In the current economic climate, Jonny Burch is that rare thing: a recent graduate with a job. Rarer still, he graduated in design and he’s actually working in the business. But it gets even more unusual than that, because just two years out of college, Burch has a mission. At 24, this alumnus of Loughborough University’s graphic design course is either super-talented or highly driven. Or perhaps he just got lucky.
It’s probably a bit of all three, as he’s not only in full-time employment at the London digital consultancy Collective, he’s also the founder of an initiative to support other recent design graduates.
Shellsuit Zombie is a blog with 10 000 unique users a month, and a website where graduates, students and established designers can showcase their work. This year it also became a print magazine.
Besides this, Burch and the four other Loughborough graduates involved with Shellsuit Zombie put on events – some of them tying in with D&AD’s own graduate activities, New Blood – to mix and match young talent with the industry.
Its VS evenings involve established creatives competing against graduates and students in design ’challenges’. Its fun, mixed atmosphere helps the evenings to act as relaxed networking opportunities. VS Liverpool – the event’s first outside London – took place last week, and the next VS London is on 7 December.
So how has all this happened? Towards the end of 2008, Burch was a couple of months into his first job designing well-crafted books for boutique art publisher Merrell, where he’d done an internship. ’I wanted to do something else besides the job,’ he says.
His first thought was to start up a print magazine. ’But I had no audience, money or reason,’ he says. ’What was relevant to me and everyone else around me was how to get more involved with the creative industry.’ He contrasts the experience of his friends who’d studied law and medicine, ’which have a system for graduates. But a lot of design graduate friends hadn’t been able to find work, the economy had collapsed and I felt that our industry wasn’t supporting itself well.’
While he realised that there were plenty of people looking for support and advice, he felt they weren’t necessarily getting it from ’a 50-year-old creative director’, and would be better off hearing it from ’someone who’s just done it’. Burch believes that graduates would be better prepared for the shrunken job market if they thought outside the box. ’A lot of people idolise the top 100 consultancies, and if they don’t get jobs there, they give up and get snooty about going somewhere less glamorous. But maybe they’re not given the right sort of advice. If you love design, don’t give up just because your dream group hasn’t accepted you.’
He admits that in some ways, Merrell wasn’t what he had imagined his first job to be. ’It wasn’t a studio environment, it was an office, but I loved it and it equipped me well to jump into digital,’ he says.
Moving to Collective, where he works for clients including Honda and Electronic Arts, was like being a graduate again, ’because digital is so different. It’s been great – a complete shock to the system’, he says.
Soon after the launch of the Shellsuit Zombie blog at the beginning of 2009, Burch was asked by D&AD to get involved with New Blood. ’That’s when it changed from being a blog like any other to something more interesting,’ says Burch.
Shellsuit Zombie also acts as a level playing field-style showcase for creative work – personal projects and tight budget stuff sit alongside commercial work – which means that Burch sifts through 25 or so submissions every month.
His plan is – unsurprisingly – to start his own consultancy. But he’s in no rush. ’I’m very aware that I’ve got a lot to learn, and there’s value in having someone above you telling you when something’s crap,’ he says.
As for Shellsuit Zombie, the founders’ aim is to hand it over to fresher faces. ’It’s served its purpose for us, and the dream is that it’s always maintained by graduates,’ says Burch. ’I’m not overly precious about its direction, as long as it is not used as a face for evil.’