Archie Lennon GMD
My first experience of working in industry has exposed me to so many ideas and ways of working that its difficult to extract specific lessons, but rather instilled me with a feeling of confidence and experience.
In my first WOW blog post I expressed concerns about the ethical implications of working in branding/ advertising (possibly came off too cynical). This has been partly supported by my involvement a big corporate briefs including designing the identity for a property developer gentrifying south London. Working for such large brands has given me fantastic insights into the dialogue between designer and employer in a practical sense, but has also raised a philosophical dialogue within myself. This conflict between what I want to make vs what is required has forced me to analyse my motivations. Without a doubt this self examination has been the most valuable experience of my DPS year so far.
From the 3rd of September to the 3rd of December I joined Astrid Stavro’s team at Pentagrams London office. Overall it was an amazing experience and an invaluable opportunity to observe process, but I struggled to establish my role in the team. At the time I often felt overlooked as a lot of my main tasks involved the monotonous organisation of files, and my attempts to prove myself were consistently ignored perhaps because of my teams work load. In retrospect, it's easier to recognise the positive lessons in these experiences. For one, the resilience to show up to work each day for three months with little to no direction and no pay. Despite often having little to do, I became good at observing and reacting to the team around me. Initially I was frustrated by the very limited creative input I had, but I began to recognise the value of taking a back seat and listening to an experienced cohesive team. I've learnt when and how to offer my input and the value of my teammates. Having very little influence in the designing was humbling and made me work hard to push and justify my ideas. It gave me an opportunity to see the design process from the outside as a whole, observing the communication between teammates, the nuances in client presentations and the nonlinear design process.
The area i learnt most in was editorial design as a lot of the work our team was given were books and magazines. A few junior designers were kind enough to involve me more in projects and teach me some practical skills in type setting, layout and artworking, But the most important lessons were not picked up around a desk, it was advice from the friends I made there. Talking to young designers gave this experience a bit of context and reignited some excitement about the industry in general. It was quite a shock going from the complete creative freedom of university to the sometimes very impersonal almost formulaic approach to competitive briefs.
These mixed experiences working in a big company further brought into question my motivations. partly because of my being thrust into such new environments and my isolation as an intern I became much more introspective. My preconceptions of what graphic design is changed and I spent a lot of time reflecting. Is design creative? Is design good? What do i like about design? Is that selfish? I think posing these questions now is important as it sets up the rest of my year as a way of answering them.
Here's an example of some notes I took down on my commute home from work.
“One of the main driving motivation behind why I do design is the feeling of improvingr my designs aesthetically. That feeling of slightly raising of the bar in some area. Eg making a better quality print or refining the look of a design. Is This a self indulgent gratification?.
Is This selfishness confirmed in the fact that im not sure I care if i affect the quality of the message, Do I care about message, content, concept? Or do I just care that it looks good because I equate that to my worth as a designer?
Fuck that. I also derive that same excitement from the success of other great design, so it’s not all about me.”
Pentagram is the world's largest independent design studio I think being exposed to such a business orientated side of design made me reframe how I see creativity. Perhaps I was naive to believe all work would be creatively fulfilling, but who even said graphic design was creative?
“Design is not art. Design is utilitarian, art is useful but not utilitarian. Craftsmanship is manual by nature, design is industrial by nature.” - Massimo Vignelli
Rather than coming away disillusioned with how restricted my role was ive concentrated on what matters to me. Pentagram gave me amazing guidance on how to structure my practise practically but more importantly forced me to consider what and why I design.
Since finishing my first placement I've really enjoyed the creative freedom a SIP has to offer. I have been trying to implement the structure and systems i learned at pentagram into my SIP and freelance work. At the end of March I start at Semiotik a studio in Greece. A much smaller stylistic studio that I believe will offer a broader look at the design process. I think the contrast In environment, scale and style of studio will give me a really good range of experiences to come into third year with.