Interview with Luke Tonge

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

I think I always knew I wanted to create stuff, and it was only in senior school I realised that would be under the title of designer. For a while I toyed with photography, product design, even landscape design! But around A-level time I really fell in love with graphic design and focused on that path. There was never any doubt thats what I would become, and no fall-back option or plan B.

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

Getting started was very easy – I was fortunate to have very supportive parents so I merrily set off on my career path with no clue where it would lead! Turns out it took me from A-levels in my hometown of Retford, to a Foundation Art & Design Course at Lincoln School of Art, to my degree in Falmouth, then back up north to my first industry job in Nottinghamshire at Linney, then to my adopted home of Birmingham.

The biggest hurdle I overcome was finding my first job! I left Uni ready to take on the world and presumed landing a half decent junior position shouldn’t be that hard…a few months later I was working at Woolies, wondering what had gone wrong, collecting job rejection letters. As it turned out, taking that filler job lead directly to me being hired by Linney when a colleague passed on my CV – so a negative in the short term became a positive in the long term.

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

Its impossible to separate out the most successful way. I’d have to say a combination of:

A) Having expertise in one area or line of work has lead to me being recommended from client to client, which is magic.

B) Being approachable, affordable and visible.

C) Having worked in agencies for a decade I’ve built up a network of former-colleagues who are all now in other roles, and occasionally still want to work with me.

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

Be honest, transparent, work hard, charge fairly, underpromise and overdeliver, and give the job your best efforts. There’s a Buck65 track called Craftsmanship I often reference when asked this question about a shoe-shiner who takes his work very seriously… the lyric “Craftsmanship is a quality that some lack, You got to give people a reason for them to come back” – obviously the same applies to design.

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

Yes. I’m learning to manage it in a variety of ways – firstly, have a financial cushion so its not end-of-the-world painful when it inevitably does happen.

Secondly, state up front what the payment terms are, include a sizeable deposit to weed out any potential time wasters , and lastly, make sure late fees are clearly listed – then don’t be afraid to politely request them if payment isn’t forthcoming.

6. What does your typical work day look like?

There’s no such thing anymore! I split my time currently between lecturing at BCU 2 days a week, my freelance practise which focuses on editorial projects like the Recorder for Monotype and brand identity jobs for a wide range of clients, and helping to organise the Birmingham Design Festival which is happening in June.

I tend to work from Birmingham so my days are full of traffic, meetings, city strolls, taking and sharing snaps on my Instaspam, eating delicious pastries… LOTS of emails, and occasionally a bit of graphic design

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

I’ve got 10!

  1. Write a contract/terms and refine it after each job.
  2. Save 1/3rd of what you earn for Mr Taxman.
  3. Don’t neglect your reputation, you might need it!
  4. Have a ‘laptop fund’ with £1-2k for when it dies.
  5. Do work you care about, that matters, whenever possible.
  6. HIT SAVE, NOW! And every hour, forever & ever amen.
  7. Invest in young people / learn from more experienced.
  8. Back-up your files, then back-up your back-up.
  9. Be accessible easily online, to client & industry.
  10. Put your prices up annually – especially you women!

Luke Tonge is Birmingham-based shorts-wearing type-loving graphic designer at large, currently found art-directing The Recorder for Monotype, lecturing at BCU & helping organise the 2018 Birmingham Design Festival.

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Interview published on: Mar 23, 2018

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