How to Answer “How Long Did That Take You to Make?”

Waiting Room designed by Luis Prado from the Noun Project

Waiting Room designed by Luis Prado from the Noun Project

One of the most uncomfortable questions customers/clients can throw you is, “how long did it take you to make that?” It’s specific and straight forward enough that not answering or changing the subject would be noticed or come off as rude. It also entirely undermines your work down to just the actual labor part: completely removing the prep, materials, process, and finishing which probably take the most time and energy. As Luann Udell explained in a recent post for Fine Art Views:

Now, right or wrong, here’s what your customers will do.  They’ll take the selling price (let’s pick a dollar amount out of thin air – $600) and divide it by the time the artist said it takes to make (three hours).  They’ll come up with an hourly rate of $200 an hour. 

You may tell people that doesn’t include the cost of acquiring your materials, or prepping, or finishing (frames, framing supplies) or the time schlepping your work to and from shows and exhibitions.  It doesn’t include the time and money you spent on educating yourself, nor the time you spent and energy perfecting your craft.  It probably doesn’t include the time and energy you spend on applying to shows, marketing, doing paperwork, or cleaning your studio. And if you have gallery representation, you’re actually only netting half that amount. 

Nope, they won’t hear that.  They may nod their head, but they’re still thinking, “$200 an hour…that’s $400,000 a year!!”

The main solution is to work on a prepared answer for instances like these. And being able to answer this question also helps you define the selling points of your work and your brand. It’s a win-win:

“That’s a great question!”  (You do not have to say you get asked that question 20 times a day.)  “And it’s also hard to answer.” 

Now you can focus on whatever you’d found is a selling point for your work.  If time really is a factor, and that impresses customers, use it.  My artifacts take many production steps to make.  I describe that process, using lots of hand motions to illustrate.  I end up with, “I counted up all the steps once, and it was something like 38 production steps…” (pause) “…and then I start to actually shape the animal.”  At this point, people usually gasp.  I explain why they have the shapes and markings they do; how I fire, sand and polish them; how I use a scrimshaw technique to bring up the detail, etc.  By this time, time is obviously not a big factor in the price.  Most people are astounded at the attention to detail I’ve described. . .

If I were a 2-D artist asked this question, I’d do the same thing.  Acknowledge the question.  Expand on the answer in a way that makes my work more precious and unique.  And share the true and powerful story behind your choice of technique, or presentation, or subject matter.  Share whatever will connect your audience, emotionally and spiritually, with your work.

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Yves Behar: Trade Briefs for Relationships

Briefly from Bassett & Partners on Vimeo.

Yves Behar, CEO of Fuseproject, doesn’t believe in design briefs. In the film Briefly, he explains that far more can be learned through client relationships:

I don’t believe in briefs; I believe in relationships. The difference between a brief and a relationship is a brief can be anonymous. And I’ve tended over the last fifteen to twenty years to really work with people who give you a really deep sense of where it is they want to go, what it is that they are dreaming about. And that, in turn, has informed us on the projects more than any brief has ever done so.

Initial discussions should provide not only the vision for the project, but the aspirations of the company. Instead of anonymously sending out briefs, make it a collaborative thing: the brief will naturally evolve out of these client conversations. With continued dialogue, you build the trust you need to really question ideas and find innovation. Use the brief as a creative tool to open up dialogue with your clients, negotiate easier, and get to the heart of the problem.

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The Zero Notification Challenge

Bell by Sebastian Langer from The Noun Project

Bell by Sebastian Langer from The Noun Project

Ping!…Email.
Ping!…Tweet.
Ping!…iMessage.

Do notifications impact your workflow?

Co-founder and CEO of Buffer, Joel Gascoigne, undertook an experiment in which he disabled all notifications on his phone. Not only did he regain his focus, he was also able to convert his workflow from reactionary to proactive:

It is now completely up to me when I choose to check my email, Twitter, Facebook, etc. I have no excuse that a notification came in. If I check it too frequently and find myself procrastinating, it is only my fault: I went out of my way to go and look.

Focus isn’t a magic ability. It’s simply a function of limiting the number of options you give yourself for procrastinating. 99U challenges you to turn off all notifications for a week, and let us know how it goes below.

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Are You Inspired or a Copycat?

User designed by Wilson Joseph from the Noun Project

User designed by Wilson Joseph from the Noun Project

It’s important to be aware of inspiration that simply influences us versus inspiration that turns us into a copycat. Knowing the difference can help turn us into the type of creative worker we strive to be. As Evernote designer Joshua Taylor explains in this interview over at the InVision blog:

Researching and seeing what others are doing is important. I try not to do that too much though because I think there’s a subconscious tendency to copy as soon as you start looking at everyone else’s stuff. My advice is that if you are going to look at others’ work, look at a ton of them so that there’s enough influences and you can’t distinguish between them. Constantly looking at other people’s work has a huge impact on who you are…We are all products of our environments, so surround yourself with great things.

The right inspiration, at the right time (and in the right amount), can be just what we need to improve our own ideas and creative work. It’s when we catch ourselves looking for inspiration as a way to solve the task at hand or complete the work we’re doing that we know we’ve stumbled into possible copycat territory.

Instead, we must strive to constantly surround ourselves with a lot of varied and high caliber work.

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Why Your Business Idea Isn’t Taking Off

Designed by Laurent Canivet for the Noun Project.

Designed by Laurent Canivet for the Noun Project.

Your business idea (be it for a design studio, an app, or consulting practice) has yet to become a success and you can’t figure out why. In an interview over at Entrepreneur with Scott D. Anthony, author of The First Mile: A Launch Manual for Getting Great Ideas Into the Market, the strategy and innovation consultant discusses the most common reasons why your business idea is stagnant:

One extreme is something called “paralysis by analysis,” where the business exists only in someone’s head. They’re trying to make the business plan perfect and remove all risk before taking the first step. The other extreme is “doing without thinking,” where you put something out into the market to see what happens. You can waste a lot of time and money learning things the world has already discovered.

 Do either of these two scenarios look familiar? If so, it may be time to take some focused action to get your business off the ground. The real answer lies in between the two extremes: the best action is usually securing your first customer and then building upon that success.

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How to Deal (or Not Deal) with Phone Calls

No Phone by Scott Lewis from The Noun Project

No Phone by Scott Lewis from The Noun Project

Do you get pissed off whenever someone asks you to setup a “quick call” to chat? Gary Vaynerchuk bets that you do:

We have gotten to a place where everything happens on our time. You watch the TV show when you want to watch it, not because it airs on Wednesday at 8 (7 central). You text because you can respond to that person on your time.

In a thoughtful tirade against phone calls, Dharmesh Shah, founder of HubSpot, left some important takeaways for how to deal with phone calls (and by extension, meetings), including:

To avoid the awkwardness around small-talk, try to outline what the topic of the conversation is going to be.  It makes you feel less guilty for transitioning into the purpose of the call.

Use email to get your high-level thoughts communicated first, and then use a phone call to add a personal touch or to have a higher bandwidth conversation.

If your work requires phone calls, that’s understandable. But remember that more often than not, synchronous communication puts you in a reactionary state. Don’t feel obligated to answer the phone every time it rings; what’s urgent isn’t always important.

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Learn the Rules & Then Break Them

dp_wrongtheory4_f

Scott Dadich’s spread for an article on Ridley Scott in Wired Magazine.

Editor-in-chief of Wired Magazine Scott Dadich says it’s time to start getting it wrong. In the field of technology design, we have figured out how to do it right. We have beautiful, sleek devices that are an ease to use – and it’s getting boring:

…once a certain maturity has been reached, someone comes along who decides to take a different route. Instead of trying to create an ever more polished and perfect artifact, this rebel actively seeks out imperfection—sticking a pole in the middle of his painting, intentionally adding grungy feedback to a guitar solo, deliberately photographing unpleasant subjects. Eventually some of these creative breakthroughs end up becoming the foundation of a new set of aesthetic rules, and the cycle begins again.

Dadich emphasizes that it’s not about throwing out design rules and starting from scratch. You need to master the rules so you can effectively break them. In his work for Wired Magazine, Dadich would apply his ‘Wrong Theory’ in small ways by only breaking one or two rules to regain visual interest. He would make large images small, overlap graphic and type and put headlines at the end of stories. Our future lies in failure as Dadich states, “…only by courting failure can we find new ways forward.”

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