Berlin, books and Brexit: London-born designer at HelloMe, Joel Antoine-Wilkinson talks moving to Germany
Joel Antoine-Wilkinson moved to Berlin on May Day – the city’s biggest day of street parties and protests. Having never lived outside of London before, he took a chance on working abroad. An initial slog of emails helped this ex-It’s Nice That grad land an internship at design studio HelloMe. Now working as a graphic designer, he’s since experienced a fair few firsts – from building websites to creating album artwork and artists’ books. The realities of working life are a world away from his studies, but we’ll let him tell you about the kayak experience… He shares some of the shocks and pleasant surprises he’s encountered within Berlin’s design scene, and how he’s honed a process that matches conceptual thinking with an eye for craft.
Graphic Designer, HelloMe (2016–present)
Internships: A Practice for Everyday Life, HarrimanSteel, Studio Hato
BA Graphic Design, Kingston University (2012–2015)
How would you describe your job?
A mixture of conceptual thinking, graphic design, photography, photo editing, double checking, writing and the odd surprise. We try to work collaboratively at the start of a project, coming up with concepts with Till Wiedeck (HelloMe founder and creative director). After this point one member will lead the project as much as possible with regular feedback from Till and the rest of the studio.
What does a typical working day look like?
We usually start at 9am and finish at 6pm. I take the U-Bahn to work which is around a 20 to 25 minutes door-to-door journey, although I need to get myself a bike! We typically work on larger projects with multiple elements to them such as logo and typography, photo direction, website, books and small matter such as leaflets and tickets. This varies, but on the whole, projects tend to have multiple components. This means the working day can be spent designing various projects for a range of clients.
“I always liked the idea of working or interning abroad, but never really thought I would have the chance to do it.”
How did you land your current job?
I had just finished an internship at A Practice for Everyday Life and I didn’t really have anything else lined up at the time so I began the slog of emailing studios whose work resonated with me and who I rate highly. I always liked the idea of working or interning abroad for a period of time but never really thought I would have the chance to do it. With this in mind, and having made no real plans, I decided to contact a couple of studios to enquire about the chance of an internship. Luckily they replied and suggested I come by for a chat about my work if I was ever in Berlin. I had never been but it was somewhere I always wanted to visit, so the replies gave even more reason to. I met Till Wiedeck while on holiday there; I showed him my work and had a really enjoyable chat. Fast forward four months and I’ve started the first day of my internship.
I owe being able to make the move to my mum. She was willing to rent my room out to a family friend which helped support me for the first few months. This, combined with my internship wage, was enough to get by but it was very tight! I’m extremely thankful to her for that.
What are the most and least enjoyable aspects of your job?
The most enjoyable part of my job is the research and conceptual thinking at the start of a project. I often find this to be the most exciting part of the project and how this stage can spark of so many different ideas and approaches. Equally I enjoy visualising this stage and the precision and accuracy involved in this refining part of the process. The least enjoyable aspect of the job is probably lengthy client communication which can sometimes interrupt the work flow. However this is something you get much better at with time. Also days and days of photo editing isn’t the most fun.
What has been the most exciting project of the last twelve months?
There have been multiple exciting projects over the last year, especially as a lot of these projects are ‘my firsts.’ First website, first album artwork, first widely published book. I’d say the most exciting project would be the publication Seductive Exacting Realism / Marcel Proust 12 for the artist Irena Haiduk. It was one of the earlier projects I worked on, and was my first time designing an artist’s book for retail release. The content itself was very rich and allowed for a lot of conceptual thinking and visual responses. It felt like a very collaborative effort at the studio and it was a really nice feeling once the books came back and I could hold it in my hand.
What skills are essential to your job?
A good eye for detail, a strong and curious work ethic, a conceptual approach to projects and a pragmatic approach to day-to-day tasks. You also need to know your way around Adobe but your skills on this will improve fast once you start working.
Do you run any self-initiated projects alongside your job?
I try to do self-initiated projects in my own time but it can often be a challenge. This is something I want to improve on as I have some ideas I’m excited to get done!
What tools do you use most for your work?
The basic equipment I use day-to-day are a MacBook Pro 15inch; mouse; notebook; Adobe (InDesign, Illustrator, Photoshop); a camera and a printer.
How I Got Here
What did you want to be growing up?
In order: a fireman, cartoonist, rapper, photographer and designer.
Have you found working abroad different to the UK?
I moved to Berlin on the 1st of May which was a very crazy day to arrive in the city – a day of parties and public protesting in the streets. I was living outside of London for the first time in my life, getting to experience a great city and of course, with the job. There is a very strong graphic design scene in Berlin with lots of young people doing exciting work such as Dinamo Type foundry, Dan Solbach, Philipp Lehr and Immo Schneider to name a few. There is a real community of designers here who regularly hang out with each other.
“There is a very strong graphic design scene in Berlin with lots of young people doing exciting work.”
Was there anything in particular that helped you at the start of your career?
Being featured as one of It’s Nice That graduates in 2015 gave me a lot of contacts and a few job and internship offers, but contacting people myself was a lot faster, personal and overall more effective.
Is your job what you thought it would be?
Going from university – especially Kingston University – to working in a studio is a bit of a shock to the system. No more riding kayaks for projects, going over museum barriers or letting off flares. (A friend and I sold a year’s supply of water to show our classmates what they could afford if they were to refill their bottles instead of purchasing a new one each day. A kayak was top of our list, which we then rode down the river.) Although these university projects were really fun at the time, I think this approach lends itself more to the advertising world rather than graphic design. But the abstract thinking and ability to pick out and expand on details to produce a bigger idea is equally important in graphic design. Getting to grips with this change in setup and working for someone else was quite a challenge, but you grow into it and will be able to quickly make decisions about what you do and don’t want to do.
What would you like to do next?
At some point I will move back to London or possibly another city. Luckily graphic design is an industry that is thriving in multiple cities around the world so it gives you an opportunity to work elsewhere. Saying this, I am enjoying Berlin a lot and may find myself back here after a couple of moves. Eventually I'd like to work for myself but I know there’s a lot more I need to learn and that my skills need to develop further before I can seriously think about that. A masters is not out of the question either. But I intend to do this for a while...
Words of Wisdom
What would your advice be to someone wanting to move to Berlin and become a designer?
If you’re a student, look into post-university Erasmus funding. I wish I had known about this when I finished studying. The last thing I would say is beware of Brexit. Think about the timing and pay attention to what laws will be put in place.
Interview by Marianne Hanoun
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