A Designer's "To Do" List

by Doug Farrick

Make a commitment to propel and excel your design business forward whether you are a beginner, work for a creative firm, want to start a business or are a seasoned professional. Use this as a guideline of skills you need to acquire or improve on:

Plan your time - I have harped on this a number of times but without a time planning (management) system you will be swimming against the current. Use whatever system works for you, like a Franklin-Covey system, a PDA, a software solution or a spiral notebook but USE it consistently.

Organize Your Visual Files - A tremendous amount of time can be wasted in trying to find your digital assets. Commit to finding a solution like Extensis Portfolio, MediaBeacon, Canto Cumulus. If you do not have a system in place it WILL take some work up front (to organize, create keyword descriptions, etc for each file) but will save you TONS of time and aggravation trying to find files.

Update your portfolio- If your online portfolio (you do have one, right?) has not had a face-lift recently now is the time to plan this important task. Nothing is more important than the work you produce AND how this work is showcased. Do some research first to see how your portfolio stacks up to others and use your research to get additional layout ideas.

Dump your amateur email address - start using a credible return email address which includes your name and your website name. Quit using yahoo, AOL, Hotmail and other free email services that tell the recipient you are a design "amateur"

Replace your computer with a more powerful model - Don't be hobbled by an out-of-date system. If your computer is more than 3 years old, has no Firewire ports or has less than 1 gig of RAM it's time to upgrade. You'll get more accomplished with a faster, more powerful computer.

Invest in a good ergonomic chair - A bad chair will wreak havoc on your body in more ways than one. Test out a number of them and invest the most amount you can. You will not believe the difference in a good chair will make in your life.

Back up your files - your files are your livelihood so please take time to back up your files. Horror story upon horror story abounds from those who have lost their data for good. In my experience it is good to take a full day to concentrate on implementing a backup system - no matter, just do it!

Use something like SuperDuper, SilverKeeper (free), iBackup or .Mac to backup your files to an external drive, then use Mozy, Crashplan or MediaMax to back up remotely in case of catastrofic loss of your equipment. A lot of these remote plans hover around $5 a month (which is a terrific value for remote storage of your data)

Attend at least 2 educational training seminars this year - By attending a training conference in person, you give yourself the time and space to totally absorb the material. Whether it is a Photoshop seminar, a management training or something else give yourself the experience of "total immersion" learning (with the very valuable bonus of networking)

Attend at least two trade shows- take the time to get out of the office and hit some trade shows. They can be things like MacWorld, printing shows, paper shows or others. While roaming the trade shows you may find products, tools or resources you can use in your business.

Inventory all your business forms - take time to review your forms to make sure they are current. These include forms like a creative brief, terms and conditions, pricing, invoices, freelancer agreements, etc.

Create a system for capturing names - I wish had done this from the start so don't make this mistake. Start some sort of system to collect your customers and potential customers information. You can start with whatever - a rolodex, notebook or an all out program like Filemaker or Daylite but get in the habit of recording name address, telephone, etc. This is really your companies most valuable asset.

Learn one "other Program" outside of your main discipline you are not familiar with - if you are a print designer learn how to use flash or Final Cut or Adobe Premier and if you are a motions graphics expert learn InDesign or Illustrator. You get the idea. It will open you up to totally new worlds - some you might eve want to explore further;-)

Maintain a project idea list - start writing down your design ideas, product ideas, commercial ideas, website ideas, etc. These ideas can become your personal Goldmine. Whether you use a sketchbook or a computer or a PDA or a voice recorder, start trusting your ideas and hunches and (don't think too much) just record them. And think about how you can bring these ideas to life by creating projects.

Connect with others- This means networking. Yes, that means getting out of your office and mingling. Most important with networking is that it needs to be planned and thought about strategically. By clearly identifying your target prospects you can seek out ONLY those events that are appropriate. Get to know the key decision makers and find out what sort of events THEY are attending. Again, make it a point to schedule in advance that way when you make an appointment with yourself it becomes psychologically harder to break.

Font Management- This one can get sticky. But any mainstream font utility program will do like SuitCase or Font Agent Pro although other solutions like Mac OS X's Font Book, or free solutions like the excellent Linotype FontExplorer X, Font Safari or Font Sampler. Keep an eye out as the Designer's inner Circle will be exploring Font Mangement in future articles and screencasts.

Creative Resources - In order to keep the creative juices flowing create an atmosphere that you can thrive in. I know it is always not that easy (especially when working for a company) but surround yourself with creative "triggers" like: all types of music, your favorite design books, interesting artifacts, visual imagery and other 2D visual ideas, inspiring quotes and other personal mementos that trigger states of mind you want to regularly access.

Enhance your communication skills - This is one skill I wish I focused on much earlier. Communication skills can seem like an afterthought or not seem to weigh very high on the skills list but let me tell you - they are WAY up there. If I had my way I would drag people screaming to a Toastmasters program. This is (by far) one of the single best things I ever did and I cannot recommend it highly enough. Your confidence and communication skills will improve by leaps and bounds (and I suspect a corresponding increase in business).