I’m very happy to share my interview with Deanna of Apples and Orange today! She’s an amazing screenprinter and designer who infuses all of her work with cheerful colors and a sense of joy. I always find myself smiling when I look at her work. She has some great advice today for all you designers out there, including a list of her favorite business books! Happy reading!
In case some people don’t know about your amazing graphic design and screen printing business, Apples and Orange, would you mind giving them a little peek into what lovely things you create?
Oh, thank you. I’ve done a pretty wide variety of projects. I love doing so many things and learning new techniques. I am a graphic designer and printmaker. I do a lot of work on the computer so screenprinting and bookbinding is a great way to get away from it and make something with my hands. I learned various printmaking techniques years ago and in recent years I’ve reignited my desire to screenprint. I love seeing something come out of my head and end up as pillows or tote bags (or whatever!).
Working with my hands has always been something I’m drawn to. As a hobby I bake and make candy (I even made a friends wedding cake!).
Your business centers around custom design and working with your clients one-on-one to bring their imaginations and words to the page. What are some of your tips or tricks for offering amazing customer service and creating satisfied customers?
Great question. I love customer service and I believe good service is a real differentiator for businesses. All too often we, as consumers, experience less than great service. In my experience, good or even great customer service is so much easier than damage control.
First and foremost is to listen, second is to be patient.
As a designer I find that some people may have a difficult time verbalizing what they want so listening is important, reading between the lines to suss out the real desires of the client. Then I work on translating that to something visual. My favorite part of my job is when I deliver something that excites someone.
When I sell my screen printed products, I make speed a key component of my customer service. Once someone spends their hard-earned money on something I’ve made, I make sure to get it into the mail to them as quickly I can. I also try to package it up so they feel like they’re getting a gift. I think my products are pretty special and I want the customer to feel that specialness when the package arrives.
And the experience of the customer is ultimately what defines your brand, so make it the best you can.
I know many people are striking out as freelance graphic designers nowadays, my mother included. Do you have a few books or resources that you have found particularly helpful?
First is to explore inspiration in unconventional places. For example, walking through a city with the layers of buildings and people can give you an idea for a brochure. I read HOW magazine, they have great coverage of what’s going on in the design world. Also, I love books and I read a lot of them. When I first decided I would have my own business, one of the first books I read was The Boss of You. Fabulous book – so much juicy information. (This is one of my favorite books too!) The other book I found so helpful is The Designer’s Guide to Marketing and Pricing.
Fiction can give you inspiration from dialog or an underlying emotion in the story. Plus, I enjoy reading to quiet my mind at the end of the day.
I also have my Pantone color books. I kinda have a crush on them because they’re like paint chips. And I love paint chips. They’re my favorite part of hardware stores … but that’s a whole other story.
Your work is about helping other people brand their businesses so how did you brand yours?
If you build what you do around your values and beliefs it will differentiate you. That’s true of my service AND my products.
A major part of my brand is sustainability.
I believe with my whole being that products can be beautiful and not harmful to the earth or the people who make them. I make my products to reflect this value. My materials are organic/fair trade or FSC certified, and non-toxic. Those elements are so important to me that they are the basis of what I make. So if I can’t source materials and make products that fit those requirements then I don’t make them.
I stick with my values and the brand grows up around that.
You have come such a long way since you started your business. At any point were you worried it wouldn’t work? And what helped you push on to get where you are today?
Technically I started my business at the end of 2008 and it took me about a year and a half to figure out what I wanted to do with it, what I wanted it to become. I had (and still have) a “day job” as a designer but the limitations that come from that job make me itchy, so in early 2010 I worked with a coach and really began to find a voice for my desires. I knew I wanted my business to give me the flexibility to work on the projects that light me up. So now my services and products reflect that. I’ve since worked with three coaches with different types of focus. It’s invaluable to be asked the tough questions … and to answer them! It makes decision-making a little easier.
I have never worried that it’s not going to work. I have made some amazing connections with so many like-minded women and it’s a great support network.
It’s key to have a support network.
Plus my friends and family are super supportive, even though I don’t think they all understand exactly what it is I’m doing. My husband has been amazing, so encouraging. I honestly could not be doing this without him cheering me on.
I also take e-courses that interest me. Partly to push me to do things I otherwise wouldn’t do; more writing, painting, etc. But also to meet people. I love joining communities and I’ve come away with great connections from each of them.
2012 is going to be a good year and I’m looking forward to focusing on growth. My ultimate goal or strongest desire is to quit my day job and be full-time self-employed and this next year is going to focus on building my business so I can realize that dream.
Inspiring, right? Be sure to pop over to Deanna’s site, Apples and Orange, and read her business-friendly blog!