Interview with Simon Dixon

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

I loved drawing and art as a kid. I was helped by being educated at home through what would have been in secondary school, so I had a lot of freedom to experiment. I drew a lot, including self-publishing comic books.

Because of my education, I approached college at the youngish age of 16. I attended a foundation course in art. Experimenting with painting, printmaking, photography and techniques like collage and life drawing. I was inspired by artists like Robert Rauschenberg that blurred the distinctions between different disciplines. I also had a keen eye on the people creating the covers of the albums I was listening to, particularly the early period Factory and 4AD labels.

So I felt graphic design might liberate me to combine ways of working, but also offer up a route to a career and I was right. I loved design. When I added typography and all the craft disciplines,
I was hooked.

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

As I mentioned above, at college, I fell in love with design. So much so I started my first agency at 19 with two college friends. We shared a house, bought an Apple Mac, through a charitable loan, and started to create work for the local dance music scene. We even ended up with a tiny office in the back of a record store. We designed their identity and merchandise to cover the rent.

There weren’t specific hurdles, but I did work side jobs cleaning banks, bars and court cells to help keep us going initially. The biggest hindrance was our naivety and lack of experience. However, that was precisely what liberated us to focus on experimental and expressive design. To take chances and believe we would succeed.

I found if I focused on what I loved to create and worked hard, the success came. I think the passion I had supported me when my skills were low. I improved through sheer force of will and putting in a huge number of hours. I didn’t start the best, but I stayed at it, and it led to a
great career.

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

Your reputation is every piece of work you create and every interaction you have. The duty of care, the innovation, the passion you bring is visible in the output. The same applies to your relationships. How collaborative, additive, inspiring you are to work with. They create your brand. That is what people are buying into.

This is coupled with creating very good work. The better the work, the greater the chance someone sees it and believes you could deliver for them too. It requires hard work, persistence and time. This relentless focus on excellence has helped us. We don’t always achieve it, but the effort is there.  

I’ve also found being available and open to helping people without an agenda or a desire for anything in return brings unexpected benefits.

The same applies to sharing honest, hopefully, useful ideas and content. A lot of people chase an audience or a kind of fame, buying into the industry bullshit. I find if you steer a more self-determined, but not self-obsessed approach you attract exciting collaborators.

We also reach out to interesting companies. Say hi. Share some work.

Overall we curate our relationships. Looking for like-minded creative leaders. People who are excited by the power of creativity to shape the future of companies. We look for common ground creatively and are honest if we’re not a good fit. We believe in the way we work, but it adapts to the people and companies we work with. So we approach prospective relationships with an
open mind.

We’ve always had a very dynamic approach and are hugely enthusiast. That helps.

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

By doing a great job! You’re only as good as the effect you have so you better get your shit together. Be focused on the company and client, not yourself. Know the audience, fluently. Understand how to capture the magic of how the company serves them. Build adaptive
systems rather than assets. Cherish the beauty and wonder of creativity. Craft it to death. Don’t settle for good. 

If you do the above, you are likely to get hired again. You also get recommended more. Plus you’re happier as the work will be better.

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

No. We’re an established company with clear systems, including payment structures. We don’t mess about. Neither do our clients.

I do advise designers who are independent or just starting out to get paid a percentage upfront and have a contract. Every time.

6. What does your typical work day look like?

I’m not hands on with projects, so I try to use my time to shape the agency. Meeting people is a big part of it, so I leave a lot of time open to do this. A large portion of which is developing prospective relationships to bring in work.

I’m very in the moment ideas wise, so I like pockets of time to think about what’s next. What I believe is important to keep us moving forward. So I create space and don’t let the day run me.

I surf work to feel the pulse of the studio.

Then I create proposals or feedback as needed.

The rest is actual meetings for key areas like sales, spotlights on work, hiring, studio,
financials etc.

I may also be writing a script for our film business.

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

Focus on the type of work you’d like to create. It is far easier to succeed if you know what
you want.

If you haven’t had the chance to create work you love, make it. Don’t ever moan you’ve not had a chance. Just get on and make it.

Meet people. A lot of them. Maybe not face to face at the moment, but short calls, video chats. The more people you connect with, the better.

Creativity is collaborative. Don’t be self-obsessed. Think about what others need and you’ll get more back than you can imagine.

Research places you’d like to work. The better your research, the more you’ll understand
your options.

Don’t worry about titles. They don’t matter if you’re not doing vital and rewarding work: chase the projects and the exciting ways of working.

People buy people. So the more natural, interesting and positive you are, the more you’ll connect. You don’t need to be overly gregarious. Just passionate.

Work hard. Really hard. People who get on put more time in. It’s no mystery. They just
push harder.

Overall: Create work you’re proud of, work the way that suits you and avoid doing anything just for money.

Simon Dixon is the Co-founder of DixonBaxi. A brand and design consultancy using creativity to design a better future. DixonBaxi worked with some of the world’s most iconic companies across sports, entertainment, media, new economy, technology, and beyond.

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Simon Dixon

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Interview published on: Dec 4, 2020

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