It was brought to my attention this morning that today was my 16th Australiaversary.
On this day, 16 years ago me and my boyfriend at the time, sold pretty much everything we owned and jumped in a plane heading to Melbourne from NZ.
I had just finished my Bachelor of Design a month earlier and had absolutely NO idea about what I was going to do when I arrived in Oz but that was the least of my worries. It was summer, the beer was flowing and we pretty much partied 24/7 for the first few weeks we were here!
Reality kicked in and the savings got spent so I had to get a job - turns out my degree was pretty worthless because I’d been trained in Freehand and not InDesign - or at least that is what design recruiters were telling me. I was asked to complete a $750 InDesign course and then come back to them.
I didn’t have $750! I walked away with my hardcopy portfolio, in its cute little black box under my arm.
I ended up working at RJ’s sandwich bar in the train station for a couple of months which was rather depressing considering I thought I was to be a fancy designer. I applied for every job that came up and eventually got an interview at Oxford University Press as an Desk-top Operator (I had applied for a reception role months earlier!).
Coincidentally I got the job just before they had two full days of training in InDesign, Illustrator and Photoshop. Perfect! I didn’t even have to lie about knowing how to use Indesign anymore! Well not for long anyway.
I worked on all of the marketing materials for Oxford for a year. The work wasn’t very inspiring (designing their dictionary catalogue got pretty repetitive) but it was an eye opening experience of how design works in a corporate environment.
I always felt Uni gave you this misleading impression of what the design world was actually like. We were marked on the creative journey and exploration of ideas - at Oxford they didn't care where my creative inspiration came from, and actually they would’ve preferred if I didn't actually change anything, just the prices please…
I had a quick stint in an advertising agency after that - what a freaking nightmare. I was looking for creative mentorship and I got a bunch of arrogant a-holes who had even less respect for me than my shitty boss at the sandwich bar! At my 3 month “catch up” I quit and sighted this incident with an account manager as the final straw…
Account manager: “What is this?” said in a condescending tone while pointing at a massive red rectangle on his computer screen.
Me: It’s the press files for the Mrs Fields sidewalk banners (you know the ones they use to section off outdoor seating)
Account manager: Jess, I asked you to add the logo using the design guidelines.
Me: I did.
Accountant manager: No you didn’t look, it's just red.
Me: You are looking at a PDF of a 1x3m long banner at 100%. If you fit the design to the screen you’ll see…
Account manager: Oh, I see, that’s better.
The account manager motions that he is finished with me and I should leave.
Fuck that. The owners were actually really nice people, it was just the account managers that sucked.
My next job was as an “export designer” at Cengage Learning. I took existing Australian primary school books and reversioned them for an international market. Most of this was simply replacing the text but there was quite a bit of photoshopping that when on. I found some old images…
I was at Cengage for 5 years. I moved into designing the primary school books themselves which was fun because I got to work on lots of photoshoots. The work was always pretty interesting and working on such large volumes of books (like 30 books in a series) gave me invaluable skills on managing multiple moving parts. I really enjoyed figuring out ways to reduce turnaround times and create a smoother workflow. This is where I got to help implement an InCopy workflow (BB42) which is something I’m a huge advocate for now.
In August 2011 I quit Cengage and started freelancing. No money saved, no idea what I was going to do but sure it was going to be different! My freelance career has had its ups and down but I have managed to survive for nearly 10 years so that's encouraging, right?
I had a conversation with a slightly younger and super talented illustrator this week and I found myself dishing out all sorts of tips and tricks that I wish I knew when I first started out.
Here are a few takeaways that I wanted to write down for the record.
Never charge by the hour
The better you get, the quicker you work, the less you get paid. BOOOOO!
I’ve heard so often of people holding onto finished files before they return them to the client just so the client thinks they took longer! Shouldn't the client be paying more for a quick turnaround? Remove the hourly rate and have a set minimum. For smaller jobs I now have a $500/ $750/ $1000. Anything over that gets its own quote.
50% deposit before you start
Requesting a 50% deposit not only makes you look more professional but it also keeps the lights on. So often we are worried that the client won’t be comfortable paying a large deposit that we forget about our own survival! Some projects can go for months which is why 50% upfront is so important. The exchange of cash also increases your clients investment in the project. I always find corrections come back a bit quicker when a substantial deposit has been paid.
It not a desk job
Whether you are an artist, designer, copywriter, videographer, anything really that involves coming up with a new solution to a problem, it's not all done at your desk. Inspiration comes from many strange and wonderful sources. Sometimes things totally unrelated can spark an idea that leads to a solution that is then transformed into a result for the client.
While I don’t charge my clients for my extra curricular activities (such as reading, running, learning guitar etc) I consider them all an investment in my value as a designer. How I spend my time away from the computer screen is equally important as when I’m knee deep in photoshop. Charging enough so you can accommodate your extra curricular activities is as important as keeping your software up to date.
These are just a few things I wish I knew back in 2011 when I set off as a freelancer. I felt really helpful (and hopeful) passing on these tips to the illustrator I spoke to.
Life is just one big lesson and the learning never stops.