I have known Leonie Witten for more than 15 years. She is an absolute gun graphic designer and we initially met when I became her client on a big web design job back in 2001. Since then we have worked on more than 20 design projects together and I am always blown away be her fabulous client service and seemingly endless creative energy. If you ever need a great designer, give her a hoi! Today she is sharing 10 things she knows about being her own boss and how being a self-employed graphic and website designer is really a dream career. Take it away Leonie!
1. I can satisfy my travel bug
I have been so lucky to be able to travel AND work at the same time. The great thing about being a designer is that all I need is my computer and an email system and I can set up shop. I started out working in Brisbane as a graphic designer doing print work, but these days I do mostly digital work, websites, apps, campaigns. I have lugged my computer far and wide in search of new travel experiences and challenging projects.
Since those early Brisbane days, I have lived and worked worldwide. From Sydney to Canada to Japan, then London to Sydney to Yamba and Nepal. And now I am back in Brisbane. Until the bug gets me again! My plan is to use Brisbane as a base and keep pursuing my travel dreams, travelling over the summer season in Australia when a lot of my clients are quiet over Christmas.
2. I’ve created my own destiny
I love to be able to tell people that I have had my own business for almost a decade. I have had stints working for agencies but I have always ended up back working for myself. I love to set my own pace, be able to choose the way I tackle a project and manage my clients. My goal always with any project is that I want to create the right experience for that brand at that time for their market.
3. I’m constantly learning
Being a designer I have worked for an incredible array of projects with a really diverse set of clients. From water to wine to the royal family to fashion I’ve got a pretty crazy general knowledge of the world. (If you ever need someone on your pub trivia team, I’m your girl!) I love that I am always learning. Every day I glean something new. That keeps me fresh and inspired.
4. I can work anytime and have flexible options
Sometimes life throws curveballs. In the last few years my mother has been quite ill and has needed care. I am in the fortunate position that with my flexible job I have been able to look after her and keep working. This has meant that at times I worked at various weird hours of the day and night. It hasn’t been easy but the great thing is that these options are available to me. I think that pursuing a career that enables you to have the lifestyle you want or need is the most wonderful thing.
5. Being client-focused keeps you ahead of the pack
In my line of work as a graphic designer, I have seen may changes over the last 20 years. When I started studying design at uni in Brisbane there were 35 people in my class! It was considered pretty obscure and more of a craft. Now everyone who has a computer and can call themselves a designer. Lots of people are doing it, but many are doing it very badly.
The thing is that people have high expectations when they are using a website, they expect that the ‘NEXT’ or ‘BUY NOW’ button is in the right spot. Proper graphic designers consider these sorts of user-experience issues and put energy into making the interface simple and functional.
I always design for my client and their users. I ask an immense amount of questions when taking a brief to make sure I understand the objective. Rather than being all “What’s cool this week?”, I am all about “What is needed by my client right now.”
6. I’ve done some really cool shit
So this one time…. I was working on a project (through an agency) which was to create a website for Prince Charles and his family. Yep I mean THE Prince Charles of the royal variety. We had to go and present at Clarence House (his official residence in London) and I FORGOT MY PASSPORT, which of course would have meant I wasn’t allowed in as they were tight on security as you can imagine. I had to race back home and grab it. I made it to the meeting with two minutes to spare. In the end we nailed the presentation of my design concepts, did the project and won two awards for our work.
I love being that mad Aussie bird in London kicking some really big career goals!
7. You alone are responsible for finding your ‘why’
Some days motivation and inspiration are lacking. Some days everything seems hard. The wonderful thing about working for yourself is that you have to learn how to be self-sufficient and to light your own fire.
What inspires me is to look at the amazing things that humans can come up with, inventions, original art, paintings, illustration. These things all started with a blank page and then it became something. WOW! When I’m struggling I think about that and I think, “If I can bring just one 50th of that, then I am doing something great.”
8. I can choose my clients
I love that I can decide which projects I take on or which ones I don’t. Not that I turn down many, but I could if I wanted to!
Saying that, I am very proud of the fact that in over 20 years of work there are only ever 2 clients I have parted ways with. Being my own boss has meant that I have had to learn how to have the tricky conversations and how to manage hard situations. This is the most fantastic skill. I know that in 99% of situations I can easily dissipate an emotive situation.
Sometimes the simplest thing you can do is to just ask someone “Hey, what is the problem?” and opening the communication channels will result in a great outcome.
9. You can’t be a prima donna
Unfortunately there are a lot of tetchy people out there in the world. If I was like that, my bills would never get paid! I truly believe there is no room in design for creative prima donnas.
You need to collaborate, work with your clients, understand what they are trying to achieve. That’s the way to make great projects happen.
10. It’s worth the hard work to get a dream career
When you put a lot of brain power into a project, you’ve looked at every possible detail and done many rounds of work and it has come together. That is great. When you then have some review of the project such as google analytics tell you it’s successful or you win an award, or your client gets great return-on-investment, well that is really bloody excellent. That’s when you know it’s worked, it’s not just creative wank that we do. That’s a good thing.
I have worked my arse off over the last 20 years. Looking back it has been so worth it, so rewarding and I am really proud to call myself a designer and a boss!
Need some graphic design work done? Check out Leonie’s portfolio.
Would you like to be your own boss? Or if you are, what do you love about it?