Calling Frankie Ratford a ‘graphic designer’ really doesn’t cut it. Having tried her hand at everything from screen printing to bookbinding while she was studying, she landed her dream role at Sydney’s Frost Collective design studio. Job done. Or so she thought…
“After 18 months I realised there was so much of my skill set not being accessed with me sitting at a desk… So I quit, in the middle of the recession, and went back to what I do best – travelling.” Next thing you know she was helping out at a school in Madagascar and attending design grad shows in London. “The trip was to make me forget about the design industry, but had the opposite effect.”
Returning to Australia in late 2009, Frankie started The Design Kids – an online platform working with students and grads to help them get their name into the world – while teaching, mentoring, blogging, running design markets and freelancing to pay the bills.
“This was great as it gave me a good income, took the pressure off myself financially but best of all I had access to 500 students each week to work out how I could best help them. TDK has since involved in a global platform where we help design students get inspired, get involved and get hired.”
How was the transition from working for someone else to flying solo as an ‘entrepreneur’?
My parents are both self-employed, so that was never scary for me… The risk and freedom has my name all over it. Financially I covered myself and being my own boss suits me down to the ground – I’m constantly trying to find the most efficient way to do things with limited resources and no budget. The less you have the more creative you are.
Tell us more about The Design Kids…
The Design Kids bridges the gap between students and industry. Think of it as an older sibling showing you the way through the industry and into success. Each student has completely different skill sets but is encouraged to go for the same type of job. My mission is to re-educate them about their options, their personal skills and align them with their dream jobs. Our new motto is; Get inspired (know the industry), get involved (get your work out there/increase your contacts) and get hired (success).
Where are some of the places it has taken you and what have you been doing there?
In 2013 I had semi-retired (lol) and was living in Byron Bay… The ‘what’s the surf doing today’ conversation was getting old and I wanted DESIGN… I thought I would live in all the [Australian] cities – spend five months living in five cities, road tripping between them and building the TDK community from the ground up… It was the first time I had combined my two loves – travel and design, and I was in my element. The trip was a huge success, I ran five exhibitions and my relationships with the industry started to snowball. It also showed potential sponsors I was capable of making it happen, and I was going to do it with or without their help.
Six months later I signed Tractor Design School as our major sponsor, and [could then] make everything else happen. In 2015 I repeated [the tour] in New Zealand, but hitch hiking NZ style around the two island for three months… Now I’m mid-way through an 18-month road trip around the US and Canada, spreading the love, building the community and talking at universities to bring TDK stateside. I’m seven months in and the response has been superb. Next year – Europe.
What are the creative industries missing the most?
I think it’s very easy for design students to jump online and be inspired (too inspired, sometimes!) but hard for them to make real connections with people. It comes down to who you know not what you know, and hopefully TDK can fill that gap for the emerging talent. Also I think doing things IRL is important – we have a monthly meet-up that runs in 15 cities, the primary focus is to connect with people in real time, not online, and build up your support network. As a design student, your current network (partner, friends, family) might not be supporting your dreams, but hopefully TDK can.
Where and/or who are your go-to’s for creative inspiration?
I do less and less design work, and more design my lifestyle, design my business and the process to make it scalable without increasing my team. Spreadsheets are sexy! Last year I designed some posters for my design idol, Paula Scher, which was a great freelance job but not something I push unless approached. This is going to sound weird, but Instagram inspires me… Start to be aware of all the things that drive you crazy (mine right now is tiny houses and converted buses) and build that into your life. People-wise I think it’s really important to have mentors. My good friend Tim (@dirtmeetsthewater) [who] I met on Norfolk Island back in 2003 is now my kick-ass business coach and mentor – he fits the business around my skills set and passions, and not the other way around.
What’s the next thing you’re dreaming up?
The dream is to keep travelling and have five small homes around the world, which I rotate living in throughout the year. I just bought a beach shack in Tasmania, and next on the list is a treehouse in upstate New York. The fact I have never been there (yet) is minor! I’ve got six months off at the end of the year to travel around South America, then off to Europe in April 2017 to build the TDK platform over there. Good times!