Lorenzo’s Oil – The Significance of Self-Study

Lorenzo-Odone-404_675465cI am of the mindset that self-education in the field of one’s choice is highly beneficial, so one of my goals with this blog is to contribute to that.

I don’t believe information should be confined to institutions of “higher education” when it is so readily available on the internet, and for free.  The mentality of no-degree is no-see (i.e. “I can’t see you unless you have a piece of paper showing you’re educated”) and “you’re not a teacher unless you’re certified”, doesn’t fly with me.

I’ll explain why.

If you’ve seen the 1992 film, Lorenzo’s Oil, you’ll know something of what I’m talking about with regard to the value of self-education when you’re passionate about searching something out.  In the film, Lorenzo’s father Augusto (played by Nick Nolte) steps outside the bounds of common medical thought (dare I say, constraint), despite a barrage of advice to the contrary, to do his own research on his son’s extremely rare illness.  I won’t give it away if you’ve not seen it, but you will be awe-struck at the outcome of his efforts.  Let’s just say the movie bolsters the idea that you don’t have to have “Dr.” in front of your name to discover something positively remarkable in the field of your choice.

In a time when information is more readily available to anyone anywhere than ever before, formal education has become a solution for those who don’t have the discipline to teach themselves.  Yes, doing your homework as instructed by your professor does take dedication.  But it’s nothing to boast of, since most everyone else in your class is doing their homework too.  Besides, many college students only do their homework because they have to (if you object, just consider your college days: did you ever complain about the work load, especially in light of the weekend?).

Now think of this:

Can you imagine the paradigm shift of doing homework because you wanted to?

And by “homework”, I don’t mean that which is dictated for you to do per the command of your professor.  I mean diligently searching out information from multiple sources on the subject you actually want to pursue.

Let’s even consider this from a monetary standpoint:

Does it really make sense to pay a massive educational institution to teach you the same material you could either: 1) pay a modest fee for on some tutor/tutorial website, or 2) find out for free?

Or, to look at it another way: does it make sense to go into debt paying a conglomerate of professors to force you to work like a dog, or would it be better to save the debt and just work like a dog?

This all really shouldn’t be any more complicated than, “There’s a computer, here’s your internet connection.  Get to it.”  But this is a topic that requires some counter-arguments since there are so many protests to choosing self-education over formal education.  After all, there’s a lot of money at stake in the education business (let’s be honest, it is a business).  And the ones who make the money are battling hard to make sure you know that you need what they have to offer.

Now, as a small side note, just so you know where we stand when it comes to telling you what business start-ups need: we would be crappy designers if we couldn’t give you a number of reasons why good logo design is essential for your business.  And we would also lack in confidence and determination if we didn’t suggest that you consider us for your creative endeavors.  But while I will affirm your business needs good design, and we certainly value your consideration of Dualogo, I won’t say you need us to do it.  So there you have it.

As to teaching, being a teacher is really as simple as being educated.  If you know the truth about something, you’re qualified to teach on that something.  The validity of what you know can best be decided by peer review, and if it stands after the review, you’re qualified.  Saying that may open the floodgates of criticism from the “accredited”, but it’s just a simple fact.  There are countless, respected public speakers without teaching degrees who are considered authorities on the subjects they speak on; how did they get to that point?  Self-education.  If I had the opportunity to sit down and talk computers with anyone in the world, it would be with Harvard drop-out Bill Gates.

Moving along, beyond the education is actually putting that knowledge into practice and finding work.

First was the diploma.  The next consideration is the other piece of paper so many crave to have as the hopeful guarantee of their next job: a good résumé.

It’s great to show one’s work experience.  If presented well, a résumé can actually be very swaying to a potential employer.  But since this post has been about those who are self-taught and have no piece of paper to prove it or supposedly give it more worth, I’m also speaking with regard to the self-employed who equally lack such formal documentation.

Let’s be honest, what good is a list of previous employers when you’ve decided to go into business for yourself?  Since there’s a world of difference between working for someone else and working for yourself, the answer is, “Not much.”  Saying that you worked for Microsoft or Google in the past definitely grabs attention.  I like to see that.  But it’s not necessary, especially when you’re not searching for employment; you’re just searching for clients.  What’s necessary is proving in some way that you can deliver on your claims of ability.

I’ll let Seth Godin’s article speak on the issue further.  It’s short and worth the read.  Here’s a teaser quote to pique your interest:

I think if you’re remarkable, amazing or just plain spectacular, you probably shouldn’t have a resume at all.

You can find that article here.

This post has been dedicated to the present and future autodidacts (it’s never too late to start!) and was written simply for the purpose of raising awareness to the wealth of information and opportunity available to anyone with an internet connection.  If nothing else, consider it an appeal to save you tens of thousands of dollars over a four, six or even eight year period, while still getting the education you need to succeed in the business of your choice.

Thoughts on Marketing Strategy

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Marketing is all about identifying and engaging a demographic.  To whom does your business appeal the most?  As a designer, it’s essential to know this for your clients’ sakes so that your design for them is tailor-made for their customers.  But it’s also necessary for designers searching for prospective clients.  The question needs to be asked: “What am I going to do to attract clients that sets me apart from other designers?”

Whatever you do, do not follow a “standard” that everyone uses.  Be creative and think of something that no one has witnessed before.

Since this blog is all about identity design, let’s establish a profile for the kind of clients a logo designer would seek out.  You’re an independent logo designer: who is in the market for a logo/brand identity design?

Business start-ups.  (Already established businesses looking to rebrand would apply as well, but these are the minority.)

It’s commonly accepted that the logo is the first step a business takes (or should take) in establishing its brand’s presence.  Since society is so visual-centric, attaching a professional design to a business is the essential move to make early on.

So, business start-ups.  That proves to be quite the broad demographic.  What appeals to those starting a business?  On a social level, anything that appeals to an individual starting a business would likely appeal to anyone else.  But not everyone is minded to go into business for themselves.  So what is it that sets an entrepreneur apart?

Entrepreneurs are risk-takers: they like the prospect of being their own boss so much that they are willing to assume liability for any potential failures.  They know that every gain and every loss falls directly upon their doorstep.

On the flip-side, an employee has little worry beyond keeping his/her job.  He or she is not solely responsible for the failure or success of a business.

An entrepreneur knows and willfully accepts that the freedom to work when you want, how you want and with whom you want (within reason, of course) comes at the cost of security.  Sometimes business will be good, sometimes business will be bad—no guarantees; but to the entrepreneur, the benefits outweigh the risks.

Some key words that would describe an entrepreneur are:

  • free
  • bold
  • innovative
  • determined
  • frugal
  • trend-setting
  • educated
  • aware

An entrepreneur is constantly learning more about his or her trade and looking for new ways to start, promote and optimize business.  He or she never “punches out” and quits for the day.  Business is at very least thought of on evenings, weekends and yes, even holidays.

There we have a basic profile for an entrepreneur.

Now, consider this: there’s some common ground here for the logo designer and his business start-up clientele.

If you’re a self-employed brand identity designer, you already have much the same mentality as a self-employed roofer, or a self-employed tutor, or a self-employed mobile mechanic.  You’re your own boss.  So perhaps a better—and undoubtedly easier—question to ask is, “What appeals to you?”  What is it that you look for in a business?

First, let’s take a look at what isn’t appealing.  The following is a list of things I do not like in a business’ marketing campaign:

  • Yes, the first one is obvious: poor identity design.  In an earlier post I described some logo follies to avoid.
  • Bad announcer voice on television and radio.  If you can’t afford to hire a professional voice-over artist (and I mean professional: probably not the local DJ), don’t put your business on the air—trust me, they’ll just change the channel anyway.
  • Low-budget/-quality advertising.  If your yellow page ad, local television commercial, business card—you name it; anything that is intended to draw customers—is poorly designed or trashy, skip it and devote your marketing funds elsewhere.  Find something that looks rich, but costs little.
  • Tacky “It’s all about you” babble.  Cut the BS.  If you’re a business owner, it’s not all about your customers.  You’re in business to profit.  Since people know business is about profit, the “It’s all about you” campaign will actually backfire and breed mistrust in the minds of your customers.  Now let me clarify: when I say business’s goal is profit, I don’t mean at any cost.  Obviously, a business should have equal aspirations to be honest in doing so: and that means providing a good product or service that is worth the money.  We discussed this in a previous post.
  • Excessive-force advertising.  The kind where you can’t seem to pry that rented-mall-space-shoe-salesman off your back with a crow bar.  Employees should be there to help if you need them, and stand back if you don’t.  Pushing beyond, “Is there anything I can help you with?” if the customer says, “No thanks, I’m fine” is not a good idea.

Qualities I appreciate seeing represented in a brand’s marketing:

  • Humor.  I’m talking quality humor, like something Jerry Seinfeld would come up with.  Strange humor is memorable, but in most cases doesn’t elicit a good response.
  • Determination.  This is two-fold: 1) determination in getting one’s name out there in a creative way, and 2) a marketing campaign that portrays a genuine sense of positive determination related to its products or services.
  • Clever tactics on the cheap.  Often called “Guerrilla Marketing”, entrepreneurs can really appreciate this because chances are they started their business in a similarly modest way.  My father-in-law told me about a groundskeeper who found a way to shoot business fliers over the high walls of a gated community, right onto the lawns of his highest-paying clientele.  It worked wonderfully.
  • Helpfulness.  This is hard to market and really must be proven through experience.  But stating a commitment to help the customer in any way possible is an invitation for the customer to see if those words hold water.  I recently had a bad experience (too involved to discuss here) with a tankless water heater from Rheem that was rectified by a sales representative at CPO Rheem.  CPO is a dealer and the problem was with the manufacturer, but this sales rep took it upon himself to help me even though he had nothing to gain by it.

Those are broad principles, but they should hopefully generate some profitable thinking in the direction of creative marketing techniques.  The main thing is: make it fun and stand out in a way that gives your business exposure and leaves impressions on people that create lasting business connections.

Why Can’t All Products Be Like Barbasol?

Barbasol1My dad and I were having a conversation about business the other day.  We were discussing how companies of late are often putting more money into marketing sub-par products, than producing genuinely good ones.

I used to think the baby-boomer expression, “They don’t make things like they used to” was just a misguided product of good memories—after all, everything that comes out of your generation is the best, right?  But there is definitely something to be said for build quality in the manufacturing of yesteryear.

Even up until the mid 1990s, build quality in select vehicle manufacturers was at its absolute best—before stiff competition among other factors forced the majority of auto makers to cheapen vehicles in order to turn a profit.  One such example of a best-in-class vehicle was the Mercedes-Benz E-Class with the W124 chassis.  Rock-solid, safe and reliable; some automotive enthusiasts have dared to call it the “Best Mercedes-Benz Ever” and even, “The Best Car of the Past Thirty Years”.  I’m sure that’s a hotly debatable topic, but from the research I’ve done on the vehicle, and considering that ultimately what defines a good car is stellar performance in every testable category, I don’t think those claims are entirely misguided.

At one point in the conversation, my dad said, “I always say, ‘I wish they could make all products like Barbasol.’”  In case you’re unaware, Barbasol is a shaving cream that’s been around since the dinosaurs—well, almost: 1919.  Since then they’ve gained a reputation for having a quality product.  One thing my father noted about Barbasol is that it’s, in my words, the Maxwell House of the shaving world: good to the last drop.  The can doesn’t clog up and cheat you out of 25% of the remaining cream.  It goes until it just can’t go anymore.  An average-sized can lasts about four months when used every day, according to my dad.

Now, while I do use a Remington hair trimmer, I’m not the shaving type so I doubt I’ll be purchasing Barbasol anytime soon.  But the point is: Barbasol coasts on its quality, not its gargantuan marketing campaign.

Marketing works.  That’s why people do it.  The more people you can reach and the more corporate seeds you can plant in people’s minds in a short period of time, the more likely you are to make a sale.  The higher quality the marketing, the higher return on your investment—just like brand identity.  But marketing products that fail easily, or even are engineered to fail, is just bunk and purely disreputable.  Market your product: fine.  But don’t market a piece of junk that’s predestined for the garbage can.

This all leads me to something many brand identity designers may not consider.  With your designs that are intended to bring in profits to the company you’re designing for: have you considered whether you’re representing a reputable company?

I know it’s difficult to tell in many instances, and there are always mixed reviews on products.  (Just browse through Amazon’s user reviews of a Black and Decker toaster once and you’ll probably see everything from, “It burned my house to the ground” to, “I loved it so much I bought three as Christmas gifts for the grandkids!”)  And I’m not advocating buying the product you’re branding every time you start a project (although, that wouldn’t be a bad idea).  I’m merely pointing out that as designers, our goal is to represent these companies in a positive way, and point as many people as possible to them.  If we wouldn’t stand behind a bad product as consumers, it doesn’t make sense to painstakingly brand and inevitably promote a bad product!  A good graphic designer makes it clear to the company s/he is working with that s/he is there to help promote and bring recognition to the company.  But the good design becomes cheapened when it’s attached to a company that can’t match it in quality.

Let’s allow the bad products and services to fossilize and promote the truly good, useful ones.  Because let’s be honest: the products that are built to last, and the services that are genuinely helpful, are the ones that deserve to keep going.