October 19, 2021No Comments

Designers: What are your hopes for 2022?

I have recently been reflecting on the changes I’ve seen happening in the design industry over the past months, and how lockdown has brought about shifts in the way we work, and the habits we’ve formed. Yes, it’s been a hard slog for many of us, but now that we’re beginning to operate at a much more normal level again, I’m hoping that some of those new habits will stick. Perhaps you think that’s an odd thing for me to say, but I’ve seen some good stuff come out of this crisis.

Let me explain what I mean…

The pre-covid design landscape

A while ago, I wrote an article about how bad designers are at forming communities, and how my agency, being situated in a small market town, can sometimes feel a little isolating. I think that a lot of creative industries suffer the same affliction – we’re notoriously private individuals, aren’t we? Perhaps a little introvert by nature, and so we shut ourselves away in our own creative bubble.

Part of that extended into other areas too. We were not only sensitive about our communication with other agencies but also with other people seeking our advice – from the businesses we served to the graduates who asked for our support. I’m not saying that applied in all cases, but I witnessed it quite a bit (it was one of the reasons I decided to try and get some of those barriers lifted by starting my own local design community).

Maybe it was just a rut we’d got ourselves stuck in. Maybe it was just habitual. And we might find ourselves sliding back into that mindset – but I’m not so sure it will happen. I think we’ve been through too much, and that some of the new ways we seem to have adopted along the way will become the norm as we go into 2022.

So, what’s changed?

It might be that many of us were forced to work from home during the lockdown, or that we had a lot more time between client projects, but I’ve found that the urgency of projects has eased considerably. Whereas before, I had quite a few projects where the client would stipulate that they needed it done ASAP (meaning ‘drop what you’re doing and do this now’), many of my recent clients have been much more chilled, had more time, more willing to work to realistic deadlines.

The people I’ve been working for over the past few months have seemed much more relaxed generally – more communicative, and more willing to help. I’ve seen evidence of it within online communities too –some of the bigger agencies are more willing to reach out and give advice, to smaller fledgling agencies, and graduates just breaking through.

I guess that we’ve all experienced how frighteningly easily things can break down – it has made us feel vulnerable and helped us to realise that we do in fact need to pull together as a community.

The human touch

For a while – even before covid was a problem – we’ve been seeing a slow and subtle movement that has possibly been led by social media and the rise of online communities. We’ve been taking much more notice of ‘the person behind the brand’, and this has meant that more and more businesses are giving a personal service, rather than being just another corporate body. We kind of expect it now, because it allows us to build trust and likeability.

Perhaps that has been pushed further still over the past year or so. In our isolation, have we learned that we need to connect with people again?

My predictions for 2022

I have to admit, I like this new landscape. I like that those agencies that I’ve spent my career admiring have become much more approachable; more human. And I really hope that the sense of community we’ve learned to enjoy as a collective of designers carries on.

It’s important to remember that people need other people, and that’s no less true within the creative industries. We’re not in competition. We can offer each other so much more, by way of support, friendship, and opportunities to learn from each other.

I’d love to hear others’ thoughts on this. If you are just starting on your path, or have been part of a bigger, or growing agency for a while – what changes have you seen? Have you changed the way you work, or who you work with? Reach out and let me know.

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?”.

September 9, 2021No Comments

Silver in the Creativepool Annual 2021 competition.

Our concept for the Emergency Services Self-Help wellbeing app ‘OPPO’ has been awarded silver in this years Creativepool Annual 2021 competition.

The Creativepool Annual showcases the ‘most’ people and companies who have achieved creative excellence in the past year. In its sixth edition, the Creativepool Annual 2021 is a chance to celebrate creativity as we all ease back into a new normal, with a global mix of agencies, brands, and individuals participating in the 2021 competition.

Project write-up

Oppo: A colleague or friend; ‘an old oppo of mine’. Origin the 1930s: abbreviation of opposite number. SEVERN looked into the issues faced by emergency services, initially focusing on the police service in particular.

Research found that public awareness of police mental health could create targeting in some situations, as emails get deleted, and leaflets get binned. The app is designed to work like a personal diary to self-monitor stresses and pressures. It logs working hours and moods at any given time. Users can add notes to say what triggered any changes. Oppo can build up a user profile based on their inputs and offer tips on how to self-help.

Judges Comments

“A well designed and well-conceived app which could help to break the stigma of seeking help and taking time to consider and protect mental health within the emergency services. Perfect to create as a discreet app which people can use on the go.”

Miranda Hipwell

September 9, 2021No Comments

Bronze award for our Market Hall – A Day in the Life project

Our book documenting a day in the life of the Market Hall in Shrewsbury has been awarded bronze in this years Creativepool Annual competition.

The Creativepool Annual showcases the ‘most’ people and companies who have achieved creative excellence in the past year. In its sixth edition, the Creativepool Annual 2021 is a chance to celebrate creativity as we all ease back into a new normal, with a global mix of agencies, brands, and individuals participating in the 2021 competition.

Project write-up

Designed in 1965 by the award-winning architect David du Roi Aberdeen, the Brutalist style Market Hall building in Shrewsbury causes much contention. This record of the day-to-day from inside the landmark building reflects the people who use it. Tony’s team wanted the design to be dripping with references to the Pevsver synopsis; “clean lines and simple forms; vertical black fins in an echo of close studding”. The strong, clean vertical lines outside are brought through to the layout using narrow full-length columns, stark white space and the Compacta typeface from 1963 with its industrial appearance, a popular genre in the early 1960s, used throughout.

Judges Comments

“Beautiful photography, smart layout and well-crafted typography that work together to evoke the architecture of the building and the 1960s. Overall, a lovely piece of graphic design.”

David Alexander

February 9, 2021No Comments

Working with or working for?

Do designers need other designers?

I live in a relatively small town – there’s a lot of history here and a large-ish college, meaning there’s a good mix of people and a growing creative community. I think I’ve talked a bit about this before, but where I live, work is a bit odd from a designer’s point of view.

Several graphic design and marketing agencies exist in and around my town, but they’re all relatively hidden. You really have to seek some of them out – if you don’t know about them, you probably won’t stumble across them.

Designers as a collective can be a guarded bunch. When you work outside the big cities, there seems to be an air of suspicion, whereby other designers are seen as competition rather than part of a more extensive network.

But considering this, are we losing out on opportunities to foster growth and create a helpful, creative network? Rather than fearing that other creatives are lying in wait to poach our clients, we should think instead of teaming up and collaborating to offer something more significant than we can currently provide; a way to stretch our creativity and learn from each other.

Creating as a collective

If you ask a bunch of designers – or creatives, for that matter – what they do, you will get a different answer from every single one of them. No two designers are the same; we all have our own style, specialism, and niche.
Of those tucked-away agencies around my town alone, they all have something very different to offer.

Having more than one style or skill come together can make for a much richer result and open fresh avenues for designers. It’s not about stealing work from each other – it’s about working together to create something completely different.

There will always be one person who takes ownership of a project – perhaps because they came up with the concept or something for their client – but collaboration is the difference between working with and working for. You can sub-contract out elements of the project, or you can choose to work together in a partnership where everyone is on an equal footing to get the job done – I know which I’d prefer.

Can collaboration make us better designers?

No matter what type of creative work you do, there’s always something new to learn. There are so many different ideas, techniques, and tools; having the opportunity to share some of them with other creatives can make you see things differently and get you out of a design rut.

It’s easy to trap ourselves into specific thought patterns, whereby we get caught up doing the same things over and over, becoming too comfortable to break out of our comfort zones. If that happens, we tend to lose confidence and then spend time convinced that our designs must be perfect before letting anyone else see them.

But design isn’t about perfectionism – it’s about creativity. If we get stuck in a loop of perfecting everything, doesn’t that mean creativity is shoved to one side?

Being with other designers is a good way to break that cycle – rather than being there to criticise your work, they can lend a fresh eye to it, and having those conversations can spark new ideas and get you moving forward again.

Work culture

Aside from actually collaborating, keeping in touch with other designers be valuable. We connect with those we can lean on for advice and have other like-minded people to talk things through; this is particularly true if you are a small agency or work alone – as you can feel relatively isolated, especially as currently, many of us cannot work in our usual settings.

Having that extra ‘backup’ can go a long way in giving you that feeling of being part of something bigger than yourself.

January 22, 2021No Comments

Using graphics in social media in 2021

Compared to 10 years ago, when social media was still in its infancy, how we use it has changed dramatically. Back then, we only knew about Facebook, and as a platform, it was used in a much simpler, more personal way – we didn’t utilise it for business until more recently.

Looking at how things are today, we have a much more diverse landscape. There are several additional players, including Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, and Pinterest – and within those, there are several ways to communicate, with things like Stories being rolled out to almost every major social channel.

Over the years, social media platforms have become much more visual. As we scroll through our various social feeds, we will likely see less text and more images. Marketers have realised that having well-placed images on their social feeds helps to increase engagement – particularly now that most of us are using our phones.

In response to this, many new developments in online tech have allowed the average user to find their own images and even create their own. Apps like Canva are becoming the go-to for creating images and infographics that can be used on all social media platforms. There are plenty of websites where you can purchase stock images for content marketing.

I’ll get back to some of these a bit later. Still, I wanted to touch upon some of the ways we can use graphics in social media, some trends and fresh techniques, and the differences in using online tools versus having custom images created by a designer.

Why are images important for social media posts?

We process images much more quickly than words, so when we’re scrolling through our social channels, we’ll naturally pause when we see something stimulating our senses. Pictures, in particular colours, can convey messages to us on a different level.

In saying that, because there are so many images to process online, we need to plan what we post with care and attention. Finding that key element will not only stand out enough to make the viewer stop scrolling to take a closer look but allow them to instantly recognise you through that imagery. That will help create that ‘know, like, trust factor which is so important on social media.

Planning your social media images

It used to be adequate for us to take a snap and post it to our social media platforms when we felt like it. That’s no longer the case. If we want to get noticed online, we have a lot of competition; therefore, we need to plan out what we share and how we share it.

Social images, and social content as a whole, should fall into common categories, namely;

  • Entertainment
  • Educational
  • Inspirational
  • Thought-provoking

Think about how you want the viewer to react when they see the image. Do you want them to take a particular action, like clicking through to your website or blog post? Does it serve to give them a piece of information or news about your business? Does it help them in some way or encourage them to open a conversation with you?

There’s a huge trend, especially on Instagram, which is all about imagery. There will be some images that you might feel don’t fit into any of those categories – but if you’ve set them up correctly, then at the very least, they will serve as a recognition piece. Having a recognisable ‘pattern’ to the grid, and even a brand overlay, ensures that the brand has its own ‘look’, therefore being recognised by the viewer.

Suppose you can tie the overall look of your social images with other mediums, like your website and printed material. In that case, this will all work together as part of your branding, an important factor for content creation.

Stock Images or Professional Graphic Designer?

I get that many businesses want to have the ability to take ownership of how they post on social media, and part of that is being able to either use stock images or create images of their own. And there’s nothing wrong with that – if you have a clear idea and strategy in place.

The trouble is, many people don’t, and if you’re not careful, you could end up with a scatter-gun approach across your content marketing, which can be off-putting for your audience.

It all comes down to branding – and you must get it right across the board. It’s likely that you’ve paid someone to create your website, and tie all of your branding together, so don’t allow your social media to let it all down.

Yes, perhaps having a graphic designer on-call to create images every time you want to upload to your social media channels is overkill, but if you can get a set of templates, overlays, and brand colours set up and on hand, at least then you’ll have something to work with.

If you decide to use stock images (or take your own photographs), at least have some kind of consistency which will let your viewers know they are your images.

Get in touch if you’d like help or advice about anything you’ve read in this article. We’d be happy to help.

November 30, 2020No Comments

Three years of design

Unbelievably, Severn is three years old already. We’ve come a long way over that time; there have been a lot of highlights, and a few near-misses to learn from.
So I’d like to talk a little bit about what got us here, and share some of the most noteworthy projects that we’ve had the pleasure of being involved in over the past few years.

The reason why a made the decision to start an agency, rather than to freelance, was because of the way I wanted my business to grow. I wanted to be seen as part of something bigger, and having an agency felt a bit more substantial, and had a certain stamp of trust about it.

I feel fortunate that I made that decision, because it’s opened the doors to so many great design projects, and given me the freedom to experiment with plenty of techniques and processes, and allowed me to work alongside many different industries.

I’d like to share a few of my favourite projects and highlights, and some of the projects that are happening right now.

My highlight project

Perhaps it’s unfair to say this is my favourite project over the last three years; there have been many that I still look back on with a sense of achievement. But saying that, the work that I did for the local business, Glouglou, is one that sticks in my mind. Possibly because I had involvement in the branding of the business from its infancy, and the owners were so great to work with.

You can read more about what I did for them in another post, but in summary, their approach to the brand was unique, and I think we managed to come up with something that completely encapsulates what they are all about. I can’t think of another brand that looks like they do in their branding, and everything they do, both online and offline, ties in with their image perfectly.

Personal highlights

From setting up the business, and then working towards my MA, I’ve been able to explore so many opportunities I might not have thought possible before. Like creating my own book, Ten Yrs Later, which showcases my design thinking and tells my story through my work.

I also won the Creative Conscience Award, which was fantastic to work on and a huge confidence boost. Designing the app allowed me to try out new techniques and be involved in subjects I hadn’t previously had too much experience in – Mental Health, and the Emergency Services.

It’s not something that many people think about, but there is huge pressure on people who work on the front line, and taking care of their mental health is often overlooked, and frequently stigmatised. So being able to look at ways I could help them, as a designer, was an eye-opening and valuable experience.

And an upcoming highlight – I’ve recently been asked to get involved in the Coventry Design Festival (although that one isn’t happening until 2022).

What’s happening right now?

There are a couple of local projects going on that I’m part of, and both are centred around Shrewsbury.

The first one – Market Hall: A Day in the Life – is focused on Shrewsbury Market Hall, and tells the story of the building’s history, and the people who work there. The building has always been a big influence within the town, and it’s great to keep it alive by telling the stories of the current stall-holders, and giving a history of its architecture and use over the years, in relation to the town.

Another ongoing project – Public Opinion – where we created an online survey, did face-to-face interviews and asked on social media, where the local public could share, anonymously, their opinions on the town of Shrewsbury.

We used this information to share some of the comments, using stickers around the town, sharing a booklet, and projecting them on slides from the studio.

Did lockdown affect us?

I was affected very personally by Covid – my family and I caught it about 2 weeks before Lockdown 1.0. What hit me most was how utterly exhausted it made us feel. And then of course businesses began to shut down, and I was left in a situation where for the first time in a long time, I had to seek out work, because everyone was putting their marketing on pause, meaning my workload reduced significantly.

The second lockdown has felt different – in general, more businesses are staying open where they can, and those who are working from home are more confident in booking meetings vis Zoom, so even if budgets are reduced, they are thinking about how they can remain in front of their customers, which means keeping ahead with web design and graphics.

The future

I think for all businesses, the future looks different to how we thought it would back at the beginning of the year. We’ve all had to adjust, and I’m no exception.

Views have changed, and for me, it’s forced me to focus on things in a different way.

I’m keen to continue to evolve in a professional capacity and challenge myself a bit more. I’m really enjoying working with local causes, and I count myself lucky to be in this part of the world.

September 2, 2020No Comments

Winners of a Creative Conscience Award 2020!

We’re really chuffed to be able to announce that we’ve won an award!

The Creative Conscience Award is an annual competition with a bit of a difference – it focuses on design projects with a social impact. The main starting points provided for the brief are Mental Health, Equality, Conscious Consumption, and Climate Crisis, as well as an open brief.

Example UI and UX screens making it simple to navigate
Oppo main screen examples

Giving something back to the UKs emergency services

Given what’s going on in the world, it was perhaps pre-determined that I should focus my design on the category of Mental Health and look at a group of people who are particularly often ‘missed out’ on the equation – our Emergency Services.

This is a section of our community who are often called upon when we are facing trauma, mental instability, and the emotional fallout of injury and illness. Still, we neglect to consider that they are on the frontline dealing with often unimaginable pressures every day.

Like no other, this is a section of the workforce who are expected to be able to deal with all kinds of emergencies and, in many cases, feel that they have to cope with those situations on their own or rely only on the team around them who are going through the same things.

“It’s when you’re on your own afterwards you have time to process, and think about it and everything hits you at once”

PC, West Midlands Police

A lack of available mental health support

As I began to look further into it, I uncovered some worrying facts and stories. I heard reports of police officers suffering from varying degrees of stress and anxiety, who continued to work under the same pressure, being forced to manage their issues alone without support.

I learned about more and more instances of physical abuse from the very people they were trying to help, resulting in injury and even death.

I read worrying statistics of members of the emergency services and military who, due to immense pressures, had attempted to take their own lives.

So I set about researching things that could help raise awareness of the issue and offer advice, help, and support to those who needed it.

“Now, ‘lone-wolf’ or ‘active shooter’ situations, the policy is that the first to arrive on-scene go straight in”

Armed Response Officer, West Mercia Police

Create a discreet and self-managed tool

The concept of a self-help/self-awareness app appealed to me because I felt that from speaking to those who were affected, mainly focussing on the police force, it could be used as a discreet tool – many of the officers I spoke to felt there was a stigma in the force around mental health, and the possibility of simply ‘raising awareness’ with the general public had the danger of undermining their authority, and in some cases making them a target for abuse.

Ways to input your data: stylus, voice recording, text or from a keyword menu
Ways to input your data: stylus, voice recording, text or from a keyword menu

By allowing them to log on to an app, I could then offer them a way of recording their mental state and give them a space to ‘talk out’ their feelings in private, without judgement. In this, the app could offer them practical advice based on their own circumstances, helping them gain control over their feelings and take action.

Oppo's AI chatroom
Oppo’s AI Chatroom Screens

This was a very different project for me – it meant that I had to delve into a subject that I previously had only a basic understanding of. It forced me to think about ways of designing something for a particular set of people. From the styles and colours I used to the language and tone, every element had to come together in a way which could be clearly understood, was visually impactful, yet made the user feel that the space within it was peaceful, personal, and friendly – even the name ‘OPPO’, meaning ‘Friend’, gives a sense of support with no judgement.

All in all, it was a fantastic project to work on. And clearly, one which appealed to the judges too.

Please take a look at our case study for more project details.

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.

©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.