How Gracie Hawkins’ internships and love for The Sims led to graphic design for GOV.UK
From leaving herself inspirational post-it notes for an interview to taking on a series of internships as a student, junior graphic designer Gracie Hawkins is always looking ahead. With her love for creating environments on The Sims subconsciously making her consider space and composition, she’s now at the Government Digital Service (GDS) working to make the UK government’s one-stop information website, GOV.UK, more user-friendly. Through collaboration and training, Gracie is navigating the depths and bounds of being a graphic designer, having recently co-facilitated a workshop for GDS designers on the fundamentals of design. Here, Gracie shares how she works with the multidisciplinary teams of GOV.UK and how she’s repurposed her graphic design skills for a digital environment.
Junior Graphic Designer, Government Digital Service
Freelance Graphic Designer, Dapple Studio (2020–2021)
Graphic Design Intern, Fieldwork Facility (2020)
Graphic Design Intern, BOB Design (2019)
Place of Study
BA Graphic Design, Kingston School of Art (2016–2019)
What I do
How would you describe what you do?
I work at the Government Digital Service (GDS), which sits within the Cabinet Office. At GDS, I work on GOV.UK, the UK government’s [centralised] website. My team focuses on improving the site’s presentation and navigation. I work predominantly in digital, upgrading and prototyping new and existing designs as well as fixing problems with layout, typography, colour and spacing. All of this helps to ensure the content is legible and accessible.
I’m always working with talented people from different disciplines, but I mostly interact with front-end developers, content designers, user researchers, performance analysts and interaction designers.
Even though I am a graphic designer, the nature of the work usually calls for me to tap into the interaction design role, doing things such as creating wireframes [visual framework for programmers] and journey mapping, which is something I am still very much learning about.
I also work outside of my team, supporting graphic design requests that come in from across GDS. This work is more ‘traditional’ graphic design that ranges from branding for internal and external events, mission stickers for when teams finish mega pieces of work and posters to inform or promote GDS principles.
“The nature of my work usually calls for me to tap into the interaction design role, doing things such as creating wireframes and journey mapping.”
What recent project have you done at GDS that you are most proud of?
Myself and fellow designer Laurence Berry organised a poster workshop to celebrate design at GDS. We spoke about our design principles, then encouraged others to design ideas for new posters, using prompts such as focusing on our ways of working, how to’s and culture and community objectives.
As a part of the workshop, I created a fake Letraset [lettering sheets that can be pressed onto surfaces] using our own GDS Transport typeface in different fonts, and supplied the participants with paper and scissors to spark their imagination.
What kind of skills are needed to do your role?
I wouldn’t say there is any specific post-university training for my role.
As a graphic designer, you’ll need a baseline understanding of the main fundamentals of colour, layout and typography. I’ve done workshops to aid my role at GDS – these have been on meeting facilitation, user accessibility and inclusivity, and I’m looking to do some in interaction design and service design to better understand how the disciplines work.
“I’ve done workshops on meeting facilitation, user accessibility and inclusivity to aid my role at GDS, and I’m looking to do some in interaction design and service design.”
Outside of the fundamentals, there are non-graphic design skills that are just as important, such as:
Agile working. Breaking work up into smaller pieces to ensure the work is at its best, for instance by having a process of planning, designing, evaluating and amending continuously.
Communicating between the technical and non-technical. Due to the multidisciplinary nature of teams at GDS, it’s important to be able to successfully elaborate on ideas and perspectives of your work in and outside of your team or expertise.
Community collaboration. Working collaboratively is highly encouraged and happens naturally at GDS. Contributing to and taking inspiration from others’ work is always helpful.
Evidence and context-based designing. This means being able to create and test multiple solutions to a problem. No one solution fits all, so it’s important to stretch the amount of viable outcomes.
Prototyping. When creating anything, you need to be able to show it. At GDS we use this in an array of ways, such as giving it to our user researchers for testing to catch any issues, such as accessibility or front-end problems.
Working with constraints. At GDS we have to work with policy, legislative, regulatory and operational constraints. We need to find a way to work with them to create simple, short and quick solutions for users.
How I got here
What was your journey like when you were first starting out?
I already knew about GDS via Twitter and, one day during lockdown, took a look at their careers page. Realising that they had an opening for a junior graphic designer, I applied to work at GDS through the Civil Service jobs page.
When interviewing, I used the S.T.A.R. (situation, task, action, and result) method to talk about my projects. It really helped me set the scene, so I could explain myself clearly. I also had a load of post-it notes on the wall behind my computer screen.
I interviewed for the role at the height of the pandemic – sending good vibe messages to myself just in case I started to crumble, which was quite helpful at points.
“When interviewing I used the S.T.A.R. method to talk projects, it really helped me set the scene, so I could explain myself clearly.”
What was your journey like when you were first starting out?
Everyone is different, but personally I was super-anxious when starting out after university. One thing I did to prepare myself was internships throughout term time at university and during the summer when I could afford to.
It gave me the opportunity to understand the profession while still being a student. If it wasn’t for experiences I had while interning, I don’t feel like I would have been prepared to enter the industry.
“One thing I did to prepare myself for the industry was completing internships throughout university term-time and during the summer when I could afford to.”
If you could pick three things that you’ve found useful or inspiring to your work or career, what would they be and why?
Graphic design as an art form, but also as a tool to consume. Working in Sainsbury’s while at university made me understand different types of people and how they consume. It’s interesting to see the demographics of buyers, what they buy (store-brand or not), what they’re willing to spend and their overall shopping patterns.
I think my love for The Sims has made me subconsciously think about composition and space in design due to its grid format for furniture [placement] and environmental [features]. I would design houses for hours and then get bored of playing with the actual family and move on to the next. Even in real life, I find it quite satisfying to find the best composition for a space.
My third would be taking time off from graphic design and work in general and just going for a nice long walk, preferably with food at the end.
“My love for The Sims has made me subconsciously think about composition and space in design. Even in real life, I find it quite satisfying to find the best composition for a space.”
What would you say has been your biggest challenge along the way?
My biggest challenge is probably my background. I grew up working class, and throughout university and beyond, I found it quite difficult to support myself while studying, working part-time and balancing internships.
Another challenge I’ve faced with work would probably be within my current role. Previously, I had worked on branding, publications and exhibition and spacial design, mainly with a physical outcome, which is so different to what I’m doing now. I had to take my skills and repurpose them for digital, working with new software such as Figma, while also learning how GDS and the government works, which was all a bit overwhelming at first.
What have been your greatest learnings with making money and supporting yourself as a creative?
Adulting is hard. Look at your bank account everyday. Say no to things you can’t afford. Pensions are important – don’t ignore them.
Thinking about your future in terms of career is great, but make sure you think about yourself in terms of your health and investing for your future.
What’s the best career-related advice you’ve ever received?
Probably my A-Level art teacher telling me I wasn’t a graphic designer. It made me work twice as hard to prove him wrong.
What advice would you give someone looking to get into a similar role?
I would say you can never ask the wrong question. Ask about everything you are unsure of, as it’ll save everyone time. Also, don’t be afraid to ask for things in general: “Do you have time to meet up for a coffee?”; “can I show you my portfolio?”, “can I work for you?” and so on.
Getting a no from someone is usually the worst case scenario. If you don’t ask, you don’t get!
Mention Gracie Hawkins
Interview by Lyla Maeve