Devran Dogaroglu shares his thoughts on freelancing, remote working, mindfulness and self-care
Based in Berlin, Devran Dogaroglu is a multi-disciplinary freelance designer with close to a decade of experience working with renowned brands and studios such as Nike, Apple, Google, Accept & Proceed and DesignStudio – to name just a few. As part of a three-week break at the end of 2021, he sat down to create a new website to house his portfolio. The result of which brings together two important parts of his life – design and mindfulness; blending them together to create a sensory experience that showcases the best of both worlds.
EM Hi Devran, glad to be speaking with you. How are you doing?
DD Hi, Elliott! Thanks for asking. I'm doing well. I just brewed myself an English breakfast tea which usually means I am enjoying this very moment.
EM How have you found the last couple of years, with the pandemic going on?
DD Fruitful, to be honest. Even though it definitely hasn't been easy for me as much as anyone in different ways, I find any form of crisis to be quite crucial as an event that gets you to reality as close as you can ever be. So, it helped me face up to reality a bit more. Also, it coincided with reaching an interesting ground in terms of my career and self-care.
EM I’ve found there to be a pretty even balance between people that adjusted really easily to working from home, and those who couldn’t wait to get back into the studio. How was it for you?
DD This is a tricky one to answer since many folks have strong feelings about this. Even though it wasn't a matter of choice on many occasions but rather an obligation, I think a break from being almost forced to be on-site all the time had many benefits for me – and for everyone to rethink the established practices. Where we ended up is quite interesting in terms of the flexible arrangement many shops are practicing, or about to practice. It was easy for me to adjust like many people out there since I always preferred the option to choose even though I love spending time with people at the office when it feels or is right.
I wish that flexibility became a viable option even before the pandemic since many people preferred that. Unfortunately, it didn't happen, probably because of how hard it can be to challenge the status quo unless there is a solid rationale. On top of WFH becoming an enforced policy in certain parts of the world, the pandemic gave people the rationale to demand that. As for going back to the office full-time, I believe many folks are romanticising it due to their hunger for socialising and a sense of normalcy, as being forced to isolate is quite depressing.
EM Your freelance career has seen you work at many different design studios and companies. Who are you working with now and what are you working on?
DD I'm currently working at Accept & Proceed in London, mainly on Nike. It’s been quite fun so far but, unfortunately, this is all I can say due to NDAs – as with many projects I have been working on in the last couple of years.
EM What would you say is the most valuable thing you’ve learnt from someone at the companies you’ve worked at?
DD Probably different ways of letting go and having a sense of humour about work; things that are beyond any neurosis that you'd inevitably bring to your professional life. I learn this from many little stuff people do daily rather than from a specific person. It can be anything, like the silence that happens for thirty seconds during a meeting where people positively contribute to that silence. There is something admirable when anyone just accepts what is rather than seeking an opportunity to push their individual agenda of progress and safety.
If you are good at your job, and if people know that, you can get plenty of exciting projects with immensely different problems to tackle.
EM Are there any skills you’d like to learn that you haven’t found the time for yet?
DD I got into designing typefaces in a very amateur way around 2016, but I stopped after a year or so as its technical side can be pretty time-consuming. Also, there weren't as many resources on learning type design compared to today. I always waited for the right time to revisit it. After browsing through the Glyphs website very recently and discovering the books published in the last year years, I can't wait to go back to it and expand what I can vaguely remember. It will be so much fun since I'm not planning it to be a commercial exercise at the moment considering that the field is highly saturated (especially with white men).
EM What have you found to be the ups and downs of working as a freelancer?
DD I believe how you experience it is usually relative to where you are in your career, but still, there is a strong sense of precarity when you work as a freelancer. Even though you'd have things lined up for the next couple of months, there is a sense of uncertainty by its very definition. This sense of not knowing what will happen next, and the constant pressure to adapt fast that comes with freelancing, probably are not easy on anyone. On the other hand, if you are good at your job, and if people know that, you can get plenty of exciting projects with immensely different problems to tackle. This doesn’t happen with a full-time role as much (except at a small number of places). I usually freelance with one place for longer durations which I find to be a nice balance.
EM Do you tend to find roles by contacting studios directly or do you have representation?
DD I almost always contacted studios directly in the past, but I think the network I’ve built in time makes things a bit easier since now I usually directly reach out to people I know. I sometimes work with recruiters in the UK and the States too.
EM Can you tell us about your new website and how you brought the idea to life, particularly the breathing section?
DD I always loved working on the interactive side of things in addition to branding, either to design products or websites. During a three-week break before the new year, I started playing around with creating a small website without a clear purpose. Then it occurred to me that it could be an interesting opportunity to bring together two essential parts of my life; work and mindfulness.
The experience is quite simple; you'd initially land on something quite overwhelming and chaotic, yet, the website also has this other side where you would be able to do nothing except for breathing for two minutes and being present. It's meant to be a break from what you see on the main page, creating a pause for someone visiting the website rather than adding an extra layer of noise. There are no interactions, no tricks, nothing to do; you have to either do the breathing exercise or quit.
EM What role does meditation play in your day-to-day routine?
DD I first started doing meditation and breathing exercises around a decade ago and had on and off periods. Around three years ago, I started practicing it every day. I currently meditate in the morning after I wake up and at night for a longer duration – and I usually do a ten-minute breathing exercise around noon. In so many ways, it is crucial for my physical and mental wellbeing, or alternatively for me to face up to reality a bit more.
To me, meditation is an exercise in creating a small puncture on the flow of your day where you persistently and patiently crack the surface of language so that the truth starts seeping into your life. This always brings about the right conditions to practice self-care, at work and beyond work. It also enables me to be a better version of myself for other people I work with. Related to what I mentioned before, it helps me bring a little less neurosis to what I do and how I do things.
The other challenge probably has been taking care of myself at the level I wish I could.
EM What have you found most challenging in your career so far?
DD I have to go a little back in time to answer this one. I initially studied art and passively practiced a politically progressive version of it for a couple of years after graduating. I still have a secret life where I do stuff related to my background – unfortunately, not as much as I want to. And, that is a bit hard to bring together with a design career considering what I do daily for my job can stand as a strong contrast to that world. That’s also why almost none of my colleagues in design really know about this side of me.
The other challenge probably has been taking care of myself at the level I wish I could. Things are evolving, and some places are leading the way for creating the conditions of employee wellbeing, but design can still be demanding in terms of its daily reality. It's tough to practice self-care in its true sense since it's also, similar to my background, not directly compatible with how things are done – not only in design but probably in the majority of disciplines.
EM Do you think there can be too much pressure on designers to have side projects and to create outside of their day job?
DD There IS too much pressure on designers to have side projects and to create outside of their day job. I used to fall into this trap in the past quite frequently as well. I think the market, as in capitalism in its current form, has a well-established way of permeating into people's psyche when it spots vulnerability and insecurity. It just has all the mechanisms in place to squeeze out the maximum profit, resource, attention, and energy it can. Who has more tendency to feel insecure about their capability to do a job – i.e., the notorious imposter syndrome in our field – than people working in commercial creativity? The boundaries are so vague by definition that you can always learn more, work more, and be better. And the structure tends to like that. People are working like infinitely extendable Swiss knives, and if you do not put another tool into the mix in due course, you'll get lost in the deep vortex of self-doubt that gets deeper each day.
I also get pretty impatient about the advice some quite well-known people in our field give to younger people about saying yes to anything they don't know how to do. "You can always learn how to do it later" — as if such a decision on one's course of action in this context is all about efficiency and problem-solving. That is a recipe for overextending yourself and burning out. Unfortunately, financially and otherwise, many disadvantaged folks don't have much choice to resist since they are already prone to be filtered out. Just say fucking no if you can financially afford it and if you want to do good for yourself and others.
EM Do you have a project you consider to be your best work?
DD I always think that I do my best work when I have an important contribution to bringing together strategy and craft in such a way that it is hard to separate them from each other. You can tackle a design problem most effectively when that magic happens, which is not that often, really, where both are quite strong. I think the current project I'm working on with Nike is somehow close to that sweet spot.
EM Would you like to start your own studio one day, or is it the freelance life for you ‘til the end?
DD Definitely not freelance ‘til the end, and I occasionally think about opening up a shop. It might happen with the right people I can partner with.
EM What do you have in mind for the year ahead?
DD I want to find the opportunity to do pro bono projects that would have a genuine impact by partnering with the right organisations and people. I will also work more on bridging the gap I mentioned before; my background in arts and what I do as a designer. Spending even more time in self-care will be a strong thread as well since I still have a mountain to climb in meditation, mindfulness, and facing up to reality.