Q & A ADVICE
For Designers, Publishers, and Web Site Owners
by Joelle Steele
QUESTIONS? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org
I answer questions from publishers, ad agencies, designers, Web site owners, and other businesses. I try to answer all questions by Monday mornings at the latest. Not all questions make it into the column, but every reasonable question is answered by E-mail, so be sure your E-mail address is correct. You can use your browser's "find" or "search" function on the Edit menu to search this page.
Q & A Material as of MAY 15, 2017
Q. I am new to freelance graphic design, and I am overwhelmed by the cost of software and the cost of learning to use it. How much should I expect to spend to learn a program like Photoshop?
A. Class costs vary from city to city and state to state, so shop around. And don't forget to check out online learning options such as YouTube. I prefer to experiment with a program, maybe buy a book, and learn to do the things I need most. I learn the rest as I go along, as I need to. Most programs are so complex that you will probably never want or need to use most of what they can do.
Q. It seems like no matter what I design for a client they want changes. How am I supposed to anticipate their every need? How do you know what to create for a client?
A. Easy answer — you ask them. The big difference between art and design is that design has to meet the needs of a client. So, before you design anything — a logo, a business card, a chair, a wedding dress, a necklace, a landscape, a house, etc. — you have to ask the client for specifics about what they like, what they don't like, and how they plan to ultimately use whatever you create. And even then, they will probably want some changes. That's just part of the design process.
Q. I want to design book covers, but I don't know which software to buy. Is there a significant difference between InDesign and QuarkXPress? How do I determine if one is better than the other?
A. I use both. I prefer Quark, but InDesign works just as well. They both do the same things. Selecting software is about what works for YOU, which screen display you prefer, what you use most, what is easiest for you, etc. Whichever program you buy, you will need time to become proficient with it, so buy whatever fits your budget and start practicing.
Q. I am running a pay-per-click ad on Facebook, and no one is clicking on it. Is there a trick to making a more effective ad?
A. To make social networking site ads effective, you have to sell something that has mass appeal to the kinds of people you are targeting on those sites. Most social networking sites tend to have low click-thru rates for ads, but Facebook has a higher click-thru rate than most other social networking sites. You can target the audience you want to reach via Facebook, and the rest is about making a good ad that people will want to click on for more info. Go online and search for tips on creating ads for cost per click ads.
Q. In your classes and in your articles you state that it is important to use Web-safe or browser-safe colors, but nowadays monitors can show the full array of colors. So why worry about picking a color?
A. Most of the latest computer monitors do show the full array of colors. But not everyone has the latest monitor. And, hand-held devices, for the most part, display the limited browser-safe colors (so far).
Q. My two partners and I are in the planning stages of a new magazine. We are having problems agreeing on the basic design of the cover. Are there some tips for making a decision among several possibilities?
A. Reader recognition is important, so your covers should always have an easily recognizable look for consistency from one issue to the next. The typesetting should be in a typeface that is distinct and readable, especially the title itself. Most important, the cover art or photography should have great clarity and color, as well as high resolution. The cover art/photo should always have a focal point with plenty of empty or near-empty space for text. When in doubt about the balance of the design of the cover (or a page), flip it upside down to better identify the flaws without getting distracted by the content itself.
Q. Is there really a difference between the terms "art" and "design"
A. Yes. It was probably easier when we simply said "fine art" (art) and "commercial art" (design) to distinguish the two. Art is a personalized creative expression of the artist; design is a purposeful and practical application of art. In art, the artist can use their imagination and skills to create without limit; however, in design, the designer must use those same skills to create within certain confines that ultimately serve or fulfill a specific need, e.g., the creation of a Web site, a car, a piece of furniture, a business card, etc.
Q. We recently paid $3,000 to a company to design our Web site. It looks great but it has been six months and it's not in the first 30 pages of a Google search. How long should it take?
A. If your Web site is written and coded correctly — the most important part of Web design — and if a Google sitemap is created and submitted, your Web site should appear in the first two or three pages of a Google search within about 48 to 72 hours. Contact the designer and find out what went wrong on their end. I'll bet you dollars to donuts it's in the writing and coding of your pages.
Q. I have done a lot of graphic design work for e-zines and I often have trouble getting paid, even though they use my work. How can I avoid this problem?
A. When you are working with Internet businesses, it is best to work on retainer if you can make that happen. Also, try to work only with well-known, legitimate publishers. You will find they pay better and they deliver the funds.
Q. Since you are an artist and designer, why do you have such plain Web sites?
A. Because they are Web sites, and the World Wide Web is word-driven. I emphasize words because, statistically, the majority of Internet users are searching for information, and so are the search engines that index that information so that people can find it. On this site, I want things plain because I want to emphasize my art, not my Web site design.
Q. I am relatively new to Web design, and I have a problem finding colors that are both Web-safe and that exactly match existing logos or other graphics provided by my clients. Any suggestions?
A. I don't think it is necessary or even realistic to try to exactly match a color to an existing image. In fact, I would be more likely to alter the color of the image to match the Web safe color closest to it. The average Web shopper is unlikely to notice the difference, and if they did, I doubt it would matter at all as far as their decision to buy is concerned.
Q. I work for a public relations firm and I am thinking of leaving to freelance. Can I take samples of my work from the PR firm to show to prospective clients?
A. Yes, but you may wish to note that they were done for that particular firm, since they own the copyrights for works done for hire (while you were employed by them).
Q. I publish a small special interest quarterly magazine. My subscriber base has ebbed and flowed over the years, but in the last five years it has dropped to half of what it once was. I am not publishing online, and I'm wondering if that might help.
A. Certainly can't hurt. Reading habits have changed dramatically and many people now prefer to read online. I personally don't subscribe to anything on paper anymore. I go to the library once a month to keep up with anything I can't find online. Look at what your competition is doing to see what you need to do to get on their bandwagon and recapture some of your old readers.
Q. I am a freelance graphic artist and I design ads for a newspaper. In some, but not all of the black-and-white ads, the photos come out looking blurry in print. The newspaper says it's my fault, but I don't know what I'm doing wrong. Can you help?
A. The first thing that comes to mind when you mention a blurry photo is the photo itself. You should be using a photo that is scanned at 300 dpi. Photos taken by digital cameras and cell phones may or may not be blurry depending on how the photo was taken and the size of the file. Also, a color photo used in a black-and-white ad will not come out crisp or clear when you make the ad into a black-and-white PDF or TIF. You should instead use your photo editing software to convert the photo to grayscale and then adjust its contrast and sharpen the image before inserting it into the ad. Then make your black-and-white PDF or TIF.
Q. My Web site has samples of my illustrations on it, but I am sometimes asked to bring my "book" to interviews. I usually just bring a CD, but now I'm thinking I need to make a real portfolio. What is acceptable these days?
A. Many people still like to view a book, but nowadays a tablet or small laptop is becoming much more acceptable.
Q. I sent a letter and some color photocopies of my work to a mailing list of publishers that I thought would like my illustrations, but I didn't get a single reply. Why?
A. A lot of success in marketing is more a result of just having your letter and samples cross the right desk at the right time. Not an easy thing to do! You should try to keep up with what publisher is signing who and for what project, and then if you think there might be a match, write them a letter and tell them so and enclose more samples. I say it all the time — marketing is a numbers game. You have to keep your name in front of everyone all the time and make sure you always present yourself as a professional, even if you're a newcomer.
Q. I used to do most of my ad design in Illustrator, but now I don't have that program and I work at home. I have Photoshop and would like to know if ads created in Photoshop are acceptable?
A. There should not be any difference between ads created in these two programs as your final output is going to be the same: a PDF, TIFF, GIF, or JPEG. I use both Photoshop and QuarkXPress to create ads and output to those final formats, and I have never had a complaint.
Q. Which is better, a very small display ad or a boxed classified?
A. Depends on what you are selling. If the classified section has a specific category for your product or service, then the classified box could be a better choice. But, a small display ad in a "marketplace" could be an equally good option, depending on what else is being sold in that section.
Q. I have submitted sample illustrations to several publishers over the past few years, and most of the time they don't use my services and they don't return my samples. What am I doing wrong?
A. If you want your samples back, you need to send a self-addressed stamped envelope large enough and with sufficient postage for them to return them to you. If you do that and they don't return the samples, perhaps they keep them in a file or they are just irresponsible. Hard to tell. As for not using your services, publishers select the kind of work that best suits their needs, and if your style is not what they want at the moment, or if your style is so unique that it is not adaptable to the needs of the average publisher, you will get less work. You can live with that, or you can present other styles as well to increase your odds of getting more work.
Q. I had an ad designed for me and it looks great. But no one is calling. What could be wrong?
A. Could be the headline. Writing is the most common problem when there is no response. Try a more captivating headline, one that asks a question or intrigues the reader. Make it a promise you can deliver, possibly offering a discount or a reward for responding, such as "Buy One, Get One Free" or "We Stand On Our Floors - Guaranteed!"
Q. I want to run a 1/6 page display ad, but I am having trouble fitting everything into it. What stays, what goes?
A. The headline stays and it should be a great one. Use three selling points as subheads. Contact info is a must. A photo is a necessity, maybe one that covers the entire ad and fades behind the text.
Q. I have started to provide design services and I am having problems with the pricing of my services. Any advice?
A. This is just a quickie guideline: Figure out how many billable hours you can potentially work in a week (keep in mind that you don't get paid when you're doing your bookkeeping, researching something, running errands, or marketing your business). Multiply those billable hours times 50 (for 50 weeks in a year, allowing two weeks for vacation). The number you get is the total billable hours per year. Now figure out how much you want and need to make each year — don't forget for allow for income taxes — and divide that amount by the total billable hours, and that should give you a pretty good idea for what to charge your clients hourly.
Q. I have had some of my illustration work published in recent years, but I also have a lot of ideas for fine art that I started but never finished. Is this common for artists?
A. If it isn't, it should be. An artist needs to have a lot of ideas and works in progress all the time. Just because you don't finish something in a single day doesn't mean that it wasn't a good idea or that it will never be finished. Maybe its time has just not arrived — yet! I have literally hundreds of ideas for my art and for my writing, and I just keep them all in an "ideas" folder on the computer and in a bunch of sketchbooks. I look through them all from time to time to see if anything grabs my attention. You never know when you'll look and see something in a new way and be inspired to complete it.
Q. I'm kind of old-fashioned, I guess. I don't work in Illustrator; I still use a brush. How can I assure a publisher that I can do an illustration job just as well without a computer program?
A. You can scan your own hand-done work or have it scanned. I scan mine all the time. It does put some limits on size when it comes to the cost of scanning, because if your illustrations exceed the size of a basic flat bed scanner's scanning bed, which is about 9" x 12", you will have to find a service to do the scanning, or you may have to scan your work in segments and piece them together in a program like Photoshop. Another option for a large size work is to photograph it, but that will likely have to be done by a professional in order to ensure that it is sufficiently high quality for reproduction.
Q. Everyone thinks my boss, a creative director, is brilliant — and maybe he is — but he is also very rude, self-righteous, immature, and gives poor and conflicting directions. One of my co-workers says this is just the man's artistic temperament. Is this really true?
A. There is no such thing as the stereotypical "artistic temperament." I've worked with many creative people in my life, and they come in all types of personalities and temperaments. Some people just use that negative stereotype as an excuse for not doing anything about their unpleasant dispositions or inadequate personalities.
Q. I have written a children's book that I plan to illustrate. Is there anything I need to know about how the art should be created or submitted for printing so that I get it right and don't have to re-do anything later?
A. You can create your art in any media you choose, including digital artwork. If you're doing the work manually, the larger the original artwork, the better it will look when reduced to the anticipated size of the printed page. I would make your artwork at least double that size. However, that said, you should really query right now and query with your sketches and maybe a printout of one finished piece of art. The query process for the book can take awhile, and it may be to your advantage to start doing so sooner than later. In addition, without knowing what size page the publisher will envision for your book, you might want to hold off a bit on completing all of the artwork until you have a publisher.