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Author: Ashley D.

My Perspective: The Danger of Painting People with a Broad Brush

People Danger of Broad Brush

Trying times

The week of July 4th was difficult. For me. For my family. For the people of this country.

I was about to board a plane in Dallas when my husband texted about the targeted killing of police officers overnight. In the days before, two separate videos that dominated national headlines showed black men shot and killed. Regardless of what transpired, they were clearly victims of excessive force by law enforcement.

My plane was headed to Charleston, South Carolina.

Just over a year ago, the city was the site of a horrific mass murder: the lives of nine black churchgoers lost to the white man they prayed with seconds earlier.

Stepping up

Hairston Family Picnic
From my Dad’s photo collection. My great-grandmother is on the front row, to the far left. She and my great-granddaddy had a very large family: eleven children in all!

The reason for my trip that weekend? My family reunion. The Hairston Family Reunion, of which my dad was an avid member of the planning committee. Before he passed away, he sent me an email about his role:

“I’m going to need you to step up for me on this…”

Taking my dad’s place on the committee was a bit intimidating. I couldn’t completely fill the void he left.

I gave some input about the schedule and food, even designing the t-shirts. Our family reunion was something Dad looked forward to every couple of years. He was so proud of his family and heritage. He loved being with his “people.”

I’ve hesitated to talk about the events of that week. There are ample comments, links, and videos on Facebook already; so, I didn’t really think I had anything to add to the conversation. Honestly, what I have to say may not be profound or enlightening to everyone. I do think, however, it is important for many voices to be heard—my own and those of others.

Black-on-Black Hatred

Pillow Projects
These two pillows were the first iteration of what would become my graduate thesis project. The text on the pillows are actual quotes that were said to me in public when I was living in Chicago.

Most of the overt hatred I have encountered has been from other black Americans. I have been called a “sellout bitch” and told to “rot in hell” by full-grown adults.

Little girls told me I say my own name “like a white girl.” I’ve been labeled a disgrace for dating white men.

My first boyfriend even made fun of how few “black films” I had seen. Sorry, I haven’t seen Friday fifteen times (more like three, tops).

Now, I’m not even mad about any of this. In fact, I’m elated because it gives me so much great content for my personal artwork (find out more about my work in this recent interview).

Race ≠ Culture

What irks and disappoints me is the assumption that all black people are a certain way. “Race” is not the same as “culture.”

This experience is not unique to African Americans. Stereotypes of many Americans—Jewish, Irish, Italian, Muslim, just to name a few—have been used to classify complex groups of individuals into standardized bundles. We get painted with a particular color or style to make us easier to identify.

Native Americans, in particular, experience some of the worst aspects of this practice. Each of the 566+ sovereign tribal nations has its own languages and dialects, beliefs, food, clothing, social structures, and governance. In other words, they each have their own culture—not one collective Native American culture based on skin color or physical features.

Likewise, there is a general belief that a single “black culture” exists. If you are black, you are automatically categorized as part of that culture, whether you like it or not. Non-black people do it to blacks all the time as a means of categorization. Blacks do it to one another to point out who “doesn’t belong.” You’re either just plain “black,” or you aren’t “black enough”.


People Hairston Family Reunion
Our family reunion was in Charleston, South Carolina, this year. We lost several members since our last reunion, but we still take joy in being together (kinda like that Stevie Wonder song).

My parents instilled in me an unspoken camaraderie with other African Americans.

Anytime you pass another black person, you make eye contact, nod, and say “Hello.” It is an acknowledgment of the “collective experience” as black Americans. It stems from our history in this country, going back almost 400 years. Each of us is unique, through genetics, environments, and experiences. Yet, we recognize that—outside ourselves, our homes, and are communities—we are all “black washed”. Stigmatized. Ostracized. Targeted.

Over the years, I have come to expect strangers to say something shitty to me. About my clothes, my speech, my marriage. So when I discovered that our family reunion in South Carolina was one of five black reunions taking place at the hotel that weekend, I braced for the worst. Instead, I got so many nods and “hellos” that I was caught off guard. We were all there for the same reason: to honor our linages and celebrate life. There was no gauge of blackness. We were all just… People.

The Post-Racial Myth

In my opinion, recent generations are not talking enough about race. Some institutions have even decided to gloss over entire centuries of black history as “No Big Deal.”

This suppression of “talking about race” creates huge problems. These are issues so large that it seems we are moving backwards rather than progressing.

A black president in the Oval Office has not changed perceptions. We aren’t living in a “post-racial America.” Racism still flows strong. Our lack of discussion has created an entire generation of Americans who do not understand how to deal with people that are different or have varying viewpoints. And it has made older generations apathetic to racial and socio-economic disparities that supposedly no longer exist.

Movement Towards Progress

People Hairston Family Shirts
For this year’s reunion, I designed the t-shirts with a version of the Hairston Family crest. The theme of the reunion was ”No More Than Ever”—very appropriate considering the recent events and losses.

This is where contemporary social movements come into play. In essence, these are attempts to take the collective experience that black Americans have known for centuries and put it in the public’s face. Such movements allow not only blacks, but supporters and allies of all races and creeds, to talk about race through a united front. It is nodding, saying “I feel you,” and locking arms with one another in the name of progress.

No social movement is perfect. Individuals can and will take aspects of a movement and construe them to fit their own motives. Groups will clash over what the movement really represents.

Regardless, these movements acknowledge the disparities that are still prevalent in our society. It is up to all of us to fill these widening gaps.

Let People be People

Life is scary nowadays. I worry about my brother stopping to get groceries after work. I think about my nephew driving home from school.

I dread the news of another young person of color dying because she was stopped by the wrong individual at the wrong place and the wrong time.

No one should have to fear living their life. Yet, it is the daily reality of the black American. We are tired of being black washed.

We’ve been tired for a long-ass time.

Let us move forward and just be “people.”


Discover Creative Inspiration in a Midwestern Metropolis

Creative inspiration Kansas City

Traveling has been a huge part of my life. My family has never lived in the same city as our extended family. So we found ourselves driving 4 to 8 hours each summer to North Carolina to visit relatives. My parents would also arrange a family trip to some place new—a different location each year. These yearly vacations would later prompt me to travel all over the world.

Exploring new places means trying new foods, uncovering histories, understanding cultures. I know that many artists will sketch when they travel. I have never really been that way. I prefer documenting with my camera. Photos can capture colors, textures, and moods that are very difficult to depict in a quick drawing.

I happen to be traveling a lot this year, so I decided to start this “Explore” series. Each trip, I’ll post images and stories about what I have seen, heard, tasted, and felt. I will also point out things that inspire or attract me. My hope is that sharing my travel experiences will encourage you to look more closely at your surroundings—familiar and unfamiliar.

The trip

LOCATION : Kansas City, Missouri, USA
DATES : June 27–29, 2016
OCCASION : Father-in-law’s birthday

When my husband and I first met, we realized we had a lot in common. Similar upbringings. Close ties to family. A love of traveling. And the St. Louis Cardinals. Within the first year of knowing one another, the Cardinals won the World Series. We took that as a good sign.

It was a no-brainer to join my in-laws in Kansas City for a couple days to see the Cardinals play the Royals. Neither Devin or I had ever been to KC, so the idea of barbecue and baseball was way too good to pass up.

With less than 36 hours in the city, we tried to hit some really good spots near the hotel. Fortunately, we stayed right across from the Country Club Plaza, allowing easy access to great food, shopping, and sights.

Since I’m all about visual storytelling, I’ll let the photos do most of the talking.

06.27.16 : Monday

8:29 PM

Much consideration has gone into the art and architecture in the Plaza. This statue of the former Prime Minister of the UK is one of several commemorations of historical figures throughout the area.

Churchill Statue Kansas City
You’ll find statues of dignitaries and historical figures throughout the Plaza.
The Plaza Kansas City
Soft blue clouds were deceptive as we crossed Brush Creek to head to dinner. We had hoped the temp would lower after sundown. That was not the case. 😓

06.28.16 : Tuesday

9:42 AM

The look of the Plaza is completely unexpected in a midwestern metropolis. Tiled rooftops, walls, and walkways transport you to Seville, Spain—completely intentional. The structural and urban architecture were designed in the early 1920s (one of my favorite artistic time periods) by Edward Buehler Delk, funded and founded by developer J.C. Nichols.

Fountain in Kansas City
Saw this funny fountain on the side of a building and just had to take a photo.
Tiled Wall Kansas City
Gorgeous colors and wonderful rendering of a Spanish town in this tiled piece. Wouldn’t mind having a wall like this in my home (eventually).
Tiles in the Plaza Kansas City
Some of the beautiful tiles along sidewalks in the Plaza. Definitely saving this color palette: sapphire + terra cotta + burnt orange + Carolina clay + chocolate + cream.

9:57 AM

Despite the morning rain, we ventured out for coffee. We ended up at a place with a familiar name. I remembered Kaldi’s Coffee from my college days in St. Louis. Since then, they seem to have expanded all the way across Missouri and into a couple other states, as well. They made me an awesome soy cappuccino: rich, creamy, and not skimpy on the milk + coffee! 😆

Kaldi’s Coffee Kansas City
The foam on top of my soy cappuccino was so pretty. I hated to mess it up by, you know, drinking it. 😏
Kaldi’s Coffee Kansas City
While waiting on our coffee orders, I glanced up at the ceiling and saw this great composition.

12:52 PM

The sky cleared up nicely by the afternoon. Morning’s rain cooled things off for about an hour. Then the heat settled in. I’d still take that midwest heat over Houston’s. 😓

Brush Creek Kansas City
The Plaza was an easy walk across Brush Creek from our hotel. The structural features on either side of the creek make it pedestrian- and cyclist-friendly.
Bell Tower in Kansas City
The morning rain moved out and exposed crystal blue skies. A beautiful backdrop to the terra cotta, cerulean, and cream in the architecture.

1:14 PM

It was my father-in-law’s birthday and we were in Kansas City, so we knew we were gonna eat a sh**t ton of barbecue. And we did. And it was delicious. The concierge at the hotel recommended Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbecue—a short walk away from where we were staying. In hindsight, a farther walk would have been better. We definitely needed to burn some calories after that meal. 😞

BBQ Kansas City
Fantastic barbecue from Fiorella’s Jack Stack. I’m good on beef and pork for at least a month.

2:34 PM

We kept passing windows and doors with this logo on them. It’s the logo for Country Club Plaza, which is now privately owned. The design is right up my alley: simple shapes and thick lines that allude to the Spanish architecture.

Country Club Plaza Logo
I saw this logo throughout the Plaza and finally stopped to take a picture of it. Love how it describes cultural elements with simple curves and lines.

7:32 PM

One of two times we’ll get to see the Cardinals this year. They lost to the Royals the night before, so we really wanted to see a win that night. Yadi and the guys did not disappoint!

Baseball Game in Kansas City
Our incredible seats behind home plate. Kauffman Stadium is a really nice venue and the people were extremely friendly and helpful, even with the Cardinals’ win! 😆

Trip Details


Intercontinental Kansas City At The Plaza : Definitely not the cheapest place, but there are several hotels in the area to choose from. I’m sure there are some nice Airbnb spots, as well.


Kaldi’s Coffee : Great Midwest-based coffee shop, serving carefully selected seasonal coffees, fresh smoothies, and tasty treats.

Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbecue : If you like smoked meats, this is your place (at least to start). We got other BBQ recommendations from various sources, but if you’re staying in the Plaza, Jack Stack is a fine choice.


Country Club Plaza : This area is walkable and full for great art and architecture. Most of the shops and restaurants are high-end, but there are some more affordable options, as well.

Kauffman Stadium : Love baseball? No? Well, as long as you don’t absolutely hate the game, try to make it out to the ballpark. It has a great atmosphere and super-friendly staff. And, yeah, their baseball team is pretty good, too. 😒


For a summer trip to Kansas City, I packed the following:

  • Dressy top (for nice dinner)
  • Travel pants (medium weight, easy to clean, doesn’t tend to wrinkle)
  • Tank tops (Cardinals gear, of course)
  • Skirt
  • Leggings
  • Dressy sandals
  • Sneakers
  • Hat
  • Sunscreen
  • Poncho (actually forgot this, but it would have been great to have, just in case)
  • iPhone (for taking and editing photos, amongst other things)

Your turn

Do you have any travel plans this summer? What types of things do you look for while exploring a new place?

5 Important Lessons on Being an Artist from The Artist

Lessons Artist Prince

Often, we don’t gain full appreciation of something or someone until it is gone. In the weeks since the death of Prince, I have realized something: “The Artist” was a rare advocate for and inspiration to someone like me: a young black female artist. Or anyone who is one or a combination of these things. There are some important lessons that Prince’s life exemplified. Lessons that can be useful to an aspiring, emerging, or maturing artist alike. Let me explain…

By Penner, Wikimedia Creative Commons.


When it comes to self-confidence, it seems that people either have too much or too little. Overconfidence makes you an egotistical asshole. Too little confidence means that you are soft and weak. Now, I didn’t know Prince personally, so maybe he was a jerk. I have no idea (although I’d like to think that he was the coolest guy ever). However, as a creative person, confidence was one of the things that made him great. Think about the first few well-known, self-made artists/designers/musicians that pop into your head. Chances are these people have/had a ton of faith in their abilities and really think/thought they were the shit. Otherwise, you probably wouldn’t know as much about them.

“A strong spirit transcends rules.”

– Prince

The hard truth is that to “make it” as an artist or designer, you have to have faith in your abilities. Lack of confidence can not only lessen your chances of making a living from your work. It can also increase your chances of being taken advantage of by others. Prince knew—for much, if not all of his career—that he was an incredible musician. He didn’t necessarily say it publicly, but it was pretty evident in his music and the way he presented himself. His strong sense of character and talent permitted him to maintain creative freedom, control the rights to his work, and build a strong, loyal fanbase (of which I am proud to be a part).

LESSON 1 : Confidence in your abilities and knowledge is the first step to building a career as an artist and the key to maintaining that career.


Prince’s confidence made it much easier for him to be his crazy self and get away with it. Prince initially had some pretty obvious influences: James Brown, Jimi Hendrix, Joni Mitchell, Earth, Wind & Fire, just to name a few. His early hits strongly reflected these influences. Over time, he came more into his own, as most artists do. With the confidence in his ability to sing, play instruments, and write songs, Prince was better equipped to experiment with sound, developing a genre that was uniquely his. Although he changed his sound with each new album/identity/hairstyle/outfit, you can always pick out a Prince song from others in the bunch. He coined a way of being that drew others to him and his music.

When it comes to style development, artists should keep this in mind. You can emulate and replicate those you admire, but it is finding your own means of expression that will get you noticed and respected. Fill your “inspiration bucket” with a range of influences. Be patient as your research, ideas, and trials work themselves out over time. As you find your so-called style, you become more confident in yourself and your work. You start to care less and less about what the haters say. Instead, you focus more on constructive feedback and being true to yourself.

LESSON 2 : Your means of expression (a.k.a. “style”) is developed over time, by examining a range of influences, experimenting with many methods, and maintaining confidence in your abilities.

3 : Learning

In addition to recognizing your influences and exploring new ways of making, continuous learning is a big part of sustaining creativity. This doesn’t mean you need to go back to school or take classes. It simply requires being open to new ideas and experiences. Recognizing advances in your field and adjusting (or rebelling) accordingly. Studying history: what worked, what failed, and what is still developing. Really, Prince explains it pretty well:

“The key to longevity is to learn every aspect of music that you can.”

– Prince

For me, teaching has been a great way to ensure that I keep learning. Although I am tasked with teaching others, my students open my eyes to new perspectives. I am required to keep up with the latest technology and trends. It seems that Prince had much of the same approach. He worked with many other artists, many of whom were at the beginning or middle of their careers. As he helped establish these singers and musicians, his own music would evolve. Learning and growing never ceased.

LESSON 3 : Never stop learning (‘nuff said).


If you come up with a brilliant idea, there can be this limbo between wanting to share the idea with the world and to protect it from moochers. Prince has been known to adjust ticket prices and add shows to his tours to ensure that fans get the tickets—not scalpers or second-parties. In a similar vein, his history of name-changes—from “Prince” to “the Love Symbol” to “the Artist” to “Prince” again—was about control. Prince had concern for two things: the integrity of his music and loyalty to his fans. His choice to use a symbol rather than his name was his way of rebelling against his music label. He also gained control of when and how his music was released.

“Like books and black lives, albums matter.”

– Prince

I remember when Prince changed over to “the Love Symbol”: the female and male symbols melded together to form an undefined term. It was both cool and crazy. One minute, he had a name and the next, he had a mark. It wasn’t until I was older that I learned about Prince’s true reasons for the change. After giving several lectures on plagiarism and copyright law for artists and designers, I get it. No matter why you are producing work or who you are making it for, you should always maintain some type of control over the things you make. Prince took it to the extreme, but the premise of the action is a valuable lesson.

LESSON 4 : Keep control over your ideas and protect your work. Make sure you maintain some degree of rights over the work you produce.


People question a lot of things about Prince. Was he gay? Why did he straighten his hair? Why did he sing about sex all the time? There are many questions that will be left unanswered. I feel like Prince would want it to stay that way. Despite all this, Prince had pretty clear convictions for the respect and uplifting of others. In particular, Prince was an advocate for women and people of color.

Much of Prince’s music describes his love and elevation of the feminine. He worked with and was surrounded by talented women, his latest being the all-female band, 3rd Eye Girl. He wrote for and launched the careers of many impressive female singers and musicians. Outside the spotlight, Prince started, promoted, and maintained initiatives to help those in his community, particularly black youth. As Jason Johnson of The Root explains, “He played up his ambiguity when it came to sexuality and race, but he loved his blackness and black people.”

All of this to say that, despite what others thought of him, Prince addressed and fought for the things he believed in. He allowed his convictions to be exposed in his work. I would argue that this was key to his longevity as an artist. I know from my own experiences that having a purpose to my work drives my motivation, allows me to create more interesting work, and builds stronger connections to my audience. The work becomes more than just making something that looks pretty; it has a reason for existing.

LESSON 5 : Having a cause or purpose behind your work increases the meaning behind it and sustains your motivation to continue making impactful work.

Lessons from a Life well-lived

I hate that I will never get to see Prince perform in person. But then again, I didn’t need to see him in concert to know how much of an impact he had on people, myself included. I not only love his music—I am inspired by his passion for life and his craft. All of us creatives can benefit from these lessons Prince left behind.

Your turn

Have you found inspiration in the life of your favorite artist? What lessons have your learned from your idol?

The Best Logo Designs are Not Cheap (and here’s why)

Logo Design Not Cheap

I get asked about logo designs all the time, both at my full-time job and on a freelance basis. Last year, I wrote thoughtful, beautifully-designed proposals for three different branding projects. In all three cases, the potential clients flaked out after seeing the numbers. SO. FRUSTRATING.

Now, I will admit that I raised my rates last year. But that was after I realized that I had been charging way too little for logo and identity designs. A tough lesson, but live and learn, right?1

Whether you are a designer or a potential client, understanding the value in graphic design will take you very far. Designers: you will get paid what your designs are worth. Clients: you will receive an identity that is completely tailored to your business model, industry, and goals. It’s a win-win, people (I hate that phrase, but it’s actually appropriate here).

So gather ‘round, y’all. Let us count down the top 5 reasons why logo designs should NOT be cheap.

5 : A designer’s gotta eat.

Design supplies
Photo by Jo Szczepanska (Unsplash.com).

I hear it so often: “I wish I were creative like you. I can barely draw a stick figure!” First off, everyone is creative in their own way (i.e. you don’t have to be “artistic” to be creative).2 Secondly, as much as designers like making stuff, most of us aren’t making logos because it’s our life’s passion. We’re smart. We’re talented. We know what what the f*** we’re talking about. Most importantly, we are doing a job. Rent, car payments, student loans, FOOD. The cost of daily living adds up fast. Yes, designers are fortunate in that we get to use our talents as part of our occupation. But graphic design is just that: an occupation. #FreelanceIsntFree, y’all.

4 : You get what you pay for.

Get the best you can afford.
Photo by Alejandroes Camilla (Unsplash.com).

There are several articles already on the interwebs that explain why Fiverr and other design bidding sites are the devil (I suggest reading this article by the AIGA and this one from The Logo Factory.) Therefore, I won’t go into too much detail about those sites and the type of “business” they perform. Instead, I will offer an analogy:

  • You go to a low-price shoe store that always has a sale and buy a pair of shoes. The shoes look nice, but they don’t hold up very well; they begin to fall apart after a couple of months. Plus, since they were on sale, you see TONS of other people wearing the exact same shoes.
  • Next, you go to a department store and decide to spend a bit more on some shoes. You like the style—they are more unique than your previous kicks. Still, they are super-trendy and you see a lot of people with shoes that aren’t exactly like yours, but close. Nonetheless, the shoes are comfortable and fairly well-made, so they fit the bill for a year or so.
  • Finally, you say, “Enough of this mess! I need some REAL shoes!” You decide to splurge on some custom shoes. The shoe maker carefully measures your feet and gauges the type of look you are going for. You explain to them that you love walking, so you need something comfortable and sturdy. Material and color are also considered. It takes several months, but the shoe maker presents to you a wonderfully-crafted pair of shoes. These shoes define your look, and also fit your lifestyle. Best of all, NO ONE ELSE HAS SHOES LIKE THESE. YAS!3

Logo designs—and most aspects of commercial graphic design—work very much like this analogy. You can pay a little to get something that falls apart quickly and isn’t really authentic (perhaps even a knock-off). You can pay a bit more to be on trend, but the item still looks like other stuff already out there. You can pay a premium and get a product that is strong, attractive, and unique—completely tailored to you. Which would you rather have?

3 : The logo is yours… FOREVER.

It’s yours FOREVER!
Photo by Florian Klauer (Unsplash.com).

When you pay for a design, you are not buying a physical product. Rather, you are purchasing a license to use the design for specific purposes and for a specific length of time. The designer retains the rights to the actual artwork and, at the very least, maintains the right to use the work for self-promotion (More about licensing at a later time).

HOWEVER, typically a client is given exclusive rights to their finished logo design, meaning no one else can use it and the designer cannot resell it or license it to other companies. There is usually no time limit on how long the logo design can be used. It is meant to be yours to use for the identity and promotion of your business.

So think about it. You get to use this logo for as long as you own your business. You will [hopefully] make thousands of dollars off of your brand. The amazing designer who came up with your logo does not get royalties (a percentage of sales/profits) each time you ring the cash register. Instead, the designer can (and should) charge an amount upfront that is based on several things:

  • The amount of time, work, and resources required
  • The type of company you run
  • How much you are projected to make
  • How widely the design will be used

That is why small, local businesses can get great logos and identities for a couple thousand dollars (less R&D, less potential revenue, smaller audience), while multi-million-dollar corporations will pay tens of thousands for their branding (lots of R&D, great potential revenue, very large audience).

Really, it’s about paying what the logo is worth. Carolyn Davidson, the designer of the Nike “swoosh,” only got paid $35 when she created it in the 1970s. Today, Nike still uses that mark and is worth several BILLION dollars. Now, does that seem fair? By the way, Nike eventually compensated Davidson with shares in Nike stock.4 👏🏾

2 : Work together. Stick together.

Let’s be friends!
Photo by Krista Mangulsone (Unsplash.com).

You’ve found a designer who “gets you.” She understands the nature of your business and your target audience. The logo and branding she created are spot on. You feel a special connection—this was meant to be!

Alright. Slow down there, cowboy. My point here is that once you’ve found a great designer, it’s typically a good idea to stick with that designer. In essence, this is a relationship. If you like the work your designer has done and you feel comfortable working with her, it only makes sense to continue working with that designer. Who will know the visual aspects of your brand better than the person who created them?

Plus, if you pay a random designer on Fiverr $5 for a logo, do you really think they give a sh** about “building a relationship” with you? Hell no! They’re out looking for the next chump who’ll buy one of their lousy designs (IMO).

1 : It’s an investment!

Consider it an investment.
Photo by Dietmar Becker (Unsplash.com).

There’s a reason why it is called an “identity system.” Your logo and visual brand are the identity of your business. You already have a personal identity that has developed over time. It defines who you are, what you care about, and how you view the world. Likewise, the identity of your business should not be taken lightly. A well-designed logo and brand will:

  • Support your mission and business model
  • Attract and retain your target demographic
  • Adapt to changes and trends over time
  • Flex to be used on various materials, media, and products

How much is your personal identity worth to you? A few hundred? Several thousand? My bet is that you see your identity as priceless (or at least worth that million-dollar guarantee from LifeLock). With that in mind, how much are you willing to put into your company’s identity—which in a way, is likely an extension of yourself?

You want to represent yourself and your business in the best light. Invest in a great identity by hiring a designer who not only fits your budget, but also wants what is best for you. It is an investment that could spark a return much greater than what you initially spend on the design.


  1. If you are a designer and want more insight into pricing your projects, I highly recommend NuSchool’s pricing calculator and Pricing class. The calculator is free; the class is pricey, but soooo worth it if you can swing it!
  2. “A lot of people do things they don’t like, but they do them because they think it’s the only way that they can make a living. What I really hope is that people take away the enthusiasm and the love that I have for making things, and will not interpret it as, ‘Oh this is just something he can do.’ No. It’s something that each individual has within them. The creativity is within you, and it’s one of your responsibilities to allow that creativity to blossom.”Amos Kennedy
  3. If you really do want nice some custom shoes, I have a friend that makes some gorgeous ones!
  4. Designers, unless you are contracted to work for a specific entity and therefore do not have a choice (i.e. you are an in-house designer), NEVER EVER HAND OVER ALL RIGHTS TO YOUR WORK. When you are doing “work for hire,” you revoke all rights to the designs you create; the company you work for owns the designs (although, you should hold onto those sketches and keep copies of the work for your personal portfolio, if possible). For more about this, Jessica Hische has a great article about pricing and licensing.  

How to Seriously Impress a Graphic Designer

Impress Graphic Designer

The turn-off

I tend to cringe when people ask me what I do. Why? Here is the typical script:

“So what do you do, Ashley?”

“I’m a graphic designer.”

“Oh! So you work on the computer and stuff, right?”

At this point, I could sit the person down and launch into what I actually do as a graphic designer.

Instead, I usually roll my eyes and mutter, “Umm… Yeah.” Then shut the conversation down in typical introversive fashion.

If you are one of the culprits — someone who has asked this question before — it’s okay! I wasn’t really sure what graphic design was until I started looking at colleges, trying to figure out what my major could be. In middle school and high school, I designed a lot of t-shirts (I’m sure I was referred to as “that quiet black girl that makes a lot a t-shirts”). But that was the extent of my design knowledge.

Think of a chef…

I love food and I’m currently working as a designer for a food company. So let’s use a food-related analogy, shall we?

I would compare the designer’s dilemma to asking an executive chef, “Hey, so you use a lot of knives, right?” 😒

Well, duh. Of course. Knives are tools. A chef uses many different tools: knives, spoons, spatulas, pans, bowls. Even pens and note pads.

Thanks to reality TV and cooking shows, we know that chefs have to develop menus, find sources for the ingredients, train their sous chefs, manage the kitchen, etc. It obviously is much more involved than just “playing with knives.” 🔪

Computers are tools

No, really. They are literally tools. Knives are tools for a chef. Computers and software are tools for a designer. Done and done.

What graphic design is

We actually encounter designed pieces in most aspects of our lives. Just go to the store, turn on the TV, or stand at the bus stop. See? Design there, there, and there.

In essence, graphic design is the intentional display of visual information for an audience. The AIGA — the professional association for graphic design — defines graphic design as follows:

“Graphic design, also known as communication design [or visual communication] is the art and practice of planning and projecting ideas and experiences with visual and textual content.”

In higher education, graphic design is often separated from other fine art fields because it primarily deals with conveying a specific message to an audience. Fine arts, like painting, tend to center around experimentation with materials, expression through the senses, and interpretation of visuals/sounds/experiences.

Design can do all these things, but the end result almost always has some explicit intention behind it: something the viewer/user/consumer is supposed to understand. It serves a specific purpose or function.

I would argue that fine art can be design and design can be fine art. Therefore the two areas don’t really need to be separated. But that’s for another blog post.

What graphic designers do

Process is a key word in how designers work. The development and implementation of designs involves processes and methods that help designers come up with the most effective strategies.

Each designer has their own processes and methods for coming up with ideas and producing their work. The most clear way I have found to define the  design process, in general, has been John Bower’s four phases of problem-solving:

  • LEARN : Gather as much information (research!) as possible about the problem and the topic, from a variety of sources.
  • IDENTIFY : Find the root problem and the people involved. Understand what needs to happen in order for the problem to be solved.
  • GENERATE : Make a bunch of drafts, sketches, models, or examples. Test those ideas to find the most effective/efficient/probable solution.
  • IMPLEMENT : Take one (or several) of those ideas and produce functional pieces that can put out into the world and used by the intended audience.
Design Process Stages
When designers develop work, they typically go through these four stages.

My process typically works in the sequential order above. However, these phases can take place in any order. Some phases may take longer or be more involved than others. It’s very unique to each designer and project.

The roles of designers

Depending on the position and the company, a graphic designer will have certain roles they are asked to play. In terms of finding a job, it is good for candidates to be able to preform many of these functions:

  • Problem-solving
  • Idea generation
  • Drafting/sketching
  • Researching
  • Writing
  • Project management
  • Layout design
  • Typography
  • Visual hierarchy
  • Color selection
  • Software (an overview of Adobe software coming soon!)
  • Coding (HTML, CSS, JavaScript, content management, etc.)
  • Print production
  • Copy editing
  • Assembly
  • Bookbinding

Notice that using software is only one component of a designer’s job functions! I will go into some of these roles in more detail in future blog posts.

Design specializations

Some individuals will take on multiple specializations, while others focus on one area. If you are considering graphic design as a career, these are some positions to look into.

Designers take on one or more specializations depending on their skills, talents, and the needs of their position.
  • ART DIRECTION : Overseeing design and creative projects.
  • BRAND + IDENTITY DESIGN : Creating logos and the defining features of brands.
  • EDITORIAL DESIGN : Layout design for publications.
  • TYPE DESIGN : Crafting typefaces and developing fonts.
  • PRODUCT DESIGN : Engineering the look and feel of consumer products.
  • PACKAGING DESIGN : Making vessels for consumer goods.
  • SURFACE DESIGN : Working with the surfaces of tactile items, such as fabric and paper.
  • PRINT DESIGN : Designing printed materials, from brochures to stationery.
  • WEB DESIGN : Layout and implementation of websites, blog themes, and the like.
  • USER INTERFACE (UI) DESIGN : Developing systems for people to interact with digital mediums.
  • APP DESIGN : Creating applications for the web and mobile devices.
  • MOTION GRAPHICS : Time-based designs for television, film, and more.
  • ILLUSTRATIONS : Images created to explain, elevate, or expand upon text.
  • ANIMATION : Image-based motion design or moving illustrations.
  • ADVERTISING : Promotions all of types for corporations, institutions, etc.

And these are just scratching the surface. As time goes on and technology advances, new careers will emerge. You might end up creating your own job title! Whoa!

So Now you know

There it is. Graphic designers do a lot more than just staring at computer screens. The next time you are introduced to a graphic designer, you can ask them about their specialty, rather than what software they use. 😉 Your new graphic design friend will be so delighted! via GIPHY

Thank You for Your Donations!


Thanks for being so incredibly generous! Your donations helped us double our goal of $200. In fact, we’ve received over $450.00 in donations for the Cancer Research Institute!

The Design Kettle fundraiser is officially over, but you can still donate through the CRI donation page. I hope to make this an annual fundraiser for cancer research and awareness.

Additionally, the “Remember September” icon font set will still be available for purchase in the Downloads store.

Thanks again and have a very happy holiday season! You have already brought much joy to my family and others who are on the path to beat cancer.

Remember September

Remember September

Update : 06.14.16

My father, Peyton Jr., passed away on February 13, 2016, after a 16-month fight against colon cancer. He was a humble guy who loved people. Family and friends were always extremely important to him. He is incredibly missed by many.

This post is dedicated to Dad. I will always cherish September.

Something Special

Yes, I realize it is November. But there’s something special about September. Professor Jeffrey Peretz of New York University explains, “It’s the end of summer, it’s the beginning of fall, it’s that Indian summertime, it’s the transition from warm to cool.”

Well, Professor Peretz is actually referring to the song by Earth Wind and Fire. A fun NPR piece describes how “September” is the quintessential party song. No one can stay in their seats when the beat starts and you hear the words:

“Do you rememba… the 21st night of Septemba…”

On September 1, 2013, this joyous ode to the beginning of autumn introduced my now-husband and me, and our wedding party, to our guests. The song got everyone to their feet and set the tone for a dance-filled evening. I’m actually holding back from dancing in my seat just thinking about that moment!

Devin and me arriving at the reception to “September.” Yeah... I was pretty excited.
Devin and me arriving at the reception to “September.” Yeah… I was pretty excited.

So, that’s the obvious reason why I love September.

As sports fans, the ninth month signifies the wrap-up of the incredibly long regular baseball season and the beginning of the post season. Of course, this year, the Cardinals had the best record in the MLB, so September was particularly awesome. October… Not so much. Yeah. I am still heartbroken that we lost to the Cubs this post season. But I digress.

Dad, Devin, and me at a Houston Astros game... In our Cards gear (like true fans).
Dad, Devin, and me at a Houston Astros game… In our Cards gear (like true fans).

Oh, and then there is the fact that fall begins in September, usually around the 21st of September (coincidence?).

But as of last year, I have another reason to find importance in this month.


Midnight Plane to Houston

On September 18, 2014, I found myself on late flight from Nashville to Houston. A few nights before I had spoken to my mom over the phone. She was tired and scared and physically alone, dealing with an immense situation. My father had been diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer and was in the ICU, on an ventilator. His liver was failing and there was no certainty about what would happen next.

I thought I was going to lose my dad that September.
We all did.

I was not prepared.
No one was.
No one could be.

Dad had been progressively losing weight over that spring and summer, but my family and I assumed it was stress. He had been through a lot over the previous 11 months.

See, in April, Dad moved to Houston to start a new job. He would travel back home to Knoxville every so often and Mom would visit him occasionally, but the separation was understandably difficult.

Also, his father—my grandfather—had been in hospice since the spring and passed away in June.

It turns out that tumors—not emotional distress—were the issue. The growths were throughout Dad’s midsection, consuming all the nutrients that he was taking in. A tumor on his back was so large that it crushed his spine and took away his ability to walk.

All of this had put Dad in the ICU. In an induced coma. With a tube down his throat, doing what his lungs were not strong enough to do on their own.

On the morning of September 19th, Mom received a call from the oncologist. He explained that there were two options: try a tiny dose of chemotherapy in hopes that it would slow the destruction of Dad’s liver, allowing his organs to regain strength, or…

I’m not gonna even mention the other option, because it really wasn’t an option.

My brother arrived at the hospital from Knoxville and the three of us (my brother, Mom, and I) stayed in Dad’s room for the night. The medical staff revived Dad from his induced coma and began the chemotherapy.

I didn’t sleep that night. Neither did Dad.

Dad slept most of the morning, but had become responsive. I asked one of the nurses if I could play some music from my phone. Dad has always loved music, especially R&B, soul, and funk. Maybe it would aid in his recovery somehow.

I chose “September.”

As the song queued up, Dad lifted up his hands and forearms and started to move them left to right, to the beat—an abbreviated version of his typical dance move. I was ecstatic.

Dad and me dancing to Ray Charles during the reception.
Dad and me dancing to Ray Charles during the reception. Photograph by B+B Portraits.


Celebration + Survival

Long story made slightly shorter, the chemo worked that day: Dad’s levels began to improve and he was soon moved out of the ICU.

This past September marked one year since Dad’s diagnosis. His recovery since his time in the ICU has been truly miraculous: he is walking on his own, gaining some weight back, and seeing a cessation/reduction in growth of some of the tumors. Although the future is not certain—and rarely is it certain—we all feel grateful for where he is today.

September. It has contained both the best day of my life and the worst.

It is a marker for celebration and survival.

Dad and me walking down the aisle. Photograph by and courtesy of George Middlebrooks.
Dad and me walking down the aisle. Photograph by and courtesy of George Middlebrooks.


From Adversity to Art

Now, I’m sure you want to know what the hell all of this has to do with art and design. Well, in grad school, the focus of my work was transforming awkward and painful situations into interactive art. I put my personal experiences into a new form that could be understood by a broader audience. My “found narratives” became visual stories.

As a teacher and designer, I want to help others tell their own stories in a way that connects with others. We all have stories to tell. My goal is to assist in choosing and ordering these narratives in a manner that educates, entertains, or excites. In essence, I am encouraging people to become visual storytellers.

September has presented narratives to me. Ones that I absolutely cannot ignore. Despite any pain or emotions that may be associated with this sequence of events, I feel the need to record it and remember it. And so decided to make something to communicate these stories. And now, share them with you.

Icons that represent the month of September, in my mind.
Icons that represent the month of September, in my mind. These icons are available for purchase as a font. Click here to learn more and to purchase the font.