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Freelance or In-House? My Report from Interviewing Graphic Designer - Nicola Shepherd

As part of our Illustration course, we have conducted an interview with an industry professional who interests us. We interviewed Nicola Shepherd who has worked as both freelance and in-house graphic designer and illustrator.

I have heard from different illustrators at University about their experience of freelance, but it was useful to hear Nicola’s perspective of pros and cons compared to in-house work.

I had considered freelance as being very intense and taking a lot more time and effort because you have got to manage the business side of your career (finance, promotional work, contracts etc) as well as managing the creative side. So, in being a freelance illustrator, you’ve got to be your own small business.

Nicola Shepherd told us when she first started work she had found work through phoning different companies and word of mouth, networking which, to me, seems very time consuming. However, she has recently used an agency to get work – which I think I would prefer as it meant I can focus on my creative work. I would likely have to manage my self-promotion until I had developed a repertoire of work and get accepted by agencies.

Personally, I find that I work best individually, in a quiet environment. Nicola’s account of her experience of working freelance at home compared to in a studio environment changed my thoughts on which might suit me. I agree with her perspective that working in-house in a studio is a more creative and so supportive environment. This would likely generate different ideas than if I were to be freelance and work somewhere (e.g. at home) where everything is ‘ordinary’, whereas, due to different artists working in the same space, studios could influence my own working practise.

I hadn’t realised the short time scale that can be involved with in-house work. Nicola explained that she has short briefs of 1-3weeks, mostly 2 weeks. I think I would struggle to work like this as I like to have time to research and so better understand the subject matter. But Nicola has obviously had considerable experience working to this rate, so, for me too, it would just be a case of practise and knowing how to limit my developmental working process to be more efficient.

Before our interview with Nicola Shepherd, I had expected there to be a lot of collaboration between departments when working in-house. For example, one department doing illustrations and another typography. Especially in large companies like LEGO (who Nicola currently works for). However, she explained that she is in charge of text, imagery, layout etc and has only collaborated once when a deadline was too short and she needed more help to get it completed on time. This would require a broader range of skills for one role which is more than I had thought large companies hire for. I think that I would need to continue to practise using typography, layout etc skills so that I can be at a level in the future to compete for jobs in in-house design.

My opinion of freelance hasn’t changed much since hearing Nicola’s account, it has backed up my understanding that freelance is stressful and intense. However, it has given me the idea that I am suited to the more stable, predominantly “9-5”, in-house designer role. Although I am not sure on whether or not I would enjoy the studio environment, being in a creative space may give me more inspiration than working at home. However, she mentioned that, similarly to freelance, she can still be working until early the next morning to complete a brief. Personally, the idea of being under that amount of pressure on regular occasions (freelance) is daunting, so in-house sounds more appealing to me.

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