Steve Owen

Graduated – 1997


After graduating Steve ‘wangled my way into The Partners and slept my way to the title of Design Director’. After seven years he moved on to the Engine Group and started work as Design Director for Brand communications specialists Dave – now Calling Brands. He has subsequently moved on to work at The Brand Union, Figtree and is currently Creative Director of Heavenly.

Steve’s work has been recognised by several awards bodies including D&AD, New York Festivals and The Marketing Magazine Awards.

The Disciples of Design Q&A

How and where did you secure your first job?
I got a work placement at The Partners in my last month at college, which was thankfully so close to graduation I was fresh in their minds when they began to interview and thankfully long enough that they forgot how shit I was.

Did anyone ever ask you what grade you got?
No. I remember having a really strong third year and was gutted when I only received a 2:1, but in hindsight I’ve never met a design professional yet who judges young creative talent by their degree grade.

Who or what inspires you?
Simplicity. Work that has the confidence and clarity of thought to communicate an idea in a clever but direct way has always been hugely inspiring to me. That and Kronenbourg 1664.

Do you think being a Preston student has benefited you in any way?
Definitely. In two ways. Firstly, the way Preston go about teaching design is very pragmatic and industry focused, with an emphasis on creative thinking rather than pure design. This is massively attractive to employers as the ability to think, decipher and creatively solve is much more difficult to develop on the job than the
ability to make it look nice.

Secondly, because the Preston name has always been synonymous with a certain type of student and way of thinking, it helped me cut through thousands of applicants and secure a placement at The Partners. Also, at Dave, the job came in a roundabout way through the ex-Preston network. Even now, 12 years on, I still feel the benefit of being ex-Preston.

What would you have done differently at University knowing what you know now?
Gone earlier. I was a mature student who arsed around for five years after leaving school and didn’t enroll ‘til I was 23.

What’s the best thing about your job?
That people rely on my thinking, creativity, ideas and inspiration.

And the worst thing?
The realisation that people rely on my thinking, creativity, ideas and inspiration.

Do you find it easy to switch off and forget about work or is it ever present?
If I’m not careful I tend to switch off and forget about work whilst sitting at my desk.

Where do you get your ideas from?
Haven’t got a clue. Really. The clichéd answer is ‘in the shower’ or ‘just as I’m dropping off to sleep’ but personally I’ve never thought of anything other than ‘did I wash my bollocks?’ when I’m in the shower. I just read the brief and sit down and think. And keep thinking until I’m happy with something.

What is the hardest thing you’ve done in your career?
Art direct my photographer wife, almost my ex-wife because of it, (some really nice stuff, you should check her out Design Disciples).

What time do you start and finish on an average day?
I’m supposed to start at 9.00, but I prefer to get to my desk a bit earlier so I’m up to speed when the rest of my project team get in. Also, I’ve learnt (and it’s taken 12 years) that if you knuckle down and focus during the working day, you actually get a lot done and rarely have to work later than 6.30.

What do you look for in graduates and their portfolios?
Ideas and attitude. It really is that simple. A graduate who can evidence original thinking, a clear point of view and clever ways of communicating them will never struggle in this industry, because you’d be surprised how many working professionals out there still can’t.

Any advice for students entering the industry in the recession?
Over the last ten years, as the industry has boomed, I’ve seen a surprising rise in apathy and arrogance amongst graduates. Perhaps the proliferation of job opportunities has led to a certain lack of hunger, with a “if you don’t like me, I’ll go somewhere else” mentality prevailing.

Quite simply this will have to change. As opportunities become harder to come by, employers will be looking for graduates who can really make a difference; be energetic, eager and show a genuine love of design. This is a brilliant industry to be in and I always look for graduates who actually realise that.


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