As the saying goes, all good things must come to an end. The same has to be said for leaving an agency that felt more like family than a job over the last 6 years.
Truth be told I’ve meant to write this post for a while now, having left Clearleft almost 2 months ago. Local dev issues with my own site (thanks Elf, Mark 😫) plus a pretty full-on freelance contract means it’s been hard to find the time. However the delay seems to have afforded me both the benefit of hindsight plus a pinch of clarity for good measure: working at Clearleft has been a wild ride, one that I’ll look back on with fondness, appreciation, respect and gratitude.
Back in 2012 I was happily freelancing. I had a brand new baby, I was spinning multiple plates and burning myself out, but nonetheless happy. I was trading as a small studio whereby I pitched for work, won the work, then subsequently freaked out when trying to deliver said work. And I enjoyed it immensely. Yet the fact was, I would only ever have access to the clientele that a small 1-man studio in Hove could ever hope to attract.
Clearleft represented a sea change in that clientele issue. Already boasting a world-class reputation, when Andy offered the chance to work on a project with them in a freelance capacity, I jumped. Within weeks of my start as a freelancer — working with NBC Universal no less — I joined Rich and Andy on a day trip to Madrid to pitch to a huge player in the financial sector. We didn’t win the project but the buzz, excitement, design culture and the team’s desire had me hooked. Weeks later I joined full-time, and I realise now I joined a ‘fampany’ for the next 6 years.
My time at Clearleft has been an incredible ride. I’ve worked with some amazing clients like the BBC, Nordea, NBC Universal, Brighton & Hove City Council, Code for America, JP Morgan, Unicef, Penguin Random House, Pearson, Time Inc, Virgin, and many more. I’ve learned so much I feel like my head might burst. I’ve met some amazing people, and I’ve travelled more than I ever expected from an agency in Brighton.
I’ve seen the agency grow and thrive. We moved from a tiny studio in Brighton’s North Lane to a 3-floor building, completely gutted and revamped to meet our specific needs as a UX agency. I’ve seen the conference arm of Clearleft move from strength to strength, helping the wider UX and design industries by bringing world-class talent over to the UK from countries far and wide. But mainly, I’ve had the benefits of working with people who are at the height of their professions.
Working with the likes of Andy Budd, Rich Rutter, Jeremy Keith, James Box, James Bates, and Mark Perkins to name but a few afforded me the knowledge and skills that one can’t easily quantify. The novel ways of thinking, approaching and dealing with thorny problems, finding better ways of working, creating industry-leading best practices, these are all things that we can easily take for granted… until its time to move on. In hindsight it has become so clear and apparent just how talented the Clearleft bunch are. I’m proud to have worked there.
I would categorically say – in no uncertain terms – that I have become a better designer thanks to the people I’ve had the pleasure of working alongside at Clearleft. I’ll forever be thankful of my time there, and to the people who helped me become better.
So what’s next?
I had to leave Clearleft because I was getting too comfortable. My career progression had begun to stall, and I was no longer able to fulfil my potential by remaining at the agency as a Senior Designer forever. It was time to move on and take on new work challenges, to broaden my horizons and see what happens next.
I’ve started speaking more, having moved past the imposter syndrome phase and accepted the fact that things I have to say might actually benefit my peers. I’ve just recently spoken at my second international conference, and it’s something I intend on doing more of.
I’ve got two talks on the go:
- Design & agile: Avoiding Frankenstein
- Learning from failure: A designer’s guide to growth and discovery through mistakes and error
If they’re of interest, do get in touch.
Finally, I’ve gone freelance again. The stem of my ‘T’ remains Visual design, with a healthy dose of UX for good measure. My eventual aim is to move into design leadership. I’ve realised in retrospect that I thoroughly enjoy providing advice, giving guidance and talking process. I have strong views on what needs doing to foster great design over good, so if you want to have a chat, let’s meet up for a coffee.
Until then, onwards and upwards.