Julia Kostreva
What difficulties did you face at the beginning of your career?
In some ways I think I’m still at the beginning. I hope I have many years ahead! In the last five years I’ve gone from school to office job to starting a freelance studio and shop. For as long as I can remember, I’d always wanted to own a shop that sells products I design alongside things I produce with other artists. But physical products, manufacturing, warehousing, shipping and fulfilling orders... employees?! It’d be so expensive! It felt like a whole world I knew nothing about or how to manage. I’d been a freelancer and a designer in an office, so anything I had ever made for work was always created digitally. From a business perspective, when you design & code, all you need to run a business is a computer and time — it’s such a low cost for a good profit. I’ve had to be creative with my project choices in order to begin venturing into physical products. An online-only shop, limited editions and short-run products have been a way for me to start doing these sorts of projects. With each new product launch I’m understanding better and better how to expand product lines and extend my studio.
What should a young designer do in order not to get hired by anybody?
If you’re not interested, nobody will be interested in you. If you’re not engaging, nobody will engage with you. If you’re not making time to be inspired, nobody will be inspired by you.
Make new work constantly. I mean it’s not all going to be good work, but you’ve got to keep trying all the time. Do something once a week. Do a series. Do anything that lights your heart on fire and inspires you to keep creating new work. Re-vamp your portfolio with new work at least twice a year. Do projects that show off the kind of work you want to be hired for — even if you have to make the project up yourself.
Another secret really is to just keep showing up. You’ve got to introduce yourself and offer to help out. Find your city! Find your people! Go to classes, events, conferences, a ton of interviews. If not in person, online is cool too. Twitter and Instagram are incredibly easy ways to get in touch with people — it’s so easy to compliment someone on what they are doing and offer help. If you don’t think you’re cut out for freelance, or let’s be honest it’s just too much work for you (a 9–5 salary job under a manager has many benefits), then apply and keep applying. This may be old-school but a great cover letter that shows how you fit into their niche is a great start, and being friendly at the job seals the deal. People want good people.
Are there any things you wish you knew at the beginning of your career?
Anytime you make yourself available to do more work, your boss or your clients are going to take advantage of that. At my first job after school I overworked myself because I was eager to get a promotion and do ‘cooler’ work. I killed myself, working late nights and holidays. I was too naive to speak up and say, hey, we don’t have enough employees for all the work you want to do, can we come up with a plan that makes sense? and too young and inexperienced to say hey, here’s an alternate design solution that we actually can afford, where I don’t have to bend over backwards while wearing ten hats to do it for you. I mean that’s a little bold there, but it’s our responsibility as designers to be the mediator between what the client (or boss) wants to do in their dream vision and what is actually feasible to produce with the resources that they have. When you are young, and especially if you are the only designer in the office, it’s so hard to stand up for yourself and say we can’t do that. I was so burnt out and uninspired after that job. Then, when I went freelance I set up some strict boundaries. I don’t answer text messages from clients, I don’t send clients emails after 6pm or on weekends, I tell clients about my vacation days in advance, and when I estimate my schedule I plan for about 3–4× longer, because more projects come along and besides, you really should take personal days more often to be healthy.
Are there any rules or habits that help you do your job more efficiently?
Most of my time is spent running the business rather than designing. But design is what I’m hired for and what I love to do, so I try to give design my best energy. If you look at your day, you can see where you are feeling at your best. I do yoga every day when I wake up and go on a walk for coffee. It helps me feel balanced and real. When I first sit down at my desk in the morning, I find my creative mind is fresh, active, and inspired. I can happily carry that for hours if I’m not interrupted. No browsing the internet, no phone, no distractions — just design. Then when I’m feeling satisfied, if I’m at a creative block, or if emails piling up, I shift gears and do tasks, read emails, and check things off the list. You can do ‘tasks’ when you are exhausted — no problem, but creative thinking needs a wildly strong mind.
I also love paper notebooks and to-do lists, Google Calendar, timer apps like Freshbooks, the templates I’ve created for myself (for design docs, presentations, bookkeeping, project management), and Boomerang for Gmail to schedule emails and get reminders if someone hasn’t responded.
Would you recommend some books that young designers might find useful?
You absolutely must have this book! They come in editions so try to find the most recent publication: Graphic Artist’s Guild Handbook of Pricing and Ethical Guidelines. You should know how much your work is worth and ask for a fair price. It’s also super important that your client or your employer knows what the industry standard is for any job, especially if you offer them a discount.
I read this book about 2 years after I started freelancing, and it quickly summed up everything difficult I’d learned about balancing my work. I wish I had read it before I started freelance! Manage Your Day-to-Day  by 99U.
And of course, your own journals. Reflecting on your past, your goals, your mind maps and crazy ideas, will help you better understand what you need in order to create your own happy and balanced life.
Julia answered the questions on February 8, 2015.
The answers were published on February 9, 2015.