December 13, 2021No Comments

Is social media worth it for graphic designers?

Social media marketing is a notoriously difficult beast to master, not least for graphic designers. Gone are the days when everyone was on Facebook, and there were no other platforms to entertain, let alone tricky algorithms to worry about. Today, we’re faced with a whole boatload of different options to choose from – but even if we know where to focus, do we really know what we’re doing, and how to actually get people to see us? Most of us can feel so overwhelmed by it all to the point that we end up just stalling and getting nowhere (please say that’s not just me!). Are we just overthinking this – is social media even worth it for us as graphic designers?

I think by now, we’re all conditioned to embrace social media, not just as part of our marketing, but in our everyday lives. Everyone seems to be on it constantly, so when people urge businesses to get on board with it, and that social media is the one major place where we can make an impact, it’s hard not to believe them, isn’t it?

Perhaps a hard thing to admit, but nowadays, business is done online – traditional marketing, though it has its place, has taken a reluctant back seat. Online content is where it’s at, and where it’s likely to be for the foreseeable future.

So yes, being present on social media is a necessity for businesses. But you can’t be everywhere. How do you decide which platforms to be visible on? And what do you post, anyway?

The fear of comparison

Have you ever experienced this? You scroll through Instagram and see breath-taking posts from other designers, amazing images backed up by a perfectly matched piece of text that you know hits the sweet spot for SEO and is adorned with hashtags that are going to appeal to just the right people?

Yeah, me too. All the time. And it’s paralysing. I can’t possibly match up, right? So I won’t bother. I won’t put myself out there, and let people see how thoroughly mediocre I am. 

But hang on – isn’t that just your impostor syndrome getting the better of you? What if we flip it, and let those posts inspire us instead?

Comparison can be a dangerous thing. It can also give us a marvellous insight into what works for other designers online. Instead of falling prey to jealousy, could you analyse what’s happening? Look into the post – why does it appeal? How are people responding to it? And most importantly, how can you emulate that through your own work?*

(*Note – I’m not suggesting imitation or copy here, but letting the ideas and concepts inspire you.)

What’s your objective?

When I’ve researched the best social media platforms for graphic designers, one of the answers that seems to come up a lot is ‘go where your ideal client is.’

OK, I get that. It makes sense – if you are trying to purely use social media to get leads (never a bad tactic) – but another way to look at it is ‘what do I want from my social media?’

I don’t necessarily want my posts to be all about getting people to buy from me. I want to show my work to the best audience possible. I want to raise opinions and conversations around what I do. I want to connect with an audience and share my story a little bit. Thinking about it – when I look at social media posts, I’m most inspired by those posts that speak to me on a creative level – not those that are trying to get a sale out of me.

This kind of ties in with the question ‘which platform?’, because you’ll want to not only consider where your potential buyers hang out, but more so where your audience hang out. They’re not always the same thing.

I suppose the key is not to just connect with people who might buy from you, but also with the kind of people who are in your own industry. I’m talking about other designers, creative agencies, and the types of people who might enjoy sharing your content and talking about you, and with you. If people can relate to you and engage with you, then those who are looking to buy will learn to trust you through recommendations.

A numbers game?

Like all types of marketing, it’s largely a numbers game – the more times people see your brand, they’ll become familiar with it and are more likely to buy from you. Unlike traditional marketing though, you have other factors to consider. Because social media posts have such a short life span, it’s important that you create posts that grab people’s attention enough to stop them from scrolling and to read what you have to say. And you have to do that often – which (sorry) means posting a lot of content, regularly.

People see your social media posts first, so that’s the place to focus on getting noticed by new audiences – and the place to build trust with them.

So, is it worth it?

I think yes, it’s absolutely worth getting it right. Something else I’ll mention too is that any social media platforms you use should ideally lead people back to your website – people will still want to see concrete proof of what you stand for before they buy from you, and they will do that from first seeing your posts, and then looking at your website.

I hope this article was useful. I’m off to see what I can find to post on my Instagram now…

November 24, 2021No Comments

Rebranding – when should you do it?

There have been a couple of quite significant rebrands in the news recently – you’ve probably seen the arguments going on around the BBC one, and then there’s the one in which the Facebook brand has been encapsulated under the new ‘Meta’ umbrella.

I’ve worked on a lot of rebrand projects over my career. And yes, a lot of the time, the businesses I’ve done them for have had good reasons for doing so. Sometimes, they’ve grown to a point where they can afford something a bit nicer and a bit more appropriate for the direction they’re going in. Sometimes, they want to attract a different type of clientele. Sometimes they change direction and want to express who they’re becoming.

But how do you know when it’s time for a rebrand? When is it right to do it, and when should you leave it? What does it mean to rebrand, anyway?

I thought today that I’d share my insight on it from a graphic designer’s experience. Maybe it’ll help you decide what the best thing for your business brand is, and how far you should go in updating your branding.

What is branding, anyway?

More than just your logo, your brand includes everything that identifies you. Things like the colours you use, the style of your images, the fonts you use, even the tone and voice you use across your marketing.

Often, I’m asked by businesses to sort out their website – and while I believe that having a decent website for your business is a crucial part, it’s just as important to consider how the elements you select on your website will translate to other places. The colours and fonts used on your logo should be a big part of your web pages, your social media, and your print marketing, so that when people see your content, they instantly know it’s you. That’s what good branding does.

A bit about your brand name

Of course, your business name is also a big part of your branding – and one that often gets overlooked. I won’t dwell too much on it here, but it is worth a mention – as part of your branding, the name you choose should ideally give at least a hint of what you’re about.

When is it time to rebrand?

Following on from what I just said, if any element of your current branding fails to convey who you are, what you do, and the kind of person you’re trying to attract, then that’s a pretty good hint that you need to rethink your branding.

Some questions to ask might be:

  • Is my current branding old-fashioned, outdated, or failing to attract new customers?
  • Does my current branding hold a certain ‘reputation’ that no longer fits with what the business is about?
  • Has my business evolved and grown in such a way that my current branding looks a bit off/amateur?

You might be in a position where the core of your branding works ok, but some elements of it need updating. Don’t feel that you have to have a total overhaul in order to get what you need. Sometimes you just need a refresh of your style, but the colours and tone you use could be fine. Consider what works, and what doesn’t.

7 steps to rebranding

  1. Look carefully at your current branding, and make a list of what you love, and what you don’t. Be critical, and think about how things look to an outsider – perhaps even ask some people to give their opinions (but not so many that you get tied in knots!).
  2. Look at your competitors. Write down some elements that you like, and how it compares to your own branding. Think about who their customers are – are they similar to yours? What do you think attracts those people to your competitors?
  3. Approach a designer – if possible, set up a meeting to talk about your vision for your rebrand. This is an important step, because designers are well versed in branding, and can give you great advice on what works, what’s contemporary, and how things could work within your particular business.
  4. Set a realistic budget and timeline with your designer so that you can meet your objectives.
  5. Plan your launch – use the opportunity to remarket your business so that as many new people as possible see what you’re about. Don’t be shy about it – celebrate your new branding for maximum impact.
  6. Measure and monitor – identify any glitches where further improvements might be needed.
  7. Remember; change is never easy, but sometimes it’s an essential part of your business growth and evolution.

Are you thinking about rebranding, or do you have questions about your current branding? Give me a call – I’d be happy to help.

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

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 which have a social impact. The main starting points provided for the brief are Mental Health, Equality, Conscious Consumption, Climate Crisis, as well as an open brief.

Oppo main screen examples

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

This is a section of our community who are often called upon when we ourselves are facing trauma, mental instability, and the emotional fallout of injury and illness, but we neglect to consider that they too 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 emergency situations, and in many cases feel that they have to cope with those situations on their own, or relying 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

As I began to look further into it, I uncovered some worrying facts and stories. I heard reports of police officers who were suffering from varying degrees of stress and anxiety, who continued to work under the same pressure, being forced to try 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

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 tool which was discreet – 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

By giving them the option of being able 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 individual circumstances, helping them to gain control over their feelings, and take action.

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, and forced me to thin about ways of designing something for a very specific 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.

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.

January 7, 2020No Comments

The Benefits of a Design Community

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

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

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

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

The positives of design communities

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

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

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

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

Can we create our own communities?

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

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

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

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

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Shrewsbury SY1 1SB

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