Although I was good at art in school – Art Scholarship to Worksop College and Sir Charles Wheeler National Art Award – I didn’t move into further education with a design career in mind, instead doing an Honours degree in Philosophy at Hull University.
I did Philosophy for its own sake – as a genuine learning and educational experience – though I have since found that its disciplines in exploring and dissecting arguments and issues, in examining words and language and distilling difficult questions into clearer questions and propositions has served me, my designs, and my work, very well indeed.
Having got my degree however, I was at a loss as to how to put it to work. I took some time out to think about it and eventually decided to settle in Hull and to set up BigTime Art, not only working as a freelance designer for commercial clients but also producing my own t-shirt designs and selling them in the city’s independent shops.
In those days running a design business as an individual was a hugely intensive and frustrating matter. Design processes themselves in the days before desktop computers and design applications was a time-consuming parade of sketches, mockups, repro work, Latraset and Pantone work, visiting and briefing typesetters and printers and assembling costly finished works.
On top of that there were the not insignificant matters of chasing new sales and clients – and actual business administration and accounts. Not fun, and – for me at least – guaranteed to suck the joy out of running a creative enterprise.
I eventually spotted a post for a ‘Marketing Co-ordinator’ for an industrial group of companies which promised some good creative possibilities. And it delivered them to a certain extent – and although the subject matter wasn’t the most compelling I worked with press and advertising agencies, designed and supervised the build of exhibition stands, designed adverts, technical literature, and worked with partner companies across Europe in translating materials for the group.
Hull Daily Mail
My next job was with the region’s key newspaper – the Hull Daily Mail (and all its publications) – and lasted for eight years as I moved through the company as its lead creative; from Advertising Visualiser to Head of Advertising Design to Design Editor. It’s a period I look back very fondly on, working with great people in every area of the company – commercial, editorial, technical and press – as well as a kind, caring and generous set of Directors. It’s also the period where I got properly stuck in to designing on computers – from the very early 1990s with the likes of PageMaker, Illustrator, Quark and Photoshop.
I designed numerous award winning adverts, campaigns and publications, and the role culminated in the creation of a multimedia interactive ‘newspaper’ which readers accessed via their TV sets through set top boxes connected to Hull’s privately run telephone exchanges.
The multimedia newspaper project caught the eye of the Mail’s parent company Northcliffe Newspapers and Associated Newspapers, and I was duly poached and taken down to London to spend the next eleven years working for household name Teletext, building and leading design teams to develop and deliver the company’s digital products – a suite of services across terrestrial, cable and satellite platforms as well as web and mobile – and working with Marketing and the Directors as the company’s brand guardian in advertising, commercial promotion and all offline public and commercial touchpoints.
At Teletext I was also able to indulge my motorsport interests, initiating the development of specialist extra-deep and rich motorsport content sections and products as well as writing the weekly satirical F1 column “Motormouth” for somewhere around 3 million viewers.
I set up Vroom Media in late 2009 when I finally said goodbye to Teletext – Well, not a proper goodbye… the company were my first client and I worked with them to three cracking iOS app projects! Vroom was intended to be – and has proved to be – a vehicle not only for doing design work to pay the bills but also to indulge motorsport interests, other areas of design interest – and for being able to devote time as a designer to good causes.
Vroom Media is not my only design work however, as I’m also a founding partner in The Infographics Agency with an old Teletext colleague and media industry heavyweight Graham Lovelace, doing a whole raft of infographics and data visualisation work for an amazing array of clients for both external PR and internal communications. The variety of subject matter and interesting clients is ideal for keeping me excited with my work.