1/ How do you feel the surge of social-media and internet dependence has changed the way we brand?Duane Doogan

Not very much. The principles are the same — create something appropriate, distinctive, memorable, and ideally emotive.

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2/ What gave you the courage to work for yourself?Tracey

I brought my old employer along as my first client. That gave me three days’ work every week, lasting about 18 months, leaving plenty of time to look for new business.

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3/ How much time do you spend working on your brand rather than client work? Do you dedicate certain days or times to working on your business rather than working in it?Tony Hardy

About 60 percent currently goes to client work, with 40 on side projects and business admin. When I’m busier with clients that split is about 80/20 or 90/10. There’s no set day or time when I’ll work on my business. If I’m waiting for client feedback I’ll update my sites or reply to emails. If a client’s waiting for me I’ll make that the priority.

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4/ Have you ever been part of a small team, working mostly for local businesses? What do you think changes in the branding of a smaller company versus a larger one, whether within design or the approval process? Does your thought process differ between the two?Dani Kelley

Most of my employment was in a small team. A few times during the early days of self-employment I was drafted into large organisations for contract work, but I didn’t like it. There were strict design guidelines in place so I didn’t have any freedom to express ideas. It was the opposite in the small team. That was much more interesting. Today the difference is that with my additional experience I can be the one setting guidelines for large companies.

My approach is the same, regardless of client — seek out the most appropriate idea to carry the business forward. That could mean designing an identity from scratch, carrying out a subtle refinement, or working through a full redesign. It’ll depend on the brief and what’s happening within the company.

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5/ As someone who clearly lacks drawing skills, I sometimes feel difficulty in the design process. Can you give some advice on how to get around this limitation? — José Rodrigues

Don’t think of your sketches as a piece of art. Use them to record and develop ideas, to put your thoughts on paper in as fast a way as possible. The more ideas you can come up with, the more likely you are to arrive at the strongest outcome.

ADB logo sketches

Your sketchpad is a playground — it doesn’t matter how good it looks. Enjoy it.

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6/ Once you’re done creating a brand identity, how do you make sure the client sticks to the guidelines you’ve provided, and how do you keep track of how the client applies the identity? — George Balinov

The guidelines I set are fairly self-explanatory, normally with flexibility for the client to take things forward without me. That said, sometimes my advice isn’t taken on board, and of course we all make mistakes. I give advice on how to implement the design, but ultimately it’s up to the client what they run with.

All part of the job.

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7/ What do you think is the most successful logo re-working of the past year or so?James Greig

Interbrand Australia’s work for Sensis is very well done, introducing a contemporary charm into a previously generic and forgettable design.

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8/ What are five pieces of advice that you would give to a design student?Ian Bass

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9/ What makes you happier — when you are satisfied after finishing a project, or when your client is. I mean, if you feel your best option is really good, but the client chooses another option, do you try to persuade the client to change her mind? — Ania

I only show ideas I think will work. Where more than one idea is shown, I’ll usually have a favourite. I’ll explain why, but sometimes a client will have a good business reason for preferring a different direction.

A happy client makes me happy. A sad client makes me sad. And such is life.

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10/ I see research as very important in graphic design, but very few companies are willing to invest in it. 
Would you say that the role of social research as reference to design is undervalued, or is it that companies usually don’t invest much because it is overpriced or doesn’t bring tangible results?
 — Caê Penna

Clients hire me to design, and as that involves research, a percentage of what I’m paid will always go toward it. But I don’t make a fuss about selling research when I’m talking to a potential client. I sell the end result and how good design improves my client’s business. If one designer sells research, and another sells improved profits, it’s obvious who wins.

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11/ With all the free templates available for any kind of graphic work, do you think that graphic design will eventually become extinct? Or will people realize that they need quality work instead of cheap replacements they can find online? — Coramia Motoi

Just because someone eats at McDonalds doesn’t mean they’ll never eat in a Michelin star restaurant. They might only splash out once or twice, but it’ll be for important occasions.

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12/ Are you crazy or just playing genius? — Rami

“Women are crazy, men are stupid. And the main reason women are crazy is that men are stupid.”
— GEORGE CARLIN

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13/ Do you have a file of design concepts that you’ve always wanted to incorporate into your future work, or that you dip into when looking for original creative inspiration?Paul Randall

No, but along similar lines I’ve pitched a rejected design to another client in the same profession. I thought the idea was a great fit, but the original client chose a different direction. The new client loved it.

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14/ How do you choose colors for clients? Do you choose what you think clients will like, or what suits the project?Igor

I’ll look at the client’s competitors and choose something different, as long as it’s appropriate for the brief. The choice isn’t about personal favourites. It’s what will work for the client’s customers.

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15/ How did you start your freelance career? How long did you prepare for it? What attributes are required to launch your own studio?Zaw Waiyan Lwin

In 2004 I resigned from a design job with Myeloma UK, a cancer charity in Edinburgh. I was off to travel the world, and had no intention of returning to the role, but in 2005 after some amazing experiences abroad, the charity hadn’t found a replacement. So I asked chief executive Eric Low to hire me as a part-time contractor, working three days per week and sending an invoice at the end of each month. He agreed, and we worked together again for around 18 months until the charity needed someone full-time.

There wasn’t much preparation, and I didn’t have a lot of experience, so I made a ton of mistakes, like showing too many ideas. Mistakes can be good lessons.

Here are some interesting reflections from designers in self-employment.

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16/ What has been your most challenging project so far, and why? — Tanja

I was once asked to change my terms and conditions before receiving a downpayment. That was the first red flag. But I carried on, and the project soon deteriorated into overcomplicated pixel pushing — micromanagement at its worst. The time frame was five times longer than expected, topped off by the client’s inability to pay upon completion. A year later, I finally received the full amount, but the stress was far from worth it.

Since then, I’ve not been approached by anyone else who wanted to change my working terms, but if that happens, I’ll politely decline the project.

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17/ How did you approach job hunting when you first started out? Also, what’s you work/life balance like? — Kate

After graduating, I took a job in telesales for The Scotsman. I needed something to pay the bills and design jobs seemed scarce (or more likely I wasn’t good enough). Coincidentally, I met an old friend at the newspaper who put me in touch with my next employer, and that’s how my first design role came about. I’ve always thought that it’s easier to find a job when you’ve already got one, regardless of the work you do.

Here’s some job advice I mentioned in a previous answer: The design company is not the only place to be a designer. And this series might help: What employers look for #1.

smashLAB

I’m happy with the balance I have between work, family, friends. I regularly see the people I love, and I normally get a good night’s sleep. When it seems like my job is getting the better of me, I remind myself of some people I met when travelling — they’d start work at 6am, stopping at midnight to close their street stalls and get a few hours’ rest before doing it again, year after year.

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18/ Do you believe one could ever be too old to learn to become a great graphic designer? — Helen Almberg

I don’t. Who knows how long we’ll live? And even if we don’t reach that 10,000 hour mark (or however long it takes to become great), a day spent doing what you love is better than a thousand days doing something you hate.

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19/ Being a freelancer, I encounter various obstacles trying to start my own branding business, such as free work and lots of conceding. Where did you struggle the most in your beginnings? — Martin

I thought I needed to take on every potential client that came my way. But that was stupid. It pays to say “no.”

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20/ What advice would you give to inexperienced designers on how to handle branding when they are working with startups? We see most of the tech startups overlook the brand aspect and this ends up hurting them. How can a designer educate/convince startups regarding branding?Manas

In many respects you should treat a new business the same as an established firm. If a company doesn’t think there’s value in brand identity, your time’s better spent finding one that does.

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Part #2 here. Thanks again.

# #

September 25, 2014

Comments

Hello, thank you for doing this AMA, I am currently a senior in high school and I was wondering how I should even begin putting my brand and my name out in the world. It seems like so much to do that I just don’t know where to start, I have already begun work on a website, and am currently trying to teach myself digital art as I have traditionally stuck to ink illustration in the past. Thanks for the help, have a great day.

No worries, Hunter. One thing at a time. Get your website up. It doesn’t need to be perfect (mine certainly isn’t), but it’ll be a good start, and you’ll make it better as you learn. Good luck.

Great answers, David! I’m really learning a lot from your blog. As a starting freelance graphic designer, my main problem is having a few good portfolio pieces that I can show to potential clients. But I can’t show them a good portfolio without having a few clients first. It’s an unfortunate Catch-22, really. Do you have any tips how to get round this? Thank you very much, and all the best to you.

Great read. I found myself reading your answers and thinking of my own responses to the questions. I’m 7+ years into “freelance” (a word I have never really liked). I think the coming generation is much more inclined to freelance than my own generation. I know numerous 20 somethings trying to freelance straight out of university. Any thoughts on that?

Thank you very much for this post David.

“…a day spent doing what you love is better than a thousand days doing something you hate.” – love this quote

Hallo Paul Jurey,
If you don´t have a Portfolio to show to potential clients, just make personal projects where you can show the kind of job you wanna do and potential clients can see what you are able to do. If you want to do Branding, just make the Corporate Identity of a made up company. Or if you want have a Book Publisher as client, make book covers or book layouts. And so on. If you are good enough, it doesnt matter a lot if the works you show are for real or not.

Glad to read that, Paul. Here’s a post for you.

I don’t like “freelancer” either, Stephen. Here’s a relevant post from 2007: Are freelance designers really suckers?

I wasn’t a good designer when I finished school. When I got my first design job I only spent a couple of years at it before going it alone. My inexperience led to mistakes I could’ve avoided had I spent longer learning from others. I don’t regret starting when I did, and if a graduate wants to do the same I say go for it. Today, more than ever, is the right time to work for yourself. You can put it off and wait for some unknown point when you think you’re more prepared, but you have to ask yourself what’ll make you happier.

Cheers, Theo.

Thanks for your answer, Luis.

I’m starting school next fall for graphic design after 5 years of freelancing. Projects have been few and far between but that’s mostly my lack of really striking out and marketing myself. I’d ultimately like to work for myself but worry about staying motivated and on task since that’s kind of been my Achilles heel. Is that something you ever experienced and had to overcome when starting out?

Not just when starting out, Miles (excuse the late reply). I’m motivated because I love what I do, but when you work at something for long enough it doesn’t always have that same appeal. Probably true for any job. What do you hope to learn at school?

I’m excited to learn what I don’t know yet, if that makes any sense. There’s a lot of growth to be had, creatively, and I want to put myself in an environment where I’m challenged on a daily basis. I’m a very visual person but I have a hard time formulating things into a cohesive whole on page. A lot of the work I’ve done has been for small businesses, which means small projects. Great learning experiences, of course, but I want big projects to work on. Not to mention some big projects I was turned away from simply because I don’t have a degree.

It makes sense. Curiosity’s important.

That’s a shame about the big projects. Not one client has asked about my education. Your portfolio and how you conduct yourself should’ve been enough.

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