#AskBuild – Answers


We would like to say a big thank you to everyone who submitted a question to #AskBuild. Unfortunately, we couldn’t answer every one, but we have picked out some of our favourites and answered them below…

Answers by:

MCP – Michael C Place [Founder + Creative Director] NP – Nicky Place [Business Director]

EP – Ellie Polston [Graphic Designer]

ED – Elena Dransfield [Marketing Manager]

Q1. What steps did you take in your early careers that led to working with respected professionals in the creative industry?

Q1b. And what would you say to a young designer/student who’s looking to do the same? – Submitted by Evano Pescatore 

A1a. EP – I knew I loved graphic design and I wanted to do everything I could to ensure that it would be my career. I made sure I grabbed every single opportunity that came my way. I was lucky enough to intern at some great, but varied, creative agencies during and after my time at university. These internships not only taught me invaluable skills and knowledge but also made it clear what kind of studio I wanted to work for, which in turn, had a real positive influence to my work. I wasn’t afraid to take risks too – I took on projects solely on the basis that the project would be an asset to my portfolio, and eventually, get me to where I wanted to be!

A1a NP – I wanted to be an illustrator so I did a foundation course followed by a degree in graphics that had a specialist option in illustration (it was a mixed bag of illustrators, animators, designers, printmakers and even advertising- the industry has changed hugely and each of these are now recognised as very different disciplines). My first job was working in a small local games company (in Liverpool) as a 2D pixel artist, and that company then eventually became part of the Sony PlayStation empire. I became the lead artist on PlayStation titles Wipeout 2097 & wip3out. Eventually my role developed into more of a creative manager. I’d met Michael during this time so when I left Sony for Build I was kind of coming full circle, to be working in a graphic design studio!

A1b MCP – I would suggest getting in touch with a design studio before you graduate. Come graduation time we are inundated with requests for internships and jobs. By starting to contact people a bit earlier you stand a much better chance of not getting lost in the sea of people trying to secure that elusive placement/job. It can also show you have a real interest in the studio rather than the scatter-gun approach some people adopt in the mild panic of graduation! Do your research, send a nice email and follow up with a phone call. Take a real interest in the projects the studio is producing, it really works. Try not to get too discouraged if someone doesn’t respond straightaway, people do get busy.

A1b NP – My advice to young designers is to focus on what you want from an early age, if you can. This is a difficult one as the industry has exploded- so it’s both a benefit (huge choice of disciplines to work in) and a curse (loads more graduates coming into the industry each year). Sadly we see lots of graduates who don’t really have a fire in them, it does seem a bit design by numbers, almost like the creative industries might feel cool to work in, but of course it’s made so by the myriad of creative people in it! It’s a cliché but if you are passionate about being creative then this will shine through. Don’t falter when things get tough- we’ve heard so many stories of graduates going into any job out of necessity, and that’s it- they end up working as an admin assistant forever more! But, I didn’t think my first job was going to take me where it did, so try to stick within the creative industries even if the job isn’t ideal, as you never know how it could evolve. Having said that, we’ve had portfolios from people who haven’t worked in a creative role but after several years in an uninspiring job (usually their words!) are working hard to get one, and you have to admire their tenacity, but it’s tough. So in short- if you want to work as a creative, start that way, keep your eyes on the prize, and get placements at good studios (it goes a long, long way to getting noticed by others).

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Q2. How did you go about gaining clients when you started out on your own from working with TDR and how much time was spent marketing to potential clients? – Submitted by Peter Trigar

A2. MCP – It was a really strange period in my career, having just taken nearly a year off to travel. I won’t lie; it was pretty tough at the start. I was very lucky in that Nicky (my wife) got a very good job at Sony Playstation, which meant we were relatively financially secure. This enabled me to start talking to people, and do a few small projects. I did a project for a very well respected Japanese design publication called IDEA Magazine. This raised my profile; it was a sort of an announcement that I was back on the design scene, and working under the name of Build. I never really saw this as marketing at the time, but I guess you could call it that! I was also lucky that the previous company I worked for was very well known, so by association that really helped too. Another valuable lesson I learnt really early is that the design scene is quite small so be nice to people, you never know when you might need to some help.

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Q3. Do you mind recommending any good books about studio life, handling rejection, and/or creative processes? – Submitted by Anuja Shukla

A3. MCP – I can wholeheartedly recommend ’Studio Culture’ (Unit 01) published by Unit Editions. It’s a really good book containing interviews with 30 designers who run design studios. We are one of the studios in it; it’s an absolutely fascinating read. It pulls no punches with people giving really honest views on their experiences on a wide range of questions about the challenges of studio life. In it we talk about why we started the studio, how we get new clients (spoiler! It can be very tough), ambitions and how to get paid. Not sure about books on handling rejection, but I can say it’s still hard after having worked professionally for 26 years! But I would say it’s something one has to get used to, it goes with the territory. Not everyone is going to agree with you all the time, try not to take it personally (I know this can be hard). When we have had work rejected we always try and understand why so that you can learn from it. Most people are usually happy to give constructive feedback so don’t be afraid to ask. Regarding creative process, try Lateral Thinking by Edward de Bono. He also does a series of online courses; see www.edwdebono.com. A really nice quote from him is: ‘The need to be right all the time is the biggest bar to new ideas’.

A3. NP- I’ve read a lot of books over the years, especially early on, but actually nothing beats the experience of doing the work first hand (I’ve lost count of the number of books I’ve started to read but then didn’t finish because I got busy doing the work!). Another book by Adrian Shaugnessy I’d recommend is ‘How To Be a Graphic Designer…’ I also came across Darius Foroux recently, he writes a blog about ‘life and business strategies. Sounds dry but it is really entertaining and so spot on! dariusforoux.com/blog

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Q4. How do you convince your clients to trust you and accept your ideas? – Submitted by Saad Khurshid

A4. MCP – To convince someone to buy an idea isn’t really what we try to do for our clients. For us there is an awful lot of work going on before we get to the point of submitting an idea. During that time we build trust with the client. This is generally done through conversation and research, really getting to understand the client’s needs. Only by talking with your client can you hope to understand what they require, often by talking in depth these needs and desires can change. It’s then our job to steer the client in a direction that completely fits their requirements. So I think the trust is something that is built up over those first few weeks/months. I also think that there generally is a respect from the client’s side in choosing you over someone else. So it’s not a process that is very cold from the start, then it is up to you as a designers to make sure the client is onboard throughout the entire process, therefore hopefully in step with the ideas you present.

A4. NP- It’s a tough one in that clients naturally have their own ideas- sometimes they see working with a studio as a way to articulate that idea into the real world, ‘I know what I want I just don’t know how to get there’ – this can be very limiting for the client as there are always factors to take into account beside how something looks at the end of the project. It’s our job to show how we can help solve problems as they arise, though good design- that’s what designers do! The end result is the visual output of that problem solving. So we won’t work with a client who wants it ‘like this’, not because of any arrogance on our part, but because you can usually tell that it’s a non-starter and will end in a lot of frustration for the client. On the flip side a client who respects us as a studio and understands that there is more to the process than simply ‘making things look nice’ will know that our aim is to problem solve first, then make it look good, otherwise it’s a waste of the clients’ time and effort- so if we can reassure the client that’s what needs doing and that the outcome is better all round, that’s when the trust arises, and we can put something to them that they might not have considered before.

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Q5. How do I impress a graphic design studio with my portfolio? – Submitted by Stephanie Linossier

A5. MCP – First of all don’t feel down about your work. I’ve had a number of students come into the studio to show their work and some have been quite down about certain pieces. This really comes across in an interview, and I always say don’t be negative about your work. For one, don’t show anything you really don’t like, or pitch it in a different way. Be positive! Try not to think about all the other people, focus on your own work. You can be sure the people you think are great are probably saying the same thing about you! Very few people come straight out of university with an amazing portfolio of incredible work. An interview is as much about the person as it is about the work, so again be positive! Everyone in the industry that you respect was in the exact same position you are in, most people remember that and will act accordingly. People generally want people to succeed, so if you do have a bad interview don’t get too down about it ask for feedback. If it means doing a bit more work on your folio then do it, and try again. Good luck!

A5. NP- If you are a graduate, show a core number of projects, say 6-7 that show depth of thinking through that project. Present the portfolio cleanly and don’t think the portfolio itself has to be a crazy piece of design- keep it simple and understated and let the work speak. If you are a designer with some experience, show the ‘real’ projects you’ve worked on, but most importantly be honest about your involvement. We’ve seen many portfolios of young designers who show pretty in-depth work and they allude to being the only designer on that project- a bit of digging might show that they have done the layout on a brochure for it- that in itself is not a bad thing, the important thing is the involvement with the team and what you learnt alongside them- but don’t pretend you did it all!

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Q6. What does success mean to you? – Submitted by Gary Hanna

A6. NP – Success means being respected as a studio or practitioner. It’s not about making loads of money, there is no doubt that we practice at the less commercial end of the spectrum, but I’m very proud of what we have achieved as a small studio, and also the respect that Michael has as a designer.

A6b. EP – For me, success is doing what I love every day as an actual career! I measure my success on how other people interact with my work – there is no better feeling than creating something a client is as proud of as I am!

A6c. ED – I think coming up with a different idea that could better yourself or the people around you and seeing it all the way through to the end is a pretty successful thing to do. I don’t think you should always measure success as having status in a profession – to me it should be personal; it’s how you go about things and how you feel about it when you have finished them.

A6d. MCP – Graphic design is a subject I am completely immersed in, not only on a professional level, but a personal one too. I really enjoy reading about the subject, so for me success is really measured when I speak to young designers (and some older ones too) who said they got into design through my own. That’s pretty amazing!