Interview with Dustin Lee

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

I’ve always loved old packaging, cheap ads in comic books, and album artwork. I just didn’t realize it was a career.

The first time I got excited and felt empowered to experiment with design was when I purchased D.I.Y. Design It Yourself by Ellen Lupton.

Ellen’s book opened up the possibilities, the accessibility, and the power of design for me. I still keep it on my bookshelf and find inspiration in it regularly.

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

In high school, I studied music and art at the Vancouver School of Arts. But I figured I needed to understand business and marketing to make money as an artist. So I become a banker (yeah, don’t do that).

Finally, I got sick of it and went cold turkey. I quit the bank, when back to school, and studied design. That was the biggest hurdle. It took me down a long path of self doubt, financial devastation, and anxiety.

After years of struggling, I found out my wife and I had our first little girl on the way. I started to mix my marketing knowledge and design skills and that’s when things changed almost overnight.

In many ways, my little girl sparked the businesses success!

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

To stop chasing clients. When I started doing the work I loved and focused on what I wanted to do clients came knocking. No doubt, this is not the best path for everyone. But it worked for me.

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

I get a lot of offers to work with clients but RetroSupply Co has become a full time operation with additional people helping me. I don’t work for clients any more (I really work to provide products for designers).

I have ideas about how to keep clients working with you. But I have no business philosophizing about what will work when I haven’t done it myself.

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

I have a lot of partners that I get payments from. But I’ve been very lucky. I’ve had very few that I’ve had issues getting payment from.

6. What does your typical work day look like?

I work out of my home studio so my day is really liquid. Every day is different.

Typically, I do creative work in the morning with a big pot of Chemex coffee. This could be design, drawing, writing, or brainstorming ideas.

In the late morning as my creative focus diminishes I have meetings with contractors and partners.

I eat a light lunch and then have a mid-day nap for one hour.

When I wake up I brew more coffee and work on design, practice my illustration, and write.

Email is always last priority. For many years I responded to emails as they came in and it was exhausting and hard to get anything done.

Now I batch process emails with Mailstrom and the spend around 30 minutes answering emails.

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

When I was 25 I was in a band. Before that, every band I had been in barely got any shows and didn’t make any albums.

So when my friend Joel, the cofounder of the band, said we were going to make an album I didn’t understand how. We didn’t have the money, knowledge, and weren’t even totally tight as a band yet.

But Joel insisted we make the album any way we could.

The lesson I learned is, if you want to make your art you must decide to make it and then make the art. No matter what.

Even if it’s not perfect.

Even if you don’t have all the tools.

Even if you look silly.

If you do that, I can promise you, cool stuff will happen.

Dustin Lee is a designer and founder of RetroSupply. He also runs a podcast called Passive Income for Designers.

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Interview published on: May 23, 2018

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