Change your career entirely
Melbourne-based designer and occasional publisher Duncan Blachford took another route entirely into freelance life. Previously a musician, he was working in admin at a book publishing company when the firm’s designer was knocked off his bike and broke both arms.
Blachford became his hands. “I was happy as a typesetter,” he recalls, “and didn’t even think about becoming a designer for a long time. Over the last 24 months, my creative interests started shifting from music to design – and it’s quickly developed into an obsession.”
Although Blachford had designed his own record covers and gig posters for 20 years – and was increasingly being asked to create work for others – he’d only recently realised that design could be a career option. He’d just started applying for jobs when he was made redundant.
“I didn’t have a folio, so I started creating new work for each job I went for,” he says. “I had to work fast and in a range of styles and contexts. Suddenly design seemed like a super-creative field.”
Blachford was also watching a lot of tutorials, and the confidence restrictions he’d previously felt disappeared. “I read books by Robert Bringhurst, Jost Hochuli, Norman Potter, Paul Rand, Michael Bierut, Experimental Jetset, Jan van Toorn, Jan Tschichold, Joseph Müller-Brockman – this was all rewiring my brain, and I realised there was a rich design history with deep social and political aspects to it. I was listening to Debbie Millman’s ‘Design Matters’ and whatever else I could find online. Then I enrolled in a Master of Communication Design course at RMIT.”
The biggest challenge he’s faced, he says, is his age, and that he’s only worked in-house. “Even though my mid-30s doesn’t feel old at all, I have a feeling I’m seen as too old for junior roles, but can’t land a mid-weight or senior position in a studio either as they all want studio experience,” he explains. “Going freelance seems the way to go. Maybe after a few years I’ll be able to move into a studio, or start one with some friends.”
It’s early days still: his first clients were friends and workmates, then friends of friends and now complete strangers from different walks of life. He also subcontracts for other designers, and recently started taking some freelance shifts in larger cultural institutions.
“Between family life, work and study, life is pretty hectic and I rarely switch off,” he admits. “I’m hoping the dust will settle but freedom and chaos are intertwined. It’s pretty wild. I’m still green but I’m super excited and I’ve found that people do want really creative solutions. And I don’t mind doing dry stuff that pays the bills, too.”
What’s his best advice? Just dive right in. “I started late but immersed myself and it feels like a new creative world has opened up. Ideas are flowing and I feel up for any challenge.”
“OVER THE LAST 24 MONTHS, MY CREATIVE INTERESTS STARTED SHIFTING FROM MUSIC TO DESIGN – AND IT’S QUICKLY DEVELOPED INTO AN OBSESSION” DUNCAN BLACHFORD DESIGNER AND PUBLISHER