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D&AD Blog on Personal Work

This is an article I wrote recently for the D&AD education resource. I hope you enjoy it.

Running your own graphic design company from a young age, in my case 23, you think all the work you do is “personal”. You aren’t working for anyone else, you target the clients you want to work with, you choose your staff, you decide what to pitch for, how much time to put in, what to turn down, which battles to fight and which to concede. You take it home with you at night and it’s right there with you the next morning – if indeed it hasn’t troubled your sleep as well. My name is on the door, my holiday photos are on the website – it’s pretty damn personal.

It wasn’t until I was 30 and on sabbatical in Japan that I realised the drawing and research I was doing there was the first I had done purely for myself for almost 10 years and it was quite a revelation. When I was a student I was a fervent drawer and obsessive maker of visual diaries but that all fell by the wayside as my professional life took over and consumed my creative world. I’m not complaining – we built an incredible team and I have a portfolio full of stories, adventures and memories that are all incredibly personal. But it there was always a client. And that’s the key difference.

I have gone on record many times to say how much I detest designers bitching about their clients – seriously, either get better ones or shut up and take the money. And this isn’t about client-bashing. Problem solving and working towards a common creative goal with motivated people who pay you for your services is an immensely satisfying way to earn a living. But I have realised I have to have my own work alongside. It keeps your eyes fresh and your soul intact – it also helps to really understand where they are coming from. (It’s only until it’s YOUR product on a website you understand why maybe, just maybe, the “Buy it Now” button should be a little bit bigger, and while you’re at it, maybe the logo too?)

I moved to Paris last year and a chance meeting with a very talented writer lead to a collaboration we call “Mademoiselle London”. Kat writes, I design and Illustrate as well as managing the brand and the online activity. We self published our first book to a great reception in France and are working on the second. It was born out of a mutual need to create a new voice in a place where our language is not the “maternelle” – to find a way to belong here. No client, the only deadlines self imposed and the only brief to make something we were proud of. It has brought back to my life what I left behind in my student days – an ownership of my visual language, my free time and my creative purpose. It puts you back in the centre of your work and, I think, makes you better at the paid stuff.

So I implore all students reading this; whatever it is you do for yourself  alongside the structured workload of courses and student briefs; as the all consuming beginnings of your career threaten to take over – don’t stop doing it.

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Franki Say Relax!

Hello blog followers. (I KNOW! I didn’t think I had any either until this came up on my Google Alerts with a startling number of re-posts and shamed me into updating it!)

And no better time to do so since I have just been up to my former college (both as student and lecturer) Glasgow School of Art with the D&AD Education Resource to talk to their Scottish University Networks on “How to Answer a Brief” and to perform some rocket, sorry, portfolio surgery.

So… there’s obviously no formula to solving a design problem – everyone has their personal methods for creativity and finding inspiration so my talk was not particularly didactic. I do, however, think there are fundamental disciplines that make the process of answering student competition briefs more valuable to a student portfolio and the rhythm of the 4th year generally, not to mention some obvious stuff I wish I’d known earlier in My Life in Graphics. Here’s a bit of a summary .

Mood Boards

I talked about my own personal obsession with the mood board (I can barely get through the day without creating one for something, honestly). I have got to the point where I can work up poster routes only with visual references and existing film assets – too much free pitching in the world of cinema has demanded shortcuts of me but these have led to development of methods I now apply to all problems and briefs. I even did one for the talk. (The shark is in there simply cos I am SO into sharks at the moment.. the rest can be figured out.)

Reading the Bumph

I know it’s obvious but reading a brief properly and looking for the right hooks in a competition brief to suit your work is very important for students who actually get to choose the projects they do. If the concept is built into the brief and you are looking to develop your own, don’t shoehorn it. Read between the lines and read and re-read the deliverables so you know exactly what you are signing up for!

Getting out and about

This section wasn’t just an excuse to be photographed next to a big slide that said “Graphic Design is Not Interesting” at an event sponsored by the D&AD but also because it is so very important to get away from the computer and not to just reference stuff on the web or in design books. There is a whole world out there kids.. get out there.. walk from A to B and say “on the way I will solve THIS problem”. Look around you. Graphic Design is not (THAT) interesting.

Sharing ideas (plural!)

As a wise Japanese creative once said to me; “Brainstorms are good but the people in them have to have brains.” and the beauty of being a design student is that you exist in a bubble of new talent and fresh ideas. Students sometimes make the terrible mistake of not making use of the roots of their generation of the industry – their classmates. Sharing ideas is important for feedback, quality control, realisation, proofing, sanity checking… the list goes on and on. Talk to your friends, the brains in your life, and listen to what they have to say.

Come up with a great idea. Then try to break it. Then come up with another one. And another one. And be critical. An old mentor of mine once joked; “There is nothing more wonderful than the time between having a REALLY good idea and realising it’s not going to work”. If there is a hole in your concept for god’s sake don’t ignore it. Learning to pursue ideas long enough to work out if they will work but not so long that you waste time on the “also-rans” is a massive part of being a good, efficient problem solver.

The obligatory “me and my ideas” section…

Some of my most high-concept and successful pieces of work have been because the brief was very open and the task far reaching. In the cases of Hotel (pictured above, details of which have been more eloquently blogged here by my esteemed business partner Jonny Green), The Magic Flute and The Assassination of Richard Nixon were all elaborate stories with multiple content pieces. We devised simple conceptual structures (Daily entries / Graphic Timeline / Music Score) to hold things together and to give us some much needed rules to obey. I wanted to stress the dangers of the TOO open brief and the need for discipline in even the most liberal communication challenges.

To follow this I felt it was important to juxtapose these vast visual projects with how much you can achieve in a single frame/image. A very detailed brief, with numerous requirements and visual references, being boiled down to a single marque or image is in many ways a harder task. I spoke about Minor Hour Films – one of the best briefs we have ever had (“I want Tim Burton meets Art Deco with a Japanese feel”), West End Films – where we wrote the story for the brand as part of the brief to great success and my favourite film poster EVER for “I’m Not There” where we listened to Bob Dylan on repeat for weeks and solved the problem of how to fit 4 Bobs into one poster with a bit of help from Warhol and Mondrian.

Thanks for popping in…

I ended with reference the D&AD’s very intelligent policy of having a student category that scoops up entries that have gone way off brief but had creative merit anyway (a student of the year was selected from this group in 2009).

I feel very strongly that a student’s time at Art School is their own. I was never taught by ticking boxes on set-briefs – the projects I chose to develop were my own. Answering competition briefs is a great discipline as it forces finished pieces at a crucial time in the final year BUT being at Art School is a one off experience and (paying) students have the right to let their work flow and develop without being too restricted by briefs or deadlines should they have pushed things in interesting and innovative directions. So if all else fails post rationalise! Write your own problems and tell the stories you want to tell – there’s plenty of time for all that clienty-stuff afterwards!

New D&AD Post

My surprisingly topical guidelines post is live on the D&AD blog. With thanks to Rhiannon James and Jonny for helping me tackle a rather large issue. I hope it comes across as the discussion piece intended. There are so many factors that make Independent Film so hard to manage brand-wise and we’d lose so much great individual work if it was ‘globalised’ (Andrzej Klimowski, anyone?). But I still think its worth striving for on some level.

Read it here

.Net Article

I was asked to write a little advice piece for .Net Magazine this month. Here it is…

Screen shot 2009-12-08 at 14.50.15

And in legible form…

The Importance of the Pencil

No, not the Yellow ones that the D&AD gives out for flashy goodness. The ones that have lead in them and are available from all good stationers. Really? Why would you possibly need a pencil when you have Illustrator, Photoshop and all its fabulous filters? It ends up on a screen so why not start on one, right?

Wrong. Architects conceive whole buildings on napkins and receipts before thinking about CAD, Fashion Designers wouldn’t dream of lifting a needle and thread before repeatedly sketching out and refining their designs on paper and Film Makers plot out whole movies in storyboard form before turning on a camera. So why do so many web designers think they can bypass an essential, time honoured, problem solving technique and reach straight for the mouse?

At Franki&Jonny there are two things that have to happen before a site can be ‘designed’ (in the sense of moving onto a computer). A brainstorm, strictly away from the mac, where tech, design and admin come together to discuss the purpose of the site, the user journey and the ‘big idea’ should there be one – essentially refining the brief. Then there is a visualisation stage that involves scribbling, sketching, pinning up references – ‘feeling’ the site and the users’ journey in a physical way. We also rarely reference other websites at this stage (no macs, remember?), preferring to create mood boards, referencing art, illustration, shoes or cheese – whatever inspires us at that point. Typography, colour, mood, form should all start in the real world and keep a good designer in the realm of original thought.

All the templates, effects and filter options lurking within the walls of Adobe software can give the designer the impression that the answers to their problems are just a few clicks away. However, the computer is a tool. It does not solve problems for you and, more often than not without a clear vision at the outset, it will create them. We have all been there; pushing text and image boxes around a screen like a picky child trying to somehow make his dinner disappear without eating it. The solution is to step away – draw it out, cut it out, rip it out. Do whatever you have to do to figure out your direction before returning to the glare of the screen.

D&AD Article

This is an article I wrote for the D&AD University Network last month. I will be making regular contributions to this education resource in the coming months.
To Code or not to Code?
When I was 22 I quit my corporate print job at a reputable London agency in search of something beyond 8 Page Brochures and Quark Express. I didn’t know what I was going to do but I knew it had to be something different.
My friend, a Technical Consultant for the aforementioned agency learned of my desire to move on and invited me to work on location on a film set in Venice creating a website for the film maker Mike Figgis. ‘But I don’t know anything about websites, I’ve never designed one’ I said, in a bizarre attempt to talk him out of offering me a job in Italy for 6 weeks in the company of Salma Hayek and John Malkovich, to which he replied: ‘I don’t want you to know anything about websites, I want you to come up with ideas.”
8 years, one BAFTA and a load of FWA awards later that visionary programmer is my business partner and we run a niche digital agency specialising in Film and Entertainment clients. And we’ve never hired a web designer.
We are a design-led agency. We cannot be true to that principle if our designers are asking themselves ‘how?’ before they think about ‘why?’. It’s a case of being technically agnostic – we will design something first and then decide how to build it. If a designer isn’t concerned with the build it keeps the design fresh, appropriate and unaffected. An old creative Director once told me not to have ‘scissors in your head’ – cutting off ideas before they can even form, we feel that a little technical knowledge is just the kind of scissors he was talking about.
We therefore hire designers on the basis of their ideas and visual skills across any medium and pure coders with absolutely no ambition to design. Put simply we’re wary of the jack of all trades and master of none – the kids that do both tend to do neither well.
But how does that thinking sit with students? If they have a great digital idea should it stay as an idea until they can build it properly or should they have a go – cobble it together with Dreamweaver, Flash and a bit of help from a mate’s brother? Let’s face it aspiring creatives have to shoot their own photos and films, bind their own books, and find a million other ‘cheats’ to realise big ideas at education level so is digital any different these days?
Most probably not. I guess my fear is that a little knowledge can sometimes be a dangerous thing and whilst I would encourage emerging designers to engage with new media, to love it and to understand its power I would urge them to not to get bogged down in the technical details. Learn enough to get your idea working, if possible collaborate with a technical student the way you would with a photographer or an animator, get good advice and keep it simple. (And once you have done don’t put ‘proficient in Flash 10’ on your CV if you aren’t. )
I’d love to hear about innovative ways design students have realised digital ideas and how the industry can help guide the development of great cross-media designers without forcing them all down a half-coded fudge that leaves them confused and overwhelmed. Answers on a postcard. Or on the blog. It’s not about the medium, its about the message!


I'm Franki Goodwin, Creative Director at Saatchi&Saatchi London and Executive Producer at Western Edge Pictures. Please feel to have a good old root around my work below. Some of it has won lots of awards. Some of it hasn't, but I'm proud of every single one of these projects. Thanks for visiting, say hi at