Tag Archives: Advice

A Little Reminder: There’s Beauty in Simplicity

Nubby Twiglet | A Little Reminder: There’s Beauty in Simplicity

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” —Leonardo da Vinci

There’s so much beauty in simplicity.

In daily life, we have a habit of overcomplicating even the simplest tasks. Even this morning, I was trying to connect the dots on a new project I’m pitching and even though the concept itself was really simple, the details felt muddy and tangled in my head.

I had to stop and remind myself that what I wanted was totally possible and tripping myself up was just an excuse to procrastinate and not follow through. Do you ever feel that way, too?

Nubby Twiglet | A Little Reminder: There’s Beauty in Simplicity

These images are from an in-progress project. Of course, I was trying to make the outcome much more difficult than it had to be but when I stopped overthinking it and instead started scanning in the beauty that was already around me, things finally started taking shape.

Nubby Twiglet | A Little Reminder: There’s Beauty in Simplicity

There’s clarity and confidence in simplicity. Sometimes, the answer you’re looking for isn’t as hard to find as you think. It’s right in front of you — you just have to be willing to listen.

You Have to Dream Before Your Dreams Can Come True

Nubby Twiglet | You Have to Dream Before Your Dreams Can Come True

This week has been very full-on as my studio wraps up the newest issue of Rock n Roll Bride Magazine. The whole thing was redesigned from scratch over the last two months and even though it’s the largest scale project I’ve ever personally taken on, it’s also been one of the most rewarding. Editorial design for me doesn’t really feel like work in the same way other genres do and that’s partly because it’s like an old, dusty dream finally coming to life.

When I was a teenager, I read Vogue and Bazaar as I sat in history class (and that’s exactly why I know most fashion designers on a first name basis while my history knowledge completely sucks). My dream was to work at one of the big, glossy magazines in New York but I don’t think I’d quite figured out what job I’d actually have there because my discovery of graphic design as a career was a ways off.

Even with blogging and agency life over the next decade, the thought of working at a magazine never really left. At my jobs, I always took on the lifestyle campaigns and anything with print was my jam. Life was good but the thing with dreams is that they never really go away. Sometimes, they just manifest instead in unexpected ways.

When I first started working with a British wedding blogger named Kat in 2010, it was first on a logo project and then a blog revamp. A few years in, she mentioned needing a brochure to hand out at a wedding fair and even though I knew I’d be taking on a lot more work for the same pay, I volunteered to turn that brochure into a 40 page magazine. That magazine turned into a print run of 1,000 copies and within a few weeks, they were completely gone.

Nubby Twiglet | You Have to Dream Before Your Dreams Can Come True

That eventually led to an annual self-published magazine. And finally, here we are producing a 160 page magazine with distribution across the U.K. including newsstands and supermarkets. I never thought something I designed would end up on the rack sitting next to the big guys I’ve long admired. As we get ready to send the files off to the printer in a few days, the nervousness is kicking in as I roll through the spell checking and print production. This is real life.

If you have a dream, always keep an open mind and look out for opportunities to make it a reality, even if things unfold differently than you imagined. My dream of working at a magazine got put on hold for a decade while I worked a variety of other jobs and then, with Kat’s small project, I saw an in. I had no idea it would turn into something much larger and in a way, that was a godsend because there wasn’t the pressure of expectations.

Keep a flexible attitude with your dreams because sometimes, the reality turns out to be even better.

“You have to dream before your dreams can come true.” —A. P. J. Abdul Kalam


Images: Rock n Roll Bride Magazine, Issue 4.

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.

Give Yourself Permission

Nubby Twiglet | Give Yourself Permission

Give yourself permission to explore personal interests. Even if it’s just for 15 minutes a week, you deserve the chance to discover something new.

What do you love to do outside of work?

What makes you really happy?

Go do that.

Wait. Let’s back up for a second — I know that’s easier said than done. Pinterest and Instagram are full of inspirational messages, encouraging you to do what you love and to love what you do. But, what if you really don’t have any extra time? What if your life is so full that adding one more thing “just for fun” will make you topple over?

If you’re feeling frustrated because the one thing that you really want to explore keeps getting pushed to the back burner, I understand because I was in the same spot. Sitting behind a computer all day, every day made me want a creative release and I naturally gravitated towards piecing together still lifes (also sometimes known as flat lays). I loved the art of organization and grouping items by theme and color. It was a fun little exercise but technically, not part of my job.

When you work for yourself or freelance on the side, it’s hard to shut off. There’s always another client project and another side-hustle. Doing things “just for fun” starts to feel like a luxury. Or at least, that was my mindset. I soon fell into the trap of “there’s no time so I just won’t do it.” We all know that’s a self-fulfilling prophecy because there’s never going to be time unless you give yourself permission to carve it out.

Nubby Twiglet | Give Yourself Permission

Late last year, I finally gave myself permission and started a new project called Still Life Friday. Every Friday, I’d take 15 minutes to come up with a new composition and Instagram it. The progress was slow but steady. I created still lifes in my office on Friday nights before the sun went down. On cafe tables in Portland. On apartment balconies in Rome. On brightly tiled tables in Marrakech. On the floor of my spare room at home. Not every photo was perfectly lit, not every one a masterpiece. But instead of giving into perfection, I just kept going.

Now, we are halfway through the year and I have no intention of giving up. When I write out my weekly calendar, I automatically add “Still Life Friday” to my list. No excuses.

Today, I hope you’re reminded that having that one little thing you want to explore is okay and it doesn’t have to take over your life. Fitting it into your schedule in bite-sized pieces not only makes it more manageable but also more likely that you will follow through.

Want to join in the fun with me? Hashtag your still life compositions with #stilllifefriday so I can check them out!

Your turn: What hobby do you want to make time to try before the end of the year?

Radical Self Love: An Interview About Entrepreneurship, Inspiration and Motivation with Gala Darling

Radical Self Love: An Interview About Entrepreneurship, Inspiration and Motivation with Gala Darling

One of the most fulfilling projects I’ve worked on over the last year was designing my friend Gala Darling’s first book, Radical Self Love. This is close to my heart because I met Gala online 13 years ago and even back then, she was fanatical about writing. Her dream was to become a published author but it took years of behind-the-scenes hard work to make it a reality.

A few years ago, I designed Gala’s first book proposal and when things didn’t work out, we were both crushed. But, she persevered and never lost sight of her goal. Now, it’s clear to see that everything worked out as it was meant to be — her book just debuted on Amazon’s Movers and Shakers list and the pre-sale alone has already sold hundreds of copies. Gala’s journey is a great reminder that overnight success is rare but if you stick with what you believe in, amazing things can (and will!) happen. We just sat down for an interview that I hope will help you stay motivated and focused on making your own dreams a reality. Enjoy!

Radical Self Love: An Interview About Entrepreneurship, Inspiration and Motivation with Gala Darling

A lot of us have big ideas for projects but as they wear on, staying motivated and on-task can be difficult. How were you able to remain focused on a project that was years in the making?

As a little girl, I’d sit at the kitchen table writing stories, then staple them together, draw a cover (barcode included) and imagine what it would like to be published. Authors were my heroes: I spent hours at the library with my father every Saturday, and I was constantly working through a huge stack of books. Writing a book has always been my big dream. 

This book evolved a lot. It started as a monthly serial — I’d send out the chapters as they were completed — and a couple of years after it was done, I realised I had a whole book sitting right there. I had a meeting with a big publishing company, but they didn’t really “get it”, and my agent told me it was a hard time to sell a self-help book. I was extremely disappointed, but I can see that it was all perfect. I’m so glad I didn’t publish the book in that incarnation or at that time!

Over the last couple of years, technology has changed so much, and has put the power to produce back into the hands of the creators. It’s incredible. There are no gatekeepers anymore. You don’t have to wait to be chosen: you can create your own Youtube show, publish your own book, record your own radio show. 

I was able to stay focussed on publishing my book because even though I experienced some crushing disappointment, I had a burning desire to get it done. Once I saw that a few women I knew had self-published (with great results), I was inspired to give it a try. I wrote the original manuscript for this book in 2009, so this is definitely not an “overnight success” story — it has taken six years to get to this point!

For me, it was essential to break the project down into stages. I did my edits, then hired an editor to go through it again. I researched book design, then hired you to make the book beautiful. I hired a photographer to shoot the cover, and so on and so on. This has been such a massive learning experience for me — I never knew how many small details would become so big and important! 

If you have a dream, I encourage you to pursue it with gusto! You only get one life: you should create and do EVERYTHING that you want to. And if your dream has lost its lustre? Go back to the drawing board. Spend some time alone, contemplating it. You may have outgrown your dream, or it may have evolved. Or maybe you just need some outside perspective. Ultimately, if you really want to make it happen, you will.

Radical Self Love: An Interview About Entrepreneurship, Inspiration and Motivation with Gala Darling

With some projects, not everyone is going to get what we’re doing — and that can be hard to deal with. What are your suggestions for dealing with negativity?

Exactly. In my situation, I was crushed when that meeting with a publisher was a bust! Honestly, I wish I could say I bounced back from that quickly, but I didn’t. It took me another two years to re-write my book proposal, and when I did, my agent told me it was too hard a sell. I was so frustrated, but then I looked around at the people who were self-publishing and decided to give it a shot. I’m so glad I did!

There are always going to be ups and downs with any creative project. Remember that people’s opinions only have as much weight as you give them. My agent told me she couldn’t sell my book… But when I pre-launched it on Amazon, it went to #1 on the Amazon Movers and Shakers charts. 

Know what you’re trying to achieve and why. When you know your “why”, it becomes so much easier. In my case, as much as writing this book is a dream come true for me, the thing that kept me going was knowing that this book would change women’s lives. I knew that if it got into the hands of a woman who really needed it, it could encourage her to get help with her eating disorder, it might inspire her to leave a bad relationship, it would remind her how beautiful she is and how much we need her! You have to have a deeper motive than just stroking your own ego… Tempting as that can be!

Radical Self Love: An Interview About Entrepreneurship, Inspiration and Motivation with Gala Darling

As an entrepreneur, why is loving yourself so important? If your confidence is wavering, what are some things you can do?

Ultimately, loving yourself ties into self-respect and how much you value yourself. If you don’t have a healthy sense of appreciation for who you are and the work you’re capable of, it’s all too common to get stuck. You might find yourself constantly going after the wrong kind of clients, refusing to hire an assistant even if you need one (and drowning in work that is not your zone of genius), not knowing how to pull your business out of a plateau, or undercharging for your work. All of those things lead to resentment and burn-out. The bottom line? Radical self love is good for your business!

If you ever doubt your inherent awesomeness, try writing a list of all the things you’ve achieved. It’s so easy to lose sight of the big picture and celebrate all those small triumphs along the way! Even having the courage to strike out on your own as an entrepreneur is so huge, and many of us downplay that (or forget that for most people, being self-employed is too terrifying to contemplate). I promise, once you get started writing down all the things you’ve achieved, you’ll be amazed… And it might even inspire you to increase your rates!


I hope this interview reminds you that no matter how big and scary your dreams may feel, they are possible. Interested in picking up a copy of Gala’s book? It’s on sale starting today and you can grab your copy here. —Shauna

Skip The Debt, Reap Immediate Rewards: Why I Chose Community College for My Design Education

Nubby Twiglet | Skip The Debt, Reap Immediate Rewards: Why I Chose Community College for My Design Education

Over the weekend, I joined my family at a gathering to celebrate our relative’s high school graduation. High school isn’t easy — and making it through deserves a party! As the party wound down, I asked her dad what the next step was. Did she want to go to college? He said yes and we moved onto chatting about how community college was the smart choice with the cost of school going up so rapidly.

If you’ve been reading this blog for awhile, you probably already know that I am a super fan of community college — so much so that I earned three separate degrees on my local campus. Why? It’s practical, affordable, fast-paced and the schedules are set up for the real world since most attendees are probably working or raising a family. It’s full of so many wins and provided the foundation for the career I have today.

Even though I swear by community college now, I’ll be honest — it wasn’t my first choice. Post-high school, the allure of big-name schools with beautifully designed welcome packets definitely swayed me. I looked at art schools in Portland and New York but every time, felt a lump in my throat when I saw the cost of tuition. Without a college fund, there was no way it was going to happen.

Realistically, I knew that community college was my only option at the time so I sucked it up and enrolled. Once I got there, I went from feeling uncool to savvy when I realized that many of my teachers also lectured at much bigger, prestigious schools. And, they had so many success stories of people they’d taught doing amazing things that it gave me confidence in my decision.

When I went back to school in 2006, it was only after I’d toured bigger schools once again, feeling out their graphic design programs. The cost still got to me — paying loans back into old age felt like a heavy weight I just couldn’t bear. I wanted to own a house, travel and have a savings account. A huge bill in my mailbox every month felt like a shackle on my future.

Instead, I enrolled in a limited entry program when I was 25 years old. The days were long but the classes were informative, the instruction top-notch and interestingly, after comparing notes, I later found out that many of our projects were exactly the same as the art schools and universities.

Within two semesters, the skills I’d learned helped me land my own clients and by the end of the first year, thanks to a connection from my teacher, I had an internship at a thriving design studio.

When I graduated, I had less than $10,000.00 worth of debt and made enough extra income from working full-time at a studio and freelancing on the side to pay off my loans in about 2 years.

Having a design degree from community college didn’t stop me from working with companies including Virgin Records, Forever 21, Nike or Adidas — education is important but so is hard work and forging your own path. A name on a diploma only means so much — it’s what you do with your skills that will take you the furthest.

In case you’re interested, this is the graphic design program I attended and I can’t recommend it highly enough. This post isn’t sponsored in any way — with graduation winding up and research for schools beginning, I want to remind you that there are other options for your education that aren’t publicized nearly enough.

Have questions about my program or community college in general? Let me know in the comments!


Photo: Bubblerock.

There Are No Shortcuts To Greatness

Nubby Twiglet | There Are No Shortcuts To Greatness

If you want to be great at your craft, you have to put in the time. It’s as simple as that.

There’s a constant churn of articles, books and courses promising shortcuts to greatness. It’s hard to not be drawn into them in hopes of picking up the latest tips and tricks. While it’s true that most will help you get closer to your goal in some small way, there’s no substitute for putting in the hard work.

In the book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell famously said said that it takes roughly ten thousand hours of practice to achieve mastery in a field. After you’ve put in that amount of time, you’re considered an expert.

Dedicating yourself fully to your craft and putting in those so-called 10,000 hours builds not only your skills but also your confidence. These are two things that no amount of money or advice can buy.

If you’re a late bloomer and only now discovering what you want to do, don’t fret — it really is never too late. When I went back to school for design, I was one of the oldest students in my class at 25 years old. I didn’t graduate until I was 27 and as I sat in a studio surrounded by professional designers who were roughly the same age as me with years of experience already under their belt, it felt like a huge obstacle to get to their level.

The clock started ticking.

10,000 hours = 1,250 8 hour days which equals roughly 3.5 years with no days off.

Some of us may get there faster but honestly, it did take those 10,000 hours for me to grow into who I wanted to become and earn a decent living. It’s a long path and that’s why so many people get started and then give up.

The point is to push through and to keep going. Work through those roadblocks. As those hours speed by, as you start getting hired, as you start building repeat customers and as your peers start noticing your work, you’ll feel your confidence grow.

It doesn’t matter if you’re just starting on your path to greatness today. All that matters is that you’re committed to getting started.