In a mere two years, I have held my own in an industry that I intermittently despise, all while nurturing my unwavering passion for design. Here are my insights on why these seemingly contradictory paths can converge harmoniously. This my addict’s story of the first two years in design and how I feel about the industry now I’ve seen it for what it really is, after only breaking into it at the age of 35.
Six years ago, I found myself hunched within the grimy confines of a crack house, waiting my turn to hack despair through a glass cylinder. The flickering lights of passing cars accentuated my swollen, bloated face. How did I end up there? And how did this utterly insane journey lead me to a life dedicated to design, devoid of addiction?
Fate, coupled with unwavering determination, slung me into an industry where previous creative encouragement was scarce. Neither school nor home fostered my fiercely creative spirit. Instead, it spilled chaotically throughout my youth, manifesting as mental indulgence and drunken scribbles on my bedroom walls. My life plummeted through multiple rock bottoms until I reached a precipice where I had to choose between death and taking control of my destiny. On the 27th of December, 2016, I made the decision to change my world.
The voyage ahead was wobbly as hell as I climbed aboard my makeshift raft of sobriety. My initial endeavours faltered, leaving me back on the same lonely island I had been stranded on for so many years. I had underestimated the enormity of the challenge I had undertaken. After another year of stumbling aimlessly, seeking solace in sporadic chugs of cocaine cider inertia, I reached my breaking point.
In a strangely desparate moment of internal creative intervention, I scraped together whatever funds I had and bought a cheap DSLR camera. Those funds should have been used for rent, but I am eternally grateful they weren’t. It was at this pivotal moment that my desolate landscape transformed from a blizzard into a serene lake. Darkness gave way to light, almost instantly, like a camera shutter on a blinding summer day. I had reached a point where I had nothing to lose (not that I had much before), and my mind, once clouded by substance abuse, became malleable and receptive to self-belief.
Lost and self-destructive, lacking paternal guidance and faith, I had frequently misused my rudder, burning it as firewood instead of allowing it to steer me towards my intended destination. But now, I had found my calling from within. Months passed, and my adoration for creative freedom blossomed. I taught myself Photoshop, which propelled me towards a design degree in Bristol, seemingly by chance, all while running across the Somerset levels with my camera in tow — it was a truly wonderful time in my existence.
Im going to be honest, my journey has been partially fuelled by spite towards the pretentiousness and banality that permeate marketing and advertising agencies and the art world as a whole — the very places that appear to be the epicentre of cool and the ultimate destination for most designers. Through my varied experiences — some positive, some mediocre, and some downright horrendous — I can confidently proclaim that these agencies are destined for obsolescence, and I am here for it.
To elaborate, these establishments squander valuable resources, fail to adapt to new leadership, undervalue their own talent, lack genuine connections, and suffocate creativity with excessive micro-management. Designers within such agencies often find themselves stagnating, rarely exploring new avenues of design thinking beyond the confines of their workplace. This stagnation is a massive problem, as designers and creatives become consumed by busyness and chaos and at the end of the long workday, they fling open the office doors with glee and proceed to the pub, where they aim to obliterate the last remaining brain cells of the day in a flurry of ice-cold frothy pints, and i don’t blame them. All of this is done in an attempt to ease the stress caused by the mind-numbing work they had to endure.
The real stinger though, all of these issues could have been avoided if the head honchos had taken the initiative to establish well-defined processes. With such processes in place, high-quality work could be delivered on time and with minimal stress whilst simultaneously reissuing creative licence back to these now fatigued artists and creators.
I don’t revel in the potential loss of jobs as these agencies and studios evaporate. Rather, I firmly believe that the truly exceptional individuals will always thrive, and it is in this context that agencies seem unsustainable. As we venture into a future that values quality over quantity, our focus shifts towards forging connections through the craftsmanship of dedicated designers operating on a smaller scale. Just look at Studio Sutherland, a two-person studio that recently picked up three pencils from D&AD. Whether you agree or not, such meaningless achievements do seem to indicate a shifting landscape.
Throughout my design journey, I have encountered disheartening aspects within the marketing and advertising industry. Despite their outward facade, the inner workings and top-tier decision-makers are plagued by constant changes of mind, shifting goalposts, and a seemingly odd pleasure derived from endless revisions. The attitude of “it’s your job, so do it” resonates deeply within these agencies and the corporations they serve, gradually eroding one’s passion for the very thing that brings liberation — an insidious paradox, a catch 1.618 if you will.
It’s quite remarkable how in some agencies, it feels like you have numerous bosses all chiming in with solutions to design problems. However, while it’s true that there can be multiple creative routes to solving these issues, the process of reaching the desired outcome should be clear and defined, rather than a barrage of “insights” coming over your shoulder from anyone and everyone in the office. I’m not suggesting that good ideas only come from creatives; quite the contrary, I believe that everyone on the planet is inherently creative and has unique ways of solving problems. However, once a clear direction has emerged, it should be you, as the creative professional, who guides the process, rather than the very people who hired you to be creative. This approach is undermining and counterintuitive, yet it seems to be prevalent in most agencies I’ve worked for. It’s no wonder then that the irony lies in the fact that while graphic communication on the surface may appear polished, the complete lack thereof behind the scenes leaves the final projects hanging at 75% of their true potential. This is a disheartening reality, not only for us designers but, more importantly, for the clients we serve.
There also exists a frustrating hypocrisy within agencies that proclaim their commitment to equality and fostering positive change while subtly exuding an invisible mist of pressure to work late and produce. As someone who has grafted on construction sites and endured some frankly awful office jobs, the enchantment of design remains ever-present in my mind. I still perceive myself as a tradesman, alongside many of my peers, constructing bold and captivating designs that provide joy while prioritising functionality and effective communication.
In my design journey, I have experienced some lovely moments within advertising agencies. However, as time went on, the glossy veneer began to fade, revealing a different reality that led me to choose a different path. While I cherish the connections I have forged and the talented individuals I have worked alongside, it all ultimately circles back to the same underlying issue — the pervasive air of arrogance and the relentless pressure to proclaim one’s greatness, which ironically undermines the very essence of creativity.
The enchantment of marketing agencies and design studios, with their reputation for being at the forefront of trends and innovation, is marred by a sense of exclusivity and cliquishness. This prevailing attitude breeds an atmosphere of self-congratulation, where being “cool” takes precedence over the authentic pursuit of creativity and genuine connection.
In reality, the pull of working on FMCG campaigns or catering to worldwide brands loses its lustre. The intrinsic appeal that initially captivated me and many others gives way to a sense of disillusionment. The truth is that the coolness factor is a façade, obscuring the reality of the creative process and the individuals who steer the ship.
I have come to the realisation that true creativity thrives beyond the boundaries of what is considered “cool” or popular. It resides in the realm of authenticity, originality, and the courage to challenge the status quo. As I part ways with the confines of marketing agencies and their superficial sheen, I embrace a different approach — one that is rooted in genuine connection, meaningful impact, and the pursuit of artistic integrity.
In this new chapter of my journey, I am guided by the knowledge that the path to true fulfilment in design lies not in the corridors of hip Bristol marketing agencies. Instead, it rests in forging genuine connections, embracing humility, and being true to oneself. So, while marketing agencies and their cool cliques continue to boast their self-proclaimed importance, I find solace in seeking a different kind of cool — the coolness that stems from genuine passion, creative freedom, and the courage to follow my own path.
Furthermore, within many agencies, a lot of individuals either forget their origins or emerge directly from the sheltered cocoon of university, where inflated self-importance festers. The primary beneficiaries of this delusion are the business-minded individuals at the top. Stripped of the embellishments, they are simply men and women driven by self-interest, despite their attempts to convince us all otherwise.
To make it clear — I bear no grudges or neither have any ill will toward this reality. In fact, I strive to secure a prosperous livelihood, for myself and for my loved ones. However, the fundamental distinction lies in the fact that my success will come at my own expense, not at the cost of others.
Design should embody a spirit of genuine collaboration, fostering an environment where creativity flourishes, ideas are nurtured, and true innovation takes root. The future of design lies in the hands of those who value craftsmanship, meaningful connections, and the pursuit of excellence over profit.
As I reflect upon my transformative journey from addiction to design, I am fuelled by an unwavering determination to forge my own way, unburdened by the constraints of pretentious marketing agencies and the fading relevance of traditional advertising. The industry is shifting, embracing a future where personal connections, authentic relationships, and the pursuit of artistic integrity take precedence over corporate agendas.
I am but a humble tradesman, armed with the tools of creativity and driven by the desire to build a world where design transcends the superficial and leaves a lasting impact. So, let the factories churn out their cookie-cutter campaigns, for I am resolved in my quest of craftsmanship, pure expression, and the freedom to shape a design landscape that resonates with the very core of my being.
I craft powerful bold and dynamic brands that drive sales and command attention.