Dad, designer and one of the nicest guys in the business. Dan set up his own design studio Colossal Creatures after 15 years working agency side in the creative departments of the likes of Ogilvy, Clemenger, Special Group and Future Brands. Not only did he develop the MASH brand identity and illustrations but Dan has also Art Directed and creatively led a range of MASH-Up projects across Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney.
What were the main drivers for going out on your own?
Dan: There were a bunch of reasons to be honest. I was in a full time job which I really liked, and I was working on some great projects, so I wasn’t unhappy from a creative point of view. But I’d always wanted to run my own studio to have complete creative ownership.
Secondly, being a family man, it’s hard to see your kids and help your wife when you leave for work at 8 and get back home at 7 (best case scenario).
Another factor was that creative agencies are increasingly ageist, there aren’t a whole lot of people over the age of 40 in them. And even though for me 40’s a while off, I wanted to be on the front foot and have something established by the time I’m 40, rather than waiting passively for the inevitable.
Lastly money was a factor too. While running your own business is hard work, and in the beginning you’re often forced to do projects for not much money, the potential to earn more money is greater.
How have you moulded having your own business to fit with being a Dad to two young kids (not to mention one being a newborn!)?
Balancing family and work is always a challenge, but it’s easier when you’re managing your own time. It enables me to knock off early to race home and help with the chaos, then log back on once the kids are asleep. It’s also great that if I’m at capacity, I simply don’t take on more work. Where at an agency you can’t opt out of the pitches and other extra projects that pop up on top of your workload.
What does work look like day to day for you now?
Bit of a mixed bag of small medium and large jobs really. I’ve generally got some branding projects that’ll take me out for a couple of weeks at a time. Then when while I’m waiting for feedback, I’ll slot in smaller faster turnaround jobs. These smaller jobs are usually things like, illustrations, posters, and sometimes I’ll help agencies with concepting or art direction. Then at the moment myself and a friend have a large project theming a whole entertainment space, that’ll be going for at least 6(ish) months. There’s always something going on with that, be it designing graphics, concepting interiors, uniforms, type, through to a heap of conference calls in different time zones. It’s a beast, but really fun opportunity.
How do you balance being on tools with all the other parts of the business such as business development, admin, finances etc?
I definitely neglect my BD, admin and finances haha. I’ve got an accountant who looks after my tax because that bores the shit out of me, and I don’t understand it anyway. So I’m more than happy to pay someone to take that off my hands. Then I don’t have a whole lot of admin to do to be honest, I run all my invoicing through Xero so that streamlines that stuff, and allows me to keep track of who I need to chase for overdue invoices. And in terms of business development, MASH was really helpful starting out, they allowed me to tackle a number of great projects which got me set up. Then through past relationships in previous jobs, and referrals based work that I’ve done, I’ve been really lucky that a lot of really great opportunities have come knocking on my door, so I haven’t needed to go out chasing work… yet.
What are two of the biggest lessons you’ve learnt along the way?
It’s hard, but you need to trust that work’s going to come in the door. From a client’s point of view, there’s nothing less desirable than a desperate designer with all the time in the world to take on your brief. So even if you do have a bit of time up your sleeve at least pretend like you’re busy.
It’s also imperative to maintain a high standard of output. It’s a complete waste of time if you spend weeks/months concepting these ideas, if you let them slip when you’re rolling them out.
Three words that sum up being an independent for you?
Exciting, terrifying, repeat.