By Kate Marsden
Back to the coast this week to meet graphic designer Melanie Smith, who has come up with a rather wonderful Walk-in-Book concept for children. I think I might need to get my hands on one of these for the little man!
Read on to hear more about Melanie’s work and "books" along with some lovely shopping recommendations…
Tell us a little about you. What do you do?
I'm an illustrator and graphic designer based in sunny Brighton. I am also the director of STORY, which was set up specifically to sell a product I invented, called a Walk-in-Book. I'm over the moon to have just found out that I've been selected to show at New Designers One Year On this summer, especially as the organisers received a record number of applications. It will be a great opportunity for me to connect with new audiences for my work - I can't wait!
What does a typical day involve?
I like to get my emails out of the way first. So, after dropping my daughter at school, I'll come home and make some coffee and sit down to reply to as many people as I can. If there are orders, I will print off delivery notes, and leave packing until the afternoon.
After emails, I will then either split my morning into doing some marketing, or drawing/writing for new projects. I find I'm much more creative in the morning, so I like to use this time to make new work. I'm also a freelance designer, so if I have a freelance job, I will try and balance the day with a bit of my own work, plus completing work for my client.
Where do you work? What is your studio space like? What do you enjoy doing when you're not working?
I currently work from home. I'm lucky enough to have my own office space, where I have a desk which is overflowing with notebooks and pens! I also have a rather lovely view out towards Hanover in Brighton, and I can see the sea. So if I need a breath of air, I often open the window and crane my head to look at the sea for a moment, and experience a bit of space outside.
What do you consider to be the main challenges facing designer makers at the moment?
Marketing! I think it's a tough thing to turn your hand to as a creative person. Whilst we might all be good at drawing, making, designing - we're not all natural salespeople, or have the skill set or extra time to spend chasing leads, honing our keywords, and spending hours on social media.
What ambitions do you have for your business over the next few years?
I would love to see my Walk-in-Books in some major retailers and galleries! And also, I'd love for more families to begin using and enjoy sharing the books with their children. To see them as a quick and easy (and ready-made) way of spending some fun, quality time with their children. When we are creating something together with our children - it can be a really powerful experience.
Do you have any tips for fellow designer makers/ small business owners who are reading this and may be just starting out?
I think one of the things I'm learning is that things take time. We're so used to things being instantly available to us, that sometimes it's hard to remember that business success is going to take time, and won't happen overnight. I also read recently that we should be marketing and making in equal measure - which I don't think I fully understood until now!
Please share any favourite independent shops/galleries and tell us why you like them.
I love Luna & Curious in London, as it stocks a collection of really beautiful, and often UK made, gifts and kidswear. The shop is also beautifully styled. I could spend days in there.
Another favourite of mine is Castor & Pollux - in Brighton - I'm a real bookworm, and they have the best books, and lots of great prints, cards & jewellery by local makers & designers too.
And lastly - Unlimited - also in Brighton. They have such a beautiful collection of prints, ceramics, jewellery - and are also really lovely people!
Had you realised the Just A Card campaign message suggests cards as an example of a small purchase - we're about encouraging all sales as they keep businesses afloat?
Yes, I did realise that the idea was to promote buying from independent boutiques and retailers. It's a neat way of reminding people that every little helps. It's such an important campaign - small businesses and makers really need to be supported!
How important is the Just A Card campaign message to you and your business?
It's really important, because without campaigns like Just A Card, small businesses will always be struggling to get a foothold in the market. With more awareness of the importance of supporting the small business economy, the more chance people will have of making a living.
Where did you hear about the campaign and which Social Media platforms do you use most frequently? What do you think people can do to support Just A Card, and how will you be doing so?
I first saw the Just A Card campaign on Twitter, and since then I will always retweet and share whenever I see a post - and encourage others to do the same. I use Instagram most frequently, but I do like using Twitter, as I find people chat to you more often - which I like!
I think people can support Just A Card by mentioning it on their blogs, and newsfeeds. By encouraging their friends and followers to support small businesses, and to raise awareness of the campaign.
Perhaps there should be a 'Just A Card day'?!