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My design journey

I’ve had the opportunity to take a walk down memory lane and go through my creative path recently, so I thought I’d share with you how I got from moody teenager to design student, into the design industry and becoming a digital nomad and now to director of a wellness app and budding UI/UX designer.

I currently call myself a freelance creative. I started getting serious about design in high school where I mostly pissed about with making jewellery. I was inspired by Dorothy Hogg and I made a kind of Flubber around 2005 mixing magenta ink (had to be the magenta), nail varnish remover and PVA. It was mouldable and it set. I was trying to mix organic form and inorganic material and it seems quite sophisticated now but it really wasn’t then.

I made jewellery from copper wire and piping, I soldered working lightbulbs to a necklace and as I was a moody teenager (my parent’s called me Kevin as in Kevin and Perry) I drew many harrowing pictures of me screaming (Edvard Munch’s The Scream had been stolen again around 2004) I used to look back at these and cringe but I have a kind of awe I how ’troubled’ I was now. I also spent a lot of time playing with texture and materials, I worked messy. I had a cubbyhole at the back of Mrs Ward’s art class and it was full of little messy experiments.

I worked with a sign-writer for a while in my early teens, my first foray out into the working world. Learning a bit of Corel draw, how fonts and the plotter worked. I loved working on site, getting a chippy for lunch and smoking fags behind buildings with the workies, my wedge in my back pocket. We did mainly single coloured vinyl work and the one I remember most was Campbells Butchers which I see still everywhere around Scotland. I really enjoy that.

I started at Napier University in 2006 to do Interior Architecture. To be honest I was so overwhelmed by the whole experience I have very little memory of my time there. I remember designing a chair inspired by Finnish architect and designer Alvar Aalto and we did a project on shipping containers that has never left me as a way to live. I awed at Zaha Hadid and Herzog & de Meuron. This was my first time being critiqued on work, we presented in the ‘fish bowl’ where everyone could see you as they walked by. I want to say I learned a lot but I don’t know if I did.

I met some wholly grown up (to me) women and bought many expensive books but I never fell in love with the practice and in 2008 I dropped out, much to my family’s dismay. I had a vague notion of graphic design by this point, my countryside high school had never produced this as an option in my ‘Career Advice’. After interviewing for 3rd year Graphic Design at Napier I realised it was time to go back a little and not jump the gun, I hadn’t a clue how to even ‘Photoshop’ at this point!

I got in last minute to Motherwell College’s HNC Visual Communication course. It was a bit cumbersome but I got to do life drawing, realism, learned Flash, Photoshop and Illustrator. There were only two of us finished that course. I boggled at the animators next door and still to this day think about dropping it all and making stop motion animation, maybe one day… When I was applying to the next courses I interviewed at Telford, Stevenson, Cardonald and City of Glasgow College (although I am sure it was named something else back then). I had a graded unit project where I designed for The Fruitmarket Gallery. The women at Stevenson was that taken on with my work she had me present it to the same class I had just graduated from as they sat next door in this parallel college. 

I interviewed in 2009 with Telford (now Edinburgh) College. They had me sold on the idea of working with mentors and having placements. I wanted to be industry ready as I had ran out of SAAS and Student Loan years. David told me to come into the first year which meant repeating some of my modules but he said it would be worth it. And so it was.

I never did the best work, I never got an A as far as I can remember but I was dumfounded in the company of all these amazing designers, many of my classmates were older, wiser and much more focused. We had a great family of lecturers in motherly Helena, stern father David and the funny uncles Alex and Chris. I was exposed to all manner of design styles and I learned ‘The Process’ and my stand out project was a fantastic brief that I think I was only one to pick out of the class. It was a campaign to reintegrate cannibals back into society. I have no idea why cannibals fascinate me so much (Freud might) but I had so much fun working with a gruesome topic and nice friendly typefaces and pastel colours. I completed placements at Whitespace, Merchant Soul and Nevis for another invaluable dip of my toe in the real life of a designer.

I am good friends with many of the people I met at Edinburgh College. Its reputation is forged with Helena and is led by each of the students that went out and done great things from there. My life wouldn’t have been the same without the people that haunted the corridor of R310.

I have so much gratitude for David Wilson. Not only did he convince me this was the right course to choose, he also taught me how to be proficient in my workflow and my organisation and this is the backbone to a lot of my work now. As a freelancer I have to make certain my files can be understood by the next person who will inevitably work on it. My filing is immaculate because of his guidance.

After a successful End of Year show in 2011, where I took the lead in crowdfunding and coordinating the design, I started working with my mentor Graham Scott at Nevis Design. This was to be for 3 weeks initially and that turned into about year and a half. Here I got to be in a hands-on small team, this meant I saw all of the design process in action. I marvelled at the fine detailing Graham, David and Callum had. James gave me some sound advice and my first web design projects. We worked on high-end packaging mostly for F&B. Work for Edinburgh Gin, Uisge Source, Loch Fyne and Thatchers were the projects that stood out for me.

In early 2013 I started with The Lane, a bigger and more diverse agency. I spent nearly 3 years under many creative directors. I got to work on larger campaigns for Marketing Edinburgh and Green Tourism. I flitted between digital and print projects. I started coding emails eventually creating my own responsive templates for their CMS. I designed and built rich media ads for Caledonian MacBrayne which had great results and designed a fun, award-winning website in 2015 for Scottish Autism, a charity close to my heart. There was a hell of a lot of work came through the agency at that time. My first press-ads, my first large scale OOH campaigns, I was exposed to so many varied briefs and learned way more here than I probably ever will again. 

I took part in the buddy/mentoring program at Edinburgh College where old students pair up with current students to help them with briefs. It was a wholly rewarding task, having the students visit us in the office and noticing that my working life gave me the knowledge that these guys would need, it was great to give back and feel capable whilst doing it was a huge bonus.

Early 2016 I decided to go freelance, I registered as self-employed and I went about ‘chapping doors’. I got work with Whitespace, Realise, EWDM and Curious to name some of the big ones. I worked on a 2010 iMac that I carried around in an Ikea bag if the job needed me to bring in my equipment. I even did this on the bus and in the snow… I was enjoying getting out there, managing my own time and feeling so bloody capable when a variety of briefs could land with me and I could make them happen. I focused on Creative Artwork but I was storyboarding for motion graphics, branding and designing websites too. By November I had enough money behind me to head off and I was in Bangkok at the start of the month.

I had planned a 4 month trip around SE Asia. I had never been out of Europe, I had never backpacked or travelled on my own before. I was ready. I also had a few projects for my clients that hadn’t wrapped up as planned before I left. I ended up finishing the design and pushing three websites live between Thailand and Laos. I continued working with another freelancer across Cambodia and realised that I was now a digital nomad after meeting some others in Vietnam. 

A large project came on my plate in March 2017 and I went back to Northern Thailand to work on it, living there for a month, now I really was a digital nomad. I moved to a tropical island in Cambodia and worked in a hostel for digs and had a few remote projects for 4 months. This is was the absolute dream! The time difference meant I was finishing work before the client was back at their desk. I was well-rested, I was spending quality time with my mind and I was experiencing a whole load of new culture, people and mindsets. 

I reluctantly left my beautiful slice of island paradise to spend a year in Australia on a Working Holiday Visa. I arrived in Sydney in Winter with my laptop and bikinis and got about prepping myself for the ‘real’ world again. I was fortunate enough to be put up by some wonderful friends and friends of friends in my time here. Callum who was a senior designer at Merchant Soul when I was on placement got in touch and put me in contact with a creative talent agency. I began working with them and rebranded myself as A Travelling Designer. I worked with Dyson through them which was a huge career milestone for me as I have always revered their ethos.

In the Spring I travelled around the East coast a bit and then moved to Melbourne, working with The Collaborative Agency which are still a client today. I worked with Total Tools on packaging (come full circle!) and I was a night manager in the hostel I was living in. I met some of the most amazing people in Melbourne and left with a couple of them to travel through Cairns, the Daintree and Darwin. I left to go to Bali and Singapore where I spent my time drawing and visiting the cities plethora of galleries. 

I snuck home for 6 weeks in the summer of 2017 and had gathered three big projects to take back with me to Asia. I felt I wasn’t quite finished with this part of the world. I arrived back in Chiang Mai, where I was going to paint a mural in a hostel I really loved painting large scale.

I went back to my island paradise, lived in my tent for a while, worked in a new guesthouse, painted murals and did logos. We held the first craft market in the village, drawing, crocheting and card making. Sadly all 3 of those big projects came to nothing and my options were starting to slim down and I got Dengue Fever, so after another 4 months living here I left and I travelled with my friend Natalie for a few months around Cambodia and Thailand, moseying, painting and eating and I returned to Scotland in March to start freelancing again. 

For the last few months as well as working with a few new clients and Keeble Creative I have been building on my own company – Mooncycles. This is an app idea I had on the island where you could track your menstrual cycle with the moon. The idea grew arms and legs (and labia!) when I was speaking with people who have a very different experience with their cycle than I do, folk that suffer with conditions like PCOS and endometriosis especially. I am working on the UX now and am aiming to start development in the new year. 

The last month or so I have completed a number of UI and UX design courses to stretch my creative muscles and broaden my skill set. I’m throughly enjoying getting technical about the psychology of user centred design and in November I will start working with a startup as UI designer. This project should take me into mid 2020 when I am heading to New Zealand to do who knows what, maybe pick some kiwis on a farm and live in a van? Who knows… 

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