The Art (and Design) of War: How Sun Tzu Helps Us in the Battlefield of Freelancing

2013.08.18 - Art and Design of War

Photo by kanegen

Being a fan of strategy games such as the epic Civilization series, I was enchanted by the timeless tome that is Sun Tzu's Art of War. An ancient Chinese text composed of 13 chapters, each dedicated to an aspect of warfare. Little did I expect that this little book would affect how I operate on a day-to-day basis as a Freelance Graphic Designer.

Who was Sun Tzu?

Sun Tzu (pronounced soon-zuh) was a Chinese military general and philosopher who lived between 544 – 496 B.C. in the Spring and Autumn period of Chinese history. The Art of War is his principle work and represents a veritable how-to guide to warfare, and has been studied by generals and military strategists for thousands of years.

But more than this, in the age of self-help books and business guru's, The Art of War has been deemed to be one of the greatest strategy books of all time and has been utilised in the business world to guide business managers just as has guided military generals.

The Art (and Design) of War

Whilst I did not read The Art of War looking for tips on how to conduct myself as a freelance graphic designer, I actively found myself applying Sun Tzu's teachings in my day-to-day working life. Subsequently, when considering articles for blogging about, I found that whilst there is a plethora of material focussing on Sun Tzu and people in suits, there was very little that related to Freelance Graphic Design.

As I began writing this article it quickly became apparent what a mammoth task this actually was. The more that I wrote, the more I felt that the article was focussing too much on some sections of The Art of War and neglecting others. It seemed to me that the best way to approach this article would be to write separate smaller articles and publish them in sequence.

Each chapter will mirror one the chapters in The Art of War and will examine the meaning and lessons behind Sun Tzu's teachings in relation to Freelance Graphic Design and how they can be applied in the modern creative world.


Like The Art of War, this series of articles will be broken down into thirteen chapters as follows:

  • Making of Plans
  • Waging War (Coming Soon)
  • Strategic Offensive (Coming Soon)
  • Forms and Dispositions (Coming Soon)
  • Potential Energy (Coming Soon)
  • Empty and Full (Coming Soon)
  • The Fray (Coming Soon)
  • The Nine Changes (Coming Soon)
  • On the March (Coming Soon)
  • Forms of Terrain (Coming Soon)
  • The Nine Kinds of Ground (Coming Soon)
  • Attack by Fire (Coming Soon)
  • Espionage (Coming Soon)

Does The Art of War Relate to Freelance Design?

At the root of it all, whilst Sun Tzu explicitly writes for military purposes, the values of planning and strategy are universally relatable. Besides, doesn't it sometimes feel like you have to battle your own clients?!

Which Translation are you Using?

Penguin-the art of war

I own a fantastic little paperback from Penguin Classics with a rather charming cover design by Estuary English. This print uses John Minford's 2002 translation, so do be aware that there may be slight discrepencies in the text if you are using an alternative translation.

The Art of War is superbly inexpensive, and widely available in both bookshops and libraries, so if you want to get a copy for yourself there shouldn't be any hassle at all.

Comment Question

What do you think of this project? Are you going to read the articles? What would you like to see? Let me know in the comments section below.

Designed by Jason Phillips. Based on Hydrogen by Behind the Rabbit for Sandvox.