Design insights & tutorials.

The 40% Skull Rule

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Back in May, the girlfriend of Go Media co-founder Chris Wilson wrote us a letter expressing her concern about the number of skulls in our portfolio. I thought you might enjoy reading it and what we had to say about it. Keep in mind she’s an experienced reporter for a major newspaper in Southern Florida.

In the words of Rachel Myers:

skull1.jpg“Skulls. *sigh*

Ok, here’s the thing, and I sincerely hope you don’t take it the wrong way. I am, by no means, a design guru. You guys possess talents beyond my comprehension, and I have a great respect for your skull (er… skill). You all have come this far without any say from me, but I hope you will hear me out the same way I would if you were to critique my writing. This is just my opinion, and I only offer it because I was asked.

Coming from a “mainstream” perspective:

It’s not that a few skulls here and there are a complete turn-off. I think it demonstrates an edge that no doubt appeals to some of your clients, perhaps many. However, I assume you want to maintain a broad client base.

skull2.jpgIf I were a public relations coordinator for a large company (and I have worked with many), before I even picked up the phone, I would check out your portfolio. If the first thing I saw was skulls, I have to admit, I would be a little taken aback. Even then, I wouldn’t immediately start looking elsewhere, but the skulls are pervasive throughout the entire site. That prominence I think sends the wrong message. If I worked for Procter and Gamble, for example, I would think Go Media was somewhat small-time. I would want a company that could show me they are versatile. I would want a company that could show me they have edge, but could also represent my client in a way that would appeal to mass audiences. But the fact that more than 40 percent of the site is skulls, I wouldn’t see that. Please understand I’m not saying this from the view that, “I think skulls are icky.” I just think the pervasiveness of them shows a lack of diversity.

I know Go Media has the portfolio to illustrate the wide range of skill you possess, and your online portfolio should reflect that.

JMO

Much Love,

Rachel”

Bill’s (founder of Go Media) response:

skull3.jpg“Rachel,

Thank you for your critique. I do understand your perspective.

I’m actually glad that you are “taken aback” by our website. It’s proof positive that we have a strong brand. We are not middle-of-the-road. Our designs create a strong emotional response in the people that see them. That’s exactly what we want. We will create passionate supporters and also people that really hate our work. That’s fine. We can’t please all the people all the time.

We certainly won’t get work from AARP (the American Association of Retired Peoples.) We also may not get work from Proctor and Gamble. That’s fine. I can’t think of a single one of their products that I would want to design for.

You see, we don’t want those boring jobs. So why go out of our way to try and appeal to them? We want to draw skulls and wings and sexy women. We want to work for rock bands and MTV and Burton snowboards. And when THEY see our website, they won’t be “taken aback,” they will say: “Wow! Awesome. Your designs are EXACTLY what our target-market is looking for!”

skull4.jpgOur target market is males 14-35. You said a public relations coordinator for a large company wouldn’t hire us because of our skulls. Well, a public relations coordinator for a company targeting 14-35 year old males sure would. MTV would, Pepsi would, the Black Eyed Peas would, Mastodon would, Metallica would….. You get my point. Our designs are made FOR our target market.

So, you SHOULD hate our designs. You’re not a 14 year old male. (unless there is a REALLY big secret you’re hiding from Chris.)

The only thing that would hurt our design firm is if we tried to be something that we’re not. What makes us great is that we LOVE what we do. Because we love what we do, we’re willing to work long hard hours. If we were forced to work for Proctor and Gamble all day every day, everyone would quit and we would be out of business.

skull5.jpgYou could probably make more money selling insurance than being a reporter… and yet – you’re a reporter… why? Because you love it.

I love you Rachel… Just wanted to drop my two-cents into this debate. I do understand that you ARE correct in your perspective. Go Media could probably make more money by softening our portfolio and going after the big corporate giants (like P&G.) But that’s just not us. It’s not Go Media. What you see on our website IS Go Media.

Please love us for who we ARE. And not who you would like us to be.

-Bill”

skull6.jpgSo there you have it. In my opinion (Jeff talking here) Rachel is right in some regards, but not in the fact that I want to attract clients such as Proctor and Gamble. I would rather draw skulls than design toilet paper packaging. Although a skullified toilet paper would be cool… I think it’s important for any designer to broaden their horizons and step outiside his or her comfort zone if they want to grow as a designer/artist.

The 40% skull rule applies.

If you’re portfolio is over 40% skulls, it’s worth getting some professional help and questioning your priorities in life. But in all seriousness, I encourage designers to do what they enjoy. If that’s drawing skulls, keep doing it. If you are getting tired of drawing skulls, draw something else! Get better by doing different things!

About the Author, Jeff Finley

I'm a partner at Go Media, a Cleveland web design and development firm. We also specialize in print design and branding. I started Weapons of Mass Creation Fest and wrote the book Thread's Not Dead, teaching artists and designers how to start a clothing company. In my spare time, I write songs and play drums in Campfire Conspiracy. I'm a happy husband and an aspiring b-boy and lucid dreamer.
Discover More by Jeff Finley

Discussion

We want to hear what you have to say. Do you agree? Do you have a better way to approach the topic? Let the community know by joining the discussion.

  • Genozider

    I some how agreed with the part ” You could probably make more money selling insurance than being a reporter… and yet – you’re a reporter… why? Because you love it.”

    People ask me to study my math and science where I can actually excel and get a good job in the future but I rather do things freely and do thing in my way.

    Out of the billions of people in this universe, there surely people that have the same thinking and do things the way like us.

    And i also agreed with “Although a skullified toilet paper would be cool.. ”
    Nice idea. LOL . I would print my rival’s face on it too.

  • Proj

    I love skulls too! Thank you for reaffirming my existence as a creative entity.

    MORE SKULLS!

  • Genozider

    I some how agreed with the part ” You could probably make more money selling insurance than being a reporter… and yet – you’re a reporter… why? Because you love it.”

    People ask me to study my math and science where I can actually excel and get a good job in the future but I rather do things freely and do thing in my way.

    Out of the billions of people in this universe, there surely people that have the same thinking and do things the way like us.

    And i also agreed with “Although a skullified toilet paper would be cool.. ”
    Nice idea. LOL . I would print my rival’s face on it too.

  • http://www.haleysaner.com Haley

    Although P&G overall is pretty lame, they still have a few cool clients like Gillette, Pringles, Duracell and Braun. Everything else they do is very boring… but I think the Gillette brand is pretty bad ass.

  • http://www.haleysaner.com Haley

    Although P&G overall is pretty lame, they still have a few cool clients like Gillette, Pringles, Duracell and Braun. Everything else they do is very boring… but I think the Gillette brand is pretty bad ass.

  • http://www.hardcoreshirt.com Al

    Can’t go wrong with skulls. Love em.

  • http://www.hardcoreshirt.com Al

    Can’t go wrong with skulls. Love em.

  • http://www.gomedia.us Jeff

    Haley – yeah Razors seem to always have a strong “edgy” brand. You’re right about those brands!

  • http://www.gomedia.us Jeff

    Haley – yeah Razors seem to always have a strong “edgy” brand. You’re right about those brands!

  • Jon Ponder

    I AM a male age 13-35, and a graphic designer to boot. I think the skulls are stupid, and seem most likely DESIGNED by 13 year olds. I’m offended that you continue to market only to retards, making them dumber as they age and produce more ‘skull-lovin’ offspring. But hey, i’ll probably get flamed for saying so. have fun with the ‘death thing’.

  • Jon Ponder

    I AM a male age 13-35, and a graphic designer to boot. I think the skulls are stupid, and seem most likely DESIGNED by 13 year olds. I’m offended that you continue to market only to retards, making them dumber as they age and produce more ‘skull-lovin’ offspring. But hey, i’ll probably get flamed for saying so. have fun with the ‘death thing’.

  • http://www.gomedia.us Wilson

    Its sort of like Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. Of course they can make awesome vanilla, but a lot of people would rather have Steven Colbert’s Americone Dream.

  • http://www.gomedia.us Wilson

    Its sort of like Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. Of course they can make awesome vanilla, but a lot of people would rather have Steven Colbert’s Americone Dream.

  • http://myloveofjazz.com Gary Brown

    GoMedia is great and their designs are today! If I only had the vision (no the talent), to illustrate some of my ideas, I would. Although I am not in GoMedia’s targeted age group of 44, I still go to it almost daily. Keep up the long hours, they are paying off. Waiting on Number 8 Gary…

  • http://myloveofjazz.com Gary Brown

    GoMedia is great and their designs are today! If I only had the vision (no the talent), to illustrate some of my ideas, I would. Although I am not in GoMedia’s targeted age group of 44, I still go to it almost daily. Keep up the long hours, they are paying off. Waiting on Number 8 Gary…

  • Ken

    Bill,

    I am a designer and I agree 100% with your response. I spent 20+ years designing commercially acceptable (but boring) crap. Being true to yourself is where it’s at. If you can do what you love AND make money, what is better than that?

  • Ken

    Bill,

    I am a designer and I agree 100% with your response. I spent 20+ years designing commercially acceptable (but boring) crap. Being true to yourself is where it’s at. If you can do what you love AND make money, what is better than that?

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  • Proj

    I love skulls too! Thank you for reaffirming my existence as a creative entity.

    MORE SKULLS!

  • http://www3.sympatico.ca/mcvmann v

    skulls appeal to males that are 12-35 and maybe even over depending on how young they feel or if they are in a band or whatever. this is an opinion from a person that knows nothing about marketing placement, if a company wants nothing to do by designing corporate bullshit (and honestly what designer wants that???!!) then yes skulls are appropriate, MTV uses your imagery, many clothing brands, bands, and so on. i have a college degree in graphic design and i ma working towards my bachelors degree in marketing, because i have noticed this reoccuring problem in design. this way i’ll make life way easier for designers when i am about to pick a design and market it.

  • http://www3.sympatico.ca/mcvmann v

    skulls appeal to males that are 12-35 and maybe even over depending on how young they feel or if they are in a band or whatever. this is an opinion from a person that knows nothing about marketing placement, if a company wants nothing to do by designing corporate bullshit (and honestly what designer wants that???!!) then yes skulls are appropriate, MTV uses your imagery, many clothing brands, bands, and so on. i have a college degree in graphic design and i ma working towards my bachelors degree in marketing, because i have noticed this reoccuring problem in design. this way i’ll make life way easier for designers when i am about to pick a design and market it.

  • http://www.bittbox.com BittBox

    If it aint broke, don’t fix it.

  • http://www.bittbox.com BittBox

    If it aint broke, don’t fix it.

  • fah fah

    i think you shouldwork for bill gate :}

  • fah fah

    i think you shouldwork for bill gate :}

  • Grover

    @v:

    Yeah, you might want to pick up a writing class or two while you’re in school as well.

  • Grover

    @v:

    Yeah, you might want to pick up a writing class or two while you’re in school as well.

  • Corey

    I got a fever – and the only prescription is MORE SKULLS!

  • Corey

    I got a fever – and the only prescription is MORE SKULLS!

  • Carlos

    I agree with Bill. A company has a target audience. The AARP isn’t targeting 14 year olds then why should Go Media target big corporate entities. I think that Go Media in the top of its class at what it does. Skulls, fashion, graphics and websites are ALL amazing. Talent is pretty much unsurpassed by the people Go Media hires. I would love to work for them IF I lived in Ohio and IF they would let me (unless you outsource projects to other states, just throwing that out there). Go Media takes pride in its work and very well should. They are artist not corporate driven clones. Artist think outside the acceptable “norm”. That is what makes an artist and company stand out is not doing the boring run of the mill projects and reaching out and playing off your audiences emotions and amazement and this is what Go Media does. Damn you are good. Peace.

  • Carlos

    I agree with Bill. A company has a target audience. The AARP isn’t targeting 14 year olds then why should Go Media target big corporate entities. I think that Go Media in the top of its class at what it does. Skulls, fashion, graphics and websites are ALL amazing. Talent is pretty much unsurpassed by the people Go Media hires. I would love to work for them IF I lived in Ohio and IF they would let me (unless you outsource projects to other states, just throwing that out there). Go Media takes pride in its work and very well should. They are artist not corporate driven clones. Artist think outside the acceptable “norm”. That is what makes an artist and company stand out is not doing the boring run of the mill projects and reaching out and playing off your audiences emotions and amazement and this is what Go Media does. Damn you are good. Peace.

  • http://www.sosnewbie.com Sergio Ordoñez

    I think the critic of Rachel Myers is very reasonable… you can use skulls or not, It doesnt mind, its you are basing your portfolio in just one point. So it becomes predictable = boring.

    Brands like MTV needs trendy desings, and trends always change, if you stay the same, you get old… using skulls or not.

    Just my 2 cents.
    Cheers.
    Sergio

  • http://www.sosnewbie.com Sergio Ordoñez

    I think the critic of Rachel Myers is very reasonable… you can use skulls or not, It doesnt mind, its you are basing your portfolio in just one point. So it becomes predictable = boring.

    Brands like MTV needs trendy desings, and trends always change, if you stay the same, you get old… using skulls or not.

    Just my 2 cents.
    Cheers.
    Sergio

  • J.

    This article is reassuring. I love tattoo designs, and particularly skulls. I’m a recent college graduate, and I’ve had instructors advise against putting these things in my portfolio.

    I think there is some truth in what the reporter said. But mostly it would apply to someone like myself. Having limited work experience and trying to expand their resume. I would hate to have to turn someone off from my work and miss out on an opportunity (and a chance to get paid).

  • J.

    This article is reassuring. I love tattoo designs, and particularly skulls. I’m a recent college graduate, and I’ve had instructors advise against putting these things in my portfolio.

    I think there is some truth in what the reporter said. But mostly it would apply to someone like myself. Having limited work experience and trying to expand their resume. I would hate to have to turn someone off from my work and miss out on an opportunity (and a chance to get paid).

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  • wahyu

    im not a big fan of skulls, but i think you did a great job with that.

  • wahyu

    im not a big fan of skulls, but i think you did a great job with that.

  • Kahoneez

    thank what ever your deity, the whole world isn’t the same and people are doing different stuff. Plus I think you should do what you like and do what you’re good at . Otherwise everybody would be designing cough syrup packages , so do what you do and do it better than anybody else and you’ll get paid .

  • Kahoneez

    thank what ever your deity, the whole world isn’t the same and people are doing different stuff. Plus I think you should do what you like and do what you’re good at . Otherwise everybody would be designing cough syrup packages , so do what you do and do it better than anybody else and you’ll get paid .

  • Kathy

    As a 45-year old female (completely opposite of your target audience!) – I have to say skulls rule!

    And…maybe you ought to think about marketing groups like AARP. As I grow older, I will not shed my love of skulls. When I’m 70 and sitting in a wheelchair in a nursing home, you bet it’s going to have racing stripes and skulls! :-D

  • Kathy

    As a 45-year old female (completely opposite of your target audience!) – I have to say skulls rule!

    And…maybe you ought to think about marketing groups like AARP. As I grow older, I will not shed my love of skulls. When I’m 70 and sitting in a wheelchair in a nursing home, you bet it’s going to have racing stripes and skulls! :-D

  • http://www.stormdamage.org Leonie

    I see where Rachel’s coming from, but your repsonse is priceless. Well said!

    • http://www.facebook.com/StellaDave Dave Simpson

      Just got led here from the TND book incase your wondering why the 3 year late response…
      If you can see where she’s comin from then you don’t really get the point of this article!
      Fair enough if you want to SELL OUT and make money that way but I personally will be doing exactly the same as GoMedia and doing my own thing. True artists are a dying breed these days, so many have sold their soul to make a quick buck.
      I didn’t give up my crappy job to become a designer designing stuff that doesn’t inspire me, that would be…another crappy job!

      Perfect response Bill!

      ps, I’m 38 and I intend to wear/design skulls for the rest of my days! Your target audience could be increased these days.

  • http://www.stormdamage.org Leonie

    I see where Rachel’s coming from, but your repsonse is priceless. Well said!

  • http://twitter.com/zmeureanu/statuses/939300871 zmeureanu (RADU zmeureanu)

    the 40% skull rule in design.
    http://tinyurl.com/3q4v45

  • Dan

    Excellent job..
    dizi izle