Common Questions

The Basics

Name: Lauren Krause

Age: 27 (in 2010)

Location: Orange County, CA, USA

Main clients: small to medium sized businesses, serial entrepreneurs

Career highlights and key projects: working for Prudential Real Estate on tradeshows (I love large format print work!)

Essential hardware/software: PC, Adobe Creative Suite (mainly Photoshop and InDesign)

Years in industry: 7 (since 2003)

A little bit about yourself and your background:
I’m an independent graphic designer specializing in large format print, particularly for tradeshows. I gained a lot of experience theme-ing and designing for tradeshows when I worked at Prudential Real Estate and I found I really enjoy doing large format work. Since going solo, many clients request web work, too, so I also take on web design projects as well as logos and other print materials. While I did get a degree in graphic design, I’ve learned so much more just being out in the business world and working on lots of projects. Experience (and the mistakes that go with it!) are so valuable in this field.

How did you come with the name ‘creativecurio’ for your blog?
I was looking for a unique name (and an available domain!) for my blog and I knew I wanted it to be an interesting collection of graphic design tips, tricks and things I’ve learned or that others wanted to write about and share. I started going through the thesaurus for words like collection and found curio. I really liked the alliteration of Creative Curio and the domain was available so I snapped it up!

What would be your dream job?
I love creating cards for my Etsy shop. It would be really awesome to do that full time!

On Designing

What equipment do you use?
Pencils, paper, computer, printer and a scanner is also very helpful.

Who and/or what is your main source of inspiration?
There is so much around us that there is no one source. I do tend to gravitate towards clean, crisp designs or very artistic collage style designs. I have many design books and subscribe to Communication Arts magazine. And of course there are tons of places online. I notice that I have to be careful looking at those so-called “inspiration” sites because often times they are art sites (not design) or too much visual stimulation shuts down my own creativity.

Can you tell me a little bit about your design process?
It totally depends on the project, but generally I gather information from the client through a design brief. Usually I send them a document to fill out, but sometimes the client prefers to talk and I fill out the brief as we chat about their business and the project. Then I do some research on their industry and competitors (I always like to ask them what they think their competitors do well and what they would improve – the answers are always insightful). If it’s a logo design project, I like to do a spider diagram with words they’ve used to describe their business and see what else I can associate with the words or their business. This often brings up interesting facets I wouldn’t have otherwise thought about and it really helps in coming up with a unique design. For web I create a wireframe and consider different styles that would suit the target audience. With print work, sometimes the design is dictated by the type of project (banner, flyer, etc.) but with some designs, I can get creative, especially if the client has a little extra money to spend on a diecut design, so I sometimes research what my printer can do for me. And I sketch away for all projects. I get all the obvious solutions out of my head and start working on variations. Then it’s into the computer to output some comps for the client, we go through a couple rounds of changes and I finalize the design.

Which of your projects are you the most proud of? And why?
I really like the green brochure I did at Prudential Real Estate. It was interesting to research the different recycled papers (I love paper!) and I think the layout and colors just came together very nicely. I also like the large format work I do. It’s so cool to walk into a tradeshow and see the 52 foot banner I designed on my 21 inch screen hanging in the entrance!

What do you do to keep yourself motivated and avoid burn-out?
I like to scrapbook and make cards, so that is my personal creative outlet. I recently started a store on Etsy to make a little side money for my hobby. I also enjoy letterpress printing, though I don’t get to it very often. I find that these creative outlets can really recharge me for working on client projects and keep up my creativity. To get away from it all, though, I enjoy hiking and backpacking with my husband.

What are the core principals you follow in your daily work?
Balance, space, quality.

What specific skills must a graphic designer have?
I think technical skills can’t be overlooked. I can’t tell you how many files I’ve received from so-called designers that are filled with muck. Illustrator files with excessive shapes, Photoshop files with sloppy masks (or worse, erased sections of images), InDesign files that don’t use paragraph and character styles. These technical skills are important.

What do you find to be the most challenging part of being a graphic designer?
Turning it off! Thumbing through magazines, looking at billboards as I drive, I find myself constantly assessing designs, figuring out how something was created or wondering what that font is and where I can use it next.

What are some of your current projects?
My projects can be found in my portfolio on Creative Curio.

On Freelancing Life

What has been your best freelance experience?
Getting paid on time without any fuss!

What has been your worst freelance experience?
It’s a tie between having clients who think they know design and only want a program monkey and having to hound clients to pay me after delivering their project

What are the reasons/facts that led you to be a freelancer?
I was always planning to go freelance because I wanted to be able to stay home with my kids once I had some and then I was laid off, so I figured it was the perfect time to start, build up my client base and then about a year and a half later, I had my daughter.

A sneak peek into an average day for you…
I usually get up around 8a, eat breakfast and turn on the computer to answer emails and catch up on social media sites. Around 10a I start working on client projects, take a break at noon for lunch and then get back to work until about 4:30, when it’s time for the gym and then dinner. Of course, there is a lot of flexibility in my schedule, so if I have an appointment or something else to take care of during the day (it is SO nice to be able to go grocery shopping at 10am on a Tuesday), sometimes I work into the evening.

On the Business of Design

How do you figure out what to charge?
I’m sure you hate hearing this (I did!!), but charge what you’re worth. Take into consideration your experience, the quality of your work and the rates other people in your area with the same amount of experience are charging. I’m in a fairly large metropolis area in the US, so when I first started I charged $35/hr. Now that I’ve been in the industry for nearly 7 years, I charge more than that, depending on the type of client and the work (I only give clients a quote for the whole project, though, usually only revealing my hourly rate if I’m preparing to do maintenance work for them). Some people think my rate too expensive, but I don’t budge on my rates and instead offer those potential clients either a roll out option — we break the work into phases so it’s more affordable, which works particularly well with websites — or give them options to reduce some of the work they want done so that it lowers the cost.

How do you look for work?
I hand out business cards when possible and stock up close friends and family with cards so they can tell people about me, too. I also put a link back to my site on clients’ websites so people admiring their sites can find me. I think having a strong web portfolio and a blog is important because so many clients find me through Google searches on things that I’ve written.

How did you get your clientele?
Mostly word of mouth referrals or through business contacts I already have who need work done.

Does blogging bring you any projects? What advice would you give to other freelancers who want to build their clientele with the help from their blogs?
Yes, my blog has brought me some of my clients. It’s not just the pages of the blog themselves, though, it’s also the contacts I’ve made with other designers.

Do you work alone?
Yes, though sometimes my husband, also a web designer, helps me out.

What are the essential skills you need to be able to survive as a freelancer/entrepreneur?
Enthusiasm for the job is so important! If you don’t love what you do, it’s hard to be successful at it. I think technical skills should include intermediate to advanced familiarity with the Creative Suite and clean files (they should be easy for another designer to pick up and work on: name layers, no stray anchor points on Bezier curves, outline fonts, package InDesign files, etc.). It’s also important to know how to handle business, which is unfortunately not something they teach you in school. That includes “secrets” like not saying “No” to a client and graciously offering alternative project options when clients say you’re too expensive.

What are the main advantages and disadvantages of working as a freelancer?
I would say the main advantage of freelancing is the ability to keep my own schedule. If I need to do something in the middle of the day, I’m free to do it. The main disadvantage is definitely the feast or famine phenomenon; I’m either drowning in work or don’t have any at all, which requires really good money management for those lean times!

How do you pay taxes for your work?
In the US, we pay a self-employment tax and we send in quarterly estimated earnings taxes to cover it.


Any advice to a novice designer?
Never be afraid to ask questions. It’s how we learn! Better to ask a “silly” question than to make a huge mistake. You learn either way, might as well make it the easy way.

What are you favorite websites?
Google! So essential for research and inspiration.

Do you subscribe to any design magazines?
Yes, I subscribe to Communication Arts.

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