I studied design at Manchester School of Art, which was originally called Manchester Metropolitan University. Speaking openly, being a student didn’t 100% work out for me, I never really felt like I fully fitted in. But I’m still really grateful I went to Uni, I think it helped me to grow up a bit and stand on my own two feet. I was really conscious of making sure I had a decent portfolio whilst I was still in University, there was a lot of talk about the end of year show, but I was also keen to make sure I had something really tangible to take away from the three years I was studying. So I focussed a lot on my design portfolio that I could take to design agencies. My first job was working for a really good firm called Tucker Clarke Williams (No longer in existence, but out of the ashes came Love Creative, Music, Dorothy and many others in Manchester and the North West of England). TCW was that perfect hybrid agency of advertising and design work. Back when I graduated there was a sense that you had to work in either advertising or design, but TCW were creating thoughtful and creative work. It really appealed to me as I still often try to get a concept into the design work I create and I think that comes from my first job and my first working experiences.
I was then made redundant after about 18 months as there were lots of internal changes and I was one of the last to go. Little did I know back then that my small salary was causing the company no issues and maybe the cleaner would have even gone before me, to be honest, but I remember it being such a stressful time and there was little communication between the owners and the staff. I made a promise that if I ever find myself in a position of having lots of staff I would be much more open about how things were going.
I am fortunate to have done a fair bit of teaching at various Universities over the past few years and often questions like this get asked over and over. For me the single most important quality is attitude. It doesn’t matter how good a designer you are or whether you have the best ideas, if you are a dick then I don’t think we could work together. I would much rather employ someone who gets on with things with minimum fuss, shows up on time, puts a shift in, is prepared to learn, doesn’t moan, has a positive attitude and can talk normally about everyday things such as what’s on TV than someone who can show me a special trick in Photoshop they learned. Obviously, you need certain skills to be a good designer or creative, but it’s not the be all and end all. I left university with little design skills on a Mac and to be honest I am still not the most technically gifted, but I had a passion for creativity and ideas and making things come to life. You can probably learn certain aspects of Adobe Creative Suite with some tutorials, but I am not sure you can learn how to be a decent human being.
One of the best things is getting paid for doing a job I really enjoy and for being able to create visuals, imagery and design work. I also really enjoy the fact that every day is genuinely different, I am constantly working on lots of jobs at once so I can really break up my day or week by moving between projects. Finally, I’d say I have been fortunate to meet some really interesting people, whether that be clients, contacts or other creatives. My career has allowed me to meet so many different people over the years and some have become really good friends. Oh, there’s one more thing, I think (speaking as someone who has literally just turned 40 years old) that being a designer helps to keep me feeling that little bit younger! I think you need to still have some contact with the exuberance of youth and design allows me to stay up to date with modern technology, art, music, fashion, and culture.
In terms of some of the worst, I hate the admin side of running your own studio. I often find myself working a good half or three-quarters of a day catching up on emails, making calls and sending invoices. I only start to actually sit down to design anything about 3 pm some days. I also hate the games we sometimes have to play with clients when it comes to budgets. A lot of the clients who come to me want to work with me but it’s so often about costs when in actual fact if they have a decent project or idea and are nice people I can often work within budgets. But we spend most of the time playing this ridiculous game of guess the budget! I hope that maybe we can all be a little more transparent with costs and maybe have some more industry standards or practice in place to regulate this.
Good question, for me I often feel like quite an old designer now when you look at the graduates and students who are producing amazing work and I think, wow these kids are almost half my age! So it’s hard some days to not feel threatened or concerned with the future. I also see so much on social media about new tech, new ways of working, new programs, designers working in various disciplines, new terms of job roles, designers who speak code, etc! I just try to focus on ideas, on communicating my idea in design. I try to make sure I am able to talk openly and honestly with clients, to work together with them on the journey or a project. It sounds cliched, but I genuinely get to know my clients so well that when we finally go live on their projects I am as nervous as they are as to whether it’s a success.
I have to keep as up to date as I can with design technology, but also not to let it dictate my working practice too much. The humble idea is still as strong as it was years ago and if you have initiative, creativity and a decent working ethic and attitude then I think (and hope) I will be ok for 5 more years at least...
Manchester has a really good scene, there are lots of design agencies and creative studios here in the city and there seem to be new ones popping up all the time. The fact we have Manchester, Stockport, Salford and Shillington College producing designers probably helps. There’s also a really good creative community here with lots of new events happening all the time. I think here in Manchester there’s definitely a supportive group of people that tend to get behind new design events and nights. Finally, we also have Design Manchester which has grown from strength to strength over the years and is really helping to put Manchester on the map as a destination for design and creativity.
Professionally I guess the aim is to continue to try and produce good work that I am proud of and do the best I can for my clients. I have a few big projects on the horizon that should keep me busy for the rest of the Summer at least. I’d also desperately like to finally update my own website as it’s been years and I have so much to share. I’m just never able to get round to writing about each project and collating all the imagery. Instagram has become a much easier platform for me to get my work out there that I have become a bit lazy with regards my own site, so hopefully, I can sort that out sooner rather than later. Personally, well I need to spend more time with my daughter as she is growing up far too fast and it’s hard every day leaving her to come to work. I’m not sure she fully understands just yet, but I need to make more effort to get home earlier some days and maybe take the odd day off.
Turning 40 and still figuring it out.