The Contemporary Designer: Dealing with Clients – A Freelance Perspective By Erik Summa

I love being a freelance designer. I work on my own schedule and enjoy the privilege and freedom to be creative in a variety of different formats and genres. As my design work is diverse, so too are my clients. As any freelance designer will tell you, no two clients are the same and dealing with them can be trying at the best times and exasperating in the worst.

I love all my clients…even the difficult ones.

Who wants to work for someone who quickly accepts everything you send over to them? I truly enjoy defending my design choices and get an immense amount of satisfaction from winning over a difficult client.

I’ve been around long enough to know that the key to any relationship (professional or otherwise) is built on a foundation of good communication. If you can understand who your client is and the target audience they are attempting to reach, even the most difficult client turns into an “easy” one.

Problems can occur when a client fails to articulate what he or she wants in a meaningful way. You would be surprised how often this happens. More often than not, a successful designer has to “read between the lines” in order to get to the information they need to successfully complete a job. You must go the distance to understand the need more than an inarticulate or inexperienced client may be expressing.

By simply asking the right questions, many times you can flush out the necessary information you need. Whenever I have an initial sit down with a client, I always ask the same questions:

  1. What’s the company’s background?
  2. Who is the target audience? (age, gender, subgroups, other segmentation)
  3. What is the message you are attempting to convey?
  4. What are the specs of the project/deliverable? (mediums, dimensions, content)
  5. What is the budget?
  6. Is there a specific deadline?
  7. Can the client show you preexisting design examples they like?
  8. Are there pre-existing design requirements or style guides? (specific colors, fonts, logo placement)

By asking these critical, poignant questions you are not only showing your client that you are an insightful, professional designer, but also that you will deliver a thoughtful, intelligent design that truly meets their need.  This is also the key to forming a lasting, fruitful relationship, and to your continued success in the field.

Read Erik’s first post in this series, The Contemporary Designer.

Erik Summa received his BFA in Graphic Design from West Chester University and graduated with a MA in Graphic Design from University of the Arts London. Summa is currently self-employed as a freelance designer.

His personal website can be found here:

Summa will be teaching courses offered in the Print Certificate program in the fall.

Art for the Cash Poor, Art Sale + Party: June 11 + 12 @ the Crane Arts Building

Time to buy some art…

InLiquid’s Art for the Cash Poor is an annual party and art sale that allows art lovers the chance to meet artists, see their work first-hand, and begin or add to their art collections without breaking the bank — all in a fun, family-friendly atmosphere. A wide range of the region’s best artists (over 120!) sell items priced at $199 or less, with much priced well under $100.  What a bargain!

Art for the Cash Poor 12

I’ve attended many of these in the past…I came home with incredible prints, had a great time with interesting people, ate some food, heard a few new bands.   Oh, and did I mention there is good beer?  What’s not to love?

The event runs for two days at the Crane Arts Building, 1400 N. American Street.  Bands include: Brother from Another, Creeping Weeds, Taggart, North Lawrence Midnight Singers, Faux Slang, Hamburger Hunt, Adam and Dave’s Bloodline, Two Handed Engine, Honey Kicks and Panic Years.

Sat + Sun, June 11 + 12, 2011: 12 – 6 pm
rain or shine

InLiquid is a nonprofit dedicated to providing opportunities and exposure for visual artists and designers, serving as a free public hub for arts information and resources, and making the visual arts more accessible to a broader audience through a continuing series of community-based art exhibitions and programs.

Integrating Design into Business Strategy

I recently clicked a link and it led me to this interesting blog article from Forbes magazine, on integrating design as an integral part of an overall business strategy, particularly for start-ups.

Forbes blogger Tomio Geron, who writes about  start-ups, the social web and various other Silicon Valley topics, quotes Facebook’s Kate Aronowitz, Director of Design and User Experience in the article:

“These days the best designers are not just doing one small part of the design process. They can do visual design as well as code and build much of a website themselves. To find and keep top talent, it’s important to give designers a ‘seat at the table’ so they have influence on decisions and are not just implementing designs.”

Read the full blog here.  It provides a good understanding of how web designers need to think about a company’s values and goals, and integrate this well with how people in the real world actually use and interact with web information.   Enjoy!

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Designer in Your Pocket

The iPhone has becomes as ubiquitous for designers as a sketchpad and pencil and when you are in transit, at a meeting, or at lunch, having your iPhone with you affords you a chance to get some design work done when away from your computer. These apps for graphic designers will help you learn, organize, brainstorm, or research different aspects of your design work. As a bonus, most of these apps inspire creativity all by themselves.

Font Game
From I Love Typography comes the long-awaited, the definitive Font Game for iPhone and iPod touch. Guaranteed to be absolutely the most fun you’ll have with fonts anywhere, any time, any place. Think you know your Arial from your Helvetica, your sans from your sans serifs? Then step up to the plate. With three levels of game play from the ease-yourself-in, “Somewhat Difficult” through to the incredibly challenging, “Exceedingly Difficult,” there’s lots of fun to be had for novices and typographic experts alike.

SimpleMind Touch
SimpleMind Touch is a Mind Mapping tool that turns your iPhone or iPod touch into a brainstorming, idea collection and thought structuring device.

(The interface on this one is very easy to use. The lite version is free. If you are new to mind mapping, I strongly recommend trying this app and see how it goes. This link is to the paid version. Look for the free version as well.)

Palettes 3.0
Palettes is a powerful iPhone productivity tool for creating and maintaining color palettes. Turn your iPhone or iPod touch into a portable color creation tool. Now you can create a color palette anywhere at anytime. Great for creating color schemes. Grab colors from a photograph, a website, or add colors using any one of five color models. Quickly find matching colors with support for many different color schemes.

cliqcliq Colors
Colors is an easy-to-use color picker for discovering, converting, and managing colors and palettes. If you’re a designer or developer working with CSS, HTML, Flex, Flash, Objective-C or other media-centric technologies, you’ll spend a good amount of time finding the exact colors you want to use and converting between various scales and formats. With cliqcliq Colors, you can create palettes based on colors you like best and quickly convert between RGB, HSB and CMYK, as well as integer and floating point scales.

Color Expert
Color Expert is an interactive color wheel and swatch library that helps artists and designers identify, translate, capture and showcase color. Designers know inspiration can come anywhere at anytime. Now with Color Expert, you’ll have the tools to capture the moment, the moment a color captures you.

iBlueSky is a brainstorming and mind-mapping solution for the iPhone and iPod touch. Collect and organize ideas you have at odd moments, then email the complete project in PDF and PNG formats to any contact. You can even print a hard copy of your work from the PDF file.


Identify the fonts in a photo or web graphic! Ever seen a great font in a magazine ad, poster, or on the Web and wondered what font it is? Whip out your iPhone and snap a photo, and WhatTheFont for iPhone will identify the font in seconds!

All the fonts you’ll ever need, right in your iPhone !!!

Font Shuffle
“FontShuffle is the fastest mobile source of typographic inspiration. More than 650 font families are sorted by visual similarity. Without any previous knowledge about type design, you can quickly discover six typefaces of similar style in just two taps by navigating the simple category menu. Choose the list view to examine up to 24 similar typefaces.”

Typography Manual
The Typography Manual has several useful features and resources for designers, including a visual type anatomy glossary, a font size ruler, an em calculator, and enough content to fill a 60-page book. It has all the essentials of a desk reference in a regularly-updated pocket resource.

Sketches 2
Jot down your notes, scribble your thoughts, and annotate your pictures using only your fingers and your imagination! Illustrate your ideas with simple but colorful diagrams, notes and sketches.

Liberate your media with Pixelpipe, and get your photos off of your iPhone and out to your favorite social network, micro-blog, photo/video and blog services. With over 110 supported destinations from around the world to choose from, the choice is really yours. Free your media and share your life.

A color picker for your iPhone: You never know where you are going to find the perfect color. With Loupe you can capture your color inspirations so you don’t have to try and guess what that shade was when you are back at your computer. Simple and thoughtfully designed, Loupe lets you create color swatches from your photo library or use the camera to save colors as you find them.

The color scheme generator for iPhone and iPod touch. Whether you’re a web designer, interior decorator, artist or just a lover of colors, ColorToy can help you find your ideal color scheme. This simple, flexible app lets you generate, modify and store complementary color palettes.

Paper Sizes
International Paper Sizes is an ideal resource for looking up a variety of paper standards. It’s ideal for those working in graphic design, illustration, printing, export and packaging.

Inspiration – Designer and Illustrator Olle Eksell

I am constantly trying to keep my eyes open to designs that inspire me, and I am very partial to looking back to mid-century designers and illustrators whose work I find endearing and elegant.   I think this aspect of design history is important to new designers and artists.

Design by Olle Eksell

Recently, I stumbled upon the design work of Olle Eksell, one of the most respected and distinguished Swedish graphic designers.  He passed away in 2007 at the age of 87, leaving a legacy of advertising posters, logos, postcards, illustrations, products and more – all charmingly beautiful and interesting.  A book celebrating his work was just published in April, 2011.

Olle Eksell

Book Jacket Cover by Olle Eksell for 1984 by George Orwell

He is most famous for his iconic Mazetti Cacao Eye design, a pictogram for the chocolate and confectionery manufacturer:

Mazetti Cacao Logo

Olle Eksell was born in 1918 and he became a member of AGI (Alliance Graghique Internationale) in 1952 in New York.  Some of his many awards include the Advertising Association of Sweden’s Platinum Egg in 1985, and an Honorary Professorship from the Swedish Government in 2001.

You can check out more of his work in the book Olle Eksell: Swedish Graphic Designer. I am definitely adding this book to my wish list and hope to frame some of his work.

Book Cover for Olle Eksell: Swedish Graphic Designer

In the book, see Eksell’s letterhead and advertising posters, as well as some truly breathtaking works—a point-of-sale tool with a boy’s and girl’s smiley face, and a package with a drawing of a reindeer for Christmas.  The book also includes private works such as postcards  created before he became a professional designer, paintings as gifts for his  friends, and drawings of the places he visited for holidays with his wife. This book covers his comprehensive work, and is the most definitive visual collection ever seen of this talented artist.

Eksell himself wrote a book in 1967, called Corporate Design Progams, which is sadly out of print right now, originally printed in the Netherlands by N. V. Drukkerij Koch en Knuttel, Gouda.

If you like Eksell’s work, read my previous blog post about another mid-century designer/illustrator who I can’t stop thinking about: Charley Harper.

Inspiration: Christopher Wool

Christopher Wool, Studio, New York, 1993, via

I have been looking at the work of American painter Christopher Wool a lot lately.  Wool’s work references process, abstraction, advertising, contemporary culture and reproduction.  He uses a range of media, incorporating photography, screen printing, stencils, spray paint, hand painting, text, and other industrial processes and materials to make his work.  Wool has also designed skate decks for Supreme and collaborated on various projects and publications with  other artists, including painter Josh Smith and poet/musician Richard Hell.

Check out these links to read and see more:

Christopher Wool at Gagosian

Christopher Wool at Luhring Augustine

Roberta Smith’s The New York Times review of his 2008 solo show at Luhring Augustine

In conversation with Richard Hell at Interview Magazine

Intaglios at Edition Jacob Samuel

East Broadway Breakdown


can your monkey do the dog (with Josh Smith)

The Contemporary Designer, a series by Erik Summa

Part I:

The premium of versatility in today’s creative workplace.

The job market for designers in today’s workplace is fierce. Where once it was satisfactory to have focused skills in one medium, most employers are now looking for designers that can do it all.

As a designer (or future designer), we all have a responsibility to both ourselves and our clients to be as educated in our craft as possible. We should be driven to increase our knowledge and understanding of design, whether it be through the consumption of blogs, print reviews or exhibitions.  You’re never too old or too late to learn something new.

As a graphic designer who graduated from an undergraduate program in 2006, I can certainly empathize.  I worked at a few print design firms after graduation, but noticed a need in the greater job market for designers with proficiencies in both print and web.

Philadelphia Flower Show Competition Entry. This poster was created to promote the annual Philadelphia Flower show.

The obvious solution for me was to go back to school. I researched a few universities in the area, and per the suggestion of my fellow creatives, took a look at the programs offered through the Continuing Ed program at the University of the Arts. The course work was a perfect fit for my needs. The classes were relevant, the staff knowledgeable, and courses were offered at a time that was convenient for me.

After researching the program, I met with my boss, and detailed the benefits the company could expect to enjoy as a result of me taking these classes. My superiors were so impressed by the coursework and skill sets taught, that my employer actually offered me complete tuition reimbursement.

Sunshine and Surf

As a graduate of the Web Certificate coursework, I cannot tell you how often I use the skills I have learned during my time at UArts. I am a more viable and versatile designer than I ever was before.

I encourage you to just take a quick look at the current course offerings. I am confident there is something available for just about any designer, regardless of experience or skill level.

Objects as Symbols: Working with temporal materials to create contextual meaning. MA FINAL PROJECT

I hope to see you in the fall!

-Erik Summa

Erik Summa received his BFA in Graphic Design from West Chester University and graduated with an MA in Graphic Design from University of the Arts London. Summa is currently self-employed as a freelance designer. His personal website can be found here. He will be teaching courses in the Print Certificate program in the fall.

Visiting Artist Lecture in Photography @ Crane Arts – May 21

Free lecture with photographer Amy Stein

The Philadelphia Photo Arts Center (PPAC) is hosting a free lecture with photographer Amy Stein on Saturday, May 21 from 6:00 – 7:00 pm at Crane Arts.

# 4 in Stranded series by Amy Stein (copyright to Amy Stein:

The recipient of numerous awards, Amy Stein focuses her work on  isolation from our community, culture and environment. For the Stranded series, Stein traveled the US by car to find people caught in between freedom and survival at the side of the road. In many ways the work speaks to the ability to interact with strangers and also acts as a document regarding a  specific climate in American history. Images from the Stranded series are included in PPAC’s current exhibition East of Eden, running until May 21, 2011.

Amy Stein is a photographer and teacher based in New York City. She has been exhibited nationally and internationally and her work is featured in many private and public collections such as the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Museum of Contemporary Photography, the Nevada Museum of Art, the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art and the West Collection. Amy’s first book, Domesticated, was released in fall 2008. It won the best book award at the 2008 New York Photo Festival. Amy was raised in Washington, DC, and Karachi, Pakistan. She holds a BS in Political Science from James Madison University and an MS in Political Science from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. In 2006, Amy received her MFA in photography from the School of Visual Arts in New York. She is represented by Robert Koch Gallery in San Francisco, ClampArt in New York, and Pool Gallery in Berlin.

This event is part of the Philadelphia Photo Arts Center free lecture series by visiting contemporary artists.  Lectures are open to the public and serve the educational purpose of cultivating an active dialogue about photography.

Congratulations to Continuing Education's 2011 Certificate Students

Pictured left to right: Nanita Barchi, Erin McGee Ferrell, Erik Summa, Alicia Lazur, Kevin Riley, Maria Jose Silva, Tremain Smith, Dale Varga, Susan Goodman Jackson, Rachel Kolber

April 27th saw 18 of our hard working students receive their certificates at a special reception in recognition and celebration of their academic achievement.

Certificates were awarded to students who completed their course of study in the Teaching Artist Certificate, Print Design Certificate, Web Design Certificate, and the Web Design + Development Dual Certificate.

Continuing Education faculty member and Print Design Certificate Capstone instructor, Joe DeCerchio (left) poses with two of his Print Design students, Maria Jose Silva (center) and Kevin Riley (right).

Representatives from the University community were on-hand to congratulate the students. Joanna Sung, Assistant Director, Alumni and Parent Relations officially conferred to the students their University of the Arts Alumni status, an accomplishment which makes available to these students an extensive list of benefits, as the Alumni Association is always on the lookout for great deals for alumni. One of the benefits many of our certificate students find most attractive is their ability to purchase high-quality auto, home and renter’s insurance at a group discount rate of 10-20 percent.  A comprehensive list of alumni benefits can be obtained online.

Three of the 2011 Teaching Artist Certificate recipients, (pictured L to R), Rachel Kolber, Erin McGhee Ferrell and Tremain Smith.

The Director of Career Services at the University of the Arts, Elisa Seeherman, expressed how she was looking forward to extending the extensive services of UArts Career Services to the students. Career Services assists students and alumni by providing comprehensive resources and individual counseling tailored to their specific needs in the arts.  Services include career counseling, assistance with résumé and cover letter writing, and coaching on interview techniques/job search skills. Additionally, these certificate recipients can look forward to gaining access to UArtsCareers, a comprehensive online listing of opportunities including internships, part-time jobs, summer jobs, freelance projects, auditions and full-time career positions.

(Pictured L to R) Pearl Schaeffer, Chief Executive Director, PAEP; Elisa Seeherman, Director, University of the Arts Career Services, and Raye Cohen, Director of Education, PAEP.

Pearl Schaeffer, Chief Executive Officer, and Raye Cohen, Director of Education, for Philadelphia Arts in Education Partnership (PAEP) spoke briefly before congratulating each of the Teaching Artist Certificate students. Pearl and Raye served as instructors for many of the Teaching Artist courses and in doing so formed relationships with the students and served as mentors for these teaching artists. The Philadelphia Arts in Education Partnership is the partner organization with Continuing Studies in the development of this one-of-a-kind certificate.

Kevin Riley (left) poses with Maria Jose Silva (right), who proudly displays her Print Design Certificate.

Following the presentation of certificates, students, faculty, administration, friends and family attended a wine and cheese reception. This reception allowed all to mingle and recall their experiences in their respective programs before wishing one another success as they embark upon their professional careers.

Students, friends, staff and faculty enjoying the post-ceremony reception.

We wish all of 2011 certificate recipients well and trust they will continually update us regarding their professional successes.

Continuing Education Coordinator, Rob Craig (left), congratulates Teaching Artist Certificate recipient, Susan Goodman Jackson (right) on her achievement.

Italian Market Festival @ 9th St – May 14 & 15

There is much to love at the Italian Market Festival – the sights, the sounds and of course, amazing food.

I usually go every year (I’m right in the neighborhood) to see the accordian player on the corner and the giant pastry bags filling up cannolis, and to grab some amazing cheese (from beloved DiBruno’s, of course).  I always run into a ton of friends and enjoy the energy of our amazing city.  There are also local artisans selling their wares.  The festival is held Saturday and Sunday, May 14 and 15, 10 am – 5 pm.

Italian Market Festival

Sure, there is some Italian blood in my veins, but this fest is more than just celebrating Italian culture, it is a festive way to honor America’s oldest, continuously operating, open-air market… a true Philadelphia icon.  The market continually changes and grows  as new cultures exert their influence in the neighborhood – I’ve had  great Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches and authentic Mexican tacos, definitely.  Still, get a meatball with red gravy if you go.  And take note, there is more than street food, Philadelphia Magazine recently had an article on the latest upscale restaurants locating to the market.

Beyond all this talk of food, there are also activities, performances, music,  games, crafts, a parade of saints, and lots of great people watching.  Come stroll 9th Street this weekend!