Category Archives: Graphic Design

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!

In The Beginning: A Studio Space Is In The Works!

Nubby Twiglet |  In The Beginning: A Studio Space Is In The Works!

Maybe finding the perfect studio is the equivalent to finding yourself in a great relationship….the best ones come around when you’re not actively looking!

I’d always imagined Branch moving out of my home office and into a dedicated space but it felt a little risky — and it’s always smart to play it safe and keep overhead low in the first year of starting a new business.

Well, the time has come! The studio of my dreams quite literally fell into my lap with one chance meeting at a neighborhood party. Now, I’m making plans for Branch to move into its very own space in early November. It’s a space full of other makers and though our office isn’t quite finished (that’s the way it currently looks above — real talk!), in the next few weeks, it’s going to slowly transform.

I wanted to share this news with you in real time because you’re going to be coming along on this journey with me — from sourcing decor to making the space functional on a budget. This is the first real space outside of home I’ve ever had and it feels like a necessary big step forward after celebrating Branch’s one year anniversary a few weeks ago.

I’ve always said that when things are going good, you can never get too comfortable — it’s time to shake things up a bit. In the new year, there will be a lot more changes happening with Branch but I don’t want to get ahead of myself. Let’s get the space decorated first. ;)

More soon!

Happy Branchiversary: One Year Of Running A Design Studio Plus 5 Tips For New Business Owners

Nubby Twiglet | Happy Branchiversary: One Year Of Running A Design Studio Plus 5 Tips For New Business Owners

During the week, I was holed up in Palm Springs for Designer Vaca, an annual retreat for female creatives. The buzz of nervousness and excitement was palpable — we’d traveled in from different states and even countries to network and learn from one another.

Designer Vaca isn’t just an annual getaway for me, though — it’s also an important marker in my life. It’s a reminder of how much can happen in just a year when you put your mind and every ounce of energy into something. A few days before Designer Vaca last year, I launched Branch so being there this year reminded me of that fundamental time.

A year ago, I took a chance and quit all outside design work to run Branch full time. I’d been freelancing and building my clientele for five years prior and I knew it was finally time to overcome my fears and lay everything on the line. Big life changes can be paralyzing but in a way, because my schedule was so packed at the time, I never had the chance to overthink things. The month before Branch launched, I’d been in Austin, Greece, London and New York with The Blogcademy. By the time I got home from all that traveling, I had less than 2 weeks to get all my content together, design my website and go live. The day we launched, I had to be in Malibu for a client meeting and two days after that, in Palm Springs for Designer Vaca. There was no wiggle room.

I always say that it’s best to launch and learn and we did just that. Things were far from perfect — I’d taken all the photos, written all the copy and Star pulled a few all nighters to push the site live. Even in its imperfect state, business was solid from day one. Within a week, we’d booked out for a month. Within one month, we were booked for three.

Running your own business is one of the hardest things you’ll ever do. Let’s be honest — there are a lot easier, less stressful ways to make a living. It’s true that a lot of businesses fail in the first year and I didn’t want Branch to be a casualty. A good way to avoid falling into that pit is to understand your business from the inside out so I told myself that in the first year, I was going to take on as much work as I possibly could and learn from it — I wanted to really figure out what we wanted more of and what we wanted less of. I’m a firm believer that as an owner, before you can delegate to others, you need to understand the ins and outs of your own business.

Nubby Twiglet | Happy Branchiversary: One Year Of Running A Design Studio Plus 5 Tips For New Business Owners

I want to share a few nuggets of wisdom that we’ve gathered over the last year to help you with your own creative business:

1. Launch and learn.

When you have very little time to get up and running like we did, your site might not be perfect. The point is that even if you sit on your idea and polish it to perfection, you’re losing valuable momentum. We launched with the best we could do at the time and built our clientele as quickly as possible. Now, it’s time to step back, reevaluate our online presence and rebuild our site and media kit. The thing to remember is that it’s not a great idea to invest too much upfront — even with all the market research in the world, you never know if a business idea will actually resonate. It’s better to work on a shoestring budget, figure out what works and then rework your offerings based on those learnings.

2. Attract now, repel later.

As a new business, in the beginning it’s a good idea to stay open to different kinds of clients. Learn from each and build a solid financial cushion before specializing. Once you’ve passed the year mark, step back, reevaluate and decide who you’d like to attract more of. Focusing in on a particular niche will help you to position yourself as an expert and when you specialize, you’ll be able to charge more for your services.

3. Geographical locations matter less now than ever.

Branch is based in Portland, Oregon but none of our clients are local. Like many U.S. cities, Portland is saturated with hundreds of design studios so we instead focused on the world. By employing this mindset, we’ve picked up clients in Seattle, London, San Francisco, Brisbane, Fargo, Perth and New York. The design industry is a lot more open these days — it’s totally possible to keep overhead low, run your business from a tiny town and still rule the world thanks to an internet connection.

4. Share every project you do, no matter how small.

Part of the growth of Branch this year can be attributed directly to social media. We shared projects the second they were finished across Dribbble, Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter and our blog. Not every project was a hit but there were a few that got picked up and repinned hundreds of times. The click-throughs from Pinterest especially helped build our client base. Dedicate as much time as you possibly can to social media — there’s nothing better than free marketing!

5. Raise your rates incrementally.

When Branch launched, we kept our rates fairly reasonable for a design studio. We wanted to make sure we were booked out and stayed busy. As inquiries piled up, we revamped our pricing. The key is to not do massive increases all at once — if you do this, you run the risk of stripping out your client base. Instead, be realistic with steady price increases. Instead of tacking on $1,000.00 to your most popular package all at once, it’s better to do four increases of $250.00 over the course of a year.

It’s been a great first year at Branch — we’ve been mentioned in Computer Arts, featured on The Dieline and asked to submit our projects to multiple design books. Hard work and dedication does pay off. If you want something bad enough, you just have to push fear aside and go for it, and see what happens. It may end up being a rollercoaster ride…but you’ll never know what’s possible unless you try. Thanks to Star, Cathy, Joey, Rocky and Carey for being there from the beginning and the clients who believed in us.


Your turn: I want to know — what do you have in the pipeline that scares you? What are your big dreams when it comes to running your own business?