Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All

We all know (don’t we?) that the best way out of a creative rut is to do something different. To shake things up with some crazy music, a walk in the fresh air, a chat with a stranger in the lunch line. In work—and in life in general—we people tend to settle into our daily habits and patterns of thought. This gets us through our days, but it doesn’t stretch our creative muscles.

In the book Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All, authors David Kelley and Tom Kelley argue that if we want to label who we are or what we do “creative”, we need to move away from following familiar routes and instead explore new places in new ways. We need to ask smart questions, frame problems thoughtfully and act quickly, challenging ourselves to better our world with the best possible products, services and ideas. They show us how to move past our fear of the unknown and the assumptions we hold that stifle our creative confidence.

The Kelley brothers combined are a powerhouse of creativity. David Kelley is the creator the Institute of Design at Stanford University, a multi-discipline design school that focuses on innovation, collaboration and learning by doing. He’s also the founder of IDEO, a global innovation and design firm. Tom Kelley is a leading innovation speaker, as well as a partner at IDEO and the author of The Art of Innovation and The Ten Faces of Innovation. They’re veterans in the field of creativity, and they have some great stories to share.

Their book is full of anecdotal accounts of people who have overcome barriers to success by exercising creativity and design-driven innovation. It examines both solo work and group dynamics, with suggestions on how to collaborate effectively across disciplines and build a strong creative culture in your workplace. There are tons of practical tips, from “how to best observe and understand human behaviours” to “how to prototype a service in half an hour or less”.

David and Tom proclaim with gusto that everyone is creative, and our creativity truly is like a muscle that can be strengthened with practice. Working that muscle —growing stronger and more flexible with practices outlined in this book—is what will help us leap out of the rut of routine and into the space opened by inspiration, innovation and action. And it’s in this space that we realize our potential and change the world around us.

Little House in the Illustration

I welcome any opportunity to illustrate, and was really excited when a client asked me to develop an illustration to be used in a fundraising campaign for the restoration of an 1803 timber cabin.

The main challenge in illustrating the cabin was that my point of reference—the cabin in early 2015— looked like this:


As you can see, it’s a little choppy, a little snowy. It’s a little wrecked.

Poor little cabin.

However, after researching the appearance of finished timber cabins from the very early 19th century (including porch and shingle styles) I developed this illustration:


The simple style suited the client’s requirements exactly and allowed for some flexibility in the appearance of the final restoration. They were really pleased with the final result and have used the illustration in a variety of applications, from letterhead to reports.

It’ll be great to see this little timber cabin in all of its restored glory!



Keeping company

Working independently can sometimes get lonely. I’ve been hauling out my sketchbook more often and building some collages, and in doing so I’ve managed to introduce some critters to my workspace.
I suppose on some level they do keep me company, but most of all they keep me challenging myself and having fun. Here’s a few from the menagerie:


The early bird dons a snazzy suit while keeping his eye on the prize.


Not to be outdone, Frogwoman keeps her finger on the pulse of the pond by reading the lily pad first thing every morning.
Then she’s off for the day, letting her dreams soar.


Rabbit is Rabbit. He’s quiet.
Late, again.

(One Last Note on) How a Graphic Designer Can Help Your Business

hire a professional graphic designer
Great visuals need to work hard and be creative & smart—just like a graphic designer!

As a wee finale to my last couple of posts, I’m going to further my “graphic-designers-are-good-for-business” theory.

I’m writing this as a person who is passionate about the success of small businesses, a person who shrinks inside when she sees badly designed visuals attached to a great business run by terrific folks—design that doesn’t come close to adequately reflecting who they are or what they do.

There are so many different design pieces you can use to tell your story, to build your brand. But some business owners are inclined to cut corners with their visuals, because hey—running a business isn’t cheap. And there’s like a zillion YouTube videos out there to show you how to find your way around design software. And if that doesn’t work, your sister’s kid is a dab hand at Photoshop who could surely put something cool together for a quarter of the cost of a professional.

But in the same way that you wouldn’t try to fix the rattle in your car’s engine yourself—because you know that’d be a waste of your time (you don’t have the expertise!) and money (it’ll just cost you more in the end!)—if you have design needs that require specific knowledge, problem-solving abilities and technical skills, it really and truly is best to hire a pro.

If you’re not yet convinced by this theory, consider these four ways in which a professional designer can be of benefit to you and your business:

A designer can save you money. The hours you would spend creating a design piece for your business is time you could have spent doing what you do best—running your business.  And will this design piece you created stand out amongst your competition and catch the eye of your target market? Will it communicate your message with elegance and strength? Will it be printed or uploaded without a hitch? A designer has laboured at great length to develop their skills and hone their craft. A good designer is an investment that will pay off every single time.

A designer is strategic. Hiring a designer means you don’t have to spend time trying to figure out how best to present yourself to your target audience— a good designer will ask the right questions, gather all the necessary information and develop strong concepts that effectively and attractively communicate your message. A good designer will not just put together a pretty picture to sell your story—they will research, review, analyze, consider, brainstorm, develop and design elements that are targeted, thoughtful solutions customized for your specific needs and requirements.

A designer knows their stuff. A professional graphic designer has an advanced knowledge of design principles, typography, colour, software, materials,  printing processes and much, much more. A designer can also offer—or contract out— other services such as illustration, photography or web design, and work directly with printers to ensure your project is pulled off smoothly, on-time and on-budget.

A designer will help you succeed. A professional designer knows what it takes to help you build your brand, maintain a consistent image in the marketplace, and stand out from the crowd. Great design will help catch the eye of your customers, your investors, your clients and competition. It’ll make people take notice, and they’ll recognize that you’re serious about who you are and what you’re doing. And while helping you to look great, a designer understands that eye-catching good looks are just a part of your design strategy. Ultimately design has to communicate the right message in the right way to the right audience. In the words of Steve Jobs, “Design is not just what it looks like… Design is how it works.”

A graphic designer does so much more than build a digital file. A good designer is a strategist, artist and technician who will take all the different aspects of your business—your products, services, mission and message—and deliver a cohesive, elegant visual design that communicates your brand in a distinct and memorable manner. A graphic designer has the potential to become an integral part of your support team, an adviser and collaborator who can help build your business over the long term. Go on, try it out. Ask around, do some research, and see if you can bring a designer on board who can fix that rattle and help you move forward, in the right direction.

Welcome to the notebook

This notebook is here to serve as a little sketchbook and journal, a place to explore ideas, talk about process, show some personal projects and share bits and pieces that I’ve found curious, clever or inspiring. I’m glad you’ve stopped by to take a look!

I welcome your company and your feedback. Feel free to leave a question or comment here for Heather Corbin (click on the post title if you don’t see a comments box), and please don’t use any of the content on the corbin creative website without permission.

Making your Mark: the Process of Logo Design (Part I)

Why should you care about having a graphic designer work with you to create great logo? What does it really matter? Why not just stick with the clip art creation you threw together when the company first opened its doors, or buy a jazzy new one from

I’ll tell you why: because presentation matters. In the same way it matters to your clients that you provide a quality product or service, it matters that you appear professional, accountable and reliable. Your logo is a graphic representation of who you are and what you do—it is a voice for your brand, a mark of your identity.

A good logo will be professional, unique and appropriate. It’ll work well in a variety of applications and stand the test of time. Your logo is not your brand, but it can definitely serve to enhance your brand and support the work you’re doing.

People do judge books by their covers. It’s their first impression of what they’ll find inside, and it’s important. In the same way that a cover may catch your eye and stick in your head, a logo can draw its audience in and make an impression.

People also judge books on their content. No logo—no matter how great—can save a business that is lacking in either service or product quality. But it can most definitely enhance and support the content that is already there, and it can help give meaning to the story a company has created for itself.

I’d like to show you what goes on at corbin creative when designing a logo. I’m not going to touch too much on things like budgets or timelines, but on the actual technical process of researching, conceptualizing and finalizing a logo. My hard-working client Samantha Lowes—who runs the successful boutique bookkeeping business “Lowes Consulting”—has very graciously agreed to let me share the behind-the-scenes work that went into her logo design.

So let’s get started!

 Step 1: Getting to know you

When a client initially contacts corbin creative about a logo design, my first priority is to learn more about who they are and what their requirements might be, so a quick conversation will take place by phone or e-mail. A good sense of what they do and what they’re looking for is needed in order for me to fully define the scope of the job.

I send a questionnaire to every client, and I ask them to respond with as many details at possible. My standard questionnaire has twenty questions, but I will add or remove a question or two as required. I appreciate that my clients are generally super busy, and may not feel that answering to these “getting to know you” questions are a priority. But not only do their responses help me to develop an accurate cost and timeline estimate, in the long run they also save time and energy, because they act as a guide to keep everyone on track in the process of developing the best, most appropriate design possible.

The questionnaire asks about the client’s business, and about their clients, competitors, and capabilities. I also ask them to provide details on things like the image they want project, what sort of design work has been successful (or not) in the past, and what their aesthetic tastes are.

Here are a few questions from the questionnaire, with answers provided by Samantha:

Q: How would you describe your business?

A: I provide bookkeeping services to small charities, not-for-profits and small businesses. I do the payroll, accounts receivable, accounts payable, preparation of financial statements, and audit preparation.

Q: What is your long-term vision for your business?

A: I would like to continue to do books for charities, I would like the option of doing some business consulting down the road but it would be a different target market (small business/sole proprietors) but I am not sure that matters in terms of logo design/business card.

Q: What are your design requirements for this project?

A: I would like a professional business card and a logo to use on a very simple website. I guess it would be nice to use it on my invoice too (black and white invoice).

Q: What are your objectives with this design work (eg. increased sales, target a certain audience, present a certain image)?

A: I would like get new clients and to project a professional image when I go to meetings or networking events. The audience are executive directors of charities or small organizations.

Q: Have you seen any other design work out there that captures the “look and feel” you’re after for your business? Or any design work you just plain like the look of?

A: See links in email (Note: Samantha provided a helpful list of links to related work she really likes the look of.)

Q: What do you want this design work to say about your business?

A: I want it to say that I am professional, hard-working and knowledgeable.

I love it when I have the opportunity go over a client’s answers with them, because sometimes the responses in the questionnaire raise new questions (either my own or the clients). It’s also a great starting point for a full conversation on what their vision is for their business, and what I can do to fulfill that vision. But even if we can’t fit in this follow-up, the filled-in questionnaire helps me to keep to the right path.

Step 2: Getting to know all about you : Research

After confirming my client is ready to move ahead, the research begins.

My goal is to find out as much as possible about the industry my client works in– what it entails, where it takes place, who is involved, how it is run and so on. I also look into my client’s competitors. This not only not only provides a stronger sense of the competition, but also educates me as to the branding and identities they have in place, so that the work I do for my client is unique and sets them apart. I also take another look at any design work my client has indicated they like (or don’t like), and at other design work in the same vein.

Where the research takes place really depends on the specific job. I’ve done research online, over the phone, at the library, out on the street, in shops or offices, and by reading through materials sent to me by the client directly. Research for Lowes Consulting consisted primarily of in-depth online research and reviewing print materials Samantha provided and that I acquired from businesses in her area.

For me, research is an essential step. It’s where I get my footing, where I feel concepts take root and the design process truly begins.

 Step 3: Making your mark

Now I haul out my sketchbook and start getting some things down on paper.

Generally, I begin with words. I’ll brainstorm words that might inspire ideas for a logo: the business my client’s in, the image they want to project, and random (but hopefully related) words that pop into my head. Every idea gets put down on paper, regardless of how silly or unconnected it might seem at the time.

“Resourceful, understanding, insight, organized” are some of the many words I wrote down for Lowes, along with “thorough, not-for-profits, Quickbooks” and “big pile of papers, shovel, spines” (as I mentioned, I write down everything.)

After a slew of words are scribbled down, I start sketching. This involves a lot of playing around– with images, with letterforms, with symbols and lines and shading. I don’t cross anything out and I don’t erase. Some of the drawings are terrible, and some are ok. The ok ones I work on more, finessing them or discarding them as time goes on. Sometimes I end up with something I’m pleased with. Often I don’t, and I move on to another idea.

sketches for logo design
Some of my rough sketchbook concepts for Lowes Consulting.

I always leave my sketches at least once and come back to them with fresh eyes. Sometimes one or two directions will click for me quite early on in the process, and sometimes I have to step away and come back to my sketchbook again and again. I don’t stop sketching until I have a three to five solid concepts that I’m pleased with and that I believe would meet my client’s expectations.


Check in next week for the rest of the steps in this logo design process!


Making your Mark: the Process of Logo Design (Part II)

Welcome back! Time to delve back into our look at the corbin creative process of designing and building a logo for a client, with work samples from the logo developed by corbin creative for Samantha at Lowes Consulting.

 Step 4: Let’s get digital

You’ll notice we’re four steps in before the digital work starts. The foundation needs to be fully set before I’ll start working on-screen.

Why? To be honest, I’m not entirely sure. I just feel that better, more relevant work—in any field— comes from solid research and concept development.

If you don’t work to develop your ideas, to come up with strong concepts that are meaningful to your client, then all you’re doing is making decorations. And while I’m sure the odd great logo design has come from a quick turn at a computer application, the bulk of superior work out there comes from those who took the time to understand the goal, tried different ways of getting there, and came up with a pile of ideas which they then refined. Personally, there’s also something about putting pen to paper that tends to make my brain work more creatively and intuitively than it does staring at a screen.

In order to move the work onto the computer, I flag the best concepts in my sketchbook, scan them and open them in Illustrator, then trace the sketches to digitize each one.

Then each concept goes through a series of revisions—studies of colour, size, shape and space. I’ll explore a range of typefaces, seeing which ones work best with the image concepts (any symbols or icons) and which ones are most appropriate to stand alone, for any type-only (or “wordmark”) logo concepts. Often, the chosen typeface gets modified to make it more unique and relevant to the logo design.

Here’s a bunch of still-rough ideas I was working on mid-way through the digital conceptual work.
Here’s a bunch of still-rough ideas I was working on mid-way through the digital conceptual work.

In this phase, if I started with more than three concepts, any concepts that are no longer working will get weeded out—my goal is to have three great, relevant logo designs to show to my client.

Step 5: Send them out

The three concepts moving forward are then reworked until they’re client-ready. In my opinion, the logo should be strong without the embellishment of colour (for example, I dropped the big, colour-blocked “L” logo for Lowes because it didn’t work the way I wanted it to in greyscale.)

The concepts are sent to the client for review in greyscale and/or black and white only, not only because I want them to see the logo in its simplest state, but also because I have learned that many people—including myself—are swayed by colour. And at this point, what I want is for my client to choose a logo that feels right because of its style, its suitability, its unique visual attributes. I don’t want them to choose one because blue is their favourite colour. Or not choose one because they hate that shade of green.

These are the three concepts I sent to Lowes Consulting for review.
These are the three concepts sent to Lowes Consulting for review.

I send a brief description along with each logo, outlining the reasoning behind the choices I made, why I feel it’s a strong contender, and/or how it meets the criteria specified by the client. For instance, the text for the logo option that was selected by Samantha states, “The text sits on top of an abstract illustration of stacked paper, skewed at a slight angle. The ‘L’ shape of the stacked paper is reflected in the two uppercase Ls in the text. The logo reflects the organization, attention to detail and professionalism inherent in Lowes Consulting.”

I also ask that the client print out the concepts and take time to carefully consider each logo, before letting me know of any revisions they might like made.

Finally, I tell my client that once they’ve chosen a logo some colour options will be developed and sent for their review.

Step 6: Revise and Colourize

Once the client has responded and let me know which logo they want to move forward with, I’ll make any necessary revisions and send them back, along with some colour variations of the logo (and a brief description of each one.)

The four colour options presented to Lowes.
The four colour options presented to Lowes.

Colour choices might be made to create a seamless fit with existing materials or branding, or they may be colours requested by the client that are also suited to the logo design or they could be colours I personally think help the logo to shine. I tend to avoid any colours used by competitors or any “trendy” colours, though there are instances when both might appropriately be used for a logo design. After sending these to the client, I wait for feedback.

 Step 7: Finalize!

The client may come back to me with more revisions or a desire to see more colour options, but generally the logo is finalized fairly quickly once we get to this point.

In order to have it fully finalized, the client signs off on any last revisions, and then I set up various logo files to meet any potential printing or web requirements. Each file format is saved as colour, black and white, and sometimes as white on black (reversed out).

Then it all gets packaged up and handed off to the client.

And there you have it.

I have no doubt there are as many ways of going about designing a logo as there are designers, but I do think this process follows a number of steps most professional graphic designers will use when designing a logo. It’s a solid, communicative process that requires the use of a range of skills and practices in order to get the job done well.

It’s not a quick, easy process, but it’s a worthy one—focussed on creating logos that will help businesses to look great, do well and above all, to make their mark.



(Many thanks to Lowes Consulting for permitting me to share their files in order to demonstrate this process!)