Discover Your Personal Brand: An Interview with Radim Malinic
Are you struggling to work out who you are as a designer? Working out your purpose and personal brand? In this weeks episode Ian talks with Radim Malinic to learn how he discovered his passion for design, and the journey he took to establish his personal brand. We also find out how he’s been able to attract big clients, and more about his latest book, ‘Book of Ideas: Volume 2’.
Radim Malinic is an award winning freelance creative director, graphic designer and keynote speaker based in London who’s worked with clients including Nike, Harry Potter, London Film Museum, SyCo, Sprite and WWF.
Resources & Books Mentioned
- Book of Ideas: Volume 1 by Radim Malinic Amazon UK | Amazon US
- Book of Ideas: Volume 2 by Radim Malinic Amazon UK | Amazon US
- Brand Nu
Ian Paget: Here today, you run a hugely successful design business. You’ve worked with some of the world’s biggest brands, you’ve released best selling books, and you also talk around the world inspiring people. Can you give us an overview of your background and how you got to where you are now?
Radim Malinic: Wow, yeah. This is always quite a daunting question, because I wish my answer could be simple and straight forward, but I was lost for a very long time, and not particularly off the straight and narrow, I was lost in a way that I didn’t fit that profile of someone who’s very motivated or who’s got that goal in sight.
I always wanted to do lots of different, creative things. And I always felt that there would be that answer to the question when people asked me, “So, what do you want to be in life?” And I wanted to be … When I was little, eight, nine, I wanted to be an ice hockey player and I wanted to join the local ice hockey team in the Czech Republic, where I used to live.
When I was in my early teenager years, I wanted to be a rock star. Yeah, it was quite fun and I was very much into this tribalism of music. I was into everything from heavy metal and more gorier. Then I formed a band with my friends, who were my band mates, so I decided to DJ, become a DJ. I wanted to be a superstar DJ.
But, then again, it was fine, but in neither of those things, I was great. I would say distinctly average to not above average. It was not something that I saw myself doing for the rest of my life, because it was just okay.
I sobered up when I was in my DJ years. Sobered up, I needed to finish my higher education, so I got a degree in economics, which is very polarising to what I was doing at that time. But, I was good at math, so I did that. In my early 20s I moved to England from the Czech Republic. I moved to England purely for the purposes of being close to the music, because at that time the internet was a thing, but it wasn’t great. Yeah, I just moved here because I wanted to be closer. I wanted to be in the record stores, all the good stuff that I was listening to or tried to listen to was stored.
I got fascinated with graphic design. I had little entries, a little … What’s the word? Little flirting with design in my teenage years making gig posters and demo tape covers. This is still before CDs, when music was distributed on tapes, and I did that a little bit of design for the band and for myself, because there was nobody else really wanting to do it, and nobody else knew how to do it. I got into design that way and when I found myself in the UK, in London, I was all of a sudden as if you’d put me in the middle of Disneyland. I was just like, “Wait a minute. This is the exciting part. This is what it is. This is where I wanted to be all my life.”
Yeah, I did a perfect I didn’t what I wanted to be in life, but I knew I wanted to live in London. There was something that was just like a sort of magnet try to get me to be here. I got a very crappy job in a printing shop. Literally like one of those corner shops where they do, they print t-shirts and fliers, and it’s all very low key. I got a job there as a junior. Then, after a couple of years there, I went to get a job in a design company and I made it from a junior to a senior in two and a half years.
I was forming my idea of what I really wanted to be. I discovered that through working with people who didn’t really give too much shits about good design, I wanted to do the opposite. I wanted to really care about every single piece of work that I was working on. I wanted to do the best possible work because I found myself in a sort of normal scenario of design practice, I found myself very limited because my very first boss told me that I shouldn’t make things look pretty because clients didn’t pay enough for it.
I thought, are you kidding me? This is what I wanted to do and somebody tells me this. I mean, he was old and grumpy. He wasn’t particularly a good designer. He was running a business. I realised at that point that I don’t want to run, in the future, I wanted to run a creative business which is based on profit or is it based on money alone. I don’t want to be doing work that I hate, that would keep your lights on, but it would be very soul destroying.
From that sort of point onwards, I think this is about 12 years ago, I knew I wanted to deliver the best possible work all the time and that’s kind of where I started. I mean, it was a slightly sort of bumpy road with all sorts of twists and turns. That’s kind of from nowhere to the beginning of branding.
Ian Paget: I find that really interesting because your background is actually quite similar to mine because I started in a print finishing company. We’ve got some similarities there. I wanted to talk about personal brand side of things, because one thing I noticed about you is that you’ve, over the last few years, you’ve been able to establish quite a successful personal brand for yourself and with your website and your books. I know with the Facebook group that I run, there’s quite a lot of people that really struggle with personal branding. I wanted to ask you, from your experience, what advice can you give to help designers get started with their personal brand?
Radim Malinic: I mean, that’s quite daunting, because the best way to do personal branding is pretty much to be yourself, and it takes us as humans, it takes us a long time to be comfortable in who we are because we all have our personas on the outside, selling people, or we all act like somebody … Not necessarily like somebody else, but you know, like when you meet someone, you don’t particularly feel confident, and you have to make yourself be seen in public or be seen in the crowd. You kind of put on the persona of being somebody else. I think sometimes people do it in their design careers. They take on something that they believe would have themselves to be understood or appreciated or acclaimed, and when you see sort of such big personalities. For example, like my friend, Aaron Draplin or Johnny Cupcakes, you know, those are big personalities and you think, crikey, like … I know of grown designers, not even in their beginning career, like in the middle of the careers who now really get still kind of confused in who they want to be and what they want to create.
They see people are grappling and they try to emulate it because they feel they have to have something. Whereas, the truth is that you are only like, you are comfortable with your work, you can only become comfortable with yourself and you’ve got better sort of perspective of who you want to be because for many years … I mean, I’ve been doing this for 15 years, I feel like I’m only just getting started after this sort of practice period of working on who I am and what I stand for, that I don’t have to be anybody else. Aaron didn’t wake up to be Aaron or Lance Wyman didn’t wake up and say, “Right, who can I be?” You know, I’m really like Geismar or somebody else.
Like those people kind of follow their own track and just literally think I am who I should be. This is the kind of thing I mean, I knew what my personal philosophy was, but when it comes to personal branding. It only had to be … I felt like it was only possible to be fully me and now becoming more eccentric me because I don’t really give a shit what people think, you know? I know I do things differently. I know I’ve got a different accent. I don’t wear matching colour trainers. I know one is red, one is green. But, that’s okay.
I just grew to embrace it because what stopped me from being me before, being a more sort of a more prominent personality or have a more permanent branding was literally me fearing what people might think. Yeah, it took a long time to mature in the sense of a sort of designer presence, but I had to live the experience and that gave me an understanding of what that could be.
Ian Paget: Do you feel like your personal brand is basically come through like a process of almost like growing up? Like finding who you are and what you want to do with your life and then, based on that, that’s where it’s stemmed from?
Radim Malinic: I would say so, yeah. I would say so because I think sort of my obsession with English language and English life and English music, I kind of wanted to initially kind of blend in with the environment, you know? I thought well, I’ll learn the best possible English and try to get the best possible English accent, and kind of just be more sort of like everybody else. If that makes sense. You know, I didn’t want to stick out in a way, because I had lost to know. I had only English friends when I moved to England and that was my way of life.
But, the more and more I embraced that part of my persona, which is like extraordinary in way, I’ve got a foreign accent. I’ve got a very strange name, and that’s fine. I mean, it’s just embracing it. It’s just I’m realising that who cares? You know?
Somebody posted this amazing tweet the other day saying that it took them 40 years to embrace themselves and to really realise that people … We try to be someone so the others … No, we sort of, we blend with the others, but nobody is really watching. Nobody is really paying attention to who we are because everyone is looking at themselves. It’s definitely part of growing up and being more comfortable with many different things, even in our professional life. That’s where it all kind of stems from.
Writing books now… Yeah. I agonisingly wrote a first book because I was worried about what people might be thinking. I was like, oh, when somebody reads this chapter, would they like it, what would they think, would they judge me on it? It’s this process of like first branding, when you make your first logo for yourself or when you make your first commission. It feels so daunting because you think, well either you’ve got imposter syndrome and you’re like right, why am I doing this? Who should be doing this? Am I doing it right? Or you’re a bit of a psychopath and you go like, wow, this is the best thing ever because I just created it.
But, somewhere down there, even that was not a sociopath kind of route, you still have someone who is very unsure because you haven’t had that experience of going the whole nine miles, you know, creating something from nothing, delivering it, getting it approved, having something. That kind of I think applies to personal brand because it’s okay to wait in a way. Luckily I didn’t know that I was on a way to create a personal brand or that there were big personalities in the world who I was not, some people try to match. Because, no one is giving you a deadline to have it. No one says you have to be someone and that very prominent someone.
Yeah, I feel sometimes there’s a bit of undue pressure on the up and comers and new designers who feel that they have to be someone quickly.
Ian Paget: Yeah, I’m quite thankful that you brought all of this up and part of personal branding, because I know people just struggle with it. I think, from my own experience, the logo, Geek Brand, has basically developed fairly organically and I don’t feel like I’ve done anything that intentional, but I’ve had people approach me like in the last two years saying, “Ian, you’ve got a really strong brand,” and I’m like, “Oh, really?” I just literally just being myself doing what I enjoy, and you know, with each kind of iteration of the identity I guess is kind of injecting a little bit more of myself.
When I first did a logo, I kind of did it based on how I wanted to be perceived and now, I’ve updated it so it’s a little bit quirkier because I mean, let’s face it. I am a nerd. My desk is covered with … I’ve got pop figures, I’ve got dinosaurs, I’ve got a pot here with model making clay, it’s like why not inject a little bit of that personality into what I’m doing. You know, do the podcast and stuff like that.
I think all of the advice that you’ve given there is amazing. I think you’re going to help people kind of understand, they just need to give some time and let it develop organically and not to try to force things too much.
Radim Malinic: I feel on that note, if I may add just one thing?
Ian Paget: Sure.
Radim Malinic: It’s just, I think I do see people on various groups on Facebook where they started making logos for themselves. Oh, I’ve got three ideas, what does everyone think? My first thought that comes to my mind, is have you not done your research yet? Because if you go to Google images and typed in NK Logo, you would get exactly seven of these ideas that you’ve just created that somebody’s done it once before. I mean, I just believe like Google images is the first validator of an idea, but that’s the problem because what you’re doing you’re creating a logo for yourself. You’ve got no restraints, you’ve got no limitations. The world is wide open, the door is wide open.
It could be anything. I can truly say that in the last 15 years I have basically never had a logo, I just found a typeface that I really liked and I just type in Brand Nu. That was it. Because my first and foremost purpose in what I’m doing, is to create things for other people, is to create a living and working solutions that people can use and really fight it out and just kind of make something out of nothing. That is what created my, well as we call it here, personal brand.
But, it was not intentional. I was everything that is what I do, is the basis of why because there’s that little mosaic of my folio.
Ian Paget: Yeah.
Radim Malinic: That’s what creates my brand. I don’t have that particular, you know? Stamp and they’ll say this is my logo or this is me on pushing. I just feel like it’s the breadth and wealth of my portfolio and the things that I do, there’s a must to it.
Ian Paget: Yeah, that kind of stands me on to another question around personal branding. I guess, what we’ve been talking about primarily is kind of like your ethos and you know, how you come across how people perceive you. One physical thing that a lot of people think about is what they’re going to call themselves and you come up with Brand Nu. Can I ask where that kind of came from? The origins of that name?
Radim Malinic: I’ve got a fantastic story. You know, some people go … I mean, my friend, Chuck Anderson who goes under the name of No Pattern, I think he once said, “Yeah, I made one good decision and that was registering nopattern.com,” because that kind of works with him all the time. Sometimes we are lucky making good decisions. Sometimes we are lucky that it works, sometimes it just doesn’t.
The story of Brand Nu goes to, I don’t know, my … I don’t know, 15th birthday or 16th birthday when I was learning English and somebody said like oh, this is brand new. I’m like what is brand new? Brand new? I’ve always loved those two words put together. Like brand new. I came to England. A friend of mine was a music producer and produced a track called Brand New. I’m like this is fun, this is fun. I listen to lots of a genre called Nu Jazz and it was spelled N-U Jazz. I was like, this brand new thing could be spelled Brand N-U. This is fun.
At that time, I was more successful DJ than I was a successful designer. I wanted to run a club night called Brand Nu. A friend of mine told me that no one will come to a night called Brand Nu. He says, no one will come to that. But, luckily, I was getting better at my design work then I had expected. I just thought, you know what? I opened a copy of Design Week, which use to be printed at that time. There were design studies that had just almost nonsensical names. There was a studio called Ice Cream for Free.
There was something else and I’m like, wow. This sounds cool. Why do would I need a word design in my name? Luckily there was brandnu.co.uk was available and I registered it in 2004 I believe. I couldn’t get brandnu.com because that was a chemical lab in America and still is. Yeah, so I stayed with Brand Nu purely because with a name like mine, I mean, I didn’t want to be talking about prejudice or anything but people don’t know who you are because if you are … You’re not Ian Paget or John Smith or you know, Mark Wright.
People only knew English, but people were like so, are you Indian, German or where … Like I would have lots of people trying to work me out and I think at the beginning of my career, people … I’m finding that it went slightly against me because I wasn’t established as much. Whereas now, I fully embraced it. I had someone asking me after one of my talks in Amsterdam if it’s difficult or what it’s like to be a foreign national or where ever you are in the world and not being from there. I just feel, again, it’s a matter of confidence because yeah, you can be anyone, anywhere and still be accepted.
It’s actually about what we do and how we carry ourselves. Yeah, I found Brand Nu at the beginning to be very good, very memorable and again, it was one of my lucky decisions that I’ve made that I’ve stuck with ever since.
Ian Paget: I’m glad that you brought up the whole thing of the name because I do think a lot of the time when you’re kind of creating a personal brand, if the domain is available, it kind of makes sense to go for it. I totally understand. When you have a foreign name as you do, that’s a little bit harder to know how to spell or pronounce then it does make sense to use something else. Because at the end of the day, the last thing you want is for someone to sit at home and go, “I met that guy, can’t work out how to spell his name.” You want people to easily be able to find you so I think it’s good that you bought the …
I really like your back story. You kind of got something and you went with it and you stuck with it. I really liked that.
And your whole logo, you didn’t put too much effort into it, but you don’t really have one do you?
Radim Malinic: No, I’ve never had one. I always just, I mean, I think my first logo was just typed in Helvetica. I was obsessed Helvetica. That was, I mean, yeah, I used to print hoodies and through like a connection with the print shop people, I just used to print hoodies and stuff and they all say Brand Nu and people would stop me, like, “Hey, is that the drum and base label or …” I’m like, “No, it’s my own company.”
It was really interesting and I think this goes back to this whole personal branding. Brand Nu is for me the most truest sense of word and a name for my company, for my agency then it has ever been because I like nowadays it’s got a word brand in it and a word new and it kind of really stands for creating new brands and creating new products. I’ve kind of all been about innovations and kind of actually ever changing sort of presence and looking for something that’s not been done for or reinventing all the old cliches.
It wasn’t, for example, like at the beginning, Brand Nu was just something I liked the sound of. Then it became, that was my word for many years about very colourful Photoshop illustrations and less design and more of the colours and sort of psychedelic kind of stuff. Through all this again, through twists and turns, I now finding myself gaining a lot of experience in different fields and different ways and skill sets, which I now bring to actually building brands. I just feel, again, that’s just the personal branding isn’t as linear as some might think. It’s literally who we are and that myriad and combustive sort of mixture of skills and knowledge. That’s what makes us, us.
Now, Brand Nu actually stands for what I really want it to stand for, you know?
Ian Paget: Yeah, yeah. It’s ironic that it started off one way and now it turns around that Brand Nu perfectly describes exactly what you’re doing. I love that backstory because I literally thought it came from the concept of you’re creating new brands, so thanks for sharing that story.
Radim Malinic: After 15 years, it finally is that. Yeah. After 15 years.
Ian Paget: I want to steer the conversation in a slightly different direction because I’ve got both of your books and you’ve done so much work, so it’s quite clear that as an individual you’re incredible successful at attracting work, because I know no matter how good you are, if you don’t have the capability to kind of market yourself, there’s no way that you’re going to get those jobs and so, you’re clearly doing something right.
Aside from being talented as you are, what is it that you’re doing or kind of what marketing advice can you give to listeners based on your experience so we can kind of learn from you how you’ve been able to get those big clients that you have done?
Radim Malinic: Right. Well, now you’re expecting me to say some big secret.
Ian Paget: Maybe.
Radim Malinic: Okay, so… Every Monday I go to that place… no (Joking). I don’t mean to sound sort of big and clever, but as I told you at the beginning, I always put emphasis and create honest work, something that would really be of good quality and making sure that, even if I was working for my soul, I still want it to satisfy the brief, still want to satisfy the client objectives, and more than anything in this design game, is the quality of when people can see that you’re producing really good stuff, people will find it. Sooner or later, people will find it.
I can honestly say, I’ve not got a job on Instagram. Instagram doesn’t work for me. I’ve done Behance, I’ve got profiles on both, but yeah, I don’t use Behance. I don’t get work from it. I don’t get work off Facebook. All I’ve ever used since 2004 when I registered my website was my website. I made sure that well, initially it was a lucky haphazard accident that I had a very good SEO on my side. People found me and I think it was just a combination of … The word brand helps and yeah, it was because my work was a mixture of art direction and illustration and other things, there was always something for someone. If they’ve stumbled across my website and they saw what I do, and if they understood it, I knew that I was already half way, most of the battle was half won, because if you go broad generic style or if you tried to play it safe, or if there’s … You know, I don’t know. If there’s holes in your portfolio and you’ve got projects that you didn’t like doing and you still put them in there.
People kind of pick up on it and I honestly can say, yeah, my main emphasis is on my website. That still gets me 50 to 60% of new work. Since four years ago… I’m trying to think how long ago I published my book… It was only two and a half years ago, I found the books good deal makers. You know, if someone gets in touch and I send them a book or we go to a meeting, I give them a book. It’s a fantastic way of showing them what they call proof of work, because I don’t believe … Even though I say the website is one of my main sources of work, I still love sending people the physical stuff because they can see what you’ve done and they can take time and they don’t miss anything.
So, if I say, “Hey on page 171, there is something you need to see or you can reference,” it’s people got time. The battery doesn’t run out in a book. That’s the kind of thing. I’ve got these two books now, but I’ve been making brochures. I used to call them books because that was a fancy word, but I’ve been making brochures of my work and I’ve been sending them to people and making sure that people can find me. Making sure that if I wanted to work with someone, I kind of stayed that destiny in my direction.
Yeah, I don’t think I do anything out of ordinary. I just make sure that whatever is on my site is good. The way that I create is enjoyable and it looks as best as possible. I’ve been lucky to grow with some of my clients whom I’ve worked with at, I don’t know, let’s say, I’ve worked with the Harry Potter franchise and that’s, for example, the satellite office that I work, there’s someone who I work with who runs that office. I’ve worked with them for the last almost 10 years and it started very sort of innocently on a small project, but I’m kind of retained by different clients and helping them to grow their businesses and they do bigger and better things. I’m lucky to have been there for many years, therefore I’m an integral part of the team.
Yeah, sometimes it’s the luck of a Google draw and somebody types in freelance designer and finds me, or sometimes it’s something else. But, yeah. Unfortunately there’s no such sort of secret of what you have to be doing in terms of promoting yourself because as you know, yourself, you stick with one strategy for a while and see if you can make it work. If that works for you, because again, one thing I’ve seen again under some of the forums when somebody said, well, I’ve given Instagram a chance for two months and I’ve got no work from it. I’m thinking, well what did you expect?
I’ve been on Instagram for six years and literally, I had like one inquiry from it and that was a time wasting inquiry. We all believe that because everyone is some way, that we should be doing the same, but I’m very happy to prove the exception that you just … I’m focused on business. I’m focused on making this work, I’m focused on looking after my clients and that’s what works. Of course, somebody says, well you’ve been doing it for 15 years. How did you start?
I started making posters and fliers for the night clubs where I used to DJ and then, I started doing their menus and then, that was seen by the restaurant next door, so I worked with the restaurant next door doing their fliers and their menus and their posters. That was seen by someone who was having a launch day and they said, hey I’ve got this company. You know, who did your menus? I just grew just very organically. I never in a million years thought that all right, I can be working on a Nike campaign or I can be the lead artist for O2, I can be developing product for Harry Potter stores. This has all grown organically and that’s how it also started.
I started very, I would say modestly. I didn’t have big expectations because I was happy doing what I was doing. I was always more focused on the job in hand, rather than you know, thinking who else I could be working with. So, yeah.
Ian Paget: I would say your approach is almost identical to a guy I interviewed for the last season called Ben Loiz. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with him. But basically, he’s worked for Nike as well and his approach is very much like yours, like he likes sending people real things and he likes nurturing those relationships. Aside from, you know, getting traffic through his website, his focus is actually people and building those relationships. It kind of sounds that you’ve done a very similar thing to what he did.
Radim Malinic: Yeah. I think it’s in the process because it’s the design skill as such is one, but the process how do you approach your work, how do you speak about it, how do you sell it, how do you defend it, and how you made a connection is quite staggering. I had a conversation with one of the freelance the other day because I’ve been lucky to get BAFTA as a client. We’ve been working on some of their projects for the last couple of weeks … Well, no actually, could of months.
It started that I did a free branding for a charity in Uganda. The intern in Uganda in the charity went to work for a charity in London. That charity in London was looking for a designer, so she recommended me. I worked for the charity and the contact who was senior in that department went to work for BAFTA and got me on board. It kind of like I have done really good work with what I believed and what I was told, we did a really good work for the charity and for everything they needed and that contact went somewhere else and got me on board.
It wasn’t hypothetical like someone from BAFTA found me, but you know, like blind on my website. It was through contacts and I know that, that’s what happens in industry, that I can’t handle if someone goes from one company to another and they bring their suppliers that they trust and they work with. It’s just that initial contact and that initial exchange that sometimes can be super valuable and to me, you know, sometimes the badges are not the most biggest deciders. If we have an aligned vision with the client or if we are equally excited of what can be done, again, that’s half of the job done, but also you’ve got to be building these so that you’re building these in roads for future and yeah. These last couple of projects for BAFTA were some of the most enjoyable things ever because, yeah, there’s just lots of understanding and it wouldn’t be possible just to have it from afresh.
Ian Paget: Yeah. I think you’ve offered some really good advice here because I think a lot of designers are very fixated on social media today and they feel that they need to be posting on every single platform, but like what you said, you kind of just focused on one platform and building relationships and, you know, you haven’t worried too much about all of these different platforms you’ve literally focused on one area, made it work and you’ve been successful as a result of that. I think that’s good.
I know another area that you’ve put a lot of energy into in the last couple of years is your books, I want to make sure that we spend some time to talk about those as well because I think you sent a copy of your first one about two years ago and you just released the second one and they’re full of all of your work, which I have to say, I actually would go as far as saying I think it’s some of the best work in the world. Some of the advice in there is incredible as well.
Radim Malinic: Oh, wow.
Ian Paget: I do think it’s very, very good and yeah, I just wanted to kind of ask you, clearly these books are almost like a reflection of your career so far and all the advice that you’ve kind of collected. I wanted to ask you what was it that drove you to put together those books in the first place?
Radim Malinic: Well, if it wasn’t for the birth of my first daughter, I think I would be still sort of somewhere and cobbling it together, I would still be sort of making notes. But, as I mentioned earlier when I started on my own, when I started Brand Nu, I wanted to have something to hand, something to give to people, something that people can take away and of course, this form of promotion is hundreds of years old. Like, people always had printed portfolios, people always had something physical. But, in the advent of sort of internet and websites, people got somewhat a bit more slack and people were showing off, especially in the mid-2000s, people were showing off their flash coding skills and everyone had a flash preloaded intro and it was like, yeah, it was a bit of a pissing contest.
I thought, well literally I just coded my own website in Dreamweaver and that was it. I wanted to have something physical. I started making these brochures, stroke books, and they were 32 pages and 64 pages and I was selling them through my site, and low and behold, people were actually buying them. I thought this is fun because dopamine and that sort of that reassurance that you’re doing something right comes through paper. You’re like oh wow, people like my stuff.
I’ve created about three of these books and they’re sort of flip books with flip books with just imagery and no text, apart from one of the books which had a little interview at the back, which I did, I took a photo at that time. A friend of mine called Luke, he’s my friend now, we started as sort of client customer situation, but he told me, “I really liked one of the books because there was something about you, like something that you … I’ve learned something about you rather than just your work.” I mean, this is very rudimentary piece of information, but I thought maybe, you know, maybe one day I’ll actually write something about my process, about who I am or a bit of commentary on the industry.
Around the same time, I was invited to my first sort of design talk. I went to Montreal, my friend Francois invited me and I went there. It was a nerve wracking experience. At that time I was going through a bout of sort of anxiety and panic attacks and I was over worked, I’ve done too much. I looked after myself very little but I looked after my business much more. I was just totally crazy tired.
But, I did it. I did the talk. It went really well. I mentioned quite a few processes that apply in my work. I got incredible amount of questions saying can you tell me more about X, Y, zed or this and that. It gave me an idea to make notes of these questions and kind of start to be more analytic of the process of how we create work.
As a designer and branding designer, as an illustrator, I realised that the skill set that we have in Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator or Sketch Now or whatever, Figma now, they are really just 15% of you’re sort of finessing at the top of who you are as a person because I’ve drawn more upon my economic background or my interest in psychology or behavioural science or anthropology. I’ve drawn so much more influence and inspiration from that work that’s kind of went into my design process, more than design tutorials. You know, I’ve done them like everybody else.
I kind of found myself having to bury them because I couldn’t see myself getting to work past the post and I’d realised that there’s work, but 50% of the work comes back and client bounces back and they say, well, that’s not what we wanted. I’m thinking, wait a minute, this is like the 20th time and somebody said this is not what we wanted? There must be a better way of dealing with design feedback than just trusting people’s word. Trusting people’s word and then kind of going with it.
Yeah, through the question of the process and seeing how I can make this stuff better, I’ve been making notes in my phone for about four or five years. Just making notes, making notes and trying to have a couple … I had a couple of false starts when I thought, right, I’m sitting down. I’m going to make the book, I’m going to make the book. It kind of failed. As soon as I realised that, you know, I’m going to become a dad, we’re going to be parents, I knew that the clock was ticking and I wrote, just kind of expanded on my notes and realised that since my sort of little sort of self-publishing experience gave me an insight of how I can design the book, how I can get it printed, there’s only very few other steps that you need to complete to get your book to market.
I didn’t have time to wait, I didn’t have time to wait for a publishing contract, which would never come and a publishing deal because I didn’t spend years and years on a speaking circuit trying to speak to everyone. In that respect, to publishing houses, I’m still quite unknown. So, I just thought, you know what? I’m going to challenge this model of publishing. I’m going to do it myself, I’m going to complete everything in three months and I’m going to put my book on Amazon, then have a baby and see what happens next.
What happened next was quite crazy because I never thought that the book would really sell. I just wanted to have something for myself, kind of like accomplishment of the years that … The first book was let’s say put together from four or five years worth of portfolio. The latest book is put together from 18 months worth of work. You know, it’s a different story. But, yeah, I just kind of wanted to have closure of a certain era of my work, a certain way of thinking, a certain way of approaching design work and I just only could … What I did, I wrote about what I know. I didn’t try to be clever, I stayed away from the design bullshit, the big words like leverage and sustainability and that kind of stuff. I’m like that’s for somebody else, that’s not for me.
Because, I like sort of the simplicity, you mentioned earlier that not many people understand your brand and I like your branding because it’s simple. People can understand. You’re direct and that’s kind of what I wanted to do with my books, I just wanted to make it really simple. Uncomplicated, very simple, very straight forward and just give people a simple understanding of the point I was trying to make.
I printed 1000 copies thinking that would be all right for about year, those 1000 copies sold out in three weeks. It was a lucky strike because I can correct all the typos, finish some other things and kept printing books and people kept buying them. I mean, I was lucky because I put a book on Amazon and the book, pretty much Amazon made my title. I didn’t have a network of distributors. I didn’t have a network of marketeers or sales people. I did everything on my own and I still made it happen, I still managed to get a book to be a best seller in the graphic design category for quite a while. I mean, I think it was about 18 months that the orange tab stayed next to my book.
That was thanks to people who bought it because I didn’t create something like that would just sort of blend in with the graphic design shelf. I’ve created a book that’s got fashion design pattern on the cover. The title is tiny. You know, it’s very much like the opposite of the logic of how to publish books, but I knew that I was not creating this to be a commercial success. For me, it was just like okay, let’s have a closure of a few years of work. Write where I can write, mainly for myself so I don’t forget it because we are as humans, quite beautifully stupid of making the same mistakes over and over again.
I thought, let’s just do that for myself and share it with people who might care. Been lucky that the first book has sold 10,000 copies and keeps selling. I’ll tell you what, I never thought I would be making any books after that because it was quite a crazy process because everything was so hectic and sort of pressed together and a sort of condensed time and effort, that I was like you know what? Never again. After a few months of the book being published, people started asking like so, are you working on the next one? Is the next book in the work?
Well, as it happens, I’ve got like seven or eight chapters I didn’t put in the first book, maybe I can expand or maybe I can do the Kindle edition and somebody said, designers don’t read Kindle books.
Ian Paget: It’s true.
Radim Malinic: There needs to be volume two. That’s what it was. Literally, I wrote another, I don’t know 60 or 70 notes of the chapters I could have in the new book. I had them on my phone for about a year, I expanded on them, then started writing and as soon as I kept writing, writing, writing. As soon as that was ready for copy edits, I just sort of looked at my work, realised that that should be enough to fill another 256 pages with work, more text and words. And just went for it because that was a demand and that was one of the sort of the reasons why I’ve published another book is because people asked for it.
Ian Paget: Yeah, I know like when I first looked through your book, I’ve got quite a few graphic design related books. To be honest, a lot of mine are Lego design books and I tend to look through them and you know, I know how to do everything in there, if that makes sense. If I needed to recreate them, I could. But, when I look through yours, damn, some of that work is so good and you know, there is a few pages I feel like that’s like how did you do that?
It’s very inspiring and you know, I’ve been a graphic designer now for over 10 years and it’s nice to have a book like that where I can open it and go like, okay, I got that same drive I had when I first started where it’s like I don’t know how you did that and I want to find out, whether you did it with 3D software, whether you did as a 2D painting or what, but for me personally I find the work in there is incredible, is a great benchmark. I like to keep books that are benchmarked and that is like I said already, I do think it’s some of the best graphic design work I’ve seen. It’s good benchmark work and also, I like it that I would be honest, I haven’t read the book front to back, but I like it that every time I pick it up, you’ve got sections in there where you’ve wrote like a story and you can kind of just read that page and learn something every time you kind of read through it.
I like that about the book and obviously having both. I don’t think we’ve said what the book is called. They’re both called Book of Ideas, Volume one and Volume two. Yeah, I know I mean for me personally, just based on physically flicking through the work, I think it’s worth getting just for that and obviously you’ve crammed it full of advice as well, and it’s a really … I think it’s a winning combination and sense that there are still more books in you.
Radim Malinic: Yeah, there are more books already. I mean, this time the experience wasn’t as traumatic. There was actually, I actually really enjoyed it.
Ian Paget: Yeah, good.
Radim Malinic: Yeah, actually really, I loved it and it’s for me, it’s this sense of trying things that I haven’t done before, like what else is next? What can I have a go at? What can I try? What is that sort of … I don’t want to say stigma. What is that taboo there? You know, should designers code? Well, no, why? Should designers write? What? Should I write to design? No. But, it’s just I love this ability of just going, well I’ll give you a try, if I’m rubbish at it, I’ll just stop.
Ian Paget: Yeah.
Radim Malinic: That’s what it is and luckily, you know, I’m sure are English readers will say well, your grammar is terrible. I know that. Even after 20 years because my brain works in those strange ways, but there’s copy editors, you know? I mean, you can be fantastic art director but you don’t even have to draw. You know, you can work with people who will help make things happen. This is it.
When I was a commercial illustrator, let’s say I have a go to style and I was asked for something that I’ve never had even an idea how to make, and people say can you make this? And I worked it out. We are using the same tools. We are using the same language, we are using the same software. Things are literally just at the tip of your sort of curiosity. We can actually do things that we never thought we could and that’s why I started making books. Yeah, it was just to satisfy, literally, I felt I had something to say and I validated that concept on a stage at various design festivals and when I needed that work, then I just did it.
It makes me happy to hear that you like the work and most of it is done with Cinema 4D and Photoshop and that’s pretty much it. I mean some vectors in Illustrator and most of it, it’s sometimes I believe it’s quite staggeringly simple, it’s just that what is the what I call the visual story telling. What do you decide to say? The books I titled the Book of Ideas because one of my titles before was called Book of Colours because it was all very much about visual style and combustive sort of amazing colours. But, I find myself needing there to be more because just like I see logo designers who I call it if in doubt, try every style. Well, I’m doing the word mine for this and I’m like why are you doing 20 different S’s?
Why? Why? No one needs that. If you’re going to put yourself in that driving seat and say okay, so where’s the logo going to be used? How are they going to use it? What are they going to do with it? You actually get an idea of how to tell the story. Some of these projects in the book, they are just the product like a one logo route. But, that logo is behind let’s say two or three weeks of searching and debate and research and art direction proposals. That’s when the work then can start. I have done everything in my powers and in my abilities to make the process of creating things enjoyable because why would you want to struggle, why would you want to have work rejected?
Literally, it was about a conscious decision like how can I be better? Just like you Hussein Bolts who is a product 25 different sport scientists and physios and stuff, he knows the way how to run that 100, I was going to say 100 miles, crikey, 100 meters the beset way possible because he knows about all sorts of other things that make him great away from the track. That’s what it is. So, when you come to create work, you had a product of your experience and that’s why when it came to making the book, making the proper books, I was like well, it’s a book of ideas and that’s what it is because every page and every single thing there is one clear idea behind it. It’s one something that makes it, that gives it a reason to exist.
Yeah, I just went with that title because it was broad and I liked it. It didn’t promise anything, as in you know when you buy a book on grid systems or typography, you can’t be talking about anxiety and mental health because you’re going to be slightly surprised. Whereas, I decided to give the book a journal sort of category or put in journal category because I can only tell you what I’ve lived. I can only tell you what I’ve done, what I’ve learned from, what I want to do more of and what I want to do less of. But, also I’ve opened up the whole sort of third section of the book to the mind section through my sort of interest in psychology and mindfulness and meditation.
It was just like hey, we all feel that somebody somewhere who is on a stage or he’s on a front page of I don’t know, a design magazine. I’m sure they got it all worked out. This should be all easy. But, the truth is we are all broken, we are like no one is perfect. We all get struggles. We all get things that bring us down and things that stops us from achieving the things that we always wanted to achieve.
I think it’s very important to share that because I share it on a stage with people, I’m being very honest about it and I wish I knew much, much earlier in my life how to deal with these things because when you have a struggle, even if it’s a confidence struggle, it’s just telling people like hey, I actually struggled with this because before you say it, you feel very lonely. You feel very much like you’re the only person with the struggle, but once you open up and say, actually I’ve got a fear of this and I’ve got, let’s say I’ve got a fear of public speaking, I’ve got a fear of heights, I’ve got a fear of failure. When you tell people and they say, well, so do I and it’s fine. You’ve got something in common and that’s what very much I feel in the industry where we are, it’s important to say that the industry is not made up of like super human robots who can deliver all the time. Everyone breaks the same.
That’s what I felt was important to mention in the book. I tried to sort of match it up with the prepared types of work and I’ve added case studies in the second book just to kind of show how the philosophy and the process kind of actually ease then, trickle down into real projects, like how they went and got done.
Ian Paget: I feel like we could talk for another few hours, but I’m conscious of time. I want to ask you one kind of last closing question. Maybe I can get you on again in the future because there’s so many other topics that we could talk about.
Radim Malinic: We can do it as weekly if you want.
Ian Paget: Yeah, we probably could. I wanted to ask you, as one kind of last closing question. If you could offer just one piece of advice for listeners who are working on their personal brand, what would that piece of advice be?
Radim Malinic: Take your time. Take your time. I mean, the world’s not going anywhere. I mean, it’s a bit broken. It might warm up a little bit, but as I said, I’m sure through quite a few of these answers earlier, I think it’s the output that makes us who we are, what we stand for, because I think lots of people are focused on them being, or trying to build a brand around just themselves, but, you know, Michael Jackson didn’t become Michael Jackson until he had best selling albums. That’s been the brand starter, you know?
Who else? I mean, there’s just other great examples like, you become known for a body of work. You become someone. If you’re known for who you are, then you’re just a sort of pointless celebrity. You just go on on superficial looks and happy accidents. Whereas, it’s okay to take time and build your career. I know of some amazing designers who barely make it on to Instagram or even Be Hand, who are fantastic people who do really good work and it’s all about an honesty of what you creating and why you’re creating it. Because then you become that something, then you become that specialist, then you become that someone known for something interesting. You’ve got those sort of layers underneath the brand or behind that logo or behind that sort of portfolio cover. I think that’s important because initially like every designer will have their lucky strike and they’ll create a logo or a campaign that will be great.
But, then you can’t match it. The follow up work is not hitting the mark. That’s the problem. It’s like when you consistently deliver … No, I was going to say… you deliver all the time. I was thinking of Coldplay for some reason, terrible example. But, they could certainly deliver and deliver, you know? It’s just a product of knowledge, of like how can you deliver that good stuff again?
Yeah, I have to say I would have been super intimidated to be a novice designer now, because the place started out as a Disneyland. I mean, you’ve got 3D, 2D, you know, you’ve got animation, you’ve got all sorts of prototyping tools and I would not know personally where is the collar of the creativity where I can start because everything seems amazing. Everyone is posting every day and everyone is doing things and I just feels like shit, this is an intimidating place. But, it’s okay to spend a few years in agency, get some good experience, look into like how other people do it, collaborate with people, be open, go to festivals, talk to people, ask questions, even if it feels like the most horrifying thing to be asking questions to like a well known speaker or someone in the industry, contact everyone.
I’ve just seen so many egos in the industry some 10, 15 years ago and those kind of sort of they disappeared and you get people who are like even if you emailed Paula Scher, she will reply to you. If you email, Kate Morross, through email, Aaron Draplin, I mean people will reply to you because people want you to succeed and to do things again, really well.
Take time, grow your confidence, even if it’s necessary, if it’s hard and just carry on because once you’re ready, the world will tell you. You don’t find out yourself. The world will tell you that you’re ready for bigger things and you are someone who people can understand.
Ian Paget: Fantastic advice. I mean, I would say throughout this whole episode, I appreciate your honesty and transparency with your story and I think that’s the kind of transparency that people need to hear, so they don’t need to start panicking about what they’re doing. They can just cut somethings out and kind of start to find out who they are. Brilliant stuff. I got to say thank you so much for being an amazing guest. It’s an honour to have had you on the show, so yeah, thank you very much.
Radim Malinic: Thank you.
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