The Tao of the Graphic Designer – my creative journey

It all started a pretty long time ago... way back in 1994 would you believe! I was 11 years old and decided I wanted to be a graphic designer. I had recently started my new secondary school, not the best I will  grant you that, but the place that would start my journey down the creative path. You see, as I came from what was considered a "deprived" area the school had recently received quite a lot of money and had been given Technology college status which meant, a shiny new graphic design studio among other things (I also got to try my hand at engineering, pneumatics and ceramics, but that is a very different blog covering the fact that I am a rubbish girl).

It captured my imagination. I got to create stuff that solved a problem by using creative thinking. I had to give reasons why I used colour, type, shape and form. It opened my eyes to a new big world out there that I had never really thought of being part of, it gave me my career path, graphic designer here I come!

It is safe to say I have always been a bit of a creative type, while my little brother would save up pocket money to but the latest thundercat or wrestling figure I would buy books, pens and paper. My shocking stationary habit exists to this day and my collection of pro-markers is now something I enjoy with my own kids (supervised of course, they are my babies, and not really for children :D) I loved art, photography, museums, books, whatever I could get my hands on really, and my parents indulged me. Music was another big influence, with bands like the Beatles, the Kinks, the Move & the Who being played at home it meant I dodged the bullet of the likes of the Vengaboys and early 90's pop forever frying my brain.

So you weren't academic then?
Actually I was, I was a complete swot. My parents got called aside when I chose subjects like graphics, art, media studies & history instead of more preferred subjects like double science and languages. I was going to be wasted taking creative subjects was the general opinion. The lack of understanding for the creative process and the level of knowledge that came with it was amazing. Why would I want to be a graphic designer when I could be an accountant or a lawyer? (Nothing wrong with those professions, but they probably wouldn't let me wear my Doc Martens to work each day like I do now). I probably use more math in my role as a web designer than I would have done in most other jobs I could have chosen, today alone I have worked on a site in german coding to meet their commercial needs, and had to apply knowledge of history, culture and fashion to put together a design for a client. Sounds like a pretty rounded education to me.


The now disused Longlands Campus of Stourbridge College. Click the image for some awesome photographs documenting its decay

The gloriously retro old Tarmac building that is home to The University of Wolverhampton's School of Art & Design

So where next?
From school I went on to my local art college and believe it or not only touched a computer around five times in the whole two years I was there to do any design work. I hand rendered type, used a grant enlarger (do they still exist?) and learnt all the fundamentals that came with being a designer. Learning the hard way made sure that it stuck in your head. If you had spent two days drawing a layout by hand you were gonna be damn sure you had thought long and hard about every alignment point and piece of content.  It was hard work but it laid the foundations for skills I use every single day.

Onward & Upward
From there was a university degree in graphic communication, in the very orange Wolverhampton University SAD (it must have turned my brain somehow). We explored typography, film, semiotics, conceptual design, philosophy, so much I can't even begin to cram it in here. Making you see things from all perspectives, to analyse each element with equal importance & to use creative skills to solve a multitude of problems was where I wanted to be. We probably didn't realise it at the time but out lecturers were pretty amazing too, I still refer back to things they said and told me about now over ten years down the line.

Into The Big Wide World
And so off I went. I guess I have been pretty lucky as things go, I have been able to work with huge household names and I have see small businesses grow from the corner of a back bedroom to being a global brand. Being a graphic designer has meant I have interacted with people I would never thought possible and has taken me out of my little corner of the Black Country and out into the world.

I do what I love and I do it every day. I think people struggle with that, the fact that I don't switch off, I look for inspiration everywhere, I encourage my children to absorb the world around them. Because after all, a world without designers would be a pretty boring place.

Books that formed my journey

Roland Barthes - Mythologies

Pop Fiction: The Song In Cinema - Steve Lannin, Matthew Caley

Layout / Making it Fit: Finding the Right Balance Between Content and Space - Carolyn Knight, Jessica Glaser

Roland Barthes - Image Music Text

The Art of Looking Sideways - Alan Fletcher

The End of Print: The Grafik Design of David Carson