Shanti Sparrow is a New York City–based designer and illustrator from Australia whose award-winning work is vibrant, geometric, and confident. She recently shared with us a little more about what it takes to find your niche and make a name for yourself in the competitive and ever-changing world of design.
1. Focus on craftsmanship.
I would question in the first place whether making your work stand out should really be the goal. What sets good design and great design apart is craft in the detail. Something big and bold and splashy might get initial attention, but I think that as creatives, we zoom into those tiny details. If we see craft, we recognize it.
2. Design like a child.
I saw an amazing speaker and illustrator, Sandra Dieckmann, and she talked about going back into your childhood and looking at all the things you had drawn and painted as a child—the content and the style. I did that, and I noticed lots of patterns, so I tried to figure out how to do them as an adult.
3. Learn from others.
I have a secret weapon, which is that I am a teacher at a design school. I have new students every three months who are not biased by any trends or jaded by the industry. When you are around people who are so motivated to try to get into the industry that you’re making a living in, it reminds you that you’re quite lucky to be doing what you’re doing.
4. Design to your audience.
How your result looks should resemble your demographic. I’m a pretty firm believer that the visual result should answer the problem. It happens that I’m starting to attract jobs that reflect similar demographics, so my style has started to evolve from that.
5. Don’t let clients dictate your work.
A great client is one that chose me because they want to see what I can do with their brand as opposed to controlling the process. The worst relationships I have with clients are the ones who micromanage. You have to listen to what clients want, but if they start to take over, you have to sit down and have a conversation with them.
6. Apply for everything.
I started in 2009, and it was really a strange time because the global financial crisis was happening. I sent out hundreds of applications, just hoping to get something. I actually got my job because I applied for something I was not qualified for. I applied for a senior job, and, obviously, I wasn’t right for that one, but they had a junior job turn up a couple of weeks later and my resume just happened to be in a pile on their desk.
7. Learn your value.
I rethink my pricing model every six months, and I’m still not sure I’ve nailed it. I bring up a theoretical job and ask the client how much they’d charge, and their answers range from $5,000 to $30,000. It’s a wake-up call of not knowing our value as an industry. I love the tiered method: a basic package and an elaborate package. You can put out that number that you would have done the job for anyway as your tier 1, and then put that number that you’re almost scared to say as your tier 2. Sometimes they say that tier 2 immediately.
I don’t spend money on marketing at all; it’s all self-promoting. It’s like treating myself and my brand as a client and devoting time to properly doing it, including interviews like this.
This article originally appeared in the Spring/Summer 2019 issue of Sixtysix. Subscribe today.
As told to Ella Lee.