CREATIVE CHAIR

David Airey – “design is a profession I’m incredibly fortunate to be a part of”

March, 2018

Creative Chair talks to identity guru and author David Airey

This week Creative Chair is in Bangor, Northern Ireland where we’re finding out more about David Airey and his career in graphic design.

As well as being an established graphic designer, David is also a keen blogger and the author of several books including Logo Design Love.

You can see more from David Airey on his website.

David Airey

How did you get to where you are today, professionally?

My first design-related job was in-house with Myeloma UK, a cancer charity in Edinburgh, taking responsibility for print design/buying and managing the website. I resigned after a couple of years, having saved enough money to go and see a bit of the world. When I returned, the design role hadn’t been filled, so I asked if I could work remotely for three days each week, invoicing for my time at the end of the month. That gave me the chance to start my business and work with other clients, too, and things carried on with Myeloma UK for about 18 months until they needed to hire someone full-time. The regular income was invaluable — as well as a few thousand pounds of savings.

As the months went on, potential clients began finding me through my website, and it didn’t take long to realise that designing logos and visual identities was what I most enjoyed, so I tailored my portfolio to show the work I wanted more of.

Wonder Years Symbol

Tenon Logo

Almost from the start, I published regular blog posts about design. A few years later, I got an email out of the blue from Nikki McDonald, who at the time was senior acquisitions editor at Peachpit, a publisher in the US. She asked if I’d work with them on a logo book. The result was Logo Design Love: A Guide to Creating Iconic Brand Identities. It did better than I could’ve imagined, selling more than 50,000 copies in English, since translated into 12 languages. That’s probably been a big help in attracting new clients (I know that some have bought a copy before hiring me).

WTC Signage

WTC Packaging

Alma Foil Stamp

What would really impress you in a student’s portfolio, what would you look for?

One of the good things about being a student is that you can generally push boundaries much further than you can when working with a client, so the outcomes don’t need to be wrapped in the same PSD mockups you see in a lot of portfolios. In fact, avoiding popular templates will only help to set you apart. Taking the time over your own physical mockups is worthwhile, and showing some behind-the-scenes — scans of sketches, experiments, discarded directions — gives an insight into your thinking. What you do in the middle of a project will often say much more than the end result.

Do you mainly focus on your book writing or do you still do a lot of client work?

At the minute I’m working on my third book, Identity Designed, in between a few projects with brilliant clients in California, New York, and Dubai.

ID Book Cover

Book projects don’t come around that often, so collaborating with clients is where most of my time’s spent. When I wrap up the current identities, I’ll probably focus solely on the book, then start taking on clients when it’s done.

After working in the industry for many years, how do you stay passionate about design?

Difficult to say. I’ve loved design for as long as I’ve been working, so even though my technical limitations can frustrate me from time to time, design is a profession I’m incredibly fortunate to be a part of.

DJ Turntable

Tunelinks Headphones

And finally, if you died and got reincarnated as a song, what would that song be?

Marconi Union — Weightless. Put on some headphones, turn it up, close your eyes, breath. Sometimes the best thing we can do is to slow down.

David Airey is the 120th Winner of our 366 Award.

This interview was requested and devised by work placement student George Adam.

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