I am a Creative Director + Designer, living in the forest in New York. Sometimes I shoot photos of birds. No BS. Work harder. Just get it done.
Design was always a part of my life. Well, it’s a part of everyone's lives, but I’ve had my eyes opened to it since I was very young. My father was a graphic designer so I’d seen all angles of it early on in my life. I really got sucked in when they started to use Macs. Being a tech junkie, I was hooked in that way. 🤓
If I don’t wake up at some ungodly hour to drive to a spot to photograph birds, what I do each day is fairly regular. Wake up around 5:30-6am. Set up a post or two on Instagram (Yup). Figure out what I’ll be working on for the day - the pacing and structure. Then it’s office work - emails, billing, etc. Wake up my African Gray parrot. 🐦❤️ Make some breakfast. Watch some Youtube or equivalent. Then I hit it. Work, work, work. 🍑
I just upgraded to a 10-core iMac Pro a few months ago. It’s ridiculously fast. And that display is 😱. I still have one of my old 2010 Apple LED Displays too. Bunch of hard drives. And a NAS where I’ve got a resource repository and backups of everything. (Reminder: Back up your work. Now. Do it.) Also a MacBook Pro 2017 as a backup/travel device. Yes. I have backups of backups. You have no idea.
I go away from design to get inspired. I leave the computer. If I can leave the office I do that. Sometimes it’s just building a Lego set. Or making Lemon Poppyseed Muffins. Mostly I just shoot photographs to switch up the pace. I could shoot some toys, or macro of nature outside - anything really. If I’ve really got some extra time I’ll go find somewhere to fly a drone. And bird photography. As often as I can.
I browse the typical design blogs and award sites, but I do that throughout my days. To keep my mind moving. Store things like a databank. But I think the way to have a good start is to have a clear mind. Take breaks from work.
Surprisingly something old. A film camera from my birth year (that I subsequently purchased), the Canon New F-1. That thing was built like a tank. This model was an upgrade from the original but it’s still very similar to its predecessor. For having a very boxy design, it’s surprisingly ergonomic. I take pleasure in simply holding it, let along making images. I find joy in utilizing all the knobs and buttons - despite the process of shooting/developing film being so painfully slow. 😆
All of it. All of the work I post I am proud of. For different reasons. Some I managed to solve some great UX problems. Others I managed to combat some client difficulties. Another I did a massive amount of work, all on my own, including development with another party. You should be proud of all the work you do. Or why do it? Each piece should be able to represent you, singularly. If someone saw just that one piece, it would embody the quality of work you do. It would show the effort you put in. The ideas you bring. All of it. Make it all good or don’t bother doing it.
Currently, I’m working on some branding and packaging - something I haven’t done since fresh out of college. It’s for a new small company that makes soap by hand - GOAT soap. I worked on the logo, and package wrapping. And I’m creating some patterns for it, and illustration - some really hands-on painterly organic stuff. I’ll do the photography and website as well. It’s a really fun change of pace for me. And fantastic how I’ve been involved in every facet of the project.
Working in your comfort zone is fine. People say its the way to failure and boring work - how you stop growing. But I have no problems with people honing in on a way of executing or a style or technique. That’s how you get better at what you do - keep doing it. But it is refreshing to drive on a new street sometimes.
Being relevant. Being seen. Being busy. Being too busy. Having no work at all. Let me explain. Every day you see a new tool and some new batch of designers that master it. Sometimes I can’t help but think if I can keep up.
But I have to have confidence in what I do have. Experience. Knowing how to anticipate a clients response is actually much more valuable than knowing how to use every new app on the block. It’s certainly something you can’t teach. You literally only get experience by having experiences - both good and bad. It gives you the perspective you need to be one step ahead of things on the next project.
Being seen. My portfolio is so old. Years without an update. I am not very active on social networks - or even real-life networks. So how do I even get any work? Well, I get mostly referrals. And the work I do have posted is certainly still solid. I work really hard. And that means more than just putting in the hours. I am very efficient at the time I do spend. I go beyond what is expected of me. I hold true to my word. I don’t have an ego. Being confident in your point of view and solutions and being able to consider other avenues is something many have a hard time doing - even beyond the design world. You’ve got to be open. You have to be easy going and able to explore other ideas and show why your solutions are better - or see how they could be improved. I am a great communicator #crucial. And for these reasons, clients keep coming back. No bullshit. Just get it done.
Being busy. There is always a struggle with the workload. I’m more often than not very occupied with projects. It’s hard sometimes to manage - even after 10 years of freelancing full time. I might get four or five leads and none of them pan out. Or all of them can pan out. Or the timeline gets pushed. Or extended. Or canceled. Anything is up for grabs. You have to just be realistic in what you can accomplish. And then stop your bellyaching and do it.
And it’s scary not having work too. Again, I’m usually pretty occupied but I could go a few days without any prospects and it seems like 3 years. It’s very stressful. And there’s no way around that really.
I don't have any kind of passive income set up but that is always something people do to balance out the dry spells.
Stop trying to create this perfect world of, I only take projects I can do in my own time; projects that fulfill me and are interesting and for clients who can understand my core values, etc. etc. This is the real world. We all can’t work for our favorite brands, all the time. It’s great to have goals, of course, but understand you need to do work outside this fantasy bubble. And I think often times that's how people view freelancing.
Wow, you get to do what you want! You get to make your own schedule! This is amazing! I need to do this!
I work more hours than a typical staff position. I have to do more than just designing. I have to run a business. And I work on what pays the bills. And I make clients happy. These are more realistic views of the freelance life. Just know this before jumping out of that cushy agency job.
And of course my design work: