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Today’s post features the talented + quirky + self-proclaimed bee-headed Lena Shore, the creative and super-smart force behind lenashore.com.

Now, you’re probably wondering why in the world I would feature another web and graphic designer when those are services I offer myself. I totally get that so please let me explain.

Every designer has different strengths, different rates, and works best with different types of people.

Industry interviews give us a chance to learn from one another whether you’re just entering the industry or searching for a designer. It’s always good to have options and I’d prefer you know about great designers instead taking a chance on someone who says they know what they’re doing, but really don’t.


Meet Lena

Lena is a freelance designer I met through a networking group on Facebook. I’m pretty sure she’s the first person to say anything nice about my portfolio that I wasn’t related to. As this was my first foray into becoming visible, I was flattered, but figured it was a one-off.

Not so!

She commented every time I posted something. As time passed, I came to see that she was someone I could count on for honest opinions, great guidance in the areas I was less familiar with, and a good laugh. Plus, she started mentioning me when people asked for design help!

So, thank you, Lena, for your generosity, talent, and taking the time to answer all of my questions. I am proud to share this space with you!

And now…the interview:

What made you want to be a designer?

My mother and grandmother were both artists—so I knew I wanted to do something with art that was a job. Somewhere in there I watched Tom Hanks in Big and knew that’s what I wanted to be. A designer, I mean. Not a twelve-year-old boy in an adult’s body. (I’m pretty sure that’s what my husband wanted though…)

How many hours a week do you work?

When I started my own business I probably worked 60+ hours a week. Now, I try to keep it around 40. This is due to having processes in place, keeping organized, and learning to say no to things that aren’t a good fit.

What is your favorite part of the job?

Getting a new client that had a terrible experience and being able to give them a great experience with an end-project they love. It sounds dorky, but exceeding a client’s expectations is a terrific rush.

What is one of your favorite success stories or projects you’ve worked on?

This will sound like a cop-out—but I really enjoy whatever the last project was that I worked on. I try to get really excited about whatever I’m doing in the now.

I used to do some big brochures for Girl Scouts that included a decent amount of illustration and lots of wiggle room for creativity. Those were fun. Any project where the client hands you a sow’s ear and you hand back a silk purse is also a great project.

What question do you wish client’s would ask?

“Can I pay you more?” would be nice. LOL. I wish more clients would ask about the process so we would all have the same expectations.

What is your biggest challenge with clients?

For web development, nothing will put a halt to a project faster than content development. Most clients think they can write something quickly and the copy becomes an afterthought. Content informs the design and needs to come first. When they sit down to do it, they realize it is not a simple or quick task. I often partner them with one of my writers.

Setting expectations is also a constant challenge because all clients are different in this regard. Some are very hands-on. Others you have to chase down.

What makes you different from other designers?

Given that I am completely familiar with every other designer, this is an easy question.

  • While I was in school for graphic design I worked at print shops doing pre-press—preparing designer’s files for printing. I learned a lot about the equipment and what makes it angry enough to screw up your job. I had to learn how to avoid a lot of compatibility issues there. It never occurred to me at the time it was perfect compliment for my major. As a result, I have a good handle on putting files together—which saves the client money on fees incurred at the press.
  • I can draw and will often create illustrations if I need something for a client, which is often easier and better for my clients than finding clip art.
  • I am also a giant nerd and “noodler”. I love to learn about my own job, and think it’s important to feel comfortable with graphic design, web design, illustration and running my own servers.
  • I strive to listen to my client’s wants and needs, offer suggestions, but always remember I’m designing for them, not for me. Hopefully, we meet in the middle and everyone is happy.
  • It just occurred to me that this makes it sound like I think other designers don’t do all of these wonderful things too. It’s not true. There’s a big world out there, and several other designers are just as wonderful. 😉

How do you measure your success?

I measure success by how many hours of sleep I got the night before. If I can can stay busy without being stressed, have plenty of family time, go on vacation 1-2 times a year and still pay my bills, I’m happy.

Can you share a little bit about your creative process?

I start with a conversation with the client. We talk about what they want and how they plan to use the piece. Sometimes they know what will work. Sometimes we discuss ideas to help them reach their goals. We discuss any budgetary requirements. I try to understand their business and how they view themselves and understand how they want to be perceived (i.e. established, new and exciting, funny, serious, etc.). Then we talk about styles of things they like. After all it’s all about them and whatever we produce should be a reflection of them and their business. I want the marketing piece to be an extension of their business—so if you go to their website or read their brochure you already have an idea of what their business will be like.

After all of that, it’s time to get to work. My musical tastes vary with the project—but I try to put something on that is complimentary to the project. I turn off my email and ignore the phone. Unfortunately, I cannot turn off  the dogs who demand occasional pets.

When I’m ready, I send out the proof and ask for feedback. If it is a very complex job, I may record a video presentation to explain my thought process. This is great if you are working on a large project with a team. The video can just be passed along and no one has to remember what you said and your message doesn’t get lost in translation.

Usually, at this point the project is pretty close to being done and only needs minor adjustments. All the conversation up-front really sets the stage for the rest of the job to run smoothly.

Advice for Business Owners

What advice would you give someone on how to pick the right designer?

Go to the designer’s website and take a look. Does it look nice? Can you find what you want? Are there samples of their work? Do you like that work? Now try to contact them. Was it easy or difficult? Were they nice? Did they ask you questions about your business? Did they answer your questions clearly? How did you feel after you hung up? Happy? Or happy to be off the phone?

If you can answer these questions, you’ll know if you found a good designer for you.

What advice would you give a new business in terms of a website?

How much would you pay a salesperson to work 24 hours-a-day 7 days-a-week? Considered that way, a web site is a pretty good deal.

Get a good, solid website that you can make your own changes to (or create a budget for designer help). It doesn’t have to be fancy. It needs good information about your business and be able to communicate your services clearly to the reader. Include an FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) page so you can answer the questions you get often, but you also get the chance to answer the questions you wish people would ask. Like, “What kind of cake do I wish happy customers would bring me?”

Also, it doesn’t need to be perfect. Websites evolve. You can always add more to it later. It’s more important that you get it up and running than to try to make it perfect from the get-go.

If a client asks you for a service you don’t usually offer, how do you reply?

I partner with other people that compliment my skill set. I might pull them in on a job or I might have associates contact them directly if it doesn’t make sense for me to be in the middle. I’m happy to hand out referrals if it makes sense. I can’t be everything to everyone.

Why should someone hire you instead of going to 99designs or Fiverr?

I wrote an article on this because it drives me crazy. The short answer is you get what you pay for.

If you are paying someone $5 for a web design there is a 99.9% chance you are getting an amateur or someone who is cheating. Good design takes time. It’s a process. You don’t just slap something down and have a great product. It is an evolution and conversation between the designer and the client. You want your design to mean more than $5 to the designer.

Often you are getting designs that are stolen or that use clip art. Now you’ve paid for something that someone else is using or have copyright issues that can result in you losing your entire site.

How well is a $5 designer going to get to know you and your business? After it’s over, are you going to be able to find the designer and get additional logos or other items you needed? I have heard horror stories about useless files being provided after payment is made.

Don’t do it. Your business is worth more.

What, if anything, goes into the colors you choose to use in your designs?

This goes back to trying to understand the client and business. You have clients that want to fit in with their competitors and those that want to stand out. Medical businesses almost always want blue. Lawyers like green and tech companies want colors that vibrate against each other. A organic gardening company might do well with earth tones, while a nightclub might want bright colors to signify energy and excitement. Massage therapy is about relaxation and calm feelings—so you want colors that are cool. But, every company has a different climate. Sometimes they want change, sometimes they want to keep things the way they are.

Logo design is usually done with a brand new business. I will ask them what colors they like, what colors they hate, and how open they are to suggestions. I usually try to give examples of what they think they want in addition to examples I like and think would work with their company.

It’s always a balance of what represents the client and what will communicate the best to their target market.

How do you stay on top of all the trends and determine which ones to follow?

This is a tough question. Because I am just me, it would be really easy for me to live in my bubble and not grow as a designer. I put forth a constant effort to keep up with trends. I read articles by others in my industry and attend conferences whenever I can. I love to see what other designers are doing. A few times a year I will specifically Google “This year’s trends” and see what comes up. The way we live and use technology can also affect trends—art reflects life. I try to pay attention to all trends whether they be in fashion, design, or technology. It’s all information for the thinky brain vault.

The second part of this is deciding what trends are worth following and which ones aren’t. If the next big thing doesn’t solve a problem and only serves the designer I would tend not to recommend it. Remember all those moving flash intro pages we had to sit through to get into a website a few years back? Those were for the designer’s ego, not for your business.  Those types of trends become outdated quickly because they have no substance. Most clients don’t want materials that look dated after a year—unless they are the type of client that always wants to follow trends. Then you can say “cha-ching!”

What steps do you take to ensure a happy customer?

Good communication. If you sense there is a problem, address it as soon as you can to diffuse any issues. Waiting doesn’t do anything but build up the problem in your head and stress you out.

Be honest and try to put yourself in your client’s shoes. Concentrate on your client’s business needs. If you care about them, they will be happy. You can also utilize surveys to find out what the client thinks about a project after it is over.

Keep in touch with your client after the job is over. If you see an article, a funny cartoon, or product you think they could use—send it to them. You should be building long-term relationships, not just a one-time paycheck.

Everyone makes mistakes. It’s how you handle them that can make you shine.

Advice For New Designers

What are your thoughts on brand new designers positioning themselves as all-knowing professionals?

I guess this happens in all industries. It comes from not having confidence in yourself and believing success comes from pretending you know “everything about everything”. If you’ve been around the block more than once, this type of person sticks out like a sore thumb. It’s exhausting to watch and their clients suffer from it.

Unfortunately, it’s up to the client to ask questions and find out the designer’s experience level so they can make a decision. Pay attention to how they respond to you. Are they nice? Helpful? Do they ask you questions or talk about themselves? Do they return phone calls and emails in a timely manner? All these things may set the stage for your project.

I can’t tell you how many new, wonderful, solid, clients I’ve gotten that started out with “My last designer did this awful thing…”. Honestly I should thank those guys.

The truth is no one is an “all-knowing professional”. Well, no one but me, of course, who is correct and wise in all matters.

What advice would you give to a new designer?

When you aren’t busy with client work, be busy with work for your business. Work for yourself will generate client work later. This means education, internet presence, meeting people in related fields, all kinds of things that will really pay you back when you need it to.

Just for Fun

So, when you AREN’T working — what are you doing?

I try to spend time every week doing something artistic. For the last few years I’ve really gotten into sculptural pieces with polymer clay. I have a heavy background in traditional ceramics which I loved. I find that polymer clay has all the perks of traditional clay without the downsides—at least for the work I do. For instance, I can leave a piece unfinished for two weeks and it won’t dry out. I also don’t have a house full of clay dust and large kilns.

I spend lots of time with my husband and dogs, walking the neighborhood and solving life’s problems.

What’s your favorite video game?

What day is it? LOL.

I do enjoy video games. Historically, I fell in love with Tomb Raider and Sims. When I discovered SimCity I stayed up all night playing over Christmas. I was at a friend’s house and eating their mom’s homemade almond brittle. With great fun, came a great stomach ache. I also love the Silent Hill series, but won’t play them alone. The original Worms just makes me laugh and laugh. It’s old school but there is something very gratifying about taking turns trying to blow each other up with cartoon sheep.

I got hooked on MMORPGs with Everquest 10+ years ago and met some great friends. Today, you’ll find me playing World of Warcraft with some of the same people.

Last month I got sucked into Elvenar. This week I had to try this “Pokémon GO” thing and now it takes forever to run any sort of errand, because I keep stopping for pidgeys. Completely addictive. At least for now.

If you couldn’t be a designer, but could do anything else in the world, what would you choose?

I think I would like to concentrate on my artwork. I love insects, so maybe an entomologist. I would also enjoy teaching in some capacity. I guess the next-most-perfect job would be teaching bugs to draw.

What was the most  powerful / helpful part of Lena’s interview for you? Go on, share it below!

Lena is a freelancer specialized in graphic design, web development, and illustration. Never one to shy away from giving free advice, she keeps an updated blog that consists of tips and tutorials she thinks her clients will find helpful. She loves working on silly, weird, and fun projects as well as more formal, corporate, and straight-laced work.

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