“My first break” – how designers started out

We speak to designers about how they got their first big break and find out how luck, determination and wit played their part.

MoragMyerscough,photo adam laycock
Morag Myerscough, founder, Studio Myerscough

“As I was coming up to leaving the Royal College of Art I was told I would never get a job and my tutors were all worried about my prospects.

Derek Birdsall, our professor at the RCA, was designing the Independent magazine at the time and told me there was the possibility of a job there. I went down to the Independent offices and it was just full of old men smoking and I thought: ‘not sure if this is for me’.

I can’t quite recall how I heard about it but there was a job going at Lamb and Shirley. They were designing the Next Directory and it was only on its second issue by then. I went for an interview and Tim Lamb offered me a job on the spot and I thought: ‘Well I can’t be that bad after all.’

I started on £12k and within three months they promoted me and I was on £18k – which wasn’t bad for 1988. Plus I was given the best job, designing the cover and intro pages of the third directory, which was a big deal at the time as they printed something like 3 million.

Tim was an amazing employer I only worked for him for about 18 months, but in that time he let me go and teach at St Martin’s one day a week and do my own freelance work. I also learnt how to organise projects and deal with clients. It was a great studio full of very creative strong women and men of mixed ages so we all learned from each other.”

Greg Quinton
Greg Quinton, executive creative director, The Partners

“When I was at school, my (slightly hippy) parents helped turn a former church into a local community arts centre.

One time, my mum was dashing around organising an exhibition of paintings at the centre. When she was finished, it looked great. It opened, but nobody was walking through the door. I knew she was embarrassed for the exhibitors and I asked if she had sorted any publicity?

‘I haven’t had time yet,’ she said, so I offered to do a quick poster and stick it around the area. I made the biggest posters I could on the school computer with giant black type that read simply: ‘Public Hanging’ at the top and smaller print at the bottom that said: ‘of a collection of local artists work at…’

I witnessed people’s reactions first hand, their interest piqued and the wry smile as the penny dropped. ‘I’d like to do more of this,’ I thought.”

Dave Dunlop
Dave Dunlop, creative director and partner, Else

“My first job was for a small design studio in Hammersmith called Vent. We worked mainly on new album, single and sampler releases for Parlophone, EMI and Universal.

I was the new digital guy, exploring enhanced CDs – basically CDs you could put in your computer and play a simple Shockwave game on. I was introduced through my friend Bert, who I went to design college with. He’d been on work experience there and needed help as more and more work came in. I joined a few months before we did Blur: the best of with Julian Opie.

I loved the whole process; a white label arriving and being played on the studio stereo for the first time, exploring themes together, special packaging prototypes, a 12” pizza box arriving back with sample copies of the final record artwork. It felt really special to hold that final record or CD knowing all the effort and care that had gone into it.”

Phil Carter, partner, Carter Wong Design

“Pictured looking as pleased as Punch – and every bit the young Wally Olins – after getting my first job in design. Well, actually my first job published. Now sitting alongside me on my bookcase, a copy of ‘Coloured Paper Craft for Schools’, my prize for entering the Samuel Jones & Co. Gummed Paper Craft Competition 1962 at the impressionable age of 7. 

Carefully folded inside it is the original letter from Jean of the ‘Butterfly’ people, it’s masthead adorned by the company logo – a striking illustration of a ‘Camberwell Beauty’.

Poignantly she wrote: ‘We hope you will enjoy this interesting book and that it will help you with many more designs.’ Little did she know. Thank you Jean.”

Daniel Hirschmann, Hirsch & Mann and co-founder, Technology Will Save Us

“My first design job came to me from the most unlikely of places – a computer expo in Johannesburg.

I loitered around drool-worthy Apple G4 desktops, and had a conversation with a guy who designed Interactive CD-ROMs. (Yes, I’m that old…). I’ll never forget that he used intuition rather than a CV to invite me for an internship.

So, I began designing ‘cutting edge’ interactive experiences. I also began learning how to programme. As the only programmer I had freedom to develop and discover on my own with design mentorship from my colleagues.”

Chris Harrison,
Chris Harrison, founder and creative director, The Harrison Agency

“My first job was at Saatchi & Saatchi Design. I very nearly didn’t get my foot in the door, let alone feet under the table, having made a terrible gaffe that could have cost me the first interview.

At the time Saatchi & Saatchi Design had two creative directors, Georgina Urwin and Nick Darke. I called up and asked to speak to Georgina. She answered the phone and I said, “Hello, is that Nick?”, to which she responded “Do I sound like a man?”.

Not a great start, but I got the job… just. I’d put that down to being in the right place at the right time.”

What was your first job? Let us know in the comment section below…

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