Designer Interview With Col Gray

Col Gray is a graphic & brand designer whose passion for branding is as big as his beard! He is the owner and head honcho of Pixels Ink design studio in Dundee.

With 18 years of commercial design experience under his signature baseball cap, Col helps his clients tell their story through branding, creating deeper, meaningful connections with their customers.

Col also speaks at conferences, events, and workshops, helping people to rock their brand and he has been known to take the stage in a superhero onesie. Col has no awards, no book deals, and no corporate sponsors…but, he does own a great collection of 80’s and 90’s comic books. #GEEK.

He also has a Youtube Channel with some very informative design videos about Logo & Branding.

The Logo Creative — What was the turning point in your life when you decided to become a designer and how did you proceed?

Col Gray — I’ve always liked art and drawing, but I think my earliest memory of being fascinated by logos and graphics layouts was when I got my first taste of American comic book superheroes. That would have been around 1985, and the comic book that kicked it all off was Marvel’s Secret Wars. Seeing how the panels were all laid out, the interaction between the scenes and the typography, the hero’s costumes and their emblems/logos. At 10 years old, that was me hooked and from there on in I knew I wanted to go to Art College. At that point, it was to create comic books, but as I moved into my teens that changed into becoming a graphic designer as I learned more about the subject.

The Logo Creative — What does your day consist of?

Col Gray — Oh, now there’s a question. My days can be pretty varied but I try to set out at least the week ahead in my diary of what I need to do, block things into there. I’m not the best at sticking to it though…

I am at my most creative in the mornings and the evenings and so that is when I tend to work on design projects, often quite late into the night. The afternoons I tend to use for client meetings/calls and for doing research on and for projects. Friday’s I work on things for my business, such as updating materials, working on blogs for my website and videos for my YouTube channel.

The Logo Creative — What was the first logo you ever designed?

Col Gray — I think the first logo I ever designed in paid employment was for a video production company I worked for when they decided they needed to refresh their logo. It consisted of some stylised letters spelling out their name along with a roll of film with an RGB gradient. It wasn’t very good. They have long since changed it, thankfully. I wish I still had a copy of it to show you, but that was 18 years ago and I just don’t have it on file.

The Logo Creative — What is your favorite Logo you have designed?

My favorite logo is usually the last logo I’ve designed because I feel that I improve a little, each and every time I complete a project. However, I did a logo a little while ago for a friend and client, Kev Anderson. He was looking for a logo he could use on his personal blogging site and this meant it didn’t have to be business-like or corporate. I could play with Kev’s brilliant sense of humor, and also his height, he’s a wee fella :)

Kev is a copywriter and storytelling coach and I felt that the logo I came up with perfectly matched his personality, look and his self-deprecating sense of humor. Thankfully, Kevin loved it as much as I do.

The Logo Creative — What is your favorite Logo of all time? (this will be included)

Col Gray — I’m a sucker for negative space logos. My favorite is probably the FedEx logo due to its sheer simplicity of design, and the fact that there are still so many people out there who are still discovering that hidden arrow every day. I’m amazed when I use it in workshops and I see the look of surprise on people’s faces who’ve never noticed it before.

The Logo Creative — Can you describe or give us an overview of your logo design process?

Col Gray — When a client commits to a logo design from me, they will be sent a questionnaire with 6 questions. These cover key areas that will give me a quick insight into their business, their likes, and dislikes of currently existing logos and if it is a re-brand, why do they want to update their logo/branding.

Once that questionnaire is complete, we get together either in person or on a video call. I will review their answers with them and delve a bit deeper, discussing things like their vision, core values, aims, and objectives.

I’ll then move onto a research phase where I will look at their industry sector and see what their competitors are doing (or not doing) well, and look for ways in which I can make my client stand out in that sector.

The next phase is concept design. I always start with a mind map of words and phrases linked to the client’s products/services. Then I’ll start rough sketching in a sketchbook to just get ideas and thoughts down. Nothing is really useable at this stage, but this is where things usually start to appear and are worth exploring.

Once I’ve finished with the sketchbooks, I’ll then fire up Adobe Illustrator and start to work on the concepts, and always in black, no colour at this stage as it is too influential. You want the client to be focussing on the form of the logo and not get distracted by colour. Unlike a lot of logo designers, I don’t say how many concepts I will provide, or rounds of revisions, I simply work hard to produce a concept which works. This may results in 2 or 3, or if I think it is right for the client, I will sometimes only present one concept. If you have promised a client 3 concepts, and you find that you’ve come up with 2 that are strong, you then have to present that 3rd weaker one, and you know what will happen, the client will choose the weaker one and you then have a job of steering them to the stronger one(s).

When we have agreed on the concept that works best, I’ll then work this up as a fully-fledged design and start to explore colour options.

I will then meet with the client again to discuss the colour palette, and this may or may not involve a round of further revision. I will usually present the logo mocked up onto various things such as signs and vehicles, to give the client an impression of how the logo will look in real-world situations. I find that this gets the client thinking about a lot more possibilities for their new logo. If you present the logo simple on a white canvas, then it can be underwhelming for the client. They may love the design, but you really want them to feel excited about their new brand, and I’ve found that the mock-ups really help with that.

Once everything is agreed, with the design and colour, I create a logo style guide that designates fonts, colour (Pantone / CMYK / RGB / HEX), and usage (sizes, spacing etc).

The client is also provided a zip file of their logo in major file formats.

Then, the final thing I do is assign copyright of the logo over to them.

The Logo Creative — In your opinion regarding Logo Design pricing do you prefer working on a fixed rate or customer budget and can you explain why?

Col Gray — I’ve never really created logos based on a client’s budget because of the set process that I have in place and so it has always been a fixed rate fee.

The Logo Creative — How long does it take to complete the average logo design project from start to finish?

Col Gray — On average, if the client is available and gives feedback quickly, 3–4 weeks.

The Logo Creative — Are you a MAC or PC User and is there a reason for your choice?

Col Gray — I use both, I have a 27” iMac at my office and I use a PC at home. I have no real preference other than the iMac looks good for when a client comes to visit me. I use Adobe Creative Suite and this means I can work on either platform no problem at all.

I have a PC at home because I was really into gaming and have always built my own souped up computers. As I’m getting more involved with the business, time for gaming has essentially evaporated, but the PC is still a beast and is great for working on. When it is obsolete, I’ll probably replace it with a Mac.

The Logo Creative — Which software do you use frequently?

Col Gray — In the main, I use the Adobe Creative Suite for my work. I use Adobe Illustrator for all of my logo design work, Adobe Photoshop for mock-ups, visuals, and image editing, and Adobe Premiere & After Effects for creating a video.

The Logo Creative — What is your favorite style of logo design? And why?

Col Gray — My favorite style is the wordmark.

I love the diversity and the clever combinations that designers come up with. I especially like the ones where the word visually explains/represents what it is describing. Some really clever thinking goes behind a lot of those.

The ultimate would be a wordmark that visually explains the word but also has some shape hidden away in negative space J

The Logo Creative — What is your daily inspiration when you design?

Col Gray — My inspiration can usually come from anywhere. I’m a bit of a daydreamer and generally sketch out things a lot. There won’t be any specific direction or concept in mind when I sketch, I let my mind wander loosely around the subject and that often lets me come up with ideas and rough concept directions. I’m not great at drawing, so these sketches are very much for my own use and not for showing to the client.

I have a couple of Google alerts set up too for things like ‘New logo design’ ‘new branding materials’ and so on, and these bring in new stuff. I also subscribe to a few email newsletters like Creative Boom.

The Logo Creative — In your opinion what’s the best and worst part of your job being a designer?

Col Gray — The best part for me is getting to know people and being able to help them achieve their goals through design.

The Logo Creative — Who is the most inspiring person to you and why?

Col Gray — My dad. That may sound totally cliché, but he is the hardest working and most selfless person I have ever known, and I try my best every day to be the same way.

The Logo Creative — Who is your favorite Graphic Designer and why?

Col Gray — I’m a huge fan of Aaron Draplin (Draplin Design Company). I really like his design style, his love of finding old packaging and signs that contain vintage logo design and the skills of those early graphic designers.

I like his no bullshit, up-front and down to earth approach when you read and see is interviews. I bought 6 of his limited edition ‘Thick Lines Series’ prints a couple of years ago, and they are a prized possession :)

The Logo Creative — What’s your favorite design quote? (This can be included)

Col Gray — “It’s through mistakes that you actually can grow. You have to get worse in order to get good.” — Paula Scher

The Logo Creative — In less than 10 words what is graphic design?

Col Gray — Graphic design solves problems creatively & visually using imagery.

The Logo Creative — What steps did you take to start your graphic design business? Did you have to make any sacrifices on your journey?

Col Gray — I started my design business out of necessity really. The job I was working in prior to starting Pixels Ink was horrible. Not so much the actual tasks, but the way the business owner ran it. Being a designer can be stressful at times with timescales and deadlines and is to be expected, but this studio was a whole other ball game, with the studio being run through intimidation and fear.

I basically resigned from the position with no job to go to and so thought, what the hell, I’ve always wanted to go it alone, so now’s the time. So, for me, the only step I took was to ditch a shit job and hope that I could do better. I made a lot of sacrifices by taking that decision, both financially and terms of time with family.

Going from a fixed monthly wage and into a position where you don’t know what amount of money is going to come in each month sort of plays havoc with your ability to plan stuff and so you need to reign in your spending. It is a good habit to get into though, especially when it comes to putting money aside for your tax bill.

The financial stuff I can live with, but I did miss out on a lot of time with my son as he was growing up. I was constantly working, trying to bring in new projects and working on existing ones. This meant I had very little social time.

The Logo Creative — Do you have any regrets? Is there anything you would have changed early on in your career?

Col Gray — I think my only regret is in not investing in myself in terms of coaching and self-development. I really only started to do that about 3 years ago, after I’d been running my business for 9 years and kind of got stuck. I made a decision to start spending money on my own education and training. The changes I’ve seen in my confidence, abilities, and business acumen are massive. I really wish I’d done it sooner.

The Logo Creative — If you could go back in time, what would you tell your younger self?

Col Gray — Believe in yourself and your abilities and most of all let your personality come through in your work and in your marketing.
The Logo Creative — What’s the most important piece of advice you have received as a designer that’s helped you?

Col Gray — The best piece of advice I’ve ever received, wasn’t anything practical about how to design a specific way, but was more philosophical I suppose.

I remember many years ago, having a crisis of confidence in my design abilities. I was always looking at other designers work and comparing it to my own. Not to see what the latest styles and techniques were, but to see if I was any good. I think that most designers do this. The problem with comparing yourself to others all the time is that you then start to get negative feelings and anxiety about your own. Suddenly, you’re not good enough. This can really hinder you in the creative process and also when looking for new work because you start to undervalue your services and abilities.

During one bad spell where I was almost ready to give up designing, a close friend said something to me which resonated. They said “Stop trying to be them and just be you. Be the best version of you that you can be and you’ll be great”

Now, whenever I’ve felt a bit of a wobble in my confidence, I remember that advice and it puts me back on track.

The Logo Creative — What would be your advice for new Logo and Graphic Designers?

Col Gray — Don’t work for free. You are on a hiding to nothing going down that route and you’ll only make it harder for yourself when you do need to start charging money.

I know it can be hard when you are trying to build a portfolio, and so offering to do work for free can seem like a quick way to get work, however, what type of work are you going to attract? Most likely crappy little things that you won’t want to put into your portfolio anyway.

Clients who want good work done won’t trust someone who is offering to do it for free or next to nothing. That has amateur written all over it. By charging a reasonable fee, you will at least get clients that value your services. You’ll also be doing the whole field of graphic design a favor.

This is a lesson I learned the hard way and it probably held my business back by at least 2 or 3 years.

Follow @pixelscol


The Logo Creative™ ✏

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Award Winning International Brand Identity Design Studio: Creating Adaptable Visual Identities that are Memorable & Timeless. Working With Clients Globally.

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