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Q: What are some resources for self-taught designers to improve our craft? What tools are the best for starting a freelance business?

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A little over ten years ago, I quit my job at AT&T and started my own design studio called Lunch. Since then, I’ve worked with hundreds of clients all over the world from Fortune 500 companies to small businesses from solopreneurs, and have gotten to work on some truly great projects. But if there’s one thing I’ve found which potential clients have in common, it’s this: sometimes, they really have no idea how to hire a designer.

While I don’t run my design studio anymore, I do still hire designers and other creative, talented individuals for projects from time to time. So whether you’ve hired a designer before or you’re looking for one and don’t know where to start, I’ve got you covered. I’m going to give you some tips on what to do and what not to do when it comes to hiring a designer. (And for you designers reading this, hopefully these tips may give you some insight into leveraging difficult client interactions so you can close the deal.)

Let’s get into it, shall we?

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In the early 1990s, a number of Black design professionals came together to create the Organization of Black Designers (OBD). It was intended to be a counter to AIGA—to create a design community specifically for and by Black professionals in the fields of graphic design, interior design, architecture, urban planning, fashion design, advertising, transportation design, and product design.

At one point, OBD claimed to have membership in the thousands, but OBD today seems like a shell of its former self. According to it’s official Wikipedia page, OBD has 8,700 members; 3,500 hundred of those being professional designers. One tweet from their official Twitter account even claims it reaches 25,000 members. But even still there is little recent activity on their official site. Their most recent blog post is from 2016.

I first learned of the organization in 2004 as a college student when I attended my first and only portfolio review and networking event called DesigNation. I came away from the event with mixed feelings. On one hand, I met my longtime mentor Lorenzo Wilkins. But on the other hand, DesigNation provided the worst professional advice I had ever heard. During an opening panel discussion, a Black design professional told a room full of hopeful young talent that nothing is beneath them. I ignored that advice, and fourteen years later my career is better because of it. Despite all that, I still root for OBD.

Ever since then, I wanted to learn more about the organization. Who were its founders? How were events planned both then and now? Who did the branding? And unlike its contemporary peer AIGA, why does the Organization of Black Designers often seem lost to history?  

In my research for this piece I quickly discovered that there would be no way of telling a singular definitive story of this mysteriously opaque organization. I talked to OBD staff and members past and present, and through multiple perspectives, I found out about OBD’s early days, memories about its influence and internal struggles, and tried to figure out where OBD can go from here.

[Disclosure: David Rice, the founder of OBD, was unavailable to interview at the time this was published.]

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The longer I have worked as a designer, the more I’ve noticed that I have stopped doing art by hand. When I get home from working in front of a screen all day, I just want to stare at the wall for a while and not think about anything related to art and design until the next day. I have wanted to do more painting and drawing, but I find myself thinking “I’m too tired today,” or being afraid to start again in case I’ve lost my skills.
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What’s the most difficult part of being a freelance creative professional? For many, the obvious answer is establishing yourself during that first year on the job.  From finding clients to escaping the 9-to-5 grind, you have your work cut out for you. It’s a perilous road, but I’d contend there’s an even dicier obstacle along the freelancer’s path.

Imagine you’re four or five years into the game. You’re unsure if your current level of success is adequate. You feel like you’re in a creative rut. A few deadbeats have stiffed you on expensive jobs. To top it off, some of your long-term clients have become scarce.

If that scenario sounds familiar, don’t fret. I found myself in that same place not that long ago, and it’s a story many a freelancer can echo. Figuring out what to do once you’ve hit that second phase of your business is harrowing. With a few adjustments, though, you can tackle the problem with confidence.

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