To get a job as a designer it’s always your portfolio that matters, and not your qualifications. So is it still worth attending university? In this weeks interview Ian chats with Diane Gibbs to find out the answer to this question.
We discuss why university matters, what you should do before you attend, how you can make the most of your time studying, and the importance of networking with, and getting to know designers in the industry.
Diane is a graphic designer, entrepreneur, business owner, consultant, and a college professor at the University of South Alabama. She’s best known for her highly acclaimed Design Recharge interview series.
Diane Gibbs Interview Transcription
Ian Paget: One of the main topics I’d like to discuss with you is university and how designers can get the most out of the experience to get the job that they’ve always dreamed of once they finish their studies. Now, I’ve met and interviewed designers who have been self-taught and those who have studied at university. So I know that there are different options out there now. So from your perspective, what do you feel is the benefit of attending university if you do want to become a graphic designer?
Diane Gibbs: So I think, I’m like you, I’ve interviewed plenty of people who also are just self-taught. So I think here’s the difference, and I’m not saying that people who go to university or lazy or anything like that, but it takes a unique person to be able to be a self-taught in the drive and motivation that it takes. And sometimes people need their hand held a little bit longer and without YouTube, without all the books that we have now, I think it was much more difficult. And also I believe that at some point, there was this, and I still think there are jobs out there that say, “Hey, you need this degree to proceed,” and not necessarily at an ad agency or at a design firm and definitely not freelance.
But to get some positions they’ll say, “Oh, you have to have a BFA, Bachelor of Fine Arts, not a BA, a Bachelor of Arts. So they wanted a focused degree and that’s in more corporate work I think, you know what I mean? And thanks for having me on the show by the way. I just wanted to make sure to get that in.
Ian Paget: You’re very welcome.
Diane Gibbs: But I also think, so it’s just two different kinds of people. I have self-starters as well actually feel like the students who do best are going to be the ones who don’t just do what I’m asking the minimum, they’re not. Those minimum kids are sometimes there because their parents want them to be in at school, they think that that’s going to be a leg up. But really it takes a lot to be a designer today and you can’t just do the minimum. And so the kids who are most driven, so you’re getting led into what things are important by somebody else who’s already been more than likely in the industry and is still in the industry doing work and has great connections.
I realised that one of the biggest advantages that is really hard to implement online is that community. You’ve done a great job in the Facebook group for Logo Geek, but there is something, it’s the automatic response seeing people’s facial expressions when you put your branding up or when you have a publication. The thing about university is we’re kind of teaching you a lot of things or that’s how we do it here, we kind of touch on a lot of things.
So it may be something that as you dive deep into something on your own, you may not even realise that designers do this. So it’s kind of an overall but then we hopefully are helping you say, “Okay, you know what, you’re really good at this.” And sometimes a lot of people just need somebody to respond and to guide them. So that’s another place that university is really helpful, but I’m also in that mindset, I mean, as a college professor, I don’t think everybody needs to go to college. But it is advantage I think that if you can afford it, it’s a great advantage to go ahead and do that.
Ian Paget: I didn’t actually attend university myself as you are aware but I was very, very lucky to have got an opportunity early in my life where I could basically learn on the job by making mistakes. I find when you are teaching yourself you don’t know what you don’t know and you don’t know what you should know or how to improve. At the beginning, that was a real struggle for me but through the years I’ve learned a lot from books and from colleagues and just by observing good quality work.
So based on that from my perspective, even though I’m a self-taught graphic designer, I really think university has so much value as you have someone guiding you. And I think it’s one of the best ways to learn how to do this job.
Diane Gibbs: Right. Well and it’s also terms, it’s like we’re teaching you terms that you might not know on your own and says, even when you’re googling something, this is the thing that with students, they’re like, “I’m just trying to do this.” And it’s like Google doesn’t understand what you’re trying to do, but if you ask me then I can tell you what to Google. Because sometimes you just need that, so it’s a mentor.
So if you’re going to do this on your own, you need somebody who’s going to be a mentor or meet a few people. I think you can manufacture this, but there are going to be some things that you’re going to come across. One is confidence, sometimes some people have too much confidence but one of the things I’ve seen most often is that people don’t have enough confidence, that their confidence is waning because they think there’s this big huge thing on their shoulder. They think that says, “I don’t have a degree, I can do this.”
Nobody’s put that stamp of approval for me. And I don’t agree with that. I don’t think you need a stamp of approval. I actually believe the stamp comes. I do believe you need a mentor or a few and then you need a community, and a community that’s a small group of people I would say under 10 that’s going to give you real feedback, that may be at the same places you, or it may be a little ahead of you. And some of those people may be a little ahead in some areas and some may people be behind.
But I think if you’re trying to kind of get this, I think having a place to learn and you don’t know how long something’s going to take you. When you started podcasting, you didn’t know how long this, there wasn’t a professional podcasting network out there at the time when you started.
Ian Paget: No there wasn’t at all.
Diane Gibbs: Right. So how do you learn? You learn by trial and it’s the same thing like marketing, that’s all those people do is they just try new things and they see if it works and that’s how we work too to some extent. But you have to have enough confidence to say, “Okay, I don’t know enough about this, so let’s try this. And I do that with clients and I have a master’s degree, I do not think that a degree makes you a better or worse designer, I think some students, unfortunately they think that it will get them that pass in, but it is still your portfolio. Nobody ever asked me what grades I made, Nobody even really asked me …
I mean, they saw on my resume and I guess they’re in my CV that says that I had a degree from Auburn University and design and that was enough, but my portfolio was what got me in the door and my portfolio was what got me the job, not a degree.
Ian Paget: Yeah, I totally agree with that, I’ve been fortunate to be in the position where I’ve needed to hire graphic designers to join the team of the agency I work, and we always go by the portfolio. Like you just want to be able to see that they’re actually able to do the job and actually do the work that’s needed. You base your choice on, if they can actually do the job, you don’t base it on, if they attended university or if they have certain qualifications.
And that’s very much more if I was beneficial to actually have this conversation so that we can speak about the value of university because if it’s only the portfolio that matters, it’s easy to question why you should go to university, but the benefits you’ve already mentioned, such as the guidance, the direction, mentorship, network and so make it immensely valuable. But to actually get the job that you want, you do need to learn and you need to work hard so that you do have a solid portfolio for the time when you do actually need to go out and look a job and start to stay in the conversation.
For those listening who are considering university, what would you recommend that they do before attending university to make sure that they make the most to their experience.
Diane Gibbs: Okay, so there’s two different kinds of students you have, well there’s three really, but there’s a student who actually lives in the same house with their parents.
And then there’s a student who goes off to university and lives in the dorm or lives in an apartment or something. I think there’s an advantage to that because what I find, a lot of our students don’t leave, they just stay, they stay in their house with their parents. And so I feel like you grow up a lot as a person, as an adult, just having to pay your own bills to some extent, you don’t have to pay all of them because your parents are still paying for a lot of that but you have to actually clean your bathroom and you have to get your groceries and those are things that aren’t necessarily just applied by somebody else that’s living with you.
You also have to learn to live with other people, and I think that those are great advantages of going away to a university that’s not necessarily right 15 minutes away by drive. So I think you’re learning different things there. I would say for those kids you need to learn about money and you need to learn about budgets and that’s what I would tell parents to talk to their kids about. And I would have them give them a budget and have them regularly, once a month they have to do the grocery shopping and they have to handle the budget for the house.
What I find is that there are kids who are 24, they’re graduating from college and have never paid a bill, or have never cleaned their bathroom, or have never had to get the tires changed on their car, or oil change, or anything like that and so that there’s life skills that are really critical that I think parents need to be getting in to. So if your parents aren’t a part of your life, then you have an advantage there. I mean, not that, that sounds terrible. That’s not what I mean.
I mean if you’re doing this stuff on your own and you are thinking about going back to school. And then there’s going to be an advantage because you already have the adulting done. And I feel like that’s a disadvantage for kids who graduate and then move away and get a job, it can be a disadvantage because they have to do all this adulting and learning how to be an adult on their own. And it’s very shocking and can be …
So the university is a safe place to be like, “Oh my gosh, I just couldn’t go to class this week.” Like, “Okay, well you’re not going to fail, this would probably cause you maybe to get …” something at work is going to happen if you just don’t show up for a week, but it’s not going to happen at a university. So it’s a safe place to kind of fail. So a huge advantage I think to going away to university. Now, some parents are great and they teach their kids all these things. So terrific.
I had to clean, I had chores, I had things like that, but one of the things I didn’t have was budgeting. My parents didn’t really talk to me about budgeting and money, we were always tight on money but I had everything, I always had shampoo, I had clean towels, I had all the things that I took for granted other kids were having to pay for or when I went to school. So it really made me, it was another advantage of living with a whole bunch of other girls is that, “Wow, this one girl asked for a shampoo for Christmas.” And it was so like, “Oh my goodness, she asked for shampoo,” like I’ve never had to ask for shampoo, you know?
And she came from another city I grew up in Atlanta, she came from another like little town outside of Atlanta. So she came from a good family, her mom was a single mom, but it was like she was having to pay for so much of school herself. That shampoo and detergent for the laundry were things that she asked for at Christmas. And I was like, but now as an adult, you know, I’m like, “Those things get expensive.”
Ian Paget: Oh yeah, they do. I love that you’re sharing all of this, these things that you don’t really think of.
Diane Gibbs: So I think that that’s just an adulting thing, so again I would still have a mentor I would have somebody who’s been an adult or lived on their own for at least four years that could maybe like take you under their wing and say, “Hey, you know, this is how I pay my bills. This is how I do this online.” I set a calendar reminder or whatever. You just don’t want to mess up with the money or bills or your apartment or things like that. Those are things to kind of, and with university you’re also in with a whole bunch of other people who are learning at the same time, so you can learn from other people’s mistakes.
The other I think really what you were asking me was really about design and what could people do. So I have some topics for that, I would say if you are thinking about one of the things that I see even with students who are in design, I would say they don’t really know a lot about the community. That’s already a part, they feel like, “Oh, well I’m so new, I can’t be a part of this online community that’s Logo Geek or I can’t be a part of … they just maybe don’t know about the network of designers and that is key, and I know we’re going to talk about that a little bit later. But having beginning early to be part of that network, I think that maybe this is something that I think millennials are much better at and maybe people who are younger, I don’t know what that generation is called to you.
Ian Paget: I have no idea. I think it might be Gen X? I’d need to check.
Diane Gibbs: But I think that millennials I know don’t care as much, which is great, which is an advantage for them. But what I would say is typography, that is what I think is very difficult for students to grasp as well as it’s difficult for professionals to grasp, it’s something I’m continually always learning about. So those would be people, I would do some classes online if you can, go to some workshops, even as a, I would try to get involved in an online community that’s going to be teachable, teaching and like the future or Logo Geek or getting people a part of, I have some friends that run Type-Ed. It’s Type-Ed. I don’t know if you’ve ever interviewed that.
Ian Paget: We had Michael on the podcast last season and I know Rachel too, these guys do some really good stuff.
Diane Gibbs: Yeah, and I always learned something like, and I’m teaching kids and I don’t even know everything Michael knows, but I also think it’s, it’s about having, talking to professionals like go shadow somebody and ask them and then maybe that person can be your mentor and teach you things that I bet you anything you won’t know. The other thing I think is an advantage with some of the business stuff, I also think watching documentaries, understanding history, all those things actually make you a better designer because you have stories to tell.
So it’s also just understanding people, understanding culture. So sociology, do some studies in that, or I read a lot of psychology stuff because it’s about how people think. And I know you do too because you and I’ve had some great conversations about that, but I think it’s like a professional athlete just because you say, I just learned to ride a bike. It’s not like I’m going to go this weekend and go, decide that I’m going to ride a bike in a race.
You know, like with other professionals or be in the Olympics, “Oh well I know how to ride a bike.” No, nobody does that. It’s a continuous learning, you’re always improving, your eye is also a muscle. So you’re teaching yourself what is good, and I think as you start, you don’t realise all the little nuances in typography. But as you go, you get better and better just like a chef with his palate, you’re training your eye. And I guess I just think, I always tell students, I’m like, “Okay, there are these kids who are out there and they’re playing football and they’re practicing every afternoon, every afternoon. And then on the weekend they go play and they’re prepping to be a professional athlete. Will you are prepping to be a professional designer? So why aren’t you exercising that muscle in the afternoon every afternoon just as much?”
And I don’t know if they just don’t see the, when you’re exercising or your coach puts you in, maybe that you see that effect of your hard work, the results. But that’s why I love how you do logos Ian, because you’re doing, you’re trying to do them within about a week time, you’re doing the research, which is really intense. But talk about professional athlete, there you go. You’re like a perfect example of this as you design, you do research, you do client interactions and then you try to produce something at a level, you’re not spreading it out over three years to do one logo.
Ian Paget: Yeah. I’d say that comes from working in an agency environment. You just got to get things done and you have to learn to do things quickly to a high standard. I remember in school, you’d be given weeks or months to work on a project, but in the real world, and unless you’re charging extortionate prices like thousands of pounds of thousands of dollars, you just need to get the job done. Otherwise, you’ll be living on a very small amount of money.
So in order to be able to charge realistic prices, you have to get the job done. So you have to really hone your skills and they just saw that you can get that work done in a realistic timeframe.
Diane Gibbs: Absolutely. I mean, it’s like you with your process, you’re not just sitting in front of your computer doing that, you have this big table and you have these big sheets of paper and you’re just ideas, ideas, ideas, ideas, ideas. But if you just went to work and you came home and you went to the grocery and you came home and you did nothing else, Ian, you would not be as good of a designer.
Ian Paget: Yeah, I think you’re right. I’ve been learning and practicing in my entire for years and I think as a designer, you’re always learning. Like anyway, earlier today I popped into Starbucks and there was this sign on the side and I couldn’t help but notice the terrible canning and I just want it to fix it. But when I see something that’s perfect, it’s hard not to appreciate the work. And I tried to understand what makes something really great say, I’m always learning every day on the go or even when I’m not actually sat down at my desk working.
Diane Gibbs: Because you’re a professional. So when you’re going, it’s just like if I was a football player or whatever, American football player, then every time I saw a game on TV, I would be focused in, I’d be like, “Oh dude, that guy just messed up,” or that guy, “Oh, I would’ve done it different.” And it’s exactly we are because you’re a professional athlete and design.
Ian Paget: It’s weird hearing someone say something like that because you keep going and going and going and you never really stopped to think about where you started and where you are now. So hard work really pays off but I think personally I’ll always be driven to keep learning and improving. Anyway, going back on topic, when you’re at university, your mentor guided and given work to do, so beyond just doing what fast, is there anything that you would recommend students do whilst at university to make sure that they’re in the best position possible to get a graphic design job once they have finished their studies?
Diane Gibbs: So this is where networking comes in and I hate that term because it sounds so like car dealer, I don’t know if y’all have that over in the UK.
Ian Paget: Yeah we did, and I’ve been to those networking events where you meet these sales people who are trying to sell you stuff.
Diane Gibbs: Okay. So that’s why I don’t like the term networking, but really it’s like making friends online and then hopefully getting to see them in person at some point. But making friends online in a way, so Ian I think of you as my friend, if I needed something I could message you or I probably not going to call you because that’d be way long distance and that kind of stuff plan. But I could message you and then we could jump on a video chat and I can show you what I was doing. But that’s because we have a friendship because we started because one of us reached out to one of us, one person started asked one person a question and that’s all it is.
And I think that that’s where students who have a university, they don’t do this and I think people who don’t have a university background, they do, do this because they don’t know any way else to get to talk to someone in the field. So the students are using their teachers and they think, “Okay, I’ve done it, I’m good.” But it’s not, it’s not good. You need to make your own connections.
Our industry, and I’ve said this so many times is so incestuous, but not in a bad way, I guess I don’t really know how to say that in a good way, but I’m living in Alabama people and I’m just kidding, there’s no, I mean that incestuous is bad anywhere. But how this is in a good way, is that we hire people we know. If I needed a logo and I know you do it quick and you do such a killer job and you have such good way of talking to clients, I’m going to give it to you Ian, because I know I couldn’t turn it in that time. I’m going to just forward it to you and say, “He’s going to do a great job,” and now it’s a reflection on me with this client. Right? This client may never come back to me. They might come back to me to do something else that’s not logo. Right?
But now I’ve given them your name and now we’re connected again. I think that we can’t do everything, so I think having a network of people who you can turn to is going to make everybody stronger and also you are building stronger bonds. So that’s one making money, right? But it’s also about being somewhere you can ask questions. So I have a mastermind group and it’s like five women and we all do different things. And I love it because if I need to know something about pattern design, I’m going to go to Jodie or Carina.
And then if I need to know something about illustration, I’m going to go to Kim. And those are things that, I know that I can go to these people for something I can’t do or if I don’t know how to do it quick enough, I may want to try it, I may want to attack it. And so often in design we have to do a pattern if it’s logo design, right? You’re creating maybe a whole system for that brand. And so I need somebody, I may can go to YouTube, but it still isn’t getting all my needs. But what if you reach out to though, YouTuber, and I think people just don’t do this enough. Like they’d say, “Okay, well I don’t know that person probably has so many followers.”
I mean, granted maybe not Casey Neistat is not going to probably email you back or something, but most people don’t have just this huge exorbitant following and they’re getting thousands and thousands of comments on every video. So why don’t you just ask them and start a conversation with somebody you look up to?
Ian Paget: Yeah, that’s brilliant advice and I can totally relate with it, like I’ve been surprised when I contacted box stars in the industry to actually get some kind of response for this podcast, you can pretty much reach out to any designer or they maybe not some of the biggest names because a lot of them will get loads of emails such as like the Pentagram partners. But if he was to reach out to someone like myself or you, we’d probably almost always respond and how are we can, and you’re right. Not enough people do that, but it’s one of the best ways to get feedback, helping advice is basically mentorship but you don’t need to tell these people that they’re actually going to be your mentor.
Diane Gibbs: But I’ve also seen this happen so many times where people are not asked very much and then they have a connection, they get a connection with this one person, they don’t realise they’re being a mentor just like you said but then they end up like really helping that person get a job. I interviewed Britt Davis who works at the Falcons, which is American football and she had a mentor, but she just asked him, she met him at a conference, she went up to him and she told him about a project she was working on. And she wanted to get feedback from him about the project. It can’t just be like, “Hey, can I sit next to you just because I want your awesomeness to rub off on me.”
I think you have to have something specific to ask, and I also think just like you and I, we ask people to be on our podcast, we are okay with rejection because we understand they’re not really rejecting us, they’re just rejecting this opportunity right now. They actually might want to do it later. The Pentagram people, they might say just now is so bad, we’re so busy, we can’t do it. And that is not a rejection forever. It’s just a not now, you know? But it’s a lot different of asking somebody just to look at something and get feedback from like one or two things than saying, “Hey, can I have a job?”
Those are two totally different things and I don’t have a job for everybody. So Sagmeister asking him for a job is very different than asking him, “Hey, can you give me feedback on this logo?” I think it’s starting with those small things. It’s like asking, it’s like if you really are in love with the girl at the grocery store, you go through her line, you make sure you go on Tuesdays because that’s when she works. And you go through her line and you ask her one question every week. And then in three months you have enough of a relationship to ask her out on to coffee.
And people ask people out to coffee and then they ask people out on a dinner date or a lunch date, something that’s longer. And so it’s the same thing in design, you have to start these little conversations, that’s why the social media, so the social media, I don’t know, how old am I, how social media is so impactful. You can start these little, I love you conversations and I mean obviously not that kind of love, but that conversation and then it can … because people want, people want people to like them, people want to help other people they just don’t know you.
And so if you’re just cold calling, “Hey, I’d like to sell you this vacuum cleaner.” “Well, I don’t need a vacuum cleaner. Thank you.” You have to realise what they need and what they want, I think it’s you, when I tell my students and they’re reaching out and I’m like, you need to tell them something specific that you really like. Not like, “Oh, hey, I’ve been a huge fan of your work. I’d like for you to look at my portfolio.”
I was like, “No, you can say you’re a huge fan of their work, but you need to say something specific. I love this blank that you did and I love how you did the topography or I love how the kerning was done, or I love how the illustration was so simple.” Then it shows that you know what you’re talking about, you’re not just this fan girl trying to get a photo opportunity with this person, you actually want, you love their mind and that’s what you’re starting relationships.
And I think you have to start somewhere in the internet is so great because you can either give somebody a message through social media or you can send them an email. I think people ignore emails a lot easier, so it’s a lot easier to reject somebody there. But I also think there’s something so powerful about face to face. And Ian, I know you and I have never met in person but I feel like I know you because I have seen your facial reactions. Me and you have had numerous face to face interactions, and I actually really do agree with I love Skype or I love Zoom for those video chat or FaceTime or whatever.
And I would just ask to do that, I think it actually build stronger relationships to have those face to face even if it’s not in person, I don’t see full body, right? But face to face, I see reactions and I think that that’s something that a lot of introverts that can be very scary for them but that’s how we deal with clients a lot of times is face to face or we do it, a lot of my clients are either over the phone or they’re in Colorado or they’re in other places.
So I have to have a good phone voice or I have to have a good, you have to show excitement, you have to show interest in your voice or in your facial expressions if you are doing a video chat.
Ian Paget: One thing I would like to add to what you said about reaching out to people, by doing this podcast and running the Logo Geek community I’ve got to a place now where I do get quite few messages and emails from other graphic designers asking questions and has been a lot of times where they’ve done what you said and they’ve been really friendly, they’ve asked specific things. And in all of these situations I’ve been happy to help. And a lot of these people have become friends too, but on occasion I’ve had messages audibly asking things like, “Can you take a look at my portfolio? Here’s a link,” and that’s all they send.
And I mean, firstly I would say that’s such a big ask because it can take so much time to give through a portfolio. And in a lot of cases like that, because there’s not been any other message send, I just ignore those messages as I don’t really have time to dig for details. But every time people have been very specific, and done it in the way that you said, I’ve always been happy time if I’ve had the time, but I just have to stress, don’t just send a link to your portfolio and expect feedback, do it the way that Diane said, “Be very specific. Don’t just send a link to your portfolio.”
Diane Gibbs: Well, and I also don’t know what they want if you say, “Look at my portfolio,” I’m like, “Okay, what are you expecting?”
So what kind of job? There are so many other questions like I think that having a small win in the beginning is really important. Just like in dating, it’s the same way. Just ask for something small. There was this episode of Oprah back a long time ago when she was on regular daytime television and she was like teaching kids how to go up and find good strangers.
So these are strangers, these are designers. So find a designer that will give you the time, literally like that was what she had them doing in the grocery store. Just going up and asking somebody, “Hey, can you tell me what time it is?” And then the mom would be near so they work totally in a grocery store on their own, but so you got to go to a safe place, think about this as designers go to a safe place. So maybe you go to a group that is active and you’re seeing it’s encouraging instead of like, “Oh my gosh,” it’s like a Reddit post or something where people are just ripping people apart, not a safe place there so don’t go there.
But somewhere there’s there you see encouragement and you see good critical feedback and that’s helpful. So you’ve got to kind of be able to assess and analyse the grocery store for designers. And then you got to go up and then see somebody who’s active and is further along in the game than you are. And then ask, “Do that small ask? So could you look at this one logo and tell me what I could do with my topography?”
So you’re not even asking about the image that’s connected to it, you’re just asking about typography because this person is great at typography and you’re telling them, “Hey, I have seen you, I know what you’re doing. I see how you used typography in a unique way in so-and-so logo. Could you look at this and give me feedback on my typography?” And they want to help but that’s an easy kind of answer, they can either type it or they could say, “Hey, let’s jump on a call and let’s do that.”
Ian Paget: I know you attend a lot of graphic design events and it’s probably the best way to meet other designers in reality. Do you have any advice for networking with other designers at such events?
Diane Gibbs: So I think there, and you know this because you’re a perfect example of an introvert that has had to harness your inner extrovert, right?
Ian Paget: Yes.
Diane Gibbs: Like you have had to overcome and I think that you’re a great example of somebody who’s done it, but you did it in small practices, you just kept doing it just like logos, you kept at it, you didn’t give up, my spirit animal is the beaver because they’re just such hard workers and they’re community driven and they are really when they build their dams in the right place. And they help a lot of other people will you’re the exact same way. And you had to get over a whole bunch of fear to be able to do everything you did, but you didn’t let anything stop you said, “I’ve seen other people do this, I can do this.”
So when you’re at an event, nobody knows you, and maybe you go with one other person but that person is not going to judge you if you decide to harness your inner beaver and say, “Okay, I’m going to harness my inner Ian and I am not going to walk out of this room without three new people that I’ve made friends with.” And made friends let’s have a realistic goal, made friends is maybe you talk to them about something that they’re working on and you maybe got their information, their email or you’re connected with them on Instagram or whatever.
So whatever your goal is, is maybe you want to have 50 of these. Well, I don’t know how long conversations, maybe it’s a long event, maybe it’s a week-long 50 might not be that difficult. But you should go in with something especially if you’re an introvert with a goal so that you can feel like, “Oh my gosh, I went to that conference and I paid all that money and I didn’t get anything out of it. Like I got something out of the talks.” But what I really wanted to do was try, so I think I would have a specific goal of how many people I wanted to talk to, or when I go to a conference, I try not to eat with people I already know.
Like sometimes I have one meal that I eat with people I know, but then the other times it’s like I always invite somebody new because sometimes people are alone, I go to a lot of conferences alone but I never leave alone ever, I guess that sounds like I’m really loose but I’m not, this is just like, “Hey, I just make friends. So people walking, if you’re alone and they’re alone, just make a conversation, start talking to them, and you now have somebody else.” It’s easy at a conference because they’re branded already, they have their big badge or they have a bag that everybody was given.
So it’s easy to kind of point them out or you’re both walking in the same, you share a cab. I just think this is a great time, you both are interested. And I think the other thing an introvert needs is some questions, what can I ask other people? First, I want to put this in people’s heads we just had a conference last Saturday so I had to give this talk to my students. How do you feel Ian, when somebody comes up to you?
Ian Paget: It’s nice, really nice, especially if you’re on your own, you gave that because you want them to meet new people. What I love about conferences is that, you know that you have something in common with everyone. So it’s really easy just to go up to someone new and just, “Hey, how are you finding the event so far?”
Diane Gibbs: Exactly. And you had something specific to ask, how are you liking the event? Or just like we asking something of someone, ask them … So don’t do for the big ask. Like, “Hey, can I eat dinner with you?” Maybe not that, but what about if you just said, “Hey, who was your favourite speaker today? Or what workshop did you attend? Oh, what did you learn?” My husband says, it sounds like I’m an investigator like they’re under the lights. And he’s like, “Diane, why don’t you give him a break?” But honestly, people actually like to talk about themselves. So just ask questions and then this is where learning some facial cues, so you need to practice when you’re at home with other strangers at the grocery store or whatever.
Dave Clayton talked about how his friend Mike forced him to be somebody else like literally he said, “Oh well this is Dave and he’s the financial officer for this construction company.” He would just make up something and Dave’s a designer, he was not anything and find it, but he had to think on his feet and really thinking on his feet helped him. And then he would always come clean, like, “Oh my gosh, my friend Mike is always throw me under the bus,” but it gave him that he could just think on his feet and be somebody else. And I think sometimes you just need to, it does make people feel so good when you come up to them.
So there are levels I think, you go up to somebody else who’s also alone, that’s like level one. Level two is going up to people who are walking maybe in the same dark direction, but it’s more than one person. But walking, you can’t really walk five people in a row and like take up a whole sidewalk. You kind of have to walk two by two usually, so you start talking to someone that’s within a group and then I think there’s different levels than if you get to talking then maybe you can eat lunch with them or whatever, you could get onto a next ask.
And then the big one is going up and talking to a group of people, totally cold calling, kind of on a big group. But it sometimes is that this group is an introverted group, they know each other and they’re too afraid to talk to anybody else. They want to talk to other people, but they’re afraid. And that’s how I see groups at conferences because I am that weird person that goes up to the whole group and I start talking to them.
So if I’m with a group then I’ll say, “Okay, well let’s meet some new people.” And of course the people I’m with don’t want to meet anybody, I mean they want to but they don’t want to initiate it. So then I’ll talk to this new group and it’s small and these are like five people in five people. And so then we just make the circle bigger, and I said, “Oh my goodness, you have to be able to listen and you have to actually care and be passionate,” and I think about other people and care about them. It can’t just be like, “Oh, I can’t wait until I can talk again, when will they shut up? I just want to talk again.”
So you have to kind of find some commonality between them, so where do they work? Where do they live? What kind of things do they do at work? And then you fight, you’re already at the conference for design. So somewhere you’re going to find some connection and then you could turn to your other group and say, “Oh my goodness, I want you to meet Joe. Joe also does that Ian,” you guys should start, you should talk about that Joe, you do this and blah, blah, blah, and Ian does this, blah, blah blah.” And then it automatically gets you and Joe into a one on one conversation.
So now I just step back and that’s my role or sometimes you kind of let the whole group and I kind of work at like it’s a group meeting and we’re all learning about each other. That’s kind of like the third tier I would say, but I just think having questions to ask. So if you’re talking to us, I think sometimes it’s just about being confident enough to go up to someone and say, “Hey, what did you think about the speaker while you’re both at a conference?” So maybe they heard somebody or maybe they didn’t, I also think if you’re sitting alone, make sure you know the people around you, like get to know them.
I always try to sit in the same spot and it’s always in the middle, like row 12, because I like to be able to see things really well. I never know anybody sitting next to me but by the end of it I do because I’ve talked to them, we have shared experiences and shared experiences is something that can bind people together. So utilise that like, “Oh yeah, I really thought about this.”
Now, if you’re falling asleep during that talk, do not start talking to them about that one. If you’re talking or on your phone or you’re doing something that we could be considered rude, I would not say, “Hey, the people around you probably aren’t going to want to talk to you because you’ve been talking.” It’s like nobody wants to talk to the person who’s talking on their phone in a movie. They actually want that person to leave.
Ian Paget: I know something that I sometimes do at these events and it’s something that you couldn’t do 10 years ago, but now there’s so many graphic design groups online, you can literally put a post online and say, “I’m at this event, is there anyone in the community that’s here too?” And if you are a little bit more comfortable with going to these big groups of people and stars but just random and introducing yourself to people, I just find that’s a really nice way to meet people.
And I tend to try and do that pretty much any event I go to, you meet someone new and then if I see other people, what I’ll do is I’ll introduce them to them and try and grow that network. And it’s uncomfortable at first, but it’s definitely worth doing and it’s definitely worth connecting and doing what you’ve done and just sit in by people that you’ve never met before. What I do is go straight out to them and go, “Hey, how is it going? It’s Ian. Nice to meet you.” Put your hand out to shake, shake hands and once you’ve done that, it’s a nice break and you can just have a chat with them.
Diane Gibbs: Right, exactly. And I also think you should always assume nobody knows who you are because we’re designers, we might know people’s designs but we might not know what their faces look like. I love what you said about going to the communities you’re already involved in and asking, “Is anybody going?” Because this is terrific, I love that because now you actually will have that one friend that you can meet up with and if you want to, maybe you room with them or maybe you make sure you go to dinner the first night with them so that you don’t feel alone, but you’re also not making them feel alone.
So there again, shared experiences are bringing people together, whether it’s a bad client experience or whether you’re at a conference. So just think about the things and sometimes it means being vulnerable, you have been a great example of sharing your vulnerability and sharing where you’re feeling raw or where you’re feeling not as confident. And I think that that is what draws people to you Ian, because you’ve said, “Hey, I don’t know everything. I’m learning. I want to continue learning. Can you guys help me or let’s help each other,” and it gets better with practice.
Ian Paget: It really does. Personally, I’ve always been quite anxious in social situations. Say, like a few years back, I would go to these events just to watch the talks and basically go home and never really talked to anyone new. But now what I do is I made sure to find out who’s going online so that I got someone to meet with when I’m there. I’ll also make sure to speak to new people too. And because I know quite a few people now, what I tend to do is make sure that everyone bonds together. So if I met someone new I’ll do is I’ll introduce them to the people that I do know.
And if any of us are going out for drinks afterwards I made sure that they know and I’ll ask them to join us and come along say, “I’ve just found the more that you do things like this and the more people that you know, and the easier it becomes to connect with new people too.”
Diane Gibbs: But it makes you feel so good to help other people, but now you know what it felt like to go alone. So you don’t want anybody to feel like that. And then you have this group that you’ve made. So now you say, “Hey, we’re going for a drink. Do you want to come?” And you invite, you are inclusive. And I think that is where we need to be, you have to be the one that’s including other people because designers are inherently introverted. It’s not that they don’t want to be included, it’s just that they think nobody wants to talk to me. So you have to be that person because you are amazing.
You, as an individual, whoever you are listening to this right now, you have something to give somebody else. So you just need to have confidence that you know more than you think you do and you definitely know more than other people, but you also have things to learn. So there’s things you can ask and then there’s things you can share. So you just have to be that person, harness that inner beaver and go and start that community and be that includer.
So I have another thing I know we’re almost out of time, travel. You travel a good bit, right?
Ian Paget: I do, yes.
Diane Gibbs: Were you always confident traveling in the beginning?
Ian Paget: Not at all. No. Like in the past I’ve almost always gone with friends and family, but recently I did pluck up the courage to go to Mexico on my own.
Diane Gibbs: But it wasn’t like you just went to Mexico in your very first trip, you worked up to it. It’s the same way. It’s not like just like with logos, you wouldn’t be like, “Okay, I’m going to redesign the Delta logo.” Like for my first logo, I’m gonna attack Delta Airlines, of course you would never do that. You start small and you build up, so it’s just like you travel maybe to the grocery store first by yourself.
You’d always been with somebody else, your mom or your dad or something. And then now you go to the grocery store alone, well now you know what I mean, think about going to the grocery store because you go to the grocery store, you have to eat, you want to eat. So now what’s that next thing? Well, you don’t even think about all the things that all these hurdles you’ve done in the past, you probably don’t even think about going if you want to go to Italy or you want to go to, I mean, I don’t even know if you speak Spanish.
So that’s again, so another country that doesn’t speak the language that you were born with. So like these are baby steps and you have to know the baby steps. But how amazing did you feel when you actually went to Mexico? You figured it all out and you did it, you did it, nobody else, Ian. You did it.
Ian Paget: Yeah, I did. And it’s one of the most exciting things I’ve done is I was able to see like the Mayan temples, which is something I’ve always wanted to do. But you’re right, I needed to gradually work up to that. And just to add, I don’t speak Spanish, but I found that if you speak English you can pretty much get by anywhere that you go without knowing the language but I find it useful just to know a few basic sentences.
Diane Gibbs: But there are also other tools like Google translate or you just have to have done the research, you don’t like go to Alaska in shorts, right? So you just have to know, you have to have done research just like we’re asking people to do research online about people they want to meet. It’s the same thing, this is just a big trip you’re planning, right? Your trip into our industry and I’m still on a trip, like it is never ending thing. Goodness. I’m always learning, I’m always growing and I want to keep growing I have mentors, I have people who I’m learning from, who I’m constantly learning from. And I just think that that’s where it’s an amazing industry and we can really be encouraging to each other. But again, it’s about being inclusive, I think.
Ian Paget: Yeah, very much so. And I think, thanks to technology things like a YouTube and Facebook, you can easily learn anything you want and connect with industry experts quite easily. The world really is your oyster if you want to be a graphic designer, it’s such an amazing time for us.
Anyway, we’re near an hour now, so I just want to ask you one last question to close off the interview. Can you tell us more about your podcast and community? I love Design Recharge, so I want people to know about and to check out. So can you tell us a little bit more about it?
Diane Gibbs: So thank you. So I started it in 2012 doing these online web shows, so I didn’t have a podcast at that point, I didn’t convert it to a podcast, it does live in the podcast zone, I guess as well now. But it does always live as a video because we’re visual people so I always think it’s really nice to see some visuals. But there are so many times it’s just talking heads, and I think that that’s okay too because I think we’re humans and it’s good to see people’s faces, but it is live and it is always live, it’s always been live.
I do have some recordings that are for patrons, on Patrion that are not live, they’re not open to the public, I guess, but the ones that I do every week for, it’ll be seven years at the end of May, beginning of June, which is a lot of time actually. So I interview somebody, I send them some questions, I look, I’m continually learning about what’s going on in our industry, where their pain points for designers and I try to bring people on that have hope, that have, have a story of hope. And I think, man, you’re a great example of this, Ian.
You were somebody who really struggled with, okay, one you weren’t trained as a designer but you now are this up huge following with Logo Geek. You also are amazing logo designer, you have to know that I believe you are a designer, I will give you a fake degree if you want, but you don’t need it like you have earned it. And so I would just want to encourage you that you need to not worry about not having a degree because you have the road wear on your boots and you have done it. So you just need to be confident in that for sure because I just hate that you, I don’t know if you feel that way ever anymore.
Ian Paget: I think not so much now but I did for a very long time. I’ve been a graphic designer now for 10 years and it was good, five years where it’s like I don’t think I know everything and not really sure what I’m doing. I don’t think I’m good enough to go and try for that job or whatever. You do get this doubt when you don’t go to university that you got something missing. But likewise, I feel like that’s an advantage in my case because I can go out and because I’ve got that drive where I felt like I’ve gone missing link. I will keep learning and I do think that’s an advantage.
Diane Gibbs: I agree, I totally agree. But it’s about finding whatever maybe is your kryptonite is also your superpower, I think. So but pretty much every week it’s a story about hope, so sometimes I try to do one a month that’s just me talking and teaching something. I haven’t done great on that because I have so many people that I want to interview but I have been trying to do that. So I think we just need hope, we need hope stories that I’ve kind of called it down that that’s really what it is. I teach, I encourage and motivate through these stories. So somebody who’s done a Kickstarter, they have this idea and they wanted to, how did you make that Kickstarter happen? Or I built a type phase and now I’m selling it, or I am an illustrator and I was never trained and now I’m doing this or I use this.
It’s not so technical like this is how I use illustrator and I use this tool or this tool but sometimes it is tool, sometimes it’s Dustin Lee’s talked about you know, growing a business, he’s also talked about battling anxiety, there’s all kinds of things that we deal with as designers that come into play. So I really think it’s a lot of times it’s for people who work, a lot of people are lonely onlys or they’re part of a small team of designers and they have a side gig. Just like you, they have the side hustle that they’re doing that they’re super passionate about.
And then some people are just full time freelancers and this is a time when they can come, they know every week, it’s at the same time unless I have somebody special and they need it at a different time, I’m totally flexible on that. But it’s usually at 2:30 Eastern Time on Wednesdays, that’s when the normal thing. I think you’re six hours ahead of me. So if it’s at 9:30 your time, I’m terrible with because it’s six hours ahead of me and that would be six plus, no it would be 7:30, 7:30 your time. I’m terrible with math, we’ll have a mathematician one day.
But like things I would love to cover is like copyright infringement and I’ve had some lawyers that have said that they would kind of come on, I have had some lawyers, I have interviewed one lawyer a couple of times and he’s from California and he’s really into social media. And so him and I have had some great conversations, but we talk about business stuff, stuff that we didn’t learn in school but that we really need to learn.
And then sometimes it’s just specific typography or it’s illustration and sometimes I’ll kind of lump them together of people who have gotten jobs in industries where aren’t traditional or they’re working in house or they’ve created a community in an in-house environment. That was what this guy this week was like. And then I tried to do once a quarter or at least three times a year, a community meet-up.
So I can have 50 people online on screen at the same time, and so I try to have something, I think maybe it’s 100 people I can have on screen. So I tried to do these community times where people can come on and meet each other and learn about each other. And then again, it makes it really easy for you to meet some people and then feel bonded. But I’ve had people who have been coming every week for like six years and that’s like, man, they’re my friends and I introduce everybody, I tried to get people at my guests to come a little early and I turn on, I go live, but I don’t start recording. And I introduce people from wherever they come, there’s this guy Jacob who comes from Slovakia and then I have my friend Andre comes from Portugal.
So there’s people that are coming from all over the world and they come regularly enough that I remember where they’re from and I try to introduce them to that live community. Now, there’s plenty of people who listen, they can’t come live, they’re working a full time job. And so then those people just email me and I love getting emails back. Sometimes, I’m sure it’s like this for you, like you send a weekly email or monthly email and nobody responds, and sometimes I think everybody thinks that you’re just getting inundated with these emails from this one email post.
But we’re really not, so I’m actually, especially if I ask a question, I love to get feedback. Now I do get, when I do ask a question, I do get feedback, pretty good feedback. But sometimes it’s like, you can reach out to us, you are a part of our community. And I think that’s where an advantage of you having a Facebook group, which I have not done that. I’ve thought about it really, really strongly, but it’s a lot of commitment and so I run my own design company, I’m a teacher full-time professor and then I do the podcast. So it kinda doesn’t leave a lot of time for anything else.
So I just know how much commitment I might start that this summer or a slack group or something so that there’s more … because I think there’s an advantage to that and you and I have talked about that because you created a huge community by doing.
Ian Paget: Yeah, I definitely think you should do that, it is a time commitment, but you can invite your community to help to keep it moderated so that it isn’t.
Diane Gibbs: Yeah, that’s a great idea.
Ian Paget: Plus doing that, they feel special and they’d be happy to be part of what you’re building.
Diane Gibbs: Yeah, absolutely. So that’s the reason I call it Design Recharge was because I just think we needed a weekly dose of recharging because a lot of times I was just working, working, working, and I was working on my own and I’m doing stuff with clients and I’m teaching students but I didn’t have a lot of time with other designers. So this was my excuse to learn from other people as well as be a part of a community and it’s been really, really great.
Ian Paget: Absolutely. You’ve set a really great example and I would say that you’re an amazing inspiration. I love what you’re doing with Design Recharge, you make it very approachable to get involved with that and you’re able to extract some really incredible stories from so many people. So I hope listeners will go and check that out and join in with those live sessions to get their questions answered.
Well, Diane, like I said, we’ve done this for an hour now. So let’s wrap this up. I just have to say, Diane, thank you so much for coming on, it’s been absolutely fantastic to talk with you.
Diane Gibbs: It’s awesome to talk to you always is. Thank you so much for having me, Ian, I really, really appreciate it.
Thank you to the sponsor, FreshBooks
I’m incredibly thankful to FreshBooks for sponsoring season 4 of the Logo Geek Podcast! FreshBooks is an online accounting tool that makes it really easy to create and send invoices, track time and manage your money. You can try it out for yourself with a free 30 day trial.