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R3 Design Process

R3 Design Process

It was a great privilege to work with David and Carrie Lee Bland Kendall of Kendall Pictures to produce this video. Not only are they are fantastic at what they do, I am pleased to call them my friends. The music was written and produced by another friend, Nate Butler of Nimblewit Productions.


The world of graphic design seems limitless. There’s always room to explore, to play. But it also requires an eye for detail and craftsmanship. I love that the process is always different. Meeting people where they are with an idea and helping them refine a concept or discovering a new direction altogether is energizing. A lot of people think that design is about making something pretty. But it’s really about solving problems – communicating in the most effective way. Simple, functional, and beautiful. That’s what I work to do. That’s good design.

Saturday Lettering Project

Saturday Lettering Project

A “good problem” to have is a lot of client work, but the flip side is I have seriously been neglecting this space!  As such, I want to share a fun little project I did just for fun.

This past weekend I had a little time to myself, as my wife was traveling and my kids were with their grandparents for an overnight. I can’t remember the last time I wasn’t responsible to anyone else but myself, and I have to admit, it was kind of strange, and kind of glorious.  I had plenty on my to-do list, but since these occasions are so rare, I just ran with the recurring thought that kept coming back to me.


Full disclosure: Lettering is newer to me, but I really love it, and there is inspiration everywhere! Here are a few pics of my process.

I was really liking how it was turning out, so I took it one step further, making a digital version and mock-up.

I MUST Create - Framed

More disclosure: I have begun contemplating a move to find some studio space downtown where I can have all my art supplies laid out and a more permanent set up with my computer.  If and when I do, this little piece with probably be the first one I hang. 🙂



Design 101: Color

Design 101: Color

Deep breath. This is a HUGE topic and cannot be effectively covered in a single post, but I want to touch on the basics to get a handle on how color is used in design.  You have likely heard some catchphrases or are familiar with some basic concepts — warm and cool colors, tints vs. shades and so on — but let’s scratch a little deeper than the surface.

Color Relationships

Color shapes are based on the color wheel and looks at how different colors interact with others on the wheel.  There are four main color relationships that are often referred to, though there are certainly more, including split-complementary and tetradic among others.  The main ones are outlined below:

  • Monochromatic
    Monochromatic color schemes are derived from a single base hue and are extended using its shades, tones and tints. Tints are achieved by adding white, shades by adding black, and tones by adding gray.
  • Analogous
    Analogous color schemes use colors that are next to each other on the color wheel, with one being the dominant color, which tends to be a primary or secondary color, and two on either side complementing (which tend to be tertiary).
  • Complementary
    Complementary colors are colors that are opposite each other on the color wheel. When combined, they produce black, or if colored light (rather than pigment) is used, they produce white. When placed next to each other, they create the strongest contrast for those particular two colors.
  • Triadic
    A triadic color scheme uses colors that are evenly spaced around the color wheel. The easiest way to place them on the wheel is by using a triangle of equal sides. Triadic color schemes tend to be quite vibrant, even when using pale or unsaturated versions of hues, offers a higher degree of contrast while at the same time retains the color harmony.

Hues, Tints, Shades and Tones

Do you know the difference between a hue and a color?  Trick question; a hue is any color on the color wheel. Hues are the starting point for tints, shades and tones. As referenced earlier in the monochromatic color scheme, a hue can be altered by adding black, white or gray to it. Note that this does not include mixing two colors together. Not surprisingly, tints and shades affect the “mood” of the color. Tones, meanwhile, are slightly more complex, subtle and sophisticated.

  • Tints: Sometimes referred to as a pastel, tints are any color with white added.
  • Shades: A shade is any color with black added.
  • Tones: A tone is created by adding both black and white (a.k.a. gray).

Warm and Cool Colors

The distinction between “warm” and “cool” colors has been important for centuries. It is no longer commonly referenced in modern color science, but is still frequently used in practices today.

Historically, it is related to the observed contrast in landscape light, between the “warm” colors associated with daylight or sunset and the “cool” colors associated with a gray or overcast day. Warm colors are generally known to be hues from red through yellow, while cool colors are often known to be the hues from blue green through blue violet. White, black and gray are considered to be neutral, though grays are sometimes included as cool colors.

In paintings or photographs, warm colors are said to appear more active, while cool colors tend to recede.  Within the field of interior design, warm colors tend to elicit feelings of activity or liveliness, while cool colors have a more calming and relaxing response.


  • Warm colors are vivid and energetic, and tend to advance in space.
  • Cool colors give an impression of calm, and create a soothing impression.

Psychology of Color

I will begin by stating that in the design world, colors are extremely important, yet they are simultaneously often overstated.  What of this paradox? The problem lies in the fact that people want to apply universal truths to areas where they fundamentally do not belong.  There are certainly commonly accepted notions of how color affects mood, but color is too dependent on personal experiences to be universally translated to specific feelings. In other words, you can’t truthfully state that blue means sad.

Here are some examples of overstatements that should be digested carefully:

Green is the color of nature. It symbolizes growth, harmony, freshness, and fertility. Green has strong emotional correspondence with safety. Green has great healing power. It is the most restful color for the human eye; it can improve vision. Green suggests stability and endurance. Green is directly related to nature, so you can use it to promote “green” products.
Blue is the color of the sky and sea. It is often associated with depth and stability. It symbolizes trust, loyalty, wisdom,confidence, intelligence, faith, truth, and heaven. Blue is considered beneficial to the mind and body. It slows human metabolism and produces a calming effect. Blue is strongly associated with tranquility and calmness. In heraldry, blue is used to symbolize piety and sincerity.

There are elements there that do hold water, though any given individual may wrinkle an eyebrow if the statements are assumed as absolute truths.  While color is often oversold, it cannot be denied that color affects our moods and perceptions. There is in fact, a mountain of well-documented research on how color is perceived and how we as humans react to it. Our brains are extremely responsive to visual stimuli, with color being a major factor in how we respond to that stimuli. Both consciously and sub consciously, we take some meaning from color.

This may seem like a contradiction, but put simply, color theory is just that, theory.  There are deep truths but there are hardly absolutes.  Designers should keep color psychology in mind to help make their designs resonate, but use it with a grain of salt.


Color is important. It is not everything. Color is complex. Color is also just fun.  In design, there is a whole lot of room to play and experiment with color. In general, the goal should be achieving color harmony; that is, something that is pleasing to the eye. Color can be used to engage the viewer and create an inner sense of order and balance in the visual experience and can figuratively breathe life into a design, but it is worth remembering too, that 1 in 12 people are color blind, and good design can still be achieved in color’s absence.

Design 101: The Logo

Design 101: The Logo

The logo.  The starting point for so many start-ups, aspiring artists, and small businesses as they turn their attention to identity, branding and/or marketing.  This is in fact a good place for us to begin.  Many people use these terms interchangeably, and while there is certainly overlap, they are indeed all different. Well known designer Jacob Cass of Just Creative provides an excellent framework.

  • Logo: A logo identifies a business in its simplest form via the use of a mark or icon.
  • Identity: The visual aspects that form part of the overall brand.
  • Brand:  The perceived emotional corporate image as a whole.

These elements all define an organization and set the tone for the relationship with its clients or customers.

What makes for a good logo?

So to the topic at hand.  What makes for a good logo?  Does it have to be famous? Does it have to be clever? Does it have to be  visually stunning?  Well, a good logo can actually be all or none of these things. There are several elements though that really help define an effective logo. Let’s break them down.

The Elements

An effective logo is:

  • Simple
  • Memorable
  • Timeless
  • Versatile
  • Appropriate

Let’s look at these one by one in a little more detail.


Simple does not mean boring. Simplicity is such a beautiful thing.  Think about your logo as your introduction — “Hello, my name is…” Most people don’t try and cram in their personal history and interests into the first words the utter when they meet someone. A great logo delivers all the meaning it intends to almost immediately. Don’t make your audience guess. When it comes to logos, simplicity is also what helps make a logo memorable.

Simple. These famous logos are instantly recognizable, versatile, work great in monochrome.

Simple Logos


The Swoosh, the Golden Arches, the bitten fruit. While the massive size of these companies has helped enhance the reach, what remains true is that their logos stay with you.  Admittedly, there is also a bit of an enigmatic aspect about this, though creating a memorable logo is often thought out, well crafted, and relatable to the company.  Stay away from stock sites.  The logo elements there are often pretty generic.

Did you know that Apple’s logo makes use of the golden ratio?

Creation of the Apple Logo


We can look to the two largest soft drink companies in the world to contrast the approach to being timeless. The Coca-Cola logo was created by Frank Mason Robinson, in 1885 and has remained relatively unchanged since then. Meanwhile, the Pepsi logo has had no less than 5 typeface changes, an introduction of a new color (which also shifted throughout its history) and new mark, (which also changed over a 50 year period). The graphic below is admittedly an overstatement as Coca Cola has had some variations with its Coke logo. Nevertheless, carrying the distinctive cursive typeface for over 100 years speaks to the longevity of good design.

Two major soft drink companies have approached their logos quite differently over the last century.

Pepsi and Coca Cola Logos Through the Years


Size matters. When designing a logo, it is actually more advantageous to think small. It will be much easier to scale up than down. Perhaps start by thinking what your logo will look like on a business card as opposed to a times square billboard. The Puma logo is recognizable on a shirt sleeve.  Color is also crucially important here. If your logo has more than five colors, it might be time to think redesign.  Even that is a little high.  Most designers begin by designing in black and white before adding color into their design.   This allows one to focus on the concept and shape, rather than the subjective nature of color. Similarly, it is also advisable to avoid gradients or overly detailed illustrations. This helps ensure versatility when you need to use your logo in a newspaper or photocopy or rubber stamp or when it is embossed. One other consideration with color is cost.  When printing, the more colors used, the more expensive it will be for the business over the long term.

These are terribly complicated and difficult to scale down, or use in grayscale.




Have you ever seen hot pink power tools? A cartoon baby as a beer mascot?  There’s a reason these things don’t exist. Some associations are more obvious than others, and sometimes a juxtaposition can make a statement, but in general, it is not a good idea to pair elements that don’t really belong together, such as a jagged, gothic font with baby products.  Additionally, getting feedback is vitally important to avoid the nightmare of an “unfortunate logo.”

How did these get past the design stage?  Why didn’t anybody say something!



Final Thoughts

Great logos don’t just happen.  They are a result of hard work – a process that involves research, personalization, sketching, re-imagining and a lot of creativity. This is what makes a great logo priceless, and the reason why many people who opt for a quick or cheap route often feel unsatisfied. You get what they pay for.

So how much does a good logo cost? Designer David Airey sums up the design dilemma by noting that asking the question “How much for a logo?” is kind of like asking a real estate agent, “How much for a house?” There are plenty of websites out there where you can get a logo as little as $5! You can even get designers to bid on your project and you can choose the best one.  There are a lot of problems with this model, but think about it this way:

Your logo is often your first impression. Have it say something about who you are.  That is the point after all.

High Quality, Low Cost Images

High Quality, Low Cost Images

These days almost everybody is on a budget, but inexpensive doesn’t have to mean cheap.  When it comes to great photos, many assume that this will cost a pretty penny. Not always the case! In fact, there are a whole bunch of sites that offer low cost and very high quality images for your blog or other  design projects.

Many novices will turn to everybody’s best friend for searching, Google. But before you just start “Google image searching” your intended subject matter, take some time to peruse some of these sites. I guarantee the results will be much more aesthetically pleasing than what shows up in the Google results, but better yet, you won’t need to worry about the copyright infringements that can easily happen when using Google.

The Conventional Stock Image Sites

Many of said Google results will point you to the big stock sites, such as iStock,, Shutterstock and the like. These sites have great pictures no doubt (even though some will feel very corporate and formulaic).  The trouble is that unless you are fortunate enough to have a big budget (or a budget at all), you won’t be able to get too many photos here. Not surprisingly, the watermarks a a big giveaway of expensive images. Getty Images, one of the world’s largest photo repositories, recently made headlines regarding their decision to release millions of free images, in their attempt to combat copyright violators. They have done this by using an embed tool, making millions of its images available to consumers for use on blogs, social media channels and websites.

If you have some cash to burn, go for it, but there are excellent alternatives, that will likely meet any photo need you might have.

The Biggest Bang For Your Buck

Here are eight great websites that can likely meet the large majority of your image needs. The best part is that they are are all free, a few only requiring attribution.


UnsplashThis is one of my favorite photo resource websites which I happened upon accidentally. While there is no way to search, the vibe is great. The images here are all very high quality and have a very artistic feel.  You can sign up to receive images in your inbox weekly. One drawback is that there is no way to search images, but it is certainly fun to just scroll down the page of eye candy.

Little Visuals

Little VisualsThis site is quite similar to Unsplash in its look and feel, and structure and features. The site allows you to sign up to get hi-res images emailed weekly to your inbox thereby prompting you to keep checking out the collection. While there is also no search function on the site, they do employ tagging which can help in your search.



PicJumbo is the brainchild of Viktor Hanacek, a photographer and web designer based in Europe. Seeing the need, he decided to offer high quality photos in full resolution for free. The selection is somewhat limited, but there is great stuff here, and the subject matter continues to become more and more diverse.



Much like PicJumbo, Splitshire was put together by a photographer and web designer in Europe, Daniel Nanescu, who was always looking for some great photos for their projects and often had difficulty finding them. The result was this site.While attribution is always appreciated, it is not required and SplitShire offers awesome free stock photos for personal and commercial use.



I recently discovered this one, but I am sure I will be back a lot.  Once again, many of the images are very artsy, and I am struck by the excellent composition in just about every shot. Gratisography allows its images to be used on personal and commercial projects and new images are added weekly.

New Old Stock

New Old Stock

If you are looking for great vintage images, this is your destination. New Old Stock features vintage photos from public archives that are free of known copyright restrictions.  There are times where a historical photo is exactly what you need and this is a good place to find it.  Other images that are free of landmarks, or other historical markers, such as landscape photos can be used in any situation.



This site announces the obvious fact that “finding free images of high quality is a tedious task, – due to copyright issues, attribution requirements, or simply the lack of quality.” Thus we have Pixabay, a repository for excellent public domain pictures. They also offer free vectors and drawing in addition to photographs. Freely use images in digital and printed format, for personal and commercial use, without attribution required.



If you need to search something and want a more traditional “stock image,” check out SXC. Here you can browse a huge image gallery containing over 350,000 quality stock photos by more than 30,000 photographers. In their own words, “SXC is a friendly community of photography addicts who generously offer their works to those who need them free of charge.” This is a well known free resource among graphic designers and photographers alike.

Honorable mention

There are a whole bunch of other sites that have some great images, though the caliber might not be as high, or they have lots of ads or are otherwise difficult to navigate. These would include morgueFile, Public Domain Photos, Public Domain, Open Photo and RGB Free Stock Photos, among others.


The best things in life are free! But all cheese aside, it is a great time to be a designer. These online libraries are growing and there are already a myriad of high quality images of all kinds of subject matter, at very affordable prices. When possible, it is good form to attribute.  You might also notice that several of the individuals who have thrown up their own personal libraries are at most asking for a cup of coffee.  That is a deal you can’t really beat.

On Being a Designer

On Being a Designer

I was never the kid who knew exactly what he wanted to be when he grew up.  In fact, I do believe I wanted to be many different things at many different points… hockey player, astronaut, fireman, robot.  I don’t think I ever thought about being a designer.  I always loved to draw though, and excelled among my first grade peers. Admittedly, the competition wasn’t that fierce; perhaps most kids didn’t see art as a viable career choice, but even as I got older, as much as I loved it, art was always a hobby.

When it was time to make some career choices, I was advised to “do what you love” or “what you find interesting.” Sadly, my soccer skills were not quite world class caliber and I needed a fall back.  In college, it was Psychology.  I was fascinated by the human mind, by our amazing capacity for greatness and dysfunction, sometimes simultaneously. I wanted to know why people did they things they did, and I wanted to help people along the way as well.

Post college, I bounced around a lot, but slowly and steadily I began cultivating a deep interest in graphic design. It started with creating promo materials for a band I was in, then a website, then some marketing materials and websites for friends, and more and more I began integrating these skill sets into my repertoire and into my job choices. Without really realizing it, my twenties were refining me into a graphic designer.

So after finally taking the plunge and making a career choice of it, I have much more intentionally  been contemplating what makes a good designer and have been voraciously slurping up as much knowledge and inspiration as I am able.  There are several opinions out there as to what makes a good designer and while there will certainly be overlap, there will also be a fair bit of disagreement. Design, like much of art has a subjective component, after all. Brianne Radtke, of design firm Ashworth Creative breaks a good designer down into six characteristics:  Education, Artistic Ability,  Knowing Your Tools,  Knowing Your Industry and Market, Enforcing a Responsible and Honest Work Ethic, and Designing Smarter.

You can read the details on that but what immediately jumps out to me is that a good designer has to be widely knowledgeable, is constantly learning, not only about their craft, but also about the world around them and all of the people they interact with.  What used to drive me crazy when I was trying to decide on a career is what in fact may be my biggest asset.

My biggest leap in terms of personal growth in the area was seeing myself as enough of an entrepreneur that I would actually start my own business.  I was recently reading an article in WIRED where the author, Jessica Alter, pointed out that the conventional wisdom is that, “Designers want to design. Most entrepreneurs, in contrast, are actually not amazing at any one thing.”  I had always seen myself as jack of all trades — could I actually be sharing this major characteristic of an entrepreneur?

At face value, being a good designer and a good entrepreneur seem to be at odds.  That is, an entrepreneur must be flexible, figuring things out as they go since their business is not just about their passion but the passions of their market.  They, in fact, must balance the needs of themselves, their customers, but also their teams and investors. So, viewing this paradigm through the eyes of a designer, there is a remarkable overlap in skill set and interest.  For designers, they must also be acutely aware of what the market wants in addition to their own passion.  They too, walk a fine line between their audience, customers, and colleagues. And, much like entrepreneurs , they are ultimately problem-solvers.

This is in fact, where I feel I excel. Let me be frank. I am admittedly, not the most skillful in programming or image manipulation. I am not the best artist in any medium.  There are tons way better. But the instances in which customers need the best of the best with a very specific skill is next to nil. Most would gladly trade a technological wizard for a good listener who can put their ideas into action and help articulate a vision. Someone who has a good understanding of human nature and can breathe life into their dreams.  This translates to good design in user experience, interaction design, usability, all psychological facets. I see now how that Psych. degree is really paying off.

Addendum: Infographic by London industrial designer Robert Bye

A Good Designer Infographic

Infographic by London industrial designer Robert Bye

Beginnings and Endings

Beginnings and Endings

The year ends and so begins the next chapter of R3 Design.  If you are a first time visitor, let me back it up.

2013 was the year that I formally launched this venture.  For nearly a decade, I had “traditional jobs, ” freelancing and doing design on the side, mostly for fun. I loved it, and the more I did it and learned about it, the more I loved it. After getting pregnant with our second kid, my wife and I began thinking about being closer to family.  I had been working at the University of Virginia for five years, eventually becoming “Assistant Director for Engagement Communications” for our office. I did a lot of marketing and copy editing and while I had some room for creativity, a job switch seemed a perfect opportunity to dive head first into the world of design.

In the fall of 2012, we moved back to northern Indiana. Memories of my high school years and college days flooded back, though Goshen had changed.  I had changed as well, and with growing confidence, I was hungry to try something new.

I found myself in a difficult market, and the search seemed endless.  When a part-time opening for an office job crossed my path, I saw the opportunity to launch my own business and minimize the feast or famine dynamic of freelancing, and having some stability while building up a client base.  Not a full year later, I am pleased to have made some wonderful new connections while maintaining previous ones.

I remain uncertain of where things will go exactly, but that is part of the adventure.  Regardless, I am thankful for what has taken place, for how far I have already come, and am so excited to see what 2014 brings!


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