If you want to be a designer, design something.

Design in your downtime

As a designer, sometimes you’ll have downtime where you are not working on anything in particular. When this happens, one tactic you can use for acquiring both experience and a potential client is to do a bit of work that can show:

1. What your skills are

and

2. Why those skills can add value to a business.

This is especially good if you want to gain some experience in a different industry or market then what you currently work in while also adding to your portfolio. This is different then spec work, where you are asked along with other professionals to do work for free. The difference is that your are the one making choices about what the design should be and are being proactive in trying to generate leads for your business. Take a look at my “Lead Generation Tactics for Small Business” post for more on this.

A new identity

My favorite local coffee shop was recently sold, and while I love the new coffee they roast, I wasn’t enamored by their new/interim brand identity. So I decided to do a redesign.

Here’s a look a their current packaging:

And my redesign:

 This is just one possible direction. Inspired by the name, I explored and added some circusy graphic elements. 

I also included a more scaled back version that would be cheaper to print and has a more “handmade” quality to it. 

The benefits

I approached Highwire Coffee with the designs, and while they were appreciative of the effort, they are already in the process of working on this with a design firm. So while, it didn’t result in paid work, it did give me give me an opportunity to spend some time exploring consumer packaging design; an area I would love to expand into.  

In addition, if the guys at Highwire run into someone in need of brand identity design work, they may pass on my name as a referral. This sort of exercise with, real-world implications can be a great way to expand your portfolio and give others a chance to see your work while also stretching you as a designer.

If you want to be a designer, design something

Doing work that you feel passionate about is important, even if you’re not getting paid for it. It will help your continued learning and will also keep you sharp. The work doesn’t necessarily have to be for anyone in particular. You can redisgn sports teams logos if you like. Whatever it is, try to have some kind of reasoning behind it. 

With a project like this, I wanted to combine learning a new area (consumer packaging), with potential client acquisition (lead generation), so I wanted to approach a business that would actually have a chance of working with me.

I also decided to do this locally to help build my local network and to hopefully enhance my community. 

So if you are going to do this, here are my tips:

1. Work with local businesses. It will help build your local network, give you a chance to meet with people in person, and if you manage to land a client, you’ll be able experience your work in person.

2. Look for a small business that has the potential to expand or offer a product that can be sold outside it’s physical location. Your design may help explain what it would look like down the road while showing the value of redesigning their brand identity; a major selling point.

What could be 

The gang at Good Design took this a bit further with the What if: Sydenham project where they took photos of run-down shop store-fronts and gave them a digital make over, then submitted them to the shop owners. 

I don’t recommend doing this with just any business like they did, but they certainly got a lot publicity (lead generation) and recognition for the project which made it worth investing the time to do it.

Here’s a nice little discussion about that project on David Airey’s site.