Why did you become a designer?
To be honest I don’t see myself as a designer. To me that’s the icing. I’m not so great at the icing but like making the cake. For me it’s all about ideas and problem solving. Clients come to me with a brief that they think they want answered. I always look at the bigger picture. What’s their business problem? What do they want to gain out of their marketing? How can we make people engage with their brand, love their brand and become advocates? It’s much more than an ad or a piece of design.
Did you do a placement year? If so how was it?
I did two placements in my 3rd year. The first one was doing graphics for Thames TV. It involved doing on screen graphics for TV documentary programmes. The main one I worked on was a current affairs programme called This Week. It went out every Wednesday night at 8pm. I remember on several occasions running up Tottenham Court Road at 7.45pm with a huge D1 master tape (like a small suitcase) just in time to get the graphics dropped in to the show. This was before the days of ISDN and FTP. My favourite thing was getting to do all the ITV Christmas idents that ran on ITV in my final year for the whole of Christmas (and not a Santa in sight).
The second placement was at a TV graphics and commercials direction company in Soho called EMP. They did a lot of great stuff for ITV and Channel 4. It was here that helped me make my mind up that film, TV and commercials was the way I wanted to go rather than print.
How and where did you secure your first job?
Myself and a good buddy Steve McCabe (also ex Preston) both wanted to do ads. I knew I didn’t want to be a graphic designer and so did he. We didn’t even know you needed to work as a team to get a job in advertising. One night he was in the pub with some people from an agency (DDB) and they told him he needed to get a partner. Next day he rang me at my temp job in an insurance company shuffling paper. I quit the next day.
We went and saw people with a book we had put together (very badly Mac’d up). We got ripped to pieces and told to come back with ideas as scamps, not bad Mac artwork. They also told us one of us had to be the copywriter and one the art director. We tossed a coin. A week later we went back with more or less the same ideas as pure thoughts without the bad design and got ourselves a two week placement on £40 a week.
The first ad we ever did was bought and made. It was a poster for McDonalds pizza (ironically it was more a piece of graphic design than an ad). It earned us an extra two weeks placement. Later that year it won us a Gold at the Creative Circle awards long after we’d left the agency.
Next we landed a placement at DDB where we got a pay rise to £45 a week. We stayed at DDB a year before being offered a job somewhere else. We loved it at DDB. We hoped that the job offer would make them ask us to stay on full time. It was mid- recession. They had just made three teams redundant. They didn’t. We were gutted.
What or who inspires you?
Everything. Like I said ideas come from anywhere. I love photography books, I love record sleeve design. I love music. It’s all about keeping your eyes and mind open constantly, observing and taking things in, but never copying.
Where do you get your ideas from? Do you prefer collaboration or thinking alone?
Ideas happen everywhere. Normally when you least expect it. I always go to bed with a pen and paper beside my bed just in case. In this job you never switch off, it’s not 9-5. Often when you try and switch off the best ideas sneak up on you. One of the best examples of this was when Steve and I were working on a campaign for the Royal Society of Art student awards. We were in the pub one night drowning our sorrows because we didn’t have an idea and the deadline was looming. The next day our friend Rob handed us a piece of paper. He said “you asked me to write this down for you last night because you were too drunk to write it yourselves and thought you’d forget”. We had. Our idea was an anti-drinking campaign. It won us first prize in the competition and £1000 each to go travelling. I bought a car.
What would you say has been the key to your success so far?
Luck, persistence, luck, resilience, luck, tenacity, luck, humility, luck, patience, luck, listening, more luck and knowing (or making sure I got to know) the right people.
What’s the best and worst thing about your job?
The best: can I have two? 1: No two days ever being the same. 2: Travel. In one year I went to Chile, Brazil twice, Finland twice and Spain twice oh and Brighton. The worst: 90% of your best ideas die. 90% of the ones that make it out alive get ripped apart so badly you’d prefer they were put down. But it’s those few survivors that make it all worthwhile.
What is the most unusual thing you have done in your career?
On my first day of a new contract for an agency I had to get a flight to Amsterdam to meet Johnny Rotten. We spent the whole day in a pub drinking. He wanted to get to know us before embarking on doing an ad campaign for us for CountryLife Butter.After nine hours drinking he said. “I like you guys” then we flew back to London. Not a bad first day at work. Nine months of cash from chaos followed and CountyLife Butter sales went up 85%.
What time do you start and finish on an average day?
Usually get in around 9.30 unless there’s a crisis going on but rarely leave before 7 even if not that busy. If you leave at 6 you feel like you’re sneaking out early.
Any advice for students entering the industry?
Be hungry, listen, absorb, remember that you know nothing about the business, every day is an education. For me, 18 years later it still is. Use your instinct, that’s what us creative people have that normal people don’t. If you think people are talking rubbish when you go to see them in an agency, talk to the person in the next office.
Remember it’s only one person’s opinion not the agency’s opinion. Grab every opportunity. Don’t do it for money, do it for love and success will follow. Be persistent. Be keen. If someone says they love your work but haven’t offered you a placement or a job, ask them why. Enjoy it. There are not many jobs that are still as much fun as being at college is.