David Airey is a designer of enduring logos and visual identities. He runs an independent graphic design studio in Northern Ireland, collaborating with clients worldwide to grow their businesses through distinctive, meaningful, and emotive design. He’s also an author of many popular design books.
1. When did you realise you wanted to be a designer?
As a teenager in school, art was the class I most looked forward to. But at 15, when I got the results from my GCSEs, my grades weren’t good enough to carry on to A-level, so I left school for an art and design course at my local college. That’s where I was introduced to graphic design. The logo projects stood out as ones I especially enjoyed, crafting these little symbols that come to encapsulate all our feelings about a brand. That was more than 20 years ago. The enjoyment’s still there.
2. How did you get started and what was the biggest hurdle you overcame?
My first proper design job (other than things for friends and family) was as publications officer for the cancer charity Myeloma UK (or IMF UK as it was known when I was hired). As well as designing the company’s print promotions — their exhibition displays, monthly newsletter, fundraising packs, and what have you — I was their print buyer, and handled the upkeep of the website, too. After a couple of years I made the switch to self-employment, something I’d been thinking about for a while. Despite bringing Myeloma UK along as my first client, the hardest part was finding new business, and in my eagerness to please, mistakes were rife. The most costly mistake was doing the work before getting paid. I didn’t have the self-respect to charge up-front, so in hindsight it’s not a surprise that “clients” disappeared without paying. Requesting advance payment ensures there’s a commitment on both sides. Thankfully I learned quickly enough to stay in business. Here we are, 15 years independent.
3. What’s been your most successful way of getting clients?
Writing about design and branding, whether that’s online or in print. Clients research before hiring a designer, so writing helps get my name in front of people, then my words give them the belief that I know what I’m doing. I put a lot of importance in the words I use, because my design ideas are explained in writing as well as with images. If an idea can’t be easily described, it’s much less likely to endure.
4. How do you get clients to stay with you and use you for more work?
It doesn’t always happen, mainly because a lot of my projects are focused on designing or redesigning logos, and a good logo for a successful brand will last decades. But those clients who come back to me for repeat work do so because of my ideas, because they can trust me to get the job done on time, and because I understand the value of client input when it comes to reaching the strongest result.
5. Do you ever have issues with clients paying late? How do you manage that?
Not as much as I once did. I generally invoice for fifty percent of a project fee before starting work, and the remainder is invoiced prior to sending the final design files. Those percentages change depending on time frames and the amount of work involved, but by keeping the files until full payment is received, clients have an added incentive to pay quickly. My working terms (agreed upon in advance) also mention that I retain reproduction rights until all invoices are settled.
6. What does your typical work day look like?
Emails, phone and video calls, research (desk and field), sketching, digitising, creating presentations, updating my websites, general admin, learning, and thinking, with an afternoon trip to the gym every other day. As a single parent things don’t always go to plan, but I’ll always give myself more than enough time for my client work, so if anything unexpected crops up I won’t let anyone down.
7. Any piece of advice/wisdom that you’d like to give the readers at This Design Life?
Design isn’t everything. In fact, by learning more about things that aren’t design related, you’ll have more knowledge to draw from in your design projects, and the outcomes will be richer as a result.