Kellie Kowalski

Why I Use Briefbox

If you’re unfamiliar with it, Briefbox is a resource for practice design briefs. It’s aimed at student or junior designers trying to build up their portfolio. I’ve been a professional designer for nearly 15 years, so why on earth would I need to sign up for this?

Well, it’s true I’ve been doing this for a while. But working in a larger organization — whether an agency or in-house — tends to push designers into silos. So a brand designer and an interactive designer aren’t exactly going to overlap, so much as have one handing off work to the other.

Said organization can also end up being in specific niches. I’ve worked at companies that specialized in convention graphics, or vehicle wraps, or casino collateral, or luxury travel. And you get really good at those things, but after a while would give anything to work on something completely different.

I wanted to play around with different ideas, and styles, and types of design. I’m usually so deep in the weeds of UX design that it’s been ages since I’ve done some honest to goodness branding projects. Or print pieces. Or hell, just drawing something that wasn’t on a grid.

Conventional wisdom says that at this juncture, one should take up freelancing on the side, to keep up their skillset outside the specific niche daily routines of a day job. And hey, if you still want to keep working after putting in 50 hours a week, by all means, take on new freelance work on the side. But I’m very selective about my freelance clients, specifically because I won't work super long hours like that anymore.

Really, I just wanted some new kinds of puzzles to solve, with the least amount of pressure (and account management, and tax burden) as possible. But also, I needed something to nudge me a bit, so I wouldn’t relegate it to the list of “Things I Might Get Around To Someday”.

Enter Briefbox. Even though it’s target market is students & recent grads, I’ve found it’s just the palate cleanser I needed to get my creative juices flowing again. The fake clients are fun. Surf schools, old-fashioned barbers, pubs & cocktail bars. Each little snack bite of a project is a nice break from the realities of the daily workload of agency life and corporate design.

The other half of this is the fact the Briefbox provides feedback on everything you submit. As much as I enjoy the dopamine rush of liked project alerts, I really value this because it allows me to be a mentor. I can leave constructive feedback for new or junior designers, and watch as their next iteration improves. Being able to give solid feedback - that doesn't involve telling someone where to move the pixels, btw - is a skill that senior designers need to learn. This is a great way to practice.

I've benefitted from great mentors who would frame feedback more as questions. I'd then be forced to explore those questions on my own and come up with the answers in my next iteration. I learned much more that way than when art directors hovered over my shoulder telling me to change a font size.

My goal is to be the kind of design lead who asks the right questions. Not the one who hovers.

Besides, how often do I get to brand a beer in my day job? Never. So if you also want a change of pace and the ability to showcase work outside your usual niche, I can't recommend Briefbox enough.

Lessons in international typography.

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