1. When did you realise you wanted to be a designer?

I think I have always been a designer, I still believe that we are all born with a natural lean towards a certain talent, mine seemed to be artistic and creative. Saying that, as a kid I always wanted to be an astronaut because I loved old science-fi tv series and comics. I was born in 1965 so the space age was a big part of my early years. Somehow I still found my creative streak and my pleasure was peer, crayons and glue.  As I grew up I was always making stuff and finally, in my twenties, the dawn of computers. I was swayed towards Desk Top Publishing as I always made small comics or little books or magazines when I was younger.

Once I first saw Quark Xpress on screen I was hooked. Then I tried every piece of free design software that was on the front of every computer magazine and then one day I found Paint Shop Pro. I then realised I can be creative in a different way. This directed me to the powers of Photoshop (4.0) and ultimately led to a long love affair with Adobe (and at that time, Macromedia products until they merged). I never actually got a full time job using these skills until I was in my 30’s when I found myself working in Marketing, which I  love. It was the best place for me to use my design skills and I learnt a lot about marketing, both you need to be a success in any design business.

2. How did you get started and what was the biggest hurdle you overcame?

As I mentioned above, I found my happy place in marketing. I had always been designing and learning outside of hours, I love learning. My first proper design /marketing role was with a quarry company in Leicestershire where I lived at the time. I learned a lot about single brand marketing and design.

I still think that sometimes designers aren’t taken as seriously as other trades and if I had a pound for everytime I was asked to “quickly knock something up, shouldn’t take you long” – I would be a very wealthy man indeed!

That was a hurdle, convincing people that a talent in design is as valuable to a business as any other role. I think that tide has turned more now but it was always a challenge at the time.

3. What’s been your most successful way of getting clients?

The times I did work completely on my own, I don’t like the word freelance but it’s the word that fits, I found the best way to get clients was to meet them and talk to them. Let them get to know me and trust that I understood their needs.

I don’t advertise myself, my website hasn’t had a blog post since early last year and I mostly communicate through social media and email. Networking at events and the above leading to word of mouth work has been my most successful method of getting and keeping clients.

4. How do you get clients to stay with you and use you for more work?

Pretty much as explained above, communicate and listen! Keep in touch after the project but most importantly, deliver what they wanted and be flexible. I found that making the client feel like they had me as an employee really helped. You have to develop these relationships to keep them active, I have many friends who were clients. Now I work full time for a software company, Astute Graphics (we make Adobe Illustrator professional plug-ins) I don’t work in a freelance capacity.

5. Do you ever have issues with clients paying late? How do you manage that?

For me it goes back to communication and clear agreement at the beginning. And always take 50% upfront, then you are both equally invested in the project. Any problems that arise can always be sorted out along the way. Online solutions like Freshbooks, Hiveage etc are a good way to track your business invoices. Luckily I am salaried and have been for most of my life.

I know a lot of people feel pressure to be freelance, their own boss, start their own company. But it is okay to have a day job and now I am 52 the going alone thing is only ever a Plan B, not a dream I feel pressured by.

6. What does your typical work day look like?

At the moment I am very fortunate to be working in a position that’s kind of a dream job for me. Having always been a designer and for the last few years only designing for a single brand I have had the opportunity to put the crayons down. My role is Training Manager at AstuteGraphics.com. We provide 16 professional plug-ins for Adobe Illustrator.

We’ve been trading 11 years and my role requires me to work to days in our Hereford office where I work closely with the owner and our team to create training content for creatives to enable them to use our products easily and comprehensively. The other three days I work from my new home office in Swindon. My key role is to talk to the design community a lot and a big part of that is to connect with awesome designers and get them on board with our plug-ins.

We have set up designers such as Von Glitschka, Mike Rankin, Aaron Draplin, DKNG, Dan Stiles, Delicious Design League, Retro Supply and many others as well as working with big corporate clients such as Adidas, Nike, Disney, NASA, Google, Dreamworks and other such businesses.  So as you can imagine, we have to create some very specific training to assist both designers and design teams around the world.

I also assist our marketing team to help collaborate with resource providers and designers for additional content.  While I am working I listen a lot to podcasts such as Adventures in Design  Master of One  The Honest Designers Show  Creative South and a few good others, not just design. Marc Maron’s WTF is always entertaining! Never short of inspiration and always have a Field Notes at hand to take notes about designers to hear what they are working on. It’s busy but I love it!! And then there’s the networking side, attending events in UK and USA. This year we hope to work closer with some events and podcasts to spread the word of Astute Graphics!!

7. Any piece of advice/wisdom that you’d like to give the readers at This Design Life?

Oh yes. Don’t be afraid to contact people you admire or talk to them. I admire and respect so many designers but I have made a huge effort to connect with them and be respectful. Communication is key and there’s nothing better than face to face contact. Don’t live behind the keyboard and expect things to happen, online content can be so disposable and lost in a sea of chatter. Get out there, meet people and visit events such as Photoshop World, Creative South, Adobe Max, CreativePro Conference, WMCFest, SXSW, DesignerCon and many more. Be where your peers are and most importantly, as my good friend Sebastian Bleak preaches, NEVER STOP LEARNING!

I’ve been around this industry a long time now, it changes and adapts, software improves and astounds. Keep in the game and don’t be hating Adobe, they are the industry standard whether you like it or not and when you get that job, I would say a very large percentage of studios and businesses work predominantly with Adobe products.

To keep busy around the design world I cohost a podcast with Tony Harmer (formerly Adobe UK) called The Vectorgenerians and also about to launch another with Photographer and Author, Glyn Dewis called He Shoots, He Draws about photography and design. I also write tutorials for Photoshop User magazine and have classes on KelbyOne.com

Did I mention I have 4 kids and never sleep 🙂


Swindon based Londoner, Dave Clayton, is a graphic designer, KelbyOne and Photoshop World instructor with over 30 years experience in design and marketing. Dave is also an Adobe Influencer and the Training Manager for Astute Graphics, creators of professional plug-ins for Adobe Illustrator.