Category Archives: Advice

10 Tips To Get Your Work Noticed (and Land a Job!) at Design Studios and Ad Agencies

Nubby Twiglet | 10 Tips To Get Your Work Noticed (and Land a Job!) at Design Studios and Ad Agencies

As the year winds down and you have some free time to reflect, now is the perfect time to start thinking about what steps you can take to land your dream job.

The thing is, there’s nothing worse than putting in some serious effort when applying for a job only to receive the tired response of, “You’re not quite what we are looking for” or worse yet, no response at all. As creatives, we want our work to get noticed by the right people. I often receive emails from recent design graduates asking how they can land their first professional position but the competition for spots at design studios and ad agencies can be notoriously tough.

Today, I’m sharing 10 tips gathered from personal experience — over the course of seven years, I worked full-time and freelanced at a total of seven spots ranging in size from less than 10 employees to a few hundred. Each experience was slightly different but I used similar techniques to get into each.

10 Helpful Tips

1. Do your homework.

Before walking into an interview, take the time to research your employer. What is their visual style like? How do they communicate on their website? Is their copy buttoned-up or humorous? In a sea of creative studios, what do they stand for? Do they mostly work with corporate clients or small businesses? All of these pieces of information are cues for how you should present yourself and your work. Even if it means pulling an all-nighter, re-jig your presentation for a particular interview and study up. If it’s undeniable that you “get” their style (and sense of humor), you’ll be a shoe-in because they already know that you’re a good fit. I’d obsessed over Cinco’s work for years before I ever had an interview and because I knew their work well (and referenced it), I was able to get into one of Portland’s best agencies.

2. Design a resume that stands out.

When applying for a creative presentation at a studio, a standard Word document won’t make the cut. This is the perfect opportunity to show off your personality and turn a traditionally boring document on its head. In need of inspiration? Check out this roundup. Don’t go too crazy with the design, though — the bottom line is that legibility matters most. Before sending out your resumé, print it. Are the fonts you chose easy on the eyes? Does the hierarchy of information make sense?

3. Replace school projects with real world client work.

Start freelancing as early as possible to gain actual client work. Employers want to see what you can do outside of the very structured confines of school. Can you handle difficult clients, sometimes ridiculous timelines and still deliver beautiful work? Because honestly, this is what the world outside of school looks like. Client work conveys that you are a self-starter and took the initiative to create a well-rounded portfolio. Not every project is going to pay well in the beginning but think about it as an investment in your future. I did many $200.00 logos while I was in school but that work later helped me get into the door of my first few jobs.

4. Expand upon each project.

Even if you’re hired to just do a logo, take the time to do a full build-out on your own. During my first few years of freelancing, my clients had small budgets so I’d often take their logos and build them into a full suite of collateral free of charge to create a much stronger visual presentation. An example of this was Semiospectacle who only had a budget for a logo at the time.

5. Brush up on skills affordably.

If your skillset isn’t quite up to par with the job you’re applying for, study online affordably. If you need to dive deeper into the Creative Suite and learn every little tip and trick about a particular program, Lynda is fantastic. If you want to learn a particular skill like hand-lettering or logo design, Skillshare is great.

6. Take the time to mock up your work.

Don’t just show a logo and flat graphics on a portfolio page because they offer no context. Instead, take the time to show a more complete visual story. Search out appropriate templates to give your work some dimension and relevance. For instance, if you designed a logo for a coffee shop, show it on a mug, a sign and across a suite of collateral. It shows that you understand the art of presentation, which agencies in particular appreciate….because once you get in the door, you’ll be helping to build out a whole lot of pitches. You can play up the outcome with templates from Creative Market, Pixeden and Live Surface.

7. Develop self-initiated projects.

If you haven’t found the ideal mix of clients to build the portfolio of your dreams, that’s okay. Take the initiative and create a few self-initiated projects. Self-initiated simply means that you weren’t hired for a project but built it out for fun. As long as you’re clear about this in the description and not trying to mislead anyone, these types of projects can show off different styles and skills to potential employers. If you’re looking for ideas to create well-rounded, amazingly branded projects, Good Design Makes Me Happy is a great source for inspiration.

8. Polish up your web presence.

Remember, your interviewer can Google you in 5 seconds flat. Give them something good to look at! In your online portfolio, include more information about yourself, your accolades and an extended selection of projects if you have them. Before I launched my design studio, I used Cargo Collective as a platform but WordPress and Squarespace also work well.

9. Spell check, use proper grammar….and if all else fails, hire a copywriter.

Nothing is a bigger turn-off for a potential employer than opening a resume or portfolio and spotting one spelling error after another. It’s sloppy and conveys a lack of attention to detail. Whether you’re formatting your resume, the bio on your website or descriptions for your portfolio projects, always run spell check. In InDesign, go to Edit > Spelling > Check Spelling.

10. Always say thank you.

Manners go a long way. After an interview, send a simple thank you the next day. An email or a card are both perfectly fine. Studios are busy places and the fact that the interviewers blocked time out of their busy schedules to meet you means that you’re a definite contender. If you have impeccable taste and manners, they won’t be able to resist you!

I hope these tips help you land a position you love in the new year. Good luck!

Little Lessons #8: Step Outside Of Your Comfort Zone

Nubby Twiglet | Little Lessons: Step Outside Of Your Comfort Zone

On Saturday, I received an invitation to somewhere I least expected: the rodeo. I’m a city person at heart and my personal style and taste in music can best be described as avant-garde…or just plain weird. It’s about as far away from country as you can get.

But, I was intrigued. There’s something fascinating about entering a completely different cultural realm and soaking it up. I love seeing how other people live, what types of hobbies they’re into and what their version of “normal” looks like. Do you, too?

It’s good to get out of your comfort zone as often as possible because it will leave you feeling inspired in ways that you least expect. I ended up having an absolute blast at the rodeo. I made friends with some very handsome livestock, hung out next to a very patriotic carousel and happily stepped in to snap photos of folks posing on saddles in the rodeo bar.

The rodeo was the last place on my mind when I woke up but by that night, I was thankful that I’d kept an open mind, said yes and let the rest unfold. When we become overly attached to our idealized way of living life, it becomes too easy to play it safe and miss out on experiences.

Lesson learned: Inspiration is lurking everywhere. Everywhere! When the potential for a great adventure comes your way, say yes, even if it’s off the beaten path.

Your turn: What unexpected adventure have you been on lately?

What’s Your Personal Mission Statement?

Nubby Twiglet | What’s Your Personal Mission Statement?

A mission statement is a company’s purpose for existing but I like the idea of individuals having them, too. Do you have one?

For the last year, my friend Joey has been working on a personal project where she takes a photo of a different person every day and then asks them a handful of questions. The excerpts go here and I’m always most intrigued by their personal mission statements. I feel like these few words can speak volumes about a person. Some are self improvement focused while others are focused on changing the world at large. Either way, they’re always inspiring and remind me that we each have goals, dreams and passions that hinge on changing ourselves and our surroundings for the better.

As I sat next to Joey a few weeks ago while she interviewed one of her subjects, I wondered aloud what my personal mission statement would be. It came to me pretty fast:

Work hard and play hard.

No matter what I’m doing, I give it my all. When I’m working, I’m focused on creating the best possible solution. I want to put work out into the world that that not only stands the test of time but makes my clients happy. The second I’m off the clock though, I want to play hard. I want to explore whichever city I’m in at that moment, snap photos with family and friends and hit a mix of the nicest restaurants and dive bars alike. I want to soak in as many experiences as possible.

What about you?

What’s your personal mission statement?
What does it say about you?
Do you feel that it keeps you on track and gives you direction?


Photo: Diane and Mike. Playing hard for me often requires confetti and jumping on beds. ;)

The Comparison Trap: Your Real Life Isn’t A Highlight Reel

Nubby Twiglet | The Comparison Trap

Whenever I’m around someone that mutters “Comparison is the thief of all joy,” I tend to roll my eyes. “I already know that and I’ve heard it a thousand times,” I think to myself. But then I realize how often I forget about it and fall back into the comparison trap.

When I look at people’s lives through their online filter, it feels like one big highlight reel. How can my real life possibly compare? I sometimes get caught up in the comparison game because as much as I love my life, it’s far from perfect. What about you?

When I really start tripping up, I have to remind myself to step back and remember that for the most part, people only share the best moments of their lives online. They’re showing the blockbuster movie trailer while leaving the mortifying moments and sad times on the cutting room floor.

I can’t really blame them. I do the same thing.

When I’m out on the road with The Blogcademy, chances are that I’m dressed up in something fun paired with a full face of makeup and perfectly straightened hair. Though I do have “work days” on the road, most of the time I’m exploring a new city, checking out the coolest shops and restaurants with two of my best friends.

The second I’m home though, I revert back to twelve hour days running Branch, Nubby Twiglet and The Blogcademy. I eat lunch at my desk and my only real break is flipping on Dr. Phil at 3 pm to keep myself entertained.

I wear the same unglam uniform every day when I’m home working — black Urban Outfitters skinny jeans, a black t-shirt from H&M and no makeup. Simple but effective. Sitting in the same place all day, there isn’t much to show so I resort to making a lot of still lifes to fill in the gaps on Instagram.

Nobody’s life is nonstop entertainment. And now that I think about it, I’ve never actually known anyone in real life who had a house that was “Pinterest perfect.”

Because it’s important to stay focused on what I’m doing in real life, I’ve developed some coping mechanisms to block out the noise:

1. Take the weekends and holidays off from social media.

Even if you have to use social media to promote your businesses (like I do), your weekends and holidays should be sacred. Over Memorial Day, Gala and I both knew that we’d have to stay home working and prescheduling blog posts while everyone else was having barbecues and camping so we made a pact to not check other people’s accounts. My productivity went through the roof because I was in the moment and not focused on what I was supposedly missing out on.

2. Accept that committing to big projects is so much more rewarding than tiny, fleeting moments.

It’s easy to look at social media and see people knocking out quick but photogenic DIY’s, rearranging their breakfasts at chic cafes and mostly sharing other people’s work.

It can feel like the cards are stacked against you, especially if you’re writing a book that’s going to take two years, working on a design project at an agency that takes six months (I’ve been there) or remodeling your house on your own (five years in, it feels like we’ve barely scratched the surface).

The point is, longer projects are meant to challenge you and downright suck a lot of the time. They’re the ones that really force you to grow and learn about yourself. In the end, you’ll be much better for it.

Those quick, fleeting projects? Sometimes they’re nothing more than a form of procrastination to keep you from digging into the meatier ones you’re scared to start.

3. Remind yourself that what you see others doing is never the full story.

I always tell our Blogcademy classes that they need to stop the comparison game because they don’t really know what’s going on behind other people’s photos or blog posts. It’s never as effortless and pristine as it looks, I can promise you that. You’re not seeing the epic fails, the hilarious antics of balancing on crates to get the perfect shot or the in-between takes of a “casually arranged” still life. You’re seeing the beautifully executed final shot. The outtakes? They’ll never make it to the internet to be judged.

Nubby Twiglet | The Comparison Trap

I actually think it’s more interesting to share the behind the scenes moments, the so-called “picture behind the picture.” When I was staying with Gala’s parents in New Zealand, I happened to be wearing a silk J. Crew shirt covered in oranges. Her parents happened to have a beautiful painting…covered in oranges. While my shot on the left showed me effortlessly posing in front of the painting, the truth was much more involved. I had to lay on the floor while Gala’s dad held up a black blanket to give us a neutral background. Gala leaned over me with her iPhone as I directed her on the angle I wanted.

Kat posted her “behind the scenes” shot right after mine and guess which one people responded to better? The one showing the full story.

Your turn: How do you keep yourself from falling into the comparison trap of the perfect lives you’re bombarded with online?


Image: Shell de Mar.

Stop Playing It Safe

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“You see, Siegfried and I are living a modern poem! A fairy tale…and we always want to tell the story of our lives, because it is very glamorous. It’s very eccentric, very colorful.” —Roy Horn

As soon as I got home from my trip to Chicago, a package was waiting in my mailbox. I hadn’t done any shopping while on the road so I was a bit puzzled. Ripping open the envelope, I was met with a softcover book emblazoned with a 90s-era portrait of Siegfried & Roy. It could only be from one person: Gala Darling. The week before, as we sat at the kitchen table in our Chicago rental, she read this interview aloud to me. I was transfixed.

All my life, I’ve been drawn to the eccentrics. Musicians, magicians, animal handlers, you name it. I’m intrigued by the people who aren’t afraid to go all out. There’s something inspiring watching those with a devil may care attitude ignore the status quo of what’s deemed normal to go on and live a life that others only dream of.

I’ve long admired personalities like Marilyn Manson, Michael Jackson, Andy Warhol, Elizabeth Taylor and Boy George. I love people who embrace boldness in their opinions, their personal style and their outlook on life.

When you’re a bit outlandish, people will write you off as weird. Abnormal. Crazy. Kooky. They’ll snicker behind your back. But people like Siegfried & Roy? They got the last laugh as they became the most successful entertainment act in Las Vegas history.

It’s always easier to play it safe and to be normal…but normal is boring.

When I’m at a party and meet someone who’s an eccentric, I immediately gravitate towards them because I know that they’re going to have the best stories. They live full lives because they’re busy gallivanting around on far-flung adventures, not letting the fear of judgement get in their way. The experiences they’re having are much too interesting for them to stop and update their Facebok status with what they had for lunch.

Here’s to the eccentrics, the people that dare to dream a little bigger; that aren’t afraid of what’s around the corner but instead welcome it. We need more of them in the world. Next time, instead of playing it safe, ask yourself how you can go bigger and bolder. If you hold yourself back from who you really are and try to appeal to everyone, you’ll end up appealing to no one.

Blog Log #15: Define What Your Blog Stands For. Create A Manifesto!

Nubby Twiglet | Define What Your Blog Stands For. Create A Manifesto!

A manifesto is a call to action. It’s a crystal clear declaration of what you stand for and believe in. Do you have one for your blog? I recently wrote a manifesto for Nubby Twiglet and though it’s still a work in progress, it was a great creative exercise to define my blog’s mission. Penning a manifesto for your blog can also be a great personal reminder for what you do and why you do it, especially after you’ve been at it for a long time (my 7 year anniversary is creeping up!).


My Manifesto

Are you a creative who’s passionate about the aesthetics in your daily life? Does design play an integral role in your personal expression? Then you’ve come to the right place. Nubby Twiglet was founded in 2007 under the guise that we should embrace our individuality in order to live a unique, inspired existence. As creatives, our lives are multi-faceted and expression ruminates from everywhere including our surroundings, careers and travels. Why should we separate our lives into bite-sized pieces when we can live it as one, inspiring whole? Come as you are, take charge and embrace a lifestyle that leaves you personally fulfilled.


Manifesto Cheat Sheet

If you’d like to write your own manifesto, here are five tips to help you get started:

1. Call out your blog by name.
You immediately want readers to know what the manifesto represents.

2. Define the purpose of your blog.
How are you helping your audience and adding value to their lives?

3. What makes your blog different?
What’s the unique twist on your content that makes it irreplaceable?

4. Who is your blog’s audience (or ideal audience)?
Are you writing for college students, stay at home moms, creatives or aspiring chefs? Define your niche.

5. How can you end on a positive note?
Tie everything up in a nice bow. Leave your audience feeling inspired and energized.


Do you have a manifesto for your blog?

If you have one or write one after this, please leave it in the comments so we can check it out!

Walking the Fine Line Between Inspiration and Imitation

Nubby Twiglet | Walking the Fine Line Between Inspiration and Imitation

There’s such a fine line between inspiration and imitation. It’s so fine that in retrospect, I’ve crossed it a few times myself.

What is the difference between inspiration and imitation, though?

To me, inspiration consists of gathering imagery you love and creating a mood board. Designers do this for most projects to inform a client of the look and feel they’re going for. Inspiration can set the stage for what’s to come and that’s a good thing. Inspiration can help get the creative juices flowing and makes sure everyone is on the same page. I gather inspiration for every project I do.

On the other hand, imitation is knowingly lifting someone else’s design and claiming credit. I say “knowingly” because most of us have had instances where our work turned out eerily similar to someone else’s but we weren’t aware of it until after the fact. This happens sometimes and it’s completely normal because there’s only so many ways you can do something. We all get on similar brain waves.

I am flattered when someone is inspired by the work Branch does and I always get a thrill when I spot it popping up on their client mood boards. It means that the work we’ve produced is resonating somehow, in some way. I love that. Feeling like you’ve somehow inspired someone else’s work is an honor.

The dark side though is discovering that your work has been taken as-is, perhaps badly modified and written off as someone else’s. This has only happened a handful of times that I know of but when it did, I had that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.

Back in 2009, when I was building up my freelance clientele, I released a PDF of my print portfolio on my blog, only to come across a version a few months later that had lifted my entire custom design including the cover, simply replacing a cropped close-up of my face with theirs. Everything else, from the fonts to page layouts to description lengths, was identical. If you’ve ever built a portfolio, you know how many months of hard work it can take to put together something even deceptively simple.

Another time, a well-known graffiti artist took my “mouth with pill” logo as-is. It was easy to spot because my original design had been illustrated from a photo of my mouth, mini fangs and all. The artist had printed my design on t-shirts and circulated it in a newsletter without my consent, claiming it as their own. I fired off a cease and desist which cleared up the issue by the next day day but it’s still not fun even thinking about going down that road.


5 Tips Before You Turn In Your Work

Even with endless amounts of research, there’s no surefire way to know if what you’ve created is too similar to someone else’s work. But, there are a few things you can do before you release it:

1. Do a gut check. Does it feel original to you? Have you truly created it from the heart? If you’ve knowingly pulled a little too much inspiration from a source, ask yourself what you can adjust.

2. Find little ways you can make your piece ownable. We all have access to the same programs, type families, shapes and stock images. Print out your piece, step back and figure out how you can further modify it. With Gala’s branding, it was a matter of adding small heart elements to her wordmark. With Olivine, it came down to adding a gold tip to the feather icon. For Blogcademy, it was about slicing and color blocking a basic B icon. Think of that one added twist that takes your design from expected to unique.

3. Ask a trusted source for feedback. A few weeks ago, I was working on branding for a client in an industry that was completely new to me. As the first round neared completion, my gut told me that while the branding looked solid, the icons were feeling a little too familiar. I couldn’t quite place why, though. I called Joey in and he confirmed my suspicion — the icons were too simplistic and probably wouldn’t be able to be trademarked. Because of that, I pushed hard for more unique concepts in the next round. An extra curve here, an extra flourish there. My client ended up picking a much more original option. In the end, we all felt better.

4. Sketch, sketch, sketch. I am not an illustrator by any means but I do make sure to do a ton of thumbnail sketches and map out concepts before I ever get started on designs. It forces me to get my ideas onto paper and figure out ways to customize branding elements without the allure of Pinterest and Dribbble (which I do love).

5. Do a Google image search. I very rarely do this myself but when I was working at larger agencies where an icon had to be trademarked worldwide for a client, we would give this a go if an element felt too familiar. To do this, go to Google, click the images tab and then click the camera icon in the search bar. From there, you can upload a screen shot of your branding and see what transpires.


Always Keep Moving Forward

As difficult as it may be, if someone lifts your work, you can’t let it take over your existence and eat you up inside. If you’re amazing at what you do, by the time you’ve discovered what they’ve taken, you’re already five steps ahead and onto bigger and better things. Always keep moving forward. Dan Phillips once said that “One can steal ideas but no one can steal execution or passion.” Use your talents and push yourself outside of your comfort zone. Your uniqueness will shine.


There Are Honest People

As I was writing this post over the weekend, an email popped up from a travel writer who had googled the name for his project and I happened to have a blog column under the same name. I’d created a custom header for the column ages ago (now defunct) and he inquired whether he could buy it and use it for the branding. I packaged up the files, invoiced him and a few hours later, I passed on the rights and was a few hundred dollars richer. Because he was honest and bought it outright, he has a clear conscience and can use it however he pleases for his project. We both felt good about the transaction. There are always going to be bad seeds but you’ve got to focus on the good because things like this do happen.

Mistakes are inevitable but learn from them. Do your best to stay inspired. Do your best not to imitate. Do your best to create from your heart.


Your turn: With so much inspiration out there, how do you keep yourself from crossing over into imitation?