Multidisciplinary creative Daniel Baragwanath on art directing for Dua Lipa and developing 3D code
Postgrad life was not a walk in the park for Daniel Baragwanath. After a move to London led to numerous internships but no permanent job, he was resigned to working shifts at his local pub and working as a freelancer from his bedroom. But fast forward five years and he’s a committed freelancer at the Dazed X Design District Space in North Greenwich. Having now tackled everything from 3D-code based work to art directing Dua Lipa’s arena tour, he now reckons that “working full-time at a cool agency would be my worst nightmare.” Here, Daniel valiantly defends the multidisciplinary approach, shares his most essential coding tools and fills us in on the benefits of folders filled with hundreds of top-secret half-baked ideas.
Art Director and Front End Developer
David Sims, Block 9, Digi-Gxl, Dua Lipa, Orphan Records, Bellhouse Markes, Second Best, The Digital Fairy
Place of Study
BA Graphic Arts and Design, Leeds Beckett University (2011–2014)
How would you describe what you do?
I work predominately in fashion and music, however the work itself changes on a daily basis. At the moment it’s mostly web design and front end development, although it often jumps between art direction, creative direction, and more traditional graphic design. I find that creatively I have quite a short attention span – so I try not to pigeonhole myself into any specific practice. It means that the opportunity is there for every job to be completely different from the last.
From a professional perspective, the “jack of all trades, master of none” approach can be a double edged sword, with clients apprehensive of trusting somebody who doesn’t have a sprawling portfolio of work in the exact area they’re looking for, however creatively it’s the opposite. Each job is an opportunity to learn something new about a different working practice and carry it on into future ideas.
“If there’s something I can’t do or figure out, there will almost always be a friend who is 100 times better equipped for the task.”
What does a typical working day look like and where does it happen?
At the moment my working day is spent at the Dazed X Design District Space in North Greenwich. I tend to get in around 8:30am to answer emails – this way the majority of the awkward tasks and looming replies are out of the way before the day has really begun, leaving the rest of the day wide open to whatever projects are on. I usually leave around 6:30pm, or whenever the thought of dinner takes hold.
What are the most and least enjoyable aspects of your job?
The most enjoyable aspect is that almost every job is collaborative in some form or another. If there’s something I can’t do or figure out personally, there will almost always be a friend, or a friend of a friend who is 100 times better equipped for the task. In that sense the work-life balance is great because it means working with mates on a daily basis.
What has been the most exciting project of the last twelve months?
The last 12 months have been a dive into more 3D-code based work, with the culmination of that being the Digi-Gxl website [above]. It was a manic learning curve from start to finish to have the site live in time (about a week and a half). The finished product is a catalogue of the network’s 150+ members all over the globe, portrayed as a galaxy of orbs, providing ways for members and potential clients alike to connect with creatives either nearby, or with a particular skill set.
What tools do you use most for your work?
The whole Adobe suite; Macbook (for everything); Atom (text editor for code); an understanding of a couple of coding languages; and a group of friends who are really good at what they do.
Are you currently working on any personal projects? If so, how do you manage your time alongside other work?
I think it’s true for the majority of developers – there’s a folder sat somewhere with 100 half-baked ideas and tests at any given moment. Usually these find a way of worming themselves into projects, which can be a nice opportunity to do something for a client and still keep a hold on creative ownership. Although if they sit there long enough you’ll find someone did it better, and so they get scrapped. It’s a never ending battle to find time to act on an idea, so they all stay top secret until they’re out!
Is there a resource that has particularly helped you?
For research and good references, Archive.org is unbeatable. Lynda, Code Academy and FreeCodeCamp were also a massive help for learning code. For learning Adobe suite, I definitely benefited most from interning at agencies and sitting next to people who knew the software inside out. You can Google something until you’re blue in the face, but there’s a lot to be said for asking someone who knows.
How I Got Here
Did you study at degree level and if so, do you feel you need a formal education for what you do?
I studied graphic design at degree level – the course was wide open and conceptually-led. We were allowed to do pretty much anything we wanted so long as we could justify it, which was a little wasted on me at the time being hell bent on following certain design trends and getting a job at a cool agency.
In hindsight this ethos completely formed the way I work today, and now working full-time at a cool agency would be my worst nightmare. Although I wouldn’t say a formal education is essential by any means. Plenty of (really successful) people find their way by other means.
After graduating, what were your initial steps?
I moved straight to London after graduating, and spent months emailing portfolios around to anywhere that would have me. I interned all over the show but never ended up getting a job – my work wasn’t very good and I was looking in all the wrong places. I ended up working in a pub for two years doing bits of freelance on the side.
“A friend once sent a WhatsApp around looking for somebody to jump in for a couple of days, which later developed into art directing Dua Lipa’s arena tour.”
Working like this is completely draining physically and mentally. Eventually the time came to cut my hours at the pub and be skint for a while in the hope that freelance work would pick up, which thankfully it did. Getting a studio space was a huge game-changer for the community it provided and for the sake of not working from home. Making logos in your bedroom whilst waiting for your shift to start can send anyone insane.
Would you say you ever experienced a lucky break?
Being freelance, every job can feel like a bit of a lucky break. A friend once sent a WhatsApp around looking for somebody to jump in for a couple of days, which later developed into art directing Dua Lipa’s arena tour. Little freelance gigs often snowball like that – you never know what will come of them, or how they might inform your practice later down the line.
What would you say are the biggest challenges associated with being freelance?
A lot of people are put off by the fact you’re often unsure when the next job or payment will come. Another struggle is how to correctly charge for a project, especially if it’s come from a friend. There really isn’t a right answer – you can put your foot down and say you won’t work for a low rate; some would say if you do this, then clients will take you more seriously and not approach you without a good budget. But I’ve often found the most fun or beneficial projects are the ones with next to no budget. I completely back that people should be paid correctly for their time and work, but if a project genuinely doesn’t have a good budget, then there is almost always an opportunity to make it worthwhile in some other way.
This can go the other way too – sometimes projects with buy-yo-momma-a-house budgets can turn into a complete nightmare and take over your whole life. I guess the decision is made somewhere between asking: “Are they a good client?”, “Is the project going to be good?” and “Do you need the money?” The freelance trifecta of doom. Oh and remember to save 20% of everything, the tax man is always there in the wings, digging your grave.
What would you like to do next?
There are a few big projects in the pipeline, my friend Rifke [Sadleir] and I are starting an agency, so growing that is the main goal! In the near future I’d like to carry on experimenting with code and have that inform other areas of projects – I find it completely changes the perspective you approach a brief from, if you’re thinking about how to make it interactive from the start.
Other than that it’s wide open. There are a couple of projects on at the moment with charities, which is great – it’s so easy for design work to be completely narcissistic, it’s nice when it can actually do some good.
Words of Wisdom
What advice would you give to an emerging creative wanting to get into the same line of work?
Don’t worry about getting a job straight out of university, it took me bloody years and I never did get that job. Don’t worry if you have no idea what you’re doing, or even really what it is you want to do, I still don’t. Supporting yourself by other means isn’t a failure, it’s just another string to your bow. A portfolio of five good experiments can be worth more than 10 hyper-polished projects. The clichés are never ending, but they’re mostly (annoyingly) true. If all else fails, give me a shout. If you like dogs you’ve got the job.
Interview by Marianne Hanoun
Introduction by Anoushka Khandwala