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My Journey from Junior Designer to Creative Director

07th Mar 2022

When I first joined Martin Hopkins (over six years ago now – yikes!), I never believed that one day I would be sitting here as the Creative Director of a wonderfully close-knit design agency. My journey in the design world has been more successful than I ever could have imagined. But it has also come with the typical struggles. All those years ago I stumbled into the MH HQ, fearful and nervous for my first day in the dreaded ‘industry’. For the entire span of my time in university, our lecturers had reinforced the weight of the design industry on us. Always reminding us that it will be even harder out in the real design world. So, as I walked into my first day all I could think of was that I couldn’t be ready. Three years suddenly felt like barely enough experience to step into a design agency and take on my role as Junior Graphic Designer. And although I had been freelancing for a few years myself, a design agency felt like something akin to the White House.

Growing Pains

It took me several years to truly feel comfortable in my role as Junior Designer. I think that is just the nature of being a graphic designer and, in particular, as a Junior Designer. You are always filled with doubts. Will this design be good enough? Does it make sense? Does it hit the brief? And most importantly will the client like it? If you live in the design world you will know the dread that fills your body when you don’t quite hit the mark on a brief. Most of the time this can be resolved easily. But it feels like a knock all the same.

I do, however, feel it is so important to your growth as a designer. It is only through your mistakes that you truly learn. Three years at university gives you the foundations to set sail. But, it is the job itself that forms you into the graphic designer you were destined to be. Cheesy, I know, but work with me.

A Wonderful Team

The most joyous part of my role as Creative Director now is being able to see that same growth in our junior designers at the studio. Watching as the rules of layout start to click, the hierarchy of type, the tone of voice of a brand. It’s truly impressive to watch someone develop their career and achieve in their design work. Before long they are putting all of their creativity into place with barely any help or input. You know then that they have the confidence to take on a brief head on.

One of the main things that makes being Creative Director so enjoyable is our lovely little team of creative gems. We say it often, but we feel more like a design family than a design agency. We all have our little quirks and phrases, and there is never a dull day without a hilarious gif or fun ‘in joke’. Each one of us is so unique and has our own take on every brief. We love to be involved in each and every project even if just by a small amount.

So… How did we get here?

As I said before, I would never have imagined back in 2015 that I would be sitting here writing this in my current role. I owe all of that to our wonderful Directors at Martin Hopkins. Being a family-run business, when I first joined, I was welcomed as one of the family. I was always treated with care and respect, both as a designer and as a person in my own right. James, Maureen and Bob always gave me opportunities for growth and mentored me through the art of not only design, but also client relations, administration, management and so much more. Before long I started to feel confident and take projects into my own hands. With that came more responsibility and over time I stepped up the Graphic Designer ranks until I almost started partnering with James himself.

On the day that I was asked to become a Studio Manager, I was stunned. It wasn’t that I hadn’t worked hard for it, I knew I had. But it was the trust my directors had in me and their belief in me that threw me sideways. As a Graphic Designer I was quite nervous and unsure, and it took me time to start to believe I could handle more. This began with a lot of guidance from the directors, but time gave me the confidence to take things into my own hands, develop our processes and digitise much of our tasks together with James.

Adapting to a Digital Age

I am thankful things were already set up in a digital environment. This made it easy for us to switch from office to remote working in recent years (don’t worry, we won’t go into the dreaded ‘Rona’ here!). Back in the day most things were physical – hand written book keeping, job numbering and time sheets to name a few! That all seems a lifetime ago now, but each of our tasks are now online and rarely physically hand written. Except of course hand drawn sketching – something I hope will remain in the digital world!

The main consistent component in my career so far has been the support and belief from my Directors and peers. As well as hard work and determination, whether I was a Junior Designer or a Creative Director. The environment you are in can have such a strong impact on your personal growth. It’s something I try my best to maintain for our employees in my role in the agency today. It’s not an easy road by any stretch, and any management role has its challenges, but it’s taking the good with the bad that can be so important.

From One Designer to Another

Now, not that I am a guru in this by any stretch – but I have experienced a lot in the past 10 years, going from Junior Designer to Creative Director. If I could give some pieces of advice to fellow designers, at any part of their career, it would be these:

Don’t sweat the small stuff

Honestly it is not worth worrying about the fact a client moved an image 10 pixels to the left and now the design is ‘ruined’. Intricate amendments can be exhausting at times but try your best to not let it impact your mood and motivation. The last thing you want is to ruin your entire day or work yourself up over something that generally isn’t too important. Breathe through it and take away the good parts – chances are your design is not as changed as you think.

Take some time for creativity’s sake

Working hard is important, but so is having regular breaks and break-out time for fun creative briefs with no boundaries. Set aside time for a break from the screens – whether that’s time for a brew, time to draw or simply time to finally go on that loo break you’ve been saying you’ll go on for 20 minutes (we’ve all been there when you get in ‘the zone’). Something we have also recently implemented into our agency life is playground briefs – time for our designers to work on something completely random for the sake of fun and creativity. You have no idea how satisfying it is until you try it – I promise it changes everything!

Enjoy the ride!

Take some time to step back from your role and really assess how far you have come. Chances are you have grown incredibly over the years, and if you try and look at your work through someone else’s eyes you will start to really appreciate it (not just pick it apart and reconsider your entire existence as a designer). Try to really reflect on the positives that have come from your career – your growth, the impact of your designs and the team you have worked with to make it all happen.

So, I hope you enjoyed my Ted Talk. Ha – I kid. But I do hope you managed to take something away from this blog, however small. And please remember – keep browsing content, watching amazing designers and illustrators, reading type magazines and all of that lovely stuff. It’s the energy source of any designer and sometimes we can forget to keep up with it. But if there is anything I have found, a good source of inspiration is all you need to get through the day as a creative.

And lastly, a huge thank you to my directors and my amazing team. You all get me through the days and make my role as Creative Director so much more fulfilling. Truly a one in a million team of absolute gems.