Category Archives: How-To

Typography Notebook

As creatives, something we all struggle with at times is staying organized. Let’s face it: there’s so much stuff out there. Magazines, books, blogs, catalogs, fonts and images galore. It’s enough to make anyone’s head spin.

There’s always the thrill of finding an image that strikes your imagination. For me, it’s been much easier to keep my digital content organized — I keep neatly labeled folders tucked away in a designated area on my desktop and sort through these files about once a month.

But, what about real life? I read a lot of magazines and find amazing type everywhere I look. Instead of keeping these images loose (and just waiting to get lost), I began gluing them into an inexpensive Muji notebook that I deemed my ‘Typography Notebook’ about two years ago. Now, when I need to locate an image, I can quickly flip through instead of digging through piles of clippings.

My overall objective is to group similar colors, patterns or other visual cues so that an image can be found with little effort. I find that this same method has worked well for other themed notebooks to keep my various interests nice and neat including interior design and architecture ( Decor Notebook) and fashion-related imagery (Fashion Notebook).

Readers: How do you choose to keep your ‘real life’ imagery organized? Any tips or secrets that you can share with the rest of us?

Shoe Care Secrets

Over the years, I’ve gotten many emails like this one from readers that want to know the secrets of my shoe care:

I just got hold of a very special pair of shoes. They are very limited and beautiful. I know you have a fantastic shoe collection that you get a lot of wear out of, but is there ever a case to be made for not wearing a special pair of shoes? And, how do you take care of a very precious pair while still getting a good amount of wear out of them?

I’m a total shoe fanatic though I am fairly picky about what I buy. When I do add a pair of shoes to my collection, I take steps to make sure that they will last for as long as possible. Though some of the pairs I own are more fragile than others, I’m not a fan of collecting items only to leave them on a shelf to collect dust. Over time, I’ve discovered a few products and modifications that you can do to make your shoes last much longer.

My favorite brand of polish is Collonil Waterstop. The benefit of Waterstop over other polishes is that it has Goretex waterproofer mixed into the formula and a soft sponge applicator. Simply apply it straight from the tube, let it dry and then buff it out to a high shine with an old rag or even better, a horsehair brush.

Superfeet Dressfit insoles won’t make your shoes last longer, but they will add some much needed arch support. I love the Dressfit insoles because they never lose their shape and can be rinsed off when needed. Also, they are three-quarter length so that they don’t take up any precious toe room in dressier shoes. Pinched toes are never in style!

Modified Acne Atacoma platforms with Vibram soles

I always take my favorite shoes to the cobbler and have Vibram soles put on the bottoms. A lot of more expensive shoes have leather soles. Leather doesn’t hold up particularly well, especially in the rainy climate where I live. Having a layer of Vibram added not only provides extra traction but also makes the sole last about three times longer in my opinion. I have been doing this for years and on average, you should expect to pay about $40.00 US for this service.

If you own many pairs of shoes that are made of a smooth leather and need a quick fix, nothing works better than Dr. Martens Wonder Balsam. Made of natural oils and waxes, it features a sponge applicator. Simply rub on over scuffs and scratches, let it soak in momentarily and your shoes will be moisturized and gleaming. It goes on clear and works on any color of leather. Genius!

Lastly, if you need your shoes repaired, finding a good cobbler can be a real challenge. Before dropping off your most prized pair of Louboutins, it’s always worth the time to do a little bit of research. A good place to start is by reading reviews on Yelp or Citysearch. In Portland, I absolutely swear by Nob Hill Shoe Repair. They just put the Vibram soles on my Acne Atacoma wedges (above) and have always done impeccable work. In New York, my favorite shoe repair is Alex Shoe Repair, especially for crazy modifications. They’ve put some intense treads on my pointy boots and added eyelets and laces to my Chloe wedges. Best of all, they work super fast.

Readers: Do you have any secret shoe tips and tricks that you swear by?

7 Tips For Creating a Print-Based Design Portfolio

This is a bold statement, but building a portfolio is quite tricky because everyone seems to have a differing opinion on how it should be done. Building a portfolio is about showcasing your work and therefore, it should be an expression of your personality and design style.

Most online articles tend to offer advice on just web-based portfolios. I’ve found that information addressing print portfolios is sorely lacking even though many design programs still require them to graduate.

Though PDF and web-based portfolios are becoming more acceptable, I still believe that nothing takes the place of a well-executed print portfolio that a potential client or employer can physically hold and flip through during a meeting.

What steps can you take to make your print portfolio your absolute best?

Get as much professional work in your portfolio as soon as possible. It’s never too early to start seeking freelance clients. As soon as you feel comfortable with your skill level, hit the pavement. I did a massive magazine project a year before I went to school for design and landed a freelance job from Virgin Records in my second semester. The work gained from these two clients helped me get my first internship.

I’ve now been out of school for about a year and in that time, I have replaced nearly every class-initiated project with client work. Showcasing client work in your portfolio projects a level of expertise and professionalism. It demonstrates that you are able to work in the real world with companies who have actual deadlines and budgets. Client work implies that you can handle feedback on your work while delivering solid results.

Invest in a format that you’re passionate about. Most designers stick with a standard portfolio cover and fill their ‘book’ with printed pages of work but I’ve heard of others who create a set of cards (with their work mounted on heavyweight paper) and some even take it a step further, designing handmade books. Custom-made cases and personalized portfolio covers are also legitimate options. The sky’s the limit.

For the last year, I’ve been using a white glossy acrylic 11 x 17 portfolio cover from Office and I absolutely love it. The simplicity, durability and expandability all played prominently into my decision to go with this format.

No matter your concept, keep in mind that your interviewer usually has a limited amount of time. Don’t make your portfolio so complicated that it becomes a nuissance. Remember that the overall goal is to keep the focus firmly on your work.

Limit the number of projects that you choose to showcase. There is varying feedback on the maximum number of pieces that should be included in a print portfolio and many designers are encouraged show no more than 6 to 10 of their best projects. I usually try to keep the number as close to 10 as possible but I am not afraid to go over this amount if I feel that a project is a must-see (though, it should be noted that most of my projects take up only one page).

If you keep your descriptions short and concise when showing your book and flip through at a consistent pace, a potential employer usually won’t mind a few extra projects (as long as they’re good). Test yourself: can you flip through your book and describe each project in a total of 10 to 15 minutes? If not, revise.

As you gain more clients and a wider variety of work, it becomes harder to narrow down the amount of pieces that you feel are worthy of inclusion. Just use common sense and don’t go overboard; I’ve seen student portfolios that had upwards of 40 pages!

If you haven’t had many actual clients yet, it’s okay to take on low paying or even unpaid projects in areas that you need work in to fill out your portfolio.

Simple Layouts are Good. When you’re building your first portfolio, it’s understandable that you’ll want to show off how awesome your work is. But, I suggest that you keep the focus on the actual work, not on the portfolio.

These pages are from my 11 x 17 print portfolio. An emphasis is placed on typography in the opening pages since this is one of my main interests but the page layouts of work are always white with descriptions limited to a few sentences at the bottom.

The pieces that you’ve chosen to showcase should speak for themselves; keep flourishes, gradients, drop shadows, patterned backgrounds and textures to a minimum.

Create an order that works for you. This is another area where everyone has a differing opinion but you really have to weigh what’s right for your needs; go with your gut instinct. Creating an order usually begins with selecting two of your strongest pieces to begin and end with. The middle should be ordered in a way that creates an interesting mix through varying color schemes, styles and formats.

Though, when building a portfolio, don’t be afraid to break the rules. A few months back, I had a meeting with a designer that I really admire. She had some interesting advice about how a portfolio should create a vision. Her idea revolved around beginning with flat, 2-D based work (such as print design and logos) building to interactive, web-based work and ending with 3-D based work (packaging design, retail displays, etc.) Though this advice won’t necessarily work for everyone, it’s always interesting to hear a new perspective.

Get feedback. Before taking your portfolio out into the world for interviews and client meetings, have a handful of people that you trust flip through it and ask for honest (yet constructive) feedback. Though, this is where your gut feeling comes into play once again.

I’ve had reviews on the same day where one professional offered me work on the spot while another had a laundry list of changes that I should make. You know your work better than anyone else so it’s up to you to decide which feedback you should take (and leave).

Accept that your portfolio is never really finished. Think of your portfolio as a constant work in progress. There is always something that can be improved upon, even if it’s freshly printed. In the last three months alone, I’ve made three rounds of revisions.

Once you have a solid layout and order of work that you’re proud of, the updates come much more easily. Consistently add in new client work, self-initiated projects that show off a new skill set, projects that you’ve reworked, updated (improved) product photos and refined descriptions.

In Closing. Everyone will have an opinion about your portfolio but it’s up to you to filter this information and then do what suits your work best. When you walk into a room for an interview, your confidence about what you’ve created has to shine through. A portfolio is about your vision as a designer, not anyone else’s.

We can be our own worst critics and feel that our portfolios are never good enough. But in truth, as a designer, your job is never finished. Even when you hand a final project over to a client for approval, you’re probably still making changes in your mind, questioning what you could have improved upon. A portfolio can be the same way but at some point, you have to learn to let go.

You have to accept your portfolio for what it is while having a vision of what it will (eventually) be. Take a deep breath and let it venture out into the world, for better or worse. As you grow, it has the potential to grow with you. Each project, each internship, each job should be viewed as a stepping stone to an even better portfolio.

Portfolio Resources.

Office has an amazingly comprehensive website of portfolio options. My personal favorites are by Pina Zangaro. They even have portfolio covers in bamboo!

• Bryony and Armin of Under Consideration are working on a book all about portfolios!!!

They recently announced that “For our next big project we have decided to focus on a subject that is the cause of both stress and excitement for want-to-be-employees and employers: Portfolios. The book will explore best practices in putting the physical portfolio together — not the work itself — and achieving the best presentation possible. The book will feature case studies of portfolios as well as insight from people that review portfolios about what they expect as well as insight from those presenting.”

• Mark Bowley has penned an excellent article on preparing and talking about your design portfolio.

• I never get tired of reading Michael Beirut’s May I Show You My Portfolio? in which he gives us a peek at the actual contents of his portfolio, circa 1979. Good stuff.

Your Turn: If you’re a designer, do you have a print portfolio? What format do you use? How many pieces have you included?

Advice #18: Choosing a Career in Graphic Design

I am 17 years old and I am a high school student. I just recently settled on what I would like to go to college for, and what I want to do with my life. I’ve always found graphic design [to be] fun and interesting. I am an avid user of Adobe Photoshop, and I love looking at work from various graphic designers. I would love any advice you have to give as far as school or career paths to choose, since this field is already very confusing to me. I’m dead set on being the best I can be, so any advice would be helpful.

Getting a degree in design is just the beginning; it can open the door to an endless stream of opportunities. If you want to go to school for graphic design, this doesn’t mean that you have to limit yourself to being just a designer. Think of it as a starting point to breaking into the general field.

There are a huge variety of interrelated jobs in the design industry that you can look into including those of a creative director, art director, production artist, illustrator, web designer and more. You may also specialize in niches including logo design, product design, brand identity and editorial design, among many others.

Needless to say, every graphic designer has a unique story to tell. I know people who have graphic design degrees but are now employed as photographers, stylists, art directors and even CEOs of their own studios. The sky’s the limit!

Choosing a school may be the hardest part of your design journey. There are so many schools with design programs and the cost for each can vary quite dramatically. My only advice would be to not focus on a specific school because of its name alone but to instead determine what your needs are. A few of the questions you may ask yourself are:

What piece of the design puzzle interests me the most (typography, packaging design, logo design, etc.)? Does the program offer classes that teach me these skills? What can I afford? How long can I afford to be in school (design programs can vary from 2 to 6 years)? Will I need to work while I’m in school and does the class schedule allow me to do so? Do I feel comfortable with the campus and faculty? Am I ready to design to meet the needs of others (instead of just myself)?

Keep your options open. After looking at four year private art schools and universities, I chose a two year program at a community college. My reasons for doing this were numerous. I didn’t care if my degree had a fancy name at the top and I wanted to gain experience and technical skills quickly. Additionally, I already had a four year degree and didn’t feel that I needed two of them to enter the design field. I was lucky that in my situation, everything worked out as I’d planned. I got the training I needed, landed my top internship choice and a job in the design industry that combined both of my passions, graphic design and blogging. If you’re focused and have set goals, it will definitely be easier to ease into a career once you’ve graduated.

These articles can also help you with choosing a school: A Brief Guide to Design Education, Finding and Choosing the Right Graphic Design School, and The Top 5 Things to Look For in Design School.

Some of the friendships and connections that you forge in school will stick with you for the rest of your career. It’s amazing how many opportunities will fall into your lap when you least expect it. These sources will help you identify opportunities in the design industry:

1. Join a Design Group or Organization: AIGA (American Institute of Graphic Arts) is the oldest and largest professional graphic design organization in the U.S. As a student, you’ll receive a special price break on an annual membership. AIGA regularly conducts tours through local businesses and lets you get a sneak peak inside some pretty amazing places. This is a perfect opportunity to see how different departments work together, to ask questions and to network with design professionals.

2. Sit Down with Your Teachers or Department Head: Go straight to the source. Your teachers have a knack for noticing what you’re excelling at and can provide you with both internship and career advice.

3. Reach Out to Designers You Admire: Spend some surfing through online portfolios, blogs and sites. Figure out what you like. And, never be afraid to contact the people that you admire most for advice. Chances are that they were in your position at one point. If you don’t believe me, here’s proof!

4. Set Up Internships: An internship is a low-risk way to gain experience and to see what different people’s jobs entail. Internships allow you to work on a huge variety of projects (during my first year, I worked on catalogs, spray painted shoes, conducted research and blogged) and you can usually figure out what you like & don’t like pretty fast!

1. The Business Week Design Directory will be your new best friend. It allows you to search by design discipline and country, providing you with the names and addresses of design companies the world over!

2. Do art schools care about your GPA?

3. Grad School: Beast, Burden or Blessing? is an excellent read.

4. Starting Out in an Art Career is packed with straight up, honest advice written by one of my favorite creatives, Star.

5. In The Life of a Graphic Designer In Training, I detail what my path to becoming a designer was really like.

What are you waiting for? Pull out your most mind-blowing concepts, do some research, make a commitment to be the best that you can be and start designing!

Advice #12: How To Design an Invoice

I have to design a form (invoice) for my future design company & I haven’t had much luck finding good examples from other designers to get ideas from. Do you know where I could find any? Do you have any tips for designing that sort of thing?

Having an invoice on hand is one of the most important components involved in running your business. Why, you ask? In the design world, it’s standard practice for a company to send you a check for completed work only after you’ve invoiced them. If you don’t bill them, you could be waiting a very long time to get paid.


In most companies, the person that you’ve completed work for is usually not directly tied to the accounting department. It’s up to you to forward an invoice for the work you’ve finished to the designated contact so that they have a record of who you are, what you’ve done and most importantly, where to send the check to. A neat, easy to read invoice with all of the necessary information will help you get paid in a timely manner and keep the accountant from dropping it into the dreaded ‘basket of no return.’

If you want your check to show up, send an invoice ASAP!


1. Your name (or company) and contact information: Make sure you have a mailing address, email address and phone number so that any issues or discrepancies can be handled immediately.

2. The client’s name, address and the job’s P.O. number (if provided): Who are you doing the work for?

3. An invoice number: For your purposes, this helps you keep your records tidy. I use a basic system of ‘NT000.’ Nubby Twiglet is the name of my design business and the number increases by one with every job I complete.

4. An intemized breakdown: This is a list of what you are owed for services rendered. This will vary depending if you charge a flat or hourly rate. I always charge a flat rate, so my listing might be for a “Full color logo design with unlimited usage rights: $1,000.00.” The more detailed your descriptions, the better.

If you’re curious about the pros and cons of charging hourly vs. fixed rates, read this article.

5. The total amount owed: Tally up those services rendered and clearly state the amount at the bottom.

6. Terms: Do you expect payment within a specific timeframe or do you have special rules regarding payment? Be warned, sometimes this is void with larger corporations that already have set rules. When I did work for Virgin Records, they sent payment within their predetermined 60 days of receiving my invoice.

Optional: An invoice branded with your company identity is always a nice touch, though it’s not necessary. When I’ve done filing at work, a beautiful invoice always grabs my attention, but I’ve seen successful freelancers stick with a simple text-only printout via Quickbooks on white computer paper and it works just as well. Legibility and simplicity should take precedence over beauty!


1. Adobe offers a free invoice template that’s in AI format and super minimal. With some small modifications, it could suit almost anyone’s needs! For the below example, I made a quick version of my own from the template in about 10 minutes flat and with a little more work, it could look even more customized!

2. If you’re wanting to do your invoicing online, Freelance Switch lists 7 online apps for freelancers.

3. I did a search for vintage invoices on Flickr and here is some inspiration:

1. butter 3, 2. C. G. Offterdinger Dealer in Fresh Meats and Green Groceries, 3. Invoice, Chas M Stieff Manufacturer of Grand & Upright Pianos, 4. 1947 Sales Invoice Excelsior Stove & Mfg Quincy IL, 5. Bill, C. M. Guggenheimer, The Big Store, Dry Goods, 6. M. R. Scott, Dr. Butcher Dealer in Fresh and Smoked Meats

4. Here are some examples of what a professional invoice looks like. Billing Manager, a company with a history of helping businesses with products like QuickBooks and TurboTax has developed a free invoicing system that allows you to customize templates and drop in your logo!