If you ever wanted to start your own business, or are an emerging graphic designer looking for work, this interview can be a great resource. Jamey Erickson is the Owner and Creative Director of Sevnthsin which is an interactive design agency. I spoke with Jamey about what it’s like to start your own business and how the design industry is changing. As an added bonus, I included a short video tour of their studio. I hope you enjoy it!
What is your work history like?
I did some (website) work for bands and things started to get going from there…I started working for Target my senior year in college. I was an interactive designer there. After that, I went to Ham and the Fridge and I went to Olson for a little while. My side work was starting to take over my day work. I realized it was time to stop taking conference calls over my lunch hour. It was time to start my business and get a studio.
How did you get your freelance work?
It took a lot of desire. When I was eighteen years old and able to build a website, it peaked the interest of lots of people. I had referrals from my dad and the bands that I was hanging out with. I’d be at a show, talking to a band, and I’d say, “Dude, your website sucks. let me help you.” And that was my pitch (laughs). Once I had that body of work I had other bands, record labels, and clothing brands all contacting me.
How valuable is it for graphic designers to have a portfolio that has actual freelance work and not just schoolwork?
I think anything you can do above and beyond school is always beneficial. Focus on school because you’re there to learn, but there will always be those people that…School isn’t challenging for them. It’s a great opportunity to expand your work. There are always people out there looking for college kids to do work for them because they only have $1500. There isn’t an agency in town that can do a whole website for that…If you go into an interview and have a broader portfolio than someone who is just showing their school projects; you’re three feet in the door as opposed to just one. I you can show (your future employer) them that (you’ve) dealt with money and clients, it’s really valuable.
I noticed you’ve started developing for the iPhone and other mobile apps. Is Sevnthsin moving in this direction?
The mobile category is one of the two big categories that we focus in. In Minneapolis, there are tons of interactive agencies…All the traditional agencies are becoming “digital” agencies. Everyone is realizing that the landscape is changing and (they) all want interactive. In order to not be bludgeoned by these big agencies, we niche ourselves. We are a niche agency because we only do interactive….We (also) do specific interactive.
In addition to interactive design, do you also do the strategies with your clients?
We certainly can and have. The key to Sevnthsin is that we are very flexible…We like to be on the bleeding edge of what’s happening in the interactive world…Sometimes we’ll have an agency come to us and say, “We’ve got the client and the project, what do we do?” Then we help them with the strategy and the execution. We have the ability to do both.
What generates most of your business?
A combination of referrals and marketing…Over the last year, we’ve decide to go out and seek work instead of letting it come to us. We are reaching out and talking with people we’d love to work with…We generate buzz through our blog and we also have a Facebook page and Twitter, of course. The biggest strength we have in our marketing is that people want to work with us. It’s not an entity that you’re working with. You’re working with Jamey, Rob, Jesse, etc. You’re working with people that have distinct personalities. You get to work with a place that has a Bay Watch pinball machine, I mean, come on (laughs)!
What do you read that other designers should be reading?
I’m a big tech nerd so I’m on Wired and CNET a lot. I also spend a lot of time at The FWA site, It’s a British thing. They have “website of the day” awards and things like that…There is always something new there and it’s great.
How does social media play a role in your business?
It’s impacted our new business strategy. We’ve had people contact us through Facebook…Having the ability to be in constant communication with potential clients has really changed the game. We’ve never really looked at it as a marketing tool but it inherently becomes that when you’re running a business…Facebook has so many people that it just becomes a business tool because we’re all connected.
What’s the hardest part about your job?
The hardest part is going home and turning it off. Just going home and not checking emails on my phone.
Tell me about some fun projects you’ve done.
We did “You’re So Ugly” for the re-release of God Loves Ugly album by Atmosphere. We did the partner site called Make It Better, which is the partner site to P.O.S.’s album Never Better. We’re currently working on the new Rhymesayers and Fifth Element websites…We also did a fun little promo piece (with Brew Creative) that was nominated for a Webbie award. It was a Our Message of Hope. It’s a site lets you remix video of politicians to make a more positive message for 2009.
Do you have a dream client?
We’ve always been “eye-ing” Nike…We think they’d be a lot of fun to work with.
If you had to hire a recent graduate, what would you be looking for?
(Knowing) How to design for the medium…For as prominent as this industry has become, I still do not think there is single college preparing design students to be interactive. I think the focus is still so heavily on traditional design…Don’t look at interactive design as the little bastard child (of design). If you are a student coming in the world today, ninety percent of your job opportunities are going to be interactive.