“If you don’t ask you don’t get!”: Alice Pomfret on designing with confidence
A usual day for Alice Pomfret tends to involve a manic print deadline and saving the day in some form or another. As a freelance magazine and book designer, she typically works in a fast-paced environment, designing and collaborating with various clients from across the board. Having first worked as the editor of her university magazine, BUMF, Alice continued to pursue a career in publishing – designing the 10-year exhibition catalogue for Rankin and upcoming book, as well as launching her very own publication, Akin. How she got to where she is today, of course, wasn’t always a simple path. We caught up with Alice to discuss her journey, the people she’d met and how, most importantly, you should never be afraid of contacting other creatives – “they were once in your position.”
Freelance Magazine and Book Designer
The Guardian, Rankin and magCulture
Designer, HALI (2017-2019)
Place of Study
BA Graphic Design, Arts University Bournemouth (2014-2017)
How would you describe what you do?
I’m a magazine and book designer so I typically come in to save the day on manic print deadlines, which I don’t mind; it’s always nice to work in a high-pace environment, especially when most of my days are spent working from home.
What does a typical working day look like and where does it happen?
It depends – I split my time between working on my own magazine, Akin, and designing for clients. If I’m at home it’s normally just me sitting at my desk with the radio on for moral support, often sorting out admin, or going for quick meetings with potential collaborators. If I’m working for a client, I often get the train to London for the day and head to their offices to work on whatever needs to be finished.
How collaborative is your role?
Very. Being a magazine and book designer, I often work on quite personal projects; the client has an idea of how they want the story to be perceived so it’s all about creating the concept, executing it and producing a final product we’re both happy with. For Akin, I commission all of the articles, which means that I’m constantly working with other people to find writers and illustrate stories. We also collaborate with a lot of local independent businesses – and by collaborate, I mean they let me stock their shops full of great independent mags.
“It’s always nice to work in a high-pace environment, especially when most of my days are spent working from home.”
What are the most and least enjoyable aspects of your job?
It’s probably the same answer for both: print deadlines, they dictate my life! The reason I love print is because it has a succinct end point, where once it’s printed you can’t make any changes, but that’s also the most annoying part! When you've been working on a book for months, you often become blind to all the design aspects and the last thing you want to do is go through every page and make sure it's all perfect – saying that, it definitely keeps you on your toes.
What has been the most exciting project of the last twelve months?
Definitely designing Rankin’s new book! It’s funny, actually – I applied to be a designer for Hunger back in 2017. I wasn’t successful but a couple of months later I got an email asking to design a catalogue for his first exhibition in 10 years – I agreed not knowing it would be all nudes. From working on that project, we built up a relationship and they asked me to design his new book. It was quite a quick process with only a couple months to create the concept, execute and send to print, but I loved working with the archive department and it was a real team effort. The book will be released internationally on the 31st October so hopefully you’ll see it in Waterstones soon. Sometimes you get lucky and just click with a client.
What skills would you say are essential to your job?
Time management and organisation, for sure! When you’re compiling a book there’s so many different components you need to pull together, from words, titles, images, running order and so on. It’s like a big jigsaw, so you have to really be in tune with where the book is and how long it’s going to take to make sure you hit the print deadline.
What do you like about working in Norwich?
Can I say the cheap rent? Jokes aside, I moved back to Norwich earlier this year so I could focus on Akin. Moving to a place with cheaper rent definitely puts less pressure on me to earn a specific amount of money. I absolutely love the independent creative nature of Norwich – there’s so many creatives working for big clients and it’s quite inspiring to see that you don’t have to be in London to succeed. The mindset is just different around here; it’s a lot friendlier and people help each other out, which I missed while I was living in London.
Are you currently working on any personal projects? If so, how do you manage your time alongside other work?
I started Akin as a personal project last year. I felt like my work was getting a bit stagnant and I needed to create something new, so I launched a Kickstarter campaign, raised £2,776 (to be precise) and created the first issue. A year on and we have held numerous independent magazine pop-up shops, panel discussions and are now launching issue two. It’s evolved from a personal project to a self-sustaining business now, with all of the profits funding the next issue.
I went freelance quite slowly. In the beginning I went part-time at my job in London, commuting four days a week. I saved a bit of money and then bit the bullet in August and went full-time freelance.
What tools do you use most for your work?
It’s quite simple really: my Moleskine notebook, InDesign and my trusty Troika pen. It’s amazing – a ruler, screwdriver, pen and spirit level all in one. Technology, hey!
Is there a resource that has particularly helped you?
Something that really helped me during university was the Student Publication Association. SPA holds an annual conference for students running student magazines and papers, and it was the first time that I’d been around people who really reflected how I was feeling. I was editor of BUMF at the time (AUB’s Student magazine) and it was really eye-opening to see journalists and aspiring editors all in one room. I gave a talk there last year and I’m now a mentor for them.
How I Got Here
What did you want to be growing up?
The real answer was un-inspiringly a bin lady! I knew I was always creative, it was just finding out in which way. I could never draw well or paint like everybody else, but I was so interested in people and their stories – I think going down the path of books and magazines was just a natural progression.
How do you think your upbringing influenced your choice of career?
My dad has definitely influenced my outlook and attitude to work – he started his own business, became successful and worked away quite a lot. He always taught me that the best money to spend is money you’ve earned yourself. We’re also quite strong-willed so I’m not surprised that I’m freelance and working for myself.
Do you feel you need a formal education for what you do?
I studied graphic design at Arts University Bournemouth – it was quite traditional and looked at how design can solve problems, so I struggled a little bit but soon worked out a way to integrate books into my work. Obviously going to a well-respected university can help, but at the end of the day people often invest in a person and their work. You don't have to go to university to be a good person and create great work.
“You don’t have to go to university to be a good person and create great work.”
After graduating, what were your initial jobs or steps?
I went freelance for the first eight months but what that really meant was trying to find a job I’d like. I interned at The Partners (R.I.P) and a couple of other studios in second year, and it really put me off. I’m not driven by commercial awards or doing projects for the sake of exposure; it was really about finding a place that would support the work I wanted to do. I ended up working at a publishers in East London, where I was responsible for two quarterly publications and a bucket load of book projects. It was great because I was able to properly learn about print for the first time.
Has there been a project that particularly helped your development?
Looking back, designing with Jeremy Leslie from magCulture was a really pivotal point. He’s always supported my work and has a real passion for independent magazines – he gives me the confidence while having those insecure days, thinking “What the hell am I doing this all for?” However, I recently started freelancing at The Guardian, and designing for a national newspaper has always been a goal of mine. Along with the launch of Rankin’s book, I’m just in a really exciting phase in my career.
What’s been your biggest challenge along the way?
Fresh out of university I took on the role of staff writer for a creative platform. I wrote about 10 articles and then the founder decided to ‘fire’ me – I don’t even know the reason why, but looking back, there were a lot of things wrong with the working relationship. I was taken advantage of in many ways and I didn’t know my worth. It really took a toll on my confidence and honestly made me consider my career choice.
What would you say are the biggest challenges associated with being freelance, and how do you deal with these?
The biggest challenge is trusting in your vision. You have a dream of where you want to be but it’s so hard to work out how to get there. When you're in a job, you’re working to someone else’s vision and dream so you’re not as emotionally invested. I’ve just learnt that you have to trust in the process and be comfortable with the unknown. Some days you won’t make any headway with your project, other days you might receive the most amazing opportunity – learning that setbacks aren’t a reflection of your talent or passion is important. Creative work is quite personal and sometimes it’s hard to leave your emotions at the door when a project goes awry.
What have been your biggest learnings with making money as a creative?
My sister’s an accountant so I’m quite lucky that I have no other choice than to face my finances head on. I think the biggest thing that I’ve learnt is knowing your value to a project. You can always lower your day rate or project price with a client, but you can never raise it – it’s really a case of not being afraid to bring money into the conversation. Hot-desking in different studios is also quite helpful as you get to learn the industry’s rates and how they price a project, so you get to know the ball parks to price within.
How important have you found social media and self-promotion in your work?
I’m not sure – I’m quite traditional and my work often has an end product. If I make a book, sometimes I relentlessly post them to people as a way of getting in contact. I find real-life connections and meetings much more important than a social media post; I feel like I have much more control over how I’m portrayed when meeting face-to-face. Saying that, social media has helped Akin connect with local companies and creatives, and it has definitely helped spread the word and build a community of like-minded people. It can be really great and rewarding, especially when you hold events that your readers engage with and meet them in person for the first time.
What would you like to do next?
I would love to work on a project for the New York Times Magazine – Gail Bichler if you’re reading this, get in touch!
I’m also looking at the possibility of evolving Akin into an independent magazine shop. It would be amazing to have a physical hub for the magazine and a place to hold events and interact with customers – but that involves a lot of money.
Could you do this job forever?
I’d like to think so. It depends if print dies – I think that was meant to happen a few years ago, but it’s still going strong and paving its own way in the industry.
Words of Wisdom
What advice would you give to an emerging creative wanting to get into the same line of work?
If you don’t ask you don’t get! Don’t be afraid to contact creatives in the industry – it’s not as scary as you think, they were once in your position.
Interview by Marianne Hanoun
Introduction by Ayla Angelos
Mention Alice Pomfret