Client led projects
Undertaking live graphic design projects are a great way of testing your creativity in a real world situation. It can give your design confidence a boost, being asked to produce something in the first place, being listened to as a designer, seeing your work being used and circulated, and being paid for your efforts. The benefits of live projects extend beyond this, in terms of the other skills you develop along the way – communicating and negotiating with your client, developing ways in which you talk about and share your creative process, and the project management skills of working to a deadline and liaising with printers… and of course, photographing chickens! Graphic design student Marie Singleton recently undertook two live projects as part of her Level 2 Graphic Design course. I asked Marie a few questions to reflect on her experiences.
Q: Tell us about your recent experience of working on live projects, what were you asked to do?
I took on two completely different client led briefs. The first brief required me to design a brand identity and website for a company who make handcrafted wooden poultry houses. This was quite a challenge for me as website design is an area of design that I have limited knowledge about. The brief required me to work with photographers, website designers and also source printers and other necessary outside suppliers. The second was for a local choir who needed posters and programmes for a couple of charity concerts that they were preforming. The designs that I produced needed to use limited colours and be completed within a tight deadline which meant that I didn’t really have time to put together a range of ideas so I had to do something quickly.
Q: How did you go about finding clients?
Finding customers to produce design work for can come your way naturally, for example friends or family may want some design work doing or know someone that does. I was fortunate in that both my customers were introduced to me by my friends and family. This is good in one respect as it saves you having to put in the extra time researching clients but does present new challenges in that often these clients expect you to produce the design work at a discounted rate or even free of charge. However I have worked briefly on design jobs before and found various ways to obtain work. These include, looking on line or in relevant newspapers/magazines for companies seeking out freelance or full/part time graphic designers and offering your services to them on a freelance basis, contacting companies who are just starting up or looking to expand and may need publicity material to do so or making yourself known to printers, advertising agencies or other relevant organisations is another. Although such organisations often have in house designers to produce their work they may experience periods where their work load exceeds what they can cope with and an extra pair of hands could be just what they need.
Q: What did the experience offer you?
Both my clients required different design approaches to suit their needs. The choir poster and leaflet had a very tight deadline and was the sort of design that I’m more familiar with whereas the Fancy Flock brief took me completely out of my comfort zone but turned out to be the most rewarding of the two. I gained new skills along the way and confidence that I can now use to tackle more client led work in the future. I discovered areas of graphic design that I enjoyed and intend to pursue further and also gained valuable contacts along the way. I would definitely recommend it and encourage others to give it a go.
Q: Was it a success? Are you and you client pleased with the outcome?
Both my clients are very happy with the work that I produced and have asked me to embark on further projects to promote their business. I am currently working on a set of signage for Fancy Flock along with stationery, merchandise design and updates to the website. The work continues to enlighten me with new skills and knowledge and although I have encountered problems along the way that have at times challenged my understanding of design resolving them has definitely helped to enrich my ability as a graphic designer.
Q: Did the course help support you and give you the necessary information that you needed to complete this task?
Although I have worked previously on a freelance basis I did take a career break for a while and the range of topics and the work that I have produced on the graphics two module with OCA as helped to brush up on my existing skills and knowledge and add new ones to the list. The subjects covered are varied and encourage you to work on areas of design that may take you out of your comfort zone initially but help to equip you with the knowledge that you need to pursue a career in the field of graphic design. It’s rewarding when you put these new found skills to use and the client led brief in section five of graphics two gives you the opportunity to do this.
Q: What were the benefits of working on a live project?
Producing design work for a client can be a rewarding experience and although it can feel a little daunting at first it’s a good way to learn new skills and put existing ones to good use. During your time as a student the design briefs that you are given introduce you to the design process and educate you on how to go about answering the initial brief in the way that you choose. Providing your choice of design fits the brief, demonstrates a logical design process and takes certain visual risk then you have hopefully filled the criteria required. Undertaking a client led brief presents different challenges. Usually the client has a good idea of what they want to achieve or how they want the finished product to look. It is your job as the designer to work with them on this enabling you to work through the design process together. Sometimes your client is unsure on what they need to help meet their marketing or design needs, it is therefore your role to advise them on the best way forward, suggesting ideas and designs that fit within their budget and timescale. This process helps you to gain the necessary experience to communicate with clients and make useful contacts along the way. The client led briefs that I worked on introduced me to photographers, web designers and printers all useful contacts that are beneficial to my role as a graphic designer.
Q: What advice do you have for other students?
I recommend starting off your design brief with a clear understanding of the clients needs, budget and timescale as this helps to determine the kind of approach you will take. It to agree your hourly rate or the figure that you will be charging for the design work and make sure that the client is happy with this before you proceed. It’s also a good idea to let the client know that you will need to charge for any amendments that they wish to make otherwise you can find yourself doing a lot of extra work for free although I prefer not to charge for minor changes. I found that its best to keep in regular contact with your client throughout the design and production processes either by email, phone or regular meetings depending on what suits both parties really. Keeping them updated throughout helps to prevent any mistakes or miscommunication along the way.
Live projects come in all shapes and sizes, as Marie’s examples illustrates. If you are new to graphic design, then undertaking a small project to begin with is a sensible starting point. Marie found her clients through family and friends, and again, this is a safe place to get going. However, always expect to be paid for live projects, no matter how small. Undertaking work for free sets a precedent that undervalues students’ work and impacts more widely on how clients engage with jobbing creative professionals. Having said that, undertaking a design job for a charity or voluntary organisation is very different to offering your skills to a ‘for profit’ company. At the very least your time should be recognised, either financially or through a token of appreciation.
Client-led projects are not without their complications, which is part of the challenge. As Adrian Shaughnessy says in his 2005 book, How to be a graphic designer without losing your soul…“I love clients, even the bad ones. In fact, I prefer ‘difficult’ clients to ‘easy’ clients. It feels like cheating to have a client who approves all of your ideas and never questions what you are doing.”