“Make It Pretty!” Three Words Designers Hate

I want to launch a tirade against three words – three words that can make anybody in the creative field of design cringe with a sense of disgust and loathing for the obviously clueless individual that utters them… “Make it Pretty.”


Don’t get me wrong, I am all for creating aesthetically pleasing designs that get the point across while pleasing the eyes of the viewer. Good designers bring a sense of beauty to a product, creating a look and feel that makes customers want to buy it, or find out more about it. While some people like to look at hideous things continually, I myself do not. So, it makes sense that people pay designers to make the product or service they promote look “pretty”.

All that being said, why then am I so against that phrase “Make It Pretty”. Quite simply, it cheapens design. It likens all the work that a creative person does to putting a paint job on a rusty car. I find it a bit offensive. But, for those who are unaware of the intense work that goes into design, it is a catchphrase that can be uttered time and time again.

An in-house designer is more likely to be confronted with this diabolical missile into the ethos of design itself than, say, someone who works with freelance clients. There is something about working for the same company all of the time that makes the employer think that good designs are cheep and easy to create. Like putting a quarter into a toy machine and out pops a shiny new design. As any creative professional knows, that is not the case. The mental and creative energy that goes into design is no laughing matter. It is a skill that not everyone has, and even those with rudimentary knowledge of some programs cannot accomplish.

I once had to point out to an employer the utter silliness of that phrase, and say that if it were so easy to do, then you would not have to pay a designer. While that was a bit foolish on my part, after all they were paying my salary, the point I was trying to make is one that needed to be made. The work of a designer is no less important than that of the person who creates the product. I know, and have heard of many brilliant products and companies, that go unnoticed because of poor marketing, design, and promotion.

So, how does a creative professional go about making the distinction that turns that despised phrase into an obsolete phrase in the vocabulary of their customer or management? Several ways come to mind. Some of them are not so nice. I am kidding of course.
The first way to combat this is to ugly up a design and see what happens.
Make an expensive ad look like something out of a used car flyer. If they like it, you might have discovered the problem. They have no taste. Be sure and design the real ad on the side, just in case they hate it and consider finding an alternative designer.

Wear a shirt that has a bold type print on it, saying, “I Do More Then Just Make Stuff Pretty!!” If you are more bold, then that you could always have the phrase, “I Do More Then Just Make Your S**t Look Good.” I am not that bold – and would rather not offend my boss.

All kidding aside, I have found that the best ways to deal with employers who don’t understand the work that goes into design is to be honest with them. If they are willing, the designer can ask them to go through the process. Show them how you take the design job they give you and work through it from start to finish. Most employers will have a much greater respect for their designer if they knew how complicated design can be. The reason this would work is that it would take some of the mystery out of the process and show them that a designer doesn’t just sprinkle magic fairy dust over blank pieces of paper to make awesome designs.

Just a little warning: Unless the next words out of your mouth are, “I Quit”, never, ever, under any circumstances, look your employers straight in the eye and say, “If it is so-o-o-o easy to make this stuff look good, then why don’t you do it”.


In just about any creative design field, a designer is going to be faced with people who don’t understand the work, think that it is a snap to do, and seek to undermine the importance how the design effects the overall appearance of the company or the product. The main thing is not to stress too much about it. If a designer knows that they are producing quality work, then the work will speak for itself, and their employer will thank them for making them look good.

If it is impossible to make “pretty” happen, you can always revert to used car flyers. On second thought, don’t do that.

Ever Feel Like a Designer Stuck in a Box

Do you ever get the feeling that you are stuck in a never-ending cycle of clichés and stereotypes? If you do, then you might be an in-house graphic designer.
Yes that’s right, If you, like me, once dreamed of that awesome job in the creative world, where you and high-end magazine publishers would rub shoulders and you have the ability to tell some of the best photographers in the industry that their shot doesn’t look quite right for the ad for Nike, you too would have been struck with a large dose of reality upon graduation from the creative school of your choice. If you did get that dream job right out of school, please stop reading, none of what is in this blog post applies to you… and you make me a little sick… kidding, but ya.

Reality hit me and my fellow designers hard, really hard. I graduated in early October of 2001, literally three weeks after the terrorist attacks of September 11th, one of our nation’s biggest tragedies. The only people that showed up to our portfolio review were parents, crickets, and priest. The priest were there to give us the last rights to the new careers that hundreds of bright-eyed and hopeful creatives had just dropped many thousands of dollars on. It was dismal. Advertising budgets were slashed, and those fancy design firms were firing designers right and left. Fat chance on us squeezing our way into the industry.

Thus, I began my journey, with my overly large portfolio case filled to the brim with all of the exciting things I had managed to create … and some things I wish I had not. I went to marketing firms and magazine printers, to local publishers and marketing sweat shops. Finally, I found myself trying just to get a job. Both the grocery store and Blockbuster thought that the portfolio case was a little strange.

After a year of stomping the ground in the South Florida metropolises, I ended up in a small town in Central Florida. I interviewed, they liked my stuff, and I was commissioned an “In-house Designer”. And that is where I stepped into the box.

In art school, a person is told that the possibilities are endless. At a company, they are told to get it done, fast, and exactly how we want it. I didn’t mind pleasing clients when I did freelance, but now I was forced to please one client, the same way, all of the time. My first introduction to this world of design was a business card that had so much information on it and about 6 logos. I was told they wanted all of the same stuff on the new card, and that I had to make it look good. I went home and cried. Not because it was so hard to do, but because I knew, at that moment, that I would be doing things like this for the rest of my life. Troubling.

If they need a photo, I am the photographer. If they need copy, I am writing it. If they need a coffee, oh wait, that’s not my job.

I managed to do creative work as an in-house designer and, later, creative director for eight years and two international companies. Don’t get me wrong. The work is good, it pays well, and you get the benefit of a more solid environment. The only thing it lacks is the ability to be spontaneously and genuinely creative.

To beat this “in-the-box” mentality, there are ways to remain creative, fresh, and sane. Some of these techniques are quite simple, and some require more effort. They do work though.

•  Buy and look through magazines.  Get the most popular magazine available, in whatever is interesting at the time, and then peruse it for ads. Tag the designs that are most appealing, and if there is time, create a way to sell any product using that style. It can be quite difficult. Try selling soda using a wedding-themed background.

•  Another technique that can be used to keep creativity fresh is to work on freelance projects as much as time allows. By doing projects for other companies one gets to branch out and give unique companies, unique designs that match their style.

• Still Another way to keep fresh in the box at work is to design ads that the company would never use in a million years. Yup. Ads that are pure concept, beautiful designs, great art, unique approach to the subject, and so out of their character that they would never use them. Why do that? Because on the off-chance the boss gets wind of the fresh approach and says go with it? Never gonna’ happen. No, the real reason to do that is to remind yourself as a designer that you can do those things. You can make beautiful and meaningful designs.


So, If you are an in-house designer, or the creative director of a company with only two creative people in it…you and the new guy, then cheer up. There is light at the end of the tunnel, and hope for your artistic mind. Just remember not to settle, sit still, or let your creativity stagnate – and you will always be sharp. In or out of the box.

What Designers Are Looking for In Stock Photos

What are graphic designers and creative directors looking for when it comes to the images they select?


That is the ultimate question for anyone who creates stock photography, isn’t it? Being a graphic designer and a creative director for over a decade now has given me a chance to understand what a designer is looking for when they browse a micro stock photography website like Istock or Dreamstime. We are looking for a piece to the puzzle in front of us, and that piece has to work.

First off, they are looking for something specific. That is one of the reasons it is important to have so many options available to them. It is not enough to have just a shot of a vegetable garden. That garden needs to be in rows, have certain vegetables that stand out, and are easily recognized, and the rows might have to go in a certain way for the designer to be able to use the photo. Thus the necessity for many, many shots of vegetable gardens, from multiple angles, and in unique lighting situations is a necessity.


The next thing that designers look for in a stock photo coincides with the first, and that is quality of the picture. Personally, when I am in the heat of designing a project for a client, there is absolutely nothing I hate, no, make that loathe, more than having to color-correct a stock photo, or clean up some amount of visual noise in the shot. For photographers, that means not just getting that perfect shot, but making sure that it is clear of unnecessary attention-grabbers. It is also important for photographers to make sure that the shot has a good color hue to it, and that the subject of the photo is the dominant element.


The last thing a designer looks for in a stock photo is the viability with the other elements in their design. Now that one photographers could never guess, because it is up to the individual designer to come up with something that works for their clients. Of all of the work that designers do it is imperative to have the client in mind when considering the finished product. What does the client want the finished piece to express about them?

When it is all said and done, it is important to make sure that everything, including the photography, creates a cohesive mesh, and that the finished product looks like it was created by an awesome production company – not necessarily an individual designer or small design group.

We at Torch Designs are small, and personal, but that doesn’t mean we skimp on quality, even in our photos.