George Simkin on being bold, nurturing emerging talent and celebrating multiculturalism
The founder of Simkin Studio, an independent design agency based in East London, George Simkin is an accomplished designer and illustrator. Adding a bold and playful style to each and every project, George works across branding, editorial and retail design, and typographic work.
With a career spanning over 10 years, and being a member of creative collective Puck and a part-time teacher at Shillington, we grabbed a five-minute chat with George to find out what he's learned from his journey so far.
You recently tweeted "I'm currently free for work, and I'm not a dickhead" – we love it. Do you think people forget that business is about people?
I do feel the human aspect is missing from a lot of working partnerships. Especially when it comes to design, you need a connection with people.
How do you ensure you have great relationships with clients?
Honesty is everything. The less bullshit the better. Clients want a genuine connection. In my experience, clients know I'm not an agency so they really want that personal touch. One that is based on honesty and trust. Also, from the very start of each project, I make sure the client is with me at all times. I like to make them feel they are part of the concept stage; it's not just me going 'this is your logo, these are your colours'. It's a discussion process, so they feel they are part of the overall creation.
What drove you to go freelance in the first place?
I had worked permanently in studios for five years and just felt it was the right time to go freelance as it seemed there would be more opportunity to work on different projects and to pick and choose who you would like to work with – it's all about the flexibility really.
How do you feel freelancing differs from agency culture?
More control in what you want to work on. It's very liberating, and scary at the same time. It's great because you get to work in very different studios, see how they do things well, or more importantly how they do things badly. I'm learning all the time – it's great.
So what have been the major lessons you have learned this year?
Do more of what you love. It has taken a long time to get to that stage, but I'm definitely doing more projects I love. I have had lots of opportunities to work on some big projects with big budgets but the work does not excite me, so I have said no to those jobs. At times, I think it's fucking crazy to do that, but I have been pretty happy this year and that's because the clients and projects I have worked on, I really wanted to work with them.
Can you describe your style?
I'm not sure I have a specific style, but it's usually quite direct, bold and colourful.
You've been working in London for over 10 years. What is it about this city that keeps you here?
The multiculturalism. Having so many different people here creates such a positive vibe, because of that there is always different music, cultural and food events to cater. I don't think you get that in a lot of other cities. And as a designer, that's a massive attraction.
Are you originally from London?
No, I'm from Cork. I studied in Ireland and then came straight to London after I graduated. The London design scene seemed too exciting to not give it a try. Don't get me wrong – I was fucking terrified coming over looking for a job, as I thought I would have no chance. I came over with two other guys from my course in Ireland, so that made it a bit easier as we could support each other. Although it was the most stressful month of my life, but we all got jobs straight away.
You're also a part-time teacher at Shillington. How did that come about?
I just saw a position advertised and I always thought I would like to teach. It was definitely an 'ok, let's give this a try and if I don't like it I go back to just designing. But I loved it, Shillington is such a positive place, we are having some of the best people in the design industry come in and give talks, we had Adrian Shaughnessy in to give a talk, and that was amazing. I find the teaching so rewarding, something I can't get from just designing. The students' work that's coming out of Shillington is amazing – it's great to be a part of that.
What do you love about your business the most?
Connecting with people who want to push their business in a creative direction. I work with a lot of startups. and it's so rewarding collaborating with them in making their business a reality, giving them a distinct, visual voice.
What frustrates you?
Designers making knee-jerk reactions on design. Every time a new rebrand is launched, we normally just see the logo first, and some designers just attack it without knowing the whole story of the brand or the client. It baffles me, but I suppose we are very much an instant critic culture, everything is split-second reaction, without taking the time to see what the bigger picture is, especially for designers, you think they would be smarter than that.
What has surprised you since going freelance?
How much waiting you have to do. Waiting for invoices to be paid, waiting for clients to get back. And the key is to work out what I can do while I'm waiting. So I work on self-initiated projects, and obviously look for more work!
What's worked well for you in terms of winning new clients and getting your name out there?
Keeping in touch with people I used to work with, they always know someone who knows someone who will need some design work or illustration work. I recently did a rebrand for Design Clarity, they are a global creative design consultancy. I had never freelanced there, but someone who works there now worked with me years ago in another studio. So I always make sure to keep in touch with people I worked with before.
You're also part of Puck Collective. What's currently happening there?
We just launch COSMIC, which was a collection of limited edition postcards, each member working with just the word 'Cosmic' and taking our own interpretation of that. And now we are getting excited about new shows we are going to set up, some workshops and drawing clubs too, and always with the main aim of having fun.
What are you most looking forward to in the next three months?
I'm working on a new exciting restaurant startup, which is all hush hush now, but it's such a fun concept, so can't wait to get stuck into that. And also starting the new Shillington term, new eager students hungry to learn all about design!
Is there a project you're most proud of?
Probably my work for Bullfinch Brewery. They had been set up for only a few months, they had a logo and that was it. So I took a visit to the brewery and met Ryan the owner, and we talked about what he wanted his beer to be all about, it was a great collaboration from two people who liked a drink! He went for the most fun direction and it's all my illustrations and also using my own custom typeface 'Smután'. I continue to work with them every time a new batch comes out.
Favourite typeface? And least?
Favourite — Black Slabbath and least — Papyrus.
What is it that you love about design?
It can always be better.