Blog: ways of working We write about our professional experiences and observations and welcome a discursive dialogue on design matters with external collaborators to explore future ways of working culturally, technologically and philosophically.
ISSABELLA HINDLEY-CUPPER BA (Hons) Graphic & Media Design
Coming to the end of three month internship at Semiotik Design Agency in Thessaloniki, Greece, there is so much for me to reflect on. I’ll be moving back home to London on the 12th of December, and despite being excited to be safely back with family and friends, I will genuinely miss Thessaloniki, Semiotik and the friends I’ve made here. I’ll be sad to leave. It has been one of the most challenging experiences of my life and has been filled with ups and downs. I've learned so much about myself, both professionally and personally, it’s been a struggle in so many ways. However, I can't say I regret choosing to come here.
I could never have predicted what this experience would involve, I realise now that I had no real idea or preconception of what working in a professional design studio would be like. I didn't know how projects run or how to approach a client and I still feel unsure, to some extent, maybe it’s apprehension of feeling overly confident. There are still infinite things to learn, but nearly three months into my professional practice, I feel like I have achieved a lot and progressed as a designer, I have achieved some of the goals I set out for myself; I have a much better understanding of working in design and how different it is working with a client, to approaching a project as an individual. I now have insight into how a project can evolve from start to finish, how the preliminary research can influence key decisions and the impact that every step in the process has upon the final design.
Working in a small studio has allowed me to be fully involved with projects, I am grateful that I have undertaken an internship where I have been given responsibility and had opportunity to experiment and develop concepts both independently and collaboratively. Being part of such a small team has given me freedom to participate in projects fully, from concept to completion. I have come up with ideas and pitched them to clients, I have had successes, but also rejections. I have found that I have skills that are unique and sought after, but also that I experience ‘writer’s block’ or reach ‘the wall’ at times, which is a very difficult position to be in. The difference between a positive energy in the studio and a negative one is phenomenal when it comes to thinking creatively and being productive.
Quite early on, the studio was searching for an illustrator to create an image as part of a rebranding project. Having exhausted many options, my colleague asked me to draw something, he had seen on my site that I draw. It took almost four days of solid work for my initial sketch and idea to become the final illustration that was used. The project has become something that I am incredibly pleased with, having looked at each stage of it’s development, which I documented. It has been published and the website is in the stages of development, I hope it will be live before the new year.
Although the internship has been incredibly tough at times and has often caused me to have such bad anxiety that I can't sleep, I have learned so much about myself and how to work in a professional environment. I’ve been fortunate to work under such an inspirational and skilled creative director, who can seem brutal in his approach. Fortunately, I can now see that this directness is essential, his ability to get straight to the point, sometimes without niceties, pushes me to learn and develop ideas quickly. It's taught me to take criticism as a positive thing instead of taking it personally. I felt such a noticeable difference in the development of my work when he was present as opposed to when he was away. I have found myself with total mental blocks when he is not around and my colleagues feedback is all positive, which can be helpful, but often not nearly as constructive as one observation that is poignant and encourages change. The guidance I have been given alongside the skill that I have gained, being able to take rejection or criticism and address it through analysis and research that then enables me to not only present an alternative, but to rationalise my decisions and argue my case. This is what establishes the difference between a professional and a student. I can now say that I work in this discipline professionally as I am able to use something that would have once crushed me, or set me back, in order to grow.
Another element of the internship that I hadn’t contemplated is the dynamic in the studio, the manner in which different designers work and the sheer competitiveness… something I have never come up against before, or at least recognised, in a working environment. Having another intern present in the studio added an extra edge, and being the least experienced, I often felt inferior and useless in comparison to the others. Comparing myself to the designers, who seemed so much more confident and established, often left me feeling sad, especially when their idea was chosen over mine. It took me some time to realise that this wasn't a personal thing, but that the best idea will always be chosen and it doesn't matter who this comes from. The decision that is best for the studio is the decision that is made. This has pushed me to work harder and try my best to develop winning concepts and ultimately, this lead to my idea being used for the development of the new Semiotik website as I finally found the confidence within myself and believed in my ability, which then lead to Dimitris, the creative director having the confidence in me to use it. I think a massively important part of being a designer is getting used to your ideas not being used, there must always be an alternative, pitching one idea to a client leaves a designer looking amateurish if they don’t have something else to put on the table. Sometimes what you see as the back up plan will be more appealing to the client, that is the time to conceal your disappointment and focus on making plan b the thing that you mistakenly overlooked when you came up with plan a.
Overall, this experience has been incredibly challenging and I can't say I was prepared for it at all. I lived on my own in Germany for three months a few years ago, but this was an entirely different experience for many reasons. Although the flight is 3 and a half hours from London to Thessaloniki, with a two hour time difference, I have returned home twice. Taking into consideration time at the airport, it becomes a 9-hour journey to get back home just for a day, which is draining. I feel so far away from home, from my family and boyfriend. Not being able to visit home often has made me extremely homesick. Greek is completely dissimilar to the English language and has a separate alphabet, so there has been a huge language barrier, making it difficult to understand and communicate with a majority of the people here. There are very few tourists in Thessaloniki, so the signposts, the menus and the labels on food packaging are all in Greek. As someone with a dietary intolerance, I had to learn very quickly how to manage this (google translate app is a huge help) or I would go hungry.
In addition to the language barrier, I also faced the issue of not being particularly welcome here as a foreigner. I often am I asked why I am in Greece, and people's attitude towards me completely changes soon after learning that I am here to work and not as an exchange student. Greece is still very much suffering the impact of the financial crisis, and although I had a slight awareness of this prior to coming, I couldn't have predicted the extent of the issue. There is still a massive problem with unemployment amongst the population, particularly the younger generation. A huge amount of buildings are abandoned, it is evident that the economy is nowhere near repaired, tame dogs, that were once pets, live on the streets as their owners had to abandon them. I naively had no idea that this would cause people to treat me with hostility and bitterness, it causes conversations to plummet from friendly to silent. It took me a short while to realise that this is because people perceive me as a foreign person taking a job that a Greek person should be employed to do, and I don't entirely disagree. It seems unfair that I should be benefitting from the knowledge and time that Dimitris has shared with me, when a Greek student could have more to gain from it. If anything this makes me more grateful for the experience, it is humbling being amongst such poverty, it has really made me understand the privilege we have in the UK.
I have spent so much of my time here, outside of the studio, feeling isolated and like an outsider, it has been difficult to make new friends and have a social network of any kind outside of work. I have regularly felt lonely and a bit lost, but I know that I am so much stronger for getting through it, despite the lows. I'm really fortunate to have got along so well with the other employees at Semiotik, we have bizarrely similar tastes in music, fashion and even comedy, something I really would not expect as I am far from ‘average’. During my first few days, I was so confused that a colleagues Spotify account was so similar to mine. It's been really interesting to have met such people from such a different culture and society, who’s lives are entirely different to mine yet their tastes and ambitions are so similar to my own. I am determined to keep in contact with them after I leave, we have become true friends and not out of necessity.
Over the next couple of months I'm hoping to focus on self-initiated projects that will take my studies on to interdisciplinary practices. I will be looking at design as an overall concept and experimenting with sustainable practices. I want to challenge societies lack of value and feel that my observations and experiences in Greece have given me a deeper understanding of the importance of working against a ‘throw away society’. I want to explore traditional manufacturing processes, craft and aim to create durable products that can be repaired, reused, repurposed and recycled. In order for this to be financially viable, I will have to sell the things I create and possibly work freelance as well. I'm excited to spend time on developing my practice before beginning another internship in April at SPIN Studio, working on publications and promotions for Unit Editions.