I’m often asked how I got started in graphic design. To be honest, I didn’t even know what a graphic designer was when I was growing up. My Mum worked in a shop and my Dad was a groundsman and there wasn’t really anyone artistic in my family whatsoever!
Growing up in a predominantly working class town, being in a creative career wasn’t really a thing. There’s a big factory in my home town which many people left school to work in, and my school pushed more academic subjects such as History and Sociology. Ironically, my best subject at A-Level was Sociology and whilst it interested me, I couldn’t see myself doing a job which was, quite frankly, a little uninspiring.
I didn’t do Art at GCSE but I did Graphic Design, which you’d think would have been helpful but the teacher wasn’t the best and completely put me off! I went on work experience to the County Council in their marketing department and it was there I thought I could definitely do graphic design as a job. I was asked to design a magazine and it was the first time I’d ever used any design software! It was certainly a shock, but the people who worked there were brilliant and showed me the ropes. I met a guy who’d studied at Cumbria Institute of the Arts and he really rated it so I was keen to check it out when I reached the stage of looking at Universities.
My Mum and Dad got me a PC around this time and whilst it was no Mac (I didn’t even know what one was!) it really intrigued me that I could create posters and visuals using Microsoft Paint and Publisher. It does make me cringe slightly but to me, it was the start!
I’d always been interested in adverts as a kid and while I was doing GCSE English Language, I was asked to create an advert for a product. Basically, we had to write the script and plan the music we’d use etc. I got an A and I vividly remember the teacher writing ‘A career in advertising awaits you.’ Whilst what I do isn’t advertising per se, it’s intrinsically linked and I really think that comment was something that spurred me on.
I managed to get through my A-Levels and gain entry onto the HND Graphic Design course at Cumbria Institute of the Arts (now University of Cumbria.) Despite having excellent grades at A-Level, it didn’t really mean much on the course as most of the other students had already completed a graphic design foundation course while I did A-Levels in academic subjects. I was actually really nervous because I’d not even used a single piece of software, but thankfully I managed to catch up and learn the ropes quite quickly.
I found the course difficult as the tutor I had wasn’t massively supportive but I got through it with a merit. I was given the chance to either join the Graphic Design degree course for two years or to get my degree in one year on the Multimedia Design and Digital Animation course and I took the latter. The reason was, I wanted to learn more about website design and thankfully the gamble paid off as I was awarded a 2:1 and graduated with honours in 2006.
I went on to get my first job, but I want to leave that for another post as I’ve already covered quite a lot in this post!