Episode 95

Our New Fake Reality

This week on Overtime… Are CGI and 3D renderings actually helpful during COVID times or just causing more of the same issues we’ve had all along? Things get wild when we find out a CGI model isn’t a real human, and we’re digging into all the pros and cons!

Imma is a computer-generated influencer... I have a lot of questions there.

Then, figure out what type of designer you’re meant to become—a linchpin or an entrepreneur? Last but not least, learn some useful strategies to help you successfully market yourself as a creative and land more of the work you love. Let’s go!

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Meg: Hey, hey, hey, buddy. Wow, it’s me again. I’m back. You’re here, we’re both here together at last, again. I’ve missed you. Have you missed me? It doesn’t matter. This is a rhetorical question. I’m your host, Meg “Wowee” Lewis, and hi, buddy. Welcome back Overtime. As you know, I know, we’re on the same page, right? This is Dribbble’s very weekly podcast where I give you design news and some tips to create your very best work. This week on Overtime, is CGI and 3D rendering actually making our world better? I mean, what happens when we use computer generated human models in lieu of real humans to sell our products? Oh, and two types of career paths for each designer to choose from: which are you? Oh, plus my secret recipe for keeping your career marketing strategy effectively communicated so you can get more of the work you want. Let’s go.

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This topic is something that’s been very much on my mind, especially since COVID, because I’ve just had a lot of questions about who’s losing work right now and who’s gaining work right now and all of that. So, Fast Company Design recently put out an article about IKEA using CGI and computer-generated renderings for their products and for their catalogs and for their marketing materials. And apparently, way back in 2014, there was another article that was published saying that 75% of IKEA’s product shots were actually fully rendered. And in 2014, that blew people’s minds, right? And so, now every time I see an ad for any physical product, I always am looking to see if it’s rendered, and I can’t tell a lot of the time and I’m sure you can’t either, unless you’re a 3D designer, you probably know to look for, but I often don’t, as a layman, as just a human person existing in this world, I often can’t tell.

So anyway, IKEA apparently is one of many companies, probably most companies now, especially corporations, that is using renderings a lot of the time, if not most of the time, as compared to real products in their shoots. Wow. Eye opener. So, the story in question now is about [how] IKEA is opening a new store in Tokyo, and not only have they rendered the products for this shoot, but they’ve also included a CGI computer generated human model. So, in their defense, I guess it’s using a real human’s body and then they just put the head of this computer-generated influencer on top. And I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, but I’ve seen a lot of stories lately over the past year or two about computer-generated influencers and what those accounts look like and it’s fascinating to me. I think people are definitely drawn to it because of the shock value, and that’s just fascinating that this is where we’ve gotten to as a society.

But this in particular, this model’s name is Imma (I-M-M-A), and Imma is a computer-generated influencer. I have a lot of questions there that I don’t know the answer to, like who owns Imma? Does someone own the rights to Imma? Who is that person or company? I don’t know. It’s not IKEA. They’ve just hired Imma to be the face of this new store in their marketing materials.

So, it’s very interesting, and I think kind of the critical thing to think about here is, when we design computer-generated humans, especially models, we have to be mindful of who’s deciding what that model looks like and what form that model is taking. Are we going to end up in this dangerous territory where we’re just kind of designing, like, the designer is choosing what the ideal form of this model is, and so, that seems really intense. Anyway, there’s a lot that we could critique here, and I also want to make sure that we’re covering the good and the bad sides of both of these things and just being very critical about this, as I always am with everything.

So, some of the positive things about computer-generated renderings, as opposed to product photography and real human models, is that it’s safer during this pandemic. Obviously, you’re grazing past the job of the photographer and the art directors, perhaps, that work on physical shoots. You’re kind of not hiring those people. But maybe you are now hiring a 3D designer, maybe. That’s good for them, bad for others, good for others.

So, it makes sense to me that brands and companies at least need to explore this computer-generated 3D rendering atmosphere for the future just for safety purposes, and that’s fine, but I also think that it’s really scary because it’s going to be preventing other people that need to work IRL, from getting the work, like the photographer’s, [and] the models anyway. So, I think that regardless of if using this is right or not, this is definitely a category of design that is going to keep rising and getting more popular and becoming more used widely by corporations. And hopefully it becomes a palatable service as well that’s relatively okay in pricing for small businesses to grab a hold of as well, so that way they can be safe too during this pandemic.

But I think for us as designers, we need to think about [if this is] a skill that we want to add to our repertoire? Do you want to start becoming a 3D designer? Clearly, if you’re listening this podcast, you’re probably a designer, illustrator, fine artist, some kind of creative, so you’re able to make visual compositions, and so maybe, perhaps adding 3D onto that skill set is going to be helpful for you so that way you can say, “Hey, we often work together in person, but I can offer this 3D rendering version of what I normally do.” I don’t know. If you’re not familiar with 3D for Designers, that is an online course that you can take from Devon Ko. 3D for Designers, this is not an ad, I just love Devon’s product and the course is great. So, if you’re considering learning 3D, this is what you should do, you should take that course online. And it’s definitely a valuable skill to have right now. Whether or not it’s 100% good and valuable for the world moving forward? I’m not sure yet. But I do think that brands and corporations and companies of all kinds are finding this to be a really important skill to hire for, and it can definitely look good for you, especially if you’re one of many who is lower on work right now than usual.

Can I just say something else that’s relatively on topic with this is that I’m currently toying with the idea of moving, as you probably know if you follow me or listen to this podcast, and I’m trying to decide what city I want to move to and where I’m going. And so, I’m spending a lot of time looking on Zillow, looking at properties to buy, properties to rent, whatever, I’m looking all over the place in and out of my price range for sure, as we all do, when we are, you know, dissatisfied in some ways with our lives.

So, I’m looking and a trend that I’ve noticed that’s just popped up within the last two years for me, because the last time I moved was about a year and a half ago and this wasn’t really a thing back then, is how many computer renderings there are for furniture staging now than there ever were before. Holy crap. And these computer-generated renderings for staging purposes are very realistic. Some of them are awful, somebody was not great at their job, whoever put it together, but some of them I can’t tell if it’s real or not, and it’s just wow, it is perplexing. So, they’ll pop in furniture that’s totally in my style and art that I love, and oh, my gosh. And so, these staging companies, virtual staging companies, are doing a great job because it’s working on old Meg Lewis, that’s for sure.

But wow, what an interesting thing to be a virtual stager and to pick out what the art is, pick out what the furniture is, and who your ideal client is to buy that home? And that’s fascinating to me, definitely something I’d like to learn more about.

Meg: Okay, okay, enough of this Imma generated fake human nonsense. Let’s move on. So, Dribbble launched a blog post a week or so, a few days ago, written by designer Eugene Burndam, and it’s outlining two, in particular, types of designers. So, if you’re trying to think about what career path you want to have as a designer, Eugene is outlining two options here: one is an entrepreneur, a designer as an entrepreneur, and the other one is a designer as a linchpin. And I’m not sure if Eugene is necessarily saying these are the only two types of paths, but Eugene is kind of like, “Here are two paths, pick one, which one do you want to do?” So, I think that’s really interesting, because I was kind of like, “Oh, I wonder which one I am?”

So, I will say, I want to preface this with not one of these two types is neither good nor bad. These are two extremely necessary types of designers in order for us to keep society going, so even though I categorize as one and not the other, that does not in any way mean that the other one is wrong, they are both completely valid choices for you to make. So, the first one is a designer as a linchpin. So, the linchpin designer is definitely a part of a system. They’re a very key and important cog in the machine of the brand or company that they’re working in, or initiative or nonprofit, whatever it is that they’re working inside of. So, linchpin designers are great at communicating with their bosses, higher up’s, CEOs, whatnot, and are climbing up the ladder usually, but are very important and can move between departments very easily, very effectively. They’re good at communication, they’re good at delivering tasks, and getting things to people where they need them. And the difference here that I feel like is what’s going on is that a linchpin very much works within an existing system, and they’re a key part of that system and keeping that system moving forward, very essential.

Now, the other type is a designer as an entrepreneur, which clearly is me because I own many businesses and I work for myself and I always have. So, a designer as an entrepreneur is really just creating things on their own in some capacity and working for something larger and greater than themselves, hopefully that is making the world or society a better place. So, designers as entrepreneurs also have all of the sort of, well, we hope, qualities of an entrepreneur, like you’re comfortable not getting things right the first time. And for me, as for my experience as an entrepreneur, I always say to people, especially if they are considering going freelance, is you have to be self-motivated, you have to be a self-starter, meaning you have to be so motivated internally that you rely on your own schedule and you can make it and kind of keep to it. You’re not going to keep pushing things off further and further and further and making excuses, you have to be able to move quickly and have the attitude to adapt, because things always pop up and change, unexpected things happen, and you have to find a way to quickly maneuver yourself and your business constantly.

So, I think that, again, these are to me, these are not the only two types of design paths. I think there are a number of design paths. You can bob and weave between being a linchpin and being an entrepreneur. That is totally fine. I don’t think you have to pick one right now and just do that for the rest of your life. Heck, no. And there are a lot of careers in between and beyond these two things. We don’t live in a binary society. So, that’s cool. We like that. I do at least. Hope you do, too.

I’m not an expert on this, and I think that there are definitely other paths. But I think it’s really kind of nice that Eugene outlined these two because it really helped to drive some things home to me. And I think we spend a lot of time pressuring each other to be the type of designer that we are and not recognizing that it’s okay if other people are the other kind or are different from us.

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(Echo voice) It’s time to talk about your career marketing strategy. (Laughs and stops echoing) I can’t keep this up this, that’s too much. Could you imagine if I went through a whole episode echoing the whole time? I can’t. That sounds very annoying for your ears, but it’s a fun thing to do. Moving on. So, ideally, we all want a career that’s made just for us that is utilizing all of our abilities, skills, embracing our personality, making us feel safe to be ourselves, just fulfilling, right? We all want that, we want to be fulfilled, which leads to happiness. Yeah, heck, yes. But also, in that world, in that situation, I know this very personally and delicately to my heart, is that whenever you are creating a career that’s made just for you that’s utilizing everything you have to offer, it’s very hard to market because you’re offering a service that’s very unique, and it’s not like any other service anyone else is offering.

So, I recently have been through a lot of confusion with how to market to myself to the world, how to talk about myself to the world, because I’m doing something that nobody else is doing. And so, my website, which is, used to be a place where I was just like, “Hello, here I am, here’s all the things I do,” but it was mostly just a list with images of like, “And I do this, and I do that, and I’d also do this too,” and it was all very disjointed, like, “Comedy mindfulness podcast, also design podcast, also client services, also interior design, also I own a co working space,” which is me, but to somebody who’s visiting my site and trying to get a service out of me, it’s very confusing and I think I was turning off a lot of people. So, I had to kind of take my own advice here and try to figure out how to market and position myself from a marketing standpoint and create more of a marketing site where I’m selling myself, I’m selling my services. And that was really fun because it’s kind of a huge puzzle really of trying to figure out all of these random things that I do, all these things that brands pay me to do for them. What is the intersection of all that? Because brands pay me to create content for them as far as podcasts, videos, writing articles go. But brands also pay me to do design, brands also pay me to speak to their team or teach their team workshops.

So, all of these things seem very random, especially when you add in a comedy mindfulness podcast and some comedy work that I do, so I had to think what is the intersection of all of that? What am I doing at the heart of who I am that I can place a blanketed statement on that applies to all of those things? So, for me, I was able to figure out and say that I am a designer, comedian, educator, [and] performer that’s working to create custom content and experiences that help connect brands with their community. And from a marketing perspective, that’s pretty great because it helps to use very specific words to explain that to people in words that people understand, and also helps to tie together the intersection of everything I do with keywords. So, I think that’s a really big part of everybody’s marketing strategy and the way that you position yourself in the industry and within your space, is to start with those keywords.

If you’re like me, and you’re somebody who does a bunch of random stuff, you have to try and find those keywords that are at the intersection of where all of those things meet. What’s at the heart of all of those things and what keywords do you want to label those as? So, this exercise is not about curating words based on what you think people want. So, I’m very familiar with this style of working when I was earlier in my career as a freelancer and I was designing websites and brands for small businesses, e-commerce sites, I would try to figure out what the ideal candidate is for them and their eyes, and how do I make sure that I’m using all the right words and phrasing this to be most appealing to them. And that’s not what we’re doing here. We are trying to figure out how to take what’s magically you, your skillset, your personality, what makes working with you really amazing, what makes your work so special. We’re trying to tap into what those things are and communicate those effectively and clearly to the world, so that way, you’re in control, you’re creating the narrative, and controlling the narrative of what they’re thinking in their head when they look at you, rather than if you’re a web designer that has a website, just a portfolio site, and it’s just like, “Hello, I’m Meg Lewis. Here’s my work,” and then it’s just a bunch of images of your work, maybe you have a list of clients you’ve worked with, there’s no narrative that you’re controlling for anybody. They’re going to have to do a lot of guesswork to figure out what it’s like working with you, what your personality is like, they’re having to figure that out and make little judgments based on the lack of information you’re giving them.

So, keywords come into play a lot because they help you to really control that narrative, but also help to bonk it over their heads over and over and over again and really drive it home. So, when you’re putting together a list of keywords for yourself, I want you to think about your skillset. What about your, if you’re a designer, what about your design skill set? What are you the best at skill-wise as a creative person? And if there are two or three skills, great. Write those down; we want the key-est of the keywords.

And then we also want to know keywords like why your personality is so great. Why is working with you great? Are you a perfectionist? Do you pay attention to every single detail? Are you extremely passionate about UX? Like you really like getting in there and doing QA? My God, put that down as a key word or phrase for sure. I also want to know more about what drives you, what your values are, what your greater purpose in this world is, what’s important to you in that regard. Those can be key words or phrases. And then the last thing that I want you to do is try to figure out what your labels are that you want to prescribe yourself, just so that other people can place you. Because if you have a one sentence explainer on the top of your website, or a bio about yourself that’s just like, “I go with the flow and nature is calling me, and I’m here to design for you because I’m a hard worker.” I’ve had this problem before. Everyone will look at that and be like, “Okay, that sounds fascinating, but what exactly do you do now?” And now, that’s where the descriptive labels help a lot.

And I’m not a huge fan of labels. I think labels can be very empowering to us sometimes, but most of the time, I think that labels hold us back because they are prescribed definitions and descriptors of what labels have that have been put in place by society, and most of us don’t 100% fit into that box of what that label means, and so, I think that labels can be very frustrating for a lot of reasons. But in this particular instance, whenever you’re writing your list of keywords or key phrases, make sure that you’re including labels that you’re okay including that help other people to place you. So, for me, I use the label designer, I use the label educator, I use the label comedian, I use the label performer. And those things are helpful for me because when you put them all together, I think the humans of the world understand exactly what I do, because I do things that are at the intersection of all of those, right?

So, creating that list of keywords is very important because whenever you’re writing a bio for yourself, once you have those keywords ironed out that make you who you are, when you look at that list of keywords, you’re like, “Yes, this describes me and all aspects of me and no one else,” you know this in your heart, nobody else in the world has this combination of exact keywords. Nobody does. Everybody’s combination of keywords is totally different and unique to you. So, yay. So, once you have all those keywords, the key to creating your bio or your About Me page is stringing all of those keywords together, start combining them, forming full sentences, putting some fluff words between them and stringing them together, so that way you’re including all of your keywords in your bio. And that will make sure that anybody reading your bio will get a full picture view of who you are, what makes you so great, what you can do for the world, and what drives you.

So, what I also like to do, personally, is I like to have on the top of my website, and if you go to my website, you’ll see this, I like to have a one sentence description. It sometimes is a real long sentence, might be a run-on sentence, I like to have a one sentence explainer of who I am, what I do, and who I do it for. And I do that very intentionally because it helps to immediately control that narrative in a very short and precise and concise way, so that way people definitely will read it right away, and then that narrative, those keywords are there, and they’re sort of infiltrating their brain, so that way, they already have a snap judgment that’s accurate, because you’ve controlled it in their head. So that way, whenever they’re looking at your images or scrolling through your website, they already have that information that you’ve provided for them on top of those images that you’re showing them. So, controlling the narrative is so important. And hopefully the ideal scenario is that they read that one sentence and they’re like, “Oh, what a fascinating person, I’d like to learn more,” so they keep scrolling, they go to your About Page, they read your bio, and they find out more. Very exciting. But what I also like to make sure to do with these keywords, this is very important for positioning yourself and marketing yourself and getting this across to people, is to constantly utilize those keywords and inject them into your copy everywhere. So, whenever you design project pages on your portfolio site, for example, put those keywords in the description of that project, keep injecting them in there. Are you a purpose-driven designer? Is purpose-driven one of your keywords? Make sure that you include purpose-driven in your projects whenever you’re typing about those projects, because it really just helps people to subconsciously understand that about you, that those keywords are associated with you, because you’re bonking it over their heads, often, often, often throughout your site. They’re not even going realize it, they’re not going to be like, “Oh, again, with the purpose-driven, oh my.” They’re not going to notice. You’ll notice because you’re putting it on every page, but not every person is going to go to every page and read every word.

And remember, it takes people about three times of seeing something for it to finally get through to their brain. So, you want to keep injecting these words over and over and over again to where it feels exhausting to you. But it won’t to them. I promise. I promise. Absolutely. Because we want you to be able to control the narrative so that way whenever they walk away from your website and they’re just going about their day, and somebody says, “Hey, tell me about that designer,” they’ll probably end up telling and using the keywords that you gave them, and they don’t even know what was going on. It’s a long con of you versus everybody with your marketing site. But it also helps to inject those keywords on image alt tags and alt information, SEO keywords, all of that, because that’s going to help for SEO, that’s going to help the internet and the data world understand who you are and what you do. But I think the coolest part about all of this is it helps for people to understand what’s at the heart of you and what makes you uniquely incredible. And positioning yourself as somebody who’s unique and offering something that nobody else in the world can offer is ultimately what gets rid of that competition. What a great thing? Because there truly is room for all of us to thrive, right? Because we can all do something for the world that nobody else can, and if we all just had websites that looked unique to us and that marketed ourselves in a unique way that’s accurate of who we are and what we have to offer the world, what a beautiful world to live in? Heck, yes.

And that’s it for this refreshing episode of Overtime. If you’d like to continue this conversation on the internet, (in radio voice) use #DribbbleOvertime. That was my radio voice. Or, tweet or tag me on the internet, my handle is @yourbuddymeg. Okay, bye bye, hear me next week.