All posts filed under “Fulminate

Runnymede Memorial: Part 1


This post is the start of a series that will only be of interest to a few readers, but it’s about a subject that means a lot to me, and about a place which, in one way or another, has had an impact on design, and design education, in the UK and beyond. Brunel University has just sold its Runnymede campus to Oracle Residential, part of the Epsom-based Oracle Group, a property and investment company.
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Friday quote: Writer’s Block

A great working environment

Scott Adams (via Seth Godin):

I think writer’s block is when you say to yourself, “I could write something, but it wouldn’t be good enough.” There’s no such thing as a complete inability to write a sentence.

He’s right, of course: it’s the fear of failure, of incompetence, or the fear of being perceived as incompetent, which stops so much useful work being done. If it’s sub-standard, will it actually drive readers/customers away? John S Rhodes has an interesting take on the issue.

Best get on with it, then.

Getting around

The TAXI Design network has syndicated* my post on the Nicostopper for its very interesting ‘The Driver Speaks’ strand of articles – perhaps not the most obvious choice of articles to choose, but I suppose it was relatively short and to-the-point compared with much on this blog. I should probably consider actually submitting some articles to TAXI directly rather than being entirely passive about it all.

Jeremy Schnitker of SoloGig News has also interviewed me about freelance work – bless him, he makes me sound a lot more successful than I really am! SoloGig News is a great site with some fascinating interviews and other information for independent practitioners – as described on the site, “news you can use for the ever-growing freelance set.”

Jordans, Bucks, April 2007

A note about the future

For the last couple of months, alongside some hectic work for clients, I’ve been putting together a proposal for postgraduate (i.e. PhD) research which involves both environmentally sensitive design and architectures of control. Nothing is certain at this stage but as soon as there’s something to report, I will of course blog the details. This could be a very exciting direction in which to head; there may be, indeed, a major road ahead.

*Note that the blockquotes in the original post have been removed without being replaced by any other formatting, so some of the quotes appear as if they’re part of my prose. Also, I’m not Steffen Jahn (if only I were…), nor in fact, Dan Stockton, but those are minor quibbles!

What I’ve learned so far as a freelance designer/engineer/maker: Part 2

Office and workshop door plaques

In part 1 of ‘What I’ve learned so far…’ I looked mostly at being a ‘jack-of-all-trades’ and the idea of ‘Wexelblat’s scheduling algorithm’ (or the ‘good, fast, cheap: pick two’ theory) as it applies to a young freelancer starting out. There were some very insightful comments which are also well worth reading.

Before starting on Part 2, I feel I should apologise for the relative dearth of posts recently. This seems to be a recurring pattern, although this time it’s actually resulting in some people unsubscribing in Bloglines… The reason is primarily that I’ve had a series of projects which have taken a lot out of me, time-, sanity- and confidence-wise. I can’t really explain too much at this point, but referring to Client Breeds 6, 7, 8 and 11 as explained at the excellent FreelanceSwitch should give some hints! Suffice to say, I hope never to make the same series of mistakes again. A later part of this series will be my own take on the ‘Client Breeds’ idea and managing different clients’ expectations, but for the moment, on with Part 2:

The Portfolio Dip

When you’re at university, college, or working on design in your spare time, the rate at which you add new work to your portfolio can be equal to the rate you do the work. If you do three projects in the final year of your degree, you can add three projects. But when you start doing ‘real’ projects for companies, they’re likely to be confidential, at least until they reach production (if they even go this far), so you can’t show anyone. This applies, of course, to designers working full-time for a company as well as freelancers, but is more importnat for freelancers. (Incidentally, a friend of mine whom I’d classify as an extremely successful freelancer, suggests that only 1 out 10 potential products developed for clients are ever likely to reach mass production, and he makes that clear to the clients as he goes, which is something I’ve been far too reticent about doing.)

Back to the point: the confidentiality requirements mean that – superficially at least – your portfolio starts to look a bit stale (e.g. this). The rate of new work added drops sharply, and this can certainly have an effect on your own confidence quite apart from – we might expect – not being so persuasive to potential clients. (If you’re also, sensibly, weeding out some of the older projects of which you’re not quite so proud – too studenty, too weak – then as well as the size of the portfolio decreasing, the period it covers may also decrease to a narrow focus around, say, the final two years of your degree. And the rate of work added actually goes negative.) Roughly, you might end up with something like this:

The Portfolio Dip

If the most recent stuff you can show them is a student project, or even a speculative competition entry hacked together in your spare time (if any), then they may well treat you like a student or a speculative chancer rather than a professional designer. What they expect to pay you could also be in accordance with this.

Equally, even if the early freelance jobs you take on do reach production quickly, or can be shown without a confidentiality worry, they’re not necessarily going to be especially impressive. For example, I’m grateful for getting the job of making new signage (below) for a local sandwich shop, to the client’s design, but putting this into a portfolio primarily focusing on more technically innovative work may well dilute its appeal to certain prospective clients.

Nibbles signage, Datchet, BucksNibbles signage, Datchet, Bucks

All of the above reinforces something very important. Industrial experience during a degree – ideally a summer internship or an actual sandwich year placement – can be extremely valuable, especially if some of what you worked on has reached production by the time you graduate or start your freelance career. In effect, this work can help ‘plug’ the portfolio gap, with real-life, commercially viable products which may even be familiar to potential clients already. While choosing a sandwich course makes your degree longer – and that year’s wages may be very low – with the right choice of company and some hard work, you may have an asset which makes your portfolio work stand out above others’.