Ian Paget is a British-born designer with an incredible spectrum of skills. He’s primarily a self-taught designer who has undergone various career opportunities filling many distinct & influential roles. He now specializes in logo design via his website Logo Geek.
Ian has experience in print design, illustration, websites, mobile apps, and identity/logo design. His story is full of incredible work and lots of inspiring anecdotes.
This brilliant interview covers Ian’s humble beginnings as a young designer, his path leading to the creation of Logo Geek, and the many lessons he’s learned along the way.
Q: Can you share a little about yourself and how you got into design?
My name’s Ian Paget. I’m a graphic designer based in Reading, UK, which is a 30 minute train journey from London, UK.
I work full time as design director for a company that designs and builds eCommerce Solutions, where I get involved in everything visual from website designs through to exhibition stands and marketing materials (I’m writing the content too).
I love to design and like to challenge myself so I also take on side projects. Most recently I’ve been focusing on logo design, working on my own personal brand; Logo Geek.
Through Logo Geek I design logos(obviously) but I also combine this with social media where I share and create the best design resources I can find for likeminded designers. My twitter profile just hit 55K followers and thanks to my efforts I’m really proud to be invited onto the jury for Logo Lounge book 9, Best Brand Awards and Transform Awards.
My side projects have also included artwork for games and movie posters.
At the moment I’m involved with a PC game called Man O’War Corsair, an independent game in partnership with Games Workshop where I’m working on the game menus and logos.
As a kid I loved to draw and to be creative. Art was my ‘thing’ from a young age. I was that kid that won all the school art and design competitions and had an ITV news weather picture on TV when I was 10(I still have it).
As I grew older I continued to be passionate about design and succeed with an A* at GCSE, and progressed to A levels in Art and Design. I left formal education at 18 in search of full time employment, but was heavily encouraged by my teachers to progress to university and advance my design skills.
Being the youngest of quite a large family and having older generation parents (my dad was 56 when I was born) I was bought up with the expectation that I would start work at 18, and uni was simply not an option. Although I would have loved to study design formally, I never considered it a potential route due to the costs involved.
During career advice sessions I was told that design was not an option without formal education, but suggested that in some cases admin roles can include an element of design. I was a bit disheartened at the time and not certain what I would do next.
I searched for a job before my studies ended. I came across an advertisement for an assistant Print Finisher role for which I was accepted.
The role was to take printed exhibition panels from rolls of printed-paper, and turn them into full-sized exhibition stands. It was a very skilled and time consuming role that I never really got the hang of. I made a lot of mistakes and eventually cut my finger badly, which was a common occurrence in such a role.
I eventually left this role for the first job I could get – working in a warehouse for a medical company down the street from my house where my best friend at the time worked. This unexpected turn put me on the path to where I am now.
After being in the warehouse for a few months and progressing to team leader, I was kindly offered an opportunity to join the office team as part of their Product Support department for a 3-week trial. During my initial interview I mentioned my dream to become a graphic designer, so as part of this role I was asked to draw one of their products. I had no idea how to use any design software so I used paint… and somehow got the job.
This role included a small amount of design work with the remaining time spent supporting the national sales team by booking hotels and general admin stuff.
I was able to quickly learn design software through trial and error and was able to cobble together leaflets, posters, and illustrations needed. As I was very shy on the telephone and was doing well on the designs, I was given most of the design tasks with less of the calls and admin work.
In my free time I managed to get intro design tutorial videos.
I was in this amazing position where I could learn something at home and try it out when I got to work. I was LOVING it.
I was keen to learn and try things out. This was noticed. I was offered design training with a local print company where I’d arrive with long lists of questions. After a short period I designed the first in-house piece of print ready artwork which was received with a lot of excitement from company management, as prior to this they were outsourcing design to an expensive freelance designer – I unknowingly saved the company heaps of cash.
The role and team evolved to a full-fledged internal design team. I continued to teach myself and learn from those around me.
The design work I produced in that role, in particular my technical illustration work, is still something I’m very proud of today.
After 5 years I hit a glass ceiling and grew bored of the job, so went in search of a new opportunity where I could work on a variety of designs for more than one company.
That search led to the company I work for now and have worked at for just over 6 years. I’m now a director with my hands in almost every aspect of the business.
Q: What difficulties did you face being a self-taught designer? Do you have any advice or for anyone who may want to teach themselves design?
There’s a lot of theory involved in design which is one thing taught in design schools that’s hard to learn (or even know about) without being pointed in the right direction.
It’s one of those things that’s probably really dull in school, but really important. Without that foundation your design work will probably look amateurish.
When I started I was putting things together with no system other than what I thought looked good. Looking back now these designs look unprofessional.
It wasn’t until I came across grid systems and the work of Josef Müller-Brockmann that my work started to have more structure. Colour theory really helped too, and more recently understanding the optical corrections required for professional typography has really helped to improve my logo skills.
I’ve been fortunate to have mentors along the way. In my first role I had a local print company that offered solid advice, and more recently I’m able to reach out to industry leaders that I’ve met through social media.
I highly recommend reaching out to other designers for the occasional piece of constrictive feedback and guidance. With social media this has become so easy to do, and almost every designer is willing to give time to people who are keen to learn.
Reading books is essential. I was never a big reader 10 years ago, but now I frequently buy and read a lot of books. You can learn software through tutorial videos but design has so much complexity to it, from client communication to psychology and history.
You can learn lifelong lessons from some of the world’s best designers and individuals just by reading a book.
Anything you learn, be it via tutorials or books, it’s essential that you actually use those skills frequently. I’ve tried to learn 3D animation but because I’m not actively using the software, the knowledge goes in one ear and out the other. So I focus on learning skills that I know I’ll use in my projects.
This is one advantage of learning on the job as you need those skills, so you have to learn them whether you like it or not.
Q: What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in your first design role?
I really struggled to sell my work due to lack of confidence and experience. I would mistakenly just show the work and ask for feedback, so I would get treated like a puppet on a string and designs would generally end up looking ugly.
I would often hate my work and blame the client for it.
As I’ve gotten older and more experienced I’ve learned to take control by presenting and justifying my decisions, and to discuss feedback to understand why it’s being asked. I maintain control and ensure the work looks good.
Projects would also take a long time as so many people would need to be involved for proofreading (it was almost design by committee). For example an 8 page brochure in my current role would take a few days, but back then might have taken as long as 6-12 months.
This is something I never fixed at the time. But if I went back into that position now I would take the lead and refine the process.
Q: What has been your experience with learning on the job? Do you feel this can be an adequate way for an inexperienced designer to improve their skillset?
That’s hard to know for sure. I think it depends on the situation and individual, but I do believe anyone that is willing to put in the time and practice will succeed.
Although I’ve had some training sessions in my career, my design knowledge is almost completely through ‘on the job’ learning and through books.
I was really lucky when I first started working for a company that gave me the time to learn and improve, and to be surrounded by people that challenged me and let me experiment with crazy ideas.
I’m not sure I would be where I am now if I didn’t have that experience. And looking back now I believe it was a rare opportunity.
I have obviously made mistakes learning on the job. But I’ve always learned from every mistake, and I believe that makes me a better designer.
I think even with formal training mistakes are still likely to happen – especially when you’re working with new emerging technology and you have tight deadlines. The main thing is spotting the errors and learning from them.
Q: What do you feel are the biggest factors when trying to fit into a new role & blending with a new design team?
I think being honest is the most important trait. It’s ok to not know how to do something, so being honest with team members and asking for help is much better than struggling and screwing up.
Nothing is worse for a team than having to mop up mistakes when a deadline is looming!
Also be willing to help. Offer solutions rather than simply finding problems, and be keen to learn.
Q: What was it like transitioning from print design into designing for the web?
My first job was purely print-based, and after 5 years I felt like I’d mastered the art of design.
I remember looking at web design and thinking it would be easy. I was quietly confident when I started my new role at an e-commerce company.
I had a solid print-based portfolio so everyone had high expectations as ‘lead designer’ – the company’s first UK, full time designer, so I had no support other than the internet.
On my first day I got busy working on a homepage design. I sketched an idea and started to put the artwork together. I was familiar with working across illustrator and Photoshop, but I quickly found I was really, really struggling.
I wasn’t sure what sizes were correct, what font sizes worked best. The techniques I had used to cut out objects for print looked sloppy at 72DPI.
The design I did was awful but my boss (a non-designer) was able to give me some guidance. I found it very stressful and honesty thought I would get fired. But they seemed pretty happy with the final outcome which turned out to be better than what they were already producing!
I was very naive, and had a lot to learn. I quickly learned that print and web are very different.
Thankfully I was able to quickly get my skills to a good place simply by replicating what others were doing. Copying layouts, font sizes, page widths, etc.
I was able to research websites, select parts I liked, then combined the effects and styles together into a unique piece. It didn’t take long to learn the trends and understand worked well. I now have a mental toolbox of styles and techniques to mix together.
I made mistakes along the way, but through conversations with developers and seeing where something could have been better, I now feel like I’ve pretty much mastered the art of web design.
Q: Of all the design mediums you’ve worked on from web, print, and mobile, do you enjoy any one in particular over the others?
Not really. Although creating 72dpi artwork is much more enjoyable than 300dpi. It’s much more precise as you can see every pixel, and I believe it requires more skill.
I’ve always really enjoyed vector-based artwork such as logo design and technical illustration, and at the moment that’s what gives me the most pride.
Q: Where did you get the idea for starting Logo Geek? What was it like first getting the site online & landing clients?
I love working on side projects and have most of my working life.
I started a long-term project with friends at Evil Twin Artworks working on an iPhone game called GooHoo. The idea was my little baby, so I was really involved and worked on all the artwork from backgrounds to animation sprites.
This was probably the coolest and most ambitious project I’ve ever worked on. But it became a very long drawn-out process with a lot of style changes.
The project took 4 years to complete.
I was a little drained after this project and felt burnt out, but soon I wanted another creative venture to sink my teeth into.
I’d always enjoyed designing logos and after a conversation with my partner, she mentioned that it was something I have a skill for and that I should consider focusing on logo design. It was an ideal route as a logo project is much shorter term, but also highly satisfying.
I started by looking for available domains which felt like an impossible task. After trying almost every option on my list I came across LogoGeek.co.uk and registered the domain immediately.
I setup WordPress and threw a website together over a few nights. I decided I’d gradually improve it over time. I thought nobody would ever see it… so I let it sit there.
I started to design logos for work friends and family members as I was known for my design skills. With each project I added shots to the website.
My first paying clients were old school friends and ex-coworkers who had seen my work on Facebook.
Then one day I had a real enquiry through my website from someone I didn’t know. I was surprised as I had no idea people were visiting the website.
After that project I started to improve the website.
I picked up SEO knowledge from my full time job, so did what I could to optimize the content. I added case studies and wrote more blogs.
My search results have simply increased from that day and I get a steady stream of daily enquiries. I’ve very gradually improved my process, improved my offering, and increased my prices. I put a lot of time and energy into it, and I feel like the work is paying off.
Q: What’s your typical creative strategy for putting together a new logo design? Do you have a usual routine going from initial idea to finished deliverables?
I’m a strong believer in process and I feel I’ve nailed a system that works well for me. I don’t think it’s particularly unusual, but I’ll explain how I work in a few points:
I send the client a questionnaire which collects information about their company, their future vision, their competition, and target market.
From this I create a list of goals which I ask the client to approve. I ensure they understand I’ll be working from this list, and ask them to add any expectations they have. This helps me to present the designs and to focus on strategy rather than let personal opinions slip in.
I’ve written about this in detail on my blog: A designer’s guide to creating a logo design brief.
I’ll then spend several hours brainstorming ideas in a sketchbook based around the goals. I typically scribble down every idea or related words I think of, no matter how terrible it might seem, as it might spark another better idea. Plus it clears my mind of noise.
Mind mapping and the use of a thesaurus can be helpful to find connected words and ideas. A Google search for related images and themes can also spark ideas. I’ll keep sketching until I have a number of solid directions. At this stage most ideas are just scribbles.
One valuable piece of advice given to me about idea generation is to imagine what you would expect to see from this business. For example, if a leaflet came through the post what would it look like?
Listing expected attributes has really helped to focus on the most suitable route, and to select the best options for further development.
Then I’ll open up Adobe Illustrator to take the best ideas further. I illustrate the icon or symbol, and if it’s not looking quite right I take a copy and rework the idea.
Since file space is unlimited I try to keep work in progress so I can hop back if needed. When working with type I select fonts which I feel are suitable and modify them if needed. I’ll always modify type in some form as typically the kerning is never quite right.
At this stage I focus on form and avoid using colour. Only when I’m confident that the logo works in a single colour will I start to explore further options.
When I have designs that feel complete I use an Illustrator plugin that I love called LiveSurface. This lets me see how the logo might look in a real world scenario.
If I have extra time I’ll give myself an incubation period for at least a day so I can see the designs with a fresh pair of eyes. This can be really valuable as you can become very close to an illustration and miss obvious errors.
Time away from the design means you can see and fix previously unseen problems.
I’ll then present a number of different designs to the client, normally about 3. During the presentation I’ll justify my design decisions by referring back to the objectives.
I encourage the client to refer to the objectives and to think strategically rather than let personal opinion come into the decision making progress. I try to avoid saying “what do you think”, and instead “do you agree that this option best meets the goals discussed?” That keeps me in control and avoids subjective opinions.
In most cases the client will have feedback. I always listen carefully to understand why they are asking for changes to best advise on the next direction. If I think an idea is wrong I’ll say so, and justify why.
In most cases the client does help to make the design better.
Once the design is agreed upon, I spend time polishing the artwork and then finally preparing the logo files.
Q: It seems like you’ve worked on so many different projects with such a wide breadth of skills. Do you have any personal favorite(s)?
I’ve always really enjoyed illustration work and complex Photoshop work. I’ve always enjoyed more technical problems which is why I love logo design so much.
I generally prefer projects where I have total control such as print based work. I can always be proud of that work, and know even after a few years it will still look good.
In contrast to that I spend a lot of time working on web design. Since I’m not a developer I’m very reliant on someone else to build the layout. Since most developers are more technical and don’t always have an eye for design, they can sometimes unintentionally ruin the design by missing small details.
Content management driven projects also grate on me at times, as clients have total control of the images and content which is almost always far from the quality I would strive for myself.
For that reason I don’t like to show off my web design work, as I don’t feel it’s a true reflection of what I’m capable of doing as a designer.
Q: Do you prefer to work as part of a design team or solo as a freelancer?
I prefer working with a team. I love to be able to bounce ideas off others and to share deadlines, stresses and joys.
A solo victory is always good – but much better when you can share it with others.
Q: Where do you typically look for design inspiration?
I like to have pieces of work that I see as a benchmark.
So for logo design I’m always referring back to the great work of designers such as Paul Rand and Saul Bass. I also look to the work of the best agencies such as Pentagram.
For web design I keep note of sites that wow me. It’s worth looking at the sites scoring well on Awwwards.
Other than this I let the project brief and research drive the inspiration.
Q: Where do you hope to see yourself in the next 3-5 years?
I’d like to have my book finished! I’m working on a book to help people learn logo design, but with full time work commitments and side projects the progress has been very slow.
I know it’ll be great, so hopefully it will be loved and idealistically a best seller.
I want to continue to focus on my logo design business and the Logo Geek brand. Hopefully within 5 years I’ll be able to take it to the number 1 logo design social media group in the world, and will be recognized for great identity design work. I hope this will lead towards bigger and better design projects.
I’d also love to be involved with more branding and design awards. It’s so inspiring to see the work of others, and to read about the process and ideas behind the work.
Q: Finally can you share any last bits of advice for young designers just getting started on their journey?
Your portfolio is your most important asset, more so than qualifications. Show your work to people even if you don’t think it’s perfect.
If you never show off your work, you’ll never ever get any opportunities. When presenting your work be sure to “sell it”. Tell people why something is great (even if you no longer like it) and how you succeeded with the project.
Be excited about it, and the onlooker will feel your passion for design.
When looking for jobs don’t just reach out to the big design agencies. They’re typically inundated with CVs and portfolios, so you’re unlikely to have much success unless you’re lucky or well-connected.
Instead reach out to companies that look like they need the help and where you know you can make a difference.
If you’re professional in your approach, keen and willing to learn, opportunities will come your way. Just don’t give up on your dreams.
As designers we have the freedom to come up with ideas and execute them to completion. We can create anything that we can imagine, and influence people’s lives in powerful ways. What’s more exciting than that?
Special thanks to Ian Paget for taking the time out for this incredible interview. To learn more you can visit his website Logo Geek, follow updates on Twitter @Logo_Geek or follow his personal account @ianpaget.