Matt Johnson

Graduated – 2008


Since graduating with the highest grade across all disciplines in the University in 2008, Matt has gone on to work with some of the best agencies and designers in the industry. He’s worked in London, Manchester and is now nearly five years into living and working in Sydney, Australia, where he’s recently been granted permanent residency.

The Disciples of Design Q&A

How and where did you secure your first job?
After the usual stop offs at D&AD New Blood and various interviews around London and Manchester, I eventually took a job at True North with Mike Rigby and Alan Herron – which I was over the moon about. I was there for a great few months until I had a quarter life crisis and decided to pack it all in and go to Australia, travel for a bit, move back to England, freelance for a bit, then move back to Australia to work. I know.

My first job in Australia was at Interbrand Sydney – where friend of The Disciples of Design / design wizard Chris Maclean took me on, rapidly kicked me into shape and gave me some absolutely amazing opportunities in a new city and a blossoming agency. I’ve long since moved on, but I took a lot from that first dip into branding in Sydney and will be forever grateful to the guys there for giving me a foot in the door to this great city.

Do you think being a Preston student has benefited you in any way?
Massively. The year out, the contacts I’ve made, the job offers and the people who I continue to get time from are mostly as a result of the course I did, and the people who run that course.

People know what you get from a Preston student, you get someone who does something for a reason, with an idea and intent behind the work produced. And as a Preston student you know what you get from going out into the world – an almost unparalleled network of ex-students who are in high places at some of the best agencies in the business.

Where do you get your ideas from? Do you prefer collaboration or thinking alone?
Either has worked for me at different times. I think like a lot of people, I come up with my best ideas when I’m not really trying. So whatever situation I feel relaxed in, whether it’s in the seconds before I fall asleep in bed, or it’s seconds before I fall asleep in the pub with some work mates. I’ve rarely had a great idea sat in front of a computer. Good ones maybe, but nothing that’s had me high-fiving my own brain.

What would you have done differently at University knowing what you know now?
I want to say ‘gone out more’ or something, but I was out all the time and managed to balance going out and making a fool of myself, with coming in to uni and making slightly less of a fool of myself. Perhaps if I could go back I wouldn’t have had a girlfriend (see quarter life crisis, above). No, it was brilliant, I loved university–wouldn’t change a thing. Thanks to Andy, Jon, Billy and the reprobates who I called my classmates at the time for that. It was a great, inspirational laugh.

How has the industry changed since you’ve graduated in your experience?
I think I graduated just on the cusp of design blogs becoming hugely prevalent. I remember Ffffound being around at the time, but nothing much more than that. So from my perspective I think it’s changed from ‘inspiration’ being found by research, trawling through library books and design annuals – to jumping online and visiting a few design blogs. I suppose that’s a very small blip in the bigger picture of traditional media making way for digital.

What’s the best thing about your job?
The fact that I’m still waiting for it to actually feel like a real job. I do have bad (long) days every now and then, but I always use the comparison of someone who is an Ambulance Driver as a reason to think it’s not so bad. That’s a proper job, driving at 80mph, 10 hours a day, to save someone’s life. Being a designer is bloody lovely in the grand scheme of things.

What would you say has been the key to your success so far?
I’m not a success yet. Quite far from it in terms of my personal ambitions and goals. But the thing that kept me motivated in University, and that keeps me motivated still – is being slightly terrified. I knew I was graduating with 15,000 other design students going after about 150 jobs – it was fear that pushed me to make sure I was in that 150, and it’s fear that still drives me now. Every year there’s another pack of them graduating, plus the other lot are still hanging around – after the work I’m pitching for and after the jobs I want. It’s the design zombie apocalypse out there – and if you want to thrive and survive it means putting the leg work in.

What is the most unusual thing you have done in your career?
I think moving to Australia, especially at the beginnings of my career, was a fairly unusual thing to do looking back (hat tip of respect to fellow Preston graduate / mate Alex Creamer who has recently done a similar thing), but it’s turned out to be one of the best things I’ve ever done. I love it – the place, the friends I’ve made, the weather! I’ve just been granted my Permanent Residency, so that unusual decision I made nearly four years ago has turned out to be a life changing one. In a good way, of course.

I’ve been here since 2009, and I still don’t have a tan. That’s unusual.

What do you look for in graduates and their portfolios?
Good ideas, the same thing I hope people look for in mine. I’m never more nonplussed than by someone who comes in and just talks about typefaces and embellishments.

That stuff’s all well and good – and it has its place for sure, but don’t sell yourself and rely on that alone. It’s like putting a ‘wacky’ hat on and claiming to have a personality – you don’t, and your hat isn’t hiding your boring head. Outside of a folio – enthusiasm, humility and being nice go a long, long way.

Any advice for students entering the industry?
A cracker of a quote I wish I’d found earlier in my career, from Muhammad Ali, sums up the kind of perspective you need going into the industry; “I hated training. But don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion”. In other clichéd advice news – ask lots of questions, don’t be afraid of making mistakes (just make sure you learn from them when they, inevitably, happen) and try and have some fun with it all.


Posters - Ludites Love Music

Branding - Pilotlight Australia

Placement Guide - UCLan