Ken Liu is a graphic designer – “the creative department for small companies like record labels that don’t have a creative department”. We got him to tell us all about his job.
Place of work?
I mostly work from home. Sometimes I’m needed on site for meetings, presentations, or proofing. When I’m traveling, I’m working on the plane, in the car and in the hotel.
I am a freelance graphic designer – the creative department for small companies like records labels that don’t have a creative department. I make logos, album art, packaging, banners, flyers, business cards, videos, websites, social media content, and all the other little pieces of visual candy that need to exist.
How long have you had the job?
What does a typical day involve?
There is never a typical day. I’m almost always up early. The cat and dog get fed. I make tea while I’m checking emails and messages on my phone. Then it’s right into the home office for whatever needs to be done that day. Sometimes I take breaks but sometimes I’m in the groove and I don’t stop for lunch. Some workdays end early and some workdays turn into all-nighters.
Highs of the job?
I can work from anywhere. I’ve moved to different cities and the workflow remains seamless from my clients’ perspectives. I can set my own prices. I can choose the projects I want to work on. I get paid to make stuff.
Lows of the job?
I’m the entire office. I’m not just the designer, I’m also the office manager, accounts receivable, tech support, sales, mailroom. There isn’t a lot of downtime unless I very consciously make it so. Work is life.
How did you get the job?
The job came out of necessity. People needed what I could make, and I was willing to sell my time. They were happy with the work and referred me to their friends. That’s how I initially built my client base.
What did you do before this job?
Everything. I’ve been a telemarketer. I’ve worked in record stores and pet stores. I’ve worked in restaurants, in creative departments for larger corporations and design agencies. I had this one job where I just traced baskets all day in Photoshop and I had this other job where I cleaned shrimp for hours and hours. I even worked more than two of these jobs at the same time.
How can we get your job?
Showing up for work is huge. Be present. Be on time. Return email and messages. Say what you mean and mean what you say. Make lots of contacts. Be social.
Who are the people who’ve had the biggest influence on your career and why?
Melissa Kaup-Augustine was my printmaking/bookmaking/typography teacher at school. I interned with her and learned letterpress at the San Francisco Center for the Book. She helped me get one of my first jobs making direct mail for political campaigns. She lived on a boat.
Have you ever thought about going it alone?
I never thought about it until I was already doing it.
What’s the one bit of advice you wish you’d known at the beginning of your career?
I hurt my back sitting too long in the same position and have had many expensive visits with the chiropractor. It’s very important to get out of that chair, stand and stretch at least every 30 minutes.
What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made in your career to date?
Don’t forget to pay your taxes.
How would you like to see your industry develop over the next five years?
I’d selfishly like to see more of a push towards physical products within the electronic music industry. I enjoy making them more.
Ken Liu’s work is available to view on his website.