David Sedgwick on running a lean studio, being nice and how the design industry can change for the better

We recently interviewed Manchester designer David Sedgwick on our magazine, Creative Boom. Hard-working and with a great reputation, not just locally, but worldwide, David doesn't just work for an impressive range of clients, he also finds time for side projects, such as the successful BCN:MCR exhibition or his Forever Manchestercollaboration with Stanley Chow.

A champion of other creatives in Manchester, and always one of those who happily puts people in touch with one another, David gives back just as much as he puts in – it's no wonder he's a popular chap. Here's an extract of our interview. You can read the full article on Creative Boom.

At what point did you decide to go solo, and how did you survive those initial years?

"I was getting married and wanted a really long honeymoon! This is kind of true, but really I’d worked for my last studio for about four years, perhaps a touch longer and I guess I fancied a bit of a new challenge.

"I learnt a lot at 999 Design, but I wanted to try and do my own thing. Like lots of designers I’d always worked on my own projects on the side to earn extra cash, so going solo was more of a transition than a major change.

"I wanted to fully concentrate on my own work and build up my own reputation. Firstly I freelanced in agencies for while. This was a real eye opener going into so many studios and working on loads of projects. I really enjoyed it and built up a network of friends and contacts. But I always felt slightly on the outside looking in. You never get to fully work on something from start to finish and you are essentially just a helping hand. I also knew that at any point I could be 'dropped', so to speak. It’s great fun being your own boss in this way, but it can also be very scary.

"I think at the start it was 75% freelancing and 25% my own clients. Slowly that shifted and now it’s 100% my own clients."

Manchester, like many UK cities, is a competitive playground – how do you find and win new clients?

"Over the past few years, I have tried my best not to just focus on Manchester clients but to work with businesses around the world. I’ve been pretty fortunate that I’ve not really had to do any cold calling or anything overly pushy, most work has kind of fallen my way. For that, I am very fortunate and never ever take anything for granted. I am constantly aware that things could dry up though.

"Like lots of other creatives, being self-aware is really important to me. I always look at other people's work and think, shit, I’m not very good! But I just feel really lucky to have been able to work on some cool stuff over the past few years. I think winning work mainly comes from doing as good a job as you can for everyone, then hopefully word of mouth starts to happen. I also get a fair bit from social media, which I think over the years has become more and more important when winning new clients."

You have a great reputation, not just in Manchester, but UK wide. How've you achieved that (apart from delivering great work)?

"Thank you. I don’t always feel that way, but it’s nice for you to say so. I think doing the best work you can do is really important. But also, and, maybe I don’t always succeed in this, by being a decent person who doesn’t try to bullshit or pretend to be someone they aren’t.

"The reality is that we are designers and although we have amazing jobs and do some really good things. We aren’t saving lives (in the same way as doctors or nurses) and we perhaps need to remember that sometimes. So a reputation for being a good designer is one thing but I’d prefer to have a reputation for being a decent human being at the end of the day. So I try as best I can to live like that. As I say, I may fail at times."

You run a lean studio. Have you deliberately avoided growing into a larger agency?

"As time has passed I’ve often felt the urge or had the need to grow. But as things stand right now, I am happy with the way things are. When certain work comes along I grow accordingly. It’s this flexibility that I like.

"I have spoken to lots of other agencies who started like me and then grew. Although they maybe wouldn’t necessarily change things, they admit that actually being a larger studio hasn’t made them any more money. It’s just meant they need to take on more work to cover all the extra salaries they need to pay.

"I admire lots of designers who work alone and continue to produce great design work. It’s not easy. I guess we are all doing the best we can."