This week I did my first design talk as presenter at FITC in Amsterdam with my presentation called Self Initiate. This isn’t something that I have done before but I thought it would be fun and it is something that I would definitely like to do more of.
I’m not sure if my first attempt at speaking came across as well as it could but I’m glad that at least the content was a hit and inspiring (at least from what I have heard). I do appreciate all the people who turned up to hear me, which was awesome and totally unexpected. I also really appreciate all the emails that I got after the talk asking me questions, advice and comments – which I hope I have now answered.
Why Self Initiate
I decided to do a talk called Self Initiate as, for me, this has created the most opportunities over the last 3 years that I have been designing for. I often get asked the question of ‘how can I get more client work?’ and this is without doubt the best way in my eyes. Below I have shared my talk which I hope you will find useful (I’m sure the video will be available at sometime too):
Simon C Page
FITC Amsterdam – Feb 2012
I have split this talk up in to 5 key sections.
Who I am and what this talk is about etc.
- What Clients look for
Some basics of what is involved in the client & designer relationship.
- Ways to get more work
Some top ways to get client work.
- Self-initiated work
The ticket event – why it is so important, what you should be doing, what other designers have to say.
- Take away
Some stuff that I would like you to take away.
Who am I?
My name is Simon C Page and I’m a graphic designer and illustrator from the UK.
Some of you may have heard of me, I work on logo and branding, poster design and geometry and minimalism are what I’m best known for.
I like to make designs that stop people and make them think but most of all my main philosophy with my design work is that I believe good design excites.
I’m often asked by others how best to get freelancing work and although there is no set formula or one single method that works for everyone, there are a number of things you can do and I believe the best is self-initiated work or personal work.
What has self-initiated work done for me?
Self-initiated work has created so many opportunities for me over the past 3 years. I’ve got 2 book deals, sold thousands of poster, won a couple of awards, had countless requested for editorials and have had the privilege of working with some great clients on some really exciting projects. All this I pretty much put down to having a portfolio that shows the kind work I can do and most of this has been built up from my self-initiated designs.
I have found that self-initiated work doesn’t always work the way you want it and you need to have a bit of a strategy and think about the clients you would really love to work with.
One of the first self-initiated works that really showed me the power of doing your own work was my international year of astronomy campaign.
Late in 2009 I found out that it was the international year of astronomy and being a big fan of astronomy having studied it as part of a degree in applied mathematics I though this was a prime opportunity to design something to promote a poorly publicised campaign. The designs were a huge hit being featured on countless blogs and I soon was inundated with hundreds of comments on my blog post with loads of requests to sell the prints. The International year of astronomy committee found out about my work and liked it so much they ended up commissioning the work and using it for their campaign. To this day there are still people blogging about the work and it has also now been displayed in a number of galleries.
The process and thinking is just as important as the designs themselves. Last year I designed about 20 logos for different companies and individuals but on top of this I designed another 10 logos for companies that were made up and don’t exist. With those I have shown research and the process of how I came up with the final design and these have attracted an equal number of clients looking for logo work.
2. What Clients look for
First up we need to look at the main part of a good client and designer working relationship, which I think, revolves around discipline. By discipline I mean you both work well to deadlines and both have good time management skills, you are both able to communicate well with each other and you both exhibit flexibility in the projects – at least in an ideal world.
So how are these broken down from a client perspective?
Well the three things here (Talent, Portfolio and Discipline) are the main things a client looks for when commissioning someone.
- They are obviously looking for a portfolio of your work to see what you have done before and what you are capable of
- They want someone with talent but I will come back to this in the next slide
- They ideally want someone who has discipline as we have just discussed in the previous slide.
One can’t really exist without the other. Talent is something that comes with discipline – you need to be disciplines to keep yourself motivated to work, experiment and constantly learn all that you can in the field you are in. The only way clients are going to know if they think you are talented enough is by seeing the work, which they look for in a portfolio. The only way you are going to have a portfolio with a good selection of work and well set out is if you have discipline.
So from this I have cut the main three area down to:
- Talent + Portfolio = Exposure. This is pretty much a given that if you have a portfolio of talented work you are going to get your work mentioned all over the place.
- Talent + Discipline = Flexibility. To have talent isn’t really enough you need to be able to show that with discipline you can be flexible.
- and finally Portfolio + Discipline = Communication. With discipline you need to be able to show you are a good communicator through your portfolio.
I know a lot of designers who would be very modest and might even say they didn’t think they were particularly talented and others who are new and want to know how do I get to be talented.
What makes a good designer?
Well I don’t believe that talent is necessarily something that you need to be born with, sure some people have natural talent but I think the most important attributes for a good designer are creativity or having ideas, obsession and inspiration (you can’t design in a bigger way than you can think). These three then combine to produce Talent, Knowledge and Experimentation.
Lets now go through some of the other ways there are to get client work.
3. Ways to get more work
This is by no means an exhaustive list but these are the most important and should be fairly obvious.
Word of Mouth
This for me apart from self-initiated work has probably generated the most work – for example I might design a logo for a company and then they refer another company to me who they know are looking for a logo or one agency will refer me for a project they are working on that they don’t think they can handle.
I’m not a massive social network fan but this can also open up a whole host of design work. The one social network I do use is twitter and I have actually got a fair amount of referral work from there and I’m seeing more and more people putting out work request on there now. It’s not enough for a steady supply of work but it is another avenue to pursue.
Stay in contact with past clients
As a rule: ‘Be friendly with clients and stay in contact with them particularly those who love your work’.
I did a bunch of work for GreenSource magazine and their art director. I stayed in contact with him as he moved to other companies via email helping out with different design jobs along the way. Because I stayed in contact with him I ended up getting regular featured work for Fast Company magazine when he became their new art director.
One of the most unobtrusive ways to contact clients is by email. I wouldn’t necessarily add their names to your newsletter if you have one but I would send out something with a bit of a personal note once in a while. Another way is to simply send them a well designed Christmas card each year or as I like to do send them a print of yours that they really like. A lot of designers have caught on to this idea and one of the most popular things to do is to send out a calendar. The benefits of this being that it is something that will be seen all year long and something most art directors will stick on their desk that possibly others will see too. The only issue is so many other designers are doing the same thing and a calendar does only lasts a year.
This isn’t something I have ever tried but for other designers I have heard this has created a fair amount of work. What you basically do is get yourself a list of potential clients or agencies who you think would be interested in using your skills and simply send them a more personal physical mailer (than an email) with a selection of your current work in or just a glorified business card style flyer. But this must be eye-catching with the idea to get them at least looking at your online portfolio – however this can end up being costly if you do something elaborate like letterpress.
Join an agency
You could sign yourself up to an agency and split your fees with them. They however will generally only contribute a small fraction of your main work. Of the illustrators I know who are with an agency most only get about 10-15% at best of their client work referred to them.
However a nice benefit of an agency is that you can get advice on pricing and licensing.
Promote yourself correctly
There are 5 areas to cover here.
Branding and Logo
A good brand and logo are crucial just as with companies you want to make sure that new clients think you are professional. This for a designer can be a tricky bit of work particularly if you design logos for a living – but I think it is one of the most important marketing tools for new clients to take you seriously.
As I said the only social networking I really use is Twitter but I think that today it is important to use social networks not just to promote yourself but also to be friendly with other designers and to know what is going on in the industry today. Also potential employers and clients may well check the social networks you are on to find out more about you so you need to make sure you keep it professional.
Having a good online portfolio is obviously crucial, even more so now in this Internet based world we live in. There is no point in having an amazing looking portfolio if you have poor content and on the flip side don’t have a portfolio stuffed full of everything you have ever designed.
I personally as with most of the top designers prefer to have a portfolio that allows your work to take front seat and so is very minimal. Even if you aren’t a web designer I think it is important to force yourself to pick up some CSS so that you can format your portfolio how you want it.
One of my favourite sites, which I use as my main portfolio, is Cargo Collective which is easy for you to update regularly with your work.
Cargo offers its members free standing personal websites with their own URL a wide variety of templates, and simple but sophisticated tools to control the way your content is displayed. A personal network of your own creation allows you to follow and comment on the work of others.
I also like to use flickr to display my work and get feedback. This is also a good site for displaying photos of other things.
I display photos of all sort of things including pictures of my cats, work in progress and behind the scenes at exhibitions – which I think adds to who I am as a designer.
Also clients may use portfolio databases to search for designers. So I strongly believe you should display your portfolio on at least 4 sites including the likes of Behance (which I strongly recommend) – any more and you really are creating yourself more work that you need to in order to keep them all up to date.
Search Engine Optimisation
If you decide that you have time to write blog posts and you have something worth writing about then you need to make sure that you follow some basic rules of search engine optimisation, or SEO, so that sites like Google pick you up. SEO is an ever changing monster and can be rather difficult to master and is something that should be covered in an entirely separate presentation. I personally use WordPress which comes with a number of plugin which make your posts more Google friendly and so it’s pretty much just left down to the content you write, but if you follow a few simple rules then you can get your posts fully optimised.
One of the best things you can blog about early on in your career is the process and ideas you had when working on a project. For example with a logo design show the research you went through, your sketch work, how you got to the final logo and displays of the logo in use.
A good logo, good social networking, a good portfolio and good SEO are all important but not as much as making yourself memorable. This will pay off when clients remember you not just for your work which should be evolving.
Collaborate / Share office space
This year and last there seems to be a lot more groups of designers getting together and designing individual pieces for a show based around a specific topic. I get involved in about 3 or 4 collaborations each year and although I cant remember ever getting any directly referred client work its a great way of getting some extra publicity about your work.
It also benefits to make friends with other designers even if you don’t actually collaborate on a piece together – one of the most important things is building relationships with other people in the industry. A lot of the time I will refer work for things such as building a CMS website which I don’t do myself and I get referrals from others who can’t do the sort of work I do.
Sharing office space isn’t something I have personally tried but I know others who find this a great way of getting work referrals, creative feedback and of bouncing their ideas around those that they share the space with.
Selling your designs
I am now into the 3rd year of selling my work online. It all started for me at the end of 2009 to the beginning of 2010 – when I started to sell my International Year of Astronomy prints and I realised what a massive opportunity selling online presented and that it was feasible to actually make a living from it. This for a lot of designers is a missed opportunity to get free publicity particular as there are quality online print houses like Inprnt.com who will split profits 50/50 with you (be warned though there are some lesser sites for selling work online and always make sure you get proofs of your work and get a friend to order some prints to see if the service and quality of the prints meet your approval).
Since starting to sell my work online at the end of 2009 I now sell my work in 3 online stores, 4 physical stores, 3 galleries, 1 museum and at the end of last year I gave in and started selling signed work to people who contact me direct. I started off selling just prints but now I sell limited edition cushions, canvases, wallpaper and t-shirts. I’m also this year going to be selling my work in some new London stores with duvets, throws and a new range of rugs and possible even a chair design. I’ve also started a new self-initiated series this year of cut out designs, which I am going to start selling this year with a couple already being displayed in exhibitions.
I’ve actually had a fair number of clients contact me from either having bought my work or knowing someone else who has – and this is probably the 4th most important area for getting clients for me. Displaying a poster on a wall is something that has longevity and can be a bit of a talking point. A friend of mine has a one off design of mine displayed above his fireplace and about a week ago had a dinner party where they end up talking about the work and then started looking through my portfolio and although it didn’t get client work at the end of it they bought some prints.
4. Self-initiated work
So lets look at the core section – self-initiated work.
Why it is so important
All the other options I have listed previously are other avenues for getting more work and attracting clients but none have been as important for me as my self-initiated work. It shows others that you are productive and if you look at what designers are hot in the industry right now you will see that 99% have got there due to a self-initiated project that has grabbed people’s imagination.
Looking back over the last 2 years here is a bar chart of how my work was split, as best I can tell.
Work Vs. Payback
Now you can’t expect to create a design, post it online in your portfolio and have clients instantly knocking at your door for work (although this does happen). For the most part I have found that the design can take about 2-3 weeks to be picked up.
There are several different ways to make your initial design work harder for you like posting your work on sites like Behance a network mainly made up of other designers where you can get some valuable feedback.
Check whether your work is getting re-blogged – the best way to do this is to setup a Google search which will email you for certain keywords – generally I recommend you set one up for your name and or studio name as this is a great way to tell what people are writing about of your work.
It will usually only take a couple of big blogs for the work to start spreading. You may also setup some searches on twitter to see if this has created a buzz on there too.
One of the things I have done with my CUBEN range is to do something new with it each year. This is a way of keeping the work current and invites people to look back at the previous designs.
If you have managed these kinds of successes with a project then you have yourself primed for clients to contact you.
All in all when looking back at projects the amount of work and thinking that went in to the self-initiated projects to make them as good as I could were much more than any client projects but Vs. the payback you get from people talking about it, clients contacting with new work, clients wanting to license the designs, possible awards and recognition – it far outweighs this initial work.
Pros and Cons
- You are your own client
- No deadline to work to
- No budget to work to
- Freedom to design whatever you want
- You are your own client
- No deadline to work to
- No budget to work to
- Freedom to design whatever you want
You are your own client
This as with the others points is a double edge sword – although it allows you to have the freedom to design whatever you like you actually won’t gain any experience from working with clients like this. Some designers would argue that client work is actually easier than self-initiated work what with having the content and restrictions making it much more straightforward. I think that you need to simply keep a good balance of self-initiated work with client work and when you create self-initiated work try and direct yourself better and try putting restrictions on the work – albeit you know you can change them when you want.
No deadlines to work to
Again working on self-initiated work means that you don’t have any tight deadlines that you need to work to. Which is great as it allows you to experiment and for more designers this is where they discover some of their best work. But it is important to try as with the previous point to occasionally set yourself some deadlines with your self-initiated work or at best again balance out the client work that does have deadline with the non-deadline work. I have a habit of making sure that any of my self-initiated work has deadlines put on them even if I give them a couple of months as it adds to my discipline and also means I am more organised.
No budget to work to
Without the restriction of the budget you can spend as long as you like on a project and involve as many people as you like. But with the others this is as much a benefit as it is a hindrance. When you get contacted by a client most of the time they will want you to quote how much the work is going to cost or as with publication they will tell you what a cover will pay, say X dollars. With quoting prices you need to factor in all the overheads that come with that and fitting it in with other work. This kind of experience you aren’t going to get from self-initiated work.
Freedom to design what you want
The biggest benefit to self-initiated work is this – in that you can design whatever you want and what truly inspires you. This opportunity should be used to create pieces for your portfolio that you think is missing from your other work, it allows you express your style and a continued practice and development of skills, progression of ideas and the pursuit of your personal interests. With this development of personal work it shows art directors and potential clients that you have a love for the job and that you care.
What other designers have to say
I asked for some thought from some fellow designers on what they think about self-initiated designs.
I’m a strong believer in self-initiated projects. When I was starting out, my friends and I made these silly posters (the one with the embracing dudes) and posted them around NYC. Gallery owner / blogger Jen Bekman saw them, and posted them on Unbeige. We kept in contact with her, and she had an idea for making art accessible for everyone by selling editions of 200 prints for only $20 a print. She brought the idea for 20×200 to us, and asked for help on the branding / web design. From there we did more projects with her like Hey, Hot Shot, and even did limited edition art pieces with her (live with art…). All this led to getting awards and industry recognition.
I think that the best and worst parts of self-initiated work are that you are your own client. I do think that self-initiated work is ultimately where I will find a lot of the things I am looking for, but I do think I need to learn to be better at being my own client. Ultimately a lot of what I am learning at grad school is not only how to explore, but how to let myself explore. I hope in time I will become more adept at directing myself than I am now.
Four years of university taught me that you couldn’t build a career out of making work for yourself. That was half a decade ago, and now the digital landscape has broken down the barriers that once held designers hostage to the exposure afforded to them solely by their clients. With the advent of the Internet, ideas that would have once been relegated to the recesses of a person’s mind can now flourish in an open avenue to an audience more diverse and far greater than in years past. A career can be built on one’s own desires, provided they have the courage, passion, and honesty to follow through with their ideas. And a bunch of people to reblog your work.
Here are my thoughts regarding self-initiated projects:
- I do them a lot
- They are important to me as a way of practicing technique, trying out new ideas, making drawing not always feel like “work”
- They can be a tool for procrastination = not good
- Often these projects inform other work (client work, exhibitions etc.) that I do
- It’s usually these projects that I enjoy the most & usually most happy with the outcome
- If I don’t have time to do personal work, I feel sad
Self-initiated projects are probably those that make us happier than others. We work on the stuff we like and move in the direction we prefer.
There’s only one major possible downside — input from other contributors is not as strong. That can be a loss if you would have worked with talented people — it could be good if you are forced to work with people you don’t agree with.
In general I think self-initiated work does have much more chances to succeed nowadays. There’s so much Internet based infrastructure we can rely on. That used to be very different.
I always have self-initiated projects on the go in parallel to my commercial projects. It’s a chance to explore ideas or techniques on my own terms without the pressure of a deadline or client feedback. Importantly it’s a chance to fail completely, but learn something crucial, which you can bring into a future client project. I find I’m happiest when I have personal projects on the go, even if I’m working on a relatively rewarding job during ‘normal working hours’. In part it’s about always trying to improve and hone your skills, but I also feel that it’s important to fill your portfolio with the work you’d ideally like to be getting paid to do. For instance, I’ve definitely ended up getting commissions because of personal work I’ve done.
Two self-initiated projects that boosted my career were of course the Daily Drop Caps but one of the first back in 2006 was the 12 days of Christmas promo I sent to Louise Filli which led to her hiring me.
One of the best things you can do for your career is to be productive. If you’re not getting client work, do self-authored personal work.
If I have a quiet spell between commercial projects I take that opportunity to work on a self-initiated piece of work.
For me, self-initiated work always has to have some sort of profile raising element to it. I spend no money on advertising or traditional marketing, so I use self-initiated work as an opportunity to:
1. Create something in a new style, which I hope will appeal to potential clients
2. A chance to undertake a much more elaborate and time consuming project than commercial budgets would usually allow (i.e. my TwitterPictures)
3. Create a piece of work specifically for a target client whom I want to work with – in my experience this is an excellent way to grab their attention and introduce them to your work. It shows initiative, passion and that you hold their potential business in high enough regards that you are willing to invest your time into gaining it.
- People will only hire you to do work you’ve already done. Even the most gifted and smart clients can’t project or hire people based on potential for gigs. What determines the work you do in the future is the work you’ve done in the past.
- This is why personal work is important. One understands what they are capable of and can prove it to themselves in personal work, then show it to the world.
- Thus, personal work is a laboratory. A place for experimenting. And the only place where you can grow out the edges of what you are capable of doing.
I draw every day, as I find it the most productive way to generate new ideas for new work. Through daily work, my style has evolved in a very natural and unforced way. I’m a great believer in utilizing and building upon strengths and not working in a way to either please others or follow trends. I’ve learnt from previous experience that if I try to force things or think too much about what I’m doing, the work suffers or can even grind to a halt. Instead, I like the imagery and process to remain at the forefront of the work’s progress.
I’m lucky in that by maintaining my personal work, paid commissions have evolved from clients liking what I already do. This is fantastic because I can retain a sense of visual identity and I’m rarely approached to do something that’s alien to my practice.
What should I be doing?
This is the Holy Grail and there is no precise answer to this that will work for everyone but there are a few things you should consider if you want the work to be something that gets you noticed.
First up do something, anything, get into the habit of creating something on a regular basis – being productive is the first step but then once you start you need the motivation to keep that momentum.
Productivity is a great tool to also store up information for later when you can draw on things you have done before for a new project when it requires it.
Make sure you try and do something original
The benefits of self-initiated work is that you can experiment and progress your own ideas and so generally they will be something that you believe in and really care about. It’s very easy to fall in the trap of designing something that is popular at the moment – but work like that isn’t going to be as original and won’t get you noticed as much as something clever and well thought out.
Try and cover a topic that you have a passion for
The more you demonstrate that you care about the work the more of a connection others will feel to your work.
Most designers rarely demonstrate how much they love designing in their client work vs their self-initiated. Self-initiated work always seems to come across displaying much more of designers love for their work. These are the designs that generally captures people’s imaginations much more so than client work and are therefore the pieces you should celebrate and promote.
Do work which is memorable
Remember you have to try and differentiate yourself from other designers.
I mentioned this word memorable before in this talk in regards to your branding but the same applies to your work. I’ve done a few series of self-initiated works over the past couple of years which have got me a bunch of client work and which has brought new clients visiting my portfolio site.
Here is some info on 4 self-initiated projects I have had success with:
International Year of Astronomy
I’m still, to this day, not sure how these designs got to be so popular.
But the combination of peoples love for space and the simple clean 70s style that I created made them a big hit.
People are still blogging about this project – just last week it was spotted in an interior design magazine that had bought 3 prints.
Where they were photographed framed in some great apartments. This project developed interest almost instantly with countless magazines requesting images for a feature and interview questions.
The first proper client work that I received was in the beginning of 2010 just as the commotion had started to die down and Wired magazine contacted me for a piece on space junk for their iPad launch. It was great seeing the piece on print and digital and not the same sort of digital as a website they really did hit the ground running with their iPad app with the transitions, interactions and animations they added early on.
Since then I have had people contact me on everything like logo design, poster design, album covers and more editorial work all out of the love of this series. Only last week it got published in a bi yearly magazine as part of a feature about me.
This series started out as experimentation in the geometry of cubes and of all the work,
I have done has probably generated the most client editorial work.
This work has been covered by countless blogs, displayed in exhibitions and art galleries and I has quickly sold out of limited edition prints and cushions.
One of the initial CUBEN pieces, which I called Irregular Sides and can be seen here, won me an award at the end of 2009 for Digital Artist Star of Tomorrow, which was picked out by Dave Gibbons (Watchmen Comic artist) in collaboration with Future Publishing (Computer Arts Magazine being one you may of heard of). This was a huge recognition for me and at the time having my piece in a gallery and winning an award was amazing.
One of the most obscure places that CUBEN has ended up was on the US hit show Extreme Makeover Home Edition where I designed CUBEN style wallpaper designs for a kids bedroom and it was awesome seeing it come to life on the TV.
Editorial and client work are still in demand for my CUBEN designs style and this year I have had the designs picked up by three magazines already
Outdoor Hardware are using one of my CUBEN designs for their new corporate branding and I have a 2 major companies signed to sell my new CUBEN pillow designs throughout their stores this year.
Musically Inspired Album Covers
This was an interesting project, which involved me creating some memorable album cover designs based on being inspired by the music.
I picked out a bunch of albums that I love and created covers based on the music.
For the most part I realised that the client cover designs I most enjoyed creating and that look the best were the ones where I was inspired purely by the music.
This series has got me a lot of client work from artists requesting my work on their albums and it seems to get a nice continuous stream of coverage.
One of the covers I did here was for Gareth Emery whose agency actually contacted me to design Gareth’s latest album cover – they didn’t use the design shown here but it got them interested enough to look through my portfolio and hiring me.
One of the first album cover designs to come out of this self-initiated project was this LP cover for Kohina – this was a great honor as the music on this was apparently very rare and had been out of print. Only 200 were printed making it a bit of a collectors items and some had been resold on eBay for some stupid amounts.
Again this is a project that continues to capture peoples imagination and only last week a popular UK dance magazine picked up the project and ran an interesting spread on it.
International Year of Chemistry
This was similar to the International Year of Astronomy in that I took it on because I felt it wasn’t being promoted well enough and deserved better PR.
The IYC committee ended up commissioning the work after seeing it, which was a nice bit of recognition.
Some of the highlights with this campaign was having other designers that I know and respect tweeting about it – it is always nice to get recognition from your peers as well as the likes of
Stephen Fry who ended up tweeted links to my portfolio to his millions of followers after he saw the New York times coverage of the project – which they had picked up from Fast Company who did a great piece on the work I had done for Science – I felt a little guilty about this because although I had done it for the campaign and I am passionate about Science in general this was a self-initiated piece of work that I did as promotional work for myself.
This project has lead to the likes of the UN and the Olympic committee in hiring me and so far since I posted photos of the designs on my portfolio in September of 2011 it has received over 112,000 views which I am still staggered by.
Cut it out
Anyone who follows my work knows I am constantly creating things and I try and come up with something new at least every couple of weeks be it good or bad – like a little constraint I put on myself creatively to push myself to not to be lazy.
One of my current self-initiated project that I am working on is called cut-it-out. This first started from one of a bunch of made up logos from the end of last year, which you can see here:
This got picked up by a gallery in France fairly early on and who are now displaying this as part of an exhibition and they seem interested in possibly displaying more pieces from this series which I am currently working on.
Here are a few of the pieces that I have been working on:
- Piano Key
- Zero to O
- Design Type
Promote the work the best you can
So that leads neatly on to the last section of how to promote the work the best you can:
Put your work out there
Putting your work out there is the first step – there is no point in doing a bunch of creative work if no body knows about it.
Many designers I know will only put out work they think is of a good enough standard. Most of the time this is a big problem with designers in that our vision often outweighs our capability and we are rarely content.
Failing is a learning process
A lot of the time you may fail or the design isn’t good enough but it’s better to get work out and fail than have work that you never show anyone. Failing after all is a learning process that you need to go through and crucially getting feedback from others particularly those you respect. Oddly some of the quick designs I do, which I have thought were quite average, have been popular and I think this too is true of most designers.
Also I personally am rather obsessive with my work and a lot of the times when I put work online I seem to look at it in a different light. I think some of it is when you get so involved in a piece of work you get to a point where you can’t see the wood for the trees. When my work is online I change perspective to one of imagining someone looking at it, kind of almost for the first time, with – in the back of head a knowing that people are now judging my work and so I usually end up just change a few things like text positions, white space and maybe some colours.
Show your ideas
NOT putting work out there instantly limits your portfolio and what clients can see you are capable of. In an interview with Saul Bass a while ago he explained how a student who shows lots of ideas is more appealing than a student who only displays one or two solid pieces. This is also very true which clients too who aren’t just looking for designers to just replicate work they have already done but also to collaborate and share ideas and someone who can demonstrate this in a portfolio is gong to be more desirable than one who can’t.
So now you have decided to share make sure you promote your work in your all portfolios online and social networks.
Add blog posts about processes, sketches and research
Next up blog about the work and add details on things like processes, sketch work or any research you might of done. In the case of my work on the International Year of Astronomy I ended up doing blog posts on the print production, the press coverage and things like free downloads of iPad and desktop wallpaper.
Another good approach is to contact some of the top blogs and get them to run some competitions. One of the first places who asked to do a competition was abduzeedo and Fabio who is up next to talk after me. This was a great bit of promotion and got a lot of people visiting my portfolio.
Don’t be afraid to contact the big blogs if you are new
I am big believer in the saying build it and people will come. However if you have just starting out and no one knows you, you might need to initially contact some of the top blogs to speed things up to see if they will cover your work. Once you get a couple of the top blogs interested a lot of others will then also pick it up.
5. Take away
So what are the main points I would like you all to take away with you from this talk:
- Remember clients can only hire you based on what you have done or shown you are capable of
- Use self-initiated work to grow and experiment as a designer but make sure you put some restraints on yourself or balance it with client work so that working alongside clients isn’t alien.
- Don’t wait for the clients to come to you – show them what you can do, be the underdog its is a great piece of motivation and do something that will catch their eye.
- But most of all just create work that you love, do it as often as you can and put it on show to the world. This in essence will lead to client work more so than any other avenues that are open to you.
Thank you for listening and if you would like to find out more about me then have a look at my portfolio at excites.co.uk. I would like to thank Shawn Pucknell for giving me the opportunity to talk at FITC and Lisa Walters who made the trip and experience so much simpler.
I have already got some ideas for another talk – if anyone will have me.