From HAL to Chan: My unconventional path to becoming a designer
My path to becoming a designer wasn’t conventional, and that’s a very good thing.
When people ask me how I became a product designer and get to be creative for a living, I have to pause and think how to present it. There is no straightforward answer, as my route to the present looks like a drunken person on their way home. It was not conventional, yet my journey gave me a multidisciplinary approach to learning and how to think. All the better for it.
CUT TO: Cute seven-year-old child with a slightly panicked look. Imagine a child being lowered into a rickety boat.
My father sat me down to watch 2001: A Space Odyssey. This was a formative experience. The imagery seared itself on to my immature visual cortex. Some might think this was a cruel thing for my father to do, but I know he was only trying to teach me unconventional but valuable life lessons. After this, I wanted to be a director and became curious about evil and not so evil computers.
A little later on I taught myself machine code on an underpowered, definitely non sentient, but fun early 80s home computer called the Spectrum 48k. I obsessively played text adventure games, which inspired me to write adventure stories, an interest in writing that never left.
When I was 12, my sister gave me her old Nikon EM, which suddenly made me look at everything differently. For a strange reason that I still can’t understand, I wanted to be a war photographer. Having a strong aversion to the sound of even the smallest Halloween firecracker, that dream was effectively over.
I began my creative career as an advertising copywriter in the mid-90s, writing everything from press ads, billboards to radio scripts and the occasional tv commercial. During this time, I became curious about how the designers over there incorporated my one-liners into amazing visuals. Eventually, I co-opted a friendly designer named Ollie to teach me how to make images blink nauseatingly on screen.
Having experienced the joys of pain staking coding on my Spectrum as a boy, I became hooked all over again and taught myself an ancient form of HTML, the fundamentals of design, and discovered god in the form of Paul Rand.
When the first Dot-com bubble burst in 1999, and as me and my colleagues walked out into the bleak media landscape, a friend introduced me to the film industry, and for a brief period, I worked as an Assistant Director and Location Scout for some middling cinematic fare. I can at least say that I worked with and met Tom Cruise, Christian Bale, Matthew McConaughey, and Jackie Chan.
Brief interlude: the lost novel
I wrote a novel called The Liar’s Handbook, but it remains unpublished. I have some of the nicest rejection letters I could imagine, and show just how close I could have come to being shortlisted for the Booker. This unedited manuscript haunts me from the bottom of a dusty drawer. Someday….
After too many days standing in rain-soaked fields dealing with shouty directors, I realised that my future lay in making things, rather than just managing them. I was lucky enough to land a job at HotPress Magazine as a junior designer, and from there, worked my way through several design agencies, where I gained experience under some exceptional teachers.
In 2006, I plucked up the courage and set up a small graphic design studio called Deliciously Creative, which ran successfully for seven years. I designed interesting things, built many websites, took photos of food and learnt many lessons unique to working alone.
After many years working for myself, I wanted to work with a team again and feel the buzz of an office environment. I became a product designer for some interesting startups in the 10s, and now here I am today, a senior product designer for some exciting companies. It’s not the end of the story, by any stretch, I’m sure.