I recently had the pleasure of speaking with UK based designer Simon Stratford, owner of It’s Me Simon and creator of many, many awesome things. I’ve known Simon from afar for a while now as a fellow Creative Market shop owner. He is a talented artist and an effective designer, often translating his love of the handmade to digital form with a passion and high bar of quality that’s hard to miss. I got to learn a bit more about how he’s managed to make a living doing what he loves, how music and films can influence his work and what his general feelings are toward being one’s own boss. I want to thank Simon for taking the time to speak with me and for sharing his insights.
Did you always want to be a designer? How to did you find your way to selling through online marketplaces?
No, when I was a kid, I wanted to be a fighter pilot but I never had the grades. I could never sit still in boring maths or English lessons. I was practical and loved working with my hands.
I did A levels in UK where I was split between Art and Computer Science. Art won. I’m forever in debt to my art teacher, who pushed me to apply to art college and even drove me from school to the interview.
I got into my local art college. I loved it – it expanded my horizons and made me feel like I was part of something. We did everything on that course: drawing, painting, fashion, photography, sculpture, pottery…you name it we tried it.
I then wanted to be a fine artist, but being in education for so long I did not want to be poor my entire life. So I specialized in graphic design and then went onto university to study Electronic Media. I’ve done many jobs but all of them are design related.
I started out creating a few fonts and photography and giving them away for free. That got me to thinking I could start to charge. Then I found out about Creative Market and other markets and thought “I could do this” – so I did.
Much of your work makes references to music styles or specific musicians. Do you view music and visual design as being interrelated and if so, in what ways?
I love music. Not sure I see them as interrelated, not in a formal way at least, but music and lyrics inspire much of what I do. If I hear an angry song then I try to reflect that somehow in my work. The perfect lyric can motivate me to just create. Films also do the same for me – it’s like the ultimate art form!
Are you someone who needs to continually out-do yourself or are you content with much of your work?
I don’t try and out-do myself, but I’m never really content with my work. Once I have done something it’s almost dead to me. I just think “I’ve done that now let’s do something different”.
I think that is the curse of a designer and computers. It’s so easy to just keep tweaking. Once in a while, I like to do things without the computer. Something stupid I’m thinking I might try is to knit a typeface, but I need to learn how to knit first.
Many of your designs have a sense of conviction about them – they seem to know exactly who they are. How do you go about settling on names and identities for your products (picking names out a hat, paying attention to design trends, going with your gut…)?
It’s funny that you say a sense of conviction. When I create something, I often go through a lot of styles to promote my work. It can be very time consuming and frustrating. I can spend a whole week doing screens, only to drop them for another idea.
It’s like a swan looking graceful but furiously paddling below the surface.
The same applies to names – sometimes I have the name before I start but normally not. When I’m trying to name something I listen to everything. I ask people weird questions to try and get inspiration. I use my mobile phone for taking notes so if someone says something I like, I add it to my phone. I have a big text file so I can store names and ideas.
I’m terrible at writing but love words and lyrics. I do admire people who can write.
In our increasingly globalized design community, have you observed design traits that you feel are unique to British designers? Would you say that you bring any of that into your work?
Over many decades the UK is a huge melting pot for design, fashion, art and music. It’s hard not to get inspired by all that. There is something about the British psyche that makes us creative/rebellious. Probably due to the fact that we are a small island and have been through a lot of crap over the years. Also, the island thing means we steal inspiration from all over the world. Brits tend to travel a lot, we love other cultures. I mean just look at the Beatles and how they were inspired.
We always root for the underdog and we love to take the piss out of ourselves. We are kind of weird, but weird is good. Perhaps I have a small slice of British weirdness that seeps into my work.
What do you find to be the greatest struggle(s) for designers selling online?
Getting noticed and marketing – the dirty word that designers don’t really like. It’s dull as dishwater, but you need to promote yourself. Funny thing is my last full-time jobs were in marketing so it’s a love/hate thing.
Everyone wants to be noticed and everyone wants to be loved – so you’ve just got to try your best and hustle.
When settling on a concept, which is more important to you: immediately recognizable or outside the box?
I don’t like the term “think outside of the box” or other marketing terms. People who tell you to “think outside of the box” rarely require cutting-edge thinking. They normally want safe ideas and concepts that they can sell and feel safe about.
So for me neither of those things. We are in a unique position where we can do what we want. I generally do that and don’t worry if it will be a hit or not. Every time I try to contrive an idea, it nearly always fails. My mantra is “just keep doing”.
Do you love, hate or feel indifferent toward promoting your own work? How do you reach your audience?
I don’t like promoting my work as I’m slightly introverted and feel uncomfortable putting my face to anything—shameless self-promotion always feels dirty.
I do like Pinterest for promoting and for research. I also like Twitter so I can keep in touch with friends, get the odd nugget of inspiration and see what’s going on in the wider world. Facebook sucks. I’ve almost given up on Instagram but do like looking at other people’s work.
Is “It’s Me Simon” your full-time job or a side project? If side project, what’s your day-time gig?
It’s my full-time gig now for just over 3 years. I did work for a games company during that time part-time. The work was cool and it paid well. I don’t go looking for freelance work, but it’s starting to seek me out. The really great thing about that is I can say “no” if I don’t like the company/person or their product. There are lots of egos in design and I like to avoid that.
Do you listen to music when you work and if so, what are you listening to?
I always have music on, even if its low volume. Top of my fav playlist is Sunday Morning by The Velvet Underground, Niko.
[You can check out Simon’s playlist here.]