confetti Madness at The Blogcademy London

When it came to still lifes, this class nailed it big time! They left with plenty of ideas of how to personalize their photos.

Nubby Twiglet | Colorful Confetti Madness at The Blogcademy London

By the end of the second day, it was time to push the weirdness to the next level.

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Our class was totally into these rad Veronica Dearly planners which are perfect for keeping an editorial calendar.

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Having this much fun should be illegal.

Nubby Twiglet | Colorful Confetti Madness at The Blogcademy London

This class photo cracks me up. We’re half excited and half scared from the deafening sound of confetti cannons!

Nubby Twiglet | Colorful Confetti Madness at The Blogcademy London

Kissing a pineapple? Totally cool with us!

Nubby Twiglet | Colorful Confetti Madness at The Blogcademy London

Death by confetti cannon.

Nubby Twiglet | Colorful Confetti Madness at The Blogcademy London

I wasn’t the only victim.

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No class is complete without a jumping photo!

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Thanks for joining me on this walk down a very confetti-filled memory lane.

We have two more classes in the U.S. this year and that’s it! If you want to join in the fun at one of our live events and learn all about blogging, this is your last chance.

We’re teaching in San Francisco on September 12th-13th and in New York City on September 19th-20th. Grab a ticket here and we’ll see you in class!


Venue: Curtain Road Studios.
Video: Long Haul Films.
Photos: Sarah Kuszelewicz.
Decor: Bespoke Bride.
Special thanks to: Sophie and Jessica for helping us out!