September 22, 2021No Comments

A little industry comparison can be healthy – but don’t get carried away.

As creatives, we all do it, don’t we? We are naturally curious creatures, and as such, we just can’t help but look around at what other designers are doing. That might mean noticing posters in the train station on the way to work or getting design-envy over a book cover or magazine spread or piece of packaging on a shelf.

The thing is, we’re surrounded by other designers’ work, and we can’t help but analyse it. It’s normal to have moments where we compare our skills with others – and that can be a very healthy thing. It can keep us on our toes, help us try out fresh ideas, and encourage us to be better at our craft.

But nowadays, we live in a digital world, where we are not only casual observers of other people’s design but also force-fed it every minute of every day. We see it every time we check our social media pages; we see it on websites and pop-ups and emails and digital newsletters. Right now, many of us are in danger of suffering from a very recent phenomenon; “comparison fatigue”.

OK, so maybe it’s not entirely a new thing, but it’s certainly a lot easier to be exposed to it than it was in the past. I’d like to explore that a little. Because as the title of this article suggests, comparison can be healthy, but it can so easily become an all-consuming, paralysing thing that stops us from being our best.

Should we be checking out our competition or avoid doing that altogether?

Why we might compare

We don’t - and shouldn’t - work in a vacuum. Outside design can inspire us and influence us to break out of our comfort zones and try new things. Purely from a design perspective, a little comparison can fire us up.

Knowing what the latest trends are, how they work and who they appeal to lets our clients know that we have a handle on modern design. And one of the ways we do that is to look around at how other designers are doing it.

It can also be useful from a business viewpoint. Like it or not, most of our clients don’t want to be given old-fashioned or outdated designs. For them to sell their products, it’s vital that they are able to appeal to the masses – and (perhaps, unfortunately), the masses want what’s ‘right now’.

If you’re set on making money from our business, then even in your own branding, you have to be able to balance your appeal to your audience with your own individual identity. Yes, you want to stand out and be recognised, but you don’t want to be so ‘out there’ that your branding is off-putting.

It’s impossible to avoid comparing ourselves to other designers, and while we need to realise that it’s useful to know what they’re doing and how they’re doing it, it’s also important to know when to draw the line…

Being ‘you’

I’ve been doing this for a lot of years, and I still find myself looking at what other designers are doing and thinking, “should I be doing the same as them, or them, or them…”. It’s a trap that many of us fall into from time to time – I think that’s pretty normal and most definitely human. We’re conditioned to ‘fit in’, aren’t we? Right from the days of wearing school uniforms and sitting in neat little rows on the classroom carpet, our lesson starts early. To be liked and accepted, be like the rest.

Perhaps that’s why it’s become normal to compare ourselves so much. We are almost afraid to break out of that mindset, so we seek validation that we’re ‘doing things right.’

But hang on – isn’t it true that the clients who hire you to create their websites, their branding, their brochures, etc., choose you because they like your style and how you do things? So, if you were to do the same things as your competitors, then why on earth would businesses choose you over them? They’d have no reason to, would they?

Sure, you might look at what other designers are doing with a pang of envy, but the thing to remember is that the people that buy from them are not the same people who buy from you. Your clients want something that only you can offer, but if all you’re doing is mimicking another designer, then why shouldn’t they choose them? They are, after all, the genuine article.

This translates not only into your design but the way you do business and conduct yourself. There have been plenty of times when I’ve questioned my own decisions – should I have remained with my last agency? Did I do the right thing by going it alone? Should I have done what X did, and would I have ended up being as successful as she is if I had?

Again, it’s common to feel that way. But trust your own instincts – they’re usually right. Everyone’s path is different, and the fact that somebody else looks like they’re doing better than you isn’t always the truth. And I’d be willing to bet that by following your own way, you’ll find that there are plenty of people who admire what you’re doing and are thinking, “should I be doing that?”.

June 17, 2020No Comments

How having a local creative hub can help designers get more work

I’ve spoken before about the lack of creative support in my town – there is little here in the way of events for designers, and that’s something that I’d love to rectify. I think there are a great many benefits in creating a community, or hub, for creatives in my town, but they seem to be reserved for larger towns and cities. It’s important that as an industry, we are able to call on each other for advice, support, and inspiration.

So this article is more for the benefit of my fellow designers, who, like me might be struggling to connect with like-minded people, and wonder how we can better support each other in creating such a community and share resources in searching out and getting more paying clients.

Firstly, I’d like to explore some of the ways we might get clients, because we all do things very differently. There is no right or wrong way, but in sharing ideas, perhaps we can help each other to try new avenues, and get more of the types of clients we really want to be working with.

When I created my design agency, I did so because I believe that being part of something gives a professional edge. I decided to open as an agency for that reason.

I don’t really know whether the way that I market my agency should differ very much from the way that a freelancer might, perhaps being an agency means that my marketing is a little less personable, in that my brand is The Severn Agency rather than myself, Tony Clarkson. So whichever method I use to market, I’m doing so as ‘us’ and ‘we’, rather than ‘me’ and ‘I’. It kind of sounds a bit more professional to the kind of people that I want to be targeting, but you might think differently.

Sharing resources

A lot of us get overwhelmed when it comes to looking for new projects, especially in the beginning. Although in time, we find our own methods, it can still be difficult – the current climate has proved that. It’s important that we explore different ways of marketing, and building a design community can once again be so helpful in that. When we get stuck in a rut, as we all do, it’s useful to be able to call on others for support.

In that, I’d like to be able to share a few ideas here with you about methods that you might already use, or that you might not have thought of but want to try.

My methods

In my experience, the best work comes through referrals. Getting your name and face around as much as possible, talking to people about what you do, and not being afraid to network face-to-face is by far the most effective way you can grab people’s interest. If you can get even one client to refer you to a few of their contacts, it tends to have a ripple effect, and you can build quite a decent portfolio this way.

When you’re at the beginning of your career, I think the most important thing you can do is to create enough samples of the kind of work you want to be doing and sharing it across your website and social media platforms. The great thing about graphic design is that it’s visual, and can easily grab people’s attention. If you’ve got a specific style, people will begin to recognise it as yours and look out for it.

If you do want to approach people ‘cold’, it’s vital that you address any emails or letters to a specific person. Get a name, and do a bit of research about them. There’s no harm in stalking someone you want to work with on LinkedIn, and this can then lead you to their other social platforms and websites, where you can learn so much about their businesses, helping you to approach them in a more personal way. Rather than a ‘Dear Sir, I’m a designer, please hire me’, you can be saying, ‘Dear Tom, I see you are creating a great brand through your Instagram – I really think I could help you with that…’

Can people find you?

It stands to reason that if people don’t know you exist, they’re not going to seek you out. Something I see time and time again when I’m asked to help businesses with rebranding and web design is that they’re not making any effort to share what they do. It’s all very well having a beautiful website, but it will just sit there if you fail to use it.

Your aim should be to lead people to your website, and make it clear what you want them to do when they get there (i.e. hire you!) Make sure that all your best work is on your website, and share it around social media. Update people about the work you’re doing right now. Create a blog and drive people to it via a newsletter or sales funnel.

The more content you create through your website, the better you will rank on Google, and the more you will be found.

Be visible, and pool your resources

Rather than seeing others in your industry as competition, start talking to them. This again comes back to the original subject here of building a design network – other creators are not the enemy, and we can and should help each other out.

If you see a piece of work by another designer that you admire, there’s no reason you can’t reach out to them through social media – tag them publicly telling them and others how much you love their work. Spark a conversation, and get to know them.

If you don’t yet have a design community in your area, like me, look at ways you can create one. This is where I’m at right now. I want to make that happen so that I and others in my town and surroundings can have our own ‘hub’ to call upon.

June 9, 2020No Comments

Why side projects can be good for graphic designers

I’ve heard a lot of talk, especially during the current climate, around whether or not graphic designer should consider creating their own side projects. Opinions tend to vary quite widely on the subject – some designers see them as somehow a waste of their time, in that it takes them away from doing paid work, and perhaps sends the message to prospective clients that they’re not so much in demand. Others think that they’re a great way of doing something ‘out of the norm’ and taking it as an opportunity to expand design portfolios, and indeed knowledge within the field of design.

While I can see both views, I think that, done right, they can enhance a design portfolio, and even lead a designer off in a new direction that might not have been possible within ‘the day job’. In fact, I myself published a book showcasing my design journey, and am currently organising some events promoting local designers, both of which were things that have come as a result of my own passion and desire to push myself beyond what I normally do.

I think, as creatives, it’s easy to get bogged down in doing work for others, so in occasionally doing things that come from our own passion can be a welcome release, and a really good way to inspire us. I’ve found that, in doing these side projects, I have so often been inspired to try different techniques and designs for my client work, too.

Above: Spectra Kinetic Sculpture by Accept & Proceed

Looking around at other agencies, there are some examples of side projects that have been so successful, they have enabled the agency to take on completely new projects that they might never have had the opportunity to bid for under normal circumstances, like London agency, Accept & Proceed, who created a kinetic sculpture representing the impact of meteors on the surface of the moon that led to a commissioned project for NASA. Ok, so that might be an extreme example, but you never know…

Above: Grace-FO Display by Accept & Proceed commissioned by NASA/JPL

Of course, there is no harm at all in flexing your creativity and working on a project just for the hell of it, even if it goes nowhere. It can teach you a lot – not just by playing around with different styles and techniques, but also giving you practice in new programmes which might not come up in your usual work. Unlike some industries, the graphic design field is ever-evolving, and it’s good to try out new ways of working now and again. It might give you the opportunity to incorporate a new service for your clients, or even take your agency in a different direction.

And they can be so varied – I’ve seen designers doing online courses teaching others simple design techniques, YouTube channels showcasing everything from ‘a day in the life’ to time-lapses of works in progress, blogs and magazines, photography…the list is endless.

Above: Part of our visual proposal for a community project documenting a day-in-the-life of one of Shrewsbury's iconic buildings.

Do what you love

I know what you’re thinking – if you are busy indulging your passions, doesn’t that pull you away from the money-making projects? And yes, of course that’s true, but if you don’t make time for creating your own stuff, then what’s going to inspire you if all you’re doing is working for clients? As a creative, you need an outlet, somewhere. After all, most of us got into this industry from a place of love for creation and design, and if we fail to keep doing what we love, then there’s a danger that working could become monotonous.

A fresh perspective – for you and your clients

Of course, there’s the added benefit of being able to show your clients a different side to what you do. If you’ve been designing as a job for a while, you tend to end up doing the same kinds of things, but think about this: what if the very client you are designing that website for is also in the market for some photography, or a new identity, a video…if they are not aware that you have a talent for those things, you could be missing out on a whole new set of projects.

All in all, I believe that there can be great things to come out of doing side projects. So why not plan for them? Even if it’s simply a one-off, or a few hours at the weekend? It could be great for both your mental health, and your career.

January 7, 2020No Comments

The Benefits of a Design Community

I wanted to talk about a subject that I touched upon in a couple of earlier articles, where I write about why I went back into education to complete my design MA, and then about being a designer working within a smaller community. I’ve been thinking a lot about my own working location, a small-ish market and college town, and how perhaps larger places have a much closer design community.

Shrewsbury, where I live and work is quite a unique, and in some respects, vibrant town. It comes with a lot of history, and is also a great hub for businesses.

What surprised me, though, is when I began to look around at my own industry, there really isn’t much of a community at all. It’s not for lack of designers or design agencies in the town – if you know where to look, there are some very successful designers here. But they seem to be quite isolated; hidden away from view. Seemingly keeping to ourselves, not through lack of interest, but more because we don’t go out of our way to know about each other. There is simply no interaction between us.

The discovery led me to look around, at other places, and how they have come together to collaborate and communicate, creating a ‘hub’ for their design communities. I looked at some of the most successful ones – the Graphic Design Festival Scotland, and closer by the Birmingham Design Festival. These designers seem to not only willingly collaborate, but celebrate doing so. They come together for events such as these – perhaps because, rather than see each other as competition, they see the value in working together on occasion, in pulling together to learn from one another, and creating their own ‘hub’ in their own communities.

The positives of design communities

There are many positives that can come from being part of a close design community – and creating local festivals and exhibitions to celebrate and collaborate. Of course, it does have the obvious benefit of showing off our work in order to give publicity to our individual studios – but I think it does much more than that.

Being so isolated, in many ways, can be such a negative. For starters, by working in such close quarters, you lose that sense of the world around you – you become self-absorbed in your own work. And yes, you might argue that we are all part of the ‘online’ community, but is that really the same thing? Is there really any substitute to getting to know what’s going on in the immediate community, what’s happening in your own industry, in your own town?

The opportunity to bounce ideas with each other, to learn for each other’s experiences, to come together to work on bigger projects, can only help us to thrive as designers.

Being part of such events as the ones mentioned above can be such a positive experience, a moral booster, and give us a sense of where we are going, as an industry collective. There’s such a lot we could learn from each other.

Can we create our own communities?

This is where I am right now. This is the big question I’m asking – how can I facilitate putting together something in my own community which can bring together other designers?

I’m looking at other local events – there are regular, and successful events for other creatives in my town. There are exhibitions for local artists, both traditional and modern, festivals for writers and comic book artists, amongst others. So there is scope – and some really great venues in which to host such things.

I’d be interested to learn how other places do it – perhaps you have even been where I am, and have seen the opportunity in your own town or city. If you have, maybe you could give me the benefit of your experience. Tell me how you did it, what obstacles stood in your way. Were you successful?

Shrewsbury, I think, would be the perfect place to host a festival for graphic designers – and I’m hoping that in the future, I can facilitate that. I can see a huge benefit in raising the industry profile in the town and surroundings.

June 12, 2018No Comments

People of Print: TENYRSLTR BY SEVERN

posted by POP MEMBERS June 12, 2018

Graphic Designer Tony Clarkson tells us about his journey that led him to create his hardback book that promotes his new studio venture: Severn. “I’d been pretty restless at the old studio for quite a while but told myself that it would be ok, that things would change and things would…

Go to peopleofprint.com

June 8, 2018No Comments

Creative Boom: Severn celebrates 10 years of design work ‘worth shouting about’ with a beautiful book

Written by Katy Cowan

08.06.2018

It happens to the best of us. One minute we’re excitedly launching our own business; the next, we’re stifled by a large client and our creativity is compromised. This is what happened to designer Tony Clarkson of Severn when he worked for another agency.

“I’d become very restless at my old studio,” he explains. “We had fallen into the trap of having one main client which took up most of the time and…

Go to creativeboom.com

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