My grandmother likes to tell the story of how she had to give me a new notebook to draw and write in every single day because I’d fill them up so quickly. One day, on her way home from work, she forgot to stop at the store to pick up new notebooks. Naturally, I started drawing on her floors and living room walls. I covered quite a bit of square footage before I was found. I remember that moment—it seemed like such a no-brainer to me. “Well, what choice did you give me?”
There have been so many students that were generous enough to ask to work with me for free, but I never take on an intern unless I can afford to pay them a decent wage. While much of the world would have us believe that our creative services are just the cherry on top of a sundae, the truth is that our talents legitimize the businesses we work for. It doesn’t matter how solid their product is if it doesn’t attract any attention due to lackluster branding, unconvincing copy, or bad design. I want young creatives of all disciplines to know that they’re a worthy investment; because of that, I’d never accept their labor unless I could afford it. Artists shouldn’t have to starve. In fact, I think the talented ones should be good and plump.
As long as you’re being kind, don’t ever be afraid to speak. I don’t care how experienced your superiors are—a room that makes you feel bad about expressing your voice, your perspective, or a differing opinion is not a room you want to be in. This is a really important thing to remember as you move through life working with creative teams, since so much of the work we do is subjective. I’ve been in rooms where the unwritten rule is that we must all agree with the boss. I don’t work in those rooms anymore. The most innovative work comes from teams in which everyone has a voice, and no one is punished for using it.
I lead a collective of creative freelancers (Opal Branding) who want to give back by occasionally giving discounts to those doing good—nonprofits, social enterprises, and small businesses enriching their communities. Together, we’re able to provide an agency-like experience without an agency price tag. This collective is forever-growing, so I’m always thrilled to hear from creatives who want to make themselves available for future projects. Developers, copywriters, photographers, marketing experts—we need you!
As mentioned previously, I thoroughly believe that we are worthy of fair rates from clients that value our services. However, I think it’s equally important to give back and use our skills to promote groups that are making the world a better place. An amazing agency here in Chicago called Firebelly was my original inspiration for Opal; their tagline is “good design for good reason.” Their annual “Grant for Good” awards a year’s worth of branding and design services to nonprofits—we should all be taking a page from their book and giving back in a similar fashion. Believe it or not, I’ve spoken to a number of designers who have completely sworn off working with socially conscious enterprises because their budgets tend to be low. But doing good doesn’t have to come with thankless self-sacrifice. In a way, your big-budget clients fund your nonprofit projects. My full-rate clients gravitate toward me partly because they know they help me give discounts to selfless people who have dedicated their lives to improving our city, the environment, and even the world. It’s all about finding the rhythm between the projects that pay, and the ones that feed our souls.
Less doubt, more creative expression.