Freelance expertise can freshen up the formula

Freelancing used to be a rarity in design – and if you talk to small independent specialists known for their creativity, you still sense a strong suspicion of people not ‘of the faith’ being involved in creative projects.

But it is arguably the foundation of an industry that kicked off in the 1960s on the back of one-man-bands, particularly in graphics, and it has become a regular way of working for many a design group.

The advantages to consultancies are obvious. You bring in people with the right skills to work on a particular project, without having to commit to them the way you do full-time staff. Financial pundits such as Willott Kingston Smith partner Mandy Merron have long warned consultancies not to overstretch themselves on salary bills. This is one way to manage that expenditure.

And while recruitment agencies stress the need for a cultural fit of sorts between the freelance and the consultancy, freelances invariably bring a different point-of-view to the studio.

The freelance lifestyle meanwhile has its attractions, not least the opportunity to shop around different groups before settling in a full-time job. But, as product designer Mark Delaney cautions in our piece, college-leavers need to be wary of freelance and take a longer view of their careers. Not everyone will be as fortunate as Natasha Chetiyawardana, co-winner of the 2003 One Year On prize at graduate show New Designers, to find freelance work in New York with Karim Rashid.

But freelance is growing up. Two of our contributors, Delaney and Robin Richmond, have effectively run their own businesses, yet have worked freelance for a year partly to cast their nets around.

Meanwhile, one-time Woolworths and Tesco design head and founder of M&K Design Paul King worked last year with Elmwood chairman Jonathan Sands, informally but in a senior capacity, to help to get its Australian business on track, and is now lending retail expertise to Andy Scott’s branding group Vivid.

Add to these three examples ‘consultants’ such as former BAA design head Raymond Turner and arguably David Pocknell, who has a dual role at Conran Design Group and his small Essex studio (DW 20 January) and you begin to see a new breed of ‘freelances’ emerging.

Every freelance has the opportunity to spread a bit of magic dust from one placement to another, as much as they have to learn from the mix of cultures and projects they encounter. But the influence experienced folk such as King, Turner and Pocknell can bring to bear adds to the strength of the industry – and that surely provides a welcome confidence boost all round.

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