Leicester-based print and graphic designer, Karl Askill: “I was convinced that London was the centre of the design universe”
Designer Karl Askill learned the value of connections early on in the game. After graduating from the London College of Communication’s Graphic and Media design course, he began designing books for a photographer, who soon introduced him to his old colleagues at Conde Nast. It wasn’t long before Karl was interning for the likes of GQ and WIRED, going on to freelance for them before joining the Peter Willberg studio full-time. Now working as a menswear designer at Next in Leicester, he admits that although the decision to leave London was a difficult and scary one, it has since paid off, becoming beneficial for both his career and personal life. He tells us how his role has continued to evolve over his career journey so far, and how he landed a position hand-crafting graphics at the company, despite having no experience in fashion.
Graphic and Print Designer, Next Menswear (2014–present)
Lives in Solihull, works in Leicester
Freelance Designer, GQ (2012)
Designer, Peter Willberg Studio, (2011–2012)
BA Graphic and Media Design, London College of Communication (2008–2011)
How would you describe your job?
I am a graphic and print designer currently working on the menswear design team at Next. My role is to create artwork for placement graphics and all over print. I also design and maintain the external branding and garment trims for menswear.
What does a typical working day look like?
A typical day in the studio is 9am to 5pm, but as with most design jobs, you’ve got to be prepared for the occasional late night. My daily commute is just over an hour’s drive, which I find surprisingly relaxing; it gives me time to get my thoughts together and plan my day. I usually aim to get into work for around 8:30am, which gives me time to grab a coffee and blast through any admin before it gets busy. I’m usually working on three to four briefs at any one time so I try and prioritise my workload. Sometimes if I hit a brick wall on one project, it’s nice to take a break and look at something else for an hour.
How did you land your current job?
I originally interviewed for a different role to the one I’m in now. It was pretty clear that it wasn’t the right fit for me but, they felt I would be well-suited to a different department. So I was recommended to the head of graphics, and after another interview I was offered a role as a graphic designer for menswear. Funnily enough, my edge was probably the fact that I had zero experience in fashion. My expertise was in other areas, and I looked at the briefs from a different perspective.
Where does the majority of your work take place?
The majority of my work takes place in the studio in front of a computer. However, as most of our graphics are hand crafted, we do spend a lot of time drawing and painting. We are lucky to have a large studio space and the resources with which to experiment… It’s a very creative environment.
“My internships were a very important step in my career. I was lucky to work for some recognisable places early on, which looked good on my CV. It was all about making contacts in the first few months after uni.”
How collaborative is your role?
I work closely with most departments on menswear, and alongside garment designers and buyers to build ranges based on collaborative research. New ideas come from lots of different people, so it’s about sharing those ideas and working together as a team.
What are the most and least enjoyable aspects of your job?
I’m very lucky that my job allows me to travel. Inspiration trips are important for generating new ideas and keeping up to date with latest trends. Factory visits help us to work closely with our suppliers in developing the product. The worst part is filling out expenses.
“For my first job, I oversold my ability on the design software that the studio used, so for the first few months I worked with a tutorial running in the background.”
What skills are essential to your job?
Drawing and image making skills, along with a good imagination and an awareness of the customer. Sometimes you have to remove your own personal taste from the decision-making process and focus on who you are designing for.
What tools do you use most for your work?
We are stationery nerds and are always looking out for new drawing tools. Adobe Creative Suite is also essential.
How I Got Here
What did you want to be growing up?
How (if at all) is the subject you studied useful to your current role?
Very. Before LCC I definitely thought in a more literal way. While I didn’t learn many practical skills, I was taught how to approach a brief by thinking differently. They encouraged us to experiment and play, helping us to find solutions more organically. There was a lot of room for trial and error and mistakes were definitely seen as a learning opportunity. One thing they taught us was not to edit our ideas before getting them down on paper. What may seem like a useless idea in your head may grow into something brilliant once written down and explored further. This is something that has really helped in my working life.
One of the biggest misconceptions about university is that you will learn how to use all kinds of software and programmes. When you really think about it… this is impossible. I don’t believe you can effectively teach these skills for hypothetical situations. In my first week at LCC a student in my group asked our tutor when we would learn how to use Adobe Illustrator. Our tutor just pointed him towards the library and suggested he figure it out himself.
What were your first jobs?
Straight after university I started designing books for a photographer. He introduced me to his old colleagues at Conde Nast and I managed to organise an internship for a few months at GQ, Wired and their contract publications. Once my internships finished, I was brought back in from time-to-time as a freelance designer. My first paid job was at a small design studio in London, designing books for artists and galleries.
What in particular helped you the most at the start of your career?
My internships were a very important step in my career. I was lucky to work for some recognisable places early on, which looked good on my CV. It was all about making contacts in the first few months after uni and whilst interning I met some really great people who helped me a lot.
“While I was an intern, I used to call different designers and agencies and ask them if I could meet for a chat. I wouldn’t ask for a job… just their opinion and advice.”
Was there a particular project you worked on that helped your development?
Cuba in Revolution. This was a book I worked on while in London. The project went on for almost a year and I learnt a lot whilst working on it. It’s one I’m particularly proud of and I keep a copy on my coffee table at home.
What skills have you learnt along the way?
Most of my practical skills have been self-taught or picked up out of necessity. For my first job, I oversold my ability on the design software that the studio used, so for the first few months I worked with a tutorial running in the background. However, working in this way (with real projects and problems) forced me to learn fast and I found it really productive.
I’ve realised that the best way to learn is by being thrown in at the deep end; learning on the job is the fastest and most effective way to pick up new skills. The magazine and fashion industries are both extremely fast paced (and pretty unforgiving) so I’ve had to learn how to work quickly. Decision making is key.
What’s been your biggest challenge?
Leaving London was difficult…and scary. I wanted to settle down (buy a house, get married and have kids), and I felt living in London was stopping that. Although I was moving back to my girlfriend and my family, I felt I was turning my back on so many opportunities. I was convinced that London was the centre of the design universe. As it turns out, it has been the best decision for both my personal life and my career.
Is your job what you thought it would be?
I definitely didn’t think it would be this varied. The type of designer I am has changed with each role I’ve had. I started out working with typography and layout and now I’m more of an illustrator-image maker. I think it’s good to keep an open mind. I have almost fallen into every job I’ve had rather than seek out particular roles.
What would you like to do next?
Eventually I’d love to work for myself.
Could you do this job forever?
I’d like to, but some part of me feels that designers have a shelf life – especially in the industry I’m in right now. I can’t see myself still designing T-Shirts at 60. That does sound really depressing and a little negative… I hope I’m wrong.
What do you feel is the natural career progression for someone in your current position?
To head up a team of designers, to make more creative decisions and to ultimately be responsible for the output of a number of people, not just myself.
Words of Wisdom
What advice would you give to a young creative wanting to do the same kind of work?
Meet people and make connections. You never know what can come from meeting and speaking with new people. While I was an intern, I used to call different designers and agencies and ask them if I could meet for a chat. I’d buy them a coffee and show them my work. I wouldn’t ask for a job…just their opinion and advice.
You need to love what you do and keep challenging yourself. Don’t be afraid to take risks and put yourself out there. You’re going to take some knocks and some pretty harsh critiques along the way so try not to take it to heart. Treat everything as part of the learning process.
Interview by Marianne Hanoun
Mention Peter Willberg
Mention Condé Nast