The Freelancers: Charlie Nash on fostering great client relationships and relocating to Sweden
In our interview series, The Freelancers, we dive into the challenging world of self-employment; discussing the highs, lows, and day-to-day requirements of freelancing at different design studios and brands as a career choice. For the seventh entry in the series, we spoke to graphic designer and art director Charlie Nash. With over a decade of experience in the industry, garnered between London and Stockholm, his portfolio reflects the sheer variety of projects that he’s worked on. We discuss his life in Sweden, setting up as a freelancer, and the learning curves he’s tackled along the way.
PT Hi Charlie! How would you say 2023 is going for you so far?
CN Hey Poppy, hope you’re well? To be honest, I can’t quite believe we’re halfway through the year. January was a bit dry but once February 1st landed it’s been flat out since. It’s probably been the most exciting start to a year I’ve had and long may it continue!
PT Why did you initially opt to relocate to Sweden?
CN I’ve been here for about ten years, and I think it’s about time I make up an outlandish story to answer that question, as every Brit you meet here has a Swedish wife/husband, which makes me just another statistic…
Turning freelance allowed me to travel home willy-nilly without worrying.
PT What was it like for you navigating the design industry at the time?
CN I was not long out of university when I began firing emails left, right and centre for internships and junior roles in Stockholm. I got offered an opportunity at North Kingdom, which to this day I’m still so grateful for. Getting to rub shoulders with so many great designers and creatives at such a young age was pretty eye-opening for me. My time there was short-lived, as you can imagine, Stockholm isn’t the cheapest city to live in, meatballs and pickled herring don’t come for free! So when I was offered a more permanent role at a brand and packaging studio (formerly called Amore, now unfortunately closed down) I grabbed it with both hands. This is where I really grew into my own and started to develop my trade.
PT What is your favourite thing about living and working in Stockholm? How do you spread your time between Sweden and the UK?
CN Stockholm is a small city, if a new restaurant opens – you hear about it, if there’s an event happening – you hear about it. I love its intimacy but this can also send me a bit doolally – so I do try and get back to the UK when my mind tells me it needs a good fry up :tears_of_joy:. If I get a few weeks’ worth of work in London I’m always open to travelling back and getting myself in the office there.
PT Can you draw any comparisons between the UK design industry and Sweden’s?
CN I would say Stockholm and London are both design-centric cities, everywhere you walk in any way shape or form, there’ll be something you can appreciate. You can look up and appreciate the architecture, look straight and appreciate your local pizzeria’s shop signage or look below at the manhole covers beneath your feet.
In comparison to London, the design industry in Sweden is relatively small – there’s only really a handful of top agencies, albeit some really accomplished ones. That’s not to say Sweden is lacking great designers, they are in abundance, similarly to the UK.
PT Why did you decide to launch your own independent practice?
CN Two reasons, the first and foremost is deep down I’m a homebody, so turning freelance allowed me to travel home willy-nilly without worrying about how much holiday I’ve got left, which in turn has kept me close to my family and friends.
The second reason was work-related which I’ve kind of spun 180 on now. I wanted to work on bigger projects with bigger clients, something I wasn’t really getting the opportunity to do in Stockholm. For a year or so I focused my attention on working with agencies with world-renowned clientele. It was fun but not all it was cracked up to be. I gained great experience and a great deal of knowledge, but more so for the people I was working with rather than the project itself. As fun as it is seeing your projects rollout worldwide on bus stop billboards and in the ad breaks, the creative joy you get from working with smaller independent brands, where you build a client relationship based on trust and honesty, and jump through hoops to meet a tight budget and moving deadlines is equally matched.
PT With this in mind, what has been your biggest learning curve?
CN I’m terrible with any kind of bureaucracy, so bad I tend to just ignore it till I get a final warning letter through the door. Get help! If you don’t like doing something, get help.
Also being able to say no is huge, taking on another job when you’re already maxed out is a disaster waiting to happen, you’re better off recommending a friend that can give the project the attention it deserves than giving yourself the added stress and a fraction of the time it needs.
PT How is your work/life balance? How have you adapted to managing your own time and schedule?
CN If you ask me I’d probably say I’ve got it nailed down – if you ask my wife, family or friends, they might have a different answer for you! I’ve got an 11-month-old daughter so I’m more than happy turning off the screen for the night to blissfully get kicked, slapped and poked at for a few hours before her bedtime.
I’ve always been pretty independent and find it easy to get my head down and focus, no matter the time of day, so I didn’t have to adapt too much. Being a sun worshipper, I tend to work overtime through the winter to allow myself a calmer summer. Finding a routine that works for you is a vital part of going alone.
PT What is your typical work setup?
PT What kind of projects bring you the most joy?
CN It’s a cliché but for me, it’s less about the project and more about who I’m working for/with. Obviously, it’s great fun being involved in projects that sit in my world of hobbies but nothing beats working with people you click with.
PT How do you like to spend your spare time outside of work?
CN Out of hours my life is centred around sport and food, playing or watching, cooking or eating. I’m out on the golf course quite a lot then usually out for dinner or a few drinks. And nowadays you can chuck in a visit to the playground!
It’s less about the project and more about who I’m working for/with.
PT Are there any projects in the works that you can tell us about?
CN There’s quite a lot in the works at the moment – I’m working on the identity of a Portuguese restaurant in Stockholm with a good friend of mine. Being a food lover this is super exciting, but also getting to work with a friend helps me see things from a different/new perspective. The doors should be opening in early Summer so if you’re ever visiting let me know and I can get a table booked!
I’m also working on an exciting sport-tech project, my lips are sealed here but the product itself is revolutionary in its space, so it’s an honour to be a part of it. Exciting times.
PT What are you most looking forward to in the upcoming months?