Graphic Design from an Early Age
When I think about it my graphic design journey started way back in the 90's when I worked in a Durham restaurant during my university days. The restaurant did not have a huge marketing budget so I used to create triangular table cards, flyers and a lot more using Microsoft Word. I would spend a lot of time drawing up graphics and when I think about what l achieved without any big graphics software I think I did pretty well.
From working in a restaurant I moved into a career of travel working for a holiday airline and thank to my IT background from university, in addition to the role of cabin crew, I held a roles such as an IT systems trainer and cabin crew recruiter. Funnily enough in these roles I still managed to weave in graphic design work by creating user guides, presentations and generally keeping the graphics aligned with the airline brand. It's really amazing what people will try to do with a company logo!
My Love of Interiors
One thing I have always loved throughout my life is interior design. Even when we rented a small Sussex cottage it was the best styled cottage around! My dream came true when we bought our own cottage, which was in need of a huge renovation as nothing had been done in it since the 70s. With no budget and a lot shuffling of credit cards and loans, plus a lot of help from family and with rising house prices we achieved the home we wanted. I just love to chat about our home and its interior to anyone.
People used to say to me "you should do interior design for other people.” I would usually
reply with something along the lines of “I'm not sure I can design things for other people.” After a while, started to think maybe I could do this and set up a Facebook & Instagram page with some Richard James Interiors branding that I paid a local design agency to create for about £30.
With a logo and some social media pages full of iPhone images of my house and things I liked I wondered what to do next. Looking back I had no idea abut how to tell my story to help me gain clients. With a bit of internet searching I found what seemed like a good basic all round interior design course that you could complete part time. Off I went on the course picking up a couple of design jobs for some friends that perfectly served as platforms for assignments. It really is true what people say about setting up in business. Your first sales, clients or customers will generally be people that you know.
When I look back it is funny as I'm not sure how I thought I would present my plans to clients. In my head I thought I was going to turn up with my Farrow & Ball colour chart and that would be that. Clients needed a lot more than a colour chart and a few images to be able to see the vision I had in my head. Suddenly I realised I needed to be able to draw out room plans, create rendered views of rooms and put together presentation boards. Luckily I had a friend from flying who also did interior design and was learning how to use a CAD software called Sketchup.
With a steep learning curve and a lot at studying later I started to be able to create the sort of graphics I needed to be able to present a room design to clients. As with anything my skills in this area kept evolving and when I look back a some of my first graphics I cringe, but I guess that is a good thing as it shows I am constantly learning and evolving.
Working on your own as an interior designer can certainly be a daunting thing. Between trade shows, clients and workmen there is always someone to talk to and I found it is so easy for imposter syndrome to set in. You feel like everyone else knows what you should know. One of the biggest things that helped me with imposter syndrome was my friend who also did interior design. We started going to trade shows together and talking about our projects to each other. It really made a big difference to my confidence having someone there to bounce ideas off and talk though those pain points. This is something I still think as a graphic designer is so important. You need people to bounce your ideas off, have a good moan to and to help pick you up when you’re feeling disheartened. Friends and family are good, but another really good resource I find is business networking and support groups. I have met lots of other businesses though these, some other graphic designers and lots that are not. Not only have a been able to build my client base but when I want to talk though an idea or I’m a little stuck on a project then I’ve got a support network at hand.
Anyway back to interior design - it was so good having someone to talk through projects with that after a while we decided to join forces and design together. This worked really well for us as we could split the business into the parts that we were most suited to. My role in our interior design business was always centred around creating graphics to the showcase our designs to clients. I would also make sure our branding was used effectively across our website, social media and in fact anything that our customers would see.
When we first joined our businesses we did a lot of brainstorming for names and came up with a lot of ideas. However we wanted our brand to represent us so we used our names. As a designer you are selling yourself and incorporating your name into your brand gives you the perfect platform to tell your story.
It then came to having our logo drawn out so we sat out we sent our sketched ideas to a print company who also offered graphic design services. After some tweaking and many emails back and forth we got a design that we were happy with, however what we could never get as much as we tired, was the files we needed in different formats. We needed some high resolution versions for our print work. We also needed some with a transparent background for use on the website and some with more of a border around so they would work on social media. After many attempts with the print company I sat down and thought to myself "I'm more than capable at creating room illustrations so why can't I draw out our logo?” With that I sat there one night and created all the different versions we needed.
A Swerve Left into Graphic Design
Before the COVID pandemic hit in March 2020 I was juggling interior design projects along with flying duties quite nicely and as interior designers we were building a nice portfolio of work but with the first lockdown of 2020 all of a sudden I found there was no flying and no interior design work. On one of the Sunday afternoon neighbourly gatherings in our front gardens I was chatting to a neighbour who had been furloughed from her graphic design job. She said to me that she had set herself up a small portfolio website and thought she would see what work was around as a freelance graphic designer. It suddenly occurred to me that I actually had quite a catalogue of interior design based graphics and perhaps I could do a similar thing.
I already could set up websites as I looked after our interior design website so that part wasn't too challenging. I also had seen a bit of an idea for a logo and a brand so I drew out my first Richard Worsfold Graphic Design logo. As I played with the brand and logo over the next few weeks I started to add the doodles in the background - I wanted the brand to be fun and creative and I felt the doodles helped portray this message.
My initial plan was to see if I could pick up some interior design based graphics work for other designers. Unfortunately this type at work was quite thin on the ground, but an off the cuff comment to a cabin crew manager who was leaving the airline I worked for and setting up her own CV writing business actually changed my whole graphic design business for the good.
I had said to for that if she needed help creating a logo and some branding to get her get the business up and running then I would be more than happy to help. A couple of months later she got in touch and became client number one. In fact with her it didn't just stop with the logo and branding. It went on to be a website as well. I found that I absolutely loved starting with a client brief and a blank sheet of paper and creating a whole look and feel of a business. After that another logo project came along for an events hire business and then a full design of a brand and a website for a start up gutter clearing business.
I was lucky as my three first clients were all people I knew and also worked in the aviation industry. Cabin crew are quite a resourceful bunch and many of them have a bit of a “side hustle”, so you find lots of crew, like I did with interior design, have a business on the side. As the aviation industry was really suffering and lots of crew were being made redundant they suddenly were looking to turn those side hustles into fully fledged businesses. I was perfectly placed to help these people and with some recommendations from my first clients I suddenly found I was creating several logos, websites and social media graphics for a number of clients. Lots of my initial work came from Facebook groups where I’d be tagged in posts by others when someone asked about a logo or a website. This really helped me build a portfolio of different logos, brands and websites which in turn made it easier for me to pitch for other work in various online networking groups.
If you are starting out in any sort of design work the hardest thing is getting those first few clients. Once you have them and you have some work to show people it is much easier for people to understand your style and what you can bring to them.
My tip would be to find any friends or family that need your help and use them to help you build up that all important portfolio.
Now over a year later and with many design commissions under my belt I’ve now found myself pitching for work with a FSTE 100 company. How you might ask did I get that opportunity? The answer - networking in business groups and following up with one to ones. I use a number of different networking groups to help me build my business and in one a meeting I met someone who did a lot of work creating marketing content. After the meeting, and because we worked in similar fields, we arranged a one to one via zoom where we talked about our business and what we offered. Since then this person started working for a new company and has introduced me to the right person in the business who needs my services. I’m not sure where it will go but I will be giving it a really good shot at making it successful.
So, here I am now starting to believe that I am a business owner, setting goals and targets and making a plan of how I’d like my business to grow over the next couple of years as Branding Box. The new name for my business as I transition into a brand agency.