Q&A: Working as a graphic designer and dealing with new briefs, clients and industries

A couple of months ago, I was asked by one of Worcester University's graphic design students, as part of their dissertation, to answer a few questions about working in the industry and I thought I'd share my answers with you. 

Q: How do you prepare for meeting a client with first ideas through to the final idea?
Hannah: 
Before initial meetings with clients, I prepare my portfolio with relevant work and sort some print samples to take with me. I like to show potential clients final printed artwork when I meet them in person, rather than photos which they might have already seen on my website. Also, if it's about a project which will be printed we discuss different paper stocks, printing techniques and special finishes during the meeting. A lot of the time, that's the only meeting we have, and depending on the project and client, we might not meet at all. If it's a bigger project, in the next meeting I'll show the client some concept drawings based on my research, but for smaller projects I'll jump straight in and email them some initial ideas. I rarely only send them one design. Even if they know exactly what they want, I'll still duplicate the design and change something, I'll try a few different images or flip the layout, change the colour or try another font. Often the client will prefer one of these options! It opens them up to other possibilities and makes them think about ideas which they might not have considered before.

Q: How do you deal with a brief from a client in an industry that you lack previous experience?
Hannah: Research! Whatever I'm designing, if it's a new industry that I'm not familiar with, I google similar companies and competitors. If it's an established company, I look at their existing campaigns to see where I feel it could be improved. I also use Pinterest as a research tool, creating boards for each project or client and pinning loads of inspiration. During the initial consultation I ask the client loads of questions, not just about the direction of the design but I ask them about the day to day running of their business so I can understand what they do. I find out who their target audience is, what problems they face with their existing marketing material and what they want to achieve with their new material. 

Q: How do you make sure the work will appeal to the target audience?
Hannah: I really quiz my clients about all aspects of their business - they probably think some of the questions are pointless, but the better I know their business then the better I can market it. I also make sure that the client is involved throughout the design process, I advise the client on what looks good but I value their feedback after every round of amendments, because they know their business and industry better than anyone. Finding the balance between what the client suggests and what you know looks well designed and current is an important balance when creating design work that the client is happy with.

Q: What’s your favourite project you’ve undertaken?
Hannah: This is always a hard question! The projects I have enjoyed the most are probably not the projects that I'm the most proud of or my best designs. Most recently I really enjoyed designing a set of 8 banners for a client's event, because I challenged myself to write the text for it. I had an initial concept to do a strong typographical design, but the content the client provided was too wordy. I rewrote the statements to be snappy facts which could be visually represented. The other challenge was making all 8 banners look like a continuous series, without looking too similar. I really enjoyed the challenge! Read more about the Harris Lamb project and see the final result in our portfolio.

The projects I'm usually the most proud of are for start-up businesses where I get to design everything from scratch, from branding to advertising campaigns ready to roll out for the launch. It's rewarding working for a client who is just starting their venture, they are excited to see the initial designs and are with you every step of the process. Last summer, I did a full business start up package for a company in Worcester. They've recently come back to me as they have run out of business cards and need a reprint. The phone call I had with the client made me smile. They were so proud of themselves, and so excited to order some more cards because it meant they had networked with 1000 people and handed out all those business cards to potential customers. Their enthusiasm was really refreshing.

Q: What type of design do you enjoy the most and why?
Hannah: I work for a mixture of clients from big corporate businesses to small charities and council funded art groups. The corporate clients who have the thick brand guidelines to follow are frustrating as it's hard to feel creative, but I love the challenge of sticking to those guidelines and still be able to fit everything into the design. Of course the more creative projects are always more enjoyable because I can do what I want more and put my stamp on it. My favourite projects are probably installations - I recently designed vinyl graphics to cover all the windows of an art gallery in Coventry - and seeing that all finished was cool. View the Glass Box gallery installation in our portfolio. However, I have recently discovered a new love for wedding stationery so hopefully I'll be able to work with some more couples soon and expand my wedding portfolio!

Q: How important is advertising in the modern world?
Hannah: It depends on the industry and the product or service as to where you should market. My graphic design business does well on twitter, where as my clothing company does better on Facebook. I've found over the past few years, there's a much smaller market to sell too, and there's a lot more people all fighting for the same work, so you do have to advertise harder. I've also found that people do a lot more research before spending their money these days. I do all the advertising for a local tourist attraction, and I have found it's important to show value for money, not necessarily be the cheapest, but show that people will get a lot for their money. So rather than advertising the cheap prices, I advertise all the free activities they can do during a visit. It's important to think of how you are as a consumer, and speak to other people, with a range of budgets, before you jump to any conclusions on the best way to advertise.

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