As the three-year anniversary of her Freelance Graphic Design business approaches, Sarah Cowan reflects over her leap into the world of freelance. We were lucky enough to get a glimpse into the struggles she faces, her creative style when approaching new projects and what makes her career so exciting and fulfilling. Ultimately, we learned how sometimes it takes something out of our control to grasp the bigger picture and decide it’s time for a new direction.
How did your design career start?
I studied Typography & Graphic Communication at the University of Reading, and was fortunate enough to go straight into a job after graduating. It was a six-month contract to refresh Warwick Business School’s corporate identity and to create their first set of brand guidelines. I was still there ten years later! I started as part of a very small communications team and the only professional designer. By the time I left I was managing a team of designers within a much more established marketing function. To top and tail my time there nicely, one of the last major projects I worked on was to rebrand the business school.
When did you decide it was time to take the leap and start your own design business?
When you’re working full time it can be hard to step back and see the bigger picture. An opportunity to do just that presented itself during a period of sick leave. Suddenly I had the time I needed to evaluate what I had achieved and to think about what I wanted to do next. I decided I wanted to focus on design for print and to broaden my experience by working with lots of different sorts of clients. Freelancing seemed to be the ideal way to do this.
What has been the biggest challenge in your career?
Definitely starting out as a freelance designer! It isn’t easy and three years later it’s still an ongoing challenge. There are so many complementary skills that you realise you need to learn – not all of them creative. Things like coding a website, a bit of copywriting, some sales skills, social media, photography, doing the accounts! Even beginning as a well-qualified and experienced designer I am still learning an incredible amount.
What’s been your most exciting project so far?
Almost every project I have worked on as a freelancer has felt exciting. I love working with other people who value printed design. It’s not always the biggest projects or those with the biggest budgets that are the most interesting. But taking a design which isn’t working for a client, evaluating it, and coming up with a solution that works better, looks better, and even feels better is a rewarding and satisfying experience!
Do you have a certain creative style?
I’d describe my design style as clear, clean and uncluttered. I tend to design ‘backwards’ beginning with the end user - who they are, and when, where, and how they will be using the document. This informs many of the design decisions and provides a logical and clear structure for the information. After that, I use more visual and tactile design tools such as typography, colour, imagery, and print specification to draw attention to, or to emphasise important elements or characteristics. Where appropriate, the final layer would be to add any decorative elements.
How do you balance your work and home life?
I work from home, but I have a dedicated room in the house for my business. When I have finished work for the day I try to close the door and walk away. It doesn’t always work!
Anything exciting you’re looking forward to working on in the future!?
As my business approaches its three-year anniversary I’m beginning to focus in more, and specialise in projects with large amounts of text or complex information. It’s an area of design I am both particularly qualified in and passionate about, so I’m definitely excited to see what will happen next!
Sarah’s story is an amazing inspiration to graphic designers who perhaps are just dipping their toes into the freelance world, or to those who have already have dived in. Check out her twitter and website for more amazing tips, thoughts, and design.
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