Don’t Design A Logo: Five Self-Promotion Rules Industrial Designers Should Break

by Michael Roller on August 16, 2009

So you just graduated this past spring, and now you’re looking for a job as an industrial designer. Times are tough, but you’re pretty confident in your work. You wish you had some connections, but the couple internships under your belt will only get you so far. First things first, you’ve got to build up your network. So you designed a “sweet” logo, started a new blog and twitter account, and bought a great new pair of glasses to interview in. You’re all set, right? Think again. Most of your peers are doing the same things, and your best chance to make a good impression is to stand out from the crowd. Here are five popular methods of self-promotion that I challenge young designers to reconsider.

Don’t Design A Logo

…Especially one that uses your initials. I’m not sure why we do this, but industrial designers feel a strong need to brand themselves with a logo, and they typically involve our initials in some sort of ligature. Because the majority of us aren’t good graphic designers, these logos typically fail to make the impression we’re hoping for on our websites and portfolio covers.

Instead, borrow a page from the 2D design playbook: type your name in a simple, classic font and let your work speaking for itself (like here, here, or here). Now that you’ve saved yourself a few hours or more, why not do something more productive for your portfolio? Enter a design competition, back sketch one of your old projects to make it more current, or learn a new piece of software. Whatever you do, make sure you’re investing your time towards something that helps you be a better industrial designer.

Don’t Write A Blog

Photocredit: Andy Piper

Last time I checked, designers spend most of their time drawing and visualizing ideas, not writing about them. There are plenty of good reasons to start writing about design, but before you do, ask yourself why it matters to you. Blogging is popular and easy, but unless you’re a writer (and most designers aren’t), you can probably find some better way to promote yourself or refine your point of view.

Spencer Nugent, co-founder of IDsketching.com, offers this advice. “Think of something unique you can bring to the table. One of our most unique and popular posts was on microwaving prismacolor pencils to keep them from breaking. That post alone brought over 10,000 new visitors to the site. Stick to your guns and be prepared to defend your point of view. You’re putting yourself out there for EVERYONE to see. Not everyone will agree with you, so you have to be prepared to stick to what you believe in.”

If you do decide to write a blog, “post about topics, not yourself,” says Nugent. “We try to post things that people will find interesting. Sometimes we post about ourselves, but we try not to. Again, pick a theme, or concept for your blog and stick to it. Your blog is a design project too!”

Don’t Follow Me on Twitter

Twitter has exploded over the last year, so it isn’t a surprise that you’re on it, searching for the best designers to follow. Don’t rely on Twitter to make meaningful connections, because you’ll just be one in a hundred people following me. I’m not even that popular. Follow reBang and you’ll be one in a thousand. When you have this many followers, receiving messages can be more of a nuisance that anything else, and that’s not the impression you’re after.

Instead, consider commenting on my blog. More specifically, ask me a thoughtful question. It shows that you take the time to read the content and engage in a conversation that isn’t ruled by abbreviations and a specific number of characters. Even better, get me to follow you or do some fantastic design work deserving of a blog post! Remember, social media tools help you network with people, they won’t do it for you.

Stop Wearing Pumas

Photo Credit: Scott Schuman

I can spot a young industrial designer from 100 yards away. Here’s the look, top to bottom: Eccentric eyewear (optional), simple graphic tee, bold watch and/or belt, relatively dark denim, and Pumas in a bold colorway. Don’t get my wrong, Puma makes some great products and I’m really just picking on them as an example. There are a few other designer stereotypes, one of which probably comes to mind for you. I don’t like the way designers so quickly adopt their own stereotype. We tell our clients to differentiate themselves, but we can barely do it ourselves!

We lose credibility when we can’t walk the talk. What we wear says a lot about who we are. Let’s be designers, but be ourselves too. If you don’t care about fashion then your work can speak for you. If you’re one of those people, you should at least consider buying a pair of tailored, non-pleated pants.

Stop Saving the World

Photocredit: http://architecture.myninjaplease.com/

…Unless you actually are. Designers have identified that their skills can help people beyond the mass markets of the first world, but we’re far from making a big impact on our own. The truth is, some designers like talking about making a difference more than they like actually doing it. Raising awareness is only a small first step towards fixing one of the world’s many problems. If you really want to make a difference, think about volunteering at a soup kitchen…or moving to India.

Ramsey Ford is an industrial designer who recently took on this challenge by moving to India and starting the non-profit Design Impact. “Last year, I attended the ‘Design for a Better World’ conference at RISD. What struck me most about the conference was that the common thread was not design, but entrepreneurship. The mantra for the weekend seemed to be, ‘shut up and do it’.” Ramsey plans to make a real difference by gaining empathy for India’s true design needs. Admittedly, this is pretty bold, but what have you done lately to design a better future?

I hope this article challenges you to reconsider some of the more popular methods for creating a personal brand. Before you pour hours of work into any project, think about your key strengths and what makes you stand out. Choose projects that will help show those off. After that, if doing some of these things still makes sense, then go for it. But seriously, don’t design a logo, especially one with your initials.

About the author: Michael Roller is senior industrial designer at Kaleidoscope, where he leads award-winning design efforts on a range of consumer products. As adjunct professor at the University of Cincinnati’s College of DAAP, Michael mentors industrial design students through the Design Communication course. Focused on understanding the dynamics of design within business, he writes about this overlap at the aptly named blog Strategic Aesthetics.

Facebook comments:

{ 41 comments… read them below or add one }

Bartosz August 18, 2009 at 1:38 pm

Hipster Designers
I sure wish you’d written this about a year ago, before the Emily Carr EV project got caught up in its own pretense.
http://www.ecuad.ca/node/2158
http://www.ecuad.ca/node/2576

Nice piece, though. Completely accurate, right down to the pumas, or in Vancouver’s case, Chuck Taylors.

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Michael August 18, 2009 at 1:40 pm

What Happened?
Bartosz – sorry to hear your EV project didn’t work out, it’s always nice to aim high though. What happened?

Also, good to know that Chucks are the shoe of choice in Vancouver

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csven August 18, 2009 at 1:44 pm

Just added a comment on a LinkedIn thread you might want to read:

“I’d just add that the author might be surprised I (“reBang”) almost never get direct messages and most of my correspondence is satisfied with a single public reply. A shame he couldn’t bother to simply ask me.”

Regarding:
It shows that you take the time to read the content and engage in a conversation that isn’t ruled by abbreviations and a specific number of characters.

Obviously you didn’t even take the time to read my Twitter stream. If you had, you’d have found a better exchange between myself and http://twitter.com/nithinkd ; a better exchange (starting here: http://twitter.com/reBang/status/3272574276 ) than almost all the one’s I’ve had on my blog … which – to prevent you from jumping to conclusions – I close comments after two or three weeks in order to give people an opportunity before the spam hits.

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Michael August 18, 2009 at 1:48 pm

csven – sorry if I misspoke about you. My main point was to show that you’re a popular and effective social media user in the design world, and that merely “following” you might not result in much. Of course, Twitter, blogs, and all social media can be great tools if you use them correctly and don’t take them for granted.

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bb August 18, 2009 at 1:51 pm

I laughed about the designer costume that you described but in a strange way I’ve noticed that dressing like a “creative” puts clients at ease beacuse they are expecting the visual stereotype. I’m too old and bumpy to slip into the PDX version (a form fitting T, skinny jeans and nike considered) so I’ve settled for the eyewear and “designer black”… It’s so slimming!

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iptydafu August 18, 2009 at 1:51 pm

I’d have the flash-splash intro on any website right up there at the top of the list. I can’t think of the last one I waited to finish. It’s a portfolio, not a Celine Dion concert.

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Michael August 18, 2009 at 1:53 pm

bb – you’re totally right about the designer uniform. It can be as much a useful tool as it can be a distraction, just depends on the audience I guess.

iptydafu – good point about the splash pages. I guess I wouldn’t mind a good flash intro, but coming many exist coming from ID.

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Gary August 18, 2009 at 1:54 pm

Bad choice of visual for “stop wearing pumas”
It’s quite ironic that the woman is wearing a pair of Tom Shoes, which is actually ‘changing’ the world through the design.

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Aido August 18, 2009 at 1:56 pm

This is hilarious!
Part of the blame has to be on design schools though. All my lecturers wore the design uniform aswell. It can be any colour as long as it black.
We were taught that as designers we were pretty much the most important people in the world though at interviews i must say that potential employers didnt care how sustainable my graduate washing machine was!

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themark August 18, 2009 at 1:57 pm

I agree with the Flash portfolio comment. I never look at them. Let your work be clever, let your website be informative.

And y should probably credit the great Scott Schuman for your designer outfit picture as well.

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Michael August 18, 2009 at 1:57 pm

Gary – From my perspective, the “pumas” visual is a good example of fashion, not a bad one. Those two look like creatives, but they also look original. Maybe it could have been clearer, but unfortunately we had a hard time finding a good photo for that phone. Any ideas for a different pic?

I agree with themark that Scott Schuman, the Sartorialist, deserves credit for his photo. http://www.thesartorialist.blogspot.com/ Perhaps the PDH admin can add a photo credit?

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Bernard Lim August 18, 2009 at 2:00 pm

My blog is totalyl new atm..sorry if its empty..

Back to the designer uniforms. I was out for lunch with my junior designers the other day and met a long time friend of mine. He’s the chief designer at a shoe company called Lewre. It was his off day so he was pretty much dressed down in a t-shirt, camaflouge bermudas and leather sandals and normal looking glasses.

I said the hello and goodbye and i told my juniors ‘he’s the chief designer at Lewre…’

their response ‘what?!…but he doesnt look like it. He looks…like any man on the street’

i replied ‘its his day off…’

‘but still, a designer has to at least somehow look-IT no matter when..if i saw him like that, i wouldnt give him any projects to do at all…’

That remark made me think. Are we not allowed to ‘rest’ from our stereotype appeareances at all?

And the university which i got my diploma from, ALL lecturers have got to dress in BLACK from top to toe. No excuses…

What crap…

On my end note. This article really gave me some things to think about Michael.

Thanks!

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designobot August 18, 2009 at 2:03 pm

Love the Ramsey Ford saving india shout out, I think he just wanted to get the f-back out of ohio

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SB August 18, 2009 at 2:04 pm

Nice read…
Designers design cool stuff for brands like Puma but when it hits the shelves any Tom Dick Harry is seen in those (atleast that happens in India)..v have got to move faster to stand out…

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Aaron August 18, 2009 at 2:05 pm

The puma thing I thought was random… and most people wear T-shirts and jeans, it’s sort of difficult to break away from.

great comment about the custom logo issue.

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Kyle August 18, 2009 at 2:07 pm

Hensons says
That was a fun read. A few pennies from me, first is that those are clearly Adidas, not Pumas.

Another is your great usage of Frank Chimero’s ‘Design won’t save the world’ poster!

I understand all of what you are saying with “stop saving the world” and “we’re far from making a big impact on our own”, however I’d just like to quote Jim Henson for a sec, as a man that has proven vision and wisdom beyond many of our years.

“It’s good to have big goals that seem impossible and huge – like saving the world and helping mankind. Even if you don’t reach those goals, it’s great to start your day headed in that general direction”

That is all, carry on.

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inbch August 18, 2009 at 2:08 pm

why so negative?
Nicely written artical, But I find it all a little overly cynical and little pretentious in its own right. From start to finish it is quite patronsing. Firstly, completely disregarding the multi-disiplinary skill base of ‘product designers’.
“Last time I checked, designers spend most of their time drawing and visualizing ideas, not writing about them”

That’s a bit of a wierd assumption. And the same for the graphic comment. Last time I checked it was becoming more and more important that designers can function in a multi-disiplinary environment. Incedently, we write reports all the time at work, let alone graphic work which is literally everywhere.

As for the put down on the recent ethical and social design movements, why? Not everyone will travel to india, but if we all put our heads together to move design towards a collective good then this can never be a bad thing. History has taught us that it’s always a mistake to assume:
“we’re far from making a big impact on our own.”

Think of the bigger picture.

As I said, nicely written and gave me a laugh but overall as a young designer I find this unnecessarily defeatist.

I would love to see an article with a little more constructive critisim than don’t wear fashion, don’t do a logo, don’t use twitter and for god sake grow up… design is not saving anything.

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Machu August 18, 2009 at 2:10 pm

Ironically, the criticism this designer dishes out, is really a mirror to his own arrogance.
For design, saving the world and destroying the world are two sides of the same coin… the argument for looking outside of design to really take action, tragically fails to realize the potential to change the way design also ‘destroys’ the world. It seems Ramsey Ford spent some time on a Masters thesis before he could “shut up and do it”.

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Andrea August 18, 2009 at 2:10 pm

Thanks for such useful article. I’ve been trying to set up my own blog and most of the time I’m worried about its content, so this is a great guideline as to where direct it. I really wish I had been ‘taught’ about this at university, but in my country the academic environment is pretty archaic, so things like this are light years away from what’s considered a designer should know and truth is, when you have to go job hunting you can barely sell yourself.

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iptydafu August 18, 2009 at 2:11 pm

inbch; i think he’s simply pointing out the many ways in which design, designers, are insisting upon a message to their medium. -that it’s no longer simply enough to create nice things which are visually engaging and perhaps associate fed-ex with speed; but that lately insisting it has a point beyond. more simply, enjoy a gun hung on your wall because of the engineering and craftsmanship, but don’t carry on that it’s one less on the street. that’s what i’ve taken from his piece.

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Michael August 19, 2009 at 2:14 pm

Kyle and others – I totally agree that we should set high goals for ourselves. Great quote from Jim Henson btw. However, talking too much about something, like the social design movement, can be dangerous without acting on it. A movement as important as social design needs action, or else it could potentially fizzle out far earlier than we want it to.

Machu – my point about looking outside of design is really about collaboration, that we need to work together to create the greatest amount of positive change. For environmental causes for instance, a designer would be well-served by some smart peers in engineering and politics. Designers and non-designers alike need to take action together.

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csven August 19, 2009 at 2:14 pm

Don’t Design A Logo

I tend to agree with this section’s advice, but as anyone who bothers to read what I write knows, I take a mostly critical view of design competitions. Thus, casually suggesting people enter them without emphasizing they should also read and comprehend the fine print which too often includes relinquishing all intellectual property rights and, as a consequence, preventing an entry’s use as a portfolio piece, seems a bit negligent to me.

Don’t Write A Blog

Last time I checked, with so many designers posting work generated not by hand sketches or marker renders, but by Illustrator or the latest 3D CG renderer such that they often all look the same, written and verbal skills are increasingly important as a means of differentiation. To suggest designers discount the importance of these skills is, imo, to be oblivious to the business community within which this profession operates.

Writing is the flip side of reading. The more one writes, I’d argue, the more one develops reading comprehension skills; the kinds of skills designers need when dealing with clients and/or vendors. You know, those people who don’t send storyboards, cartoons, or hieroglyphs as a means of communication. The one’s who mostly call the shots.

From corporate emails to freelance contracts to competition guidelines to resumes and correspondence with potential employers, writing matters and should be encouraged as a necessary skill; not as something optional.

Don’t Follow Me on Twitter

Obviously, as the first moderator for the Core77 forum, a long-time blogger, and … apparently … expert Twitter user, I think this section lacks research and expertise, as well as being poorly written (based on the above explanatory comment). For one thing, I don’t consider either direct or indirect messages from other designers a “nuisance”. On the contrary, I use Twitter to engage with people; especially designers. I’m happy to answer questions from newly minted graduates entering the field. It’s why as “ykh” on Core77 I spent time fielding so many questions. Teaching is a great way to learn.

Frankly, if someone contacted me and I considered them a nuisance for doing so, in my opinion: a) I shouldn’t be on Twitter, and b) they’re better off finding someone else with whom to engage in discussion.

I don’t use Twitter to make money or to blatantly self-promote. I use it to communicate with designers and other people I find interesting. It never occurred to me that DM’s could be a nuisance and, honestly, I’d wonder about anyone who believes it would be.

Stop Wearing Pumas

For some people being identified as a “designer” is as or more important that being a professional designer. That said, I’m not blind to the reality that for some clients the stereotype carries weight, but I personally find that the more weight it carries the less I’m expected to contribute. It’s as if a fashion-focused client associates the look with a lack of technical expertise; fashion without substance. Thus, I’d advise young designers to simply consider their attire as a design problem and give it some genuine thought. Whether that solution includes tailored, non-pleated pants is up to each individual.

Stop Saving the World

I found this part interesting mostly because it and the accompanying image seem to me to be at odds with the “Design Thinking” meme in suggesting that we should mind our place in the pecking order. In other words, the (written) graphic, implies we’re all pretentious little “d” designers worrying about trivial matters of aesthetics and not capable of being C-Level big “D” designers trying to solve bigger problems. Worse yet, the impression I get is that if you’re not at least volunteering at the soup kitchen, you should ignore Big Issues and forget any potential aspirations. That position seems a bit cynical to me.

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jeff August 19, 2009 at 2:16 pm

I wear Asics… So does that put me in the clear? I think this is a great article. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in the smaller things. There are a lot of designers out there, both young and old, who act like they are gods gift to design and definitely need to be taken down a few notches!

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Ben August 19, 2009 at 2:16 pm

I think my first post was lost. So I’m going to have to write a short reply.

I agree with lots of csven comments. I think he summed it up quite well. I would agree that designers should write and think beyond there ‘sketching and rendering skills’. I have been in interviews in which they more excited about my design process http://www.benarent.co.uk/process.php over my sketching and rendering skills, as in any big operation there is a person dedicated to this.

I would like to see a more positive artical myself. Way commenting on how people can do better, even though they have just left college. There can still be very valuable, IF they have the right skill set. (Which will mean a different skill set to the rest of there class)

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Brian Everett August 19, 2009 at 2:19 pm

Nice article. I don’t agree with some of your points though. A blog doesn’t necessarily have to be writing for one thing. In fact, there are thousands of blogs that have nothing to do with writing. It can be a visual inspiration blog, or maybe even a blog with the author doing some sketching every week. I think a personal blog can be used to push yourself further into design.

As far as the Puma thing, plenty of other people besides ID folk where the standard jeans, graphic tee, black rimmed glasses, and Pumas. Give me a break, like that matters anyway.

Honestly, I see this as a pretty weak list on how to break the mold from the standard ID person. I don’t think NOT having a Twitter account is really going to make a difference. Neither is NOT wearing Pumas.

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kimINdallas August 20, 2009 at 12:08 pm

All i have to say is…
Spot on on the logo michael. there is a point where the branding in your portfolio, good or bad, overshadows your work… i’d say that point is relevant to many diciplines of design. your lovely wife steered me away from an overly graphic portfolio in college, i’ve kept it that way, and i’ve always gotten wonderful complements on it’s simplicity and it’s content.

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Michael August 20, 2009 at 2:20 pm

Brian – I totally agree with everything you said, that’s one of the reasons I asked Spencer Nugent his opinion on starting a blog like IDsketching. There are lots of different ways break the mold. I see this article as less of “how to” list and more of a “stop and consider” piece.

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duncan McKean August 20, 2009 at 2:21 pm

Thanks. Made me laugh out loud. Better get a more eccentric hat to wear at interviews!

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Cafe Caro August 21, 2009 at 12:08 pm

While I think your article is funny and has some great and valid points.

First of all, I could not agree with you more on the topic of Branding-Craze with specified generations. However your example is not so relative. “Go just slap some sans serifs on an image.” You point out corporate ads featuring work that was probably kerned and leaded. In graphic design sometimes modern is the hardest to nail. There is a grid there even if you don’t see it. I feel you should already know that since your article has such self-righteous undertones. Youre entitled to your opinion though and thats what makes life interesting

Next I’m slightly offended by your stereotypes on young society. I mean, I certainly don’t dress that way! shoot, I have 2020 vision and think Pumas are not stylish/hideous.

Example: how would you like it if I said older designers need to stop trying to be rock stars, thinking post modern is the end all, and wearing Oakley as a fashion statement?

Lastly you have a poor attitude about life when it comes to the environment and social issues at hand. I believe designers can change the world. If even a tiny bit. There are many many ways.

example: How about young euntepreneurs? What if i start a design firm and make sure the manufacturing process doesnt kill people. In China this past year there was a new term added to a very old set of vocabulary, It means “working to death” literally. There are fundamental issues that can be addressed.

The way I see it, you are entitles to your own opinion. thats what makes life interesting. Albeit, part of a old school of thinking.

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Finnigan Gray August 21, 2009 at 12:10 pm

I found this article to be ignorant and aggravating.
It is admittedly funny in parts but poorly written.

Hope you read what Cafe Caro and Csven wrote because they have some good points to make.

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Cafe Caro August 22, 2009 at 12:13 pm

Thanks Finn

To Bernard,

Your comment made me laugh and think too. I think when one finds out someone else is a designer, it is assumed they have great taste and they have a keen sense of style. When you are met with camouflage cargo shorts (the antithesis of envouge) it makes you think with scrutiny. Having a genuine interest in all that is design is not something I can take a day off of. Its a natural order. Some people consider all avenues of Design to be one giant umbrella. fashion, graphic, etc. Its like when you meet a fat personal trainer. It makes you go “hmmmm?”

Another point on the blog comment. Designsponge for one is one of my favorite sites and all she does is blog about herself and design. People like Grace Booney and Holley Becker are an inspiration to young designers when It comes to blogging.

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Luke Riggall September 7, 2009 at 12:15 pm

RE: csven
‘csven’ – CAN I FOLLOW YOU ON TWITTER!?

This articles… interesting. Good read!

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myaldan September 11, 2009 at 12:18 pm

Very useful info
Hi, thanks for the info. I’ve been thinking the same way when I want to write my blog and utilise twitter for self promotion.

Keep it up!

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Alberta Leong February 26, 2010 at 12:20 pm

:)
very unconventional writing. thanks for the info!

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Scuba Steve March 13, 2010 at 12:21 pm

I’m a footwear designer who prefers to wear Pumas.. well excuse me! Like what one responder said, a lot of people wear plain shirts. jeans and pumas but that doesn’t mean that they are all designers. The work reflects the designer, not his Pumas. And you can do designer stereotypes all day. “Don’t do this or don’t use that because every designer is doing just that.”

“I’m unique…. just like everyone else.”

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Deyon April 18, 2010 at 12:22 pm

love my pumas
Never knock Pumas, that’s like making fun of the graphite in a pencil

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Jesse May 4, 2010 at 12:23 pm

Ha ha, I must admit that early on in college I tried to make my own logo (at our ID professor’s instruction) and I failed. My forte is drawing and marker rendering, def. not graphic design.

At any rate, I feel that most of these are pretty accurate (although, I feel that a blog isn’t all that bad if it is used for “sharing” and not for “showing off.” I have tons and tons of sketches and marker renderings that I try and upload to share and get critiques for, in order to improve my skills).

I would also like to add, that I hate crazy eyewear, I wear a camo GT baseball cap, plaid shorts, polos and pocket tees, and Nikes and/or flip flops. I do not dress in tight dark jeans and “designer T-shirts” like the designers you are talking about ha ha.

Good article, great read.

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Jono August 9, 2010 at 12:24 pm

Speaking of pretentious!

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Website Traffic February 23, 2013 at 5:05 pm

Have you ever considered creating an e-book or guest authoring
on other sites? I have a blog centered on the same ideas you
discuss and would really like to have you share some stories/information.
I know my readers would appreciate your work. If you’re even remotely interested, feel free to send me an e mail.

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pacific standard time art exhibition May 13, 2013 at 11:16 am

Hi there, yes this piece of writing is in fact good
and I have learned lot of things from it regarding blogging.

thanks.

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Rowena Togni June 19, 2013 at 12:54 pm

Great article….I’m losing the logo straightaway but will keep on blogging!

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