Reflections of the past year: The improved

With 2010 quickly coming to an end, I’ve been thinking a lot about the upcoming year. Concluding my second (and a half year) year of running my own independent design business (full-time, anyways), I’m starting to think about my business, the things I feel I’ve done well, and what could be handled differently going into 2011. Here’s a bit of what I’ve been thinking and would enjoy hearing some of your reflections below as well.

Also, this will be the first edition of my reflections, starting with the ‘good and improved upon’ from 2009–2010. Will be following up with the ‘Need to Improve’ list in coming weeks.

The improved (at least I think so):

  1. Hire and worked with an accountant. Hiring an accountant has relieved a lot of pressure, especially when it comes down to tax season in a month or so. I report to him every quarter with my estimates and come the end of the year he handles the rest. I’m a believer and doing what you do best – money, taxes, and dealing with Uncle Sam is not one of them for me.
  2. Worked with more passionate clients. I try not to think of any client as a “bad” client, but when you get a passionate client you will know it. These are typically people that already have interest in our field (even though they are not designers), well-researched, open-minded, and–being that I work mostly on the web–love seeing the web and technology move forward. While it could be a complete coincidence of why I’ve worked with these types of clients, I like to think I owe a lot of it to my involvement in the design community with speaking, conference attending, writing and staying extremely current and understanding where the web is heading. Not only will it help you grow, learn, make great connections, but will help your work reach new heights and eyeballs. Simply, passionate clients want to work with passionate designers.
  3. Paid attention to the details. I’ve applied this mantra to many instances of my work and my business. For example, I’ve spend more time educating clients this year and also paid closer attention to the tiny details in my work that can take a good design to great – which also brings up my next point…
  4. Growth. I honestly am not sure if I will ever be fully happy with my work… and I’m alright with that in many ways. It helps me to grow. If you can look back on your work from the previous year and see improvement then you are doing something right. Since graduating college I’ve always made it a point to learn and keep learning as much as possible. I owe this to many great books, reading blogs / staying current, self-reflection, peer-reflection, and endless hours of design-thinking. Surrounding yourself and your thoughts into design as much as possible is a sure-shot outcome to grow.
  5. Kept organized. Keeping extremely organized will help save many (and I mean many) hours of which you can focus on more important things in your business. Here are a few tips on how I stay organized and efficient this year.
  6. Kept my head (and work) in the clouds. I’ve been using Dropbox for a few years now and in the past year I’ve finally upgraded to the 100GB plan, moved all my work files to the cloud, and work between my at home iMac and Macbook Pro when I work from various remote locations. No more remembering to sync before leaving the house; no more “which version is the latest;” Basically no more fuss and couldn’t imagine running my business without it.
  7. Added a Notebook. As much as I love reading and learning, it appears that many of you do as well. The Notebook section added in May’s redesign seems to be a huge hit and really excited that many of you have embraced it with open arms. I try my best to only post the highest, quality resources, thoughts and information and hope you enjoy it for years to come. It also helped me stay current with the industry and provoke more discussion and thoughts in my own head. Traffic to this site has also increased and I thank all of you for that.
  8. Shortened my emails. I can’t tell you how much time I spend in the past 2+ years of business answering emails. I’ve learned this year to write as little as possible and get directly to the point. Saved many hours this year.
  9. Focus. At the end of 2009, my goal was to drastically improve one area that I felt needed it the most, which for me was typography. I focused a lot of attention on learning more about the history of type design and typefaces and also the craft of good typography. Starting to think about a new focus for 2011.
  10. Attentive beyond the computer screen. Inspiration often does not come when you need it so I’ve found myself documenting the world around me more this year. My iPhone has been extremely handy in taking quick notes or snapping a quick photo of a color palette I enjoyed as I passed by. Collecting inspiration before and needing it later often ends in better results.

What are some things you’ve improved on from last year?

Discussion and Comments

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  1. Oh So very true. Nice read! Thanks

  2. Lori says:

    Great post. I am transitioning to being in business for myself full time and have learned a lot from your blog.

  3. Jeannie says:

    The last year I’ve done more technical drawings then I’d ever want to do in a lifetime. The greatest improvement that I can see is more of an outlook. I decided to look at each drawing with a more artistic flair thus making me happier when I draw them.

  4. What a year, huh?

    I must say, it’s been a lot of fun watching you grow and build up your business over time Brian. I’m glad to say that you are definitely a source of inspiration in my own design career, so thank you for that.

  5. Brian says:

    So glad to hear you are learning from my blog. Means a lot to me hearing that and appreciate the comment.

    Much like stated to Lori above, thank you. It has been a great year and looking forward to many more. I wish you the best of successes in the future!

  6. billyadams says:

    This is inspiring me to look back at the past year and see what I’ve been doing better, both at work and personally. Thanks!

    On an unrelated note: Your’s is one of the only blogs that get the update in Google Reader and then go to the site to read it. Great design and typography!

  7. Brian says:

    Reflecting on the good, bad, and ugly is always important no matter what the case might be. Also, thank you for such kind words. Flattered that you visit due to the design alone – much appreciated!

  8. Brian,

    I came to your blog via a mutual friend’s facebook page Coincidentally, I’m also just starting the process of calibrating my small business successes and misses for this year. Your blog entry has given that process much-needed direction and focus. Thank you for that and best of luck in 2011!


    p.s. in my former life as a communication skills trainer, ‘managing email’ was a much sought-after session among my management-level clients. and the most “life-changing” take away from that session: get to your point directly, and say little more. still holds true!

  9. Katie Fritz says:

    Brian, you are getting wiser by the year, and I really enjoyed your reflections. Great blog.

  10. Andrew Munro says:

    Nice read Brian. I’ve picked up a few pointers!

  11. Rondell Paul says:

    Great read, thanks for the insight!

  12. Worked with more passionate clients.” , that is what i like to hear. That is a good aspect, you see that your job is appreciate and the clients are pleased.

  13. Erin says:

    Great post Brian, I really love reading your blog and as you said the notebook keeps me coming back often.

    I graduated college a year and a half ago, and was lucky in that I had a job lined up through my internship with a great web design agency. I’ve always had an eye for lighting, color, composition… and now I’m realizing most of my critiques are on sub-par typography.

    I’m the type of person who believes great designers either have an eye or don’t, and are born gifted or not. Maybe that’s because I’m young and used to seeing it in school.

    When I realized I wasn’t getting my typography pretty spot on the first time I got to wondering… would I ever? I’ll take your advice on going back to basics, the history – hoping this helps me for the next year.

  14. Janet says:

    This is wonderful! Many of these things on your list loom over me as the year comes to an end again and again. I think #4 and #10 will be my focus in 2011. It will be nice to grow as a designer, to slow down and work with more inspiration. Thank you!

  15. Prakash says:

    Great post Brian, I really like the portfolios of your designs which are very clear, effective & impressive. Keep on doing wonderful designs like this.

    I think this link will help you to get more design inspiration & more templates.

  16. Congratulations on a successful year, Brian. I’ve enjoyed following your thoughts (and your excellent links — I love the notebook!) along the way and it was a pleasure to finally meet you at Brooklyn Beta. Here’s to an even better 2011!

  17. Brian says:

    Glad to hear your friend appointed you this way. Hope you find other articles helpful and enjoyable as well. Thanks for commenting.

    Thank you so much. Early years of any business I’m sure are both stressful, full of learning, yet very exciting. I’m just happy and grateful for it all. Best of luck to you as well in 2011.

    I might have to disagree with the statement of ‘either being born talented or not.’ Design is as much about craft as it is about talent. With more knowledge, time and experience you can own any craft. Keep pushing forward and never get discouraged. Passion and curiosity will also help lead success.

    Thanks, and same too you! It was great finally meeting you as well and I’m certain we will get the chance to hang out again soon. Actually we are both speaking at the Interlink Conference— if we don’t cross paths before then — see you in Vancouver. Have a lovely Holiday and Happy New Year.

  18. Alexey says:

    i can say for sure that this post is going to be one of the most infuential things for me for the upcoming year. personally i’d added nutrition and physical activity aspects to the point 10 as it has brought a lot for me this year. and that ‘details mantra’ is a good idea too (can’t get my eyes off the border pattern at the sides of the post wrapper). have a good new year, Brian.

  19. Kevin says:

    The single biggest improvement I’ve made this year has been “under-promising and over-delivering.” I’ve shaped my client list over the last year so that there’s a higher percentage who appreciate the work I do, and that has allowed me to service them flawlessly.

  20. Eforie Nord says:

    If you are passionate you’ll surely work with more passionate clients. Clients love when you try to do something for them like if that thing was your own.

Brian Hoff
About Brian Hoff: Designer, Writer and Speaker

I’m a graphic designer living in Brooklyn, New York who loves creating compelling and useful websites and memorable interactions across the web. When I’m not designing I can be found writing, speaking and occasionally part-time teaching at colleges — all on the subject of design. I started this blog to share my passion and experiences with designers and clients. I'm most active on Twitter; say hello: