Creative Lives — Freelance Graphic Designer Craig Jackson
Having clocked up ten years of industry experience across graphics, art direction and digital design, freelancer Craig Jackson knows most of London’s top studios from the inside. He’s stepped into the breach at Studio Moross, Google Creative Labs, Apple and DesignStudio, working for clients like Airbnb, BlackBerry, Barclays, Gumtree, HSBC, Ford and Natwest. Craig also art directed Flamingo Magazine, which celebrated arts and culture in the capital while commissioning some of the country’s best illustrators. From early beginnings in a small Yorkshire village to applying for jobs with handwritten letters, he talks us through his journey so far.
Freelance Graphic Designer
AirBnb, Alitalia, AlphaTauri, BBC, BlackBerry, Barclays, HSBC, Ford, Kodak, Natwest and Westminster Abbey
Freelance Senior Designer: Wolff Olins, Google, Assembly, Koto, Apple, Studio Moross, DesignStudio, Moving Brands, Anyways, Landor, Ogilvy (2013–present)
Designer, Art Director and Publisher: Flamingo Magazine (2011–14)
Designer, Design by Structure (2006–2012)
BA Graphic Design, Cumbria Institute of the Arts (2002–2005)
Higher National Diploma in Graphic Design, Cumbria Institute of the Arts (1999–2001)
Craig; photography by oliviandan.com
How would you describe what you do?
I am a digital graphic designer with a traditional graphic designer’s way of thinking. Generally I will operate as part of a bigger team working on the design of a new website, from visual design through to UX, depending on what kind of project the studio is working on. An ideal day would be the first phase of a new project when all the initial ideas are coming together.
What does a typical working day look like?
Generally I work an eight hour day with flexibility to work around the client’s needs in the run up to project completion. I freelance for agencies of varying sizes, from the larger, more corporate through to smaller independent agencies. I get to experience different ways of working and cultures across major projects within the lifestyle, banking, technology, aviation, cultural and private equity sectors. My role is to provide digital visual design and UX structure to projects where studios don’t have the resource for in-house.
How does your freelance work usually come about?
Fifty percent of my work comes through agency Represent, which I have used since turning freelance in 2012. The rest comes through word of mouth and recommendations from people I have worked with along the way, who have passed my details on to creative directors. Launching my new website recently has definitely brought in a lot more interest, as has being featured on the likes of Hover States, The Gallery and Type Wolf. A nice mix of agency experience and a client list definitely helps me get a foot in the door.
Where does the majority of your work take place?
The majority of the time I work at an agency’s studio as I prefer to have the interaction with the project team. However, having periods away from the computer are beneficial to the early stages of any project.
How collaborative is your work? I usually work collaboratively with a creative director, strategy director and project manager, along with other members of the design team from junior to senior brand designers, UX consultants and copywriters.
“I can be working on a website for a private equity company one month and a fashion brand the next. Not one project is the same and that is what I love about this industry.”
Work for Logitech with DesignStudio, 2015
Work for Guevara app with DesignStudio, 2015
Work for Village with Studio Moross, 2016
What are the most and least enjoyable aspects of your job?
I love meeting new people and sampling different studio environments and their ways of working, it’s also nice to discover different areas of London. It’s enjoyable working on projects month by month with different sectors – I can be working on a website for a private equity company one month and a fashion brand the next. Not one project is the same and that is what I love about this industry. The least enjoyable part is working in Photoshop and Powerpoint. I’m an organised person so my stress levels are generally low, as I'm aware of agency and client expectations ahead of the project.
What has been the most exciting project of the last twelve months?
Freelancing at Apple on the company’s collaboration with Product RED for World Aid’s Day was a unique experience and a project that I was proud to be part of. Working with so many experts in the field from the UK and US was a great opportunity to be part of a larger global team.
What skills are essential to your job?
Open-mindedness when approaching a brief, confidence in your design ability, problem solving under pressure and the ability to communicate with your team.
What tools do you use most for your work?
A MacBook Pro Retina 15”, Apple Thunderbolt Display 27”, iPhone 7 and a Leica C camera. For all website design projects I use Sketch and InVision for prototypes, for branding and editorial projects I use Indesign and Illustrator. For everyday apps I use Slack, Google Docs, Mail and Calendar, Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter. My current notebook of choice is a Grid Diary ‘Bible Paper’ Notebook and Paper Mate Flair Original pen.
Work for BlackBerry with Structure design agency, 2008
Work for BlackBerry with Structure design agency, 2008
How I Got Here
What did you want to be growing up?
Growing up in a small village in Yorkshire, football was a big influence on me, however my grandfather was an artist and inspired me towards a more creative route.
How is the subject you studied useful to your current role?
Studying graphic design helped hugely – the course covered a broad variety of design, from art history to photography and illustration, rather than concentrating on a particular medium. This stood me in good stead for the future.
What were your first jobs?
My first job was at a design agency called Structure in London. I started out as a junior graphic designer on a month’s trial, and then I ended up staying for six years. While working there, I learnt everything from the ground up, from general studio basics and studio etiquette, to client management and the ability to take a project from brief to delivery.
Was there anything in particular that helped you at the start of your career?
After leaving university my goal was to pursue a role in London. Frequent contact with agencies followed, found in the likes of Design Week and Creative Review. I would email covering letters along with my CV and a PDF of my portfolio, from time to time I would also write letters as this was at a time when graduates didn’t have websites showing off their skills.
“Be nice to people and work hard. Make lots of tea, never turn down going to the pub for a pint and always ask around to see if there is anything you can do to help.”
Was there an early project that helped with your development?
Working with Westminster Abbey to produce all their material for upcoming events they held along with the annual reports and website work definitely helped. Every week there would be new posters to design. The level of detail required has stood me in good stead to this day.
What skills have you learnt along the way?
The core skills still remain the same, yet I’m continually learning new ones every day. I’ve started learning the coding side of things; it’s something I’d like to know more about as it seems more and more designers have this in their armoury. I have enrolled on SuperHi’s next HTML and CSS course.
What’s been your biggest challenge?
Going from full-time employment to freelance. It takes time to build up your contact list and I literally had to start again and build things up from scratch. Having a good agent definitely helps. The hardest part for me is deciding on what project to take on next. I can get offered up to four projects at any one time. Everything from studio location, the project in hand and length of contract play a part in the decision of where to go next.
Flamingo Magazine, 2011–13
Flamingo Magazine, 2011–13
Craig’s final university project, 2005
Early poster work for Westminster Abbey, 2007–11
Work for a D&AD student brief for Greenpeace, 2003
What would you like to do next?
A long-term goal would be to set up my own studio but I’m currently happy to continue working with the best talent at London’s leading agencies.
Could you do this job forever?
In its current form I’d like to think so. The core part of the role essentially stays the same, however with the rise of new technology, certain elements are constantly evolving. I have yet to design an interface for a virtual-reality app but I don’t think it’s far away.
What is the natural career progression for someone in your current role?
A natural progression for full-time designers would be to move on to design director and creative director roles. For freelancers it varies as there aren’t the same opportunities. This inevitably leads many to set up their own studios.
Words of Wisdom
What advice would you give to a young creative wanting to become a graphic designer?
Be nice to people and work hard. Make lots of tea, never turn down going to the pub for a pint and, when you experience down-time at work, always ask around to see if there is anything you can do to help your colleagues or use your time to learn to software. Keeping in contact with the people you meet is vital when starting out, as you never know when your paths will cross again.