I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again the best thing about my job is that I get to cross paths with so many amazing people. This week I got to know Sheffield-based freelance Brand Creative, Rob Sullivan – Brand Mechanic, a little better, and I’m so glad I did.
You are clearly very passionate about what you do, it lights me up every time I read your Everyday People profile. How did you get to a place where you get to make a living doing what you love?
Well, it sort of became the default choice – I wasn’t much good academically at school and only really enjoyed a few subjects (English and Art) so it was an easy choice to pursue art and design. I went to college to study a general art and design course then onto Art college to study Graphic Design. I graduated in 96 and got my first job as a junior designer in December of that year. And that was where my career and real learning began…and I haven’t looked back!
You say your first client was a dream, why?
It was the ARIA Awards (Australian Recording Industry Association Awards) – imagine having a first client win to rebrand the BRIT Awards here in the UK! Well, that’s what the ARIA’s are in Australia. As a massive music fan, it was a dream project and one that opened a lot of doors. Getting to go on the red carpet and be amongst the glitz and glamour was very exciting (we sneaked back out so we could do the red carpet twice).
You redesigned Neighbours logotype (that’s some claim to fame) how did that come about? And a bit of a personal question, are you old enough to remember Scott and Charlene’s wedding?
I know totally random right? As someone of a certain age (and yes I do remember that wedding) – Neighbours was the show everybody watched … so fast forward 20 years and I’m sitting in the Neighbours’ production studio chatting to the CEO who asks if I want to have a crack at refreshing the logotype! It came about because after rebranding the ARIA Awards (The Australian version of the BRITS) the event producers best mate (aforementioned CEO) liked what we did and asked for an intro. I’ve noticed over the years that networking is very important and the old saying of “it’s who you know..” rings true!
You believe that the only way to visually represent a business is to understand its core DNA, how do you go about fully understanding a business?
By asking questions, lots of questions. You can’t represent an organisation if you don’t understand its purpose, personality, promise and market position. If you can lock those things down, then you’ve got a pretty good idea that you’ve got a sound strategic insight into how the visual interpretation can take shape.
You’re based in Sheffield, what local support is available for freelancers?
To be honest I haven’t really tapped into the local supporting network. There’s the Sheffield Creative Guild and Sheffield Digital which are good, but although I am based in Sheffield I tend to do work in other places too.
What three questions do you wish every client would ask?
That’s a tough one. Er, maybe: How can we help make this happen? Do you think this is achievable? Do you need a bigger budget?
An IPSE survey found that the self-employed are happier than employees. What makes you happy?
I’m not sure I’d agree with that survey. I think working with people who truly believe in what they’re doing be it in a freelance or permanent capacity is really important. I’ve done a lot of work in the education sector and have found that when people have a real belief and commitment in the positive outcomes, then that passion shows through in job satisfaction and happiness usually follows. Sure freelancers can choose to work in places more freely but that doesn’t necessarily make a happy freelancer.
Freelancing can be lonely, what do you do to overcome this?
Well I’ve got a wife, a 2 year old and a 4 year old, not forgetting Pumpkin the cat, so there’s always someone around for a chat at the home office (not saying I chat to the cat much of course) and when working on site then I’m immersed with the projects teams so loneliness doesn’t happen much at all.
Dale Carnegie said, “Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all.” What keeps you going?
Erm, I think trying to do great work is something that drives me. I’m a firm believer in that you’re only as good as your last job. So for me, it’s like an itch I need to scratch.
Which book/s have influenced your career?
The Brand Gap by Marty Neumeier – was a defining book about brands and how to articulate them. It was and is a brand bible for a lot of agencies. A Smile in the Mind – The first book I read which really emphasised that intelligence and humour can be a really powerful tool in the designers’ box of tricks! And lastly, Yes Logo – Michale Peters memoirs of designing in the 80’s and 90’s – is just a great read about the high’s and low’s that went with those times.
How do you keep your skills up-to-date?
I’m actually just trying to learn Sketch as I saw someone using it on the train and thought it looked like a program that a designer could intuitively pick up … let’s wait and see…
Do you outsource any of your work? If not what job would you love to hand over?
I outsource coding and that’s about it. If the need arises for other skill sets I can probably find someone!
What are your three top productivity tips?
Oh crikey, I guess keep actively looking for opportunities through existing networks in downtime, learning quicker ways to achieve the same results (could be as simple as tool palette layouts) and finally employ an accountant!
What advice would you give somebody about to start freelancing?
Have realistic expectations – don’t assume the work will come to you. You’ve got to knock on doors (literally). I spent my first 3 months upon returning to the UK going around the best agencies nearby and introducing myself. Don’t just rely on a good folio – agencies want to know about you and if you would fit in their studio culture.
Do you have a favourite communication/collaboration tool?
A cup of tea. The best communication can be done over a nice cuppa.
What question do you wish I’d asked?
What’s your claim to fame.
So you have another claim to fame other than the Neighbours gig?
Oh, I’ve got a few… I was once hit on the head by a golf ball struck by Bruce Forsythe. Doesn’t get better than that!