What kind of Designer am I?

One of the things about doing a small magazine is that you do a lot of ads. One of the things about doing ads for a small magazine is your turnaround time is short. Very short. In the old days I might fuss over an ad for weeks and certainly the “idea” of an ad campaign was generally worked on over a season and each ad was thus just a variation that you played with for a week or so.

These days Rob usually sends me a size and a client name and asks me to make something up (see my Toast Post). If I am lucky he has included some body copy. If I am really lucky he has included some graphics (although 50% of the time they are too small or too ugly to be of any use) and if I am extremely lucky I get an ad or brochure to use as a base. Then he usually wants to see it the next day. Sometimes the same day. It’s a whole different kettle of fish. And, rather than getting feedback on the various options I try to supply, I usually get a few text changes or the infamous “Can you add a few Xmas ornaments or tinsel without making it look tacky?”, but mostly they just pick one and deliver an “approved.” And once it’s approved, fussing or changing anything beyond a bit of kerning is deeply frowned upon.

To get going, most companies have websites or Facebook pages and you can start there, looking for inspiration or at least a logo. Sometimes you resort to competitor’s ads to see what the genre looks like. And there is always the photo stock agency to mine for pictures, but that can get problematic if you don’t actually know what the companies product or brand is—and I don’t. It’s easiest to dump a bunch of stuff on the pasteboard and see what it looks like organically. One of my biggest challenges is always colour. If I have a good palette to start from then things generally flow ok. If I don’t, then I can run into some big problems that have me gritting my teeth later because with the short timelines switching boats midstream doesn’t happen. Take these two ads for the same client for example. I hate the first one and want nothing more than to start over. The second one works for a whole lot of reasons and is starting to become one of my favourites from this issue (which, btw, is off to the press as we speak).

Ayre&Oxfordone-third-square Final Ayre&Oxford-Northridge-one-third-square

Nevada Place came first. I had a brochure to steal copy and images from but it was a dark, dark blue with yellow headlines that wouldn’t work in a smaller format with all the other junk. So I visited Aryes and Oxford’s website for some inspiration. The colour palette that I ended up using comes straight from their site (except for the yellow which I kept from the brochure). A decision I regret, but after the first “approved” with request for adding a map, some starbursts and some more copy ( I believe the actual request was  “Needs more fluff”), changing the colour palette opens too many problems on such a short timeline.

Ayre&Oxfordone-third-square Final

Blech. And Yuck.

The second ad came a few days later with a sample ad done in a local newspaper. Instead of stealing their colour palette or design, I just took the lovely little square logo and adapted it as a framework for the ad. And I loved the way it turned out. This way I was working with someone else’s thoughtful design and stealing the time they spent fussing over colours to kickstart my design. It’s a way to magically “create” time.


I’d still love a week or two to fuss with the details and massage the copy, but I am generally pretty happy with the result.

So if I steal the palette from ad two and spend 5 minutes adapting it and switching some of the basic proportions (since I’ve had time to mull things over) I get this:

Ayre&Oxfordone-third-square mockup

Still a long way from being good, but way better IMHO. It just needs some more time. This really is a different game than I am used to. Fun though.