I can tell you exactly when I fell in love with design. I was at an older friends house when I was just starting my A levels and saw what him and his housemate were up to and the work they were doing with their graphic design degree. I was pretty lost in terms of what I wanted to do with my life at that stage and things just seemed to click when I saw the cool packaging they had been creating. I really hadn’t ever considered the thought or practical process behind creating an ad or a logo before that but it just felt right for me that I should try and pursue that. Thankfully I managed to get onto a college design course shortly after and totally fell in love with the industry.
I did a two year college course at Epsom or whatever its called now. I was lucky as it’s got a great reputation for a design college/uni and was in my home town. My school previously took over an hour to get to so not only was I now finally doing a course I loved, but it was right by my house! It was so much fun, I made some of my best friends there and did some terrible, terrible work, but I really was able to develop things. I then did a degree at Solent University where I learned one of the most important things in life which was no one is going to do it for you. You have to do it yourself. If you want that career, you’re going to have to give everything you’ve got to achieve it. I started Middle Boop just when I was leaving uni as a way to create the art I wanted to create for shows and I was producing zines which acted as a great tool to get to know some of my favourite designers, bands and musicians. This meant my first few jobs were all in the music industry. In fact, my first piece was a logo for the indie label Bella Union, which is run by Simon Raymonde of the Cocteau Twins (one of my favourite bands) I had no idea of any pricing structure or really any business sense (because they don’t teach you any of that at uni) so ended up giving Raymonde about 15 different logos to which he chose one, used it for a while and never paid me. That was ok though as it taught me a good few lessons on how to conduct yourself in a business manor and how to make sure you get your pricing and estimates right and agreed up front. It was a very early sign at just how many times I would be fucked over when working for record labels and bands. A lot of my other early jobs were limited prints and t shirts for bands who would take them on tour and sell. I'd take a cut and was able to tour with the bands too, which was a lot of fun.
My plan was to start something myself, work in the music industry and build a portfolio of work that had nothing to do with anything I did at university. I didn’t want to do an internship or grad scheme because I really had a bit of an issue with working for free… Even though what I would have learned would have been invaluable. Plus my portfolio at the time wasn’t really geared up for studio work. What actually happened (amazingly) was what I had roughly planned. I was able to develop a portfolio and style that revolved around work for many different bands, anyone from Future Islands to Of Montreal and Local Natives. It was a really fun time touring with bands, selling merch, not really having any worries.
There isn’t really a typical day for me right now, this year has been mental as I’ve been on my own mini-tour of Europe doing talks at OFFF, FITC and all sorts of places which has been mental and tough to get back into a routine, but when I’m in my studio it will be something like — start the day with a boxing class (started doing this a few months ago and love it) when you’re working for yourself I believe it’s really important to try and start the day with exercise. It helps to focus the mind, then emails, there’s always a constant stream of bullshit I have to sort out or reply to. Then settle into a good few hours of work, right now that would be anything from illustration for Adobe, branding projects or some other bits, then lunch. Calls after lunch. Unless I need to be at a screen, I’ll take a walk through the park near the studio to do the calls. Client calls usually. Then either more work on screen or meetings. There seem to be a lot of those at the moment. Or some judging, I’ve judged Creative Circle, Cannes Young Lions and D&AD New Blood recently. I try and finish up about 6.30….That’s always the aim anyway. Sounds pretty boring doesn’t it?
Luke Choice, Leta Sobierajski and Wade Jeffree, GMUNK, Musketon and Franco Grignani….alright I know that’s six names, but Leta and Wade work together so I reckon they count as one… All of their work is truly amazing, original and inspiring to me. They’re also truly lovely, genuine and humble people. Although I can’t vouch for Franco Grigani as I’ve never met him.
There are three main things I look for when hiring are: substance, style and whether you’re a wanker or not. Basically, substance because I want to see genuine creative thought behind the work, I want to see the strategy and the process you take to get to your final application. It’s really important, what’s the point in having the skills if you don’t have the concept behind it? Style because I want to see what makes you unique, whether it’s an interesting use of colour, type manipulations or a great eye for photography, there’s got to be something that you can bring to the table and most importantly, what you’re like as a person. I’ve worked with some total tossers in my time, some of whom actually have talent too and I can tell you now, there’s nothing more vacuous in a studio environment than a designer who’s got a huge ego just because he’s done some nice type for a dry brand. It really kills the mood of the whole place and I really feel is unwarranted.
Yes, I’ve been involved with the D&AD for a year or so now. I worked with them at last years New Blood festival, getting graduates to pitch me ideas and concepts and will be working with them again this year. On top of that, I have just finished up as a guest lecturer at Ravensbourne university, mentoring students through their D&AD projects to get them ready to submit. I really get so much out of helping shape young and driven creatives lives and careers. Hopefully the students do too.
I’ve definitely done a fair amount of naughty stuff to keep things moving and evolving. Everyone has to, its just the way it is.
Learn the business side of things, make connections out of university, go out and hammer the local businesses and bars in Southampton to try and build up some client work, don’t turn your nose up when someone tries to teach you Cinema 4D. Put more effort into everything you do, invest your student loan on a Mac rather than booze. Don’t let anyone deter you from the work that you want to do, thats what makes you unique.
1) If you really want to achieve something and get known for your own work and style, you need to do it all yourself.
2) Hustle, if you’re working for yourself, you’ll be needing to hustle pretty much every day, master the art of the hustle and that’s half the battle.
3) You will never stop learning. Every time you think you’re pretty good at your own shit, take a step back, realise you’re not and start learning more.
4) How to value myself and my work properly.
5) Business. This is the biggest lesson I’ve learned and am still learning. It’s amazing if you’re talented and have a unique and sellable style or a great eye for art direction or whatever, but that’s like 40% of a successful creatives career. That other 60% is all about being totally on it with the business side of things and no one teaches you that. You have to learn it the hard way.
Networking is everything. Seriously, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing without networking. Networking is usually pretty fun, it’s just about doing it, making sure you’re in the right places at the right time and speaking to the right people and when there’s an opportunity thrown in front of you, you make sure you pick it up. For instance, I was at a dinner with four other designers the other day and a potential client from a massive tech agency. An opportunity was thrown down as the client was talking about commissioning artwork. I grabbed the bull by the horns straight away and offered to help out when no one else did. I followed that lunch up with an email the next day and am now doing that job. It’s opportunities like this that only come from networking.
My dream client is basically anyone that works as a collaboration rather than a dictatorship, allows me a lot of creative freedom to create the best, most engaging work for their client and someone that recognises design and art direction as something that warrants being paid properly and fairly. I don’t have a list of brands I want to work for any more. I’ve worked for the biggest brands in the world and I can tell you, I’ve got much more out of working for people no one has heard of that just want their businesses or bands to look great and have a brand they can be proud of.
It’s going to be a pretty full on 12 months really. I’ve got talks in America and a couple in London, my new site is going to properly launch soon so that should be great, I’ll be working a lot more with D&AD and Ravensbourne University on top of going against bigger agencies on pitches for work. So things are really changing for me and the direction of Middle Boop as an agency.
Totally mad so far, I’ve toured Europe talking about my work and none of it was expected, it’s just been mad.