Graduated – 2003
Chris has spent his design career working around sunny Manchester for agencies that include True North and The Chase. He was a founding member of Thoughtful and is currently a designer at Love. Chris has won many international and regional design awards, and has worked on projects for clients such as Howies®, Diageo, Liverpool Biennial, Tate, Imperial War Museum North, Friska Foods, Royal Mail and Yorkshire Water.
The Disciples of Design Q&A
How and where did you secure your first job?
My first job was working at True North in Manchester. A good friend of mine who I met on my placement was working there and recommended me when a junior position came up.
Do you think being a Preston student has benefited you in any way?
I do, for two reasons:
One: The opportunity to take a year out on a sandwich course is hugely important and was one of the reasons I chose to study at Preston. Being in a working studio full time for a year turned me from a clueless student into a competent junior designer, which definitely helped when I went back to do my third year. And as I mentioned above, I made contacts on that placement that would help me gain my first job in the industry.
Two: the importance of ‘the idea’. If you can’t draw, if you can’t code, if you can’t edit, Photoshop, kern, layout, render, screen print, whatever – you can still have a successful career as a designer if you can come up with great ideas. The one thing that the Preston course drills into you from day one is the importance of ideas and how to conceive them. Everything else can come later.
How has the industry changed over the years in your experience?
I’m not sure it’s changed that much. I started out on this side of the digital age. We live in a world where people want to see instant results in all aspects of life. Design is no different. I’m sure that compared to 20-30 years ago the main difference is that clients want to have ideas more quickly because they know they can, so deadlines are much tighter.
Where do you get your ideas from? Do you prefer collaboration or thinking alone?
I can happily do either, but I think I prefer collaboration – if it’s with the right people/person. I was lucky enough to find a like-minded designer who I’ve worked with over the years and between us we seemed to arrive at the answers to the briefs fairly quickly. I find that just talking about a brief and the wider issues can throw open all sorts of avenues to explore.
What would you have done differently at University knowing what you know now?
I think there is an art in presenting well and pitching an idea, and at Preston I absolutely dreaded getting up in front of everyone and having to talk. In some cases I would just not turn up to avoid doing it. It’s something I still don’t like doing much if I’m honest, so I wish I had manned up a bit back then and got up there more. I tip my hat to people who can speak well in public and engage a crowd.
What’s the best thing about your job?
The best things are the variety of work, and learning about (and taking an interest in) things you never thought you would before. You have to try and understand a company and their business sector before you can solve their problems, whether it be Keith the painter who wants a business card, or the multi billion pound conglomerate who want you to reposition their product on a global scale. You never know what kind of brief is going to land on your desk and that keeps me interested.
What would you say has been the key to your success so far?
I really enjoy cracking ‘the big idea’ and can get quite competitive if I know other people working on the same brief, even as part of a team. I want to get to the best idea before anyone else! I’m sure that sounds childish, but it makes me work harder to nail it.
What is the most unusual thing you have done in your career?
On a freezing December morning on a beach in South Wales, I dressed up as a hamster complete with giant hamster wheel. We were pitching an idea to an ethical client to print messages in sand announcing their new summer catalogue.
What do you look for in graduates and their portfolios?
I look for enthusiasm firstly. It’s so frustrating seeing students in college or on placement who sit around looking bored. If I was employing I’d want someone who is going to enjoy, and take pride in designing a bank form for instance, because I know that they’ll really get their teeth into the nicer jobs that come in.
Next, I look for great thinking in their portfolios. If a graduate has been working without commercial restraints, I would be a bit disappointed if there was nothing in there that was challenging, or tried to do something different.
Thirdly, are they a nice person? Can I imagine them being around them all day? Over a week we’re going to spend more time together than with our own friends and family so the last thing anyone needs are super egos or bad attitudes.
Any advice for students entering the industry?
Identify the style or discipline of design you enjoy, and look for positions in agencies who do the same type of work. If you can’t find your perfect job straight away, find another until you can. Work hard. Don’t complain, or look bored. Be sociable, be nice and have fun. Make yourself invaluable and make tea (even if you don’t drink it).
Branding - Danny Mycock
Poster - Imperial War Museum North