I’m a 40 year old Graphic Designer based in Witney, Oxfordshire. I’ve been freelance/running my own company for 11 years now, after 8 years working for local government, charities and publishing.
I originally spent 5 years training to be an illustrator, but nowadays I earn a living designing user interfaced and icons, with a smattering of logos and corporate identity work. Last year I published The Icon Handbook with Five Simple Steps, a reference, how-to manual and coffee table book covering pictograms to photorealistic application icons.
Would you recommend studying at art school?
If you can, yes! Don’t rush into employment if you can help it, but spend time learning a variety of skills, and having fun.
How long was it before design became your primary form of income?
Within 3 months of leaving college. I’d given up trying to find commissions as a wildlife illustrator, and I got my first job as a Junior Designer (at Coventry City Council). I learnt a lot of my print design skills there.
Could you describe your typical day?
I have a short cycle to work at my office in town. It’s a co-working space, so I share with three other freelancers. It means I can afford to have an office, and have people to laugh and get design feedback with. I usually start with a cup of tea, then emails – trying to clear the ‘quick stuff’. I get a lot of email though, and could easily spend all day simply replying to it, so it has to be prioritised.
From there, its long bouts of design – either sketching, drawing in Adobe Illustrator or prototyping interfaces in HTML and CSS, interspersed with more tea. If I feel I can afford the time, I nip out for a quick ride at lunchtime! I usually finish in good time (5pm) so that I can be home with the kids, and then a work bit more once they’ve gone to bed. I’m also working with Australian clients at the moment, so it could be that I have a late evening meeting before going to bed.
What do you wish you’d know when you first started out?
Ignore trends as much as possible – designs date quickly when pandering to fashion – particularly using the ‘in’ shapes of the day.
What’s the best thing about being an designer?
Being paid to create things from thin air. There’s no raw material to shape, carve or mould, its literally born from nothing – like the process of writing. I think thats amazing. One of the reasons I left a full-time job to go freelance was to ensure that I still did the hands-on creative work, rather than become a manager.
What’s the worst thing about being an designer?
Design used to be a very tactile practice, where you would go home with various letters stuck to the underside of your arms, and nostrils filled with spray mount. Now I go home feeling tired from staring at illuminated pixels all day. I don’t miss the restrictions of the old way of working, there is far more freedom and possibilities with computers, but I miss the physicality of the old ways.
If you weren’t an designer, what would you be?
Narrating audiobooks, particularly childrens’ stories. Classic stories like Roald Dahls’ The BFG have a wonderful range of characters, and I’d love to voice them all!
Any other tips you could share?
Don’t be afraid to say no or stick to your guns!