Do it right and blogging can be a route to creative and commercial success, as three design professionals explain to Rob Carney
Okay, we know, everyone has a blog nowadays. In recent times platforms such as WordPress, Tumblr and Blogger have helped people across all walks of life broadcast what they think on the web. But as a practising creative professional, can a blog - running either in conjunction with, or separate to, your main portfolio - do more for you than simply be a place to express your opinions? Well, if executed correctly, you could soon find your blog has a huge amount of online traffic, and that will lead to natural interest in the person behind the posts.
Arguably one of the web's most fascinating creative blogs, It's Nice That, was started by Will Hudson while he was at university, back in 2007. "It was a way of archiving great people's work I was looking at while studying," says Hudson. "I'm useless with remembering names and respond better with a visual. It was meant as nothing more than a personal archive that I could access anywhere." Cut to the present day and It's Nice That is a thriving creative studio, employing five full-time staff and producing some frankly stunning art direction, including working with illustrator Noma Bar on Don DeLillo's book covers for Picador.
Since its humble beginnings, It's Nice That has progressed into a must-bookmark blogsite, featuring an eclectic mix of content by not only the five-strong team, but also a host of guest posters from across the design industry. As Hudson explains, the site helps bring clients to the studio side of It's Nice That: "It's a fantastic way of meeting people. It's a reason to get in touch, say hello and take things from there," he explains. "Clients recognise where we can help them as soon as we get the opportunity to speak to them and explain how we work."
As well as the site, It's Nice That produces a magazine - onto its fifth issue - and runs regular creative meet-ups and events. The blog even has a job board that's free unless your vacancy is filled. You could say the studio has gained a fantastic reputation for careful curation, even if, in essence, the site is simply a collection of illustration, photography and video liked by Hudson, his fellow director Alex Bec and the team. The great thing about It's Nice That is its variety and slick presentation - and the minute clients realise that there is a creative studio behind this curation, they're interested. Concluding, Hudson reveals he has no plans to slow things down: "It's Nice That is growing," he smiles. "We're keen to push the magazine and plan to go quarterly next year. We're also planning to start up a regular events programme, as well as maintaining a great online platform with new and original content that isn't seen everywhere else. If you'd told me this when I started I wouldn't have believed you."
The It's Nice That approach is one echoed by illustrator Alex Mathers in his blog Ape on the Moon. "The blog initially started as a place where I would share my own thoughts, and things I liked in the illustration world, with the main intention of supporting and bringing traffic to my portfolio," he says. "It's since developed into a site focusing specifically on contemporary visual arts, with an emphasis on work process and more in-depth features, including interviews. The site is run partly to boost exposure for myself and the site, but mainly to help bring to light the highest quality contemporary visual art that exists in the creative world."
Mathers' other project, Red Lemon Club, is a little different, but still has a positive effect on the illustrator's commissions. Mathers explains the blog's concept: "I started Red Lemon Club for a few reasons. The first was to share the knowledge I was gaining as a freelancing creative, learning how to promote myself and how to be successful in general. The second reason was to make some passive income through selling a book specifically about online self-promotion, something I hadn't previously seen being written on in depth. Thirdly, I wanted to raise my credibility as a creative professional, and I felt that writing a useful, specific and content-rich blog was a good way to do this and to raise awareness of what I do," he explains.
"Building relationships with people in this way will have positive benefits on my illustration work, through people being reminded of my work over the long term, work being referred, and other indirect marketing means, as well as some readers hiring me directly."
Built on WordPress, Red Lemon Club is easy to update - and Mathers makes sure it's constantly updated. "A good blog will act as an excellent focal point for attracting traffic towards you and the brand you're building up," he points out. "You can also set up various methods of bringing traffic to your blog, because it's information and content-rich, unlike your portfolio, to which it's harder to attract traffic. It's from the blog that people can make the decision about whether they want to see your work or not, which means that those visiting your portfolio will be the right kinds of people you'd want to see your work."
If you need proof of what a good blog (along with sizeable talent) can do for your career, take a look at Just Creative Design - the brainchild and thought-bank of Jacob Cass. "I started my blog back when I was a design student as a way to discuss my design process and get feedback from others," he says. "From there I learned about the blogging world and soon realised blogs were capable of so much more. I was hooked on blogging and it's been the backbone of business ever since." Just Creative Design is a vibrant mix of tips, features and inspiration, with logos and branding as a central, although not exclusive, theme. Over the past year Cass has worked as a consultant for agencies in New York, including stints at Carrot Creative. He's currently developing the brand and creative direction for a company called OpenSky, which involves improving its web application's UX and UI, as well as its marketing collateral. Why do we mention this? Well, as Cass explains, his blog has contributed to his success as a logo and branding expert: "I haven't spent a cent on promoting myself in four years," he says. "If that doesn't show that the blog is working then I don't know what else would. This of course doesn't include any time spent on the site, which would be quite considerable. The blog brings in all of my freelance work and I often discuss this work in my posts."
There seem to be three golden rules of blogging in order to raise your creative profile. The first: have a good idea and an original take on things. Try to find a niche, or a style, or kind of artwork you post (if that's your blog's style). Secondly, try to offer more depth or more careful curation than anyone else - it will immediately make your blog, and you, look more professional and elevate you as an expert in your chosen field. And finally, keep it updated, daily if time permits. Once you're producing a good blog and generating traffic, it's only a matter of time before visitors - and hopefully potential clients - are drawn to your portfolio of work.