Karen Cinnamon is a freelance Digital & Branding Designer at Cinnamon Creative, based in London. In 2011 she was named as Xchangeteam's freelancer of the year in the advertising & design category. Here she shines a light on a typical day in her working life.
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Please describe your job! What does a Digital & Branding Designer do?
I help brands big and small stand out and connect better with their audiences. It's my job to clearly highlight what makes each of my clients (be they a product, organisation or individual) different to, and more desirable than, anyone else.
Effective branding elevates clients from being just one commodity amongst many identical commodities, to becoming something with a unique character and promise that will stimulate their audience to engage and interact with them. Sometimes (in the case of say, Apple) the strength of the branding can even create a cult of hero worship!
In terms of what I create my job entails designing anything from logos to websites to apps to brochures to stationery to social media campaigns to banner advertising to … you get it, essentially any kind of visual communication.
Whereabouts do you sit within the organisation? Who do you report to?
I am lucky enough to run my own freelance business so in essence it's my clients that I report to. They are the people I want to dazzle - if my clients are happy I gain repeat business, recommendations to their network, and a great sense of satisfaction on a personal level.
What kind of skills do you need to be effective in your role?
I think one of the most important (and under-rated) skills is to be rather perceptive about, and love working with, people. This seems obvious but you'd be surprised by how many creatives love their art but hate dealing with clients. In a world where you are creating visual communications it's vital to first-off communicate well with your clients so that you can quickly understand their needs and deliver a clear and precise solution for them.
Additionally you need to be an 'ideas generator' and be able to think unconventionally or from a new perspective, as in the creative world the obvious choices are not necessarily the most effective. Think of the unbelievably successful 'Compare The Meerkat' campaign as an example.
Finally you need to have a real desire to keep up with the latest in digital. I love being part of a dynamic, cutting-edge industry and am constantly keeping my eyes peeled for the latest technologies, newest products and most innovative campaigns.
Tell us about a typical working day…
Being freelance, there really isn't a typical working day as clients span small-start ups (for whom I work for from home) to large multi-nationals where I work as part of a wider team in their head office, or that of their design / advertising agency.
Recent examples are Tesco's rebrand, where I worked as part of a large team at the offices of its digital agency, Havas EHS, followed by working from home on a complete brand identity for a start-up that is launching a kids watch with a GPS tracker inside it that locates kids using an intuitive app.
You can be sure that every day will involve a fair amount of time designing on a Mac or sketchpad, dealing with clients, be it face-to-face or digitally, and finding time to be inspired whether it's going to a lecture, an exhibition, flicking through my design books, catching up on the latest news and campaigns on Twitter and Creative Review, or reading about emerging trends on Econsultancy or Trendwatching. Often some networking and business development are on the agenda too.
What kind of goals do you have? What are the most useful metrics and KPIs for measuring success?
My biggest goals are pleasing my clients beyond their expectations and gaining exciting new clients, some of whom I have admired in the digital space for years such as Tesco, M&S, and Burberry. That's a buzz. My KPIs are gaining repeat business and recommendations of work, and of course seeing turnover or exposure increase for a client as a result of my digital and branding work for their business.
What are your favourite tools to help you to get the job done?
On a day-to-day level, my Macbook Pro, Adobe Creative Suite, marker pens and sketchbook are my tools, hand in hand with the internet, design books and magazines for inspiration. On a larger scale, it's an open mind - whether it's being open to new avenues, new thinking, new suggestions, new approaches, experiencing change, even making mistakes. An open mind enriches my work.
What do you love about your job? What sucks?
I love that even after 13 years in the job, each new brief and set of circumstances brings a fresh challenge. I love working solo, researching the project and creating the designs. But I also enjoy being part of a team, working closely alongside the project managers, web developers and content editors. I love being part of the fast-moving digital arena and seeing my creative work exposed to millions. And I genuinely enjoy client relations and really make the effort to connect throughout the entire process.
What do I dislike? Well, common to all service industries is one of the biggest challenges in design: how to handle illogical client comments. Some memorable ones I've heard in my time include “I’ve attached an image of [an absurd picture stolen from a search engine]. Can you just blow it up and make it our logo at the top?” and “It’s pretty easy, isn’t it?.. after all nowadays it’s all done by computers" and my favourite: "my wife didn't like it".
Having said that, I am lucky enough to have really super clients, many of whom have become good friends, and in the end I'm usually able to persuade them to my point of view... so it's really ok.
How did you get started in the digital industry, and where might you go from here?
Well my background is in print design, it's only the last seven years that I've moved with full force into the digital arena. I took the leap from working solely in print when corporate identity clients asked me to create not only their logo and stationery but also their websites.
At first I was hesitant - I didn't want to be a 'jack-of-all-trades' as it were, but I decided to give it a go with a certain client and realised that actually I loved designing for digital, and had a real enthusiasm for creating all things 'e'! . That was an important business decision as I'd say that digital now makes up about 80% of my workload.
As far as where I might go, well I think digital is part of my DNA now (yes literally - my iPhone is surgically attached) and I have no intention of giving digital up. I still take on, and love, print projects, and I always have a few personal projects on the go. One of them is a wedding blog called SmashingTheGlass.com which was inspired by my recent experience of wedding planning.
Do you have any advice for people who want to work in the digital industry?
Keep your Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr, Instagram, Linkedin etc. up-to-date. I've known people to get hired purely because their employers fell in love with their personal pages! Handwrite thank-yous after interviews. Find yourself a mentor in the industry - you'll be able to learn from their real-life experiences in the field, utilise their network of contacts, plus they'll give you great guidance and help you achieve your goals
Which brands do you think are doing digital well?
Burberry delivers exceptional digital experiences. It never rests on its laurels and is constantly innovating. Old Spice did what everyone working in social media wants to do and got everybody talking about it. ASOS is the most entrepreneurial e-tailer in the digital space and has extraordinary customer service and user experiences, as do John Lewis and Amazon.