Karen Hughes

Graduated – 2004


After graduating Karen worked at The Chase in their Manchester office. After six years she had become a Senior Designer and was instrumental in setting up The Chase Preston alongside Creative Director Steve Conchie. She then moved to her current position as Creative Director at True North Manchester. She has worked with a wide variety of clients including Marks & Spencer, The Cooperative Bank, Royal Mail, The British Council, National Portrait Gallery and Tate Liverpool to name but a few.

Karen has had her work recognised by many major creative awards including D&AD, The Clio Awards, New York Type Directors Club, The Roses, The Fresh awards and was awarded Best in Show in the Design Week Benchmark awards in 2010.

The Disciples of Design Q&A

How and where did you secure your first job?
I was offered my first job by Ben Casey at The Chase and started the Monday after finishing university. I had previously worked there on my years sandwich placement, so I guess I must have made a good impression (or good tea). Initially I worked at The Chase in Manchester working in a team then after a year, myself and Creative Director Steve Conchie (also ex Preston) packed up our Macs and headed back to our roots to open a new Chase office back in Preston.

It was really exciting being part of something from the very beginning and really rewarding watching the team grow over the next few years. I learnt a huge amount at my time with ‘Team Preston’, being part of a small team, means there really is nowhere to hide. I ended up staying there for five years until I decided it was time to fly the nest and moved to True North.

Do you think being a Preston student has benefited you in any way?
Well, as you may have gathered from my previous answer, I’ve worked for a fair few ex-Preston students so far in my career. I think there is a mutual understanding and respect between Preston students. We’ve all been through the same schooling, so generally I think we are all on the same page where creativity is concerned. We’ve also all been to the same pubs and clubs which is always a good conversation starter.

How has the industry changed over the years in your experience?
Our industry is changing all the time, some design is trend based but some design changes things forever, the key is to spot the difference. One thing that never changes though is the value of good idea.

Whether you’re designing logos, brochures or apps, the creative process is exactly the same so my advice would be to try not to get daunted by changes in technology. It’s much easier to learn new skills and programmes than it is to learn how to have clever ideas.

Where do you get your ideas from? Do you prefer collaboration or thinking alone?
Ideas are just answers to problems. It’s all about understanding the problem, then following clues, making connections and taking jumps to find the most appropriate/clever/challenging answer. I’m equally happy working on my own or with other people, I think there is a time and place for both.

At True North we currently have a creative team of six people working under the creative direction of Ady Bibby. Even though a lot of the time we work on projects alone, we are always asking for each others opinions and helping each other out on our projects, whether we are working on them or not. It’s always good to get opinions from people who may not be as close to the project as you are.

What’s the best thing about your job?
I guess it’s getting paid to do something I actually enjoy. Not everyone has that luxury so I’m pretty lucky really.

What would you say has been the key to your success so far?
Hopefully talent, but you can have all the talent in the world, yet if you don’t have a good attitude to go with it then nobody is ever going to enjoy working with you or want you on their team. I would like to think that I do have a good attitude and hopefully this makes me easy to work with.

Don’t get me wrong, when I reach my seventeenth set of amends or the project gets pulled because someone in accounts doesn’t like the colour green, then I do enjoy a good moan. But the best designers are the ones who can shake off a bad day and come back the next day ready to do it all over again.

What is the most unusual thing you have done in your career?
I once spent three days in a kitchen hollowing out giant pumpkins for a client party. I guess that was unusual (and messy).

What do you look for in graduates and their portfolios?
I am definitely all about the ideas. I look for people who not only have brilliant ideas, but who can follow it through into an entire project, without it becoming forced and repetitive. If these brilliant ideas are styled beautifully too, then even better.

Any advice for students entering the industry?
The job of a designer is to persuade people to do things that they never knew they wanted to do. So if you look at it simply, getting a job, is just another brief, it’s about making someone want to hire you, even if they don’t know it yet. If you distance yourself from the problem and look it as just another challenge, then I think it’s easier to stay positive and keep up the momentum.


Branding - Crowns & Coronets

Branding - The Red Lodge Museum

Branding - Home by Merseystride