January 10, 2023No Comments

Using goal-setting to get the right work

I don’t want to sound like a cliché here, but as we start a new year, it’s hard not to think about goal-setting. Of course, it’s important to set and review our business goals at various points in the year, but it feels kind of fitting to align new goals with the start of a new year, doesn’t it? So, cliché or not, I’d like to put some thoughts on paper about how I’m setting new goals to focus my marketing efforts as a graphic designer. Sharing some ideas on how and why I think it’s important to set goals so we can get more of the work we really want to do and less of the work we don’t necessarily enjoy.

I’m sure you can relate to this, particularly if you’ve been in graphic design for as many years as I have – feeling like you’re at a crossroads. A point where you’ve spent so many years taking any viable project that comes your way and being convinced that you have to do that because you need it to build a well-rounded portfolio and get enough money rolling in.

Is that the point of this gig, though? I know from my experience I had something else in mind. I want to win projects that excite me. Yet it never quite ends up that way. I’ve been here long enough to know which projects I’ve done that have really got under my skin. I can so easily tell you about the designs that have been so perfect that I’ve enjoyed doing above all others. So why am I not chasing more of those perfect projects? And why aren’t you?

Why bother with goals?

I know – creativity is mainly about spontaneity and creative inspiration. It seems to go against what we do to; make plans and goals. And yes, in the creative sense, it does, but I’m talking about setting future goals to get the work that allows us to tap into our natural creativity.

We’ve all had those jobs, haven’t we? The ones where it feels as though we’re wading through treacle. The inspiration is hard to cling to because we’re, in all honesty, not that passionate about it. And that’s not what we signed up for, right?

By setting goals, we can pinpoint those ideal jobs and find ways to seek them out.

Steps to finding the right projects

  1. The first goal to consider is the type of projects we want to work on. I think the simplest way to do that is to look back at your current portfolio and reflect on what’s in there. Which projects stand out? What was it about those projects that made them enjoyable? Was it the style? The client? The niche industry?

This will give you clues about who you want to target to get more of those jobs.

  1. Secondly, go back and find out where those clients came from. Did they find you through your website or social media? Did you contact them? See if there are any patterns to where those people came from.
  2. Now you’ll have an idea of the kinds of projects you’d like to do more of and the type of clients you’re most happy working with. 
  3. Now, you’ll want to think about exactly where you need to focus, given the information you gathered in points 1 and 2. If most of those ‘perfect’ clients seemed to come from LinkedIn, double your efforts there. If they seem to trickle through from your email newsletters, then that’s where you need to put most of your energy. On the other side, if you’ve been doing loads of work on one of those or on something else with no return – stop doing it!

Relationship building 

One of the things I’ve become aware of is that I need to focus on looking for people rather than projects. Because although I have a good idea of the types of projects I want, I know from past experience that it’s most often a particular type of client that makes my work most interesting.

Although I do a fair bit of cold marketing, I often get good results from online sources, such as my website, blog, social media, and LinkedIn. From my perspective, putting more effort into those going forward makes more sense. It might be different for you, so it’s a good idea to dig into it.

But throwing out social media posts and blogs, while important, is only part of the whole picture. Because what we really need to be doing is building relationships on our chosen mediums. For me, that means actually seeking out and talking to the kinds of people I want to work with via LinkedIn etc. I’m now starting to spend more time reading people’s posts and taking the time to reply and comment – striking up conversations. Sometimes, that’s potential clients, and sometimes, design and marketing agencies that could potentially outsource or collaborate.

The point is if we don’t think about our goals, who we want to work with, and the direction of our business, we can so quickly end up just…plodding.

How about you? Have you set any new goals recently? Are you using those goals to grow your business, find more niche projects, or maybe change direction altogether?

November 12, 2022No Comments

Pitching; yes, no, maybe sometimes…

Pitching for work, when/how/should you do it?

I recently saw an interesting ad on Facebook asking spot of pitching to be made for a rebranding project. It was for a cultural organisation currently undergoing a refurb and seeking designers to help them rebrand once they re-open to the public.

The organisation asked designers to ‘pitch’ for the project, providing a written response to the brief, along with some background and budget. It got me thinking about how often designers seek out pitching opportunities rather than firing shots in the dark – which is what cold pitching feels like sometimes.

My questions then, I suppose, are: when should designers pitch for projects, should we be seeking the opportunities out, and when should we say no?

What is pitching?

Pitching has always been around in design, and if we’re not careful, it can mean getting ripped off if designs need to be submitted from the off. I always avoid those like the plague, especially if they expect it for free.

What I’m talking about here, though, is when designers are asked to submit an outline for the project, as was requested in the ad I mentioned above.

From the organisation’s point of view, they’re seeking several ideas as to what a designer might be able to bring to their rebranding. They ask for ideas that represent the direction they want – thinking about structure, tone, and overall voice of the place – as well as the type of demographic of their audience.

By having many designers submit their ideas, they get a taste of what those designers can bring to the project and can select the one that they feel will be the best match for their brand going forward.

When pitching goes wrong

The ad that inspired this post (for which, by the way, I am (a little in two minds) putting my own pitch together…) is, I believe, a strong and responsible one. But I’ve experienced situations, both from myself and others I’ve spoken to, where sending that pitch has not gone well.

I’m well aware that some unscrupulous businesses will be more than happy to take advantage of the pitching process. Here’s something that I witnessed during my time at an agency years ago – it’s stuck with me, and I’ve heard that it’s happened to other people, too.

They had been asked to pitch for a job by a business that wanted ideas for a branding project. The pitch was sent, and after several weeks, nothing had come back. Assuming that we’d been unsuccessful, we kind of forgot about it. That was until we discovered that another agency they’d employed had, in fact, a scarily large proportion of the same ideas – too many to be purely coincidental.

This scenario isn’t uncommon. A business will ask another, cheaper agency to follow the structure and ideas of someone else. It’s not the designer’s fault – they have no idea. They’re simply being given a brief to follow.

It can be off-putting, and to be honest, I don’t really know how this situation could have been avoided. I’d like to say, look for warning signs, but they’re not always there. How can you possibly prove it after the fact? It can be complicated.

The only advice I can give is to do your research. If it’s a local business, ask around. If something feels off, trust your instincts. Should you avoid pitching? That’s a hard one to answer. Would you be missing out on some fantastic opportunities? Maybe. Is there a chance you’d take a loss? Sure – but if you don’t play, you can’t win, right?

Is there a right way to pitch?

You really have to dig down into what the job is asking for. How much information do they want? Do they want samples of actual designs? Or, like in this case, is it just a written outline or initial thoughts?

Remember – if you’re doing actual designs to show them, you’re essentially working for free. If they were to go ahead and use them, then you’re the one who loses out. They might be asking for samples of past work, which is better, but never give up your time and talents for nothing.

I like the sound of the ‘written response’. It lets me think about the ‘how’ without revealing anything in an obvious way. It allows me to tell the client where I’d like to take the project, why, and how I’d go about it. It kind of inspires and forces me to think beyond the design work in a visual sense.

What are your thoughts on pitching? Have you any experiences or advice? Any horror stories – or big wins? I’d be really interested to hear them.

October 14, 2022No Comments

The winner is…🤫

Are graphic design awards good for business?

I mentioned here and here that I have been nominated for and won awards for a few projects I have undertaken, and I confess that those awards have given me a lot of pride and pleasure in what I do. But I wanted to talk a little bit about the business side of awards – are they worth it? Do they help to get recognition and, therefore, more/better-paying clients? Or should we just put our focus on other things instead?

Perhaps you’ll be surprised by my insights on design awards, or maybe you’ll agree with me. But my reasons for even considering awards as part of my business are more personal.

My views on the awards I’ve won

Even though I’ve entered work and won a few things. It still feels a bit of a grey area to me. I suppose it always feels awkward because it’s a bit like showing off, something I’ve always felt uncomfortable with.

With that in mind, I’m always very nervous about posting about my accolades on social media, so I tend to push out a quick mention and a link and then try to forget about it! Yeah, I realise that isn’t going to get me noticed beyond a cheeky ‘congrats’ from a few close friends and peers, but that’s just my nature. And to be honest, I’m not convinced that my awards should be what people notice me for…

As I said before – I am (privately) proud of the awards and nominations I’ve managed to get, and it provides a huge confidence boost during those times when the client projects have waned, and I’m feeling that imposter syndrome creep in. I can look back at those achievements and know that I’m not shooting in the dark here – other people have recognised my efforts and have rewarded me for them.

Let’s be honest, though; I think all of us in the design space feel that our work should stand on its own merit. Our ultimate goal is for our projects, whether for clients or ourselves, to be recognised and appreciated. Because (and I’m sure every other designer will agree!) there have been times in my past when I’ve been less than proud of the work I’ve produced. There have been projects in my past that I’ve felt were not up to the standard I was capable of – rightly or wrongly. Sometimes through that ‘imposter syndrome’ that we all get from time to time, sometimes through having to scrape through projects that just didn’t sit right with us from the get-go.

It can be a real drag when you are forced into taking on projects just to get work in. Thankfully, I’ve found that I’ve been much happier with the work I’ve been getting recently, and therefore I feel more confident in showing it off. I guess that’s largely down to me being better at seeing what types of projects get me fired up, and I’m enjoying the process so much more.

Do graphic design awards help your business?

If the question is, do awards impress potential clients, then my answer would be no, they don’t. At least not in my experience. I’ve built a strong portfolio for that reason – and that’s what people want to see to get an idea of the kind of work I can offer.

What I think awards CAN do is:

  • Build self-confidence
  • Give that little bit of extra kudos
  • Get recognition from other designers
  • Allow focusing on elements of design you might not have considered before

They are nice to have, though. And if you have any accolades like that, you should absolutely display them online and share them on your social channels. Even if it is just a little confidence boost for you or because they make your mother proud.

The final word

I seem to have come to the conclusion during the writing of this article that, in answer to the headline, awards are not necessarily ‘good’ for business (as in, not a requirement). But I do feel that they serve a more personal purpose. I’d say that if you get the opportunity – or, like me, get pushed into it by a colleague!) – then definitely go for it. You have nothing at all to lose.

Awards shouldn’t define you as a graphic designer…but they do look pretty hung on a studio wall.

Let me know your thoughts. Have you ever won an award? What did it mean for you?

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.

June 22, 2022No Comments

Make your marketing stand out on Social

Using visuals in social media marketing

Whatever the type or size of your business, you can’t ignore the huge importance social media holds as part of your overall marketing campaign.

Social media marketing has quickly become top of the list for businesses looking to grow and reach new customers. This is because it gives access to such large and diverse audiences (most people have access to the internet these days, and most of them will be on one or more social platforms daily), it’s pretty simple to set up and use, and most of all, it’s free.

In a previous article, I mentioned that social media marketing has become more visual over the past few years. You only have to look at your social feeds to see that there are a huge number of photographs, graphic images, videos and animated GIFs dominating them.

Now that most of us have access to smartphones, it’s so simple for us to take a snap and have it out there in mere seconds.

With so many images to scroll through, it can be tough to have your post stand out in all the noise. Most people scroll through their feeds pretty mindlessly, so creating something to make them stop and want to read your content is pretty tricky.

I wanted to write this post to talk a little bit about each type of visual that we commonly see on social media feeds and share a few tips on how to make them the best they can be.

As ever, if you need me to help you with your online branding or want to chat about how to get your overall imagery up to scratch, I’m always happy to offer my advice. [link to contact/email]

Graphics

Having a bunch of well-designed graphics up your sleeve can really elevate your social posts. They can be used to get your brand recognised by using uniform colours and styles, and help the reader understand your message with clever images and text.

Never be afraid to re-use your graphics now and again – it all helps with brand recognition, and there will always be a chunk of people who didn’t see it the first time around anyway.

Photos and video

Platforms like Instagram and TikTok have brought photography and video to the forefront. In fact, pretty much every social platform now makes it easy to upload these kinds of images – and if you can master it, then you’ll likely find that your post views are massively favoured, both by the platforms and your followers.

People buy from people, and showing your mug, whether that’s a quick snap of you showing off a new product, a video giving your audience tips and advice or hot news, can really make your brand feel personable and stand out.

Animations

A good, simple animation added to your social post makes it so much more memorable. It instantly grabs the viewers’ attention and sets you apart from other static posts.

Our eye is drawn to movement and colour – and animation is a fun way of taking advantage of that.

You can also use it to illustrate your message, making what you’re saying in your post easier to understand and digest.

"Let’s say you want your post to advertise your blog, for example. I’m willing to bet you’ve got at least 5 or 6 quotable sentences in that blog post you can quite easily use as a quote in a graphic. Do it!"

&Something

Quotes

I know what you’re thinking – everyone uses quotes on social media. It’s so boring, right?

But actually, there’s a reason why they’re so popular, and they can really speak to your followers on a personal level. BUT – you have to get it right!

It’s easy to cop out and use one of those really well-known motivational quotes that we see everywhere. But if you want to really stand out, they’re not going to do it for you. It takes a bit more thought…

Sure, you can quote famous people like Steve Jobs or Albert Einstein, but there’s absolutely nothing wrong with looking closer to home. Yeah, you can even quote yourself.

Let’s say you want your post to advertise your blog, for example. I’m willing to bet you’ve got at least 5 or 6 quotable sentences in that blog post you can quite easily use as a quote in a graphic. Do it!

The great thing about using quotes, wherever you source them from, is that they are really, really shareable. If you can hit on a few that resonate with your audience, they’ll happily share it with their audience, too.

How to design for social media posts

Branding

Good branding is key to success with your marketing efforts, and your social media posts should be no different. Make sure that everything you post uses the same themes and brand voice throughout.

When creating visuals for your social posts, be mindful of what your overall branding looks like. Do you have specific colours? Use those. The fonts on your website should tie in, too.

The more you can make your branding uniform across all of your channels, the more recognisable you’ll be online.

Templates

Creating regular visuals for your social media can cost a lot of time, so anything to speed things up is always a good idea.

For things like graphics and quotes, it’s a good idea to keep hold of a few templates so that you can easily overtype. This makes the whole process simple, and takes much less time.

If consistency in social media is key, then visuals and graphics are the glue that holds it all together. Post often, but also post the most valuable content that you can.

If you need a graphic designer to work with you on any aspect of your branding or visual marketing, feel free to call me for a chat.

June 6, 2022No Comments

The Studio Name Game

Why I changed my name

Here's that niggle I mentioned back in April. It might not have escaped your attention that there have been some changes over here. You see, quite some time ago, I decided to move away from my old business name (Severn Agency) and am now working under my new studio name &Something.

I wanted to take this opportunity to talk about the process, the reasons why, and how I went about it.

Perhaps you are thinking about changing or rebranding your own business, in which case, I hope that my story inspires you and gives you confidence. Maybe, like me, you’ve been stuck for a while, wondering about all the ‘what ifs’ and the implications it might have on your image or your bottom line. If that rings true, I’m here to tell you that sometimes, you just have to trust your gut. Change is scary but, in some circumstances, necessary.

The Backstory

A while ago, I wrote an article telling the story of my first 3 years in business. Although I had a vision of what I wanted it to look like back in the beginning, I struggled to find the right name. I made lists of ideas, shortlisted some, and then decided that none of them fit in with my ethos. In the end, it took me months of thinking up names and concepts for my brand. The name ‘Severn’ came up because it kind of fitted in with my location (I’m based in Shrewsbury, which has the River Severn running through it), which I thought gave a certain familiarity locally. Still, it felt a bit lame, and although it was on the list, I’d already rejected it.

I felt stalled. How could I move on with my business ideas if I couldn’t even think of a decent name? In the end, I’d got myself so tangled up in it that I became fed up – perhaps I was overthinking this? Had I made it more complicated than it should be? I went back to that original list, and ‘Severn’ came up again. Maybe that was the best of a bad lot – it would have to do. So I went with it.

I wanted to use the word ‘Severn’ alone as the name of my brand, but soon after I started working on client projects, some of my clients began referring to me as ‘The Severn Agency’. I had mixed feelings about that – on the one hand, did being branded as an agency give me a kind of ‘kudos’, making me look like a bigger entity than just myself? Would that matter? On the other hand, it felt a bit flat – I always felt a bit embarrassed at announcing myself as ‘Severn Agency’, and because of that, I never used it when I answered the phone.

For almost 4 years, I grew my business under that name while never feeling completely at ease with it. I knew it wasn’t right; it always seemed like a temporary option. I kept thinking, “It’ll do…for now”, but in the back of my mind, I was always thinking about the next evolution.

Making a change

Over that past year, following the pandemic and national shutdown and a few personal events, I again began to wonder if this might be a good time to rebrand.

While there were some elements that I was happy to keep, the main driver was, as I mentioned, the name. I just wasn’t comfortable with it – I might have said that I’d outgrown it, but in truth, it never felt like mine to begin with.

But changing was a cause for stress too. Had I left it too long? Would I lose recognition by changing the name? Should I simply have the two brands run alongside each other? In my mind, it was both risky and an urgent requirement – a chance to step away from the old into something that was more ‘me’.

In the end, that was more important. So I took the chance and went back to the drawing board – quite literally!

The idea for the &Something name came about because I wanted a name with some reason behind it, and this one came about purely by accident. As part of my MA, we were going through a bit of a debate on names. The tutor’s opinion was that it didn’t have to matter that much. Just pick two surnames and call it’ Something and Something’. I liked the sound of that as well as the ‘&’ being part of it because that’s my favourite character.

I think the name creates a sense of intrigue, and having the symbol there is somehow jarring enough to make the eye stop and look without being nonsensical.

In my web address and across my marketing, I have described myself as a studio rather than an agency. I like that it gives more of an intimacy, an impression that you’re not dealing with a faceless, big agency but rather a specialised creative studio, which fits better with what I’m trying to achieve.

Am I glad I did this now? Yes, I am. I think it was the right time – and although it took a while to overcome the fear of going for it, I’m pleased to say that making that change has helped me realign the business and given me some direction on how I want to move things forward.

May 5, 2022No Comments

Not London? Not here…

Here’s a question – have you ever come across situations where you’ve lost out on a project simply because of your location? Here’s another – does location matter?

Something happened to me recently that I questioned how important location is when searching for work. I sent off an application, and here’s a summary of the response I got back.

Firstly, a concern about how I would ‘fit’, being from somewhere that wasn’t London.

Then, while they liked my work, there was a ‘lack of names’ to relate to.

OK, so there are really two separate issues there, and I have to say that while I was perhaps a little surprised that he’d highlighted those specific issues, it isn’t anything new to me – in fact, I’ve come across this problem a few times over the years.

You see, when you’re based outside of a city location, like I am, it can be very hard to be taken seriously beyond the locality of where you are. Sure, a lot of the projects I take on tend to be from businesses within the confines of Shrewsbury, Shropshire, and the Midlands. It’s no coincidence – I’m willing to bet that a large proportion of people who hire me are searching for local designers. Those types of businesses prioritise designers who know the local market and can deal with their projects on a personal level.

While some familiar brands are in Shropshire and the Midlands, many are headed up by corporate offices in London or European cities. This means that when (and if) they hire design agencies, they source them from those areas – they’re not going to consider us here in rural Shropshire. That does mean that there are naturally a limited number of ‘big brands’ that I could work for.

Is that fair, though? How is it affecting our bottom line? Are designers like us missing out on the big fish because of where we live?

Again, does location matter?

There’s a tendency to assume that graphic designers only work for local businesses and that they’re well placed to do that because they know the local market, they’re familiar with the area and the people who live and work there.

Of course, there are definite benefits of hiring a local designer – it’s always nice to meet up face-to-face, speak on a personal level, blah, blah… but hang on. We live in a digital world, where (as the whole covid situation showed us) we can use online tools like zoom to speak to each other very easily.

We can share files and documents at the click of a mouse, and we can even go ‘old school’ and pick up the telephone.

So what’s up with all this ‘hire local’ stuff? Is it really so important?

In my view, no. The work I do for my clients is not really affected by where they are in the world. Sure, there are some differences, but none of them is detrimental to the project’s outcome. Yes, it’s nice to meet clients in person, but there are ways around it, as I mentioned above. And in the end, as long as I am able and willing to communicate well with my clients, then any kind of problem can be worked through very easily.

Working remotely – pros and cons

Many designers are happy to stay within their communities when they’re looking for work – and that’s not a bad thing. As a designer, it’s great to connect with local businesses and work on branding and website design projects – it’s where the majority of my bread-and-butter work comes from.

There’s a big world out there, so many unique brands and organisations that could be a match made in heaven for the type of design you offer. But sometimes, you might crave more than that. So, what are the benefits of seeking out projects from further afield? And how can you approach those businesses who doubt your ability to deliver because of your location?

Benefits of being a local designer

  • Meeting in person develops a mutual working relationship more quickly
  • Knowledge of the local market can help understand the required outcomes of the project
  • Ability to work with smaller, bespoke businesses and see the benefits of your work personally

Benefits of designing for larger companies further afield

  • Less opportunity for scope creep, as there are not so many personal contact points
  • More lucrative projects from companies who have bigger budgets
  • Chances to be involved in more engaging, long-term projects in different industries
  • Additional opportunities to get the kind of projects to enhance your portfolio

Over to you

What are your thoughts on this subject? Are you a designer who has been rejected for projects based on your location or something else? Or do you work within a city where you outsource to designers in more rural areas? What’s your experience?

April 5, 2022No Comments

Where do you seek inspiration?

Back in September, I wrote about how comparison can be both a blessing and a curse for creatives. I talked about my own experience with ‘imposter syndrome’, and how we need to strike a balance between allowing other design professionals to inspire us and becoming intimidated by what others are creating.

The Important point here is to strike the right balance and not get into a place where you’re allowing yourself to be overwhelmed by comparing your work to what you see on social media and other places around you. Designers, I think, are often more susceptible than other creative professions to this because design is all around us. We’re tuned in to analyse images that we see in everything – the ads we see on TV, posters and branding on the high street, websites we visit, social media posts, stuff we buy…it all has an impact on us.

And as long as you can keep it in perspective, allowing those influences in can be a positive thing. For example, I really enjoy browsing through image-heavy coffee table books, design magazines, and websites. I love to save images that speak to me in both online and paper-based scrapbooks to search for inspiration when I’m feeling like the ideas just are not flowing.

No matter what kind of designer you are, there is an abundance of inspiration that can really help to get the creative juices flowing. But you have to allow it to inspire and not overwhelm. As a designer, you can do plenty of things to seek out the right kind of inspiration, as long as you remember to filter out those thoughts that lead you down the path of inadequacy.

Professional design goals 

I know from bitter experience – it’s so easy to get lost in the never-ending tide of images and design online. But the one thing that always pulls me back is remembering my own design goals. Thinking about my own style, the kind of projects I want (and love) to work on, and the type of people I most want to work with can often be all it takes to clear my head. 

Using those filters helps me question when I’m comparing myself with other designers – their designs might speak to me, yes, but their goals are completely different from mine. They might be targeting a completely different audience to me. 

If you feel that pang of envy on seeing someone else’s designs, think – would that style really appeal to your audience? How does it fit in with your own goals, realistically?

Test it out

In a previous post, I talked about how I created my own’ portfolio book’, or coffee table book, “Ten Yrs later”. As I mentioned, I enjoy looking through books created by other designers, so I decided that it might be good to see if I could create my own version of that. This is a great example of me testing out something that had long inspired me.

Making time to create your own personal projects, in my experience, is always a positive thing. It allows you to explore things you ordinarily wouldn’t when working on client projects. It lets you stretch yourself creatively and try out new techniques, technologies, and materials that your day job simply doesn’t allow.

So if you find that you’re drawn to a particular style or designer whilst you’re browsing, explore that. Test out the techniques they used, and see if that inspires something new. Try creating your own version of it.

 Social media…in moderation

I use my Instagram page to share my ideas and follow other designers I like and admire. Instagram is a fabulous place for visual creatives because it’s predominantly image-led (although video is also a big part of it now). 

By following people who are perhaps within your own design realms, you can use Instagram as a place of inspiration when you’re stuck for ideas – it’s a useful way to get you back on track.

Like everything, it’s easy to fall down the rabbit hole here, so if you find yourself feeling those pangs of envy or losing confidence, then pull yourself back (remember your own goals, as I mentioned above). Design is subjective – every one of us has a different style and approach, so don’t allow yourself to fall into that comparison trap.

Take it offline

Even if most of your work is online, don’t dismiss design in the real world. Sure, print is a different animal, but many elements and ideas are the same. Use that to spur fresh ideas and techniques.

Ideas can be found in the most unexpected places, from print media, books and magazines, store-front styling, the fashion people wear, and the colours of nature in our local parks and countryside. Seek it out, and use it.

Who will you inspire?

As with all of us, there will be days when you might feel as though you’ll never live up to your competitors. But remember, someone out there is looking at your work right now and thinking, ‘I wish I could create stuff like that’ (hopefully)… 

February 17, 2022No Comments

Errrmmmm…

Are you talking to your clients?

Being a designer, having a regular stream of paying clients is a big deal. Without them, we’re nothing more than hobbyists. But here’s the thing; we have to know how to talk to them to have people hire us. It’s essential that we speak their language and not bamboozle them with our jargon.

If people don’t understand what we do, and more importantly, what we can do for them, why should they ever want to pay for our services?

Talking to your clients is a skill that is hard to master for some, yet it’s so important that we learn it. For what it’s worth, here are my thoughts on the subject.

You’re not selling to designers.

Picture this: You’re at a party, and you get chatting to a friend of a friend. They ask, “So, what do you do?”

If you’re anything like me, it’s a question that strikes a blade of fear into your very soul. I’ll admit that every time I’m asked that question, my brain freezes up for a moment while I stumble to find something that sounds remotely intelligent before I utter, “I’m a designer.”

Usually, that’s followed by a string of incoherent babble as I try to express to them what, exactly, that means, before I excuse myself, half-embarrassed while their eyes glaze over…

Back when I was in college, one of my tutors said to me, “Remember, you’re not designing for designers.” We forget that, sometimes, don’t we? We are creators by nature, and perhaps we’re a bit apt to show off what we can do – but it doesn’t help us when it comes to marketing ourselves. Because we’re also not selling to designers. People don’t much care about the technicalities of design – they just want to know how we can make their websites and branding speak for them.

If we can learn to adapt our language to speak to them on their level, rather than using design jargon, they’re much more likely to see how our vision can work for them – and hire us to do that. Put yourself in their shoes, and think about what it is that they need and the outcome of your design projects for them.

Use positive (and simple) language, always.

We tend to over-complicate things that really should be simple. Maybe it’s through a lack of confidence in ourselves, or maybe it’s to do with ego. But there really is a lot to be said for keeping things simple, including how we describe the design process.

Again, we need to look at each new project from the client’s point of view – they usually have some clear ideas on what they need (but not always), and it’s up to us to coach them to understand the scope of what can be done.

There might be times when what they think they want isn’t in alignment with their brand, or they’re just asking for the impossible. Rather than saying, “No, I can’t do that.”, try to use positive, straightforward language to help them to visualise how things should work. Perhaps, “I understand what you’re saying, although I think if we try it this way instead, we’ll get better results”, or “In my experience, that can appear confusing to your customers – can I suggest we try and do this instead?”

Help them see that you know what you’re talking about clearly and simply. Don’t assume that they will know design terms just because you do.

Who are you talking to?

What about you? Does the way you speak to your clients impress or confuse them? Does your marketing appeal to your ideal customer, or is it geared towards other designers? If it is, perhaps you could look at simplifying your messaging in a way that will grab the attention of future clients.

Need help or advice with your branding or design? Give me a call – I’d be happy to help.

©2017–2023 Tony Clarkson/&Something Studio