In the short time I’ve been working in the design industry I’ve had the opportunity to experience a variety of different environments. Originally I studied product design at Teesside University, specialising in industry and transport. At that moment in time, when I was looking for a course to study at a degree level, I was really interested in the prospect of a career in car design. I didn’t want to limit my studies to be so specific though, as I wanted to gain an understanding of how a user interacts with a product, no matter what it is.
During my degree, I found myself gravitating more towards the graphics side of the projects, specifically thinking about how it could be branded, named and packaged.
I thought I'd test out my creativity by attempting to create a logo for the band I was in as well as producing artwork for some of the singles we'd written. As a band, we talked about what kind of identity we wanted, what our style was and what kind of design we thought would fit our music. Albeit unpaid, this was my first experience working on a ‘real life’ brief with a genuine client (even though I was technically the client!). I was able to create a bit of traction in the local music scene, which led me to win a job creating the artwork for a mass-produced heavy metal album.
I completed my degree in May 2012 with a first class honours but was still unsure whether to pursue graphic design or stick with product design. I had booked to exhibit at the ‘New Designers’ exhibition in London that summer so I knew this could help me in my decision. It was really motivational speaking to fellow graduates, industry professionals and prospective employers. It was clear breaking into this industry wasn’t going to be easy and I’d be up against a lot of talented competition, but I was confident by the end of the day this was the industry that I wanted to be part of. If the opportunity is there to do something like this I would recommend it to any student.
Even though my degree was in product design, I still had a few projects in my portfolio which were graphic design based. However, I knew I needed more if I was going to be able to compete with graduates who had graphic design degrees. It wasn’t until 6 months later that I got my first opportunity by securing a 3-month internship at Loudmark, a creative and digital design studio based in the capital of the Czech Republic, Prague. I couldn’t have been happier. 3 weeks later I was on a plane to Prague to get started.
Although I had an interest in graphic design, I was still really new to it, and everything I had learnt was essentially self-taught, paired with a good understanding of basic design principles from my degree. Joining a fast-paced design studio like Loudmark I was really thrown into the deep end. I worked on a variety of projects, and just before completing my internship I was given the opportunity to manage the last project I worked on there. Getting this opportunity was just what I needed - I learnt a lot in those 3 months and came out the other side of it with a completely new portfolio full of graphic design projects.
Upon my return to the UK, equipped with a fresh portfolio and a tonne of new design knowledge, I landed my first, permanent design job as an in-house graphic designer for a company called 'JustSport Group'. They work as a retail partner to lower league professional football teams in association with Nike, as well as having their own brand called 'Avec Sport'. I worked in this position for 4 years, during which I progressed to head of design, managing a small design team. In my time there I focused a lot on my personal development, thinking about what I wanted to get out of my career long-term. I wanted to be back in a position where I had the opportunity to learn from people more experienced than myself. It's easy to get comfortable in a position when there isn’t really any reason to leave, but I felt I had achieved everything I wanted from this job.
Whilst working at JustSport Group, branding had taken a back seat as it wasn’t something I was working on regularly. I knew this was a key issue I wanted to address and make sure that when I got something new, it gave me the opportunity to do more of this type of work. I took it upon myself to start doing freelance work outside of my day job. I had time after work which could be used to build up a stronger portfolio so that when an opportunity arose I was prepared. Once I had broken the barrier of winning the first few bits of work, I was able to get work on a more regular basis. This was not only useful for my portfolio, but also for me developing in other areas such as time management and client relations. It was a lot of late nights and sometimes stressful deadlines, but it was the right decision and without it, I wouldn’t be here at The Creative Alchemist.
I was aware of The Creative Alchemist before applying for my current position. I felt like I could learn a lot in this position, grow as a designer and work more on the type of briefs I was really passionate about. Since joining the team, I've been given the opportunity to expand my knowledge and focus my energy on something I love. In my first year working here, I've been able to develop my understanding of branding, contribute to some major projects and even work on our own rebrand. I've really been able to focus on my personal development, and fine-tune my skills.
So far in my career as a designer, I've immersed myself in many different roles, which has enabled me to decide which path I want to pursue. All of the positions I have worked in have allowed me to develop, both personally and technically. Although I initially left university with a product design degree, I have been able to change my focus and do something I know is better for me. My advice to anyone in the early years of their career is to be open to shifting your focus to an area which is of more interest to you, really taking the time to find out what it is you’re good at, what you enjoy doing, and where you fit in. Figuring this out may not be the easiest of challenges, but it doesn't need to be something that happens as soon as leaving university. I'm glad I made the switch and would encourage anyone reading this to just go for it.