Are You An Ethical Designer?

Defining your own ethical code is difficult, but if you’re going to work with a variety of different clients, it’s necessary. What types of work would you refuse to accept? How far is too far over the line? Where is the line? Designers must ask themselves these questions to determine their personal ethical code.

To help you figure out your personal ethics in design, I’ve included The Road to Hell, a test developed by graphic designer Milton Glaser to help designers establish their own level of discomfort with bending the truth.

1. Designing a package to look bigger on the shelf.

2. Designing a package aimed at children for a cereal whose contents you know are low in nutritional value and high in sugar.

3. Designing a crest for a new vineyard to suggest that it has been in business for a long time.

4. Designing a jacket for a book whose sexual content you find personally repellent.

5. Designing a medal using steel from the World Trade Center to be sold as a profit-making souvenir of September 11.

6. Designing an advertising campaign for a company with a history of known discrimination in minority hiring.

7. Designing an ad for a slow, boring film to make it seem like a lighthearted comedy.

8. Designing a line of T-shirts for a manufacturer that employs child labor.

9. Designing a promotion for a diet product that you know doesn’t work.

10. Designing an ad for a political candidate whose policies you believe would be harmful to the general public.

11. Designing a brochure for an SUV that flips over frequently in emergency conditions and is known to have killed 150 people.

12. Designing an ad for a product whose frequent use could result in the user’s death.


What do you think? Which of these would you do and which would you not do? What are some other examples of projects or clients that you think would be unethical to work with?

9 Tips For Photographing Graduating Seniors

When May rolls around, most people celebrate the warm weather, colorful flowers, and abundance of green. But for photographers, late spring means something else: senior photograph season.

There are lots of articles and online galleries that offer examples of creative, out-of-the-box senior photography. But let’s start with the basics. For photographers who have less experience with senior portraits, or for experienced photographers looking for new tips and inspiration, here are 9 tips for photographing graduates.


1. Capture their personality.


Not everyone you photograph will be as fun and silly as Gaitry, above, but if you spend time getting to know the person you’re photographing, you’ll begin to understand who they are and how to capture that. Learn their quirks, what makes them unique, and then find a way to capture that with a photograph. If they’re introverted and prefer to spend their time reading a good book, ask them to bring one of their favorite books with them. If they’re high-energy and active, consider a photoshoot with more movement and adventurous poses. Each photoshoot should be tailored to mirror the personality of your graduate. It makes the photos more special to them and more interesting for you.


2. Try different angles.


When I was photographing Erika and she lied down on NC State’s Brickyard, I originally took all her photos from above. However, in those photos, her red gown blended into the red bricks. I decided to lie down myself and get the colorful trees (perks of photographing a December graduate) in the background instead of the bricks. This created a much more visually appealing photo, and Erika stood out nicely against the colorful fall leaves.


3. Look for special moments.


Especially when photographing multiple people, oftentimes the candid photos look much more natural than the posed ones. When I was photographing Garrison and Nigel, the unposed photos ended up being the best ones. Then you’re capturing real moments, real emotions, and real reactions, which give a better sense of who a person actually is.


4. Highlight their future plans.

Find ways to document where someone is going. Did they just get into college or grad school? Take a photo of them with a stuffed animal, flag, hat, etc. from that university. Did they just get an awesome job offer? Photograph them with their acceptance letter or company business card. Are they taking a gap year to travel the globe? Have them bring their passport to the photo session. Did they get accepted into the Disney College Program? Ask them to wear their Mickey ears during the photoshoot.


5. Find out what’s significant to them.

garrison 0100

I wouldn’t choose to photograph every graduating senior at the Campus YMCA. But for Garrison, the Campus Y was a place he spent a majority of his undergraduate career in, and he felt very connected to the people and experiences that the Campus Y led him to. Find out what places are significant to the person you’re photographing, and make an effort to photograph them at the most important ones.


6. Zoom in.


Getting a few detailed shots helps capture intimate details about a person and who they are. Zooming in on the tassel, or a person’s jewelry, offers a unique angle and perspective on a person and shows objects that would get lost in a normal photo.


7. BYOP (Bring Your Own Props).


Props are great, because they make your photos more interesting, and they also give your subject something to hold, which will make them feel less awkward. Have them use props significant to them: band members can bring their instrument, athletes can bring their equipment, etc. Also, if you’re photographing them before they actually have their diploma, just roll up a piece of white paper and tie it. Then you have the illusion of a diploma without getting the actual diploma rolled up/dirty.


8. Don’t be afraid to be artsy!


Shoot through the grass, shoot through the trees, shoot upside down, shoot underwater. Try new things to get unique photos. It’s always better to try and fail than to never try at all. And, when you’re rolling around on the grass trying to find the perfect blade to photograph, you might get some good candid photos of your subject laughing at you.


9. Don’t forget your cliché shots.


Yes, your laughing shots and poses holding a basketball and grass angles are cool, but don’t forget the typical photos, too. Your creative bone might hurt, but there are landmarks at any high school or college that people want to be photographed with. And every college student wants a photo in front of the building their major is in, most likely while making a victorious pose. These photos are just as important as the unique ones, so make sure you set time aside for the cliché shots, too.


Good luck!

Use these tips to get great, unique, and memorable senior photos. If you’re interested in photography and want other tips, check out my blog posts about sports photography and zoo photography.

What is Design Activism?

I recently purchased a copy of The Design Activist’s Handbook, a fantastic book written by Noah Scalin and Michelle Taute. Their book discusses how designers can use their powers for good, creating graphics that inspire others, educate people about new topics, or provide a platform to people whose voices are often not heard. As designer David Berman explains in the foreward, “Design is a very young profession. We’ve barely begun. Over 95% of all designers who have ever lived are alive today. Together it is up to us to decide what role our profession will play. Is it going to be about selling sugar water, and smoke and mirrors to the vulnerable child within each one of us? Or is it going to be about helping repair the world?”

“We have the opportunity to decide whether we will simply do good design or we will do good with design.” -David Berman

Design activism has grown into a movement of its own. Organizations such as Design for America and IDEO aim to create social impact through design. Elefint Designs uses design to “help good causes create a better world,” and Design Corps uses design to “create positive change in traditionally underserved communities.”

“Design has the power to give a voice to people and causes without access to multimillion-dollar advertising budgets and to offer people alternative visions of how the world might be.”
-The Design Activist’s Handbook

Design activism is about using your talents as a designer to create a positive impact in the world. It means using your talents to help non-profits establish their identity or offering to create a logo for an organization run entirely by volunteers. It’s about designers using what they know best, design, to help solve problems and build a better world.

You don’t have to be the CEO of a nonprofit to make a difference. Anyone can make a difference using the skills and talents they have combined with motivation and passion. For designers, that means using your skills in design to improve the lives of others.

The Design Activist’s Handbook, by Noah Scalin and Michelle Taute

A Graphic For Every Country in Africa

People often refer to Africa as if it is a single country, ignoring the fact that Africa is a continent with 55 distinct countries. I created this series to use my design skills to emphasize every country in Africa and help others understand the uniqueness of each country. Below you’ll find thumbnails of all the graphics. Click them to see larger versions!




I created this series both to educate myself and others. I learned a lot along the way and plan to create similar series for other continents. Special thanks to, Country Reports, and Afripedia, which were my main sources for information and photographs when researching the countries. Feel free to share these and familiarize others with these beautiful countries!

When Animals Don’t Smile: 10 Zoo Photography Tips

Taking photos of animals at the zoo is a lot different than photographing your pet dog at home. You can’t spend hours getting the right lighting and angle, you can’t change the background, you can’t position the animal differently, and you can’t put quirky objects near the animal to get a funny picture. In zoos, you’re stuck with what’s in the exhibit. But this challenge is what makes the outcome so rewarding; taking a stunning photograph despite the obstacles that come with zoo photography is a difficult feat, but with a little practice, you can become an expert. Below are some tips to help you achieve the best photographs possible. All these photos were taken at the North Carolina Zoological Park in Asheboro, NC.


1. Look for special moments.


Especially when there are multiple animals, look for intimate moments where they interact with one another. These shots end up looking very special and unique, as the interaction between two animals is never going to be exactly the same.


2. Get in close.


Zooming in is crucial. Many animals prefer not to sit right in front of the fence, so zooming in makes the image look more like you’re just hanging out with your bear friend and less like you’re far away with a fence dividing you.


3. Don’t rule out any animals.


I’ve never had any particular desire to photograph ostriches, and I had very low expectations when I arrived at that exhibit. To my surprise, however, the ostrich ended up being my favorite animal to photograph. I was able to get very close to it, and it was extremely expressive and engaging.


4. Go to all the exhibits, especially the butterfly house.


A lot of zoos have butterfly houses or aviaries. These are great, because they allow you to be in an enclosed environment with animals that you normally would never be able to get close to. But, as pointed out in this blog, remember that these areas are often humid, so you need to wait for your camera to transition to the climate change as to avoid condensation on the lens.


5. Focus on the eyes.


Just as with photographing people, the eyes are essential for telling a story with your photo. Focusing on an animal’s eyes will help create a more personal connection between your subject and the viewer of your image.


6. Use the surroundings to your advantage.


Reflection in the water making your shot look less like you originally planned? Find a way to use that to your advantage! You can’t control the animal’s habitat, but you can control how you photograph it.


7. Be patient.


People spend an average of 28 seconds at each exhibit. The chance of having the perfect, most photo-worthy moment in those 28 seconds is highly unlikely. Be a little patient and you’ll capture a unique, interesting moment.


8. Crop images to help tell a story.


Showing just part of an animal often tells a better story than showing its entire body, especially if this means zooming in on the face. You can do this in post-production, but look for different ways to frame the same shot when you’re in the field, too.


9. Get low.


Oftentimes, zoo visitors are above the animals, so photos are taken at a downward angle. As explained here, this distorts features and creates boring compositions. You can fix this by kneeling down to be at the same eye level as an animal; this creates a much stronger photo.


10. Be creative!


Zoos present a lot of opportunities to be creative. Play around with different types of compositions, use the background to enhance your subject, and use the rule of thirds to make your images more dynamic and engaging. And, above all, have fun!

6 Typography Tips & Tricks

Typography is a crucial aspect of design, and the art of using typefaces beautifully goes far beyond avoiding Comic Sans and Papyrus. Learning the basics of typography improves your design. Typefaces are not pretty decorations; they’re an essential part of your design that directly impacts the readability and usability of your final product. If your design is flawless, but the text is distracting or difficult to read, your entire project may be disregarded. Below are some tips for optimizing your typography and using it to help, rather than hurt, your overall design.


1. Make the hierarchy obvious.

You want the reader to see the headline, then the subhead, then the paragraph text. How do you ensure that’s the order they read it? You create a hierarchy. Hierarchy is not good if you’re an anarchist, but it’s very important if you’re a designer. It allows the user to easily understand what text is most important and least important, and it guides the eye throughout the page.



2. Use less than three fonts.

…and sometimes 3 is pushing it. If you’re using a second or third font, you need to have a clearly defined reason for doing it. Oftentimes, you can use different weights of the same font to achieve the look you want, and then using less complicated fonts actually makes the design easier to read. Using fewer will help the faces you do choose stand out. If, for example, you want a more decorative typeface for a headline and a body text that is clear and easy to read, go for it. Just make sure you can justify to yourself and your client why you are using different fonts.



3. No widows and orphans.

A widow is a short line or single word at the end of a paragraph. An orphan is a word or short line at the beginning or end of a column that is separated from the rest of the paragraph. They both look really awkward. Fortunately, it is easy to avoid them. You can either change column widths, find words to add/remove, or slightly change the tracking, which is the distance between letters in a word (not to be confused with kerning, which deals with one space between two specific letters).



4. Kerning is your friend.

Especially if you are designing a logo or large headline, kerning is extremely important. Because some letters (like an uppercase W) leave empty space before the next letter begins, some words can look awkward if you do not manually adjust the spacing between two specific characters. It’s very easy to do this and goes a long way. Plus, you don’t want to your design to end up on one of these lists.



5. Use complementary fonts.

Serif with sans-serif, bold with light, decorative with Roman, etc. Opposites attract, and if you use two fonts that look oddly similar but are not similar, it’s just going to look awkward. You want your fonts to complement each other, not compete for attention.



6. Let your words breathe.

It is okay to use some of your precious white space to allow your fonts to have room to breathe. Putting a bunch of fonts on top of each other is confusing and feels cluttered. Give them space.


From Canvas to Computer: Combining Traditional Art With Graphic Design

Earlier this week, I wrote a blog post about the research and planning phases of a white tiger infographic I designed.


One of the key aspects of that infographic is a large illustration of a white tiger. When creating the design, I wanted it to look rustic and rugged. The infographic is about the horrors of the breeding industry, and making the illustration look slightly distressed would complement the content well. I wanted to stay away from the clean, polished look of vector images. While I could create a computer-generated rustic look in Photoshop, I decided to take things a step further and design the tiger without a computer, both to challenge myself and to create the look I wanted.



I wanted to use black paint to create bold lines with a sketchy/distressed feel. I began experimenting with a paintbrush, but the lines still looked too polished, and they didn’t look rugged enough. I then saw a pencil sitting nearby with a foam pencil grip on it, and I was inspired. I dipped the pencil grip in the black paint and made a few practice strokes. They were bold, commanding, but still had a rustic look. I began using the pencil grip to paint the entire tiger, angling it for thicker or thinner strokes, and moving quickly to create an illustration that looked natural, not planned or perfectly calculated. Working with traditional art better allows you to create things that aren’t perfectly aligned, which is better when creating illustrations with a more natural feel.




The final illustration had the rustic, natural feel I wanted. It was a good start, but the illustration was not done yet. I scanned it and opened the file in Photoshop. Then, I added some subtle blue and orange colors, changed the shadows and highlights a bit, and faded the colors slightly to blend the illustration in with the rest of the infographic. The final file was a perfect integration of traditional and computer design skills; it had the rough, rugged look I wanted without looking messy or unprofessional.




Using traditional art can be intimidating for a designer who is used to working in Photoshop and Illustrator, but the challenge is definitely worth it. Obviously the traditional art route takes longer and can’t be used for every project, but when you make a deliberate choice to enhance your work using this method, it pays off. Plus, now I can say I know how to paint with a pencil grip. I should probably add that to my resume ASAP.