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D&AD Blog on Personal Work

This is an article I wrote recently for the D&AD education resource. I hope you enjoy it.

Running your own graphic design company from a young age, in my case 23, you think all the work you do is “personal”. You aren’t working for anyone else, you target the clients you want to work with, you choose your staff, you decide what to pitch for, how much time to put in, what to turn down, which battles to fight and which to concede. You take it home with you at night and it’s right there with you the next morning – if indeed it hasn’t troubled your sleep as well. My name is on the door, my holiday photos are on the website – it’s pretty damn personal.

It wasn’t until I was 30 and on sabbatical in Japan that I realised the drawing and research I was doing there was the first I had done purely for myself for almost 10 years and it was quite a revelation. When I was a student I was a fervent drawer and obsessive maker of visual diaries but that all fell by the wayside as my professional life took over and consumed my creative world. I’m not complaining – we built an incredible team and I have a portfolio full of stories, adventures and memories that are all incredibly personal. But it there was always a client. And that’s the key difference.

I have gone on record many times to say how much I detest designers bitching about their clients – seriously, either get better ones or shut up and take the money. And this isn’t about client-bashing. Problem solving and working towards a common creative goal with motivated people who pay you for your services is an immensely satisfying way to earn a living. But I have realised I have to have my own work alongside. It keeps your eyes fresh and your soul intact – it also helps to really understand where they are coming from. (It’s only until it’s YOUR product on a website you understand why maybe, just maybe, the “Buy it Now” button should be a little bit bigger, and while you’re at it, maybe the logo too?)

I moved to Paris last year and a chance meeting with a very talented writer lead to a collaboration we call “Mademoiselle London”. Kat writes, I design and Illustrate as well as managing the brand and the online activity. We self published our first book to a great reception in France and are working on the second. It was born out of a mutual need to create a new voice in a place where our language is not the “maternelle” – to find a way to belong here. No client, the only deadlines self imposed and the only brief to make something we were proud of. It has brought back to my life what I left behind in my student days – an ownership of my visual language, my free time and my creative purpose. It puts you back in the centre of your work and, I think, makes you better at the paid stuff.

So I implore all students reading this; whatever it is you do for yourself  alongside the structured workload of courses and student briefs; as the all consuming beginnings of your career threaten to take over – don’t stop doing it.

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.Net Article

I was asked to write a little advice piece for .Net Magazine this month. Here it is…

Screen shot 2009-12-08 at 14.50.15

And in legible form…

The Importance of the Pencil

No, not the Yellow ones that the D&AD gives out for flashy goodness. The ones that have lead in them and are available from all good stationers. Really? Why would you possibly need a pencil when you have Illustrator, Photoshop and all its fabulous filters? It ends up on a screen so why not start on one, right?

Wrong. Architects conceive whole buildings on napkins and receipts before thinking about CAD, Fashion Designers wouldn’t dream of lifting a needle and thread before repeatedly sketching out and refining their designs on paper and Film Makers plot out whole movies in storyboard form before turning on a camera. So why do so many web designers think they can bypass an essential, time honoured, problem solving technique and reach straight for the mouse?

At Franki&Jonny there are two things that have to happen before a site can be ‘designed’ (in the sense of moving onto a computer). A brainstorm, strictly away from the mac, where tech, design and admin come together to discuss the purpose of the site, the user journey and the ‘big idea’ should there be one – essentially refining the brief. Then there is a visualisation stage that involves scribbling, sketching, pinning up references – ‘feeling’ the site and the users’ journey in a physical way. We also rarely reference other websites at this stage (no macs, remember?), preferring to create mood boards, referencing art, illustration, shoes or cheese – whatever inspires us at that point. Typography, colour, mood, form should all start in the real world and keep a good designer in the realm of original thought.

All the templates, effects and filter options lurking within the walls of Adobe software can give the designer the impression that the answers to their problems are just a few clicks away. However, the computer is a tool. It does not solve problems for you and, more often than not without a clear vision at the outset, it will create them. We have all been there; pushing text and image boxes around a screen like a picky child trying to somehow make his dinner disappear without eating it. The solution is to step away – draw it out, cut it out, rip it out. Do whatever you have to do to figure out your direction before returning to the glare of the screen.



F&J Manga

This was entirely accidental.. but I seem to have captured the whole gang in a series of (more) illegal gallery photography.