“How do I keep my edge?”

Keep your concepts fresh month in, month out

Design for singer-songwriter Enya’s A Day Without Rain CD album by Stylorouge

A commonly shared belief from the experts on how to keep your ideas fresh is simply to keep your eyes peeled.

“Acquire an eclectic taste – look at lots of things,” says Gareth Howat of Hat-trick. “We go to lots of lectures hosted by D&AD, the Typographic Circle, Design Museum and so on. Review your work every six months – we pin everything up and look to see if we have started repeating styles, themes and trends.”

“I always carry a digital camera with me and photograph interesting textures, signs, things, posters, anything that captures my attention,” says on-IDLE’s Marc Peter. “It not only provides me with a bank of potential creative sources, but also keeps me inspired.”

Peter also suggests you sign-up to and follow creative bloggers, tweeters and companies and brands that you admire, while designer Alec East recommends a good place to start doing this is the aptly named “WeFollow” (wefollow.com/twitter/design).

A still from an animation opener for Newport Beach Film Festival by Elastic

Designer Paul Blandford says treat yourself to a new font now and then, and look at sources such as magazines for inspiration on typography.

Animator Gavin Kelly is also an advocate of the eyes-open approach: “Stay steeped in creative culture to draw out your own personal response to the prevailing aesthetics of the moment. And if all else fails, get a collaborator writer/artist/illustrator to contribute a component to your style.”

As far as Gavin is concerned, there’s no such thing as ‘downtime’. “Either you’re working on a commercial project and delivering fresh, expertly executed content on time and within budget, or you’re progressing your short film, R&D test or speculative spot,” he says. “The non-commercial work will allow you to explore ideas outside of the constraints of a commercial brief.”

Designer and illustrator Wayne Dorrington suggests seeding such downtime projects on the web to see what your peers think. “Who knows who may see them?” he says. “My private work mucking around with Star Wars icons got viewed by thousands of people and opened up contacts with loads of great companies and creatives.”

Microsite design for the Barbour Festival guide by Nation

Another suggestion, from Stylorouge’s creative director Rob O’Connor, is to work alongside people with different skills to yours and swap tips. “Don’t wallow and whinge when you’re quiet,” he adds. “Make contact with dormant and potential clients, do some personal work, or do some tutorials. As they always say in the self-help books, ‘sharpen the saw’.”

“Do I need to up sticks to the Big Smoke?”

London may be calling, but it’s not essential to making your career

Stylorouge designs for singer Livian’s Happy Returns release (above) and The Imagined Village’s album Empire & Love  (below)

“No, but I would,” says Nation MD Odin Church when asked if creatives must move to London when starting out. “Even for a little while, just to check it out. It’ll be more diverse, competitive and provide experiences that will be incredibly useful.”

Sennep’s Matt Rice says that there are plenty of examples of successful creatives living in the countryside or smaller towns. “North Kingdom springs to mind,” he says. “An agency that has been hugely influential in interactive design and has attracted global clients from their HQ in Skellefteå, several hundred miles from Stockholm.”

“You don’t need to be in the big city to find work,” says Alec East, who worked in London for 20 years before setting up THBOOM! in Bedford. “Cities offer a vibrant creative scene and amazing opportunities but they are also expensive, highly competitive, and you can easily end up working in a cubicle at a big faceless agency. For some people, being the go-to designer in a smaller area is preferable; you have to decide which sort of person you are.”

“Do I have to do all this admin?”

Admin may be dull, but it keeps the money flowing in and you out of trouble with the law

Stylorouge’s poster design for letterstohaiti.com online campaign

Marc Peter of on-IDLE says you should devote a quarter of your work time to admin and keeping your records, contracts and invoices up to date. “If the boring stuff is not sorted, you will need to do it at some point, meaning you can’t produce creative artwork, meaning you can’t earn money until the boring stuff is done,” he says.

Nation’s Odin Church advises those who don’t like doing their tax returns, or simply don’t know how to, either learn, or employ someone who does: “HMRC does not mess around when it wants its money and fines can quickly add up,” he adds.

“Have a good, honest accountant and keep every receipt,” says Stylorouge’s Rob O’Connor. “You can sort them out later when you need to file your accounts.”

“Be current on your invoicing,” advises Elastic’s Andy Hall. “No one is going to pay you without you asking to be paid – and it’s definitely harder to get paid quickly if it’s months late.”