Jim Krause – Creator of Jim Krause Designs

Do really good work; never miss deadlines; and be nice to people. It works.

Jim Krause has lived in northwest Washington state and worked as a designer, photographer, illustrator, and writer since the 1980s. About 15 years ago Jim started authoring books aimed toward designers, photographers and other creative professionals. Since then, he’s written sixteen books, including the globally popular Index series (Color Index 1 and 2, Design Basics Index, and others) and his latest three titles are Color For Designers, Visual Design, and D30: Exercises For Designers. When Jim’s not working, he can usually be found clearing his head by riding a bicycle or a motorcycle, hiking, drinking coffee, reading, taking pictures or doing and art project of some kind.

Where did the idea for Jim Krause Design come from?

When my son was born I decided to leave the design agency where I’d been working for six years and start freelancing from home. I didn’t want a fancy name for my freelance biz, so I just went with Jim Krause Design. That was about 26 years ago.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

I’m an early bird, so I like to get up bright and early, meditate quietly for about 20 minutes, do about 40 minutes of exercise (unless I’m being lazy—in which case I’ll save the exercise for later), eat a tiny-but-healthy breakfast and get to work. This daily pre-work routine does a nice job taking the stress down a notch and setting the stage for getting things done in a relatively focused and clear-minded way.

How do you bring ideas to life?

For me, the key to making ideas happen is to make space for them in my head. I find that a stressed out and overly busy brain is not the best environment for ideas, so I do what I can to keep anxiety and stress under control during the work day. One way I do this is to aim for a working pace that’s neither so fast that it makes me crazy or so slow that I’m not getting things done.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

I do love digital media, and I really like that it’s making certain kinds of creative tools increasingly available to artists and designers—tools that were previously out of reach due to cost or availability. For example, it’s incredible that we can now shoot photos and treat them to endless special effects using our cellphones—photos and effects that would have previously required thousands of dollars in equipment. Same for videos.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

Well I do have my share of UNproductive entrepreneurial habits… but my most positive productive habit probably has something to do with the way I use lists. I like to make a very complete to-do list for my day’s tasks, I include absolutely everything that needs to get done on that list, I put numbers next to each item on the list so that I can do things in a certain order (mostly, I do hard things up front, and save the easy stuff for later), and then I put my head down and get to work. These lists help me stay focused and keep me from constantly wondering “what’s next” throughout the day.

What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?

I’d say that one of my early-career agency positions was both my worst and my best job experience. It was the worst in that it showed me what it was like to work so hard that you no longer had any kind of life outside of your job; and it also taught me the importance of trying not to let this happen ever again. Also, even though the job was extremely challenging, I have to say that I learned more about design during my first year at that firm than I did during all my prior schooling. A good experience, all in all, but I’d hate to do it all over again.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

Nothing. I’d do it the same. This includes all the stupid stuff I’ve done and the mistakes I’ve made. After all, I probably learned more from all the so-called negative experiences than I did from any of my so-called successes.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

As a creative professional, one thing I do over and over is to make sure I do fun creative projects on my own every so often. These purely fun, non-client-driven projects remind me of my love for art and they also teach me skills that I can bring to my job. I think that if designers (including myself) only do client work, then it’s likely they’ll begin to associate art and design with stress, long hours, and severe constraints—and that can lead to problems.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.

Here’s my three-part “strategy” for business growth as a design professional: Do really good work; never miss deadlines; and be nice to people. It works.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

Oh gosh, not to sound corny, but I don’t see many things as failures. I mean, I definitely blow it some times when it comes to managing my design biz, but I honestly see everything as a chance to learn something new. If something that I’m doing as a designer is failing at the moment, that’s when I tend to dig in my heals, swallow my pride, and start fixing things. So “failures” just tend to be seen as “chances to learn better ways of doing things” in the long run.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Ha—I don’t know… hmmm… if someone could maybe come up with an app that automatically answered all my emails for me, and responded to all FaceBook posts, in real time, with perfect grammar, with extreme business savvy and a delightful sense of humor, that would be awesome.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

I bought a new pair of tires for my mountain bike. Really good tires—just the kind you need for the twisty, muddy, rooty trails around here. The mountain biking near my house is really good, and riding bicycles is my number one way of staying sane while working in this crazy-making business.

What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?

It probably won’t come as any surprise that I spend 99% of my computer time using Adobe InDesign, Illustrator, and Photoshop. I have a few arguments with Illustrator, but I do like it. Photoshop is brilliant, and I get along InDesign really well when it comes to producing my books. Web-wise, I’m always shifting around with different services and venues. My publisher wants me to spend much more time with my FaceBook business page, Twitter, Instagram, etc., so I’ll be trying to bring those things more up-to-speed (and it’s not like I don’t like those Web outlets, it’s just that I find it hard to find time to properly maintain them).

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

I’ll sidestep this question and say this: Read lots. Read fiction. Read non-fiction. Read classics. Read your friends’ favorite books. Read biographies. Read, read, read. I had a GREAT illustration instructor while in school, and one day someone in class asked him what his best drawing-habit was. Right away, he said “I read at least one book a week.” This really surprised us. He said that reading is what filled his head with ideas, with wonder, with information. I love that. I love to read. I killed my television. I read instead.

What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?

I am extremely inspired by certain fine artists. Looking at the work of Joan Miro and Paul Klee stuns me and makes me realize how much can be expressed and said using shapes, colors, lines, and textures. Robert Henri’s book “The Art Spirit” was very influential to me even though it makes no mention of graphic design. I follow HOW, CA, and Print magazines to keep tabs in contemporary design, illustration, and photography. The website always has something that puts ideas in my head.


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