Children on Train

Children, Childcare Grant and Studying

I called Student Finance today as I wanted to know if I could claim the Parents’ Learning Allowance and I was advised I could. At the same time I enquired about the Childcare Grant. I’d sent the forms off for this ages ago but I hadn’t heard anything. Not too worried I just assumed that they would contact me eventually, after all according to the .gov online calculator I could claim up to £159.59 towards childcare. The adviser would call me back about the Childcare Grant because she needed to speak to another department.

A few minutes later I received a call. Not good news – not only cannot I not get the Parents’ Learning Allowance, which is £ 1,617 per year, I cannot claim the Childcare Grant either. It is August, it would have been good to know I could not claim help with childcare sooner. I do wonder when they were planning on telling me that I cannot claim childcare costs.

Mr and Mrs Moneybags

And why can I not claim? Because my husband’s earning of around £28,000 a year disqualify us. I appreciate I will still get my normal student loan of around £8000 for living costs but I really need to buy a new computer. Also there will be travel costs, books, printing (it is a Graphic Design course after all) and of course now childcare costs too.

I’m sure we will manage (not much choice really) but what I don’t understand is the .gov student finance calculator asks you to enter in your household income, if your household income disqualifies you for certain grants/allowances then why show them?It just leads a student to to believe they will have more money to survive on. I’d imagine the get out clause is the “up to” (see below). The website doesn’t say you are entitled but surely if your entitlement is zero then it should say that? It is misleading and frustrating. It reads to me that, for example, say I need to fund 2 hours or 4 or whatever then I can get help as long as the childcare does not cost more £159.59 a week. Of course I now know I was wrong about that.

I was hoping that I might be able to cover extra hours of childcare beyond the minimum required for the course. In my experience of studying, you need to put more in than the timetabled hours. Also one of the lecturers who teaches the first and second year said I could drop into his software classes. I will be entering into the third year and my software knowledge is lacking. I thought “oh that will be good get in some more practise, learn more about the latest software”. Will I have to skip? Not sure right now, I will wait to see the timetable for the course before deciding if I can afford to.

15 Hours Free Childcare

As my youngest is turning 3 soon he is entitled to 15 hours free childcare, so I will just have to make the best out of those 15 hours plus what I can afford on top. It does make me wonder what if he wasn’t turning 3? This is no entitlement to free childcare at all based on our circumstances. Therefore I simply wouldn’t have been able to do the course. There is no way we could afford to fund childcare whilst I attended a full-time degree course.

The system should be changed so that you can make plans and make a budget well in advance. Preferably before you even apply, because if you can’t afford to study then there is no point applying in the first place.

Calculation Shown on .gov Website

Student finance
You could get per year:
– £6,500 Tuition Fee Loan to pay for your course
– £8,067 Maintenance Loan to pay living costs

Extra student funding
You could get:
– up to £159.59 a week (1 child) or up to £273.60 a week (2 or more children) Childcare Grant
– up to £1,617 per year Parents’ Learning Allowance

Children on Train

My Kiddywinkles, gave up trying to find a photo of them both looking at the camera at the same time

Pride Trainers - Sheffield Pride 2017

Pride Sheffield 2017 – Custom Pride Trainers Not Converse

My sister told me about some Pride Converse she wanted to buy. They looked pretty good but there is no way I can afford to spend £60+ on a pair of trainers right now.

So me, being the creative type thought I could make some myself. Decided to create a few sketched first of what I wanted before starting to draw on the shoes. I didn’t really want to free style 100% because I was using permanent markers so I couldn’t go back!

Pride Trainers Sketch

Pride Trainers Sketch

I bought myself some cheapish canvas trainers from eBay, around £11. The markers were from Hobbycraft, £5. Plus I had a few bits and bobs knocking around from my craft stores. To finish the design I bought some rainbow coloured laces, also eBay. Spent less than £20 altogether.

Pride Trainers - Sheffield Pride 2017

Pride Trainers – Sheffield Pride 2017

Pride Trainers - Sheffield Pride 2017

Pride Trainers – Sheffield Pride 2017

Pride Trainers - Sheffield Pride 2017

Pride Trainers – Sheffield Pride 2017

Original Trainers, Pre-Pride

Original Trainers, Pre-Pride

Also bought some cheap plain white t-shirts off eBay to make Pride t-shirts for me and my husband.

Pride Flower T-Shirt, Sheffield Pride 2017

Pride Flower T-Shirt, Sheffield Pride 2017

Space Invaders Pride T-Shirt - Pride Sheffield 2017

Space Invaders Pride T-Shirt – Pride Sheffield 2017

To say these were cheap permanent markers they have gone a long way. £5 for a pack of 20.

Pride Sheffield is this Saturday, 29th with the march ending at Endcliffe Park around 1 p.m. where there will be stalls, music, food, drink and more.

sans serif typefaces

If In Doubt Don’t Use Helvetica

Helvetica was designed by Max Miedinger and released in 1957. It was designed to be a neutral font, in that it no particular meaning can be ascribed to it. Often seen as modern typeface or even as “the” modern typeface it has been used heavily since it became popular in the 1960s.

Helvetica – Still a Popular Typeface?

I have been wondering about is popularity and also if it is still seen as the go to sans-serif typeface. As someone who doesn’t have the same fondness for it as some other designers I am intrigued to know these designers like about the typeface? What makes it so special?

Therefore I asked the question Why do Graphic Designer like Helvetica? on Qoura

The answers were a mixed bunch, some Graphic Designers like Helvetica and some Graphic Designers prefer other sans-serif typefaces.

My favourite answer is

It is a detailed response into both the good features of Helvetica – its neutrality, calmness, precision, mono-linear stroke weight, modernity, its wide range (it comes in many variants) and that is a “workhorse” typeface.

“Given its neutrality and a wide range of weights and widths, Helvetica is a so-called workhorse typeface, which means it can be used for a myriad of wildly different contexts. And indeed, for that reason Helvetica can be seen virtually everywhere.”

Martin Silvertant, Graphic Designer and Type Designer.

Helvetica Everywhere

This brings me nicely onto the part at only why I’m not a huge fan of Helvetica, or should I say the use of Helvetica. “Helvetica can be seen virtually everywhere.”

Martin also goes onto to mention why designers think they like Helvetica. Because Helvetica was seen as ultimate modern typeface in the 60s it became synonymous with modern design. A culture has grown around the typeface and sometimes a designer may choose Helvetica to appear modern without stopping to think about the other options.

I remember one student when I was studying my HND in Graphic Design that would use Helvetica on every single project without fail. I don’t know the reason why he used same typeface every time, did it come from the oft banded phrase of “When in doubt, use Helvetica”? Did it come from the culture around the typeface as described my Martin? I suspect that it was a combination of reasons or maybe he just choose it because he really did like it.

Helvetica / Not Helvetica

Helvetica / Not Helvetica

When in Doubt Use Helvetica

I really don’t understand why that became an acceptable thing to say. A client comes to you because they want someone to take their ideas and visualise them. To solve a problem for them. They employ you because you are a creative – someone who will look at the different options, test out a few ideas not go for the default option. Don’t get me wrong if Helvetica is the most suitable typeface to get your client’s message across then go for it but don’t just pick it without thinking.

And that is what I dislike about Helvetica the most – the lazy, over use of it. It should never be the default typeface for anything ever. There isn’t a default typeface full stop.

But to be fair I don’t particular have a liking for Helvetica in itself. I just feel that it is too inhuman most of the time for me to select it. Too rigid perhaps. Maybe it is neutrality which I dislike. It just doesn’t feel right most of the time. Because of this I often pick typefaces which have a bit more personality.

When I’m looking for a sans-serif typeface I might pick Univers, Furuta, Museo Sans (love Museo sans!), Anivers or Gill Sans amongst others. I haven’t chosen Helvetica recently for a project but I’m not ruling it out for the next one. After all no typeface should ever be ruled out – expect of course for Comic Sans, Papyrus and Brushscript (I super HATE brushscript!)

What are your thoughts on this? Do you like/dislike Helvetica and if so why? Feel free to comment below.

Apple Mac OS and Microsoft Windows

The Graphic Designers’ Choice – Apple or Windows?

I’m not going to post about how one is superior to the other or how you should buy an Apple Mac or Windows PC. This is about my personal experience in choosing one over the other.

Stand out from the Crowd – the Graphic Designers’ Dream

In my opinion and many others too, Apple have been innovative. The original iMac casing, regardless of any tech inside it, stood out from the traditional boring beige PCs. Bright, colourful and fun looking.

Graphic Designers and other creatives do like things to be well designed, we have an eye for things that just have that certain style. A little something different, a cut above the rest. If nothing else the look of Apple’s range of computers has generally been a cut above other manufactures.

Apple were ahead of the game – removing floppy drives and then CD/DVD drives. They saw the future coming. Their lamp style design for their iMac G4 really did stand out. I wanted one, I really wanted one and still do. I remember it being launched and it was just so different looking from anything else on sale in the computer market,

Apple iMac G4

Apple iMac G4

Even the processors were different, Motorola made the G range of CPUs which went inside Apple Macs. Consumer Windows based PCs were either Intel or AMD powered like they are today. The G5 was the fastest processor at the time, or so Apple claimed.

Because of this difference Apple computers could not run Windows, however things would change when in 2005 Apple announced they would switch to Intel processors. New Apples, with Intel CPUs, could run both Mac OS and Windows. This brings me nicely on to the next point.

Macs are PCs

I have tried to avoid using the phrase Mac v PC because Apple Macs are PCs. PC does not mean Windows, it stands for Personal Computer. I have had PCs which have run Ubuntu (a version of Linux) with no Microsoft Windows in sight, they were still PCs regardless of the OS (operating system). However, most will refer to Apple PCs as Macs and Windows PCs as PCs.

But since Apple switched to Intel processors I think this terminology is even less relevant. An Apple PC can run Windows should you choose. It is also possible to run Mac OS on a “PC”, but it does go against Apple’s licensing terms.

So I think it comes down to finer points between the two and I will touch on those.

Small Differences – Does Apple have the Edge for Graphic Design work?

As mentioned you can legally run both Windows and Mac OS on an Apple – if wanted you can dual boot and have both a copy of Windows and Mac OS installed. You have may reasons for needing Mac OS installed such as wanting to run Final Cut Pro.

You may simply prefer one OS over the other. Having used both Mac OS and Windows I can’t honestly say that running Photoshop, Illustrator or InDesign has been much different on either OS. And this is one of the most important points for me. If you are a Graphic Designer you can design on either – it does not effect your ability to design a logo, poster or whatever it is you are designing. If you are a good Graphic Designer you are a good Graphic Designer regardless of the computer you are working on. Switching to Windows is not going to make you have a sudden liking for Comic Sans or Helvetica*. Some Graphic Designers will prefer Mac OS, some will prefer Windows but I think it comes down to just that – preference. I don’t think there is enough difference between the current versions of the Mac and Windows Operating Systems to make the user experience significantly better or worse for either OS.

But Apples Look Better

This is something often said – Apples look better, they have more style, they ooze a certain something. Having something that reflects you as a designer sat on your desk will certainly make a positive impression to clients. But I don’t think Apple Mac really are that more stylish that their “PC” cousins. Times have changed, technology has move on. If you want to get a stylish looking PC you can, they are not beige boxes any more. In fact there are a multitude of options out there, much so than with Apple.


iMac – Sitting Pretty?

The current range of iMacs, in my opinion, don’t have the same wow factor that the original ones did – they lack that something special. I think Apple has dropped the ball, they have lost their way and I don’t think they are ahead of the game like they once were.

This brings me onto…

Price – Value of Money for a Graphic Designer

I’m not going to compare a budget PC with a high-end Apple because that is unfair. However, if you take the specifications of say a mid-range iMac, like I did, I came out with a price of around £1700. I can purchase a higher specification machine for less if I buy a Windows PC. When adding a 4k monitor to that it still comes out less than the iMac I considered buying.

Quick run down of specs here:

Apple iMac 21.5″ with 4k Display

  • Processor: 3.6GHz quad-core 7th-generation Intel Core i7, Turbo Boost up to 4.2GHz
  • RAM: 16 GB DDR4
  • Graphic Card: Radeon Pro 555 with 2GB
  • Storage: 1TB Fusion Drive (32 GB of which is SSD)
  • £1,789.00

HP OMEN 870-216na

  • Processor: Intel® Core™ i7-7700 Processor- Quad-core- 3.6 GHz / 4.2 GHz (Turbo Boost)- 8 MB cache
  • RAM: 16 GB DDR5
  • Graphics card: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060 (3 GB GDDR5)
  • Storage – 2 TB HDD, 7200 rpm- 256 GB SSD
  • £1199.99 + £299.99 for an AOC 28″ 4k Monitor = £1499.98

This is just one example but I think it is a good example of the price difference.

And that for me is what put me off an Apple. It is one thing to pay £1700 for a high spec PC, any PC regardless of OS, but if you have two £1700 PCs next to each other and one has a faster processor, larger hard drive, better graphic card and generally all round better specifications which do you pick?

I can’t say that Apple offers me enough to make me want to buy one. Yes if the specification was higher, yes it they offered something significantly better or different but as it stands I just can’t justify buying an Apple PC. They don’t, in my opinion, offer value for money.

Samsung Laptop

Samsung Laptop

Even it the Apple would look more stylish on my desk, so what? I want to be able to create well designed pieces on screen and I want a computer that is capable of doing that – regardless of looks. I will not go with style over substance.

References/Further Reading:

*I will save that for another article.

Aidan Smeaton - Lino Printed Skull

End of Year Show – Art, Graphic Design, Games Design, Photography

Last week was The Sheffield College’s End of Year show for their Graphic Design, Web Design, Games Design, Art and Photography Students.

Me and my husband went down to The Workstation in Sheffield to take a look around. I took plenty of photos, but some of them haven’t come out as I hoped. I blame the glass of wine I was holding!

I’ve concentrated on showcasing the Graphic Design students here as I will be studying Graphic Design in September this year but there was plenty of other good work too.

Aiden Smeaton

One of my favourites was the work by Aiden Smeaton, loved the Bat and Skull Lino prints – they appeal to my dark side (I have a liking for rock and metal music including Black Sabbath so that’s probably why I like the bat!)

Aiden Smeaton - Bat Lino Print

Aiden Smeaton – Bat Lino Print

Aidan Smeaton's Wall, Graphic Design

Aidan Smeaton’s Wall, Graphic Design

Aidan Smeaton - Lino Printed Skull

Aidan Smeaton – Lino Printed Skull

He portfolio is varied – which I like to see as he can adapt his style to suite the project he is working.

Alexander Hill

His work is bold, the ink splats really stood out for me. Simple yet striking. I tried to visit his website but sadly I keep getting a DNS error.

Alexander Hill's Wall, Graphic Design

Alexander Hill’s Wall, Graphic Design

Amelia Leak

The design of her portfolio itself stood out, along with the work within. It was an A5 printed portfolio, there was a couple others which also featured a similar design. Things have come along way since I first studied Graphic Design – it was a leather bound portfolio. I think the printed portfolio really stands out and it’s a nice touch because any prospective employer can take it a copy with them.

The Rebel branding was nice – I took a second take as I didn’t see it straight away but I think that it part of it’s appeal. Simple, but it catches your attention.

Her portfolio contained many well designed pieces check it out at I warn you now it’s very pink!

Amelia Leake’s Graphic Design Portfolio – Rebel Branding

Amelia Leake's Wall, Graphic Design

Amelia Leake’s Wall, Graphic Design

Ashleigh Jade

Her Alice in Wonder Land illustrations are fun and bold. Her ability to draw is a real strong point. More of her illustrations can be found on her website along with her Graphic Design work.

Ashleigh Jade’s Wall, Graphic Design and Illustration

Georgia May

Both her Graphic Design and Photography portfolio stood out for me, sadly my photo’s didn’t come out so well so I only have the one from the show. But I have borrowed one photo from her website of her of her “You” packaging design. It has an upmarket but also natural feel to the design, I could image buying this as a gift set at Christmas.

You - Packaging Design

Georgia May, You – Packaging Design

Georgia May, Graphic Design and Photography

Georgia May, Graphic Design and Photography

Her Rebel Corporate Identify work is amazing. Well thought out and professionally presented. It actually scared me slightly as I am worried I might have to do something of the same quality on the course and I really don’t think I could!

For more of Georgia’s work visit:

Rees Pashley

Some bold and interesting work by Rees. I liked the Hills catalogue which had a modern and upmarket feel to it. A simple colour scheme and a play on words was a nice touch.

The Reimagine work also stood out. I liked the room signage in particular (t1, t2, etc) as it was very eye catching. More of his work can be found at

Rees Pashley's Wall, Graphic Design

Rees Pashley’s Wall, Graphic Design

Sam Turner

His work for Transform, an architecture exhibition was bold. In particular his brochure cover for the exhibition stood out.

The Sheffield Design Week branding, pictured at the bottom, stood out and I felt it really matched Sheffield’s creative vibe. The design was adaptable as it can show a range imagery inside the squares.

I also liked his unusual business card and personal branding which plays on his surname Turner. For more of his work visit:

Sam Turner's Wall, Graphic Design

Sam Turner’s Wall, Graphic Design

This is just a brief highlight of the work there. It’s worth a look next year if you are the creative sort or are thinking of studying a design/art related course at The Sheffield College. The end of year show is normally held in June, at The Workstation, check out The Sheffield College’s Facebook Page closer to the time for more details.