I nearly quit!

Believe in yourself and don’t give up

It took a bump to my head and a small dose of amnesia in my early teens to help me discover my love for art and design. During my recovery I felt an incredible urge to draw. That passion continued for a few years, leading to a year at Art College doing fine art & graphic design, then 3 years at University doing multimedia design. I was hungry. I loved to create. I was interested to learn how websites worked, and how to build them better. I spent hours in design bookshops. Reading design blogs. I followed designers careers I respected with interest, and hoped that one day I could work at the places they worked, on the cool projects they worked on…

Me doing a spot of hand modelling at Believe.in, where I was a Product Designer in 2013/14. Photo © Believe.in

It was 6 years ago (2008), I had been a web designer at a small design agency in the North of England for 4 and a half (long) years. I was the sole web designer and developer, from day one, I hadn’t even graduated yet and I was quite literally their web design service. The clients and projects were very uninspiring, all in the construction industry. I should never have stayed in that job as long as I did. I had tried to find another (design) job, but the area was not exactly a hub for creativity. The job didn’t support learning, or innovation, and the work I was doing didn’t challenge me at all.

It’s sad to say it, but my interest in design slowly diminished over my time there. My desire to ‘make it’ as a designer was becoming a distant and increasingly unlikely target. It took a horrible tragedy in my then girlfriends life, for us both to look at our lives and say ‘this isn’t working, we need to get out of here!’ So we did! I quit my job, we packed up our lives and we moved as far away as we could, down to Falmouth, Cornwall, almost as far south (west) as you can possibly go in England.

I honestly could not have cared less about being a designer! Really.

I had £3,000 in my bank account. The only ‘plan’ we had was to tick off the obvious Cornwall tourist things, explore, go to the beach, surf, eat lots of cream teas and fish & chips, and be happy!

Happier times, on the beach, in Cornwall, after the big move

The money soon dried up, we needed to get jobs. I created two CVs (resumes). One with my (past) clothes shop and bar work experience on, which I took into every shop and pub in the town. The other had my 4 and a half years design agency experience on it, which I emailed to a handful of agencies. We were nearly out of money, a small town doesn’t have many job opportunities and I wouldn’t survive a morning working in a ‘9–5' office environment. So it was sensible to keep my options open, I should at least test the water and see if anything bites…

I had a skill(s), but I had lost all confidence in myself, I had utterly given up on any hope of being a designer at an agency, working alongside inspiring creative people on challenging projects, enjoying what I do. My passion to be a designer had all but died. The only thing keeping it alive was my personal project — a project (website) I founded and run, which I would still keep doing, I’d just given up on being a designer, as a career.

My personal project: Club of the Waves

Not one shop or bar called. Only one design agency replied. Ironically, the one that did was arguably the best design agency (at that time) in the county. I didn’t know what to make of that!

I went in for an interview. Sitting in the waiting area, a glass wall was all that separated me from what I remember as being one of the coolest looking office/studios I’d ever seen! There were casual looking designers wandering around, it had cool, designer furniture, large windows with an uninterrupted view over a harbour, lovely mac setups, there was not a suit in sight (!), design books lovingly placed on shelves, framed prints on the walls etc… It was everything I had imagined a creative agency would look like, right there in front of me. A small flame ignited within me. Was this my chance…

My interview was with a Digital Design Director and a Creative Director. My previous agency didn’t have these roles. Like I said… I, alone, was their web design department. There was no process, collaboration or direction. I’d developed my own unique way of creating websites, that worked oddly well, but made no sense to a design agency that knew what they were doing. I could demonstrate that I had a creative mind, I had a couple awards under my belt, but my portfolio was so dull, and I knew it. I was boring myself talking them through my previous agency work. Halfway through the interview, I stopped mid-sentence, sighed, and said:

“You know what… This is boring, sorry. I really feel like I’m better than this. Can I show you something more interesting? It’s not paid work, just a personal project…”

They laughed. A kind of nervous laugh, which was probably 50% shock at what I’d just said, and 50% relief! I think they appreciated my honesty, and out of pure curiosity replied: “Sure, show us!”

I showed them my project. The difference in how I spoke about the work, why I was doing it, how it worked etc… was obvious. I spoke passionately about my work. I came to life. We spent the remainder of the interview talking about design, in general. We left my previous (agency) experience out of it, entirely, I didn’t want that to distract from me, the designer I wanted to be… I saw a glimmer of hope that maybe I could still be that designer. I was loving talking about design, because I was talking to two, talented, experienced designers who shared my interest in it. It was inspiring. I wanted to succeed again!

My old work mate (and friend) Diggory, at the design agency in Cornwall

Thankfully I was given a couple of days trial run that same week. I was so excited. I probably spent the rest of the day telling my girlfriend how amazing this place looked and how I’d been talking to these two designers. I couldn’t wait to get started and seized the opportunity with both hands. I swear I learned more in those two days than I’d learned in 4 and a half years, or even 6–7 years if you count my time at University!! They were puzzled and amused by my odd approach to creating websites, I was 100% self-taught and had no one to look up to (digitally), until then. But I adapted quickly, they liked what I did and they created a full-time role for me as a Web Designer and Developer, starting immediately!

I’d made it! ☺

The Digital Design Director that interviewed me that day became one of my best friends, to this day. Years later he told me that the only reason he employed me (back then) was because of how passionately I’d talked about design and my own personal work. He said the work I’d shown them to that point was decent, but boring, but he’d really appreciated my honesty in telling them what I really thought, and that I knew I could do better, given the chance. He believed in me, and I’m so appreciative that he did. I’ve told him that several times since, after a few beers! Haha.

If you’re reading this, and you can relate to it, or you’re a designer going through a similar experience, whatever stage in your career you’re at… Then, believe in yourself! Stick it out. Stay true to your passion. Surround yourself with passionate, creative people — it really helps! What I did was extreme and I was very fortunate. I let a negative experience sap my enthusiasm for something I genuinely enjoy. Had I quit, I would never have realised my potential, wasted any talent I have, and walked a very different path to the one I’m on. And I think that’s really sad.

Believe in yourself ☺

Since then I’ve worked on projects internationally for brands including NASA, Nike, MTV, Facebook, Red Bull and Adobe, to name a few. I now live in New York City. Still very much a professional designer/developer. I’ve come a long way. It could have been a very different story!

Thanks to Paul, the Digital Design Director in Cornwall who believed in me ☺