From lying to nudity: interviews designers will never forget

Last week, we spoke to a host of creative professionals who offered their advice to graduates on interviews and portfolios. Now, we ask designers about their most memorable job interview experiences – whether good or bad.

Jenny Theolin, creative partner, Studio Theolin

“One of my favourite interview experiences was with Ken Ansell, creative director and co-owner at Clinic, where I had to answer a series of bonkers questions. What I said got me the job apparently (in combination with my amazing design skills, obviously). ‘Who would you least like to be stuck in a lift with?’ was the question. To which I pondered for a good minute or so, and returned with ‘a mute’. Once you sit in an interview, your portfolio and CV have already got you there. You are technically good enough for the job (on paper at least). The interview is, and always will be, a personality and culture test. Group dynamics is crucial in business – we all know how hungry culture is!”

Jack Renwick, founder, Jack Renwick Studio

“Being completely disillusioned that I was cool and would get a job designing record covers, I go for my first interview in the design world with a well-known studio. They call back to offer me the job – yay! Not wanting to make a rash decision, I panic and say I’ve been offered another job so need time to decide.

The guy says, ‘Who offered you the job?’

Shit. I grab a business card I’d been left at my graduate show. ‘Err…a guy called Mark Farrow, from a studio called Farrow,’ I say.

‘Oh right, what did he say about your work?’

‘Eh, he thought it was really good,’ I lie, but I think I’m handling it.

‘Okay, I’m meeting Mark for a drink later so we’ll talk about it.’


‘Yeah, he’s one of my friends and we’re out tonight.’


I take a deep breath. ‘Actually, I’m lying,’ I say. ‘I’ve never met Mark Farrow, he has no idea who I am.’ In that second, I realise how small the industry is and realise I should probably avoid any studios that design record covers.”

Simon Manchipp
Simon Manchipp, owner and co-founder, SomeOne

“Over 21 years ago, when portfolios were huge, A2 suitcases stuffed with paper and physical examples, I worked in a London-based design studio. Alongside a bunch of very smart, exciting people, we were held together by the shared endeavour of creating great work together against all odds. It’s amazing how close you can get with total strangers after lots of all-night pitches, pizzas and a string of random nights in a Samuel Smith Pub.

We were the definition of a great team – or so we thought. One morning, we heard through our hangovers that a designer — one of us, no less — was going to creep out at lunchtime to show his portfolio to a rival studio. The sneak! He hadn’t even told us!

We were far from impressed. It was time to put a stop to this. As a couple of us distracted him with an entirely unnecessary meeting based on the size of a bottle top, a small team opened his portfolio and placed a series of deeply offensive centrefolds from a top-shelf magazine of ill repute that shall not be named towards the end of his portfolio.

Slipped in between the plastic sleeves towards the end of his folder, his ‘big finish’, saw a series of images displaying crescendos of an entirely different kind.

Lunch came, he gallivanted off to the secret hook-up, unaware of the strength of his sales pitch, A2 portfolio under his arm.

A painful one and a half hours later, he returned – flushed and furious to a studio in fits of laughter. A smile cracked. Our pal was back.

The potential job was blown. Their loss was his gain as he became a creative director and went on to do great things.”

Greg Quinton
Greg Quinton, executive creative director, The Partners

“The summer I graduated, the weather was hot and design was cool. I’d had some good interviews and, frankly, thought the sun shone out of my own backside. As I waited in the reception of one studio, I prepped a few pretentious lines in my head about how I loved their work but thought it could be even better with my ideas.

The creative director flicked through my book and clearly didn’t like what he saw. He paused on a page detailing a one-day, ideas-based project, which involved producing birthday cards for two celebrities. I’d created one for Terence Conran that adapted the existing Habitat logo – which at the time was made up of a table and a light – by adding a lit birthday cake to it. I had also created an edible one made of rice paper for a chef.

‘Why haven’t you designed them?’ he said.

‘It was a quick project,’ I said. ‘I focused on the ideas.’

‘I hate ideas.’

We stared at each other. I thanked him, awkwardly packed my stuff and left.

I learnt more in that interview than any other. Studios differ because they’re based around their principals – and therefore, their principles. Study them and respect their differences. Be honest about your strengths, and your weaknesses. Learn humility – don’t be an idiot like me!”

What’s your most memorable job interview experience, good or bad? Let us know in the comments section below.

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  • Neil Littman April 9, 2017 at 1:15 pm

    Some time in the mid 1980’s I was already working at a major design group but was advised by a recruitment agency who had helped me in the past that it was always good to go and see what was out there and it was a very competitve time. I turned up for the interview with a well known agency who shall rename nameless (they were then based above a furniture store in central London) and I met the creative director who was wearing a straw hat and smoking a cigar. He proceeded to put his feet up on his desk blew smoke everywhere and sat back saying, ‘Show me what you can do’ I think he imagined he was in a movie. I decided to say as little as possible and made sure it was the shortest interview I ever attended. About 10 years later, I was interviewing designers at an agency and two of them (about a week apart) showed me the same piece of work in their portfolios and claimed it was their idea. I did ask around and find out who the genuine author of that piece was.

    • R April 11, 2017 at 5:29 am

      I would have cut straight to “About 10 years later…”

  • R April 11, 2017 at 5:44 am

    Once working for a multinational in Sydney (a few months later), a senior creative flicking through my folio said: “sorry to be blunt… what were you thinking?”

    I left the meeting a bit upset… even more so, when 1 week later I saw ‘our senior creatives’ had gone ahead with ‘their brilliant creative ideas’ at national campaign level, for the biggest telecoms in the country – based on my visuals, colour pallets, feel/moods and everything!

    – I still have have some of those DM campaign pieces, dated after my
    a) signed contract,
    b)work and
    c) arrival in Sydney!

    So much for “what were you thinking”, huh?

  • Nick Cooke April 11, 2017 at 7:50 am

    In the early ’80’s I went for my first interview after leaving college at a so-called design studio on the outskirts of Blackpool. On walking through the work room I sensed the staff were a bit subdued. When the interview began I realised they were all terrified of my interviewer, a Scottish sergeant major type with a very abrupt manner. After looking through my portfolio in a very disinterested way he informed me that I’d got the job and could start on Monday morning. This was Friday afternoon. I told him I couldn’t start then as I had nowhere to live. He said “A week on Monday then.” He then said “We’ll have none of you arty-farty crap here, and if you don’t like it you can piss off down the road.”
    I went back to my parent’s place and wrote a polite letter declining the job as I’d been offered a job in London, (which I hadn’t). I now wish I’d had the courage to write a rude letter telling him what a twat he was.

  • Ross Edwin April 12, 2017 at 12:01 pm

    When I graduated from University, I applied for my first design job to a well known sofa retailer and therefore simply had to designed my CV into a book, with illustrations of sofas and drawings of interior design on each page. I didn’t get an interview and looking back it is the most embarrassing piece of work I’ve ever submitted. Sometimes, it’s best to not stand out. I imagine the person looking through standard A4 CVs and getting to my 8 page saddle stitched piece of s**t and laughing… thankfully social media didn’t really exist so they couldn’t find me online.
    A year later, I went for an interview to a well-known brand agency as their in-house designer (dogsbody)… I thought the interview went well, but half way home I realised I’d left my portfolio and mobile phone in their reception area so had to call their security to open the building that evening… Guess what… I didn’t get that job either!
    I once walked out of a job interview because it turned out the company had lied about pay and job description to get applicants, only to be offering a different role and a lower salary. But… by far, the worst interview I’ve ever had was for a design agency in Leeds that I really wanted to work for but turned out they didn’t know what they were talking about and instead focussed on asking stupid and weird questions, not realising that I specialise in the stupid and weird… they were vanilla, trying to be chocolate chip. The only ‘note’ they scribbled down was the word ‘snoopy’ because of a story I told them about a toy (they asked me if I had any toys at home?). They couldn’t afford me and I hope they do well, but just because your office is above a pub and you ride a bike to work does not make you special.
    There have been good interviews, and jobs I’ve accepted, and the awesome job I now have… but no one wants to hear the success stories, do they!?

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