Tips for Speedy and Efficient Graphic Design - Part 2

So you want to be a faster graphic designer? More tips for speed:

Clean Up Your Text Before You Start Designing
It's such a pleasure (and it's more efficient) to design with clean text but let's face it: designers rarely receive perfectly ready and clean text. There's always some issue: the bullets don't convert properly, the hyperlinks cause issues, there's all sorts of invisible trash (extra spaces, paragraph marks, tabs, etc.). For those pesky hyperlinks from Microsoft Word: Select all of the text in Word and hit Cmd-6 which strips out all of the hyperlinks (and hyperlink formatting!). In InDesign, use Find & Replace to get rid of the invisible extras: double spaces, extra paragraph marks, tabs and other document trash before you start designing. It will be that much easier to hit the ground running with your design.

Master Selecting Objects and Selecting Tools
(InDesign, Photoshop, Illustrator)
Do you know the quickest way to switch from inside a text box to the Selection tool in InDesign? (Hint: hit Escape.) Can you draw and modify a shape in Illustrator without ever selecting a tool with the mouse? Learn the keyboard shortcuts to all of the tools and be able to select, move and modify an object using keyboard shortcuts whenever possible. Those little side trips to the menus and toolbar really add up over the course of a day.

Organize Your Files (Computer & Paper)
It doesn't matter if your desk looks perfect or if it looks like a cyclone hit it. The true measure of organization is function: if you can find a document or file you need in 10 seconds or less, you're doing great. If you can't find your files that fast, you might need a better system. My main organization inspiration comes from Julie Morgenstern's books and Zen Habits. I analyzed my own workflow and tested out different methods until I found the one that worked best for me.

Think Like a Race Car Driver
Race car drivers drive safely at dangerously high speeds (at least most of the time). How do they do it? Training, practice, focus. The same principles apply to designing faster:

  1. Training. Know your design programs backwards and forwards. The more familiar you are with the programs, the less time you spend figuring out how to do something. You just do it.

  2. Practice. Practice, practice and more practice. The more you do something, the better you get at it (at least usually). Also remember to practice skills that don't get used daily in your job. For example, if you rarely work in Illustrator, do something for yourself for fun in Illustrator to keep you skills from getting rusty.

  3. Focus. The research is becoming clearer and clearer: multi-tasking doesn't make you more efficient, it does exactly the opposite. Intense focus for periods of time, focusing only on a single task and ignoring distractions like email and phone calls, is a more efficient and productive way of getting things done. It's also more pleasant! So do whatever you can to help you find that single focus.

Tips for Speedy and Efficient Graphic Design - Part 1

Speedy design is a bit of an oxymoron. It's important to be able to design quickly and efficiently but you also need enough space and leisure to be able to explore and generate quality ideas. Here are some tips for speedy and efficient graphic design when you already have that quality idea:

Keyboard Shortcuts
(Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator)
"The first thing I do when I walk in is pick up the mouse and turn it upside down." I heard these words from a design efficiency expert years ago at a design conference and they've stuck with me deeply ever since. The message: the mouse is the slowest tool in your repertoire. If you want to be fast, you have learn (and use!) keyboard shortcuts. If a common command you use doesn't have a keyboard shortcut, assign your own custom keyboard shortcut. Make it a game to avoid the menus. Here are keyboard shortcut guides for Photoshop, InDesign, and Illustrator.

(Photoshop, InDesign)
Take the time to create templates (or download templates) for whatever you create a lot of and/or have as a recurring projects. Create the templates in the programs you commonly work in. For example, if you often use Photoshop and InDesign on brochure projects, create brochure tri-fold.psd and brochure tri-fold.indt. Make your template file the right size, adjust margins, add guides and bleeds, add basic text styles, etc. I recommend locking your template files (make them read only) and your templates folder so you won't accidently overwrite your original template files.

Actions are awesome. I don't know how I could be a designer without Photoshop actions, especially batch processing (File > Automate > Batch) using actions. I use actions for everyday operations like converting to 300 ppi CMYK and saving as tif or converting to grayscale. Whatever I find myself doing often, I create an action. I also use actions for project specific tasks like applying a special sepia photo effect or adding photo edges. For even more speed, I assign keyboard shortcuts to my most commonly used actions.

Paragraph and Character Styles
Paragraph and character styles are powerful, flexible, easy to apply and vitally necessary for most InDesign projects. For ease of use, create folders for your styles and organize them by hierarchy (ie. organize them in the order that you apply them in the text: headers first, then subheads, text, bulleted lists, numbered list and the rest). For greater speed, I apply keyboard shortcuts to my styles so header might be Cmd + 1 and subhead Cmd + 2.

Stay tuned for Part 2.

Mother and Baby Owl

This illustration is just too adorable! Love the coloring, patterns on the owls and the lovely owly eyes. From Etsy seller carambatack.

My Work: Sri Nama by Bada Haridas

The music on Sri Nama, the latest album from Bada Haridas, is beautiful. Some tracks are more energetic with a slightly rougher "live" feel and other tracks are warm and mellow. I created a richly textured design that represented the music on this album and the devotional mood of Bada Haridas's kirtan. Listen at

Book Cover Inspiration from

I discovered through their recent blog entry: 45 Beautifully Designed Book Covers. Here are my favorites from their selection.

Packagings of the World Blog

I recently found the Packagings of the World Blog. The designs featured are diverse and best of all: lots of photos, very little text.

Creating One or More Rounded Corners

Want to create only one or two rounded corners in InDesign? Here's the trick: Download the free Adobe javascript plugin from here and follow these detailed instruction from InDesign Secrets. In short:

  1. Download the free InDesign script called CornerEffects.js. (You'll need to sign in with your Adobe ID.)
  2. Load the script into InDesign.
  3. Open InDesign document and draw a rectangle (or other shape) or select a photo.
  4. With the shape or photo selected, double-click the CornerEffects script. A dialog box pops up and you can choose which corners you'd like to round.

Note: Since this script manually creates the points for the rounded corner shape, the final corner effect not flexible/editable like InDesign's built-in rounded corner effect. Therefore, I would highly recommend you make a copy of your original photos onto a separate layer before applying the rounded corner script.

Update: InDesign CS5 now has the "round any corner independently" option built right in!

Bocage Shoes

I love the beauty, delicacy and amount of detail in these two illustrations for Bocage Shoes by Vania Zouravliov. I only saw one of these ads/illustrations in Communication Arts but Adfeast has both posters.

Northern Ohio Railway Museum posters

I seem to be on a vintage kick. I like the vintage styling of these posters and it's interesting to dissect the posters and notice all of the elements (fonts, colors, arrangement, styling) that contribute to this feel. I'd like to figure out how to create the light rays from the trains in the first poster.

Slower posting

My life has been just a little bit crazy and busy lately and I've been ignoring my blog. I will write when I can and hopefully my summer will calm down soon...