Design came to me fairly early in my life compared to a lot of my peers in the industry. When I was in high school (or middle school if you’re from America), I remember seeing the famous poster of Lou Reed by Stefan Sagmeister when I was around 11 or 12 years old and it really captivated me. I’d never really seen this type of art before because I’d always known art as being quite traditional or one-dimensional. I’d seen art as being one single medium; A painting, a drawing or a photograph. What I loved about Sagmeister's work was how versatile and different it was. It was experimental but felt finished at the same time. I asked my Art teacher at the time what this was and he told me it was Graphic Design. From there I fell in love with it and started to research more into the subject and experimenting myself both by hand and digitally. I remember playing around on Photoshop 2.0 in school, which feels like a lifetime ago now. Back then I had no idea that it would be a program that would become part of my daily practice.
I studied Graphic Design at Leeds College of Art which I cannot recommend highly enough to students looking to pursue design in the UK. It’s quite a small University compared to some of the giants, but it’s dedicated to the craft of Art and Design and that comes across through the tuition and the people who are drawn there. It really felt like a community during the three years I spent there and it provided me with the perfect foundation and knowledge before heading out into the industry.
I was lucky enough to work part-time and intern in a variety of different design studios throughout my time at University. I worked in some smaller teams and some larger teams and this is something else that I thoroughly recommend to any students looking to get some industry experience. For me, I wasn’t sure what type of agency that I would like to work in, so it’s important to try and intern and freelance at as many different types of design practices as possible in order to see where you fit in.
I was lucky enough to be offered a Junior Designer role before I graduated at a studio that I’d already interned with whilst at university. I got on with the team and liked the type of projects I was working on and the type of work they created, so it was a great place for me to gain some valuable experience within a huge agency in the industry. I learned tons whilst I was there including technical skills, how to deal with clients and how to work on building brands from concept right through to final execution.
Eventually, I always knew that I wanted to start my own design studio, so when the opportunity came up, I jumped at the chance and have never looked back with Alphabet.
I’m Sam and I co-founded Alphabet (madebyalphabet.com) just over a year ago now with two other creatives; Sebastian and Abbas. Our vision was to create a multi-disciplinary design practice that combines the skills and expertise of a traditional agency, with the youthful energy of a more forward-thinking demographic.
From experience working in larger agencies, we felt a bit tired of some of the more old-fashioned approaches and felt that there was a gap in the market to offer something a bit more youthful and something that a traditional agency couldn’t. We’re geared towards a millennial audience and we’re self-proclaimed experts in building brands. We work with a wide-range of clients from exciting new start-ups looking for a unique stand-out brand to well-established businesses looking to move with the times and re-connect with their audience in a bold and engaging way.
I’d say an absolute must-read as a young creative moving into the industry would be ‘Damn good advice (for people with talent)’ by George Lois. I remember reading this in my second year at university and sort of hitting a point of realisation which made me understand that the idea and concept is the most important part of the creative process. It only takes an hour or two to read, but it’ll probably be the most important hour or two of your young design career.
Two more books that I’d encourage all creatives to read are by Paul Arden who is the former creative director of Saatchi & Saatchi and a legend of British Advertising. The first is called ’Whatever you think, think the opposite’ and the second is called ‘It’s not how good you are, it’s how good you want to be.’ These are just really solid books with loads of nuggets of design wisdom. They teach you to take risks, trust your gut and love what you do.
Without trying to sound cheesy (but probably sounding very cheesy), I’d say the best tool to use as a young creative is your brain. When we’re looking for interns and potential young designers to bring on board, we’re always looking for original ideas and something that brings a reaction from us. We like design that has been thought about. This could be something clever, witty, bold, daring, shocking, frightening, funny or sad. We’re always trying to evoke emotion and stimulate the senses through the design that we create so this is something that would be important to us when looking through graduates work.
Since founding Alphabet there have been tons of opportunities that wouldn’t have been possible before. We’ve had the privilege of travelling around the world meeting and working with exciting clients and businesses from all types of different backgrounds whilst working on some amazing brands big and small.
We’ve had the opportunity to be able to give back through design and it’s something we always try to find time for. We’d encourage all designers to try and use their creativity for something that they are passionate about.
Since starting just over a year ago, we were able to be involved with a project called ‘PRESENT!’ which was a design exhibition and fundraiser in London to help raise money that went towards building a home for underprivileged children in India. More recently, off the back of the tragic events that unfolded in Manchester, we teamed up with a local charity to create some limited edition pin badges that celebrate the city of Manchester and that we’re selling to raise money for the charity. It’s these things that as designers we go out of our way to be involved with that really make our job worthwhile.
Our goal is to grow Alphabet as a business and Brand across the next 5 years. We want to expand our team gradually and continue to work with exciting businesses big and small whilst constantly working on bigger and better projects. We’re stoked with the success we’ve had so far and we will continue doing great work for great people!