summer designer

A freelance designer in Copenhagen

summer designer

As a freelance designer in Copenhagen I love the cyclical nature of the seasons with regard to clients. I have two busy periods as regards new clients and new inquiries.

The first is obvious, January. Middle to late January, the emails and phone calls come in. Companies have a new budget to spend, new ideas to implement. Not everyone is a fit, either me for them, or them for me, but I always try and direct clients to where may be a better fit.

The other time, and the most busy, is late August and September. A Danish friend of mine who’s freelance told me years ago, after a long restful summer, people in business have ideas, are energised, therefor new projects are begun. This period always brings me enough work, to get me to Xmas, and the January period. And off we go again. An opportunity to meet new people, learn about businesses, and work together to solve creative problems.

Book-keeping for freelancers

Book keeping for freelancers – the agony and the ecstasy

Book-keeping for freelancers

Book keeping for freelancers is the necessary pain that goes with the freedom and creativity of the freelance world. It’s the part of the job I consider ‘work’. The bit I really don’t like.

That’s not strictly true. Not the book keeping itself, it’s the last minute getting it all to my accountant. The oh my god, where is that receipt, have I remembered everything, the impending deadline that has exactly the same feeling of dread, as approaching exam dates when I was a kid at school.

When it’s over, when it’s delivered, when I’ve got over the guilt of delivering my messy pile of invoices, receipts and accountancy guesses, to my accountant, when he is at his busiest, and really it should have been in months ago, the release, the sense of freedom, the joy is just sensational. Almost like all the pain is worthwhile for that joyful feeling.

But not next year. Oh no. Next year, it’ll be done much earlier, in fact I will begin now. Well that would be silly. Tomorrow though. I’ll get organised tomorrow. Yeah, I’ll do it tomorrow.

I’m a much better designer and illustrator than would be accountant. Fortunately.

 

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Art college – the best time of your life, or a complete nightmare

Art college is for many a great experience, however it doesn’t always go to plan. So I’m going to look at the less positive aspects of art college, including my own time at Robert Gordon University’s Gray’s School of Art in Aberdeen.

The great portfolio swindle

No disrespect to art colleges but they are almost all thieves. At portfolio submission time to cover the cost of handling your portfolio, plus for sending to your second and third choice art institution, they require a fee of, what is it now, 50, 60, 100 quid? They receive how many applicants? 2000 x £50 = £100 000.

Art college portfolio

In return for a cursory glance at your work, you will be accepted or turned down. No feedback or advice. Any passing to second or third choice institutions does not happen. The vast majority of colleges are not interested in second or third choice students. They can argue they are underfunded, but it is immoral to take money from the pockets of the people you are rejecting to pay for the tiny minority you are accepting.

Those who can’t do… often teach art very badly

Art teachers. They know their stuff. Well maybe some of them do. Communication skills? Empathy? An ability to spot different students are at different places on their artistic journey? An understanding of which students need a kick up the backside, and which need some kind words of encouragement? An interest in teaching the whole class, not just their favourites – the ones that remind them of their younger, beautiful selves. An ability to hit on 19 year old students, despite being well into their forties, fifties, sixties, hello Operation Yewtree, how can I help you… Let’s put it this way, it’s not that hard to become an art tutor at an art college, but I suspect it is very, very hard to get kicked out.

Gray's School of Art cartoon

Bitter moi?

So you may have picked up a little bitterness in this article. I was ‘asked to leave’ Gray’s School of Art in 1988. The head of graphic design Ian Cargill (the only graphic design tutor) had taken an instant dislike to me, and seemed determined to remind me whenever he got the opportunity that he hadn’t changed his opinion throughout my short time in his class. I was far from perfect, but I was then, as I am now, a graphic designer.

I received a letter at my home informing me to meet at the Head of School’s office at an allotted time. On arriving for the meeting I was immediately informed by Head of School, Professor Eric Spiller ‘we have no option but to ask you to leave’. That was my first communication on the subject. In the corner looking at the floor was Ian Cargill. Next to me was Malcolm Brown*, head of Textile Design at Gray’s School of Art.

Ian Cargill Gray's School of Art

Malcolm leaned into me, face to face, about 15 centimetres nose to nose and growled/sneered, ‘So are there any mitigating circumstances to take into account, Iain?!’. Safe to say Malcolm was enjoying the ending of a twenty year old’s education. Despite the fact he had never taught me, didn’t know me at all, had never previously been in the same room as me.

I just looked at him, speechless. Looked over at Ian Cargill, still looking at the floor, looked up at Professor Eric Spiller, waited a few seconds in an idiotic act of politeness to be sure they had finished talking,  stood up and left. I didn’t utter a single word the entire meeting. And that was me done with Gray’s School of Art, and full time education. My self confidence shot to pieces.

*I have since been informed by a former student of that era, the head of textiles was Malcolm McCoig – more on that at the end of the article.

The aftermath

I’m still not sure why I didn’t take my own life afterwards. I certainly thought about it, little else for over a year. Graphic design, my art, was my thing. It was all I had, and it had been taken away. Knowing more now I should have seen a doctor. It would be two decades later before I began work as a graphic designer. Self taught thanks to the internet, Apple and Adobe. Shocked at how easy design was for someone with my skills. Two decades of working as a barman, postman, dishwasher (no disrespect to anyone working in those jobs) I wasn’t even good at the jobs, the wasted decades.

I wondered why Ian Cargill did it. I joined the class late, having been initially turned down by Cargill on first applying for the over subscribed class. Another tutor on learning I was to leave art college as I was unhappy in the Painting department (whoever became a successful painter on the back of being turned down by graphic design…) got me a place in his class. In about 10 minutes. You can see how he may have borne a grudge. While the class had many talented people, on arrival in the class, I was shocked at how poor they were as graphic designers. I had presumed I was turned down due to the talent of the preferred students. I didn’t know then, why I knew that. I know now, as well as graphic design, one of my skills is spotting talent in others. Oh the irony.

On top of that, we were four days on our main subject graphic design, one day on our second subject. It was a choice of Ceramics or Textiles. For graphic designers. In a school that had a painting department and a print making department. But they were in the  fine art side, we designers had to stay in design. Just a complete waste of our time, and most days in ceramics were a clay fight as there were no tutors around.

The flashbacks

When I began teaching myself graphic design in my late thirties I began getting flashbacks to being in the class. All sorts of stuff came back to me very vividly. It was so distressing at one point, I almost stopped trying to learn graphic design. Something in me felt it would eventually stop if I pushed through. But this is why I now remember so much detail so vividly.

He had taken an instant dislike to me, and was in no way trying to hide it. During my time in his class he walked away from me while I was talking to him twice, missed me out of a teaching round once, out of a crit once, never once said a positive word to me on anything. This is not how he was behaving towards other students. The last couple of months having realised trying with him, was making it worse, I stopped talking if he was around. Trying to disappear into the background. Not sulking, trying to be invisible. I was nineteen years old.

No advice was given to me on being thrown out. Not even letting me know I had a right to appeal. To make a complaint. There was no internet back then, to find out about these things. At the time, I just remember amongst the sheer awfulness of it all, an enormous sense of relief to be out. I’d say out of an abusive relationship. Just before the depression kicked in.

Not all bad…

But it would be wrong to end it there. George Craigie had taught for a few months in Graphic Design and was a great teacher. The artist Joyce Cairns taught me during a brief spell in the Fine Art department. She was excellent at her job, is a great artist and a kind and decent human being. Gordon Hamilton’s art history lectures engrained in me a love of the history of art I will never lose. And the library, oh the library, like a sweet shop for the creative brain. The lovely helpful librarian. The shiny new Creative Review magazine that arrived every third Thursday in the month, about 10.30am. The collection of back issues of assorted design magazines, which had it’s own cupboard, with a desk and chair. And the fabulous book collection…

The best of times, the worst of times.

Update: I have since been informed by a former student of that era, the head of textiles was Malcolm McCoig at the time. Despite the very traumatic experience feeling like it was just yesterday for me, I can’t be sure whether I got the name or the job title wrong. Perhaps the particular person would like to get in touch to take the credit. To be fair there were a number of balding, bearded, angry middle aged men working at Gray’s at the time. So that’s why I may have made an error. It was definitely Ian Cargill and Eric Spiller though.

Iain Cameron is a graphic designer, web designer and illustrator based in Copenhagen. Here is my portfolio.

emilia clarke stock photos

Emilia Clarke destroying stock photos forever

I have written previously as to why companies should not use stock photos to promote their business. In this very amusing video from the actress Emilia Clarke (Game of Thrones, Solo, Terminator etc.) she brilliantly destroys stock photos.

While her video is for comic effect, she is inadvertently pointing out why serious businesses should never use them. They are cliched, the are easy to spot. The people are too beautiful, too gender/race diversity centric, too sharp (studio lighting), too perfect, and I’ll add, too cheesy.

My article on why you shouldn’t use stock photos, and some suggestions.

malcolm-mclaren

Blackboards, The Sex Pistols, Britpop, Diana, Sgt. Pepper and me

Back in the Nineties I worked as a freelance blackboard artist in London. I came into contact with all sorts of people, and the occasional celeb. As no one cares about blackboards, I’ll write about my celeb spotting.

spot stock photo

Who can spot a stock photo a mile off?

Content on a website is an integrated, and incredibly important element of a brand. The website is the shop window, it is here where first impressions are made. As we all know, we make our evaluation on a person or business very quickly. Messing up that initial impression, is really not worth it.

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Get your logos for a Fiver

There are a number of web platforms set up to match freelance graphic designers to customers looking for logos or other design requirements, using a bidding system. Some of them may well work for all concerned. My experience using some of them when I first started as a freelance designer was not good. I experienced a complete lack of respect for design, the design industry, personal abuse, and criminality. How this could damage young designers entering the profession concerns me.

As a graphic designer my browsing history means I get marketed to by companies and websites that sell design, and specifically logo design. This includes the company Fiverr, that advertises logos for a fiver. One of the aforementioned web platforms. That’s five US dollars. So I created these graphics in reply to their ads.
logo-for-a-fiver

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fiverr-price-value

fiverr-respect

fiverr-portfoliofiverr-client

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Choosing a name for your business and things to watch out for

Choosing a name for your business is an important, fun, and sometimes very difficult task when setting up a business. Iain Cameron Design and Illustration couldn’t be more practical or dull. But my company very nearly had a whole different name, with some other very interesting connotations, that involve sex and animals. I’ll get to that story later…

It is interesting to look at company names, and how they work for a business. Should it be memorable, or descriptive, or visually appealing, or trustworthy? Does it even matter? The word will take on the meaning of the brand. For some people the word ‘virgin’ implies an older man with a beard who wants to go into outer space. For others it implies Richard Branson.

Aka Spiderman

A number of freelance designer/illustrators brand themselves with a different name. They do this to stand out, be memorable, and to grab the URL (web address). Designing around a brand that isn’t actually your name is also a lot easier than designing for yourself. When starting my business I considered this a good direction to follow, but ultimately couldn’t live with the idea that other people would think I was giving myself a nickname.

Business naming cartoon

Look at the little monkey with the letter!

Which brings me to a company with a great name. I love Mailchimp, the email marketing service provider. I love the name. It’s simple, it’s sweet, it’s warm and cuddly like a monkey that delivers emails. Their website is also very well designed which will always give me a warm glow brand wise. I have a poor memory for names, but am very good at remembering important stuff in a round about way. I once said during a meeting in a previous design job, ‘why don’t we use the monkey email company’. They laughed at me, but they knew who I meant…

Mail chimp cartoon

Dog gone it

Before I finally went with my company name being ‘My Name and what I do’. I very nearly gave it another name. I searched for weeks for a company name. I combined colours and animals, various other random words, significant words, references to song titles, bands, lyrics, clever stuff, stupid stuff, surreal stuff, but ultimately nothing I could live with. Or someone got there first, or the URL wasn’t available.

Until I came up with ‘Bad Puppy Design’. With an image etched in my head of a sweet puppy dog with a guilty look on it’s face. And the URL was available!!

Bingo, I’d found it! But just before buying the domain name, I thought I’ll just see what’s on BadPuppy.com, might turn out to be another design company. Well apparently not. It’s one of the world’s largest gay porn websites.

Business name outing

So a lucky escape. Although from what I’m not sure. I’m not homophobic, so it’s the porn bit that is the issue. But somehow ‘gay porn’ made it even funnier. The thing is it may well have generated traffic. On telling another designer this story he replied, with his head slanted to one side, ‘but would that be the sort of traffic you were after?’. Which is a point. But if none of us wanted traffic that at some point was on their way into or out of porn sites, none of us would have any traffic… Although predictive text on Chrome made for interesting reading typing in the address.

As of right now the domain name is still available. You can have my ‘Bad Puppy Design’ company name suggestion for free!

one-dot-com-offices

Choosing a web host for small or large businesses

one-dot-com-offices
As a web designer the issue of web hosting is a regular concern. When I began ten years ago I started with a quite small Danish company call B-One. I chose them as, they advertised to me, they were cheap and I had nothing to measure them against, so I took a punt. A few years later they changed their name to One.com and now have their headquarters in Dubai, and have very large Danish offices at Kalvebod Brygge (See picture above) where WordPress Copenhagen held their conference a couple of years ago. I think it’s safe to say they have come along way in the last ten years.

As clients often have a different hosting company, I have come to learn how good a decision using One.com as a web host has been. The number of web hosts who insist that the Ftp client is FileZilla, and FileZilla only. My ftp preference is Dreamweaver from the Adobe Suite. I can use FileZilla, but for my work flow I want to use my preferred client. Then there is 24 hour chat support, with pretty much never more than a two minute wait on One.com. I have used a client’s very expensive WordPress specific hosting company where I have had to wait for San Francisco to wake up before I could get answers to a problem, and with a forty minute wait for an answer every time. And a whole number of other web hosting companies whereby the quality of support has been at best erratic, and often woeful.

I am no expert in hosting, or the issue of backend development, but from my experience if you are starting out with a website, or looking to move to a better one (or just to try another one) I strongly recommend One.com. A good quality, consistent service at a good price. Their support and website is available in Danish or English, and just having had a quick look at their site, quite a few other languages too.

Here is my affiliate link. You are of course under no obligation to use it, but if you click it I get a small amount of money, and you get a small amount of money reduction (the same amount) from your first purchase.

My One.com affiliate link

If this is all new to you, and you are just getting started, on clicking the link, put the name of the website you wish to purchase (domain name) into the search engine, keep trying until you find one available you like/can live with, then choose the cheapest option for hosting to get started. You can always upgrade later once your website is more popular. One.com will tell you when you have to upgrade it due to a large amount of traffic.

You may also like:

My web design portfolio page

 

joker-never-do-it-for-free

Why designers should never work for free

joker-never-do-it-for-free

Listen to The Joker

Working for free is a discussion subject that comes up way too often in the design world sadly. As the late Heath Ledger’s Joker character says in the film The Dark Knight above, “If you are good at something, never do it for free.”

There are a number of reasons for this, and a quick Google will find many other reasons not to work for free from other designers. But from my experience, it’s all about respect.

If you work for free, or offer to work for free, you may be liked by that person for doing it, but you will never be respected. And when you are not respected, your work and ideas are not respected. So that piece of work that you do for free, partly for experience, partly for your portfolio, will almost certainly be ruined by the client. Effectively becoming useless as an example of your work, and can’t be shown to future clients or employers.

Avoid business sharks

The other reason I strongly recommend not working for free, is the type of people who accept free work. They are generally awful. They are not a client for the future, and will never pay you for work at a later date, as they will just look for another ‘sucker’ to work for them for free. I saw a young designer post on a freelancers’ Facebook group offering to work for free. The people responding were like sharks circling wounded prey. Avoid these types at all costs.