Dave Clayton is a 53 years old, father of four and happily married! Who has a huge passion for Art, Graphic Design, and the creative industry. In this Designer Interview With Dave Clayton we talk everything about his life as a graphic designer.
— The Logo Creative™ (@thelogocreative) September 25, 2019
Ever since he was a kid he has always been into Art. The smell of crayons is still one of his favourite things. And he can’t walk past a stationery shop without wanting to buy pads, pencils, and pens.
Dave used to make his art with Letraset, cutting letters out of magazines and newspapers and gluing everything together to make his own comics and artwork.
He would buy comics and books with the pocket money he received, and even did a paper round to pay for all his art stuff but never saved a penny!!
As Dave explained the love he has for art and graphic design never goes away. Dave still has a love for books, fonts, print, logos, packaging, etc.
He never attended art school, college or university, and actually left school at 16 and worked in engineering for 9 years. Dave explained
“You’ll be amazed at how much you can learn about art in engineering. Precision and finish were critical in my job and it was the best 9 years start I could have had. All through those years, I continued to spend hours making stuff, I worked on fanzines, artwork for my brother’s band and anything else I could find to do.”
And then arrived computers! Dave had a love for DTP (Desk Top Publishing) and was lucky enough to get to play with early Macs and Quark XPress and then any other free software he could grab from computer magazines to make the design work on the early PCs.
Dave also found Paint Shop Pro, now he could make photographic artwork and use it in his design work. Eventually, he was ‘given’ a ‘copy’ of Photoshop 5.0. He started to use Macromedia products through the job he had at that time, and the rest is history!
Dave’s skills evolved through self-taught learning via magazines and books. Then one day he found a US magazine called MAC DESIGN. As Dave mentioned he had no idea who was behind it but he loved it. Turns out it was a magazine founded by Scott Kelby. Dave then found Layers Magazine and subsequently Photoshop User magazine and became aware of NAPP.
Without boring you with all the bits in-between, Dave found his ‘home’. He learned so much from Adobe and NAPP (now KelbyOne) and in 2009 he contacted NAPP and requested that more was available for UK members. The end result of that was Dave becoming the official UK Evangelist and attending his first-ever Photoshop World in Las Vegas, 2010. (There’s a lot more about all this over on Scott Kelby’s blog here)
Fast forward to today and Dave has now worked full-time and freelance in the design and marketing industry for over half his life but always been in love with graphic design for as long as he can remember. Dave is now the Training Manager for the industry-leading Illustrator plug-in company, Astute Graphics, based here in the UK.
Dave has attended 8 Photoshop Worlds, recorded six classes for KelbyOne on InDesign and Photoshop and always looks forward to teaching his live classes at Photoshop World.
Dave got to design his first-ever book cover for a #1 best selling book on Amazon, The Photoshop Workbook by Glyn Dewis on. Since then he has designed Glyn’s two follow up books, Photograph Like A Thief and The Photoshop Toolbox as well as Alan Hess’ new book, Make Great Photos.
As Dave explains “the number of things I have experienced and the friends I have made through my connection to KelbyOne make me want to pinch myself every time they happen. I am a very lucky boy indeed! I’ve had my face on the front of two photography magazines and inside a few other top Photoshop and Photography titles. I’ve created artwork for comedians and TV/radio people. I still create artwork for a football fanzine for free. And my book collection is starting to annoy my wife….but it’s an awesome collection!!!”
The Logo Creative – Hi Dave, It’s a great pleasure to feature you in our Designer Interviews
Dave Clayton – Hi Andrew, Thanks for this, I really appreciate it!
The Logo Creative – What was the turning point in your life when you decided to become a designer and how did you proceed?
Dave Clayton – That’s a great question because I’m of an age where a large part of my life, at least half was computerless. As a child, I was obsessed with branding, color schemes, and logos. I watched a lot of 1960/70s sci-fi TV, Thunderbirds, Star Trek, Joe 90, Man From UNCLE, Time Tunnel and also Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was my favourite book, looking back I remember being fascinated with the imagery and color. I often joke in my presentations when I teach at Photoshop World, I wanted to be a kidnapper when I grew up because I wanted the job of making ransom notes! Luckily I chose another profession.
I think design is something you are born with and somehow you find your path. I wasn’t a ‘designer’ for some time, I forged a path in other trades and design was my hobby but somehow I included design elements in my work. I didn’t go to college or university, I just read books and absorbed as much as I could. Starting with pens, paper, photocopiers, and Letraset and then when computers came along I was hooked on Desk Top Publishing on Quark. That was my real intro to computer-generated design. Once I discovered Adobe I had found my calling! I did some freelance work and then found the best place for a design job was in the marketing department. I love marketing and the marketing of design.
The Logo Creative – What does your day consist of?
Dave Clayton – At the moment I work in the best job I’ve ever had, at Astute Graphics. We make cool plug-ins for Adobe Illustrator. I’m a Training Manager and a kind of community manager. I identify designers and companies that use Illustrator extensively and determine what they could need from Astute Graphics to increase productivity and improve their workflow. I watch a lot of tutorials, listen to podcasts, research companies, contact designers and then create training content to assist them. Aaron Draplin is a big customer of ours as well as many other designers and big companies such as Adidas, Dreamworks, Disney, Google, and Pixar, it’s a privilege to work with them. I work 3 days at home and 2 days at our Hereford HQ with our team.
The Logo Creative – Are you a morning person or night owl and is there a reason why?
Dave Clayton – Both, I can deal with early mornings but I find I work better later in the evening.
The Logo Creative – What was the first logo you ever designed?
Dave Clayton – Aside from the many hundreds I drew as a kid most of my earliest ones were for products and services in the companies I worked for, nothing groundbreaking or award-winning, just fit for purpose which is very important, not all your logo work will be sexy but if it pays the bills and you are getting hired then you are on the right track. There’s a quote Aaron Draplin told me, he went to a Typography conference because he made a font but didn’t call himself a typographer, he’s a graphic designer. They kind of looked down their noses at him and said “what’s the difference between you and us then?” he replied “I’m profitable” – we do this to make a living, not to struggle.
There’s one logo I did about 15 years ago for a local company in Swindon, nothing groundbreaking but one I’m proud of, and to this day I still get a thrill when I see their ever-expanding fleet with my logo design on.
The Logo Creative – What is your favourite logo you have designed?
Dave Clayton – One I’m most proud of was for my buddy Glyn Dewis, his was pure serendipity. Without his initials being what they are it wouldn’t have worked. So many people comment on it when they ‘get’ it.
The Logo Creative – What is your favourite logos of all time?
Dave Clayton – It changes over the years but the one I really love is the Rolling Stones tongue. I always come back to that. It’s stayed cool since the day it was designed and anyone of any age is always happy to have it on a T-shirt. And they are a great band!!!
The Logo Creative – Can you describe or give us an overview of your logo design process?
Dave Clayton – It’s changed over the years, you learn as you go and are influenced by great designers. I love watching progress content from other designers. Sadly, great designers design and it’s a non-designer deciding. That can be frustrating but they are the bill payer, not every logo will be in my portfolio. I chat with the customer, I ask them why they are creating or rebranding, I ask them to visualise in their head what they think they expect – is there a defining shape or colour or mark. This helps me get closer to their expectation and means I can also be creative and create something completely different but include elements that will resonate with them. I try not to create too many, it’s like giving a child too many choices, it confuses them. Also, research what’s already out there. When someone wants a dog logo or a photography logo, it’s been done to death, it’s both easy and incredibly hard. So I always look what’s already out there so that I don’t create an exact copy. They are the basics that work for me as I do a lot less logo work. But learning more about Illustrator through my job has helped me find better ways of designing.
The Logo Creative – What brands do you most admire and how do they influence your creative thinking?
Dave Clayton – As my job involves researching great designers I admire a lot of different people. I love when someone makes something so simple but so brilliant and you get annoyed you didn’t do it yourself! I buy a lot of design books, I’ve got a library in my office of over 300 design based books so lots of different things inspire me. I’m very drawn to retro.
The Logo Creative – What do you consider your most successful design project, and why?
Dave Clayton – I enjoyed my 5 years at a local communications company, I designed and created so much content for them, nothing in my portfolio but work that was effective and helped grow the business. As I said, some design has to be fit for purpose, convey the message and do its job, within brand. I enjoyed that process. Sometimes we get too hung up on the logo, the whole branding is as important.
The Logo Creative – How long does it take to complete the average logo design project from start to finish?
Dave Clayton – Seriously, depends on budget. Bob the plumber will get less than the corporate. Because I’m not just designing a logo it can depend on how much else is required. I’d like to put a bigger design job to bed in 4-6 weeks with good communication and an agreeable budget. Mockups and style guides are equally important. Occasionally, when it’s just a logo you can nail it in a couple of rounds, others you sometimes have to give up. If you design quick, don’t always deliver quick. As Paula Scher said “it took me a few seconds to draw it but it took me 34 years to learn how to draw it in a few seconds” – some clients will see quick = cheaper for them. They’re paying for experience, not time.
The Logo Creative – What are you recommended design books to read?
Dave Clayton – I thoroughly recommend Aaron Draplin’s book, just to see how a designer built a career. I’d also get the House Industries book, Dorothy and Otis is a brilliant book about how the Wrigley brand was created, Junk Type for great retro inspiration, the Saul Bass book and the Lubalin book by Unit Editions are equally inspiring. I could recommend so many more!!!
The Logo Creative – Which software do you use frequently and is there any you would recommend to designers?
Dave Clayton – Totally Illustrator – for logo and branding. You can use all the alternatives you like but when you get a full time job in a studio they won’t be using anything but Adobe products. For layout learn InDesign, I’m currently writing a book called “How Do I Do That In InDesign” to help designers get started, it’s part of the Scott Kelby series with Rocky Nook, due out November 2019. Photoshop is the Swiss Army knife of design – if in doubt throw it together in Photoshop 😉
The Logo Creative – What is your favourite style of logo design? And why?
Dave Clayton – I love anything retro style, clean and simple. I want to recognise it as small as an app icon and as large as a truck, and a timeless logo is a great logo. I see many brands now going back to older logos and being less fussy and complicated.
The Logo Creative – What is your daily inspiration when you design?
Dave Clayton – My library! I also follow lots of great designers on Instagram. Pinterest is also useful. I listen to lots of podcasts and hear about designers and their workflows. Here’s a tip – when you see a designer being interviewed on video and they have their bookshelf behind them, grab a screenshot and look at the books they have. Aaron Draplin is a great start! He has an awesome library!
The Logo Creative – When you’re not designing do you have a favorite free time activity you like to do?
Dave Clayton – Playing with my two daughters aged 10 & 11, my youngest is going to be a great designer, my eldest loves playing soccer! Then It’s design influence all the way, I love finding new design books and researching designers, podcasts and also recording new episodes for our weekly photography and design podcast, He Shoots He Draws! @heshootshedraws
The Logo Creative – What was the biggest challenge you ever faced on a project?
Dave Clayton – At the moment, writing the book! A huge task, my first and learning a lot about writing a book!! Otherwise, it’s always time, when people want something yesterday it just says to me that they’ve given what they need very little time or respect to planning. And I’m expected to pick up that slack. That’s already a challenge and one I often avoid.
The Logo Creative – In your opinion what’s the best and worst part of your job as a designer?
Dave Clayton – Being paid!! On-time!! Worst is the opposite. The satisfaction of getting to the objective really quickly, seeing the logo in real life and getting great feedback. It’s not about awards or social likes, it’s about a happy client and a job done well. Getting additional work from good references is hugely satisfying.
The Logo Creative – Who is the most inspiring person to you and why?
Dave Clayton – There’s a couple of people I owe a lot to, starting with Aaron Draplin. Through a random blog post in 2015 where I first saw him, I ended up becoming friends with him, getting him to the UK and staying at his home this year. I ended up getting my job at Astute Graphics because of that chain of events. I love his work and work ethic, I find it fascinating that a designer has created a brand that other designers wear and also display his work in their own workspaces. Closer to home, my Dad was a huge inspiration towards me being the person I have become, my networking and friendships are all from being around Dad and people being the same with him. We lost him in February 2018 and he taught us so much about friendship and respect. Everyone loved my Dad!
The Logo Creative – Who is your favourite graphic designer and why?
Dave Clayton – I do like people such as Saul Bass, Herb Lubalin, House Industries – anyone who designed pre computers. Designs that lasted decades. I think that’s why I like Aaron’s work, that simpleness but pin sharp design. I also like Dan Stiles, Tad Carpenter, Billy Baumann, RetroSupply, Damian Kidd, Scott Fuller, Bill Gardner, Sean Mort, David and Stephen Wildish, Jon Contino, Paula Scher, CS Anderson, MorningBreath, Lincoln Design Co and many more!
The Logo Creative – What’s your favourite design quote or quote in general, and do you have a mantra or saying you live by?
Dave Clayton – The Paula Scher one above really sums up the attitude designers get. We hone our skills over many years and many projects. You should come to us because we can deliver the best, not the cheapest. Value yourself and don’t be afraid to say no. Being quick isn’t a fault. Just respect your time.
The Logo Creative – In less than 10 words what is graphic design?
Dave Clayton – “Sometimes greatly unappreciated but often more powerful than any words”
The Logo Creative – What steps did you take to start your graphic design business? Did you have to make any sacrifices on your journey?
Dave Clayton – I didn’t start my own business, I actually enjoyed working for a company and a brand, I enjoy marketing and design. You need to understand both. I guess the sacrifices are not being your own boss, being held to a 9-5 regime. Freelance projects keep you fresh. I’ve been employed since I was 16, I’ve enjoyed all that I’ve learned and experienced working with different brands. Now I teach, I write and still design occasionally. I want to share all that I’ve learned and enjoy doing so.
The Logo Creative – Do you have any regrets? Is there anything you would have changed early on in your career?
Dave Clayton – Probably not going to design college, I left school in 1982 at 16 and went straight into an engineering job for 9 years. I wish I’d studied design and got on that path sooner. But all I’ve learned in my years of employment has given me different experiences and I’ve done okay.
The Logo Creative – If you could go back in time, what would you tell your younger self?
Dave Clayton – Probably to go to Design school and learn the craft. Self-taught is okay but when you don’t know the questions to ask it can slow your progress. It took me a while to get here but my career could have had more years in design than it did.
The Logo Creative – What’s the most important piece of advice you have received as a designer that’s helped you?
Dave Clayton – Always get 50% upfront and a solid set of agreed terms before you start! Don’t go in vague, part of the reason we don’t get taken seriously is because too many bad and desperate designers sell themselves short.
The Logo Creative – What would be your advice for new Logo and Graphic Designers?
Dave Clayton – I think it was Ian Barnard that said this in the Honest Designers Podcast, “Copy to learn, not to earn”. Design is hard, it’s hard to be new, it’s tough to be original. But it’s not impossible. Don’t rip off other designers and don’t copy because the client asked you too. By all means, research, look at trends, follow Bill Gardner and his end of year logo trend report. It’s a great insight into the logo design industry but doesn’t forget the rest of the job, it’s not just the logo, deliver the logo assets professionally, think of all the elements required. The more you can design the more you earn but the deeper into the business you can put yourself. Otherwise, you might just do the logo and another designer gets all the follow on design work. The marketing side is important, help your clients understand everything they need!
Thanks for indulging me, I love this business and the people in it. If you can, get yourself to Creative South in Georgia, one of the best events to build your network and get inspired.
Also published on Medium.