Kati Forner

Kati Forner is a Los Angeles based designer, with over 10 years of experience in print, digital, and production. After studying classical design and form at Arizona State University, Kati began her professional career in Chicago working with several design agencies. Three years ago, Kati brought her studio to Los Angeles where she is currently accepting new design opportunities. 

Kati Forner | Freelance Wisdom

Tell me about your path to becoming a freelance designer.

I started in college, studying Graphic Design at Arizona State. The program director was originally from Basel School of Design, so the curriculum was focused more on traditional design principles and less on learning the actual software needed for design execution. This principle-based structure played a huge role in me finding my design voice, and not always relying on the computer to find visual solutions.
A couple weeks after graduation I packed up, moved to Chicago, and began working at larger agencies with mostly stale corporate clients. It took me about 6 years to realize that wasn't for me. Between that and the rough Chicago winters, I made the decision to move to Los Angeles, where I wanted to work with smaller studios. I spent my first few years at a couple different shops. When you do not have the luxury of support staff, like say at a big agency, everyone has to wear many hats. That is honestly where I learned a lot about the business side of running a studio.
To be completely transparent, I had a bad experience with one studio that honestly pushed me to want to start my own thing. I didn't have a set plan, but I knew I could not carry on with the way things were. So, I took the leap completely unprepared. I was terrified. But, it was one of the best decisions I have ever made and I wish I would have done it sooner. However, my experience with large and small studios was crucial to getting me to where I am at now.
Kati Forner | Freelance Wisdom
Kati Forner | Freelance Wisdom

In the beginning, how did you attract your first good clients?

With the quick decision to go out on my own, and with no plan in place, I had zero clients lined up. Not the smartest move, but it forced me to hustle. I reached out to businesses I wanted to design for and started putting my work out into the world, sharing on Behance and Instagram (something I had never done before). I gradually began to build up my portfolio with the few projects I was taking in, and those started to attract other like-minded clients.
I also consciously made the time to photograph and art direct every finished project, working on photoshoots with my partner, TJ Tambellini. I think this played a huge role in attracting new, interesting clients.
Kati Forner | Freelance Wisdom

Do you have any tips for being your most productive?

I try to stick to a schedule throughout the week. As a personal rule I try to take all meetings between 9:00-11:00, and then I can focus on concepting and design until I stop for the day. But having that uninterrupted design time is crucial to my personal process.

What has been your greatest struggle as a freelancer so far?

Definitely work/life balance. I truly love and am passionate about what I do. Because of that, I have a hard time taking breaks and saying no. For the first year or so I worked almost every weekend and 10-13 hour days. Not the greatest for my mental health, and it started to affect not only my work but my personal relationships as well. I'm still working on this, but I have learned the importance of, and am getting better at, setting boundaries and taking breaks. Obtaining more of that balance is a big goal of mine in 2018.
Kati Forner | Freelance Wisdom

What is your favorite thing about freelance?

Coming from the 9 to 5 world, the flexible freelance work schedule is obviously a perk. But as I mentioned before, in the beginning I felt like I was more strict with my schedule than if I was working at an agency. Over the last few months I’ve learned to embrace my situation more and allow myself more flexibility.
I also love the ability to choose the projects I'm passionate about and truly excited to bring to life, something I wasn’t able to do at first. Being able to work with more creative, artisanal brands has been so refreshing, especially thinking back to my more corporate agency days.
In addition, I am lucky enough to work with a majority of women business owners. Being able to play a small part in bringing their vision to life has been a super rewarding part of going out on my own.

How do you continue to attract your ideal clients?

When you take on jobs that you are passionate about the final work shows. Then our portfolio resonates with other similar like-minded clients.
I also mentioned this before, but art directed photoshoots of finished collateral is an important investment. I know there are great mockups out there... but it makes for a much stronger presentation when you show the identity the way that you’ve intended it to be seen. Whether it's detail shots of the textured paper, or a custom sticker you created to seal an envelope, you made all of those decisions for a reason and when potential clients see these details it makes them want something equally as thoughtful. Working with you becomes even more appealing to them.
Kati Forner | Freelance Wisdom
Kati Forner | Freelance Wisdom

Tell us about the biggest creative risk you’ve taken in your career and what you learned from it.

So far, taking the leap to start my own studio. I'm overly cautious in life so risk-taking doesn't come easy to me. However, I am planning to make some exciting changes this year so stay tuned!

Do you have any tips for dealing with the nitty-gritty business details? 

I use Harvest to keep track of my invoices, payments, and expenses. It's super useful and connects to Quickbooks seamlessly. I use Asana for scheduling and project management. I have also recently brought on a Producer to assist with larger projects so I can focus more on design and less on the project admin tasks.

How do you whet your creative appetite?

Stepping away from the computer and looking for inspiration outside of graphic design always works for me. To be able to understand what makes good composition and harmony not only in graphic design but also in architecture, interior design, music, cinema, photography, etc., makes for a well-rounded creative in my opinion.  
In addition, my partner is a photographer and musician with great taste (if I do say so myself :-)) so he is always exposing me to new and interesting things that I most likely would not find on my own.
And not to sound too cliche but travel is the absolute best thing to stir up creativity. In general, exposing myself to different and new perspectives always inspires.
Kati Forner | Freelance Wisdom
Kati Forner | Freelance Wisdom

Since you are your own boss, do you have any advice for maintaining a work-life balance?

I know this is something that I still need to work on. However, setting boundaries and passing on projects I'm not passionate about has been working for me. In the beginning I basically took on every project that came my way and worked crazy hours in order to meet unrealistic deadlines. Burnout quickly set in; it's impossible to be creative and produce your best work when you're mentally exhausted. I made some changes last year including taking on fewer projects at a time, trying to work as little as possible during the weekends and keeping that time for myself. This has helped a ton.

Any special projects you are looking forward to?

I am working with a super amazing actress/model who is creating an equally as incredible lifestyle brand and I'm also working on the branding for a few fashion and beauty brands that I'm excited to share soon!
Kati Forner | Freelance Wisdom

The 3 greatest attributes you need to be a freelance creative are:

Crazy strong work ethic.
Passion for what you do.
Having a point of view.
Kati Forner | Freelance Wisdom

Get Social with Kati

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#fwportfolio

Your work inspires us daily, so we decided to carve out another space for celebration. Below you will find some of our recent favorites from #fwportfolio

Thank you for sharing and we hope you will enjoy!

You just saw "colour to brighten a gloomy day" by @melanie.johnsson, a fun branding project by @littletrailerstudio, watercolor inspiration by @claudiabdesign, art direction by @kaileycreative, reflective illustration by @leysaflores, surface pattern design by @laurelautumn, the research phase of graphic designer @fernandetfirmin, @amberasays color version that did not make the cut, refreshed website design by @annawassmer, 2018 planning by @studiolmh, #nationalbirdday painting by @patricehorvath and a Palm Springs pattern by @jenbpeters

Audrey Elise

Audrey Elise is a designer with a knack for cultivating brands through thoughtful design and compelling storytelling. Over the years, she has worked with hundreds of different clients from a variety of industries including online shops, non-profits, brick and mortar vintage stores and photographers. A couple of years ago she found her niche, which is designing for fellow creative entrepreneurs.

We are so glad to be starting 2018 off with her interview as it is full of inspiring and motivating wisdom regarding new beginnings and leaning into discomfort. Enjoy!

Audrey Elise | Freelance Wisdom

Tell me about your path to becoming a freelance designer.

I got into design way back in the Xanga / Livejournal days. I was a part of the personal blog scene in high school back when grunge design, having friends lists on your website and Panic! At the Disco were still cool. I mean, all of those things are still cool, but back then everyone thought they were cool too. Through that I came across a few amazing designers & illustrators - like Pawel Nolbert and Olly Moss. They had beautiful portfolios that included work for really big clients like The New York Times and Nike. With their portfolios they had contact pages for people to reach out and hire them. I thought that was awesome — and a pretty neat way to make a living. From then on I wanted to be a freelancer.

After graduating high school, I moved out, spent a few years figuring life out (like you do) and eventually opened a graphics shop on Etsy selling banners and logos for shops. I went through hundreds of clients on there — which was awesome because it allowed me to learn and grow, both as a designer and a business owner. It wasn’t long before I outgrew that, moved my entire business to a dedicated domain and left Etsy behind.

Along the way, I learned as much about the technical part of design as I could. Online articles, books, classes, podcasts — you name it. The design community is big and beautiful and there are so many resources out there to teach yourself design if you have the desire to learn.

I’ve been a full-time freelancer from the beginning, even back in the Etsy days.

In the beginning, how did you attract your first good clients?

I did a lot of concept work in the beginning to showcase my skill, and I focused on presentation. If I could make my portfolio (the site itself and the case studies) better, I did. I went through a lot of iterations when I was just starting out. That’s one of the upsides of being new and knowing that not many are watching you — you have more freedom to explore and take risks.

I didn’t wait until I got the kind of projects that I wanted; I made concept projects that I would want to work on. Clients will hire you to do the work that’s in your portfolio, so it’s important to make sure your work reflects that.
Audrey Elise | Freelance Wisdom

Do you have any tips for being your most productive?

For the business side:
Invest in and utilize software made for small businesses. Freelance Wisdom’s resource page is a great place to start. Try out a few and see what works.

For the design side:
Make sure to maintain good file structure and never work destructively. Keep past iterations and working versions of all of your logo concepts. Organize as you go. Learn hotkeys. Hotkeys will save you so much time if you bite the bullet and learn them early on.

What has been your greatest struggle as a freelancer so far?

Curating my Instagram feed.
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Kidding.
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Kind of.

Overall, paying my dues was probably the hardest part. In the beginning, there was definitely lots of ramen noodles and stressing about how I was going to pay rent. And that’s okay. You can’t come into any industry as a newcomer and expect to charge market rate. The important part is persevering through that season. Know that everyone has to pay their dues, one way or another. That season doesn’t last forever. If you love design, are relentlessly passionate about doing your best and ready to learn about how this whole “freelance” world works — you’ll make it. It’ll be hard, but with work ethic, talent and time — it’ll pay off.

On an ongoing basis, letting things go and being kind to yourself when things don’t go perfect. From working with big agencies to listening to incredible podcasts like Honest Designer’s Show, I’ve learned that everyone has projects that don’t quite go like you hoped. Plans change. Clients don’t end up signing the proposal. Feedback is delayed. Mid-project the business name changes. Sometimes you don’t nail the design. And you know — that’s okay. Everyone in every level of business in every industry has things that don’t go as planned. As long as you accept it, roll with it and learn from it — you’re doing okay.
Audrey Elise | Freelance Wisdom
Audrey Elise | Freelance Wisdom

What is your favorite thing about freelance?

The autonomy:
Building a career because I had a dream when I was 12 that I wanted to have a portfolio on the internet and people would hire me to do what I love.

The flexibility:
Working until 2am, waking up at 10am, going on a brisk run, taking a few calls, catching a plane, landing in SFO at 10pm, sitting in an abandoned food court to answer a few quick e-mails and send out some invoices before my ride gets there. Not every day has that itinerary, but the flexibility to do so when I want to is awesome.

How do you continue to attract your ideal clients?

I don’t ever want to grow comfortable and coast. Sometimes it’s tempting to relax, especially when you’re getting consistent inquiries just by maintaining social media, but I firmly believe that comfort is the enemy of progress. I want to consistently get better and I want my latest project to be the best work I’ve ever done.
Audrey Elise | Freelance Wisdom
Audrey Elise | Freelance Wisdom

Tell us about the biggest creative risk you’ve taken in your career and what you learned from it.

I don’t know if “risk” is the right word, but not having my “process” written in blood as well as working with agencies. Both of these things have led to me accepting projects that are so far out of my comfort zone and what I typically show on my Instagram — and each time it’s been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Clients are going to hire you to do work that is consistent with your portfolio but that’s not always the case when designing identities under Creative Directors. And sometimes it has been really intimidating to work on projects with huge corporate end clients in industries I have never touched — but discomfort means you’re growing. It challenges you and forces you to learn and do things you wouldn’t normally do. I love it.

Do you have any tips for closing out 2017 and setting yourself up for success in 2018?

Go back and review all the work you’ve done for 2017. When you’re in the thick of it, it can be hard to maintain perspective and appreciate everything you’ve made and accomplished.

And if your body of work isn’t as large or as good as you hoped, go into 2018 with the plan to do one small thing everyday to get you closer to your goals. It doesn’t matter how small. We’re all the culmination of the choices we make each day and the only way to get where you want to go is to actually take steps to get there — even if they’re baby steps.
Audrey Elise | Freelance Wisdom
Audrey Elise | Freelance Wisdom

Any special projects you are looking forward to?

Daily Logo Series 2018! Volume 02! I don’t know what I’m going to call it but I am PUMPED.
Audrey Elise | Freelance Wisdom

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