LC: You have worked with notable clients like Converse, Virgin Records, Nike, and with clothing retailer Forever 21 on the development and branding of their blog; The Skinny, but you also work on a more interpersonal level with unique creative professionals like bloggers, photographers, and indie clothing labels. When you are working with an independent client like a photographer, what factors do you push them to consider in the development of their brand and marketing materials.
NT: When I work with anyone, big or small, I try to lead them in a direction that encourages simplicity and timelessness. Often, a client has an idea of what they want and I try to follow through with what they initially ask for. But, at the same time I offer some more ideas that differ from their vision so that they can get a feel for the possibilities of their brand. When you’re busy running your own business on a daily basis, it’s sometimes hard to see the bigger picture. An outside source can give you input that you may have never even considered. With both you and your photographer friend HUSVAR, I wanted to create logos that would grow as your brands expand. I never want what I do to look dated or gaudy. My goal as a designer is to have my designs hold up and look just as fresh 10 or 20 years from now, if that’s possible. I admire the classics – Paul Rand, Herb Lubalin and Milton Glaser. Their work never looks dated or cheesy.
LC: For many emerging photographers a graphic designer may be the first creative professional outside of photography that they work with. This is especially true for those photographers looking to work with a designer for the first time in developing their branding and promo materials. What advice can you give photographers in regards to what they should look for in hiring a professional designer that they can develop a long-term creative relationship with?
NT: Photographers naturally have a great eye for composition, color and subject matter. They tend to know what they want and every time I’ve worked with one, the outcome has been really timeless and solid. When working with photographers, especially during logo development, I encourage them to consider a logo that will look good in a lockup with their business name and a symbolic element or in separate pieces. Photographers often use the symbol that accompanies their name or business as a watermark. Beyond that, I try to remind everyone that consistency is really important; using the same logo, type family and colors throughout all of your branding helps to create brand equity. If you get along well with a designer and they deliver what you ask for for a fair price, keep them around!
LC: When working with photographers and bloggers what is your own philosophy and work-flow for helping them to develop a brand that often must appeal to a very specific niche market?
NT: This is pretty open-ended. My goal at the end of the day is to make my clients happy. If they’re satisfied with an outcome, then I am too. Solid branding will grab a customer’s interest initially but beyond that, a quality product behind it will make them a lifelong customer. I try to take the client’s input, merge it with my own and gently guide them to the best solution but the final decision is all theirs. The clients that I work with tend to not be start-ups; they have a vision, know what they want to accomplish and simply hire me to add a sense of polish to what they’re already doing.
LC: In addition to your design work, you are an eminent and successful blogger, especially in the areas of fashion, typography, design, and blogging itself. A lot of photographers are picking up social media networks and blogging as viable marketing channels. What advice can you give a photographer? One who is perhaps venturing into blogging for the first time. Especially about that all important question a lot of people starting ”what should I write or blog about, who cares what I have to say?”
NT: I really believe that everyone has a unique vision and has something to offer. Blogging is not only about self promotion; sometimes it’s as simple as adding to an ongoing conversation, sharing specialized knowledge or becoming part of a much larger community. Photographers have so much vibrant visual content and blogging doesn’t just have to be about writing. Sharing images, the story behind a series, what it took to create the photo, how you accomplished a specific effect or lighting, etc. is all relevant and adds to the story.
LC: In terms of general marketing and promotions, what are some basic universal do’s and don’ts you can relate to young photographers and creative professionals to get started on marketing their skills to clients?
NT: First and foremost, always carry business cards! You never know who you’re going to run into. One of my first freelance jobs came about because I happened to hand a photographer a business card in a club in New York and he called me the next day to design a magazine for an event he was promoting. It’s never cool to scribble your name and email address on a napkin – this is the 21st century! A blog and an online portfolio are pretty much necessities. I’ve always said that it doesn’t matter how good you are if nobody knows how to find you. If you think about it, you may come in contact with a select handful of people on a daily basis but online, your presence can be seen by tens, hundreds or even thousands of people in the same timeframe. If you offer a reputable service, have a great personality, produce quality content and align yourself with quality people that are also in your industry, momentum begins to build.
LC: You also write a lot about freelancing and your own journey from starting with a business degree, eventually going back to school for design, and embarking on a successful freelancing career. For a lot of freelancers, it is a tough road, full of ups and downs, adventures and adversity, and a lack of stability that can range from the frenetic excitement of not knowing what comes next to the crushing chaos of the bad times. What kept you driven during those early days? Looking back on your own career, what lessons would you relate a freelancer who is just starting off now?
NT: At 28, I am finally where I want to be but I spent years and years in college, working retail jobs and having a million roommates. My life was full of uncertainty but I never gave up. I believe that once you’ve figured out what you want out of life and begin to put forth the effort, slowly but surely change comes about. People will come into your life at the right time to help you when you really need it. I’ve had quite a few chance meetings that impacted my life for the better. The first year of being a freelancer is by far the hardest because it’s nearly impossible to know what to expect. It takes time to develop routines that really work and to get established. As you get busier, there’s less time to worry about “what if” as lunch dates, meetings and client deadlines start to take up most of your time.
Looking back, I don’t really regret anything. I spent a year at an agency right out of school and I highly recommend that because it teaches you how to deal with clients and deadlines. It’s always good to bring a copy of your portfolio for every meeting, to do your research and to dress the part. And, going out to art shows and agency parties will help you expand your social network. Just from freelancing at a handful of agencies, I’ve realized how interconnected everyone is. On that note, NEVER burn your bridges! If a client is really getting to you, walk away and take a break before responding in a way that you’ll regret. The last thing you need as a freelancer is for your carefully built reputation to crumble over a few bad interactions. Finally, always be yourself. I know that sounds cliché but staying true to your style, ethics and morals definitely pays off. There are a million freelancers out there – your personality and work ethic can definitely help you stand apart.