The designers naughty corner

Yeah, we’ve all been there. We’ve all done things that we’re not proud of and that we knew we didn’t want to do. Round five of client changes and the energy to fight for what’s right quickly fades. So here we are, sending ourselves to the ‘naughty corner’ for the questionable things that we have done or rather, created. We’ve overcome the guilt-of-bad-designs-past and protected the identity of the responsible designer well enough to offer solutions that we hope will help you avoid the pitfalls of bad design.

Anonymous Designer #1
I worked on this job for one month straight. It was an internal communications job for a large company, which made it worse because I knew how many people would get to see it. First creative was happiness. Everything was consistent and visually appealing. Out of all the options supplied, the client chose my least favourite one (I know). To add insult to injury, it came back with ‘slight changes’.

At the end of week one, it had evolved into something I could barely look at. It was ongoing and required updates and new elements were added on a weekly basis. Client had requested to make it brighter, bolder and more colourful. It was bright, it was busy and it was well hidden from any other client that stepped into our studio. My colleagues would basically laugh every time they saw it on my screen, flinging comments my way. It got so bad that I opted to work on it after hours, just to reduce the laughter and improve productivity during office hours. To put it bluntly it was as if my colour swatches had thrown up on my page layout – yes, it was that bad. I retained some font dignity but it was just too busy. Of course the client loved it. I had created exactly what they had wanted. My initial design was too soft he said, it needed to ‘stand out more’. In the end, it stood out when viewing our offices on google earth. The point is, we often create concepts that we love but client doesn’t. Then there are times when the client loves the concepts but we don’t. How do we find the balance? What I should have done, was voice my opinion and point out the reasons why I felt the layout didn’t work. I should have also created a side line concept and found the middle ground between their expectations and what I believed would work better. When campaign time rolled around again, that client came back for more of the same concept. This time, I voiced my concern and together we came up with a similar but new concept. Apparently the first campaign artwork did really well and they got a great response. We had such a giggle in the office. I admit, it could just be that the artwork being as bright as it was, was unmissable and people were forced to notice it and engage. In the end, it was effective and who can argue with that.

Anonymous Designer #2
Aaaah, the things we do to make clients happy. There is a fine line between making them happy and placing them at a disadvantage. Sometimes it is in their best interest that we push back on things that we know are not the best ideas. We had the opportunity to refresh an already established brand, a really well-known brand, so the pressure was on. When we first landed the job, we were overcome with creative ideas and concepts. We presented the most amazing concepts, cute characters and more. After the first creative draft, the client sent feedback of what they had imagined for the brand. Their main concern was that they felt the creative was too high-end and could possibly make the product appear more expensive than it really was. Now, this feedback right here is very important. As designers, we tend to put our visual preferences before the target market (sometimes, just sometimes) in the hope that client will be thrilled with how super creative we are. Needless to say, we needed to turn it down a bit. On jobs this large, we generally have two senior art directors working on concepts so it was a neck-and-neck race to see who would best meet the creative brief. On second draft, we had come closer but still no success. While the concept was ‘way better’ and the colours were ‘just right’, they still felt that it didn’t have mass market appeal and then proceeded to send us an example of what they actually wanted. It was… well, boring. It had already been done and it was going to be hard to print consistently. See, there are more factors that go into design than most clients are aware of. But, challenge accepted.

At the end of this brand refresh and roll-out, we weren’t entirely happy with the outcome, and for this alone we should be sent to the naughty corner but once again, client was thrilled and we ticked off all the boxes. We adjusted their concept to be more suitable, different to what was done before and while we still pop into stores to stand in front of their product displays, we can’t help but think of what could have been.

Two things sent us to the naughty corner, one being our interpretation of the brief, which was wide open to begin with. Yes, we also make creative mistakes and don’t always get it right on the first try. We love what we do and we get super excited about new briefs and their possibilities. And two, we still feel that we could have created a more inspiring and attention-worthy experience for their customers. The great news is, the new design is ten times better than the original and the brand is doing just great. What’s not so great is the feeling of being underwhelmed with what we created. The biggest lesson we have learnt is that clients are intimately aware of their brand and their target audience and achieving their approval and excitement is more important than the “wow-factor”.

Anonymous Designer #3
We all get that one brief that makes absolutely no sense. The one that has too many ideas, copyright infringement issues and where we’re all left staring at each other with no clue as to how to tackle it. This brief, from a young, tech-driven business, started and ended with nervous laughter, strange creative concepts and hilarious copy options as we stumbled through the process. In the end we had no choice but to submit a very literal interpretation of the client’s brief because, with the copyrighted content removed, there really wasn’t much of a brief left. Needless to say, the creative bombed. Turns out that the entire brief was wrong, what we did was wrong and actually, the person who briefed us, well… she was wrong too. We should have brought our concerns to the table instead of trying to please the client. We should have said “hey, this is not going to work and we don’t fully understand how this makes sense” but instead we tried to make it work and ended up with a very confused first draft. Eventually we took the correct brief, from the correct person and made absolute magic. The concept and design was brilliant (in our opinion, as you know, there are always critics) but we walked away very pleased with ourselves in one corner and in the other, complete embarrassment for not calling the client out on a very bad brief to begin with. It was a rather fun project and even though time was wasted on the first draft, in the end we had a good outcome. Lesson learnt.

We’ll no doubt continue our thread of design delinquency because the truth is no designer survives client briefs completely unscathed. But as long as we keep learning, we’ll be fine.

I’m sure we’ll see you in the ‘naughty corner’ soon – gotta go because #deadlines but all the best with those briefs 😉

5 Things we’ve learnt at our first job in the field

Hey, it’s Nats here…
It’s often said that your first job in the ‘real world’ will not always be the greatest of all jobs. I can honestly say that being part of The Pencil Box team has been a true blessing. After graduating I was nervous about entering the creative work place for the first time, I didn’t know when, how or where I was going to begin my journey. Being part of TPB team, means being part of a family of talented individuals who love being creative just as much as they love eating pavlova. I’ve learned that fresh doughnuts and a great cup of coffee is one of the quickest ways to a happy pencil boxing team. But aside from learning just how much we all love food, I gained a great amount of knowledge and personal growth in my creative career.

Measure thrice, cut once
My mom always told me that learning is a lifelong process. When I started working, I was so afraid of making mistakes. I’d think something was ready to go but somehow, there it would be, an error. I felt a little discouraged but realised that I could learn from these mistakes. I’ve learned something new every day, from improving my time management, understanding how to match typefaces, to making a good cup of coffee (I only drank tea before TPB). I now triple check my work and spellcheck is a good friend.

Time waits for nobody
Procrastination, procrastination, procrastination! It’s tough to avoid catching up with the team, sharing views on the latest series, weekend plans, and the list goes on. One thing I really struggled with was managing my tasks, but I’ve learned to find a method that works for me – by tracking my time and estimating how long a task will take before starting it.

Take initiative
It’s important to know your strengths and take initiative. Don’t wait around to be told what you need to do, just do. No one was ever wrong for trying. Be proactive and if you are stuck or not too sure what the next step is, just ask or Google it. I often use Google for design tips, especially to help me with my shortcuts.

Team work makes the dream work
If you want to go far, go together. TPB team is made up of a variety of talents and we each have a unique way in which we approach a task. Instead of running around in my thoughts, I speak to my team and find out what ideas they could share. Communicating with your team is important, especially when working on group tasks.

Positive attitude
I’ve learned that often when I am under stress or have a hectic workload, my thought process tends to spiral out of control. Instead of asking myself ‘how am I going to do this?’ and self-doubting, I choose to rather have positive conversations of encouragement with myself and my team, ‘Yes I can do this’. It’s not always going to be easy, but I try to remember why I am here and how much I love what I do. Good energy is contagious, share it.

Hola, it’s Qaasiem
It’s been 9 months at TPB and to be honest it feels much longer. There has been a lot of lessons but for now let’s just mention 5 of them. For instance, say we need a social media post and it requires a background and an image of the client’s product. The following points is the process we are going to use in creating it.

Image searching
To start things off let’s begin with image searching. It’s something that we do daily, for social media, emailers or anything of that sort. Searching fast through 100s of images that best communicate the concept is time consuming but it still needs to be done. The comparison from when I started compared to now is a major difference and it is a skill that will always come in handy.

Searching for an image that best suits the concept isn’t the only thing to keep in mind, you have to think about the colours of that image too. Does it go with the brand you’re working with? Does it match up to the rest of the design? Does that colour convey a certain emotion that helps the reader to understand what you’re trying to say with a design? 

My ‘favourite’ [rolls eyes]. I’m sure plenty of you can relate. Although not everyone fancies it, it is one of the most important tools that a designer must have. If you’re a beginner, don’t worry, it does get easier and you will get faster. And take my word for it, your eyes will burn less over time. Just stick with it. Soon you’ll be doing it with your eyes closed.

After you’ve gathered all the elements needed for the post, now comes the part where you put everything together. The most important thing I’ve learnt concerning layout would be the use of the design principals i.e. balance, emphasis, movement and unity, to name a few. Using the design principals is like following a good recipe, you can’t go wrong with it.

Double checking
Probably the most important aspect of designing. You need to double check, triple check, in fact. I can’t stress this enough. Nobody wants their work in the public eye only to receive a comment saying that there’s a typo, or the image is back to front. It’s more embarrassing than getting publicly rejected by your crush. And on a more serious note, could cost the client a shiz-load of money if it was something that needed to be printed.

These points don’t only apply to social media posts, it’s just my comparison, it can apply to any form of design you create and can be used in all instances of your work. These are just a few things that I’ve learnt and may help you to becoming a better designer.

The juniors – our journey into design

Hey, this is Natalie and I’m all about “doing what we love”

Growing up, I always had a million passions. I would put all my energy into it; from ballet to theatre performance, art to science, teaching and even breakdancing. Yes, I could do head spins and took part in underground hip-hop street battles in Woodstock – and I was pretty good at it too! I was interested in so many different things, the thought of choosing one specific career path had me feeling uneasy. Was I the only one who felt like this?

I had a natural ability for arts and crafts, along with some verbal diarrhoea, which my teachers discovered in my early years. I would hurry through all my subjects so that I could spend more time getting my hands full of paint, and ask to sit in class during lunch break to draw or colour in pictures. I absolutely loved creating artwork, in fact I loved anything that allowed me to be creative.

I started ballet when I was 3 years old but by the time I was 15, I developed an interest in hip-hop and the dream of becoming a ballerina was left behind. You could say I had ants in my pants when it came to choosing things to do. To everyone, my love for art was nothing more than a passion and hobby, definitely not something to consider as a career. I became a youth leader, a Sunday school teacher and joined the band. It wasn’t long after that, I was volunteering at an elderly and children’s home where I taught basic art lessons. But no matter what I did, I always found a way to create.

An equal amount of energy and love was placed into everything I did. With the end of my high school career looming, the pressure of choosing my career path weighed heavily on my shoulders. Like, very heavy. I wished that I could be as certain as everyone else seemed about their career choices. I felt that if I picked only one of my passions, I would eventually get tired of it. At the same time the thought of doing so many different things felt a bit scattered. Even though I had many interests, I knew that being able to create would bring me the most joy. In the end, I still had doubts, mainly influenced by the opinions of others.

Before pursuing my career in graphic design, I studied occupational therapy. I loved working with people so I felt that this was the best choice for me. But still, something was missing. I kept coming back to the arts. I would illustrate all my study notes during class. I just couldn’t escape it. It wasn’t where I needed to be. So I quit and opted for a life of creativity instead.

When I was battling through my decision, my mom sent me a lovely quote written by Maya Angelou – “You can only become truly accomplished at something you love. Don’t make money your goal. Instead pursue the things you love doing and then do them so well that people can’t take their eyes off of you”. I felt like it was written for me.

When I started studying graphic design, all of my other interests aligned with creativity, from photography to craft making and dancing. The feeling was indescribable. It was the first time I felt as though I was on the right track. I learnt to accept my curiosity. I loved it. As I got older I realised that it was okay to be passionate and possible to be multi-passionate too. While every interest doesn’t necessarily turn into your passion, you shouldn’t have to feel restricted to one path. Do what you love! I know I did and I’m so happy for it.



Hi, Qaasiem here and this is how I came to love design

Throughout high school I was very confused about where I wanted to be and which direction I wanted to go in. I started off at a business focused school, mainly because all my friends were going there. I wasn’t really passionate about business. Firstly, it was boring, you had to stick to the rules and in most cases it was very monotonous. I got through each year, just making it, and by the time it came to matric I was very confused. I had the ability to draw but that was about it. No other real strengths and to top that off I didn’t even choose art as a subject. I was basically lost and didn’t know how to read this compass of career paths. Everyone, except me, knew what they wanted to do and where they wanted to study. I had no direction and started to doubt if I’d have any future at all. Bleak, I know right.

With drawing as my only strong point my mother suggested looking into graphic design. Not knowing much about it I had to do some research. It didn’t interest me because the explanations that some tertiary institutions gave were too vague. Then an institute called CTI Education group came to our school and I gave my contact number. It lead to many persistent calls from them and I eventually gave in to attend an open day. Surprise, surprise, I wrote an aptitude test and graphic design was the direction my test was pointing towards. I braved it and gave studying graphic design a shot but with much uncertainty.

During my studies I took a lot for granted. I came late to class, handed in late submissions, gave incomplete work and generally had too much of a good time. One positive though, my understanding of graphic design did improve and I started enjoying my work but my grades weren’t looking good at all. Like I said, it was fun times. My dad suggested I find a job, so I dropped out in my second year, which was technically my first year, because a bridging course was needed to make up for my poor high school grades. It was game over.

My first job was printing names and numbers on sports jerseys at Totalsports. I worked there for a few months, not growing or moving anywhere. My life was at a stand still and the irony was that my job required me to stand all day anyway. The closest thing to creativity was maybe laying out the numbers and letters on the jerseys.

From there I got a job in IT because computers were a hobby of mine, playing around with them since Windows 95. The best way to describe this job is to say that I was a psychologist for people with computer issues. I learnt how to deal with people, and not the easy way. It was a call centre so time management was everything.

It was here that I realised I loved design.  Through all these experiences I began to understand why it was so important to me. It was the unique ability to communicate with people without speaking. To take something out of nothing and mould it to provoke an emotion or even a thought, and to take something plain and turn it into something amazing. Why was I missing colour? Because in a world full of black and white, design was the big splash of red paint that added life and emotion to it. And why was I missing freedom so much? Because in a world where everyone is told to act in a specific way, to conform, design lets you be who you truly are. This is why I love design.

Now, with my hunger for design reignited, the urge to go back was too big to ignore. I searched many websites and avenues to see if there were any possibilities and a chance at studying again, but to no avail. A few months went by when I stumbled across an institute that was giving bursaries to people unable to pay tuition. I really didn’t think that I had any shot at this, but with some convincing from my younger sister and many late nights fine-tuning a very emotional motivating letter, I applied.

Some time passed with no reply. But just as I was beginning to lose hope, they responded, inviting me to be interviewed. The interview was short but meaningful. They wanted to know a bit more about me and where I came from, so I poured it all out. At the end of the interview they leaned in, almost as if they were about to tell me a secret, and told me that I got it. I honestly couldn’t believe it. I had to hold back my tears in that brightly coloured interview room, and before we said our goodbyes I instinctively gave both interviewers a hug. I wailed on the car ride back and broke the news to my family immediately when I got home. It was an unforgettable moment in my life.

I went on to study print and publishing at Friends of Design. Everything I was longing for I put into all my work and graduated in the top 10 of my class. Through hard work and a good attitude, I’ve been lucky to secure a bursary for another year’s study in web publishing and interactive media. So I’m not done yet. I’ve only just started my career and I’m truly excited about where I am going.

Design isn’t just something I learned to love, it has become a part of who I am and in the end, design was the one who learned to love me.


The juniors – just getting started

Hello, my name is Natalie.
Welcome to my world as a recently graduated graphic designer working at The Pencil Box. I was asked to write about my creative journey when I started, my personal experiences and what I’ve learnt along the way. I was super excited about the new challenge, but when push came to shove, I couldn’t think of a single topic to write about. I adore creative writing, but it’s not something that always comes easily. Generating a concept, an idea or even writing a five-word sentence takes some serious brain power. I like to think of a creative block as a period of drought, where the brain cannot produce any fresh ideas. As creatives, we all experience this, even if we don’t like to admit it. During my university years, I often found myself in droughts, and I didn’t know how to cope with this. I would sit for hours overthinking my brief, juggling concepts in my mind but never sharing my thoughts or opinions with others. It just always sounded better in my mind, as soon as I said it out loud nothing made sense, maybe it was just the nerves kicking in. The idea of having a review or a critique completely freaked me out, so the best thing for me was to avoid the lecturer for as long as possible. Isolating myself from everyone because of my creative block didn’t help at all. I struggled with self-doubt in my design process, fighting against myself, jumping from idea to idea, wondering whether this whole creative career was for me.

So starting a new job as you can imagine came with some serious nerves and yes, a little bit of drought.
Here are a few things I’ve learned stepping into the real world as a young graphic designer.

You’re not alone
I realised that everyone faces these anxieties and fears, regardless of where you might be on your life path. It’s comforting to know that you are not alone, and yes you may feel a little crazy, but I bet the person sitting next to you goes through the same thing too.

Mood boards lift the mood 
I love mood boards. It helps me get an overall look and feel for whatever needs creating. It’s a fun yet powerful way to communicate my vision, and it does all the talking for me.

Two heads are better than one
Brainstorming sparks new ideas that you didn’t have before. I love having creative meetups to bounce ideas around or come up with new concepts for future projects. It’s also a fantastic way to get to know the people you work with. You get to see what their strengths and weaknesses are and that makes group work and collaboration that much easier.

Get soaked
Be a sponge and soak up as much information as you can from your creative team and other people who inspire you. Ask as many questions as it takes to understand. Pursue other creative interests that are not necessarily in your field. All will add up to stock your creative well.

It’s just an idea
Share your ideas but don’t get too emotionally attached to an idea or concept. If you feel strongly about an idea though, fight for it but learn when to quit and let it go. It might not work this time around, but you can always bank it for later.

Enjoy the ride
If like me, you’re at the start of your creative career, and like me, you intend to live a long, happy and very creative life, there’s no reason to panic. Just take a breather and go back to the drawing board. Your best is yet to come.

Hi, my name is Qaasiem.
You can call me Q or Kaas (the Afrikaans word for cheese in a posh accent) or anything you choose.
I’m working as an intern graphic designer here at The Pencil Box, and I’m studying Web Publishing and Interactive Media although I’m still not one hundred percent sure what that means yet.

This is what I’ve learnt in my first few weeks in the “real world”.
Design work is time-consuming. From the moment we get briefed to the very last minutes before a deadline we always find ourselves adding or removing things from our designs. Add other responsibilities like studying or family obligation to this and time begins to run out fast. The very first thing our mentors emphasised when I started this internship, was time management. It’s the single most important tool in your daily life, besides being creative. It’s learning to balance not just the workload but also all the other things you need to do to live, like eating, relaxing, socialising, family and sleeping.

It’s all about balance –  trying to find that sweet spot of when to do things and when not to as well. When I learnt about time management in school, it seemed irrelevant and didn’t feel like it would make much of a difference in my life. But I’m quickly coming to learn the importance of time management in achieving anything worthwhile especially career wise. But before this there were many sleepless nights, falling asleep in class, coming in late or just a lack of productivity before I realised that managing my time was the real OG of success.

Today I find myself doing just that – working hard and switching off when I need to. There isn’t a specific algorithm to achieve a successful time management lifestyle, it’s about knowing yourself and your limits and setting healthy boundaries so that you don’t over do it or do too little.

To end off, a quote on time…
“Time is what we want most, but what we use worst.” – William Penn

This is just the beginning of our journeys, we’re just getting started. We invite you to walk this wildly exciting road with us… until our next post.

Natalie & Qaasiem

Unpacking soon!

Hello! We’re very excited to launch our very own blog so we can share our world with you! You can expect to read everything (well almost) about our daily doings, lots of design trends and tips, and a little bit of how we run our business (including the things that nobody tells you). We’re big on fashion and beauty, décor and daydreaming. You’ll get to meet the team and read a bit more about what we do and who we are with lots and lots of behind the scenes action.

We’d love to share what it’s like in our design studio and in our industry. We’re all about helping fellow creatives and start up businesses… and we have fun doing it.

Soooo, until we get our act together, we look forward to meeting up with you for a good laugh and a little work too.

Chat soon!