Freelancing 101 with Sarah Jackson RGD
From a six-month trip across the world to freelancing, Sarah Jackson RGD tells us about her journey as a freelance designer and more.
Sarah is a designer, illustrator, art director and speaker with over 10 years experience working on brands, ad campaigns, design, and illustration projects. Her work has won multiple awards (which serve briefly as excellent bragging rights, and longterm as adequate doorstops) and she has been featured in various magazines. Sarah stays engaged in her community through various projects, most recently the Top 40 Dogs of Edmonton. In the fall of 2018, Sarah received her Master of Design (MDes) from the University of Alberta and she now likes to stomp around proclaiming that she’s “basically Yoda”. Since 2018, she has taught in the design programs at both the University of Alberta and MacEwan University.
How did you get into freelancing?
I quit my job to go on a six-month trip across the world. When I came back, I got a few freelance clients and thought, “why not try to work for myself? The worst thing that can happen is that I have to go out and get a job”. I've been telling myself that every year since.
What does growth mean to you as a freelance designer?
I’ve never been interested in “growth” as an end game, in terms of having a big team or a big expensive office downtown. My end goal has always been to work on projects that creatively interest me. This has led me to have an atypical career whose threads are perhaps only tangentially connected to the design industry: for example, I’ve spent the past year performing across Europe (a longer story for another time) and in the fall I’m starting a PhD program in Performance Studies.
Can you share any advice for designers interested in freelancing?
If I can offer any advice from my own personal experience, it would be this: don’t limit yourself to one narrow definition of what it means to be a visual creative person. Design offers a broad spectrum of skills that can take you to any creative place your heart desires to explore. If it’s your shop, you get to make the rules for the kind of work you do!
What are some of the ways to get work and build a clientele as a freelance designer?
My number one piece of advice is to work on personal projects that you absolutely love and then prolifically share this work on every platform and channel you can.
Could you recommend a few resources for designers wanting to work independently?
I am obsessed with podcasts and working alone from home allows me to indulge daily! I would recommend:
- Design Matters with Debbie Millman (interviews design experts)
- WorkLife with Adam Grant (explores "the science of making work not suck")
- Creative Pep Talk (exactly what it sounds like, very peppy)
- You Are a Storyteller (would recommend for any creative person who tells stories through their work)
This might just be because I've been teaching Design Foundations over the past few years, but refreshing your knowledge of the fundamentals is such a great practice. Everything in design comes back to the fundamentals. Some places to start might be:
- Designing with Type: The Essential Guide to Typography by James Craig & Irene Korol Scala
- Graphic Design: The New Basics by Ellen Lupton and Jennifer Cole Phillip
- Managing the Design Process: : An Essential Manual for the Working Designer by Terry Stone
- Any reading or book on Colour Theory, Gestalt Theory, layout basics, etc.
From your experience, what do you think is one of the most important skills one must develop to successfully work as a freelance designer?
There are SO many overlapping skill sets required to be a freelance designer, but I think the top one seems simple—almost frivolous—but it is the one thing that has served me best. That skill is to be really excited about your work, about the projects you're taking on (and yes, I do think it's a skill you can develop, in terms of both developing your mindset and finding the right projects). This creates a positive snowball effect. Since you're excited about the project, you wake up energized to work on it (which helps you stay on schedule), eager to workshop with your team and motivated to get through the inevitable roadblocks that come up. The final snowball effect of working on projects you love is that they end up in your portfolio and it will inevitably lead to more projects that you love!
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