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Member Series: John Phelan - Skinny Designs

Updated: Jan 25, 2023

John Phelan is a Freelance Designer & Illustrator, and Founder of Skinny Designs. John has been working in the industry since 2000, starting out as an artworker for in-house design teams for a number of household names, before taking the plunge in 2016 and setting up his own business, Skinny Designs.

As part of our Member Series, we caught up with John to understand his background, his decision to set-up Skinny Designs, and why he felt Iconic was the right fit for him. Each of our 16 Dublin city workspaces are unique in design and offering, John is a solo freelancer so he opted for a coworking desk based at The Greenway; a lively and inspiring workspace with a large coworking community, and one of our most centrally located buildings just off St. Stephen’s Green.

Tell us a little about Skinny Designs?

Skinny Designs is a freelance Graphic Design and Illustration service. I work across a broad spectrum of items from Annual Reports to bespoke illustrations, logo designs to adverts. My client base is also varied and I work with everyone from corporate clients to small businesses.

Before Skinny Designs what did you do?

I have over 20 years experience in graphic design, working in the corporate sector, the agency world and now for myself. I started off working as an in-house designer in the marketing department of a large financial institution. I then worked for 8 years in the agency world. While there, I was seconded out to work directly with clients on-site on a few different projects over the years. I really enjoyed these experiences and they gave me the idea that I could manage these relationships on my own.

When did you first become interested in design / illustration?

I first became interested in art in general when I was really young and I started reading comics – primarily Spider-Man comics. I always loved the look and feel of the comic and how it told the story. I loved how the art and the text worked together and complimented each other. My aunt used to buy me American import Marvel comics and I would go through every inch of them from cover to cover. I was just amazed by it all – I couldn’t get enough of them. That love for graphics in all its forms stayed with me and transferred to a love of graphic design in later years. And I’m still collecting comics to this day.

What kind of process do you have when starting a new project?

First of all, I chat with the client to get a better understanding of the brief. Then I’ll start looking for visual references to generate ideas – either online or just by flicking through books, magazines, etc. Just looking for something that catches my eye and sparks an idea. Then I start sketching out some layout thumbnails of whatever is in my head. These sketches are finally worked out digitally in indesign, photoshop or illustrator.

What was it about The Greenway (Iconic Offices) that felt like the right fit for you?

I was really impressed with the overall look of the offices and the atmosphere on the floor. I immediately got a good feeling and there was a real buzz about the place. I’d seen a few offices at this stage and this was a step above. It was so clean and organised too – which I loved. I’m a bit of a clean freak and can’t think straight unless my surroundings are clean and tidy.

What is the greatest benefit of working at The Greenway for your business?

It’s been great working alongside people and businesses of different backgrounds. Working at home on my own was quite isolating at times, so the social side always really appealed to me. The worst part of working alone was not being able to chat to people about random day to day stuff or just bounce ideas off people. Being able to chat to people, on my breaks, about what they were doing or even how their day was going was great. Also, meeting people from different businesses and industries gives you new insights into how people work. It all really helps when working with a diverse group of clients.

What was your greatest challenge when setting up your own business?

The unknown aspect, the uncertainty – it was scary in a way. Was I doing the right thing? Would I be a success? Getting those first couple of jobs in was massive. I’ve learned so much since going out on my own and the way I worked at the start compared to how I work now has changed a lot.

What made you choose a flexible workspace over a traditional office?

I spent a long time viewing office space before I picked the Greenway but as soon as I got my tour I’d made up my mind that I wanted to work here. The look and feel of the space as well as the list of facilities that were available for my monthly fee, made my decision easy. The community here is great too. Before Covid hit, the floor was usually full every day. I got to meet people from similar business backgrounds and very different backgrounds. Obviously, things got very quiet during lockdown but more and more people are coming back and there’s a real sense that life is returning to normal.

What do you like most about the freedom of being your own boss?

I suppose the answer is in the question – it’s the freedom, coupled with the fact that I love what I do. I love graphic design and illustration. I’m really lucky. I’m genuinely passionate about my work and each project that I work on, no matter how big or small. I love that sense of doing my job well.

Has business been affected by the pandemic?

The uncertainty and the unknown was really scary, especially at the start. Work definitely slowed down as everybody tried to get to grips with things. I obviously couldn’t come into the office for a while and I had just settled into life in The Greenway and started to get to know people. Suddenly that all stopped. However, after the first lockdown I was able to come back to the office because the Iconic team implemented great Covid measures. I was really pleased to be back in the environment. I’ve noticed a lift in work now that people are getting more accustomed to this simply being a new way of working. It’s still not back to old levels but it’s improving as we’re all getting use to it.

Can you tell us about a project you’re particularly proud of?

I’ve just finished working on a project with another business owner here in Greenway, Maeve O’Malley, owner of Meltdown. I’ve created 3 new characters that will be printed on the labels of her range of sauces. It’s been a brilliant experience. Maeve believes in a partnership approach and worked with me on what she wanted but gave me creative licence to go nuts. I enjoyed every minute of it, from sketching out loads of weird looking characters to finalising the digital artwork. Maeve also introduced me to other creatives that she works with – it’s been a really enjoyable collaboration.

What’s next for Skinny Designs?

2021 has been a really interesting and encouraging year so far. I’ve been working on a lot more illustrations for websites, bespoke info-graphics and character designs. I’d love to continue to grow the illustration side of my business. I love everything to do with design but illustration really excites me and I feel that I have a unique set of skills to offer.

Looking to find your unique workspace?

There’s no one size fits all solution when it come to finding workspace. That’s why at Iconic Offices we create a flexible workspace contract that’s unique to your business. If you want to chat to one of our workspace specialists to learn more, enter your details below and a member from the team will reach out.

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