As a freelance graphic designer, it’s hard to not to feel ‘threatened’ by other people doing the same stuff as you. Maybe you see that a gig you had quoted for actually got snapped up by another designer, or that there is someone else niching in the same area as you.
Whatever the reason, we tend to naturally see other graphic designers as ‘the competition’, when in fact, there’s actually many wonderful reasons we should see them as a part of our community. And it just so happens that Natalie White, one of our Creative Launchpad community champions, recently shared with Olivia why she is passionate about fostering community over competition.
Embracing community over competition
One of Natalie’s very first Instagram posts many years ago was actually promoting the phrase of community over competition. As a huge believer that there is more than enough work to go around, Natalie knows that what she wants to get her hands on is not always the same as ‘Joe Bloggs’ next to her.
“There are so many different aspects and levels to graphic design, and we need to just embrace what we do. We don’t have to try and grab all of it! Social media has helped with breaking the world of design wide open, showcasing the many different ways to approach the industry - in a way we can all get involved and find our own space to exist.”
Why designers don’t have to see others ‘competition’
Looking back 10 to 15 years ago, Natalie says graphic design was a very secretive area, where no one knew what you were working on until you launched. However, these days she says you often see a lot more ‘work in progress’ as well as collaborations between designers. Which she loves!
“As a designer you might not like doing a particular thing, but love another part of it, so then you find someone you can work alongside, to complement each other’s skill set.”
And this is why Natalie wants people to let go of their insecurity that they are not going to get enough work, because there is always going to be someone out there who needs a business card or wants car signage, then suddenly you have their website too and you get referred on.
“I worked for 10 years with one other designer and we just did our own thing. I think it is also important to not get stuck in the mindset that you can only target where you live. I have clients at the bottom of the South Island, and even ones overseas.”
The ‘good’ that comes from competition
Natalie does think a degree of ‘competition’ is healthy, especially if it raises the bar of what graphic designers are doing and to also help individuals evolve as a designer. She likes seeing what other people are working on, especially overseas, as it helps her to adapt the way she does things.
“Seeing more designers pop up out there is a good way to help you continually ‘up your game’ and ensure you’re always learning. But it’s certainly not about rivalry.”
Channelling into a niche as a freelance designer
For Natalie, the term ‘to niche down’ doesn’t have to just be about a specific industry. She says it’s more about finding your style of work and the type of client you want to work with - and that is actually the beginning of discovering your niche.
“Many new designers want to work with everyone but then it can be hard to lock down what their style is, and as a customer, it’s important to have a general idea of what you’re going to get when you work with a designer.”
Natalie says that niching down in her own work has been about aligning values with a business, and having a style that can be translated across different industries.
Collaboration and community
Collaboration is powerful. And within the graphic designer community, it can offer plenty of opportunities. As a solo designer, many of us are working from home and aren’t in that collaborative office space, so you can’t ‘round table’ and talk about a project. This is why Natalie says it is great to be able to work alongside someone to ensure you don’t miss out on that part of the design process, where different people see different ways of getting the same result for a business or project.
“I think we all need to be braver to collaborate more. A lot of people are scared to reach out to someone else who does what we do. But there is always an opportunity to bounce ideas off another designer - having someone in your court even if you aren’t going to work with them!
“You might be stuck on colour, or need some fresh eyes on a design. Getting feedback about things you hadn’t even thought about can be really powerful.”
Natalie thinks we need to panic less that other designers are going to steal our client or run off with our work and instead embrace all the positives that can come from collaboration.
Kick imposter syndrome to the kerb
A lot of us suffer from imposter syndrome and can be scared to show other designers our work, but rest assured, we’re all feeling the same way. And the way that Natalie overcomes this is by focusing on her own work.
“Try not to be overstimulated by what you see out there. You have the skills, so dial out from distractions. Yes it is enjoyable to stumble across an artist that we feel inspired by, but if you’re feeling overwhelmed by scrolling - stop and take a break.
“We’re constantly inundated by imagery on a daily basis, so be aware of that and do your best to find the quiet sometimes.”
Her final thoughts on community over competition is that the online Rocketspark community is amazing (and we promise we didn’t pay her to say that!). She says because it isn’t constrained by geography, it means everyone is on hand to help virtually, and it genuinely feels like no one is competing against each other.