• Ella Wood

Ambassador // Jess Matthews: Designer

We caught up with Jess to find out more about her story.


Why did you choose to be a Designer/ Illustrator/ Typographer and how did you get into it?

I was always interested in graphic design - I just didn't know what it was called! I was always a creative child and grew up loving books, drawing and magazines. I was interested in creating magazines and books, but as I progressed through high school I thought I might become a journalist instead, because I also loved writing. However, during a journalism class, my teacher made a comment about how elaborately designed my newspaper page was, when others had just turned in a simple article in a Word document. He recommended I look into this thing called "graphic design" and from there it all kind of fell into place!


After graduating university and working in a good, stable, in-house graphic design job for about a year, I became restless. Although I enjoyed what I was doing, and knew I was lucky to have a full-time job straight out of university, I felt like my career wasn't where I wanted it to be. After spending hours gazing longingly at beautiful typographic work on Pinterest and Instagram (mostly by the likes of Jessica Hische, Mary Kate McDevitt and Lauren Hom), I thought to myself - if they can do it, I can too! So I watched tutorials, read books, and kept drawing. I entered competitions, posted my progress on Instagram, and just kept at it. Since then I've won awards, had my work exhibited overseas, been published in books and on book covers, and run many workshops - all while still working full-time in graphic design jobs. It's been a labour of love, but it's been worth it!


What has been the biggest challenge you've faced so far?

There are so many challenges creatives face - I think one of the biggest ones is the stigma that still surrounds our industry. People think that because we love what we do, it somehow doesn't qualify as "work" or we don't deserve to be paid for our time. There is no "free" in freelance! It's a struggle to balance all the different parts of running your own business; not only are you the creative director, but you're in charge of bills, admin, contracts, etc. My biggest piece of advice for young creatives trying to combat this issue is to read more about how to run a business (here is a really good resource) and be upfront with clients about your expectations. Don't feel guilty asking for a deposit upfront, for not doing spec work (work for free to see if the client likes your ideas) or for following up invoices that are unpaid. These are all expectations of other businesses, so they should be of yours too.


Do you think there is enough representation of women, particularly in leadership roles, in the design industry - why?

There definitely is not enough representation of women in leadership roles, especially in the design industry! I'm not sure why this is, but I'm certain it needs to change.


Have you always been based in Adelaide, how do you think the industry differs from other cities?

Yes I've always been based in Adelaide, and I think our industry is much smaller than other cities. When I was studying - nearly ten years ago - almost every second student was planning on moving to Melbourne or Sydney after graduation because there just wasn't enough jobs here for them. It still feels like quite a small industry here, although I've been lucky enough to find my place within it.


What advice would you give young creatives starting out?

There's a few key pieces of advice I'd give to young creatives:

- Gain as much work experience as possible while studying. You will gain valuable experience in the industry you want to work in, have the chance to see how real design jobs progress, and make connections that will stay with you for years. Everyone's circumstances are different though, and not everyone can afford to do unpaid work while studying, but if you can do a few weeks - or days - here and there, it all adds up by the end of your degree!

  • If freelancing is your thing - submit your work to relevant blogs, websites, and Instagram pages. Getting your work out there for people to see is crucial. It very rarely happens overnight, but you will gain traction and experience.

  • Always work with a contract! Even if it's something simple via email - make sure you and your client are on the same page when it comes to deadlines, delivery of work, what is expected of you, payment, etc. Clarify everything before you start creating - and never send something to a client unless you've agreed on these terms! Alarm bells should start ringing if a client is not willing to confirm how or what they will pay you, but want to see the creative first.

  • Become hard to replace by doing the little things other people don't (or won't) do. I don't mean working your butt off and doing extra hours of work for free. I mean the little things; such as clear and friendly email or phone communication, easy to understand contracts and invoices, always being on time, always delivering the number of agreed upon concepts, etc. Being easy to work with means people will want to keep working with you - in a studio/agency environment or as a freelancer!

What are your hopes for the industry and your future career within it?

I feel like there is a shift happening in the design industry - we seem to be moving to smaller, boutique agencies and studios - which I think is a positive step in the right direction. I hope this continues, because it means more opportunities for young creatives starting out.


Website: jessmatthewsdesign.com

Instagram: @jessmatthewsdesign

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