Kev Darton

Graduated – 2003


North-West born and bred, Kev is currently taking his first steps into the world of freelancing after a several years with agencies in and around Manchester. Lately he’s been working with a number of clients from the arts and culture sector, helping them to reposition themselves in an age of funding cuts and a more competitive cultural landscape. He likes old pubs, new ideas and having a bit of a laugh.

The Disciples of Design Q&A

How and where did you secure your first job?
I never did a placement between 2nd and 3rd year, and it was obvious that this left me at a disadvantage. So as soon as I left uni I went to work with Pete Thompson (ex-Preston student and current lecturer) for a year to get my wings. This helped me to bridge the gap between uni and the real world and stood me in good stead to get my first job proper at a fledgling design agency called Evolve.

In both cases being part of a really small team encouraged me to learn fast, be pro-active and work hard (because there’s nowhere to hide if you don’t).

Do you think being a Preston student has benefited you in any way?
Massively, in that the Preston course encouraged a certain way of thinking that put ideas before style, media and whatever was trendy in the design press that week. It made me aware that the job was all about communication and that it’s important to understand the audience you’re trying to reach. It’s still the way I approach every single brief.

Where do you get your ideas from? Do you prefer collaboration or thinking alone?
It doesn’t always seem that way but I have to believe that ideas always come from what you know. Every ‘eureka’ moment or flash of inspiration a designer has, no matter how much it seems to come out of the blue, will come from who you are, the things you’ve seen and learned, both through a particular area of research and your life in general.

Since we’re all different and all have different experiences and points of view, I find working with others is much more fun – it’s the only way to take steps away from your own imagination.

Would you have done anything differently at University?
I’d have taken more time to look around and see what was going on in other departments. Be more nosey about what students were up to in the photography, illustration, furniture design, fine art and other non-arts courses too. I’d have taken more advantage of being in the same small space as all these different disciplines.

How has the industry changed since you’ve graduated?
There seems to be a lot more design companies than when I started. There are many smaller operations setting up which leads to a more even spread of work rather than it all going to just two or three companies.

While this has been the case in London for a long time communications technology now means a small three to five staff outfit can set up anywhere and work with clients from all over the world and social media allows these firms to have more of a voice in the industry too.

What’s the best thing about your job?
The variety. I like the idea that you never know what type of client is going to come through the door next and that you’ll have to get to know what they do almost as well as they do in order to communicate it. Great ideas and slick, beautiful graphics made me want to do this job, but it’s the chance to learn about things that have nothing to do with design that keep me doing it. Design is a great way to get to know the world.

What would you say has been the key to your success so far?
Every time I’ve changed jobs I’ve moved somewhere that was slightly different which has led to me gaining experience at a variety of types of work, from advertising to packaging to wayfinding to branding. All this has given me quite a varied portfolio and a broad experience.

I’ve also tended to favour working at smaller agencies up till now, so have gained experience at the less glamourous side of the business. Presentation skills, managing clients day-to-day and even knowing how to answer a phone well are just as crucial when it comes to keeping the client happy as delivering a great service as well as great work.

What is the most unusual thing you have done in your career?
A few years ago I art directed a photoshoot featuring over a ton of cheese for a brochure I was designing. On the first day of the shoot a lorry arrived with four chest freezers full of luxury cheeses from all over the world. It took four days to get all the shots we needed – but we were all able to fill our freezers at the end.

Weirdly it turned out to be a lot of fun and I learned a lot about food photography and how even the most mundane of shots can tell a story. It was a chance to work with some talented people and ended up being a nice little job.

What do you look for in graduates and their portfolios?
Something that makes me smile. Even if it’s only one, tiny piece of work – if it raises a smile from the person looking at it means the graduate was probably smiling when they designed it. It shows a sense of humour and a confidence that you are able to use your ideas to affect the way people think and feel.

Any advice for students entering the industry?
Never take it too seriously. We essentially get paid to think and draw – if the 10 year-old you knew that’s what you’d end up doing for a living you’d be made up. If you’ve had a bad day at the office remember that and just enjoy it!


Adverts - Welcome to Yorkshire

Adverts - 30bird


Packaging - Whittard of Chelsea