DA: What in your career so far are you proudest of?
AS: I have the designer’s curse of never being satisfied or proud of anything I’ve done. When I look at my work, design or writing, I only ever think – that could be better. I don't beat myself up over it, but I’m sure that if I ever looked at something I’d done and thought it was great it would mean that the hunger had evaporated and that my creative life was over.
DA: What are you working on at the moment?
AS: I'm setting up a publishing company, Unit Editions. We publish books for designers by designers. I’ve set it up with Tony Brook and Patricia Finegan from Spin. Between us we have plenty of experience. I’ve written seven books, and Spin has worked on dozens of publishing projects for big and small clients, and done lots of self-publishing.
Another important component is the Spin design team. They are our ideas laboratory. They're all hardcore book buyers and have a really good feel for the design book market. It’s really useful being able to run ideas past them. Unit is not a vanity project. We aim to sell high quality books about visual culture to intelligent readers who want good texts as well as good images.
Our first book will be out this year. It’s called Studio Culture. It features interviews with over 20 designers about how they run and manage their studios. We noticed that design history and design commentary is centred on the individual, yet there are hardly any designers who work on their own, and it’s in the DNA of most designers to start a studio or at least contemplate starting a studio. Also, there are graduates coming out of design schools who, for various reasons, are being forced to set up studios without first gaining experience by working in established studios. The book aims to provide help and guidance.
DA: Setting up an independent company at the moment is a pretty brave choice -- what advice do you have for other creatives going freelance or setting up their own companies in this recession?
AS: I once read about an athlete who used to train by running in deep sand so that when he ran on grass he felt as if he was running on air. Well, starting up a business in a recession is like running in deep sand. It makes you hyper aware of the risks -- a good thing -- and it makes you aware of even tiny amounts of expenditure -- also a good thing.
So, I'd say to any designer, if you think you can find work as a freelancer or start a studio, go ahead and do it. It will be hell, and there will be moments when you will struggle, but you will learn things about business that you are much less likely to learn in boom times.
DA: If you had to answer in brief – how exactly do you become a graphic designer without selling your soul?
AS: Well, I would never tell anyone what to do or how to behave. My book provides clues and prompts, but the nearest I come to telling designers how they can avoid losing their souls is by stressing the importance of integrity.
What do I mean by integrity? Well, I won't define it. That’s for each individual to do for his or herself. But I’ve noticed that all the great designers have it. It might be ethical integrity. It might be aesthetic integrity. It might even be business integrity (a refusal to do free pitching, for example). But all great designers have it. And the amazing thing is, people respect them for it. If we don’t believe in anything then our clients won’t believe in us.