Collaboration / Design Community / Inspiration

How having a local creative hub can help designers get more work

I’ve spoken before about the lack of creative support in my town – there is little here in the way of events for designers, and that’s something that I’d love to rectify. I think there are a great many benefits in creating a community, or hub, for creatives in my town, but they seem to be reserved for larger towns and cities. It’s important that as an industry, we are able to call on each other for advice, support, and inspiration.

So this article is more for the benefit of my fellow designers, who, like me might be struggling to connect with like-minded people, and wonder how we can better support each other in creating such a community and share resources in searching out and getting more paying clients.

Firstly, I’d like to explore some of the ways we might get clients, because we all do things very differently. There is no right or wrong way, but in sharing ideas, perhaps we can help each other to try new avenues, and get more of the types of clients we really want to be working with.

When I created my design agency, I did so because I believe that being part of something gives a professional edge. I decided to open as an agency for that reason.

I don’t really know whether the way that I market my agency should differ very much from the way that a freelancer might, perhaps being an agency means that my marketing is a little less personable, in that my brand is The Severn Agency rather than myself, Tony Clarkson. So whichever method I use to market, I’m doing so as ‘us’ and ‘we’, rather than ‘me’ and ‘I’. It kind of sounds a bit more professional to the kind of people that I want to be targeting, but you might think differently.

Sharing resources

A lot of us get overwhelmed when it comes to looking for new projects, especially in the beginning. Although in time, we find our own methods, it can still be difficult – the current climate has proved that. It’s important that we explore different ways of marketing, and building a design community can once again be so helpful in that. When we get stuck in a rut, as we all do, it’s useful to be able to call on others for support.

In that, I’d like to be able to share a few ideas here with you about methods that you might already use, or that you might not have thought of but want to try.

My methods

In my experience, the best work comes through referrals. Getting your name and face around as much as possible, talking to people about what you do, and not being afraid to network face-to-face is by far the most effective way you can grab people’s interest. If you can get even one client to refer you to a few of their contacts, it tends to have a ripple effect, and you can build quite a decent portfolio this way.

When you’re at the beginning of your career, I think the most important thing you can do is to create enough samples of the kind of work you want to be doing and sharing it across your website and social media platforms. The great thing about graphic design is that it’s visual, and can easily grab people’s attention. If you’ve got a specific style, people will begin to recognise it as yours and look out for it.

If you do want to approach people ‘cold’, it’s vital that you address any emails or letters to a specific person. Get a name, and do a bit of research about them. There’s no harm in stalking someone you want to work with on LinkedIn, and this can then lead you to their other social platforms and websites, where you can learn so much about their businesses, helping you to approach them in a more personal way. Rather than a ‘Dear Sir, I’m a designer, please hire me’, you can be saying, ‘Dear Tom, I see you are creating a great brand through your Instagram – I really think I could help you with that…’

Can people find you?

It stands to reason that if people don’t know you exist, they’re not going to seek you out. Something I see time and time again when I’m asked to help businesses with rebranding and web design is that they’re not making any effort to share what they do. It’s all very well having a beautiful website, but it will just sit there if you fail to use it.

Your aim should be to lead people to your website, and make it clear what you want them to do when they get there (i.e. hire you!) Make sure that all your best work is on your website, and share it around social media. Update people about the work you’re doing right now. Create a blog and drive people to it via a newsletter or sales funnel.

The more content you create through your website, the better you will rank on Google, and the more you will be found.

Be visible, and pool your resources

Rather than seeing others in your industry as competition, start talking to them. This again comes back to the original subject here of building a design network – other creators are not the enemy, and we can and should help each other out.

If you see a piece of work by another designer that you admire, there’s no reason you can’t reach out to them through social media – tag them publicly telling them and others how much you love their work. Spark a conversation, and get to know them.

If you don’t yet have a design community in your area, like me, look at ways you can create one. This is where I’m at right now. I want to make that happen, so that myself and others in my town and surrounds can have our own ‘hub’ to call upon.

Collaboration / Graphic Design / Remote Working

Are there benefits to working remotely as a designer?

This is a question that someone recently asked me. What is it like, as a designer, to work away from a major city? It’s a question which kind of stopped me in my tracks, and one I’ve been thinking about ever since. Are designers who work cities like London or Manchester, for example, better placed than those who are not? While I think there are some benefits to working in busy hubs like these, things have definitely changed over the past decade or so – freelancing is becoming commonplace, and remote working can be done from pretty much anywhere. Interestingly, being away from those major cities is becoming more and more attractive, as people are finding that living and commuting to these places is becoming so much more expensive. I wanted to share some of my own thoughts and experiences with you, and talk a little bit about the changes which have led us here.

Digitalisation and design trends

The way in which businesses work has changed in many ways, and continues to do so. Most aspects of design now are done with digital tools, for digital media. And this in itself has huge benefits, in the freedom we have as designers, and where and how we work.

In theory, a designer can work from any location, anywhere in the world, whether that’s a large city or a tiny village, as long as we have a decent internet connection. Basic as that sounds, the tools of our trade are now simple and portable, at least on the surface.

Is there really anything stopping a young designer with a lot of flair and passion from setting up shop, even if he or she is based in a remote location in the middle of nowhere?

The pros and cons of working remotely

I used to work in a small market town, where there was a strong student community (thanks to two colleges nearby), a few established businesses, and not much else. It was perfectly workable, there were plenty of cafes and bars within easy reach, the rents were cheap…

But it was mind-numbing!

It didn’t take long for my inspiration to wane, and there was practically no stimulation to ignite my passion for design. It felt pretty stagnant.

Since setting up The Severn Agency, we made the decision to relocate to a larger town, and settled in Shrewsbury. Here, there’s a lot more going on – though it is a market town, it’s much more vibrant and it has much more of a community. From a design point of view, there is never a shortage of things to see and do, which is so refreshing. I also find that it’s much better located for meeting people to discuss work.

The future

Would I like to work in a city? I can see that there could be benefits in that. For starters, there are a great deal more designers working out of places like London, and I’d imagine that it could be a great place to find fresh inspiration, and be in the centre of new innovations.

But do I need to work in a city? Absolutely not. I think designers, and freelance designers, are in an age of great opportunity right now. We really can work from anywhere – and we can be as portable as we like. With the right tech, we can work on the move, from client’s offices, from home. The limitation which in the past tethered us to our locations are quickly disappearing. It’s exciting to think that in the future, location will no longer even be a factor.

Collaboration / Design Community / Education / Graphic Design

Reasons for Graphic Designers to go back into education

Graphic Designers – never stop learning

I’ve worked as a graphic designer for a long time, graduating from Wrexham Glyndŵr University in 1993 and working in various studios, bringing me to launch The Severn Agency in 2017. You might say that I’ve made it – that there’s nothing else that I need to achieve from here. But you’d be wrong. Graphic design is a fluid industry, ever changing, ever evolving, and to stay in the game, it’s important that I don’t sit still, because chances are, if I do that, I’ll fall behind, and things will move without me.

Digital Evolution

In the early 90’s, things took a real leap in the field of graphic design, as it was in 1990 when we saw the first version of Photoshop arrive on the scene. This changed the industry a lot, as it meant that designers could experiment with graphics in a way that we’d never seen before. The techniques it allowed were ground-breaking, with overlapping text, image overlays, and faded elements, which previously had been impossible to achieve on-screen.

By the 2000’s, the tech had become much more powerful, and we saw a surge in portable devices. Graphics evolved again with this new technology, and images with movement came into focus. Corporate design and logos began to look much more like they were in motion, using new techniques with angles and shadowing.

Now, trends change year on year, and there are so many styles and techniques open to us in the graphic design industry. But both design and technology continues to change and evolve.

The next step

This year, I have embarked on a Master’s Degree in Graphic Design. Why? Because I want to safeguard my future in this industry, and I want to be the best that I can be.
And that is the reason for my writing this article. Whether you are a graphic designer, are looking to get into the industry, or are pursuing another job entirely, I think there are huge benefits in going back into education in order to get better at what you do and advancing your knowledge.

It can be a great refresher on what you’ve already learned, or it can take you to the next level in the evolution of your career. And of course, it gives you the opportunity to learn about advancements within the industry, whether that’s technological changes, changes in trend, or changes in the industry that you might otherwise have missed out on.

As well as this, you could be connecting with people who are at the same point in their career as you, which gives you the opportunity to learn about what others in the industry are doing.

Why go back into education?

For me, going back into education, to get my Master’s Degree in Graphic Design, is about me keeping up with the industry, and becoming an expert in what I do. But there are many reasons for you to seek further education, whether you’re already working in the industry or not. And you can do it at any age.

It could be that the career path you’ve chosen is no longer a good fit for you, and you’re looking to change. There are plenty of people who decide very late on in life which career path they have a passion for – it’s a myth that everyone who leaves college or even university has a clear idea what they want to do for the rest of their lives. People change, and so you shouldn’t be afraid to make changes in your career, no matter your age.

Perhaps you are in your chosen career, but have come to the end of your potential, either by salary or skill. If this is the case, you might decide to take the next step and go back into education in order to climb the ladder and further your career.

Or it might be that you simply want to learn something new, to accompany the education you’ve already got. There are plenty of jobs in which graphic design feature, and having some kind of formal education can do wonders in enhancing your skills.

Graphic Design never stays still – and whatever your reasons, learning the skills needed to keep yourself current in the industry is always beneficial.

© SEVERN AGENCY LTD