Interview with Karl Randay

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

At High School, I spent a lot of time arguing with my art teacher about what the design aspect of Art & Design should be. We were always asked to paint a taxidermy bird in the style of some old master (usually Klimt) and this was alien to everything I suspected design to be (arguably art too).

In the end, she gave in and dropped an old and battered Letraset catalogue in front of me to study letter shapes, and thus my love affair with typography began.

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

My comprehensive understood very little about the world of design and how you got a job in it. They were more interested in just making sure enough of their pupils got jobs at the local sandwich factory. Convincing my parents to let me take a risk and study something that had yet to be paired with what we know of as design today was a big thing.

I didn’t even know which area of design I might end up in, just that I had identified this esoteric corner of the creative world as something I wanted to spend time getting to grips with. I think in the end dogged determination and perseverance that my goal existed and I could achieve it were the strongest skills I developed in the early days. That, and a willingness to stay humble, keep learning and not take things too seriously. End of year shows especially.

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

I’ve found the best way to get clients is to not try. At all. About ten years ago I had the opportunity to take the management reins for a well respected design agency in the city, but I declined. I tried really hard in the early days of my career to be the guy who networks, goes out and makes connections, being the face of the design business, but over time I realised this was something I really really hated and was bad at.

I became much more comfortable with the idea that my place was crafting away at the rock face, not selling it. It can be tough to admit that, but in the long run, I’ve learned more from it and been much happier.

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

Do great work. Don’t try to screw with them and be honest and authentic. You have to be really good at spending time planning things out before you dive into a design too; manage the client expectations, set the milestones, define the deliverables, do the business bits of design to protect your creativity when your head is down and you’re throwing shapes.

I think being prepared to (and planning to) make mistakes is also very healthy. Most of the stuff I’ve learned I’ve picked up from having done something wrong. You just need to mitigate the opportunity for big problems and give yourself the comfort room to screw stuff up as you go.

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

When I worked as part of a two-man design shop in the early 2000’s we would have terrible problems with late payment. We were a quirky little digital and UX firm who just wanted to do some awesome work with some interesting names.

We were lucky with some of the fantastic brands we got to work with. But you know what? The really cool and quirky brands are terrible at paying.

That made it very hard for us to manage the business with the attitude we had. Things had to grow up and we had to be much more serious than we were. Nowadays I work with a really great bunch of people who are incredibly good at managing this area of business. You need to surround yourself with people who do this very well and admit when you’re out of your depth.

6. What does your typical work day look like?

We’ve recently set aside a good portion of time each week for running each team and getting the red tape of management tasks dealt with.

This has really helped as up until recently we’ve all been completely dedicated to production tasks (we’re a large collection of small teams).

My day typically begins with looking at the team and how design functions and evolves at 383. Making sure the team are happy and can get on with the important work that needs doing is a critical part each week. I tend to spend half an hour quickly scanning through a consistent set of design industry links before jumping into my own design tasks for the day. There’s no standard day, so I’m always running up and downstairs and having impromptu conversations about various clients, so the extra time each day to accommodate things unplanned really helps.

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

Don’t struggle on your own. One thing I’ve learned from having worked at a few small, isolated studios is that it’s easy to get in a cycle of frustration.

Know when to get out of the building, build a support network of people you can talk to, even if they work for the competition, as they’re all still designers who struggle with the same problems.

You’ve got to be aware of where your skills are weakest and just go at working on them. Don’t be afraid to fail, just have a plan for when things do. And finally have fun, there’s no career as rewarding as the one you love on a daily basis and you find challenging.

Karl Randay is is Head of Design for 383, an Experience Design studio based in the Jewellery Quarter of Birmingham

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Interview published on: Oct 27, 2017

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