Creator Spotlight with Shir Warr

Shir Warr at work

This week we would like you to meet graphic designer Shir Warr.

What was the inspiration behind becoming a creator? What do you enjoy most about the creative process?

I was raised in a house full of art. My grandfather was an artist, and my mom was an artist and graphic designer (I used to watch her manually cut letters and set them to create poster and brochure designs in the 1970s). So it was inevitable that I became a creator as well. I went to a high school for the arts as a fine arts major, and continued to Parsons and then School of Visual Arts, both in NYC. What I really enjoy about the process now, is being able to marry art and commerce, working with clients to research, conceptualize and bring to life their brand’s identity and all its subsequent marketing materials.

What do you think is the biggest misconception about your line of work?

The biggest misconception in my line of work is that freelance work is free (or close to it)… I tend to avoid working with small business owners because of this; graphic design is treated as a commodity — the cheaper, the better, and quality doesn’t matter (Client: “my nephew designed this website — can you just make it prettier? I can pay $50…”). Coming from the (mis)understanding that design is just making things pretty, customers don’t want to look at us as visual communication creators who bring experience and expertise to the table. They want to pay for a product — and don’t understand that this is a service, and they are paying for my time (Client: “I don’t like it, so I’m not paying you”). Another misconception, especially in agency settings, is that older designers can’t bring fresh ideas to the table because they are… well, old.

Have you experienced copyright infringement and, if so, how has it affected you personally and financially?

My copyright infringement experience is part of a bigger story: I was an employee of a small agency in Avon, CT (hired as their creative director). Work started becoming more and more scarce, and I was asked to work from home to help the agency save the rent for my office. As clients kept leaving, my employer asked me to become freelance, and we agreed on an hourly rate. He then asked me to work on a few projects—roughly three months of work—for which he refused to pay, saying I took longer than he thinks I should have taken to make his multiple rounds of edits. He then took the finished design work and used it as it was intended to be used, even though the legal disclaimer on my invoices explicitly mentions that the rights belong to me until full payment has been made. Of course, there was no way I could afford legal services having lost my income. When I received the year’s tax forms from him, I discovered that he failed to pay me 20% of my salary while I was still an employee, and also failed to pay the federal income taxes on it. At this point, I needed to choose between paying my bills or hiring legal help… This winter my family will have to find alternatives to heating oil, because this and other bills used to come out of my earnings.

What do you do when you encounter someone stealing something you’ve invested your intellect, time and money into?

When I encounter someone stealing something I’ve invested my intellect, time and money into, I politely let them know this is a piece that’s protected under copyright law; most of the time, individuals are simply not aware that even though they can find just about anything on Google images, they are not allowed to copy it and use it as their own.

What is your biggest copyright-related challenge?

To me there are two big challenges when it comes to copyrights for graphic design: 1) Registering with the U.S. Copyright Office — for example, I have two pieces that have been in process for a year at this point and are considered “compilations”: I’m using fonts that someone else created (although I purchased them), photos that someone else took (although I paid for usage), and even though I’m using my own illustrations, messaging and layout this is still not finalized. Unfortunately, most graphic design works are compilations; and 2) Not being able to afford legal services is a huge problem, especially when the client doesn’t pay for the work and doesn’t respond to multiple contact attempts, and when the amount in dispute is smaller than what the legal fees might be.

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