TIP 3. Think Globally, Act Locally: Paint Brush, Corner, Doh!

Posted by Mongo Friday, November 20, 2009

I need to buy a new computer but hate the prospect. After all, anything I buy will end up being obsolete in a couple of years and the software I want to run will require higher specifications than what I will have available. I would have to shell out a lot of money for something that has maybe three or four more features than the system I have now. The same goes for being a successful shopkeeper. Plan for the future while acting in the present.

You have to realize that you cannot operate in a vacuum. If you plan on designing for those trendy fads and current events then you need to develop some turnover in order to quickly keep up with the times. If you were to look at my entire catalogue of designs you will see that I often use the same elements in each one. It might be an image of a person or an animal. It might some sort of box around text or some other graphical representation but each one started out as a separate image that was then merged with the overall design.

As a rule, I work in layers. That means that for every element of a design, whether it be an image or text, it exists on a different plane on the canvas. If you’ve ever seen how animators used to do the old Disney movies they used layers which were called cells. The background is on the lowest cell, the characters are on another cell on top of that, and so on. Each one of those cells is then laid on top of each other like a sandwich. I save the overall design as a format inherent to the program I am working in so that the cells stay separate. When I finish the design it gets flattened into a .png format for publishing. I use this method because then I can easily grab those different layers and use them somewhere else for another design.

Here’s a more in depth explanation as to why I work like this. Let’s say you are creating a design for a dog lover. In the design you have a dog, a person, and some text tying the two images together. I treat each of those as a separate layer. The dog is on its own layer because I might have a design that I can use the same dog for and all I have to do is go into the raw design and grab that particular cell or layer. If the image is flattened and there is not a lot of room in between the dog and the other elements, it takes longer to eliminate all of the other parts of the image and requires fine manipulation of the lasso or magic wand tool. So, on my computer, I have a folder for each design. In each folder I have multiple image files for each element along with the finished design. Consider them my own personal stock art supply. Operating in such a way gives you have the ability to put together designs quickly and keeps your store updated with new content that doesn’t take a huge chunk of your time. The last thing you want to do is reinvent the wheel.

Also, think of your website or store as being layered. If you create a storefront and just throw every design on the front, customers may have a hard time finding exactly what they want. If you take the time to plan out some simple categorization you can expand your shop to include several designs organized in a way that allows for quick browsing or searching. As of right now, I have about nine categories or sections on my Caf├ęPress site. They are organized by subject including one for Retro looking ideas from film, designs inspired by video games, television, general Pop Culture themes, and a few more specialized categories dealing with subjects like Zombies and Business/Office Culture. Within each of those sections it gets broken down by design and if there are multiple designs or styles for one idea that gets broken down even further. If you are more of an artist you might consider dividing up your store by product and then by image or theme. Do some research on knowledge management, taxonomy and library sciences. You can apply best practices in these cases.

In the beginning, when I first opened my store, I just put every design up on the front page and never realized how much I would grow after a few months. During this time I posted different designs on my blog trying to drum up business and didn’t realize that I was painting myself into a corner. Once I saw how poorly organized my shop was, I scrapped it and rebuilt everything, categorizing it as I went. The problem was that my blog posts now had broken links to my different designs because when I moved them, the address changed and now I had huge holes in my blog that took a lot of time in filling. If you leave yourself open to growth you can save yourself a lot of work later.

Have a great weekend and start designing!

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