Create the Creative: Looking at the practical ways of gaining project footholds and moving forward…
While sipping a glass of orange juice at a Creative Minds meeting a few months ago I got chatting to a lot of graphics youngsters were there networking and hanging out to make a break. The recurring theme centred on just how difficult they were finding the chicken and egg situation of winning new contracts.
”I can’t get new a job because I haven’t done new work… I can’t do the work because I ain’t had the job.. how do break through and get started..?”
Casting my mind back 12 months I faced a desperate struggle gaining even basic freelance work as a furniture designer. I had done the rounds in Linkedin and set about forging as many links with other designers as possible.
What dawned on me was that we were all struggling and they certainly weren’t in the position to hand out any freelance subcontracting. So asking another designer for work was a no brainer… so I went after buyers and commercial managers who would be searching more intensely for a break or new look. Most of these guys were open but pointed me back into design departments that were near frozen with fear.
Having been ticking over in content design and management for Parma Golosa Italy for a year or so, my thinking had become fairly strategic – looking at pools of users who by associative lifestyles became convergent users of my target product. A divergent approach to casting the net wide on the internet with the specific aim of gaining greater reach and increased the percentage chance of conversion. It was working too with all sorts of new links and opportunities forming for PG.
Could this divergent approach help me get my creative ability back out there to a dedicated audience?
A simple SWOT flagged up the cons – we were in 2010 in a home re-selling and construction decline like no other… who on earth wanted to buy new furniture while struggling to stay in work and keep the mortgage paid?
Perhaps one of the most inspirational people I had met in 2010 was American photographer William Curtis-Rolf who talked about the divergent process he now employs. It struck me that his success was based around his passion and vision.
There were a few positions popping up with retailers such as Next and Laura Ashley – should I apply having been a successful senior design manager in home furniture and accessories for so long? Why not??
I duly sent off my CV and cover letter with canny short portfolio winning and interview with both.
The problem I found was convincing the interviewer (head of design usually) that as a senior designer I wasn’t flying up my own ass and I was genuinely, easy to work with: with lots of drive and can do etc., etc.
They just didn’t believe me! … the job invariably went to a more junior, yet fairly well defined retail designer with a competitor – musical chairs (that’s why Next looks exactly like Dwell and John Lewis leads by following – they all know the colour of each others… ).
Gutted, my conclusion was that regardless of my desire and ability to design not just shelf fillers but iconic ‘Best of British’ products, at post 45 years my days designing at the helm of a major UK retailer were over.
Being in the right place isn’t about proving what you can do… but being with the right people who can see who you are in terms of creativity and potential… design only grows when the client trusts the creative to cross over and pioneer new things successfully. The rest of it (and indeed most of it in the world of retail design) is pedestrian replication, or at best revamping with flair.
I’m with the pioneer belief…
Playing what felt like my final ace card I emailed an associate in the sign business and to my delight he immediately came back with a project for me to assist in London.
Really I hadn’t thought about ever returning to signwriting and as I set off from Parma airport I wasn’t entirely sure I would be able to cut it after a decade away… after all everyone in the trade says how difficult it is after a two week holiday getting the hand in let alone 10 years. What was going to happen when I got the brush to panel?
It went very well – like a bloody dream in fact! .. and I returned home to Italy with some decent cash and a fantastic experience. Soon another job came up for me to cover and I went for it.
With the promise of more work in the pipeline I was quite confident that I was on a roll. Yet within a few weeks the work ebbed and I became nervous.
Armed with 2 sets of photos I decided to blog like crazy and start alongside my Desight wordpress blog a new one dedicated to signwriting.
My strategy was simple but like the guys at Creative Minds I had scant work done to show and nothing to back up my much needed portfolio – it made me nervous looking at the competition as they had sites running great material and stacks of examples – how could I better that in a matter of weeks?
I dashed down to my local wood yard and made some novelty retro sign panels along with some glass gilded samples.
I filled the articles with a detailed description of process and my sample making experience. I decided the blog had to be interesting and show the depth I go to in achieving a great product.
So the blog got off to a tentative start.
I needed some really glam shots or examples – but I had none!
What I did have was a wife, three kids to feed and rent to pay – so I got creative.
… I had to create my own creative practice.
Deciding to make photo montage that would trick the eye as real signs in real situations didn’t sit well, but defaulting on rent and ending up on the street sat a lot worse.
When design companies fail to see what you can do and go to the proven artworkers what do you do? I had the answer … imply strongly and go for it…. don’t let the truth get in the way of a great design story.
I added some images of signs that I liked and started to compile a mix of these in my gallery.
Suddenly I had a bite! Damien Hirst came to me with a major project then POD good food loved my work and asked me to quote for 3 new sites and 2 upgrades. It had worked.
I had built a bridge out of my own love of creativity, to get myself started – based on what I knew I could do and what I had done on the sample benches. I filled the articles with information I hoped would be of interest to prospective clients.
Completing the first POD sign I had it on my facebook within seconds. It filled my blog… this was a crucial moment as I waited for some kind of positive response to me branded work… another cafe came in, then Sylvanian Families.
After 6 months I found myself in the Creative Minds meeting telling these guys to take a risk and to try the way I did.
Today 18 months later most of my clients say just how much they enjoy my websites and blogs and how cool the narrative is. I think what made the difference for me was having signwriting as my first earlier career and the experience of my latter interiors and furniture design career knowing the creativity will always find a solution – absolutely no matter the challenge.
I hadn’t a clue how far to go yet I decided in re-invention: to create the creative.
And as far as getting along with co-workers just check my testimonials page!!
The next job interview you fail could just be the breaking you’ve been looking for.