July 22, 2022No Comments

Collaboration and Community

Firstly, I don’t know about you, but this summer feels like the first one in a long time where people – both creators and businesses – have begun to emerge from the fog of lockdown and are thinking more positively about moving forward. I think we’re all pretty exhausted by the isolation that covid brought and are beginning to seek out new connections. To me, the idea of fresh collaborations and community events feels pretty exciting.

And on that note, I and some others who I completed my recent MA with have come together to exhibit at the London Design Festival, which is taking place in September. Our group, in itself, has become a ‘hub’ where we have spent time bringing ideas and experiences together. They are one of the reasons why I have come to recognise the importance and huge benefits that having like-minded people around you can have.

I’ve always maintained that outside of cities, the opportunities to attend design events are very few and far between. In my area of Shrewsbury, there are many creative businesses – not just designers, but photographers, writers, filmmakers, and so on – but very little in the way of community. If you walk around my town, you can find several design agencies, but none of us knows much about the other. We never seek each other out, which is a real shame. Rather than see how we can collaborate or help each other out, we tend to close our doors for fear of ‘the competition’ getting in and finding out our secrets.

Perhaps that’s what sets big agencies in big cities like London or Manchester apart – they don’t think of each other as competition, in that sense. Instead, they are willing to not only come together to celebrate great design but invite other people in to celebrate with them, too.

It’s prominent on the web page for the London Design Festival: “(London Design Festival serves) to create an annual event that would promote the city’s creativity, drawing in the country’s greatest thinkers, practitioners, retailers and educators to deliver an unmissable celebration of design.”

I think these events shouldn’t just be left to the cities; there is no reason why small towns can’t create their own, smaller-scale hubs and events all around the country. Why shouldn’t designers in smaller communities celebrate their talent and dedication?

An idea that I’ve begun to resurrect, The Shrewsbury Design Festival, is a project I had been working on before covid stopped us all in our tracks. It started as a way to bring together creativity in and around Shrewsbury so that we can be found more easily within the community, form collaborations, share ideas, and bring local networks into the spotlight.

I don’t want this to sound too much like a promotional piece – it would be nice if what I’m doing here might inspire other design agencies to consider creating their own hubs and communities. Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could have small pockets of designers who felt comfortable collaborating on work projects, meeting with each other to share ideas and experiences, building each other up and offering support? Imagine that…

July 7, 2022No Comments

How little or how much?

A little story: My son is at art school here in Shrewsbury, where they’ve recently had their end-of-year exhibition. During the event, he managed to get a commission and a sale. When asked for a price, he froze for a few seconds and then blurted, wide-eyed and breathless, “I don’t know!”. 

Should art schools at least touch on how to charge for work? Would an early introduction to the value of work help avoid those ‘oh sh*t’ moments?

So how should you set your fees?

For most of us right now, the subject of money is at the forefront of our minds. The cost of living, particularly things like food and fuel, has increased dramatically and continues to do so, and I’m sure, like me, this has brought up the subject of how much we earn as designers and whether or not we’re setting it right!

You might be just starting your career or be years into it – in my experience, it makes no difference. I sometimes still feel awkward whenever I’m asked about my fees. We’re not really taught this stuff, are we? There are no set-in-stone guidelines, no magic formula to tell us what to charge for X or Y. We’re left to work all that out for ourselves.

These days though, I have found a way to work out the rate that suits me. It took a while, in the beginning, to settle into a rate that I was both comfortable telling people and happy that it was enough for me to live on.

In case you are still in panic mode about what fees you should be charging for your work, I thought it might be useful to share some of my insights and thoughts around it.

The great money taboo

We’ve been conditioned not to talk about some subjects, and money is one of the big ones. The trouble is, by keeping hush-hush about what we earn, how we earn it, and how we treat it, we’ve created a world where we’re afraid of it – it’s something we feel that is out of our control. But it really shouldn’t be like that.

Even now, I’m sometimes guilty of brushing the subject of money aside when I’m asked about costs for projects when I’m talking to clients – it’s so easy to brush it aside when you’re asked ‘how much?’, by saying something like, ‘we’ll work that out later’. It feels shameful, embarrassing, to talk about money – especially when someone is sitting right in front of you.

Money, and how we earn it, is something that we can all relate to – it’s not something we should be embarrassed about. But perhaps if we can get over that and become more confident around our handling of money, we can change that. To do that, we need to start communicating. And that starts with knowing your rate and having the confidence to stick to it.

What’s the ‘going rate’?

Out of interest, I searched around the internet for advice on what a graphic designer should charge. The thing that stood out was how much the advice varied – if someone just starting out was to search for information on what to charge, they’d surely come away more confused than ever. It was pretty eye-opening.

My advice would be to talk to other established designers doing similar work to you. Most of them are more than willing to help with their advice and experience and won’t mind sharing their knowledge. Ask them if they think you’re undercharging and what they believe would be a decent rate for the type of work you want to offer or the amount of experience you have.

If you can get a ballpoint figure, you can use this to work out what YOU feel comfortable charging.

What do you want to earn?

Notice I didn’t say ‘need’. There’s a difference between what a person needs to earn and what he wants to earn. Let me give you an example.

Perhaps you have a mortgage of, say, £1,200 per month. And your bills/expenses equate to £1,500. So you could say that what you NEED to earn is £2,700. Yeah, that’ll cover your bills – but what about the other stuff? You didn’t start this career to just manage, did you? You want to have the ability to afford a holiday, a decent car, and perhaps indulge in your hobbies.

Again, research what other designers in your demographic and area are charging and work out if that meets your desired annual salary.

There’s a formula out there that has popped up in a few places that may be useful as a starting point, and that is roughly as follows:

  1. Work out what your ideal yearly salary should be.
  2. Add 30% to account for sick days and holidays.
  3. Divide it by the number of days you’ll work in a year.
  4. The number you get equates to your ideal day rate (you can work out your hourly rate from that).

End note

I suppose my main point through this article is that getting the foundations of your fees right and being confident in telling people what they are, is one of the most important decisions you will make for your business.

Setting fees is never easy, but it’s definitely worth getting it right early on.

April 30, 2022No Comments

What’s in a name – and how does it affect your image?

I have a confession. I'd never really, truly, been happy with my original company name. I’m not saying it was a terrible name, it just didn't fit very well.

I lived with it, but there was always that little niggle in the back of my mind.

I won’t dwell on my personal thought process here – I’m all sorted now. But what I wanted to talk about today was how important it is to get it right – the correlation between your company name and your image.

As a graphic designer, I spend a lot of time thinking about company images and branding. And my plight has made me think a little deeper about the process. Where do I start when faced with a rebrand, or a web design, for a client? I think that actually, the name probably plays a more significant part than I previously thought.

Subconsciously, I’m often led at first by the name. It sets the tone for everything that follows. Colours, fonts, and the tone of voice are all hinged on the business name, even if it’s not that obvious.

A reflection of you and your market

A good business name reflects who you are and who your clients are. It’s usually the first item on the agenda when we create our business, but how much do we really consider the name when we start the design process for our websites and branding?

Perhaps, then, we should start by going back to basics. Who do you want to attract? By getting a clear profile of your perfect client, you can get into their heads and explore what attracts them. If your ideal client base is, for example, the CEO of a high-profile marketing agency, you don’t want to approach them with a name and image that more reflects a small business or e-commerce company.

Different demographics have different needs – by tapping into those needs, we can better design our business branding to attract them.

It’s good to visualise what your business name will look like under your brand. Does the name make you think of something modern and vibrant, or does it lend itself to something traditional or more subdued? We can do this in both our business name and our image – both should fit seamlessly together.

Of course, the type of industry will also come into play. Still, it stands to reason that if your company name includes something soft and feminine, you’ll want to consider soft colours and perhaps a more rounded font. In contrast, if you’re in an industry where your audience and product are universal, you’ll want to appeal by using stronger, bolder themes.

Imagine, for example, a classic motorbike restoration business using a pastel-coloured handwritten script in its logo. It doesn’t quite fit, does it?

On choosing a name

Your name is probably the most recognisable aspect of your business, so it’s actually pretty important to get it right. It should reflect your personality, what your company does, and most of all, be memorable.

It needs to be, first and foremost, a name that you’re comfortable with. Think of this – would you be happy to answer the phone and announce your company name, or would it make you cringe a little? There’s a good test right there.

It’s OK to have a quirky name if that’s your vibe but make sure it’s relatable and tells your customers who you are.

Something else to consider is the spelling. Is your name a play on words? Is it a long name, or does it include numbers or symbols? Replacing letters with numbers can look cute – but make sure it’s evident in your web address! Most of your customers will want to search for you online, so if there’s something a little different in your name, make sure it can easily be searched for online.

Simplicity is key

It can be easy to overcomplicate things in both the name and the design. There’s no real need to – often, the most straightforward ideas are the most memorable.

Make your business name easy to pronounce and communicate (“Severn… with an ‘r’… yes, like the river…”) and easy to translate into your branding, and you won’t go far wrong.

There are plenty of sources of inspiration if you’re stuck for ideas, and there’s nothing wrong with testing out a few ideas with people you know – perhaps set up a few mock-ups and see which your friends, family, and peers prefer. You might get feedback that hadn’t occurred to you, which can be invaluable.

February 2, 2022No Comments

Step outside the obvious

Go local for your next design project

I feel this. I live in a small market town in the centre of the country, where design agencies and studios are very much ‘hidden away’, despite there being a real hub of creative talent here.

Local designers with hidden talents

As a small design agency, it’s so easy for businesses to overlook us, when we’re competing with large, often well-known agencies who have the budgets to make themselves heard. It’s a shame, really, because the little guys like us have so much to offer. Not to blow my own trumpet here, but in talking to other small designers both locally and in other towns, we truly believe that we can offer something unique that city-agencies can’t. That personal service, care and attention to detail, which big agencies simply don’t have the time for.

In truth, local designers know the local market inside out – because we work with our own communities every day. We know the type of people that live around us, and we get to talk with local business owners, who tell us what works and what doesn’t. And more importantly, we have the time to listen.

Small agencies and freelancers

In my experience, businesses are often wary of micro-agencies and freelancers, there’s an underlying negativity around them that they are less qualified, less experienced, and won’t have the proper resources to complete complex projects. That’s simply not the case. Though they might not have the financial clout, they are often more specialist in what they do, and so rather than being ‘all-rounders’ (though some are, and are great), they are able to focus on their specialism without all of the other stuff. For example, there are agencies within your town who will just do web design, print design, or branding, and excel at doing that and that alone.

Look at what your community can offer first

There’s definitely something to be said about ‘shopping local’ when it comes to hiring creative talent. You’d be surprised at the hidden gems that can be found right on your doorstep – and can offer a bespoke, personal service that big agencies can’t.

Perhaps you think that going the local, small agency route isn’t right for you – but then again, in hiring out locally, you could find that avenues are opened that you hadn’t even thought of. It could be the opportunity to completely freshen up your branding, or look at the design of your online presence with fresh eyes.

Take a look at some of your local designers for your next project, and see what they can offer.

©2017–2022 Tony Clarkson/&Something Limited