April 5, 2024No Comments

Career paths: how do you qualify?

There are so many ways to get a career in design, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that you just need the formal qualifications to be a good designer. It’s absolutely possible to be good at design without any qualifications at all. Like with everything, everyone learns differently, and I think it’s important to find the right path for you, whether that’s traditional or not.

With this in mind, I wanted to explore how graphic designers can start a career – whether they choose university or not.

Embrace Your Creativity and Passion

I’ve often tried to explain to people that the bottom line is that you just need to be a good designer. It doesn’t matter what official qualifications you have or what other jobs you’ve had—if you’ve got a passion and willingness to learn, great, and if you’ve got ‘that thing’ too, you’re already halfway there.

Many successful designers have started their careers simply because they love to create. It just starts with that spark and grows from there.

Take time to explore your creativity, experiment, put ideas on paper, and try something different. The more you immerse yourself in the creative process, the more you refine your skills and develop a unique style.

Build a Strong Portfolio

Let me share how often I’ve been asked for evidence of my formal qualifications. None. Most people don’t care about that—instead, they’re looking for something to show I can do the right job for them.

Your portfolio is your resume. It showcases your skills, style, and creativity to potential clients. The key is to showcase your best work, the kind of work you love, and give potential clients an idea of how you could do the same for them.

Like me, most designers nowadays have an online portfolio on their website, making it easy for people to see what they’re about. If your client projects are scant or you’re just starting out, I’ve seen plenty of designers use personal projects to great effect. I did something similar with my book TenYrsLater and am still doing it with a new set of projects underway.

Network and Collaborate

Something I always advocate is getting to know other designers. There’s often this belief that creative people must carefully guard their circle, for fear of their ideas and work being stolen. That rarely is the case, and in fact, I think it’s important to network and collaborate with other designers. Sharing ideas and supporting others has huge benefits and works wonders for your mental health during tough times.

If you work alone, as many creatives do, just having a few trusted peers to call on for guidance is always helpful. Don’t think of them as competitors but as a support network.

Embrace Continuous Learning

Graphic design is constantly evolving, with new trends, technologies, and techniques emerging all the time. To stay relevant, we must embrace lifelong learning. Whether mastering new software, checking out design trends, or honing our skills in specific areas, always seek knowledge and improvement.

If you find online resources, workshops, webinars, or even formal courses beneficial, take advantage of them. Stay curious, adaptable, and willing to step out of your comfort zone to grow as a designer.

Remember, your journey as a graphic designer should be unique; don’t be afraid to break the rules.

March 13, 2024No Comments

Not yet niched?

How far should you go?

There’s been a shift over recent years. Perhaps it’s always been there, but somehow, it feels more prevalent now. I wonder if you’ve noticed it, too.

I’ve noticed that design jobs increasingly ask for samples of (often very specific) niches. What they’re asking for frequently goes beyond ‘Have you got experience in the such-and-such industry?’ and is more geared toward ‘Have you written for brand X?’

A few weeks ago, I read a post on LinkedIn talking about this subject. It seems that I’m not the only one who has come across this type of barrier. In the post, the guy was pitching for a project in the beauty industry. The company responded, ‘Can you show us projects you’ve worked on for L’Oréal or similar?’. Understandably, he was flummoxed because although he’d sent over loads of examples where he’d done projects in similar industries, they seemingly wanted something more high-brow.

Are companies right to ask for such specifics, or has it gone just a bit too far?

Has ‘niche’ become another buzzword for the creative industry?

A lot of designers choose to specialise or ‘niche’, usually opting to work for a particular industry or only specialise in specific types of projects. But while I agree that niching has a place, I wonder if we’ve become overly focused on it, to the point of blocking out opportunities that more generalist designers enjoy?

By doing so, have we inadvertently forced prospects to seek out designers who work only in their industry or in one specific niche? If that’s the case, should generalist designers pick a niche to appease these brands?

For those who are new to the game, I think it’s always a good idea to gain experience across several industries and fields. Otherwise, how do you know which direction you wish to go? Perhaps this mix of experience is gained whilst working through positions in different studios, and that's how you discover your niche.

What if you don’t have the ‘right’ samples?

What should you do if you have pitched a company and get this kind of email back? What if they ask for samples you simply don’t have?

There are a couple of ways of looking at this. You could go back to the company and ask for clarification on what, exactly, they are looking for. If you have a piece that showcases the kind of thing they need, then you could highlight that and offer to go more in-depth about your experience in completing the project and why you think it lends itself to their situation.

Or, if you get a particularly strong pushback and feel that the demand is too unreasonable, ask yourself if the project is worth it. Of course, if it’s a brand that you’ve always dreamed of working with, this can be a tough call – but remember, just because you are not a match right now, there’s nothing to say that in a year or two, you won’t have that demanded experience under your belt. It may just be a case of working up to it.

Being resilient

At some point, all designers have had dream projects thwarted due to competition or unreasonable demands, and it’s important to know when to pursue and when to step back. But whatever happens, try to think of each rejection as a learning experience and not a personal attack on your abilities, no matter how hard that might be.

If you get rejected for a project you’ve got your heart and soul set on, let yourself feel it, and then think about what you can do to move forward. Are there other similar brands that you could approach? Not only would that satisfy the itch, but it would also move you one step closer to getting that sought-after project next time.

It’s important to seek support, too. If you are a freelancer or a small agency, look around and talk to other designers like you. There are loads of us on platforms like LinkedIn—feel free to look me up there. Creating a community of like-minded people around you definitely helps.

January 10, 2024No Comments

How to build a great graphic design portfolio that will get you noticed

The portfolio is one of the greatest tools in a graphic designer’s arsenal. It’s probably the most challenging piece of work you own – above your initial online branding, social media, and website content – and provides solid proof of your work to date, insight into your processes, and personal perspective.

Your design portfolio tells your prospects what value you can add to their brand and why they should work with you above your competitors.

Having said that, it can be easy for designers to overlook the importance of their portfolio and end up with a bland and generic document that falls flat and puts the hard work of prospecting back on us. If you spend the whole meeting explaining your portfolio, then it definitely needs work. Your portfolio should speak for itself and do the hard work for you.

So, what should be in your portfolio, and what should you do to make sure that it’s as functional and tailored as it needs to be? I’ve gathered some information from advice I’ve been given and personal insights I’ve learned over my career.

Treat your portfolio as a project.

How many of us have been guilty of this – completing a project and ‘bunging it in’ to our portfolio? We end up with a mash-up of past projects, not particularly in any order, shoehorned in, and with no proper narrative or context.

So many designers end up frustrated because their portfolio simply isn’t working for them. After all, they haven’t put the time and effort into making it good.

We should spend a decent amount of time curating a working portfolio that can be updated with our best work and easily tailored to each prospect. Our portfolio is (and should be) an ongoing, evolving project that needs time and effort to make it work hard for us.

As with all of our marketing efforts, our portfolio should be an actual project; treat your design business as you would a client and put care and time into it.

Present your best work – leave the rest.

A great piece of advice I was given recently is this: your portfolio is not a slideshow. It is a narrative.

I love that. Sure, you can absolutely show your story through your portfolio – but you don’t need to show every piece of work, and in my experience, you shouldn’t. Only showcase the projects that stand out to you and highlight the work you want to be known for. Many of us have the ‘bread and butter’ stuff that, while it is more than worthy of note, is rather generic. Some of that stuff can be left out to make space for the real show-stoppers, which will absolutely wow the prospects we are targeting.

Choose pieces with a reason to be there and show your perspective and what value you brought to the project. Let people see your thought process and what went into making it. If the piece is too hard to write about or doesn’t inspire you, then it won’t inspire your prospects, either, and it’s likely that it doesn’t belong in your portfolio.

If you haven’t done the work you love, create it.

How often do we actually assess our design careers and think seriously about how we want to progress? Often, we get swallowed up in the day-to-day busyness, and we become stagnant. That can be a hard place to be.

Sometimes, our portfolio no longer reflects our ambition, and we find that the projects we are doing no longer inspire. So, what happens if we discover that the path we are on isn’t making us happy? What if we want to work on different types of projects from those we are doing, but we can’t show that through our portfolio because we haven’t done those projects yet?

If you’re at the start of your career or are looking to move in a different direction, this could be the best way to do it.

What about you? Is your portfolio up to scratch? Does it work in bringing you new projects? Let me know.

August 9, 2023No Comments

Stop Comparing Yourself To Other Designers

Since rebranding the studio, I have to admit that we’ve fallen into a bit of a rabbit hole…

There’s no shortage of advice – online and off. First, Let me share some of the gems I get into my inbox and social feed daily.

‘How to pick up 10 clients in 10 minutes.’
‘Funnel your social media.’
‘How you should be engaging on LinkedIn.’
‘Daily posts for your social media.’

It’s so easy to get sucked in – and I’ve been in the design game for years. I can only imagine how overwhelming it can be for someone just coming into this industry.

The trouble is, though, with so much conflicting advice, which elements should we believe? Is there even a correct path when it comes to marketing a design agency? I’m not so sure.

Why all advice isn’t good advice

There are a lot of ‘experts’ online who are more than willing to share their opinions with you. And across social media – particularly on LinkedIn – people know that most people on the network are there to try and get more business. It’s a natural hunting ground for those who have established themselves as experts in business growth, and those people will quite happily churn out post after post giving advice on how you should market your business and why you should hire them to help you do it.

Yes, everyone’s got an opinion, but although some might be really good (or at least well-intentioned), it might not necessarily be the right advice for you.

We’re all different – a quick search will show you the sheer diversity of designers online. We have completely different styles, skill sets, client types, design ideas, software preferences, and levels of introversion… so none of us can fit into a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to our marketing.

Some designers thrive in face-to-face networking events, and some hate them. Some designers do social media beautifully, while others don’t really ‘get it’. The trick is to find a marketing style that works for you – and excel at it.

How to find your own path

Instead of comparing yourself to others, focus on your own strengths, achievements and goals. Only you know what you’re good at – that might be creating great stuff online, or it might be networking in person. If you’re uncomfortable in networking, no matter how much you force it, you’re never going to get clients from doing that. But if you’re naturally good at persuading people that you’re the best designer in your niche, then that’s what you should focus on.

Something else to consider is where are your perfect clients? This is particularly important if you’re marketing online – you might be chucking everything at posting every day on Twitter (or whatever it’s called these days!) when your clients are all over on LinkedIn, or they might not be on social at all, but be favouring local networking events in your town or city. Maybe they are looking for designers via an online directory for your industry, or they might be sitting there waiting for you to email them so they can hire you for their new website design or rebrand. Find common ground between your preferred marketing techniques and where your perfect clients will most likely be searching for you, and you’re onto a winner.

Show, don’t tell.

Here’s a little bit of advice that really is useful, though. Remember to let your design speak for itself, whatever approach to marketing you choose. You can tell people what a great designer you are until you’re blue in the face, but they won’t believe you unless you can show them your work. So don’t be afraid to do that.

How do you stay calm when thinking about your own marketing?

May 15, 2023No Comments

Adapt and Change

How did the internet change graphic design?

The internet has made a massive difference in the graphic design industry. The marketing landscape has changed a lot, leading to a change in consumer behaviour. And all of this has meant that designers have had to adapt and change to not only keep up with trends but to take into account advancing technology and things like social media.

Looking back at the early to mid-eighties, online communities and digital marketing were unheard of. We were still living in a world where print advertising was king, and consumers relied on newspapers and magazines to learn about products and services.

Even into the nineties and the early noughties, graphic designers were still developing the majority of their skills in print media, such as brochures, flyers, posters, and traditional advertising – though we were starting to see an obvious shift with businesses starting to pick up on banner ads as the internet as a whole began to be more accessible and widely used. And that is where the biggest changes started to happen.

The print advertising age

In the old days, we used to get things printed to send out in the post or design a brochure or ad, aiming to make a better impression than other designers doing the same for their clients. Businesses would then follow up, usually by telephone, to build a rapport and sell something. It was methodical, extremely well-targeted, and awfully slow and expensive.

Back then, a lot of people were used to having a daily paper through their door, as well as print magazine subscriptions, many of which came with little flyers tucked into the covers selling all sorts of goodies. You still see them sometimes, but nowadays, most people, particularly the younger generations, have forgone print media and get their information mainly on the web.

There is, however, an interesting overlap…

The new print age (yes, there is one!)

People nowadays are so much savvier when it comes to how they buy. We no longer trust traditional advertising – most people would rather not be sold to in that sense. With all of the information available online, it’s a lot easier to research products and services, and most of us will do at least some research online before we decide on our purchases.

That shows in modern print design. If you see flyers, brochures and advertisements that are produced these days, in most cases, they’re not trying to sell you something. Instead, they will direct you to some online source to research or learn more about the company or the product. It’s less about selling and more about sharing information.

The world now, like it or not, is online. So businesses invest a lot of time and money in getting their print material to guide people to their websites and online spaces – where they can build relationships and communities that will eventually buy from them. Online is where sales happen – not so much advertising in print.

Modern graphic design

Businesses need a strong online presence to succeed, with websites being the most essential tool for building sales. Social media outlets like Facebook and Instagram are vital for growing audiences and guiding people to those websites.

From a graphic design point of view, not only have the tools we use advanced massively, but many graphic designers now have chosen to focus more on on-screen design, like websites and online/social ads. Many graphic designers now sell themselves as ‘web designers’ and specialise only in that area.

It’s no longer about designing to sell. Nowadays, it’s all digital – website design, social media posts etc. And the main focus is now much more statistics. We measure the success of a design by how many likes it has, how many people have viewed it, and how many times it’s been shared.

We no longer have tangible items to admire; instead, we focus on creating images that will achieve a clicked button as a way of admiration.

That’s where our efforts must be. Our designs must be able to ‘stop the scroll’ and encourage people to follow the path from a graphic to a website to a sales cart. And that’s a whole different skill.

Has the internet killed print design?

I don’t believe that’s the case at all. The internet has changed print design, but print is still a big part of most businesses' marketing strategy – it’s just that it’s moved away from the ‘Sell! Sell! Sell!’, and instead needs to nurture and guide the audience to build relationships online through social media graphics and quality web design.

Although many designers now put much of their effort into digital design, I think those who can adapt to both print and digital are perhaps well-placed to future-proof the industry. Businesses will always require a mixture of both, so if we can offer that, we can be that ‘go-to’ for many different types of business.

What are your thoughts on this? Do you design predominantly for digital? I’d love to hear your views.

February 3, 2023No Comments

Into 2023…

…the year of change

My last post inspired me to talk more about my goals and plans for &Something going into 2023. In truth, it's easier to give advice than to follow it – and that's something I'll try to focus on much more this year.

You see, for a while now, I've felt like I've hit a plateau in my design business. While I recognise that I've worked on some amazing projects over the past few years, I also need to step up and allow the business to move forward somehow. I've outgrown the current model, but I've been trying to figure out the next logical evolution for a long time.

I've got myself stuck in a cycle of taking jobs that I feel comfortable with, the kind that I like and know. It's a dangerous place where my mind is telling me, "It pays the bills; you need this." It's where I feel safe, but it doesn't always excite me.

It wasn't until I spoke to a designer friend about my thoughts that I realised that this feeling of stagnation ran so deep. I started questioning myself, and then I sat down with him and asked him what he thought I should do about it. That meeting was a game-changer. A giant neon lightbulb flashed on, and I felt optimistic for the first time in ages. And now, I have a plan.

The story so far

I live and work in a fairly small, well-established market town on the English-Welsh border. I've mentioned in several of my posts before that it can be challenging to have a creative agency in a place like this because it's not a city, it's not near London, and there are very few, if any, large corporate businesses here.

Despite the issues, though, I like the sense of community here. And I enjoy the opportunity to work so closely with the businesses that thrive here. Many of the businesses I've worked with over the years have become friends, and I've been able to get involved in all sorts of things that I wouldn't necessarily have done anywhere else.

For a small town, it is diverse. There are a lot of little boutique businesses, as well as the better-known high-street brands, and so I've been lucky that I've got to work with some interesting people.

But the downside is that it's difficult to break out of this community. No one gets to hear much about a small studio like mine in places like Birmingham, Manchester, or London. That's where the bigger places are, and there are much bigger fish in their pools.

So my bread-and-butter tends to come from the businesses around my location, and they are predominately looking for branding projects such as logo design and websites. And while I enjoy getting involved in those, it's hard to find stuff that stretches my wings.

Getting good advice

Those already following me might remember that I changed my business name last year. Looking back, that was another sign that I was craving something more. I'd already started to recognise that I needed to evolve, and this was the one thing I could control – by rebranding.

I also knew that I couldn't make any serious changes on my own. I've always tried to maintain relationships with other designers, but asking for help? That's a whole different ballgame, isn't it? Though I knew that's exactly what I'd have to do if I wanted to make changes. I needed help deciding how to use my marketing knowledge to promote my own business growth. So I took a deep breath, and I reached out to someone I knew and trusted – more so, who I admired – and had already achieved some of the growth I wanted for my own business.

He was good enough to listen to my woes and willing to advise me on how he'd approached things from the start. He talked me through the obstacles and how to push through them. The most important advice was to be patient. Marketing, the way he'd described it, is a long game. Things aren't going to happen today or next week. Probably not even next month. But you have to remain consistent, and, in time, you will get results.

Patience and consistency. That's the hard part, isn't it?

Moving forward

There's a lot of noise online about knowing your audience and niching and all that stuff. Yes, I recognise that marketing has changed – it's no longer about the hard sell (which is great because I dread that) and more about being where your ideal client is and giving consistent value. It's all about building community and sharing. I know all that – but how do you do it?

My first task is to find the right platform. My focus will be LinkedIn because I already have a following, and I realise that the type of people I want to connect with are there, too.

The next challenge is to make more effort to interact…

This part I've always found hard – posting valuable content. I'll put more effort into sharing my work, views, and vision about the things I'm interested in. For example, I'd love to be involved in larger projects – not just on paper or screen but actual places, environments and exhibitions, etc., and more or the enjoyably challenging jobs that came in last year.

I already have experience on a smaller scale that I can talk about. Perhaps I haven't pushed those projects enough? How much is too much?

This is a reminder to myself – but I hope you can find value in it too. Now I have this roadmap to follow; I'm hoping that I can maintain it:

  • Keep things simple by using one central platform.
  • Connect with the right people.
  • Be useful with my content – post stuff that lets people learn about what I do and who I am.
  • Build community – make an effort to talk to people, like and share.

What about you? Can you add anything to this? I'd love to hear about your experiences (and pick up more tips).

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…

©1973–2023 Tony Clarkson
&Something Studio is a design studio based, but no way trapped, in Shrewsbury. Shrewsbury has trains and roads which lead both in and out.