Uncommon Creative:
The Handbook for Unicorns

Uncommon Creative


…that rare creative that is both talented web developer and graphic designer.

It’s been quite a process, but after 2 years of hard work and long hours, my book, Uncommon Creative: The Handbook for Unicorns, is in the pre-press stage, and will soon be available in ebook, hardbound, and paperback!

The idea for this book came from a Blog post I started for my Blog, Design +, about Unicorns. When I first opened my creative web development studio 10 years ago, it wasn’t clear to me just where to begin.

Profile of a Young Unicorn

As a child, teen, and 20 something, art, music, fashion, culture, and writing were fascinating to me. As a young adult, I desired a career that would allow me to work within the creative realm. I did not know what that might look like, but I convinced myself this career was out there waiting for me if I just kept looking.

When I was 25, a friend casually suggested I look into graphic design as a career choice. When I realized that graphic design was involved in so many things I loved including magazines, books, movies, music and fashion, something clicked for me. So I went to the library and researched the fastest growing industries with the highest pay in any field.

As I narrowed down my options to suit my interests – people, writing, art, creativity and the like – one job description caught my eye. It was for the technology industry, and specifically, web development. Job growth was going to be exponential (they were right), and the pay was desirable (still true). I could also see that graphic design skills and web development would have some overlap.

It was at this point that I decided it was worth it to turn my attention to pursuing this thing that I did not yet understand with all of my energy and focus.

Back in the Day

A decade ago, the Web simply wasn’t the rich resource it is today in terms of tutorials, coaching, videos, and online learning platforms for self-taught web creatives. Lynda.com was an early adopter of the online learning format, and I consumed as many courses on graphic design, software, and development as I could.

I researched my options for a Bachelor’s Degree in Web Design and Development. At the time, there were only degree programs in things like graphic design or industrial design. Visual engineering was a funny one. None of these degrees actually applied to what I wanted to do.

And just what was it that I wanted to do? Web development was still a pretty new thing and not for the masses at the time. I did not know any web developers or graphic designers before I became one. I’d learned the basics of HTML as a teen, but never thought I would do anything with code.

I quickly realized I had so much to learn, and I often felt overwhelmed. I found a Web Development Certificate program from Cerro Coso Community College, an online only educational program based in Ridgecrest, CA. I studied project management, Flash, and Joomla! at Cerro Coso with students around the world in our small program.

As I came closer to receiving a certificate – no degrees were offered in this subject area – I began to realize that technology was speeding by our curriculum, and clients were beginning to call. WordPress had a lot more potential than Joomla!, and as soon as I’d learned Flash, Jobs essentially killed it with his release of the iPad in 2010. So I did not finish the certificate program, and instead went about the daily work of developing my own creative web studio from the ground up.

Studio Life

When I started out on my path to becoming a Unicorn, there was no roadmap for the journey that would lie ahead. In fact, my first years were spent focused more on web development before I realized the importance of graphic design in my work. It took several more years after that to develop and refine the business practices I use today in my creative web studio.

As a young solopreneur, I had big dreams, and a lot of passion, but no idea how to direct this passion and make it work for me. In the beginning, there were 20 hour coding sessions, deadline collisions, and client frustrations. I made a lot of mistakes, and-at times-felt like giving up. I have worked from public libraries, parks, a hospital, trains, airplanes, gardens, hotels, beaches, co-working spaces, and, most of the time, from a space in my home – whether that was a large room of or just a corner of a shared desk.

After a decade in practice, even with all that I have learned, my life as a solopreneur web creative isn’t always easy. I still make mistakes (sometimes :), and I still get creative block. Yet each new day brings opportunities that I would never imagined when I was beginning my journey as a Unicorn.

Women in Tech

Tech is known to be a male dominant industry. At some point, boys in hoodies became emblematic of the tech development world.

Several years ago, I recall seeing an article in a major tech lifestyle magazine about women in tech. I was so excited to read the article -which featured a strong and happy, smartly dressed looking woman on the front cover – and when I flipped it open to read the article, the art director had actually Photoshopped the women interviewed into identical grey hoodies a la Mark Zuckerburg. I was angry and confused. Were they saying to assume the culture of the boys in tech if we wanted to fit in?

This began my interest in learning about how women and their creative technical work is perceived by the world at large, by our peers, and more importantly, how we perceive ourselves.

A recent study has shown that GIT pull requests that were made by female identified account holders had a higher acceptance rate than that of their male identified counterparts. Sadly, the acceptance rate is significantly lower if the user’s gender as a female is revealed (www.digitaltrends.com).

I also learned that only 20% of Google’s technical staff identify as female (fortune.com). And yet, as it turns out, much of what we do online today would not be possible without the work of women who were early, key pioneers of technology.

A Vision of the Future

Have you ever heard of Ada Lovelace? Ada was the daughter of the late great British poet Lord Byron. She also happened to envision the modern computer…at the age of 17…in the late 1800’s.

According to Walter Isaacson in his new book, How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses and Greeks Created the Digital Revolution, Ada wrote about a machine that could display “Words, pictures and music, not just numbers”, a machine capable of “programming Bernoulli numbers”. Ada “saw” the world’s first computer and understood it’s capabilities years before it would become a reality. She was a visionary, ahead of her time, as visionaries often are. She’s also largely unknown to people in the tech industry today.

This piqued my curiosity about the role of women in the history of modern technology. As it turns out, this history is fascinating and all too forgotten.

The World’s First Programmers

During WWII, an advertisement for a new machine job caught the eye of Jean Jennings Bartik. Bartik took the position working on the ENIAC, a general purpose computer. Bartik became one of six female mathematicians working on ENIAC. These women were the original programmers for one of the world’s first computers. According to Isaacson, women were considered a better fit for the job while male staff focused on hardware development. Many women of the time had math skills which were often used in teaching careers.

These women were responsible for the first day this system was up and running, yet were never credited in the publicity pictures of the era. What’s worse, these women did not know about the work of Ada Lovelace that paved the way for their own work.

The Decline of Women in Tech

In the 70’s and 80’s, women majoring in computer science began a dramatic decline from 40% to only 17% of women in technical programs today. Theories abound as to why the number of women in tech took a sharp decrease even as personal computing became more common place, but the growing and hard to ignore presence of both Bill Gates and Steve Jobs may have been a critical factor at a critical time. www.npr.org

I still don’t know nearly as many female web developers as I do male devs, and that’s part of why I’m writing today. I know even fewer web developers who also love to design and vice versa. That’s another part of it.

It’s Time for a Renaissance

As the web became a much, much busier place with social media, CMS, websites, bots, and memes, there was still something missing. There were plenty of web developers, plenty of graphic designers, plenty of creatives of every variety.

But where were the other Unicorns? Something had happened along the way in the evolution of the Web. The Web has neatly divided into 2 camps: web designers and web developers. Rare is the creative today that is just as capable of cleaning up a broken database as they are polishing a design layout.

I would like to see every web designer learn to code and every web developer learn to design. We don’t have to master HTML if we are stronger in Illustrator or do logo design if we are stronger in PHP, but we do need to understand how the technical and the visual come together to create the user experience. Because the truth is, there is no distinction between the design and development of a website. They are intrinsically connected, and the more deeply we explore this connection, the more deeply we can connect with our audience.

I want to see more women in tech. I want to see more female entrepreneurs with skills that go deeper than a family name. But most of all, I want to see people from every walk of life, every identifier thriving in their solopreneur or agency creative web studio practice. I truly believe the Web is our best chance at a real modern day democracy, and I’m thrilled to be on this terrifying yet wild and beautiful ride with you!

So this book is my take on finding balance and success as a professional solopreneur web creative in this fast moving current that is part technology, part cultural revolution, and always moving forward. I wish I’d had a book like this when I was first starting out as a creative studio owner. I hope you find it useful on your own journey!

Here are some sample topics from my book as well as some of the bookplates I created. I can’t wait to share the rest with you, so stay tuned by signing up for book release updates and other good info right here on my Blog!


About the Artwork for The Handbook

I don’t know about you, but I’ve always been a dreamer. My dreams are very vivid, and full of strange and interesting places and times in which I have never been, and yet they often feel familiar. In my dreams, I’m often flying or piloting a spacecraft. Or I may just climb a tree into the sky to travel between dimensions.

The people around me are always on the go, and often dressed in colorful and bizarre clothing. Sometimes, I return to the same dream, days, weeks or months after I first had it…often just moments after my dream had initially left off in the narrative of my mind.

I value my dreams. They provide important archetypes for me explore where my life is at the moment, where it’s been, and were it’s headed.

I believe your dreams are valuable, too. Dreams can feed our souls when we have little else to go on. They can challenge us to pursue new directions, and help us let go of what is not working in our lives.

Rather than creating a traditional graphic design or web development book, I decided to explore the dream world in my art direction. For this series of digital collage bookplates, I take my inspiration from the sci-fi artwork of Madeline L’Engle’s novel covers as well as from the surrealist art of Salvador Dali and Man Ray.

With this book and its imagery, I want to create a place in your mind where anything is possible, if you just put your mind to it, and let your dreams guide you forward.

The Value of Your Work

How to Price Your Creative Web Services

Figuring out how to price your work as a digital creative can be confusing. Should you charge hourly, weekly or based on something else entirely?

A successful pricing strategy starts with the value you see in your own work. If you don’t see your own value as a creative, your audience will not be able to recognize your value either.

Beyond your own value in the pricing equation, pricing in itself is part art and part science. Over the years, I’ve learned a few tips that I share with you in my Chapter “The Value of Your Work”.

The Collective Subconscious

How can you put more passion into your work?

The best creative work comes from a rich and varied viewpoint.

Everything we create is a reflection of what we have seen, felt, dreamed of, or experienced in our lives. In other words, creativity does not happen in a vacuum. Creative work is created from the collective unconscious.

How we as individuals process this information creatively is influenced by the context of our own lives. The more we learn about the world around us, the more we can speak about it visually in a way that moves our audience.

The Path of a Unicorn is Non-Linear

How to Succeed as a Self-Taught Creative

There’s a myth out there that a college degree is a guarantee at a better life.

By 2020, there will be nearly 1.5 million jobs open in the tech sector. And yet, traditional higher education has not kept pace with the lightning quick growth of technology, even as tuition has soared to 1.5 trillion in shared student debt in the United States alone.

Though I don’t have a college degree, I am a dedicated self-learner. Actively self-teaching is a daily part of my work, and can be a key part of your success a solopreneur web creative, too. Learn more in my Chapter, “The Path of a Unicorn is Non-Linear”.

Whether you are just getting started out on your journey in creative web development, or you have years of studio experience, there is a little something for every Unicorn in this book.

See you soon!

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