Article / Collaboration / Design Community / Graphic Design

Working with or working for?

Do designers need other designers?

I live in a relatively small town – there’s a lot of history here, and there’s also a large-ish college, which means that there’s a good mix of people, and a growing creative community. I think I’ve talked a bit about his before, but where I live and work is, from a designer’s point of view, a bit odd.

There are a number of graphic design and marketing agencies in and around my town, but they’re all quite hidden from view. You really have to seek some of them out – if you don’t know about them, you probably wouldn’t stumble across them.

I think that designers as a collective can be a pretty guarded bunch. When you work outside of the big cities there seems to be an air of suspicion, whereby other designers are seen as competition rather than part of a more extensive network.

But in thinking this, are we losing out on opportunities to foster growth and create a helpful, creative network? Rather than having that fear that other creatives are lying in wait to poach our clients, maybe we should think instead of teaming up and collaborating to offer something more significant than we can currently provide; a way to stretch our creativity and learn from each other.

Creating as a collective

If you ask a bunch of designers – or creatives for that matter – what they do, you will get a different answer from every single one of them. No two designers are the same; we all have our own style, specialism, and niche.
Of those tucked away agencies around my town alone, I bet they all have something very different to offer.

Having more than one style or skill come together can make for a much richer result, and open fresh avenues for designers. It’s not about stealing work from each other – it’s about working together to create something completely different.

There’s always going to be one person who takes ownership for a project – perhaps because they came up with the concept or something that is for their client – but collaboration is the difference between working with and working for. You can sub-contract out elements of the project, or you can choose to work together in a partnership where everyone is on an equal footing to get the job done – I know which I’d prefer.

Can collaboration make us better designers?

I think that no matter what type of creative work you do, there’s always something new to learn. There are so many different ideas, techniques, tools… having the opportunity to share some of that with other creatives can make you see things differently and get you out of a design rut.

It’s easy to trap ourselves into certain thought-patterns, whereby we get caught up doing the same things over and over, becoming too comfortable to break out of our comfort zones. If that happens, we tend to lose confidence, and then spend our time convinced that our designs have to be perfect before we can let anyone else see it.

But design isn’t about perfectionism – it’s about creativity. If we get stuck in a loop of getting everything perfect, doesn’t that mean that creativity is shoved to one side?

Being with other designers is a good way to break that cycle – rather than being there to criticise your work, they can lend a fresh eye to it, and having those conversations can spark new ideas, and get you moving forward again.

Work culture

Aside from actually collaborating, keeping in touch with other designers be valuable. We make connections with who we can lean on for advice and have other like-minded people on hand to talk things through.

This is particularly true if you are a small agency or work alone – as you can feel quite isolated, especially in these times where many of us are unable to work in our usual settings.

Having that extra ‘back up’ can go a long way in giving you that feeling of being part of something bigger than yourself.

Article / Experience / Graduates / Graphic Design / Self Publishing / Side Projects

Favours for favours?

As part of the design community, the question of working for free often comes up. I think in most genres of the creative industry, there’s almost an expectation that we should be expected to take on projects for free, or under the guise of ‘exposure’, with varying opinions.

For designers who are right at the start of their careers, or who have a limited portfolio to show to prospects, it can be a difficult hurdle to overcome – after all, how can you get people to hire you if they can’t see what you’re capable of?

I feel there are 2 parts to this discussion – the first in being asked by prospects to ‘work for free’ (sometimes cleverly disguised as ‘exposure work’), the second is creating your own projects in order to showcase your work. The second one can be beneficial, the first one almost never is, so we’ll talk about this one first.

Asking for work

It’s likely that even if you’ve been in the game a while, there will be times as a designer when you have a need to prospect for new projects. It’s these ‘cold contacts’ that are most likely to be the businesses who; a) have little knowledge about how outsourcing works, and b) think that by asking for ‘freebies’ as a way of gauging your talent is the proper way to do things.

An inexperienced designer might be tempted to oblige. After all, it might lead to more paid work and it adds valuable content to your portfolio, right?

But hang on – let’s put this in perspective.

Let’s pretend for a minute that you’ve had 2 prospect responses. They both want to hire you, but one of them asks for a quote, while the other one asks if you can do the first element of the project for free ‘to see how it goes’.

Here’s where the ‘what if’ scenarios start to come into your mind. What if the guy who asked for the quote thinks you’re too expensive and decides not to hire you? What if the ‘free’ project is the one that will ultimately lead to the most lucrative work?

I can reassure you here that the first scenario is always the least dangerous. Because if your quote gets returned with concerns over the budget, there are always things you can do – like offer to complete elements of the work in order to meet their budget or payment instalment plans for example.

But the ‘freebie’ guy? Sure, he might hire you down the line for your usual rate – but I’m willing to bet that he’ll haggle and argue at every turn. And if you take on that project for free, which might take you several hours, then you are making yourself unavailable for proper, paid work.

How to respond if you’re asked to work for free

This can be tricky, particularly if you’re desperate for work. That temptation to grab every opportunity for fear of missing out can be strong. But in order to avoid devaluing your abilities, it’s important that you learn to stand your ground – and I’m saying that from a place of experience. By accepting free work, you’re not only doing a disservice to yourself, but you’re also giving the message that design as a profession holds no value.

So what can you say when a prospect utters those words, ‘can you do the first project for free/for exposure/as a test-run?’.

There are a few ways you could choose to handle it – as long as you remember that the answer should always be ‘No’.

The first thing you should do is to take a step back. Don’t rush in with your response from a place of emotion. The prospect isn’t doing this out of spite or malice – they are simply unaware of how the design process works. It’s your job to educate them.

Perhaps this is a prospect that you really DO want to work with. It could be that you’ve followed them for a while, and they’re just the kind of business you want to design for. If that’s the case, then consider responding with a polite note, advising them that although you are not in a position to offer free work, you can point them in the direction of other work you’ve done for similar industries. If you don’t have any examples, then perhaps you can seek out other projects you can do (for pay, of course!) so that you can approach them again in a few months’ time.

Or you can politely decline. Again, let them know that as a creative professional, you are not able to complete the project for free, but perhaps they can consider you again when they are in a position to hire you for your usual fee.

When it’s ok to work for free

What I am a great advocate for is self-initiated projects. I believe these types of projects can be a brilliant way of creating your own portfolio pieces, on your own terms. Whether you are an experienced designer or not, periodically taking time to work on your own projects allows you to explore different techniques and design methods which you might not get the opportunity for with client work.

The benefits are two-fold; you get that extra bit of creative freedom, and you get to escape that rut of always taking on the same type of client project. It gives you the chance to push the boundaries a little bit and inspires you to take different avenues.

I’ve done this myself a few times – with my self-published book ‘Ten Yrs Later’, and for some localised projects such as the creative festival I began working on during 2020. Both of these have worked for me in both a professional and personal scope because it gives me something else to showcase what I can do, and lets me ‘play’ and explore outside of my usual workload.

If you are at the start of your career or feel the need to change your niche, taking a bit of time out to create different pieces for your portfolio is the best way to do it. It can be as simple as choosing an existing or imaginary brand and redesigning it using your own style and techniques.

I hope this article gives you the confidence to realise your own value in what you do. Design, in whatever form it takes, is a valuable asset to your clients and should be treated as such.

Article / Design Community / Graphic Design / Inspiration / Press Release

Creativepool: Best Graphic Designers of 2020

Written by Antonino Lupo
Published 17/12/2020

10 of the most exciting and talented graphic designers to keep an eye on in 2021

Good graphic design is easy to spot. But excellent graphic design? You need to have a specific kind of eye, taste and interest to understand what that is all about. The best graphic designers of this year all embody that spirit – a quirky, creative will to do things differently, to excel in simplicity and amaze with the pure power of shape, colour and text.

Read the full article at creativepool.com

Article / Branding / Graphic Design / Inspiration / Project Highlight

Three years of design

Unbelievably, Severn is three years old already. We’ve come a long way over that time; there have been a lot of highlights, and a few near-misses to learn from.

So I’d like to talk a little bit about what got us here, and share some of the most noteworthy projects that we’ve had the pleasure of being involved in over the past few years.

The reason why a made the decision to start an agency, rather than to freelance, was because of the way I wanted my business to grow. I wanted to be seen as part of something bigger, and having an agency felt a bit more substantial, and had a certain stamp of trust about it.

I feel fortunate that I made that decision, because it’s opened the doors to so many great design projects, and given me the freedom to experiment with plenty of techniques and processes, and allowed me to work alongside many different industries.

I’d like to share a few of my favourite projects and highlights, and some of the projects that are happening right now.

My highlight project

Perhaps it’s unfair to say this is my favourite project over the last three years; there have been many that I still look back on with a sense of achievement. But saying that, the work that I did for the local business, Glouglou, is one that sticks in my mind. Possibly because I had involvement in the branding of the business from its infancy, and the owners were so great to work with.

You can read more about what I did for them in an earlier post, but in summary, their approach to the brand was unique, and I think we managed to come up with something that completely encapsulates what they are all about. I can’t think of another brand that looks like they do in their branding, and everything they do, both online and offline, ties in with their image perfectly.

Personal highlights

From setting up the business, and then working towards my MA, I’ve been able to explore so many opportunities I might not have thought possible before. Like creating my own book, Ten Yrs Later, which showcases my design thinking and tells my story through my work.

I also won the Creative Conscience Award, which was fantastic to work on and a huge confidence boost. Designing the app allowed me to try out new techniques and be involved in subjects I hadn’t previously had too much experience in – Mental Health, and the Emergency Services.

It’s not something that many people think about, but there is huge pressure on people who work on the front line, and taking care of their mental health is often overlooked, and frequently stigmatised. So being able to look at ways I could help them, as a designer, was an eye-opening and valuable experience.

And an upcoming highlight – I’ve recently been asked to get involved in the Coventry Design Festival (although that one isn’t happening until 2022).

What’s happening right now?

There are a couple of local projects going on that I’m part of, and both are centred around Shrewsbury.

The first one – Market Hall: A Day in the Life – is focussed on Shrewsbury Market Hall, and tells the story of the building’s history, and the people who work there. The building has always been a big influence within the town, and it’s great to keep it alive by telling the stories of the current stall-holders, and giving a history of its architecture and use over the years, in relation to the town. 

Another ongoing project – Public Opinion – where we created an online survey, did face-to-face interviews and asked on social media, where the local public could share, anonymously, their opinions on the town of Shrewsbury.

We used this information to share some of the comments, using stickers around the town, sharing a booklet, and projecting them on slides from the studio.

Did lockdown affect us?

I was affected very personally by Covid – my family and I caught it about 2 weeks before Lockdown 1.0. What hit me most was how utterly exhausted it made us feel. And then of course businesses began to shut down, and I was left in a situation where for the first time in a long time, I had to seek out work, because everyone was putting their marketing on pause, meaning my workload reduced significantly.

The second lockdown has felt different – in general, more businesses are staying open where they can, and those who are working from home are more confident in booking meetings vis Zoom, so even if budgets are reduced, they are thinking about how they can remain in front of their customers, which means keeping ahead with web design and graphics.

The future

I think for all businesses, the future looks different to how we thought it would back at the beginning of the year. We’ve all had to adjust, and I’m no exception.

Views have changed, and for me, it’s forced me to focus on things in a different way.

I’m keen to continue to evolve in a professional capacity and challenge myself a bit more. I’m really enjoying working with local causes, and I count myself lucky to be in this part of the world.

Article / Design Strategy / Graphic Design / Photography

How the right image can get your content noticed

There is a vast amount of information on the internet. At the beginning of 2020, there were 1.74 billion websites and rising, and that’s not considering blog pages and social media accounts.

That’s a lot of pages to compete with, and the chances of getting your website found without having a marketing plan in place are, to say the least, extremely slim.

You might feel disheartened by that. But I think that it just highlights how important it is to do everything you possibly can to get your online content noticed. And a huge part of that is creating the right look – including branding and images – to make sure that when you are found, people will be interested enough to want to read what you have to say.

I spend a lot of my time thinking about how to use images online. I look at different types of image; photography, artwork, gifs/animated images…. I spend a lot of time testing things out, seeing how they work on the screen, gauging audience response. And I’ve spent a lot of years working out what works and what doesn’t.

Why images are important

You might ask why you need images as part of your online content at all. What if you’re a car mechanic, or a manufacturer? Surely these kinds of industries don’t require images on their websites, right?

OK, well think about this; if you’re online, looking for a specific type of company, where does your brain stop you scrolling – on the page filled with text, or the one with the high-quality images?

We have it hardwired in us to respond to visual prompts. So we automatically want to see images – it’s what our brains seek out first, in order to make sense of the page, and learn what it is about.

Then, if we’re pleased with what we see, we start reading.

Statistics say that online content with images get 94% more views than those without – that’s almost double. For that reason alone, I think it’s worth putting some thought into.

What type of images?

The main thing to remember is that all images need to compliment the content they appear alongside. The purpose should be to draw the person in and compel them to read your content.

Bear in mind that nowadays, most people will have access to smartphones, and so for many of them, this is how they will see your web content. Make sure that the images you choose look good on both monitors and phone screens.

You’ll also want to think about your overall branding – every image you use, whether that’s in the form of photographs or graphics, need to tie in with the rest of your branding. Consider colours, composition, and style, and make sure that everything follows the same theme.

The images you use should be the correct resolution – people can see poor quality a mile off, and if your images look shoddy, then so will the rest of your site.

The personal touch

There’s an old cliché that people buy from people – and it’s true. The most clickable images are always those which show a personal element to your business. That might be candid images of the work that you do, a sneak peek of your office or workspace, or even a short video of you giving some insight into a process that you could share with people.

Tell a story; show people who you are, and what they can expect if they hire you or buy from you. Let them see how you work, and some of the behind the scenes stuff you do in order to provide the service that you do.

How website images feed social media

The images you use on your website also dictate largely how you use your social media platforms. As well as building an audience via social, your social media platforms should also encourage people onto your website.

Changes in algorithms over the past couple of years means that reach has dropped significantly, so anything you can do to encourage “meaningful interactions” (their words, not mine) will increase the number of people who see your posts.

Using well thought out images can be a way to get people to read your posts, and comment on them, giving you more reach, and therefore lead more people to your website.

Article / Awards / Graphic Design / Project Highlight

The Severn Agency Win 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 focusses 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 Line Up
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 situation 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”

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”

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.

Article / Graphic Design / Inspiration / Self Publishing

People of Print: TENYRSLTR BY SEVERN

People of Print: TENYRSLTR BY SEVERN

posted by POP MEMBERS June 12, 2018

Graphic Designer Tony Clarkson tells us about his journey that led him to create his hardback book that promotes his new studio venture: Severn. “I’d been pretty restless at the old studio for quite a while but told myself that it would be ok, that things would change and things would…

Go to peopleofprint.com

Article / Graphic Design / Inspiration / Self Publishing

Creative Boom: Severn celebrates 10 years of design work ‘worth shouting about’ with a beautiful book

Creative Boom: Severn celebrates 10 years of design work ‘worth shouting about’ with a beautiful book

It happens to the best of us. One minute we’re excitedly launching our own business; the next, we’re stifled by a large client and our creativity is compromised. This is what happened to designer Tony Clarkson of Severn when he worked for another agency.

“I’d become very restless at my old studio,” he explains. “We had fallen into the trap of having one main client which took up most of the time and…

Go to creativeboom.com

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