Mention Dominic Lord
Interview by Lyla Johnston

Graphic designer Dominic Lord on finding clients, freelancing and going full-time

When starting out, the process of finding that elusive first client can feel mysterious. For Blackburn-based graphic designer Dominic Lord, however, potential clients “may be closer than you think”. To help bolster his portfolio, Dominic took on freelance projects for friends and family, and set himself personal briefs – all the while working part-time in retail. His hard graft paid off, and after two years of freelancing, Dominic landed a junior designer role at merchandise company, Brand Addition. Here, we speak to Dominic about finding success in your own time, pushing the boundaries in job interviews and how a morning jog can help to reset your brain.

Dominic Lord

Dominic Lord


Job Title

Junior Designer, Brand Addition (May 2021–present)

Based

Blackburn, Lancashire

Selected Clients

Michelin, Google, PokerStars, Laura Mvula

Previous Employment

Freelance Graphic Designer (2019–2021)
Design Intern at Creative Arthur (2018)
Design Intern at T-PW (2017)

Place of Study

BA Graphic and Communication Design, University of Leeds (2015–2019)

Website

djnl.uk

Social Media

Instagram

What I do

How would you describe what you do?
As of May 2021, I’ve been working as a junior designer at Manchester-based promotional merchandise supplier, Brand Addition. I work as part of a creative design team producing artwork and merchandise for clients such as PokerStars, Michelin and Google.

Before that, I worked part-time as a freelance graphic designer. I described my freelance work as “utilising artistic methods to create concept-led visual identities and playful type design”. With a background in fine art and portraiture, I enjoy experimenting with physical mediums wherever possible.

In my spare time, I’m working my way through the never-ending list of personal projects on my phone.

How did you land the job?
I saw the job advertised on creative community website, The Dots. After the initial interview, I was set a small brief. It’s no secret that this is becoming more popular in the recruitment process. It isn’t ideal, but I guess it’s another opportunity to show the company why they should hire you. Try to push the boundaries with your response. In the creative industry, it doesn’t hurt to stick out like a sore thumb.

One habit I’ve picked up from freelancing is noting the duration of each task from start to finish. I include these notes in client documents, as clients love to see where their money is being spent. I also used these notes in my responses to interview briefs and the interviewers always highlighted how much they appreciated it.

“In the creative industry, it doesn’t hurt to stick out like a sore thumb.”

Exposure to the Elements – Collaborative Project
Exposure to the Elements – Collaborative Project

How has the transition from freelance to in-house work been for you?
Thanks to my fab new colleagues, the transition has been as smooth as I could’ve hoped. I’d say there have been three main changes:

Firstly, I’m enjoying the solidified working hours. When freelancing, I would often work well into the evenings and find myself feeling guilty about not working when I was trying to enjoy myself on the weekends.

Secondly, I’ve gone from working solo to working in a team of seven, in a business with over 400 employees. It’s been brilliant to meet fresh faces and be part of something bigger. Learning directly from other designers has been invaluable, and is something I feel I was missing out on when freelancing.

Thirdly, the type of design work and clients are very different. I’ve gone from creating visual identities for startup businesses to producing artwork for corporate clients. This change has been surprisingly refreshing.

I do miss the freedom of working freelance, but I’m loving every minute of full-time work and am very grateful for the opportunity.

No Manors posters – Freelance Commission
No Manors poster – Freelance Commission

What are the main influences and inspirations behind your work?
I wouldn’t say I follow anyone’s work too closely, I’m more like a kid in a candy store - I try and absorb as much as possible, whether that be art, design or media.

With that being said, I tend to veer toward artists and designers that use mesmerising colours, such as Braulio Amado, Jordy van den Niewendijk and Molley May. My twin brother Matt, who is also a graphic designer, has a big influence on my work. Ever since college we’ve constantly asked for feedback and bounced ideas off one another.

If you could sum up what you do in a meme, what would it be and why?
(Below) I love graphic design but don’t want my freelance and personal work to be taken too seriously. I see my work as a visual representation of my personality; a little bit simple at times, but good fun with a hint of confidence.

What’s your favourite thing on your desk right now?
My favourite thing by a country mile is my noise-cancelling headphones. Music has always helped me to get in the work groove and not being able to hear Dave across the road with his angle grinder is a massive bonus.

How I got here

What was your journey like when you were first starting out? Did you find your feet quickly?
Far from it. I was unemployed for a couple of months after graduating in 2019 until I got a part-time job in retail. I continued to develop my portfolio for several months, taking on a couple of pro bono projects such as the visual identity for my friend’s underground events collective, No Manors.

I’d say it took about five months since graduating until I got my first paid commission. I found it important not to compare my success to others; everyone moves at their own pace and I was more than happy trickling along.

“I found it important not to compare my success to others; everyone moves at their own pace and I was more than happy trickling along.”

If you could pick three things that you’ve found useful or inspiring to your work or career, what would they be and why?
The Dots is pretty much LinkedIn for creatives. I picked up the majority of my work from this website, and it’s where I found my current job. I’d recommend it to anyone looking to start freelancing as there are countless experienced professionals willing to share their advice, free of charge.

Working Class Creatives Database is a platform to share and highlight the work of working-class creatives. It’s a great initiative set up by founder Seren Metcalfe, aiming to eliminate classism and push for better access and inclusion within the creative world.

Whether it’s eating your greens or being outside in the greenery, eating well and getting outside regularly has also had a noticeable effect on my mood and creativity. I have been running for a couple of years now – each run acts as a system reboot. I instantly feel refreshed and motivated.

Laura Mvula bespoke type – Freelance Commission
Laura Mvula bespoke type – Freelance Commission
Laura Mvula bespoke type – Freelance Commission

What would you say has been your biggest challenge along the way?
With regards to finding a full-time job, it’d be keeping self-motivated. I’m not the first person – nor will I be the last – to apply to what felt like an endless amount of jobs and have little to no luck. It was difficult to find the enthusiasm to start from square one again on another time-consuming job application.

How important would you say social media and self-promotion are to your work?
You need to put your work out there. Nobody is going to come knocking if they don’t know you exist. Social media is a great tool to do precisely that.

Posting personal projects to social media gave me some purpose and motivation whilst I was unemployed. Positive feedback helped to reaffirm my self-belief and fuelled me to keep ploughing on. If I ever felt a hint of imposter syndrome, I try to remember that if I like it, someone else will.

“Clients will treat your service like ‘Bargain Hunt’ and try to haggle you down. Try not to budge on your price if you can help it.”

What have been your greatest learnings with making money and supporting yourself as a creative?
Make sure you include a late payment fee on your invoices. I thought I was being respectful by not including one. As I found out the hard way, it’s no fun having to chase down a payment for three months.

Clients will treat your service like Bargain Hunt and try to haggle you down, try not to budge on your price if you can help it. And finally, learn to compromise and be prepared to accept that the client is a design superstar.

Dot Dash – Personal Work
Dot Dash – Personal Work

How did you go about landing your first commissions?
As soon as I graduated, I got to work on my portfolio and website. My university lecturer, Joe Gilmore, reiterated that your portfolio should align with the type of work you want to pick up. So I started by setting myself a handful of personal projects and went from there.

I landed my first commission through my sister’s friend who is a freelance copywriter. He introduced me to two lovely ladies looking to set up a luxury leather goods brand and needed a visual identity. I sent over my brand spanking new portfolio and secured a video call. They are currently in the process of creating and stocking their products. It’s really exciting seeing everything come together and I look forward to getting the visual identity published on my website and social media.

It may seem obvious, but if you’re struggling to land that first client, ask your friends and family members, as it may be closer than you think.

SPAM – Personal Work

My advice

What’s the best career-related advice you’ve ever received?
“The luckiest people are the ones who work the hardest”. My dad is a broken record when it comes to this phrase and I think about it whenever I’m tempted to slack off or cut a corner.

What advice would you give someone looking to get into a similar role?
I would take advantage of any internship schemes your university is offering, or if you’re not at uni, try and land yourself an intern role. I can’t put into words how helpful gaining experience in the industry was for me. I believe I developed more as a designer in nine months in the industry than I did in three years at uni.

Just keep swimming. Something came up in the end for me, I’m sure it will for you!

Mention Dominic Lord
Interview by Lyla Johnston