Elisha Consulting 30-Day Design Challenge
What is your favorite part of your job?
Is it leading, creating, working with your hands, learning a new technique, making a sale or something else?
For me, it's design. Specifically, I enjoy listening to a client describe how they desire their brand to feel and be perceived in abstract terms. They can't completely explain how they want their brand to look but they have it in their head. Then I go to work and try to take those abstract ideas and turn them into a reality.
It is always satisfying to hear a client say, "Yes! This is exactly what I wanted but didn't know how to fully describe it."
A strong brand can give the impression a business is larger than they really are which in turn allows them to land more business. I always think of branding as a nice tailored suit. Can you do business without a tailored suit? Absolutely. Do people give you more respect when you are wearing a tailored suit? Again, absolutely. Proper branding is about taking your business to the next level and being seen as a professional instead of an amateur.
So what's with the love fest and design. Well, design is what I enjoy the most when it comes to my work as the founder of Elisha Consulting. Yet, it's the one area that I do the least on a daily basis.
Most of my day is filled with client relations, making strategic decisions, looking at data analytics, thinking through campaigns, website development, continuing education (Google keeps changing everything!), and then admin work, i.e. sending and collecting invoices, working new business, and responding to emails.
I rarely get to sit and design something for a client, let alone, design something just for fun.
For the above reason, I have decided to do a "30-Day Design Challenge." There are two goals for this challenge:
- Simply put, I want to try some new design styles
- I hope to encourage you to think of the one thing you enjoy most about your job and begin improving daily
The Rules of the Design Challenge
I am completely making this up, but there should be some structure. Let's say the rules for myself are the following:
- Each day, for the next 30-Days, I will create a new design that's original for me, i.e. I am not digging through my old design work just to have something
- Each design will be posted online and added to this blog below
- I will experiment with new design styles which means some of them will be atrocious - imagine the first time you try anything, you likely aren't that good - so be nice
- The designs will be completely random, some days will likely be me reinventing my business logo, drawing abstract shapes, or trying to emulate designers I look at as experts, for example, Aaron Draplin, Paula Scher, Dansky, and others.
Beyond those rules, if you have read this far, I challenge you to reflect on your professional life. Is there something you enjoy doing, but never have time to do because of other responsibilities? If so, take some time and determine how you can get back to doing what you enjoy.
Let the Challenge Begin
Since today is day one, I wanted to do something bright and bold to capture attention. Also, I really wanted to design something simple. I have been planning to do this challenge for a couple weeks and was ready to quit before I even begun. It would have been easy to say that the challenge was a stupid idea . . . and it might be. Yet, I have found myself in a little rut and needed to shake things up, so here we are - me doing random designs to kick-start some creativity. That is why I needed to design something simple, it's a small win to make sure I commit to this challenge.
Day two of the challenge provided . . . a challenge. Some of my goals with this experiment are to see if I can design quickly, come up with ideas without processing too much, and simply have fun. Normally, when I do design work it is part of a larger project where I have weeks or months to try different ideas. That is not the case with this 30-day challenge as I am trying to come up with fresh ideas daily and placing it before people to be judged whereas most of my rough work is only seen by myself and maybe my wife.
So here we go with a logo stamp for my good friend Douglas. We went to business school together and were roommates for our study abroad in Paris. He is a world traveler and I was inspired by his Facebook cover photo of a magnificent mountain landscape photo.
Today for the challenge I wanted to go old-school and show the process of a "modern logo." A quick breakdown of logo design is that simple and timeless are always better than elaborate and trendy. A great logo is similar to a well-tailored black suit on a man or a classic black dress on a woman. Are they flashy . . . no. Do they look great . . . yes! Fashion trends come and go, but a tailored suit or black dress will always look amazing.
The same is true for logos. A timeless logo becomes easily recognizable as years pass. Some of the masters of this style were Paul Rand and Saul Bass. Their work, and others, can be seen in the highly recommended Logo Modernism, a monster of a book that chronicles some of the best logos of all time. They are all simplistic, geometric, and timeless. Think AT&T, IBM, ABC, and other logos.
With that inspiration, I wanted to show how one simple shape can become a logo icon in just a few steps.
Day four of the challenge highlights a young woman who is taking over Houston, and eventually the world. Nnenna Umelloh reached out to me a couple of years ago when she started her company, Achievement Consulting, and I have been sharing advice with her ever since.
I get exhausted just hearing about all the things she is doing. She earned $80,000 in scholarships and grants as a student at the University of Houston, is fluent in multiple languages, graduated Magna Cum Laude, founded a non-profit (Empower!) . . . hold on I'm tired and need to catch my breath , , , runs her own company, and more.
Watch out world. She is one of the current queens of Houston and will be a future CEO in no time. Because of her ambition, I wanted to design something that represented her talents and immediately thought of a crown.
During this challenge, I want to honor my longest running clients and their amazing businesses. Benefit Concepts, Inc. (BCI) was the first company I signed to a contract under Elisha Consulting. Not only were they my first client, but I still work with them. It has been a crazy three-years together and we have accomplished multiple projects. The team members are some of the most genuine people I have ever met and it's a privilege to be part of their team.
They have been a leader in the employee benefits industry for 35-years and have expanded to offer compliance, HR services, and technology solutions. I can't wait to see how much they continue to grow over the years and am happy to contribute my small part.
For them, they are Texas through and through. Many of their employees graduated from a Texas university and there is a lot of playful trash talk that occurs during football season. They represent the best of Texas - integrity, hospitality, hard-working, and simply fun to be around. I wanted to design something that had a Texas feel and used a belt buckle as inspiration.
As I was driving today, I remembered I needed to keep up with the design challenge and did not know what I was going to create. This led me on one of those crazy mental tangents where I ended up thinking about my profession and how businesses can foster relationships to build customer loyalty.
I started to visualize the few brands that have my loyalty and Jeep is one of them. My first car was a Wrangler and I have been driving them ever since. Currently, I am on my fourth Wrangler and love them! Even if I hit it big one day, I am pretty sure I would be driving a Jeep. The quality of their products along with my customer experiences have been amazing, and, of course, there is is the Jeep tribe with our own hand signals (maybe I have said too much).
As a marketing consultant, I try (heavy emphasis on try) to convince companies they need to develop memorable customer experiences to truly convert a purchaser to a brand advocate. Jeep has done that with me, and it's possible for other organizations if they put in the work.
So for those of you with a Jeep, you know it's not a car, it's a lifestyle.
A main reason I decided to do this design challenge was to force myself to sit and design items with absolutely no motive. There is no ROI to measure, no call-to-action, nor anything else that is associated with my normal professional life as a marketer. My goal is to have fun and be creative for the simple pleasure of creating.
As I am doing this challenge, I am reading two books and interestingly, although they are completely different genres, there was a similar thought in each. In Smarter Faster Better: The Transformative Power of Real Productivity by Charles Duhigg there is a section on "superstar employees." The author points out a central aspect of their work is that they take on fewer projects than their colleagues. Doing fewer projects allows them to become experts and perform at higher levels. This is an idea most of us intellectually understand but few of us actually practice. We fill our calendars and try to do everything which makes us an expert at nothing.
Then there is a quote I keep coming back to from the other book I am reading, Soul Keeping: Caring For the Most Important Part of You by John Ortberg. "You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life." This is like the high-achievers who take on fewer projects. Eliminating hurry from our lives is central to a successful life professionally, spiritually, emotionally, and physically as we focus on what really matters.
The quote keeps playing in my head and I wanted to bring it to the design challenge.
There is nothing special about today's design in the challenge. A vast majority of the time when I am designing items for clients, I am using Adobe Illustrator, InDesign, XD, Microsoft PowerPoint, or multiple website environments. I don't use Photoshop that often because I rarely do photo manipulation.
Therefore, I wanted to try some new techniques in Photoshop that I have been learning to see how it would turn out. I went with an Inception style design with a beach image. There are some rough corners, but overall I like it. More importantly, I am testing myself instead of just doing what I know.
A couple of days ago I did a quick design for the challenge and explained my brand loyalty to Jeep. There is something about a Jeep that becomes part of an individual's lifestyle. The same can be said for Adidas. I have been rocking Adidas since I was a teenager. Don't get me wrong, Nike has some of the best advertising and shoes (at least I am told). But there is something about Adidas that has always drawn me in as a loyal customer.
Their style, fitting, and customer experience are second to none in my opinion. Those of you who know me from my twenties and earlier will remember all my outfits had to match my Adidas. I had the blue boat shoes, orange boat shoes, custom UH-color, discontinued reggae, and of course the "duct tape sandals" (long story).
To this day, I show up to client meetings in a pair of nice Adidas. They are my work, play, and exercise kicks and likely always will be.
As a marketer, we strive to create memorable brand experiences that turn customers into "true fans." So for today's challenge I wanted to highlight a company that has done just that, I am a true fan and automatically think of the brand when I see those three stripes.
It's only day ten of this challenge and my mind is already swimming with ideas. When I worked with Coreluv International, we would have our interns read In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day: How to Survive and Thrive When Opportunity Roars by Mark Batterson. There is a phrase from the book we repeated often.
Change of pace + change of place = change in perspective
Essentially, the idea is that you have to alter your daily routine in order to come up with new ideas or to get out of a rut. This is a central reason for me doing this challenge as I have an idea for a big project I want to tackle in 2019. Yet, at this point, it is just a faint whisper. The challenge is turning that whisper into clarity as each morning I am changing my pace by designing something instead of immediately doing client work when I turn on my computer.
Even with a little more clarity, I am realizing ideas are messy. They are never perfectly laid out in front of us. We get glimpses of the future we want to see come to light and it's our job to wade through the mess to make it clear.
Today in the challenge is one of those "have fun learning" designs. It's an item made in Photoshop and I am finding out how powerful the program can be to really bring an item from meh to amazing.
The design process was fairly quick as I took an image of the Texas flag and manipulated it for a more realistic look.
Will I ever use this technique again? I have no idea, but learning is the key to expanding our skill set and ending up being seen as an expert. All it takes is practicing a little each day and one day you wake up with half a decade of experience behind you.
It's day 12 of the challenge and I am not even halfway done . . . who came up with this idea!?
To the design. I wanted to showcase another one of my amazing clients. This time, it's Real Life Church (RLC). They are my home church and have been since I was a teenager. Sometimes I can't believe the journey from when I was 17 sitting in the pews, not listening, and living a self-destructive lifestyle to now being part of the team and coming up with ways to reach more people through digital media. It's crazy - that's the power of God!
Working with RLC is satisfying as I am living out the mission of Elisha Consulting which is to work with for-profits in order to serve non-profits/faith-based organizations. One of the most enjoyable parts of the gig is working with Pastor Austin. He is a combination of humility, drive, talent, and compassion that is rarely seen. Watching his skills develop is inspiring . . . and pushes me to come up with fresh ideas just to keep up with him.
I went with a retro vibe because RLC has an old-school feel of inclusion. There is so much hate and discord in the world right now, but I know when I walk into RLC's building there will be a diverse group of people that care for each other.
Nothing too deep in the challenge today. Just an illustration of how type can immediately trigger different thoughts, emotions, and mental constructions.
True story - on a Sunday night a few years ago, my wife was in the back of the house working on something. I was on my computer. She entered the room and I immediately shut my monitor. Her natural question . . . "what were you looking at?" My answer . . . "fonts." I love me some fonts and download new ones each week as a great typeface can dramatically alter a design.
Some of the best free resources to get started with your new addiction are Google Fonts and Creative Market (sign up for their newsletter and you will get a free font each Monday). There are many other sites to download fonts, just be careful because as a professional you must ensure you have legal rights to use the font. Don't get a client in trouble because you stole something - be professional.
Staying on the theme of having fun with the challenge, here is a little design for my son who is obsessed with superheroes. He loves all the superheroes. And he has no problem blending Marvel and DC toys. We have spoken many times about how it just . . . doesn't . . . work. But he keeps on contaminating the separate universes.
Back to the design. My absolute favorite designer is Aaron Draplin. His book, Draplin Design Co.: Pretty Much Everything opened me up to so many new ideas and his down-to-earth personality is refreshing as I have met many designers with a pretentious attitude. Let's get real, as designers, we get paid to draw things. Before reading his book, I had never really done anything in Adobe Illustrator. Now, I use the program daily and my business has benefited greatly as I have done multiple re-branding jobs and logo designs in the past year.
It's vital to have mentors to aspire to be like, even if you never meet or speak to them. Who in your industry do you look toward as inspiration? If you don't have someone in mind, you either don't like your job or aren't reaching for greatness. Find that person and study them and emulate their talents to increase your skills.
The challenge is at the halfway point! All downhill from here.
One of the main things I wanted to do during the challenge was to try new techniques and styles that are outside my comfort zone. I have been self-conscience about my handwriting for decades but have seen the rise in popularity of hand lettering. There are some designers who are experts and, with technology, can vectorize their hand lettering for professional logos.
I had to try. Even though I post a lot - there is still some fear of showing off my handwriting. Well, technically, I couldn't find my stylus this morning so this was done with my finger.
Yes, today I finger painted for the design challenge.
There is more I wanted to do with the design (fix the "l"), but I have a long work week and needed to get on some, you know, actual paid client work this morning. I will continue to practice and have a feeling this is going to be my new design obsession until I can reach a point where I am proud of my hand lettering.
The design today is even more uncomfortable for me than yesterday. On day 15 of the challenge, I showed off some hand lettering and was nervous because my handwriting leaves a lot to be desired. However, I do feel confident in my logo designs. So today I wanted to do two things.
1) Work quickly through the logo process to see what I could do, I took less than an hour to fire up the computer, make up a fake company, find colors, and design a few logo options.
2) Show how messy the design process really is, especially with logos.
Most people don't realize when designing a logo there is, what I call, a raw phase. This is where a designer will put any idea in Illustrator just to see what works. And more importantly, to see what doesn't work. I NEVER show the raw phase to a client because it is so unorganized and a majority of the ideas are just there to get the crap out of your system before the great designs come to light.
This design is an example of the raw phase and it definitely is uncomfortable to share as lines aren't straight, symmetry is off, and these are just a bunch of random ideas for a completely non-existent client. I literally looked up "Greek Words" in Google and picked one to try and see if I could make a logo. So here it is, the raw phase of design to illustrate how the process of creating a logo begins.
During this challenge, I have intentionally slowed down my professional and personal life. For nearly two decades I have either worked multiple jobs or been a full-time student, through 3 degrees, while holding a full-time job. Those people close to me know I am always going.
There are a lot of positive aspects of going full-throttle. I have been part of some amazing teams and seen large projects come to life in various industries. Yet, I knew I needed to slow down in order to simply think and reflect on life. I am now in my mid-thirties and each year seems to be going way too fast. My first born is about to start school this year!
One thing that has really shocked me, in a bad way, during this time of reflection is how I generally go from one distraction to another throughout the day. I have trouble just sitting. Instead of deep thought, I move from Reddit to Flipboard to social media to whatever else is shiny.
Today's design is a reflection of my distracted mind and a realization that I need to quiet my mind, body, and soul.
I was struggling with the challenge today as I could not think of anything that I wanted to design.
Pinterest inspiration didn't help. None of the YouTube tutorials looked interesting. Then I started to manufacture designs that looked terrible because I was trying too hard. Finally, I just looked at some pictures of nature and it hit me.
Whatever your beliefs are, it's difficult to deny that creation in itself contains the most inspiring visuals imaginable. In this design, all I did was sample some of the colors from the image and the palette is phenomenal. A little design secret, if you want your color choices to feel natural and authentic then simply take a picture and use your eye dropper tool. You will find that nature possesses the finest color pairings possible.
So today's design might not have stretched me technically but it did remind me that simplicity reigns supreme.
My natural style is coming out as I get deeper into the challenge. Minimalism is central to who I am personally and professionally. I continually strip away items in my life that are unnecessary and constantly strive to find what actually matters. The older I get, the more I realize there isn't much that is important. Faith, family, friends, health, meaningful work, and little else are essential for a fulfilled life. Maybe tacos . . . definitely add tacos to the list.
Today's design is symbolic of that mindset. It's simply two gradient shapes that create a nice balance. The text fills out some of the empty space and the design could be used as the beginning of a poster.
Not much else with this design other than me having fun with minimalist ideas.
For the remainder of the challenge, I intend to really dive deep into my preferred design styles to simply improve on what I enjoy. Some of the earlier designs in the challenge utilized techniques I have never tried. Yet, one of my major weaknesses as a professional is that I "jump" from one career or industry to another instead of really digging in and becoming an expert. Therefore, I want to see how far I can take my design style.
Those ideas led to today's graphic where I combined three of my favorite design elements - modernist style, a monogram, and a gradient. I know, somebody needs to stop me.
The letters are actually shapes combined to make an "e" and "c." A little design and business tip. Custom logos are more expensive than a computer generated logo, however, they indicate a business focuses on details and wants excellence throughout their offerings. When I hear of companies only spending $5 on a logo, I immediately think they cut corners elsewhere. Just a little rant, but seriously, a professional company should have a professional logo made by a designer that will do research and come up with a custom piece that represents the soul of a business.
Day Twenty One
Years ago I dabbled in design. Nothing too serious. I would just be the third string for campaigns I oversaw. I would jump in and make a flyer or brochure if for some reason our normal designers were busy. It was nothing too serious.
Then there came a day when I saw a simple design. It was basic but caught my eye. The letters were transparent and you could see the image through the text. I wanted to do something similar for a project, I think it was in my MBA. So I did what any student does, I went to Google. In a moment I realized I had no idea what to search. Um . . . maybe "clear letters," no, nothing came up. Hmm . . . "transparent words?" A few confusing tutorials appeared and I was on one of those Google trails until I finally found a website that could clearly explain how to knock out the text.
It was simple and took me all of 5-minutes.
In an instant, I was intrigued. If that only took 5-minutes, what else could I do with design software? That was a few years ago. Ever since I have been fortunate to work with global companies to mom and pop shops designing everything from standard business cards to elaborate re-branding projects. And it really started with wanting to have transparent letters.
So today's design is an homage to that moment when I really began my design journey.
Day Twenty Two
I am definitely a minimalist who enjoys simplicity. Yes, I am that person with a sustainable bamboo desk who removes clutter as much as possible. My design style reflects this mindset as I enjoy clean lines, symmetry, hierarchy, and other fundamental aspects of minimal design.
Then there is another side of me that likes crazy ideas. This is the part of me that enjoys the absurd and testing boundaries. Today's design reflects my fondness for the abstract with a "glitch" graphic. I have seen this style become more popular recently and it was fun to make as I wasn't concerned about perfect lines and the golden ratio. No, for this design, I simply wanted to do something unique.
One of the things I have seen in this design challenge is that many of the people I look up to have a definitive style which is great because they are seen as experts. Yet, sometimes it is fun to be a little more eclectic. Not sure if that's good or bad.
Anyway, enjoy the design and keep pushing yourself to try new styles and ways of thinking as you might find something that is unfamiliar is actually really enjoyable.
Day Twenty Three
After yesterday's abstract design, I wanted to pull it back to simplicity. What's crazy is that this design actually took longer than yesterdays and many of the others in this challenge. Geometric designs can be more laborious than crazy graphics because of the subtly, angles, and symmetry.
This is purely a random design but it is a good example of a proper logo. I always give clients my little speech on logos.
A great logo is timeless, recognizable, and functional.
That means companies should avoid trends. If you think of the most popular logos (Apple, Nike, Microsoft, etc.), they are all simple shapes because geometry never goes out of style. Then there is the functional component which is more challenging now compared to the past. Nowadays, a logo needs to fit on a business card, billboard, website, social media, and many other platforms that just weren't around a few decades ago. The more elaborate a logo is, the less readable it is when shrunk down for social media or a business card. Therefore, simplicity reigns supreme.