From the vibrant shores of Bangor, Northern Ireland, logo and identity designer David Airey gives us the lowdown about his work process, handling projects, and managing feedback as an aspect of his career. Author of two great design books, David’s bestseller Logo Design Love: A Guide to Creating Iconic Brand Identities, focuses on guiding designers on brand identity and is available in eleven languages. His second publication, Work For Money, Design For Love, provides advice and answers all the questions designers might have when it comes to starting their own brand of business.
In fact, the book was inspired by the many questions David receives from the more than half a million designers who visit his three blogs each month.
Describe your creative process. What are the steps?
The approach is always the same. I need to understand my client’s ambition. Why are they here? What makes them different? Who do they want to do business with? What do they want to say? From the answers come the ideas, and I find one of the best ways to record an idea is by using a pen or pencil.
Sketching has been an important part of my process since I began studying design.
The strongest ideas are digitised, with mockups created to show how an identity works in context. After presenting, feedback’s taken on board and potential tweaks or revisions are made until the best direction is reached.
Have you ever incorporated stock photos with your work?
In contextual mockups, sure. It’s better to have something original, but stock can sometimes save time and money if there isn’t the budget for custom photography.
What design software do you use?
Illustrator, Photoshop, InDesign, Acrobat. There are others here and there, but that’s mostly it.
What would you recommend for design newbies who can’t afford buying Adobe tools?
I’ve heard good things about Sketch as an Illustrator alternative.
Was there a time you received harsh criticism, and how did you handle it?
Criticism’s never harsh as long as it’s fair.
People mightn’t always choose their words in the most tactful way, but managing feedback is part of the job. It’s important to guide the client in how to best evaluate the strength of the work, keeping the focus on the design brief and what is ultimate aim is, rather than, for example, a personal preference for the colour purple, or choosing one serif typeface over another.
At the start of a project what questions do you ask?
Every question revolves around why the client is here.
What is the ultimate goal?
Even if the answers seem obvious through an existing client website, it can often help to ask again in person (or on the phone, as many of my clients are overseas). Website copy won’t necessarily be written by the people who lead an organisation, and getting things in their words can often uncover missing details that lead to the most enduring design idea.
Do you usually work solo or you collaborate with a team of copywriters, developers and project managers?
Most of the time I work independently, but now and again there’ll be a project when I collaborate with web specialists, either hired by my clients, or with talented people I bring on board.
Tell us about your experience working remotely. How do ensure you get things done efficiently?
I’ve worked remotely since starting my studio in 2005, so I’m well used to getting things done without someone telling me what to do. It’s a simple case of prioritising client work, then personal projects.
What do you do when you’re not designing?
I spend as much time as I can playing with my three-year-old daughter, teaching her about the world. And my son was born seven weeks ago, too. He’s coming along brilliantly. I visit my parents, older brother, and younger sister once or twice each week (they’re all within a half-hour drive which means everything).
When I’m not raising my kids, or with relatives and close friends, I’ll either be out for a run, in my makeshift gym in the garage, reading Nat Geo, maybe watching a film or documentary, or playing chess. And for a few minutes each day I’ll try practicing mindfulness to lower any worries I have about things that probably won’t happen. Not exactly a rock’n’roll lifestyle, but I know how lucky I am to have all that I do.
If you could take over the body of someone famous for a day, who would it be?
Randy Bresnik, currently on board the International Space Station. What an experience that’d be!
Do you listen to music while you work? What tunes do you jam to?
There are trees outside, so I sometimes just open the window and listen to birds. But I love music, and while I normally find it easiest to work to ambient, I’ll also listen to the likes of St Germain, Ben Harper, Portishead, Paul Simon, Pixies, Sigur Ros, London Grammar, so many more. Classical, jazz, soul. Although I’m not that keen on chart music. Too much regurgitation.
What’s the last thing you watched on TV?
An old Blue Planet episode. The new series starts this month. I’m sure it’ll be amazing.
How would you want others to describe you?
At least he gave it a go.
In five years, where do you see yourself as a designer?
Still doing what I do, only better.
I love my job.
All images used with permission © David Airey