It all started at Fred Longworth High School. I thought I was going to be a footballer like the majority of teenagers. I was training with Bolton Wanderers and Wigan Athletic and my mum said to me what I would do if I didn’t get a contract. I listened, and thought - what else do I love, other than football? I was generally quite good at school, but the two subjects I really enjoyed were Art and Music. It was a hard decision at the time, but I opted for Art over P.E and that started my career in the design industry.
Looking back now, I subconsciously created my own projects based on subjects I loved. I created my own football club including badge, football kits, and stadium advertising. I was more enthusiastic because I was interested in the subject I was designing. You’ll notice that further in this article I become a university lecturer…and it’s surprising how many students don’t choose subjects they enjoy, which in turn makes the project boring for them.
After Fred Longworth High School, I joined Wigan & Leigh College. I was split from most of my friends and this was a massive learning curve in terms of lifestyle. I enjoyed the education side of college and the theory was one of my strengths. I really enjoyed creating ideas and executing (back then it was all on paper and hardly anything digital). I found a great interest in typography and quickly understood the importance across all mediums on how font choice, tracking, kerning, and composition affected a piece of work and how the end user digests that information. It has been key, throughout my career and even now in 2017, for a designer to understood type, whether that’s in graphic design, website design, web development, museum design, interior design or any aspect of the industry. When I’m looking to employ a new team member, type composition is one of the first aspects I look for in a designer or developer.
I was very happy to be accepted into University of Salford who had a great reputation for their design courses. Back then, it cost £1,200 per year for the course but that seemed like a lot of money (obviously we know it’s changed now). I made the decision to live at my parents and commute to university. I think this made an impact on my social life, but massively benefitted my education. I went into lectures, meetings and design presentations - but spent literally the rest of my time spent at home designing. I’ll be honest, my first year wasn’t great and I struggled. It was very different to College and I did question whether I was good enough. At the same time, my sister had just graduated from exactly the same course and found it hard to get a job. She got good grades (2:1) but had no industry experience. My sister decided to work for a magazine in Manchester and is still there now, she loves her job, but I think she’ll admit it wasn’t her first choice at the time.
I made a conscious decision to absolutely smash work experience in my second and third years at university. I went away for the summer, enjoyed life and came back to university where my future was waiting. A massive change happened, we had new tutors who I absolutely loved, they explained briefs in a way that I understood, and their methods of giving honest advice and constructive criticism helped me in the long run. For example, if they thought you could do something better - they would tell you - no beating around the bush. One of the best things that happened was web design being integrated into the course! This is something I had never done before. It wasn’t even a major aspect of the industry. Not every company needed a website because SEO wasn’t as it is now, social media didn’t exist, and forms of advertising were much different. I wasn’t great at illustration, so I picked web as my first choice. I instantly understood code and the way it works - back then I was working in Flash and XML. My only problem was that in a class of 30, everybody had different questions and it was impossible for the tutor to answer them all because every student was building a different website. I made the decision that I would go away, teach myself outside of university and only use the classes for tutor review.
In my second year at university, I had established around 100 freelance clients – I started designing and building websites for friends and family which led onto small projects for clients. As well as freelance, I was also working at two design agencies on work experience and I was happy to work for free to get my foot in the door at medium sized agencies.
Within my third year of university, I had racked up 200 freelance clients and I was now working at three design agencies including one of the biggest in the UK, and I absolutely loved what I was doing. Web was an aspect of the industry I understood, enjoyed, and made money from. I quickly realised that handling this amount of clientele was time consuming and I understood that I couldn’t project manage, design, build and maintain websites all by myself. I asked my lecturer, Mark, for anybody who could help with my ambitions to take over the digital world. He introduced me to Jason Mayo (now Co-Founder of our agency, MadeByShape) and the situation was simple; I’d go out and find the clients, project manage, design and then pass to him to build them. Whilst I was giving away a cut of the overall price, I quickly realised that I could turn around more projects in that space of time and started to earn more money for doing much less work (it takes longer to build websites than design them).