Tag Archives: independent designer

Diversify with discipline

The more I grow as an artist,
the more I think I become like my father as an artist.
The more I diversify,
the more I become like my father, which is true to who he was.
[Ziggy Marley]

Pre-art-school work

I produced the booklet at the right before I went to art school in the early 1980s. Getting it ready to go to print was the catalyst that sent me into graphic design training.

I went to a print shop to ask how I needed to fix my booklet for printing. In five minutes, the printer gave me advice I’ve used over and over. He said:
1. If you can’t afford color, pick good paper and ink with a slight tint.
2. Lay it out black on white. Use this blue pen to make marks that you don’t want to show, and then he gave me the pen and paper with a pale blue grid.

After that experience, I thought I’d specialize in publication design. The real world, where a person puts food on the table and a roof over one’s head, taught me different. Here are 5 items I’ve learned about career direction as an independent designer since 1985:

  1. Diversify… Unless you live in a large metropolitan area where you can work for a big agency or publication firm, you can find more work if you can do more than one thing well. There are people (very few) who can earn a tidy living from book cover design. There are others (very few) who can sell their illustration work in high enough volume that they can earn a living. There are people who only design logos and collateral pieces, and those who specialize only in web design, etc. Most of us, however, need to tailor our services to our client base. That means we need to diversify.
  2. … with discipline. Among other tasks, I design, produce and maintain websites. Every so often, I have to remind myself that I’m offering services as an artist/designer when a client needs programming on a site. I learned HTML and keep up with the advances in the field, but I’m not a programmer. I hire someone to help. I can do some Flash production, but I hire a Flash person for involved jobs. I know nothing about video production so I hire someone for that.
  3. Define what you have to offer clients so that you can stay on point. I want quality to be my hallmark. I also want my clients to know that, when they turn a project over to me, they no longer have to worry about its timely outcome. I can only learn and do so much. Therefore, I can offer a variety of services, but I only offer what I can deliver and still maintain my standards.
  4. Tend to business. Keep thorough client, project, time, and financial records. Business management is a profession in itself. It is often a challenge for non-business people to adequately organize and manage a business. Good records not only help at tax time, but they help in knowing how much money is coming in and how much is going out—a necessity for making sound decisions.
  5. Keep Learning. The pace of change in the graphic design field, especially in technology, is speeding up. Keeping ahead of the curve is a challenge. Ongoing training is essential.