How to Become a Successful Creative, According to the Former Designer of Kinfolk

When I was just an aspiring graphic designer, I used to browse Amanda Jane Jones‘ website for hours — it was like pre-Pinterest Pinterest (even though there was definitely already Pinterest at that time). I found so much inspiration in her work — it takes such skill and attention to detail to create beautifully simple design.

Here, she shares her process, her stance on working for free (which is how she landed Kinfolk!), and how to develop your style as a designer. Plus her work-from-home-with-kids tips and her biggest piece of advice for freelancers looking to go full-time.

 

NameAmanda Jane Jones
Job Title: Freelance Graphic Designer and Art Director
Location: Chicago, IL
Education: BFA in Graphic Design from BYU

 

 

What was your dream job when you were growing up?

 

I always wanted to either be a jazz singer or a fashion designer. I kept stacks and stacks of composition notebooks full of drawings and magazine clippings. I’d cut out clothing and put together outfits from catalogs… all while listening to Ella Fitzgerald.

 

 

What was your first job and how did you land it?

 

I was a lifeguard at our local pool! It was a good summer job and I love being outside… although as I get older and my fine lines are starting to appear, I’m wishing I would have kept all those hours in the sun to a minimum.

 

How did you make the decision to go full-time freelance?

 

It’s all about time with my family. I quit my first design job when my husband received an amazing opportunity to do research for three months in the Philippines. It was one of those defining moments of our relationship. It didn’t make sense to quit, and I knew it would be hard, but I’m so glad I did. Choosing to be together is what fueled my drive to get freelance projects and it still is! We’ve traveled a lot as a family and I know that’s because I can work from wherever we are.

It’s also important for me to be in complete control of my client list and environment. In a previous job I held, no one was allowed to wear headphones and I was only allowed to select the music one day a week. My boss had a love for reggae music and the countless eight “reggae days” made me realize, how important my surroundings are for cultivating creativity.

 

Would you recommend working for free to designers just starting out?

 

It depends. When I launched the first issue of Kinfolk with Nathan, I worked for free — and through the next couple issues, but it paid off tremendously and ended up being a great opportunity! However, I’ve also done jobs for free where people took advantage and I learned from those experiences as well. I think you have to follow your gut.

 

 

How did you attract clients when you were first starting out?

 

I took a lot of time to work on personal projects (ie. posters, announcements, artwork) and would put them on Pinterest and my blog (which is now no longer — by accident, whoops!). Other blogs would repost them and that drove a lot of my early business.

 

Tell us about developing a unique style and how that works with clients.

 

It’s an ongoing process! I feel like I’m still developing my style to this day. I like to experiment with new mediums and fonts, but my work consistently stays pretty simple and classic, yet also modern. A mix! I’m very inspired by the music I listen to and my surroundings. We travel a lot and I love to buy books from the region, try the food, explore the architecture… I think it’s all about seeing the beauty in everything and finding what you like best.

I’m lucky,  at this point in my career, people generally come to me for my personal style, so I haven’t run into those awkward experiences where someone tries to have you design something you wouldn’t normally create in a while. This is both a blessing and a curse, because sometimes my work tends to start to look similar since it’s the look clients are coming to me for, but I always try to throw in new and unique options at the beginning.

 

How do you determine which clients to take on and who to refer?

 

I’m getting pretty good at deciphering these days. I generally ask for a moodboard to see what their style is like. I have them show me pieces they like and pieces they don’t — it’s usually pretty telling! Als,o the tone of their email is very telling — if design is something they value and understand, it will usually be a good fit.

 

 

Where do you start in the design process?

 

I brainstorm and moodboard. I like looking through my old books, finding imagery that speaks to the project. I also like to do massive font explorations and look through old data bases. There are so many amazing fonts out there, I like to make sure I see all my options. So much of the beginning process is in my head, which means I go for a lot of walks. 🙂

 

With two (adorable) kids at home, how do you ensure work-life balance?

 

It’s an ongoing learning curve. My husband and I split our time. I work 20 hours a week and he works 25. When each of us work, the other gets to be with the kids, which we both love. We feel pretty lucky it works out for us this way! I know it’s not for everyone, but it works for us. Our friends used to call themselves a “stay at home family” and that’s been our goal ever since.

My office, however, is at home (with no doors! Working on it. ;)), so I get little visitors often which can be a hindrance at times, but we’ve tried to be creative and make the work environment also conducive for the kids. If they are in my office, I try to have music they like on and I’ll keep paper and art supplies nearby so Jane can work on her “pwojects” too. Ultimately, it’s never as fast or quite as productive as working in an office, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. The fact that I get to rock my youngest to sleep at naptime and eat each meal with them when I work is priceless to me and worth the occasional inconveniences.

 

 

Do you have any tips for staying productive when working from home?

 

Something switched in my brain since becoming a parent and I don’t know if it’s because I have limited time or what, but when I sit down, I’m immediately in the zone. I have so few hours, it makes me much faster and generally more productive. I always listen to music, it helps drown out the noises elsewhere. I also like to keep my desk clean, but ironically, my desk right now is pretty scary looking. We just had four photoshoots last week, so our house (and my brain!) is in recovery mode.

 

What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced as a freelancer?

 

The business side! Taxes, invoices, accounting… I remember taking a business practices class in college and rather than taking notes, I chose to read a book underneath the table. I figured I’d never need to know things like taxes and invoicing. So dumb. Biggest regret right there. Keeping on top of all the finances as a freelancer is so complicated — not my favorite part of the job for sure.

 

What is your biggest piece of advice for designers looking to go freelance full-time?

 

A couple things. In the beginning, you’ll need to put in way more hours than you’ll want. Before I quit my full-time job, I was doing 40 hours a week there and then 20 hours a week of freelance. It was crazy and stressful and not fun. BUT it was only for a year or two and then it totally paid off. Now I get to work part-time and be with my family. For me it’s the best of both worlds.

And secondly, never stop learning. If you have time, be an intern somewhere, or an apprentice. Volunteer to help out or shadow a photographer or designer you love. When I was freelancing full-time I actually went to intern for Suann Song of Appointed (it was a different company at the time). I loved what she was doing and I wanted to learn from her, so I spent a summer being her intern and loved it. I was actually an intern four times after graduating and all experiences helped me to learn so much about real-world design and how to run your own business. You’re never too old to be an intern.

 

What advice would you give your 23-year-old self?

 

Exercise more!

 

 

Amanda Jane Jones is the Everygirl…

Last item you purchased for yourself?
Oh man! Under the eye masks to hide the bags (that’s embarrassing to admit!).

Favorite stress relief after a long day?
Crawling into bed and watching a BBC show with Cree (although I think he’d prefer The Walking Dead ;)).

Guilty pleasure snack?
Oh sheesh, I’m on Whole30 again, so I think about this often. I’ve been craving pudding… Magnolia’s banana pudding to be exact!

What’s your favorite thing about being a mom?
Cuddles! I’m a cuddle hoarder. If my kids ask me for cuddles, I say okay and stop whatever I’m doing. I’m sure our neighbors think I’m so weird when they see me sitting on the kitchen floor in my apron rocking miles back and forth.

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