In part 3 I spoke about adding context to your work and ideally, doing this with real world work so how can you do this as an unemployed and inexperienced designer?
Quite possibly with free work.
Doing free work in the world of graphic design is frowned upon because later on, if you ever go freelance, you will find that most people will approach you to work for free in which case you need to tell them to piss off!
But at a starting point, working for free can be used to your advantage. Like any job it will help you get experience and something to put in your CV/portfolio but be picky in your choice of free work. Some people are still there to take advantage of you.
In saying that giving your time and work away for free is harder than it looks. People in general love and want freebies but they’re also weary of people who offer them, they’ll ask “What’s the catch?”
When I was job hunting after leaving University I was approached by a guy who wanted me to come and work for him in a new start-up media company, essentially doing a full time job like any other job but all for free. The guy himself seemed to have little experience in design or media and seemed to be a bit of a dreamer but more so just a guy trying his luck.
Could it have got me the experience I needed?
On paper, yes it could but with regards to a reputable portfolio, no probably not so I rejected the role.
I was offered another role by a photographer who wanted me to be his in house designer and whilst he would get paid off of his work, I of course would work for free under his name.
That again was a no no for me.
A few months later I got a job in post-production, in London, Soho but declined the role to start my own studio instead but I had no body of professional work to show potential clients. This was a problem because a portfolio is one of the core aspects that clients will buy into. Your previous work is a buying decision for them. They want to see what you’ve done, what your capable of and why they should be paying you.
To solve their problem, I offered my services for free.
I gave myself a limit to do a maximum of 6 logos for 6 different companies for free. This was harder then it looked. I thought people would be knocking down my door for a freebie but how wrong I was. It took me a while to actually get 5 businesses who wanted my free logo service. I took their brief and delivered them with great logos that they were happy with but more importantly I got what I wanted out of it which was a beginning to a body of professional work to showcase my skills to new clients as well as a testimonial from each client.
This gave me my real world work for real businesses.
At the same time I also came across my first encounter with an online time waster. Again it was from a media company of sorts who said “You can redesign my logo if you like? We already have one but if you can do anything better, we’ll use it. I can do it myself but I don’t have the time”.
Those words would actually show valuable insight into dealing with clients in the future as a professional freelance designer. These types of people are just chancer’s who are not really bothered about design, they just want to take advantage of you.
Don’t waste your time with them, only ever do a freebie if there’s something guaranteed out of it for you.
The offer of “I’ll bring you more work, if you do this work for free” is always a solid sign that the person enquiring is a time wasting chancer.
Another way to build a body of work is with personal projects.
I have to be honest with you. I’m primarily a brand identity designer but my forte is that I can also web design and develop which means that I specialise in producing complete branding solutions for clients that spread across from the logo to print and digital work.
The type of projects I work on are of course creative but they are very business orientated and usually of a conservative nature. In any case, any given project has to align with the clients limit of creativity and sometimes they can be very limited. This can leave my creative side gasping to do something a little more daring or just something a little different.
The way to handle this is with personal projects.
Personal projects are not vanity projects or selfish projects. They can be strong marketing tools and as a budding designer you may find that your personal project is actually what gets you a job as oppose to anything else.
Personal projects are also more common then you might think. Ever heard of the term “cold case?” It’s aphrase predominantly used in America by detectives who re-open old unsolved cases which were abandoned for lack of evidence. In any case these turn into personal projects for detectives and they do it not only to solve a problem, or for the community but for their career.
Likewise it’s the same for designers.
You as a designer can pick a personal project to work on based on any of the following:
- A new discipline that you want to try
- A discipline that you already an expert in
- A project that does some greater good
- A project for business
- A project that’s captured your inspiration
- A project just for fun.
Pick one or pick all but practising a personal project is a great way of finding work, building skills and alleviating your creative will.
Now, just because you have an idea for a project it doesn’t mean you have to carry it out. Work on it a little and see if it still has the knack that you originally intended it to. If it doesn’t then feel free to just drop it and work on something else.
Most businesses start up as personal projects but let me be the first to say that not all personal projects are successful. You may find that your end piece is no good or just not relevant but that’s not anything to be put down by because it’s all a learning experience and what’s most important about a personal project is just that…..its personal so make sure your happy with the end result and it will be worth it for you.