So, this is our first and we think, pretty successful, Q&A with a
design industry professional. We asked you to put your questions
to Duncan MacDonald.
Duncan MacDonald was a founding director of Make Studio,
working with the company between 2009 and 2011 and now
works with Good Creative.
You can find out what he thinks about design competitions,
how he thinks the industry is changing and, in his opinion,
the risks and benefits of setting up a studio.
There’s even a great little video at the bottom recommended
Q1 – Describe your role
within the studio?
At Make I oversaw the digital side of the company, designing and
building websites, and overseeing any freelance developers we
worked with. If there was a call for my style of illustration on a job,
great, and I would work on graphic art and some design other than
digital, once in a while.
I took care of the financial side of the business as well, doing the
books, taxes, banking, all the paperwork and admin and most new
business. Everyone communicated with clients but I tended to be
the goto guy.
I’m told I have a calming and reassuring “bedside manner”.
Q2 – What are first three things
you do when you start work
I get a coffee first off (Don’t take that to mean I’m some caffeine monster,
I drink lattes…) and normally I tend to get something boring but necessary
out of the way before I do anything else. It means it won’t be playing on my
mind over the course of the day while I do other things.
After that I check e-mails. I never check e-mails first thing, because invariably
you’ll have something urgent in there that you jump onto as soon as you see it.
I remember someone saying that if you do that, you’re letting other people
set the course of your day. I think a lot of people open their inbox with a
mixture of anticipation and dread. After that I get on with work for as long as
I can before the phone rings or someone interrupts me.
Q3 – I see from your website you
have a few big name clients,
how do you go about attracting
big names to a small studio?
Some of it’s luck, some of it’s connections, occasionally it’s both.
I tend to knock on doors, so to speak, in a fairly quiet way. I don’t
particularly like jargon or bullshit, and I don’t “network” or “talk business”.
I just talk to people. That’s usually enough to bring in business, but I
call it what it is, and don’t wrap it in absolute nonsense.
Q4 – From which client did you
feel you gained the most valuable
design experience, and why?
That’s a difficult question. I don’t think I’ve ever gained any design
experience from a client per se. Business and life experience sure,
but not design experience. There are clients who are insecure, and
continually ask for changes, never making their minds up, there are
clients who like whatever you do, there are clients who are
confident, know what they want, and ask questions, the list could
go on forever. Sadly, I don’t think in my experience, they’ve ever
contributed to my development as a designer, in particular.
Q5 - I’m currently studying at
Uni and have 3 years to go,
eventually I hope to have my
own agency, any quick tips
Google can’t tell me?
Sure, get a job after you leave, and work at it for a few years.
Learn the business, make contacts, and suss out how it actually
works. You’ll know when the time is right to go it alone, but
I guarantee it’s not right after you graduate.
Q6 – Best methods for finding
new clients? (in your opinion)
Much the same answer as Q3 really. Talk to people, essentially.
By all means put your work out there in the world, contribute
to blogs, enter competitions (reputable ones, international
ones if you can), whatever you can think of, but talk to people
first and foremost. There aren’t any hard and fast rules for
developing new business, but communication is vital.
Q7 – When hiring do you look for a
graduate who knows how to work
Adobe CS inside and out who has a
good portfolio or great idea’s and
They need both, and they also need to have an understanding
of production, whether that’s print or digital. If I’m being
brutally honest, ideas and sketchbook work don’t mean a great
deal to anyone. Design isn’t art, neither is it rocket science.
By and large, design is academic and applied, and most people,
myself included, are looking for someone who can be effective
and hit the ground running. Sadly that’s not usually a graduate.
Q8 – What should you do when
a client takes forever to come
back with copy for a finished
project and all contact stops?
(also resulting in no payment)
If you’ve come to that point, then I’m guessing that you haven’t
put a contract or written terms and conditions in place. The simple
answer is that you don’t work without a contract or written terms
and conditions, otherwise the “client” can do whatever the hell they
like, including walking away. If you really have to deal with this
situation, then I’d suggest you be firm but polite and attempt to
take control of the situation, get the work finished, and get paid.
If they keep avoiding you, then you might just have to cut your
losses and walk away. If you walk away, tell them you’re walking
away, and why. It might even kick them into gear.
Watch the “F*ck You, Pay Me” talk by Mike Monteiro of Mule
Design in SF, and listen to every word he says like it’s gospel.
http://vimeo.com/22053820 (we have embeded the video below)
Q9 – It seems as if there are a
lot more freelancers making
a big impact,with big clients,
in competition with bigger
studios. Do you think the industry
is changing? If so how do you
think this will affect graduates?
Firstly, nobody is in competition with anyone else, that’s a myth.
My clients come to me because they know me, the same applies
for everyone else, big or small. Sure, some people will go in for
competitive pitches, but you rarely know who you’re pitching
against in these situations.
I think the industry is changing in some respects, but largely
because modern culture, and clients, are changing. Clients are
a lot more savvy now, thanks to the internet, and often realise
they don’t need to hire a large studio. The idea that large studios
offer a measure of security has mostly been written off as
nonsense these days. In a lot of respects they’re more insecure
than small studios or freelancers, due to huge overheads.
To be honest, I don’t think it’ll affect graduates at all. The sad fact
is that traditionally, nobody hires graduates, because they’re
seen as a risk, and the pervasive idea is that graduates don’t come
out of their courses fully formed or industry ready. When I
graduated we were given the sobering figure that for that year’s
14,000 design graduates, there were 150 graduate positions across
the UK. Those figures aren’t likely to have changed much I’m afraid.
Q10 – How do you combat the
growing pressure of crowd
sourcing websites and sites
offering cheap design and
(vista print and 1&1 websites)
I don’t pay them the slightest bit of attention. If someone is going
to hire purely on the basis of cost, then they’re unlikely to be
someone I want to work with. I’ve pointed those types of people
in the direction of those types of websites more than once in the past.
Q11 – In your opinion, What
are the key risks and benefits
of setting up your own
The key risks, to my mind, are that you might not make any money
and then end up back where you started. You can call that a risk if
you want, but to my mind it’s one worth taking. I’d say it’s more risky
to get into a partnership with people whose past or personality you
don’t fully know, because if you only find out after the fact, you’re
stuck with them, and getting out of it is a lot messier than putting it
all together in the first place. The benefits are that you’re in control
of your own earnings and your own output, which is a good feeling
at the end of the day, but it takes a LOT of work and time. You have
to weigh up whether or not that’s a sacrifice you’re willing to make.
Q12 – If you were to recommend
who we should interview next,
who would it be?
That’s a tough one, partly because there are so many good folk out there,
and partly because whoever I say, someone else will take the huff that
I didn’t suggest them. Someone like Ray Campbell Lupton, who tends
to work as a freelancer heading up small teams under his company
Golden & Grey, but has been a creative director at some of the most
successful agencies in the UK, or maybe someone like Dougal Marwick
at The Touch Agency, who isn’t your run of the mill creative / designer /
copywriter, and isn’t easily pigeonholed or put in one box. I actually
think an interview with a junior or middleweight designer at one of
the bigger agencies could be interesting as well.
Q 13. How much attention do
you pay to design competitions
of the likes set up by the
Personally none, but like I say, that’s personally. To me they
don’t represent a worthwhile investment on my part, as on top
of the cost of entering, there’s also the cost of paying for a table
at the event, and I’ve never had a client who’d ever heard of, or
at the very least, paid any attention to, the Scottish Design Awards,
or The Roses, or any other design award, and that’s where it matters.
If an agency or studio feels that entering, and hopefully winning
one of these awards is beneficial to them, then from their point
of view, it’s definitely a worthwhile investment for them. I think
awards in general have lost a lot of credibility in recent years,
even events like D&AD, for a variety of reasons. Unknown judges
for one, cost vs benefit, questionable past winners, a growing
sense of cynicism about them in general. If it works for you,
then more power to you, but for me, they’re a waste of time.