Stuart is a freelance logo designer and blogger based in Belfast as Inkbot Design, we asked him how he managed his time as a graphic designer and a blogger.
It’s definitely not easy juggling professional expectations for projects and getting time to sit down and write quality content for the blog – but I knew freelancing wouldn’t be a breeze when I started! You have to be quite disciplined. I for example use an app called Omnifocus, which manages to-do’s, notes and project planning, with reminders set weekly for blog posts and at the end of the month for special posts. It’s the digital version of carrying round a desk diary, notepad and personal assistant when you’ve got a handful of things to remember!
Essentially, you have to prioritise the client work over everything else as they’re the one’s paying your bills, but I guess when other designers would be logging out and going home, I’m there researching and writing blog posts for my own site and the logo blog I run called Logoholic.org with Italian brand expert Dario Calonaci.
If you want to make it as a designer today, I highly recommend having a blog on your site, even to simply talk about your own work and ideas. It allows (potential) clients an opportunity to judge your personality and your work at the same time. Talking about ‘how’ you work can really make the decision for the reader easier as whether to get in touch or not, oftentimes the difference between getting the new project or it being passed to the next person. I know a few people have got in touch with me specifically after reading a post I did on the cost of logo design, which explained the differences in pricing from the $5 logo to the thousand pound brand campaigns.
Apart from gaining new clients, the blog is a valuable tool to connect with the design community. You can build trust, respect and even friendships with like minded individuals whose valuable opinions you can ask when you’re stuck on an idea. Starting out, I relied on the information and experience of bloggers who had years of industry work in the portfolio – people like David Airey and Graham Smith (imjustcreative) had a lot of posts aimed at helping young designers learning the trade. These insights acted like an internship at a company – you get to read the tips and advice from those who knew what they were talking about. Hopefully I can pass along some equally valuable assistance to designers coming into the industry in future.
What are you working on at the moment?
This month I’ve been working on an interesting mix of logo design, printed media and promotional collateral with several clients from England, Holland and Austria. A few projects that have been wrapped up this week consist of a new brand for a Contemporary Art Consultancy, a Media and PR Agency and a Recruitment Specialist.
I’m doing a bit of menu design for a Sports Bar in Leeds, which is really exciting as I created the initial brand and can now work on expanding it across all the signage and interior. I’m also trying to write a case-study for the blog where I show the ‘behind the scenes’ process involved within a recent project. All good stuff really.
Where do you find inspiration?
Anywhere and everywhere.
I’m inspired by nature and try to take a camera everywhere I can. Always watching and absorbing life around you should be inspiration enough but I follow other designers work and blogs, read design books (and a lot of non-design too!), watch tv, movies and documentaries. Sketching and doodling and painting and scrapbooking and… and generally trying to be “creative” leads you down avenues where you can actually end up inspiring yourself – sounds a tad pretentious, but that’s what happens.
Maybe for example I’m stuck on a logo design. I’ll try sketching it in all different pens, paints and pencils on paper, canvas or any other surface – this could in turn inspire a later painting or illustration that came from a simple exercise in unclogging a thought.
If you close your eyes to how other people do things, you won’t really grow to your potential. Becoming stagnant in your thoughts and work really is the worst thing for a designer.
How did you get started in graphic design?
I went to the University of Dundee with the expectation of moving into a Degree of Graphic Design or Visual Communication, only to find the Illustration course a little more ‘open’ to the ranges of art and design that I appreciated. I felt it allowed a more hands-on take to project work, which wouldn’t turn it’s nose up to more ‘design’ related work if it was a route I wanted to take.
The Illustration course I think provided a fairly unique experience within more traditional media such as fine art and all types of print formats from silkscreen to woodcut. Certainly the majority of young designers I know within the community would be more focused upon the digital realm, I can safely say my grasp of print work comes from a core understanding of the media itself.
After graduating, I tentatively started freelancing whilst looking for full-time Graphic Design jobs in Belfast. The freelance approach really appealed to me, and although the learning experience of a creative design studio could prove valuable, I started Inkbot Design in 2010/11. Early projects consisted mainly of logo design for non-profits, charities and some sole traders with the lower end budgets – but I was happy to learn from every project and boost my portfolio with work from a range of industries, from a variety of countries.
Since then, I’ve been taking on larger and more developed projects that consist of additional media, from stationery to signage, building the brand from the logo up. I’ve also expanded my graphic design services from logo design to include a range of collateral mainly within print media. Hopefully things will continue to grow and develop over the next few years, who knows, maybe I will start to employ more designers to keep up with demand?
As a freelance graphic designer what advice would you give to someone starting out on how to find clients?
If you’re really starting out with the blank canvas, no projects to show off or experience in the job, then I’d advise working pro-bono for a bit. It can be difficult, because you may need the money, but if you don’t have work in the portfolio, getting paid clients will be near impossible. No one will want to fork out money on a gamble – having projects to showcase your abilities is the only way to prove to them that you are a safe investment.
Try replying to people on Twitter or Facebook that are looking for designers – even if it’s a small job, it can lead to bigger and better things. Maybe friends or family need something designed and have a low budget, that’s your chance to get some work and help someone out at the same time. If all else fails, try some ‘fictional’ work or redesign something that you think is currently unsuccessful. You’re not cheating or being deceptive (unless you call it client work), you’re simply showing how you would have done thing given the chance. If the client sees your potential, maybe they’ll give you that chance with real work.
The old ideology of those that work hard get the results really does play true when you’re working for yourself, in any industry. If you work hard and have at least an ounce of passion with what you do, success will come.
What top tip can you give to any freelance graphic designer?
Don’t give up. Seriously.
Thanks Stuart, you’ll find an interesting and diverse display of Stuarts work in his portfolio at http://inkbotdesign.com/portfolio/ and you can bookmark both his blogs, see http://inkbotdesign.com/blog/ and http://logoholic.org/