Why I’ll probably never work in an agency again

The word probably

The most used word in this brain dump is going to be ‘probably‘, I can tell you that right now. That’s even before I’ve fully thought how this is going to pan out. It’s something I’ve wanted to talk about for a while and obviously more about the reasons behind it.

I currently work at Codeworks, and don’t get me wrong it is brilliant. Working on such projects as Thinking Digital and the DIBI Web Conference is crazy good. I wake up every morning stoked that I have the opportunity to do it. It is hard work, my weeks feel more like days and there is always a to-do list but it’s exciting. I’m doing everything I want to do and then some. I’ll probably be doing this for some time as I do enjoy it that much.

Natural progression in my head stated that when I was freelance a few years ago I needed agency experience to see ‘the other side’. That agency was small in size and big in ambition and there were some great times but at the end of the day the agency wasn’t mine. My views and my way of doing things would never have been implemented and I would never have seen the outcome of how everything in my head would have worked live within an agency.

The opportunity to work within the agency on various projects was great but I never had the opportunity to run the agency like I would have liked to.

In an agency there are always more people involved in the company than you and certainly more than the thoughts going round inside of your head. When you’re freelance or working for yourself, every decision you make is down to you, you in essence are the control freak running everything. You don’t have to rely on other people, you don’t have to carry people and you don’t have to wait for things to be implemented. Everything happens right there and then as soon as you think of it when working for yourself. If you are working within an agency you probably never have the opportunity to implement things that you’d like, unless you’re the MD/CEO.

I now feel after having the experience of both sides of the coin that I need more control in that scenario. I probably need to relax somewhat but when you’re putting your working reputation on the line you certainly don’t want to have to rely on other people. If I was to work within an agency again, it would be small and it would be my own. I’d keep it very small working with people I’d trust my life with with the same amount of ambition and love for their work as I do, but again this may probably never happen as I’m enjoying myself far too much.

I wonder how many other people who have both been freelancer and agency employee think about this? Your thoughts would be great on the subject. Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter, 600+ other people do…

Morals in Design

Being a designer isn’t easy. I think any designer would say the same, at times the general day to day running of being a designer can leave you feeling happy, sad or ecstatic. I would say there is usually no happy medium of the good, bad and ugly times. Mood swings, clients and designers block can ruin a day yet sunshine, paid invoices and free flowing creativity can make some of the best working days you can have.

There are somethings that I stand by, in life and in work and these are morals. I would say I am a very moral person, possibly too moral to some people but it’s how I live my life to make sure I’m keeping on the straight and narrow. There are six specific morals or values if you want to call them that I stick to and below I explain why you should use some morals/values in design even if they’re not the same as my own.

Selfless Commitment

The design world is vast! I’d love to know how many people in the world classify themselves as designers whether it be graphic, web or product there are a lot of us. A value that I believe in quite strongly is selfless commitment, to put the industry and other designers before myself. I live for this industry, I love what all designers do and know how hard it is to get anywhere so whenever people ask something of me then I’ll do my best to help other designers out where I can.


Courage, we designers sure do need a lot of it. At times we need courage to get out of bed and answer emails never mind when it comes to getting feedback and presenting designs to clients. We also need the courage to stand up for what is right in our industry, to stand against spec work and put value back in what we do instead of pushing design auctions where the value of design is so low. We designers need the courage to do the right thing, day in day out.


We should stand up and be counted and show that we have the discipline to stay within one of the best industries in the world. Self-discipline is the best form of discipline and if we stick to this and our own personal high standards then we will gain the respect of our clients and peers. Stick to doing things right always and have the discipline to do so.


Integrity means being honest. Don’t cheat, lie and steal another designers work. If you’re inspired by it and want to use elements of it, ask the designer as you would probably be surprised about the answer you receive. All it takes is a little bit of respect and a lot of back-bone to stand up and be counted and having some integrity.


What goes around, comes around. You wouldn’t cause trouble on your own doorstep now would you? Help people out, there are A LOT of people in our industry who are just starting out and need that helping hand to get them on their way. Be kind to one another and believe me, in time something will happen where you remember that time you were loyal to your own and gave that aid to someone who needed it.

Respect for Others

We deserve to be treated fairly and it starts within. We should have respect for everyone including our clients. We should not determine that some people should be treated differently because they’re not ‘one of us’, we should treat everyone as we would like to be treat yourself.

What other designers stand by?

Aaron IrizarryAaron Irizarry

What moral’s or values do you stand by in your work?

1) Honesty… always (even when it can mean less for me)

2) Make myself better, by making my teammates better first(when working in a team environment)

3) Family first… no point in making all kinds of money only to end up with no one to spend it with.

4) Give the benefit of the doubt as much as I would want it.( even when it is the last thing I want to do)

5) Don’t suck at Life

Liam McKay

The main morals and values I stand by are those that ensure I’m free to do what what I know works in each project. Ensuring that a client isn’t going to take advantage, or overlook your input. A certain amount of freedom and creativeness is essential for any project I work on. I try, as much as I can, to give myself a new challenge with every new project. I’m always trying things I’ve not tried before, whether they work or not. Working with a client that respects your role and gives you room for experimentation is what we all hope for with each new client, but there are exceptions and varying levels of freedom. I try not to get involved in projects where I feel that I won’t be given the time of day to explain, educate or put my point across. You don’t need to take on every project that get’s put through to you. For me it’s all about ensure that you get the respect you need, and if you’re not feeling that from a client you don’t need to sacrifice your own integrity and personality just to please them.

Elliot Jay Stocks

I have some morals and values I always keep in mind when deciding what work to take on or turn away. I’ve actually turned away a number of high-paying projects because I want to stay true to my own personal beliefs. For instance, I turn away any work for religious organisations. And of course I’m always cautious about projects that may discriminate or harm certain groups of people. I think that goes without saying.

Ryan Downie

The morals and values that I stand by is to be totally transparent with my work and clients. I personally cannot stand people who fabricate the truth, so I am totally honest and upfront with clients straight off the bat.

Your thoughts?

I’m interested to hear your thoughts on the subject! Don’t forget to follow me on twitter.

Good money in design?

Good money? Good question, and one that I received recently from a friend who wanted to know whether there was good money in design. The conversation went like the below;

Is there good money in design as I’m fed up wtih my job and want a change?

I replied;

I didn’t think you were in to design?

Which they replied;

Well I dabble a bit so thought it would be good if the money was in it.

This really struck a nerve. Not in a bad way, Drew and I get on really well, and I know his current job situation but more because there is obviously a perception that you can jump in to a career in design on a whim because you may ‘dabble’ in design.

Let’s get over using the word design for a moment and concentrate on the creative industry on a whole. Creativity isn’t something you can dabble in, either you’ve got it or you don’t. Granted you can be creative in different ways but I firmly believe it’s certainly something that is ingrained in your blood from the first time you threw paint at an easel with paint brush to the time you sent your last design to a client for approval. Creativity is there from when you are born and throughout your entire life. You will hone your skills to make sure you can produce the design you’ve been wanting to create.

Is it about the money?

Everyone has to pay their way and everyone has to live. Unfortunately for the world, designers and creatives cannot be paid with boxes of chocolates and jammie dodgers no matter how often we are sent them. We do need money, but is money the only thing we want? Me personally, I’d like to be paid for my time. We don’t learn our skills over night and it can take years and years to get to where we are now and we should be paid accordingly. With any job in the world there are levels to how much we get paid depending on our skill sets and ‘time served’ in a career.

Do we design for money? Do we design to see our clients smile? Do we design to see the users using our design smile? Do we design to stroke our own egos? It would be interesting to see a ratio of how many designers design because they live it rather than it being just for the money. Our jobs aren’t like working in a retail industry where you go to work in shifts, do your hours and go home. We designers can end up working silly hours just because we enjoy what we’re doing.

It’s hard putting an ‘amount’ on it

It’s hard working out how much to charge for something you love doing but it has to be done. We can’t work for nothing and I’d like to think that we do not design just for the money. Yes you can make a good living from design, but it takes a huge amount of effort and a massive amount of creative skill to get to where you are comfortable financially.

I’d also hope that some people do not join the creative industry just for the money, especially when they’re not creative in the first place. Love what you do, do it because you would do it anyway and get paid for the privilege.

Do I regret?

A little while ago I wrote about “starting your at entrepreneurship” and how at a young age I wrote my own business plan for a few ideas I had. The content also contained a description of something which happened over Christmas that I was really impressed by.

The content seemed to gain a little interest and Ashley Baxter posted the comment below;

I don’t think it’s wrong for young people to be entrepreneurs, and I definitely don’t think it’s generally seen that way? Look at The Prince’s Trust charity; they are actively encouraging and funding youngsters to get into business. It was likely a few small minded adults who looked at you oddly, but I very much doubt people think it’s wrong. Sure, these kids are so few and far between that they can’t help but be seen as ‘different’, especially as kids are more so inclined to have fun than dedicate their time and energy into a profitable business (even though that is fun).

Your last paragraph says you shouldn’t hold back if you have a great idea. I couldn’t agree more myself and think too many people sit on their ideas, but do you ever regret not giving any of your early ideas a whirl?

I’d like to thank Ash for her comment, I wanted to reply straight away but then wanted to take some time away and taken her comment in to consideration and possibly reply later when had thought more about it. After much deliberation I thought it would be better to actually write a new post as to why I did/did not follow any of my ideas along the way of my youth.

Never hold it back

Like I said in my previous post, it’s definitely not wrong for a young person to be an entrepreneur or have the ideas to enable them becoming one. I think it would be defeatist to restrict an entrepreneur whether young or old. It’s something that is in ones blood and should be left alone. One hundred ideas could go wrong and one could go right and of course it could only take one idea to make someone a very comfortable lifestyle for the future.

I do believe, just like Ashley, that many people hold back on their ideas instead of taking them forward. More so because of their fear of risk. Risk can be looked upon in many ways, however, I believe in most cases it would either be the fear of failure or financial instability that stops entrepreneurial ideas from taking places. You can look upon risk in another way and view it as the difference to either making a decision or not… I wonder how many entrepreneurs have thought “what if…” long after they held back on taking an idea forward.


I have a lot of regret and it’s something that I think about quite a lot. I generally come up with crazy ideas quite often, of which I’m working on one at the moment. Looking back at my previous post about the business plans I wrote then I was 15, the idea would have needed to start almost immediately as at the time there was a surge of broadband connectivity throughout the country and it would have only lasted for 2 years. In that 2 years had I made any money I would have more than likely invested it in something else. That particular time of my life when I wrote them wasn’t the part I have regret about, I thoroughly enjoyed sitting with my Dad learning about cash-flows, targets and foot-fall. I do believe in fate and that everything happens or doesn’t happen for a reason, had I produced those businesses I might not be where I am today enjoying everything I am doing.

The only area of my youth that I regret giving up on is nVmax, the two and a half years that Andrew and I spent on creating the community based around nVmax was amazing. I’ve never been able to really put in to words what it was like maintaining a site of such size, working with all of the gaming companies to receive preview and review material (hardware, software and games). Back then, 2001 to 2003 we were getting serious amounts of traffic and had we taken it further we may have been able to make something of it. When we were working on it there wasn’t as much revenue involved in advertising online that we knew of, however looking back on it now I think we would have been more than comfortable had we carried on.

That is as far as the regret goes, whilst I miss nVmax a lot as it did take up much of my life whilst I was working on it, it did give me such a lot of experience for what I now do everyday. I am more than sure that the experience I gained through working on nVmax all those years ago has enabled me to succeed in the things I’m working on now.

In essence I regret giving up because of what could have happened, however I don’t regret getting the experience. That experience has helped me out in more ways than I’ll ever realise.

Starting young at Entrepreneurship

Entrepreneurship is described by dictionary.com as being;

a person who organizes and manages any enterprise, esp. a business, usually with considerable initiative and risk.

I was 15 when I wrote my first mini business plan. It was before the big boom of internet cafes and well before fast broadband lines were plumbed in to houses up and down the country. My business plan was scribbled down on two sheets of A4 with an attached profit/loss and growth analysis sheet. I sat with my Dad on a sunny afternoon in Exeter whilst we were on a summer break, scribbling down an idea of setting up an internet cafe with the extension of it actually providing food to increase the turnover. I worked out roughly how much people would pay to use the service and on average how much they would spend on Food/Drink whilst they were there.

I also had the idea of setting up a roaming LAN Party company, where I would tour the country visiting major cities and bringing the PC Gaming community in to one large hall for a gaming competition. I looked in to the kind of sponsors to approach, how much it could cost to setup an event, how much to charge entrants, the likelihood of being able to sell food/drinks on site etc

It’s not usually normal for a 15 year old to write business plans, which showed when I told people about it and they’ve given me funny looks and said that I should have been out playing football or some other youthful past-time. Even though both ideas never came to fruition, I still felt that at the time they could have worked. I’ve always wanted to make money from a very young age, I’ve always had an interest in business and I’m not really sure where it came from. I do however believe that entrepreneurship is something that is instilled within our genes, just like being creative.

It’s not a bad thing…

If you look at a list of top entrepreneurs, the people involved generally started making their businesses and money well before they were 30. Most 30 year old people haven’t even achieved a management role with their companies at that age yet, young entrepreneurs who have created their idea in to a business have often started making serious cash.

The question is, why is it so wrong for young people to be entrepreneurs? Would it really be beneficial for them to have more of a ‘life’ and be more child-like by playing football/rugby on a Saturday instead of scheming away on their new business idea? Should adults hold back the thought process because they think it is wrong?

Making £2 per pathway

During the Christmas break, we saw about 12 inches of snow fall over a weeks period and our entire street came to an absolute standstill. Under the snow there lay at least an inch or so of solid ice which showed no signs of defrosting because of how cold it was. There was no movement from cars let alone anyone wishing to gamble on the ice covered pathways. One Sunday morning there was a knock at the door, living in a quiet street it’s usually odd for us to get visitors when we’re not expecting them. On opening the door there were two young guys, about 14/15 years old holding shovels and brushes.

They came up with the idea of helping everyone to get mobile by clearing the pathways of ice and were charging £2 a garden path. Genius! They must have cleared around 60 houses that day giving them £60 each for a few hours work. I couldn’t help but be impressed that they had used their own initiative to make some extra money from the bad weather.

Whilst this was a very small show of entrepreneurship, they still went out to make money from something that hadn’t been done in the estate at that time. Who knows if they have another idea of making money for something else but I certainly don’t think they should be restricted in their endeavors. Who knows whether a £2 pathway could turn in to a £2 million business in ten years time.

Never hold back…

I just wanted to say that you should never hold back if you think you have a great idea. Give it a whirl, if it doesn’t work out then you’ve just acquired one of the best things in life. Experience.

In Google We Trust

We don’t know how the Google algorithm works, yet we trust it to deliver results which are best for us!? Erm hang on a minute… Millions and millions of searches must go through the various international Google websites daily. Google presents us with websites in a specific order which they deem substantially correct for the keyword search that we enter. They also present us with paid results which advertisers pay Google to present the average Joe.

The internet is full of users who I would put in a ‘general’ category, you know, the majority of people who ‘use’ the internet to buy the odd thing, check out facebook far too much, read the news etc. This general category don’t particularly understand why things work the way they do, or why things look a certain way they just expect it to be ‘just like that’. They’re the category that believe Google are doing their best for them, that they’re delivering the results they want.

What if they’re not? Has anyone questioned it?

We trust Google to deliver results which are definitely what we’re looking for. This after all is one of the reasons that made it the biggest search engine in the world today. Do we really know that in those 10 links on the first page of results, the result you’re definitely looking for is there? How do you know that it’s not in fact on page 53?

It’s a strange question of course, but one that we’ve never queried as we expect them to be doing everything right. Surely Google wouldn’t be pulling the wool over our eyes, right? I’ll leave this open for discussion.

What Milking a Cow can teach us about a Design Process

A design process is just that, it’s a process. You start at the beginning, work through and end up with a finished product, whether you’re working on a website design or logo design. Most designers have different processes which they work to during a project, a process which works well for them so they can get the job done in the easiest and most inspiring way as possible.

Designers can learn a lot about a design process from milking a cow. I know, I know you’re saying “pull the udder one” but we really can. Everything involved in milking a cow can teach us something.

The Short Stool – (A comfortable inspiring place)

The short wooden stool lies at the heart of the process, enabling the ‘milker’ to be in the best place for the job, at the correct height to use his tools and achieve his goals. Just like a ‘milker’, we designers need to be in our creative zone when doing our job. The short stool for a designer is that office, desk or coffee shop where we start our process. It is that one place where we should start our journey where we feel most inspired and comfortable to do our job to the best of our ability. Don’t forget that you also need to be ergonomically correct and take plenty of breaks during the design process so you don’t strain your eyes or hurt your back.

The Pail (Tools)

The Pail or milking bucket is the one thing used to collect the milk, it’s one of the only tools involved in milking a cow. It needs to be big and strong enough to hold the amount of milk that you need. For a designer, the pail represents the tools needed to do the job, whether it’s an iMac, Moleskin or pencil and paper. If we don’t have what we need then the process is already broken. Make sure before any design process that you have everything that you need, there is nothing worse than getting so far and having to stop because of an unnecessary interruption.

Your Hands  (The Work)

The teets aren’t going to pull themselves and your hands need to be clean and warm so as to not shock the cow. You’re not exactly going to pull any teets during your design process but you will be using your hands a lot. No matter what kind of design you are putting together you need to find out what things need to take place during a specific process. Many logo designers have a design process that works and these can be suitably changed for other designs. Once you figure out what works best for you, every job you take on thereafter will be ten times easier. Take good care of your hands, and your hands will take good care of you and so will your work.

Be Gentle (The Client Communication)

As you’re pulling the teets you need to be aware that any one pull could make the cow uncomfortable. You have to be firm but fair with your cow to get the best out of it. The love and care that you show your cow is well represented in a design process. It appears as the communication elements of your process, be careful not to call your client a cow as it could bring unintended offence and loss of earnings however you should be aware that in any design process the communication between the client and yourself is paramount. Both the client and the designer need to understand what is to be achieved during the process and in what way payment is going to be transferred at what time.

The Milk (The Finished Product)

Ah creamy goodness! Just what the client ordered! When the ‘milker’ sat down on that small wooden stool, this is what he was aiming for. Even though the ‘milker’ sat for hours on the stool and filled the pail with milk with those warm hands making sure they were gentle throughout the process, they still had to make sure they knew how the milk would be made ready for consumption. In a designers process, they must make sure that all files are prepared correctly for use and are sent to the client in whichever format they require. This will not only increase the relationship between the client and yourself but will possibly increase the amount of opportunities you have in the future.

We as designers have a lot to thank cows for, their entire milking process can teach us more about design processes than we would have ever thought.