This interview is a transcription of the podcast, David Airey on Working for Money, Designing for Love.
Nancy Aldrich-Ruenzel: I’m here today with best-selling author David Airey. David Airey is the author of the now very popular Logo Design Love and has recently published a new work called Work for Money, Design for Love. Congratulations David. It’s beautiful.
David Airey: Thanks very much, Nancy, and thanks very much for inviting me to talk to you today.
Nancy: Great. Well, you know, one of the things I want to ask you is why did you write the book? Was there some inspiration there?
David: A lot of my readers, they keep asking me questions about how I got into the design business and how I made a success of it so far. So what the book is, basically, is answering the most frequently asked questions that I get from people who want to do what I do, starting out on their own in design and start up their own business.
Nancy: And what questions do you get the most often?
David: Most often I get asked about pricing. People want to know how they are going to price their services. I think it’s one of the hardest ones to answer as well. There’s a chapter in the book that devotes to that, and I asked some people with a lot more experience than I do in the business about how they went about pricing their design work. So I think it will be really helpful.
Nancy: Right, well you know I noticed that when you wrote the book you also reached out to the whole design community and asked for their advice as well. So it’s not just your advice; it’s also advice of luminaries in the field. Did you get any advice that really surprised you?
David: I was surprised that so many people wanted to contribute. It was an inspiration to me in order to keep going. You know, sometimes when you’re working from home, when you’re working alone, it can seem like a grind. So there’s lots of little snippets in there that get people through their day and to keep you motivated when you’re in business, in a company of one.
Nancy: Well, yeah, you have a section in the book, don’t you, on how to stay inspired and creative when you’re alone at home. Can you share with us some of the things that you do?
David: Well I think it’s important to keep in contact with other designers because you can get cabin fever, a little bit, especially when there’s just you. So a lot of the people who contributed to the book, they started off doing what I did and then expanded to hire other people. So it was a natural progression for them. But, for me, what I thought was I’m happy in the situation. I might hire people in the future, but for now I like to collaborate with other designers rather than take on the added pressures of being responsible for someone else’s income.
Nancy: Right, yeah. You dispense a lot of great advice about being self-employed. You also have a section of pros and cons of being self-employed, which I found really useful, but for those listening who are working for themselves, what do you think is the most important part of the book they should dive into first in terms of advice?
David: For people who are self-employed?
David: Well, the start of the book is really about people who are thinking about becoming self-employed, because it looks at the traits that you need in order to be a success, and it looks at things that aren’t taught in universities and colleges. So I guess for the people that are self-employed already, then you could move on to the topics of the book such as how to incorporate blogs onto your website and the importance of those; how to market yourself and find good clients. There’s a chapter that’s devoted to marketing, and one of the sections looks at the value of pro bono work where, if you’re not working with clients round the clock, you know if you have a little time on your hands, and you want to keep the creative juices flowing, you can reach out to local non-profits and donate your services to them. And what that does, in turn, it not only gets you good business contacts in your locality, but it also lets you see the final. Whenever you’re working with clients the finished product isn’t always available to you to photograph because, for me in particular, my clients are all around the world, and so I can’t go out and take photographs of signage or I can’t see the vehicle graphics for instance. But if you’re working in your locality, it makes a big difference to boosting your portfolio that way and, of course, you’re working with non-profits so it’s giving a little something back.
Nancy: That’s right. You talk a lot about good and bad clients, and you caution designers on sticking with the bad clients. Can you talk about how do you navigate that when you’re just starting out and you really do need the work but you’ve got a client treating you badly?
David: It’s tough, especially when you’re just starting out, but it’s something that many people need to find out for themselves. There are red flags that you can spot whenever you’ve been working with clients for a while, but when you start out you’re not aware of what they are. So that was one of the reasons that I put some of those red flags in the book.
Nancy: Lots of great nuggets in the book about that. So you mentioned blogs and how important starting a blog is for a designer. Tell us a little bit about your experience blogging because you’ve got, I believe, three of the most popular design blogs out there today. And so you’ve been enormously successful. How did you start?
David: I kind of fell into it. My first experience of the word “blog” was when I launched one on WordPress.com and I didn’t really know what I was doing. I have a static website for my portfolio that was maybe 10 or 15 pages. So, without any promotion of that, it was very hard to attract new clients. Someone suggested that I start a blog. So I tacked that on to my website in the hope that people would read it. People would come and look at my work and then choose to hire me. But more than that, it turned out to be a great way that I could meet other designers online and learn from them and ask them questions. So a blog isn’t just about getting more clients; it’s also about collaborating with designers and bouncing ideas off them and improving your skills. So it’s not just about earning more money; it’s also about trying to better yourself.
Nancy: So how did you come up with ideas for topics when you started your blog?
David: When I started I was terrible. I was just ripping off articles from other blogs, and I look back on it and I cringe because someone called me out on it and I had to apologize and I took the article down. I really didn’t know what I was doing, and I was doing it completely wrong. But I guess you make mistakes and you learn from your own mistakes faster than the mistakes of others. So I focused on topics that I thought my clients would want to learn about, such as dealing with printers or marketing businesses. I’d write a blog post about marketing thinking that a client is going to come along and they’re going to read this and it’s going to make me look as though I know what I’m talking about. So back at the beginning I had a lot to learn. It’s been seven years now since I started my first blog and I’ve learned a hell of a lot on the way.
Nancy: That’s interesting. So you started out targeting the client community. Is that the same today or today are you targeting the design community?
David: I target different people with different blogs. My main blog on DavidAirey.com is more an archive of what I find interesting as well as a tool that, I hope, younger designers will be able to use to help them doing what I’m doing. So people visit my main website mainly to read the posts that I publish, but as a bi-product of that, my Google ranking has improved because people link to my articles and when my Google rankings improve, clients are more likely to find me. So even though I’m not directly targeting clients with the blog posts I publish, it indirectly helps me gain more business that way.
Nancy: Right, because the more people linking to you, the higher your Google ranking.
David: Yes, that’s one of the end factors.
Nancy: So tell us a little bit about the writing process for this book versus Logo Design Love. Was it a harder book to write? Was it an easier book to write?
David: It was easier, mainly because I chose to stop working with clients while I wrote this. With Logo Design Love I was taking on client work at the same time, so it was a lot more stressful for me. And halfway through Logo Design Love, I was thinking about quitting. But looking back, you know, I’m obviously very glad that I didn’t.
Nancy: That’s right. It’s become a classic. It’s wildly successful, so I’m glad you didn’t. Well, for those who don’t know David Airey’s blog, I recommend you go to David Airey, is it DavidAirey.com?
David: It is.
Nancy: And tell us the names of your other two blogs.
David: The second blog is Logo Design Love. That’s what the book was named after. So it’s LogoDesignLove.com. And my third blog, which was launched after my first book was published, is IdentityDesigned.com. And it’s a showcase of other designers who work in brand identity design. So there’s none of my work on Identity Designed, but that’s probably a big draw because it features the work of a lot of very talented people that are in the world.
Nancy: That’s right. Yes. It’s a great place to gain insight into identity design. So I highly recommend for those listening to visit David’s blogs, but also to get a copy of the new Work for Money, Design for Love and, if you haven’t read Logo Design Love, please also – you won’t regret it. And David, thank you so much for spending some time with us today and congratulations again.
David: You’re more than welcome Nancy and thanks very much for chatting to me.