Veerle Pieters

Veerle is an illustrator, designer, web developer and, last but not least, renowned blogger based in Deinze, Belgium. She is the founder of Duoh!, along with her partner Geert Leyseele, an agency devoted to all things design, which acquired a worldwide reputation for mixing cutting-edge approaches and classic looks. Veerle promotes web standards through her personal journal and at international conferences. She also loves Swiss typography, biking through the countryside and helping to make the Internet a better place.

You can see her tweet @vpieters.

Published Thoughts

Many people e-mail me asking about freelancing directly after finishing school. If there is one thing that I would highly recommend, it’s getting some experience first. When I look back, it was a mistake to start freelancing so early, because I had no idea what I got myself into. I struggled for about 4 years to get on the right track, because the people who promised me work didn’t deliver. That’s why I would recommend working a few years in a few agencies to see how things are done, so you get a feel for how projects are run, what’s involved etc. Experience is very important. Once you feel you have reached that level of knowledge, you could start freelancing after-hours. Start smaller and gradually grow until it reaches a level of maturity that could sustain a daily income. Before you start freelancing completely set aside some savings, because the first few years will be difficult.

You can find true inspiration if you try to consciously observe and experience things as if it’s for the first time.

Like any of the other bakers here on this site, I receive quite a few e-mails from people presenting their work or project to me, hoping I will share it with my readers, or Twitter or Facebook etc. Some of them get shared, others do not. My decision is of course based on whether I like it or not, and also if it’s valuable. But even before I get to this point, some basic criteria has already been taken into account which influences my judgement. There are a few basic guidelines that you can keep in mind to have the best chance your message will be heard. Always write in a personal way, and make sure your message also sounds personal, but keep it brief and to the point. So always address people by their name, not with a simple “Hi” or “Hello there”, because to me this means the person doesn’t really know me, and the message is part of some list that gets sent out. The follow-up of these kinds of e-mails will most likely be unsuccessful. Make sure if the message links to photos or other kinds of images that they are big enough, so that no extra communication is needed on where bigger images can be found. And most importantly don’t forget the URL, and make sure it’s correct.

Experimenting is vital in each design process…

A lot of experimentation goes into each design I create. I believe it’s the most vital, but also the most fun part of the creative process. Trying things out and seeing where you get, then comparing with other options you’ve tried etc. It’s one way to ensure the final design is created at your best potential. The process of my creations is usually very chaotic, due to all the things I try out along the way: looking for the perfect colors, perfect composition, perfect texture etc. A lot of undoing and deleting is part of this process, and maybe 90% of the things I create along the way gets trashed. I almost never have my exact final result in my head. It’s more like a basic concept, or sometimes just a vague idea of the direction I want to take. While trying all kinds of things out, I sometimes end up with a surprising result, and these results sometimes lead to new ideas. Sometimes the end result is way better than my initial idea. That’s why I think experimenting is so vital in each design process.

It seems that these days if you receive an e-mail with “Let me know if you would be interested…” that people expect you to answer if you’re not interested as well, because a day or 2 later I get a “we didn’t hear back from you…” e-mail. I’m talking about the e-mails where certain services are presented to you (SEO, IT companies, and the likes). I get too many of these kind of e-mails, on top of my pile that actually matter to me. I’ll be honest. If I get such e-mail, and they also start with “Hello” I simply delete them. People who send e-mails like that should realize that if they don’t get an e-mail back from you, it means the person isn’t interested. After all, they ask you to e-mail back only “in case you are interested”. Sending an e-mail with “we didn't hear back from you…” sounds very pushy and will only result in the opposite of what you’ve hoped for.

Not sure about you, but I don’t really like emails from people asking if you can Skype or “chat” with them to discuss “a project”, without properly introducing themselves or the project. I try to figure out the company from the domain name of their email address… but usually it’s a Gmail address. I wonder if they really think they’ll get a “yes sure” answer to that. :) It’s pretty basic advice to always properly present yourself so we know who you are. Secondly, give a short description of the project you’d like to discuss. Even better, if you are in the discussion phase, make sure you have well-prepared documents that you can share.

I often get emails from people who would love to “work together” with me or my company, which is great, but some of these emails are really vague. They often end with “let me know if you are interested” without actually offering or presenting anything concrete. They always expect you to “present something”. I don’t want to sound pedantic, but if people approach you like that, than they should not expect you to do their homework, right? It’s like they think you’re doing nothing, just waiting for their email… I believe it’s just a matter of being polite, and efficient. This kind of vague email communication is equal to a pure waste of time since you have to send emails back and forth a couple of times, asking questions etc. just until you might receive the email that you should have had in the first place. So it’s important to be clear and to the point, while introducing yourself and your project via email. Don’t expect people to answer positively if you don’t properly tell who you are or don’t make the effort to properly describe the project, or idea of working together.

I always find it hard to explain in a practical way how I choose and apply colors in a design. To me it has a lot to do with intuition; a feeling that certain colors go well together and others don’t. It’s a very subjective matter, and who am I to say that, for example, a certain type of soft brown in combo with a flashy red doesn’t work well.

There isn’t a magical formula that explains how to choose the right colors. I’m not a believer in strict rules when it comes down to design, because there is always a lot of grey area in this matter. I think it’s mostly about seeing what works and what doesn’t. Tools like Adobe Kuler, or the colors in my Inspiration Gallery can help in seeing what works together and what doesn’t. It’s something that comes with trial & error. I never know upfront if the colors I have in my mind will work well together. I usually do the test by looking at it from a distance. I enlarge the design, making it as big as possible on my screen, and I step away to look at it from a distance of 3 meters. A lot of times I feel I need to change certain colors, because it didn’t seem to work very well in combination with the other colors. Sometimes it’s just lack of contrast, or it feels as if it’s out of sync with the others. It basically comes down to feeling what looks good, and what doesn’t. Studying how others apply color also helps in becoming better at it.

I'm not following any trends, I'm just trying to do my own thing. If people say you can't use rounded corners anymore because they are overused, that type of info doesn't have any value for me. If I'm working on something that I feel is better suited with rounded corners I will use them, trendy or not. Just like with anything else, I feel it is okay if it fits the project or when used in moderation. That's why I almost never look at web site galleries, because they often kill inspiration.

In my humble opinion, you become a great designer only if you try to find a balance between what the client likes and what you like. After all, you design for the client, not for yourself. The client has to be 100% satisfied. But don't get me wrong here, it's not a one-way communication where the designer blindly follows what the client dictates.

Sometimes, the client's feedback has no valuable points; then it's up to you to explain why you think the client's direction is not a good one. Finding a "middle ground" doesn't mean you end up with a dull result.

Sometimes the client will agree with you, especially with people who actually choose you because they like your "design style".

You just have to try to push yourself to the limit in order to be as creative as possible. Take the client's feedback into account: that can only help you improve your design, whether the feedback is valuable or not, positive or not.

If you do that, in a lot of cases you'll end up with a great result, and it's always very fulfilling when that actually happens.

When it comes down to creating and designing, I think it's safe to say that every designer has their good and bad days. Some days ideas come naturally, and other days we have moments where we are really stuck. When facing an inspiration block, I learned that forcing myself doesn't really help. You can try it for a while, but once you feel you are wasting time, keeping on pushing yourself will be of no use.

For me, the best thing to do in such moments is to take a break. It doesn't have to be a long break; 10 minutes is already more than enough. The important thing is that I think about something totally different than what I'm working on so that I avoid thinking about design for a while. I like leaving the office; I usually go outside, or open a book, sometimes while listening to music, or I even take a shower… Anything that makes me feel relaxed and clears my mind.

Another thing I sometimes try —depending on my ongoing projects— is to work on some HTML/CSS stuff. It feels as if I'm switching to another mode. After that small break, I try to find some inspiration by browsing through my Inspiration Gallery, or the stuff I gathered on Gimme Bar, or in my LittleSnapper library. Just things I find beautiful.

I don't always look at things that are directly related to what I'm working on. Inspiration can be found in many different things and in a lot of case it's also related to my state of mind at a given moment. Taking a break is of course not a guarantee you'll have the spark afterwards, but I came to see it as my best chance.

As a busy graphic designer spending so much time on projects for clients, I find it very helpful to do some creative work that has nothing to do with work, especially when you are working on a big project that takes months, and where you have to stay focused on the same design for such a long time.

I think it's important to keep your creativity at its best. That's why I try to spend every day 10 to 15 minutes creating something that isn't work related. It could be a drawing in one of my sketchbooks, or just some doodling, or it could be something done in Illustrator. I prefer going the analogue way as I already spend so much time in front of my computer. So it's usually pencil and paper, watercolor, or even scissors and glue to create a fun collage. My creative mind follows another path during those few minutes, and doing so has a revigorating, stimulating effect on me.

Considering my heavy workload, and the fact that things are always so busy, someone was asking me how I manage to stay creative at all times, and how I always find the motivation to design as best I can. I thought about it for a bit. Time is a factor that plays a major role in the creative process. To be able to stay at your best creativity-wise, you sometimes need extra time. As a creator, you can always create 'something' in a short period of time, but you won't be able to give it your best if that period is really short. Give yourself extra time and you will create something way better. Sometimes it's good to let a project rest and look back. Sometimes you have a creativity block and you really need a break. I think it's important with every project to make sure you have enough time; that little extra can make the difference. This movie shows exactly what I mean http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jgvx9OfZKJw.