Creative Talk with Ben James
This month we talk with Ben James, who is an experienced and versatile designer, currently enjoying his time as a freelancer. We ask Ben what he enjoys as a freelancer, his flexible skillset and why he is in demand.
Tell us about how you became a designer
Initially my passion for design and creativity came from a combination of an amazing high school art teacher and being an avid snowboarder / skater, which was all about who can have the best and most exclusive arrangement of brand stickers on your board, car, basically everything!
Being sponsored ignited my passion for brands and understanding and representing them fiercely. Logos were my first love and after doing strictly art and design classes at high school, the natural progression was to enrol in university and complete a Bachelor of Visual Communication.
Why freelance - did you fall into it, or make a conscious decision to become a full-time freelancer?
I didn’t choose the freelance life, the freelance life chose me! I’d say I fell into it, but with a guiding push from the amazing team at The Creative Store, who always found roles that were very much suited to my skillset. With that being said, I quickly realised the most effective way to approach freelance work; and have been enjoying the flexibility and freedom that comes with it ever since.
Your skillset straddles print, digital and motion very nicely – do you have a preference?
I spent a lot of time in my early career working in traditional print advertising agencies and while I love print briefs, I’m very conscious of the rise of and subsequent domination of digital, which nowadays is where the onus lies for most clients. In my opinion, having a solid understanding of as many areas as possible allows you to be versatile with creative and choose effective channels based on the brief.
Do you have a favourite tool / app / design programme of choice?
I’m really enjoying Edge Animate at the moment for animated banners. I’d say if I had to be marooned on a desert island and was only allowed one programme, it would have to be glorious InDesign. Its functionality is incredible, and I find it such an effective tool. With that being said my first love with adobe was Photoshop, but over the years I have come to enjoy vector based platforms over pixels. I still love PS though and use it often. I think being able to harmoniously deploy the big three (PS, AI, INDD) is the key to a successful career in design.
A fantastic question. I think being involved in the identity creation for the Olympics would be a dream project for obvious reasons. The calibre and historical significance of such an identity would be incredibly powerful and would require a truly stellar performance. Being able to sit back and see the collaborative work on the world stage would be very humbling indeed.
Is design part of your ‘non-working’ life?
Absolutely! Over the years design has merged into most parts of my life. Designers develop mild to severe OCD from fussing over space and page elements all the time. One cannot step out of the door without seeing design everywhere and subsequently being disappointed in poor design, or excited to see effective, beautiful work. My home is curated with design in mind at all times, as are my clothes, rings, hats, shoes – all must co-ordinate and work together harmoniously just like the communications I work on. I particularly enjoy seeing design in nature, in the form of sacred geometry and fractal patterns, which is one of the most amazing parts of life to me. The golden ratio directly influences functional design and some of the biggest brands base their logo on this system. Needless to say my investment in indoor plants has become a bit of an issue, but being a ‘junglist’ at heart, I treat it like a client that wants to add a significant amount of content to an already full page – somehow you just have to make space!
What are the pros and cons of being a freelancer?
There are many pros to being a freelancer, the variety of work and people is one of the biggest positives, as are the experiences and skills you pick up along the way. I have worked alongside some truly stunning creative teams that have been an integral part of my career development. The con of course is that you inevitably have to part ways and move on to the next placement.
Freelancing at different locations often can be a bit like starting your first day somewhere over and over again.
Are you quite picky with the assignments you will do?
I would say my approach to potential assignments is an honest one. I’m fundamentally grateful for the opportunities, so I would generally only decline a placement if I felt like I would not be a suitable candidate for the role.
Have you had any disastrous moments?
Disastrous moments are an inevitability in design, but how you handle them will determine the outcome. Personally, I always find it slightly disastrous when the client wants to add double the content to an already jam packed document, or when a client persistently insists on using a 175kb jpeg for a 6x3m billboard. It was pretty disastrous having to dispatch 100+ files for print with a NZDM awards hangover though!
What about euphoric moments?
I find the most euphoric moments are when you bid farewell to the marketing team after completing a successful assignment. Freelancing is such an amazing way to diversify and interact with an ever changing pool of talent, and to do leave a wholly positive lasting impression is of paramount importance.
What advice would you give to other designers thinking of making the move to full time freelance?
I would recommend delving into freelance once you are comfortable with your level of experience. One day you could be asked to work on something relatively simple and generic, and the next you could be pre-pressing a 2000 page document with a tight deadline. If you feel like you’re ready and able to perform across platform, I would advise to heavily invest your time and energy into creating an outstanding portfolio and adhere to the time old “less is more” mantra.
I would like to thank the amazing The Creative Store team for gifting me the opportunity to be involved in this edition of the Creative Talk. As freelancers, our job is to represent our representatives with consistent results, and performances that garner positive feedback and extended contracts.