The Design Work of J.D. Reeves
J.D. Reeves is an Oklahoma-based freelance graphic designer endeavoring toward clear and effective communication.


10 Questions

I was recently contacted by an undergrad student who needed to interview a working designer for one of her class assignments. While I'm sure she could've found someone more qualified and certainly more interesting, I was excited to do it. Since I had already taken the time to write these out, I thought I'd go ahead and share them on the blog just in case they could be helpful to someone, somewhere. 

1. How do I start finding clients as a freelancer? Where is a good place to start as a beginner?

This is definitely one of the most difficult parts starting out. There's really no foolproof way to be sure you can find clients, but here's the way I did it: find people who need design work within your network of friends and family. Now be prepared, this group of people, at least in my experience, sometimes had no concept of the value of design. So it's very possible that you will be making nothing or next to nothing on these projects. That's okay. While I agree your time is valuable, you have to start somewhere. This kind of stuff will give you some experience and get the portfolio building with a few small projects, and from there you will be able to gradually increase your prices. Just because the pay might be lacking, think twice before you slack off on these projects. If you have the time and resources, consider going above and beyond every chance you get. Always stay portfolio-minded instead of just trying to do the minimum to satisfy the client. 


2. How do I keep practicing my skills after graduating?

What happens a lot of the time, and my experience was no exception, is that right out of school we have to take jobs where our creative freedom is slim to none. We often start out by basically just running the software and following orders. Don't get discouraged, always find way to stretch the creative aspects of your work. If you neglect the creative side of design and always stay in a sort of production mode, be prepared to continue down that route for quite a while. After all, why would a creative agency hire you if your portfolio was only full of production pieces and showed no orginality? Now if you're happy doing that, then fine. But most creative types find production work to be quite unfulfilling after a while. Don't get discouraged, stay in the loop on design trends and methods, do side projects, have fun, and never lose that spark of why you chose this path in the first place. 


3. How do I ace a job interview in graphic design?

You may be asking the wrong person. I'm not very good at talking to strangers, much less trying to convince them to hire me. My best advice is to be kind, respectful, humble, genuine, and find any little thing about yourself that you feel could add value to their company. If you're really well-read and well-practiced, then there's no need to BS. Just talk about your work. I felt like a fake for quite a few years and just thought I could by on my portfolio (which wasn't even that strong back then). Think about all the things you fill your days with. If none of those things would prove useful in the job interview of the job you'd like to have someday, then consider making some changes. If the interview just becomes an extension of your day-to-day life as opposed to something you have to crash-course for, then you should be fine. Having said all that, do your best to give an accurate depiction of your skills but not come off as arrogant. No one wants to work with someone unable to take criticism. 


4. What is key in establishing a good relationship with a client?

Communication is key. It takes you 30 seconds to type up an email, informing them of your progress. And that could be the most important 30 seconds of the whole process. Keep them in the loop, especially if it's a remote situation and you never meet face-to-face. There are far too many flaky designers. Don't be one. Also, find a tone in communicating with them that walks the fine line between knowing what you're talking about and sounding like a know-it-all. Kindly defend your decisions, and prove your value to them.


5. Are there any new areas of design you find yourself gravitating towards lately?

I'm very interested lately in weird stuff. Anything I don't understand is interesting. I'm also currently trying to learn more about coding and web design. Very challenging but exciting too. 


6. How do you overcome working under pressure and tight deadlines?

To me it gets easier over time. As you gain more experience your work not only improves, but you're able to recognize bad ideas more quickly. Good planning is key. If you can have a good idea of what you're hoping to accomplish before you ever touch the mouse, that will go a long way. Also, just be prepared to do what I think all creative people do; get a drink, turn on some music and work when everyone else is sleeping. Some of the best stuff happens between 1 and 4 am. I try to be a healthy person, so don't do this every night or anything. But sometimes you just gotta. 


7. How much can you advise or discuss with a client in a commissioned project if you have a different vision of the work they are asking for? Do you mostly try to work with the client's vision/ideas?

Like I mentioned earlier, if you're able to articulate why you'd like to diverge from the client's vision, they're much more likely to understand and even gain respect for you. Some clients are hiring you because they don't even know what they need. Take charge and show them/tell them what they need and why they need it. This is obviously easier said than done, but you'll get better over time. Some clients know what they need. They know their audience, they know their brand, and you've got to have a certain amount of respect for that. Unless you have a good reason to do things differently than what they asked, think twice about doing that. Be prepared to defend every decision you make, with no BS. Now they most likely hired you because they like your style and your portfolio, but client work isn't the best place to 'express yourself'. 


8. Is it important/necessary to own a drawing tablet? They are expensive but I am wondering if they are worth the investment if I am able to just use a mouse.  

I don't, but I guess it depends on what you're doing. I do mostly logos and vector work so I've never even used one. If you anticipate doing more illustration work I can see why they'd be valuable.


9. How do you plan your designs before you start drafting them?

When doing a logo, I typically send a brief, 10 question questionnaire to the client. That really helps me in those early stages and prevents me from getting started down the wrong path. After that, I gain inspiration and create kind of a mood board of sorts. And sketch. You don't have to be good a drawing, just get those ideas out. I've found my best ideas some in my 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, or 12th sketch. Somewhere in that range, you get the idea. The point is, I used to do 3 or 4 sketches and never make it that far. I'd get too excited about my early ideas. Push yourself in this area. The later ideas are sometimes even more exciting, we just often don't make it that far. 


10. Lastly, I'm planning to move to a larger city upon graduation; do you feel certain cities have more opportunities for graphic designers to be successful? Feel free to give me suggestions. I've heard that New York, LA and Chicago are good for designers.

I really have no expertise in this area. There are obviously more jobs in places like this, but more designers too. I think you can be successful anywhere if you do it the right way. And be careful, a $65,000 job in San Francisco isn't the same as a $65,000 job in Oklahoma. Your rent will be 2 or 3 times as much. 


Do you have any tips for students just starting out? Or maybe more questions? Feel free to drop a line below or contact me here.

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