John-Paul Sykes

Graduated – 2000


After graduating JP joined Lambie-Nairn where he gained some big branding experience, working on identities for The BBC, O2 Mobile and the Sci-Fi Channel, he joined SAS (Stock Austin Sice) becoming Creative Director and working on client accounts such as BT, Ernst & Young, Diageo and Sainsbury’s.

Career highlights include Design Week Benchmark award, D&AD silver pencils for Sci-Fi Channel and BBC Three, Art Directors Club USA, Promax Gold and Silver for Sci-Fi Channel, BDA platinum for BBC Two, Promax Gold for BBC 4, and surviving a 90’s rave revival weekend in Butlin’s (Bognor) on an SAS Wipeout©. JP is currently Design Director at Frank, Bright & Abel.

The Disciples of Design Q&A

What was your placement year like and how beneficial was it?
After two years of arsing about, going clubbing at ‘Tokes’, Feel, Free2Dance, Cream, drinking Old Tom, living in a 10 bedroom house next door to a lunatic asylum, working at Pizza Hut and JJB, dressing up in 70’s clothes from charity shops, oh and doing a few design briefs now and again, I decided to get out of Preston for a year and do some work. I did a year long placement at The Chase in Manchester, and that really opened my eyes to what good design was, and how much you need to drink to keep up with seasoned designers.

By the end of the year I really felt part of the team rather than just a placement, and by the end of it I even quite admired Alan Herron’s dress sense (not really). When I returned to Uni to finish my degree everything seemed strangely simple, and as a result I managed to get a first, and to be voted in the top 20 students exhibiting at the inaugural D&AD New Blood exhibition, so I think that year out made a real difference (to my work, as well as my liver).

How and where did you secure your first job?
Pure nepotism really. Gary Holt from Lambie-Nairn studied at Preston and knew college lecturer Andy Bainbridge. I did bugger all. Sweet.

Who’s work has inspired or influenced you the most?
People who I have worked with inspire me more than anyone I have never met. Ben Casey, Alan Herron, Martin Lambie-Nairn, David Stocks, Gilmar Wendt, the list goes on. Oh, and Chevy Chase. Never worked with him, but a legend nonetheless.

Where do you get your ideas from?
Looking at stuff. We work in a visual medium, so I can’t understand anyone getting inspired from a blank sheet of paper or an empty screen. Walk down the road, look at some magazines, watch a film. Just don’t start designing yet. A shit idea will still be shit even if it looks pretty.

What would you have done differently at University knowing what you know now?
Not a lot really. The first two years I had a whale of a time, and then I got stuck into work. It’s the only way to do it.

What’s the best thing about your job?
The best thing is getting paid for doing something I enjoy, and sticking the Friday pub lunch bill on expenses (brainstorming session, obviously).

What is the most unusual thing you have done in your career?
Where do I begin? Designed T-shirts for 12 year old middle american nerds. My personal favourite was probably an applique fried egg with the slogan – “The yolk is on you”. Priceless, and almost certainly black pencil worthy. Pretended to be a sports news reporter for a spoof.

Driven round the West Country in a Land Rover in search of some millionaires house for an estate agent shoot. Got up at 3am to drive to Dudley to do a shoot in a warehouse in sub-zero temperatures. Flown to Philadelphia to shoot rat-catchers. Pretended to be a lawyer to appear in a comic book.

Had Levi Roots serenade me in a cafe in North London as he poured some reggae reggae sauce on my jerk chicken (for a Sainsbury’s shoot). Selected my favourite three stuffed pigeons from a taxidermist for another shoot. I could go on for days…

What do you look for in graduates and their portfolios?
Talent. Energy. Passion. Dedication. Tea making ability. Choice of football team. Dress sense. Lack of beards.

Any advice for students entering the industry during the recession?
Bloody hell. Good luck. It is absolutely who you know that counts, so pester your tutors and anyone else in this book. Every design agency I know seems to have a member of the Preston Mafia, so it’s essential. If you are really good, send me your pdf!


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