Have confidence, patience and keep an open mind: Graphic designer Kieron Lewis
Starting out in 2013, Kieron (or Kay) Lewis had already given himself a head-start in the industry, after realising the importance of making connections early on. Having completed his first summer placement while studying, he landed a job with the same agency straight out of university, and that same momentum has continued throughout his working life. Now an in-house designer at Pulse Brands and doing independent projects in his own time, he tells us everything he’s learnt so far – from the way early burnout shaped his outlook, to how he’s committing to positive change in the creative world.
Kieron (Kay) Lewis
Senior Graphic Designer, Pulse Brands (2019–present)
Land Rover, National Trust, Virgin Atlantic, Rumaila, Boots, IKEA
Designer, Zed Creative (2017)
Junior Designer, M&C Saatchi (2014)
Digital Designer, Loveurope (2013)
Europe Editor, Advertising Week (2012)
Place of Study
BA Graphic Arts Southampton University, Winchester School of Art (2011–2013)
How would you describe what you do?
My day-to-day job focuses primarily on editorial work, which is what I really enjoy doing. At Pulse, I work with a range of clients to help them find purpose using strategic communication and employee engagement. Whether it’s their monthly newspaper, or their social media content, I regularly produce design collateral for our clients Rumaila, based in Iraq.
Outside of Pulse, a lot of the work I produce is self-directed and usually alongside my creative partner, Olga Kott. Since we started Olga and Kay in 2016, we’ve partnered with Westminster City Council on numerous occasions, we’ve been able to speak at various schools and colleges, and conduct workshops based on the importance of self-directed work, and the benefits on documenting your space whether through photography or print.
I’m also the creative director for LEVILE, an award-winning creative media company that focuses on discovering, documenting and showcasing rising talent. Since joining the team last year, I’ve been overseeing all their print and digital content.
The past few months have seen huge, global change; do you feel this period impacted the way you work?
The Black Lives Matter movement has had a huge impact on how I work, and gain work. Since the protests, I’ve had a lot of blogs and creative platforms reaching out to me. Either to feature my work, or to know about my journey as a creative. As a proud Black creative, I’ve seen first-hand how the creative industry has a good, but also bad, side to it. This movement has made it possible for me to share my experiences with confidence, and hopefully inspire a new generation of creatives.
I’m also part of the People of Colour (POCC) family. This is a very active platform of creatives who are within the creative and advertising industry. The ethos is to positively change the experiences and narrative surrounding people of colour in the industry. With over 200 creatives involved, this group has made it much easier to share ideas, find work and also discuss relevant topics that affects us all, but in a very safe space!
“The Black Lives Matter movement has made it possible for me to share my experiences with confidence, and hopefully inspire a new generation of creatives.”
What does a typical working day look like and where does it happen?
A typical day always starts with a flat white with my fiancé, before going through my emails. Every Monday morning, the Pulse team and I will have a team meeting to discuss the week ahead and also share any exciting things we’ve been up too. In the evening, I tend to work on my self-directed projects or any freelance jobs I’ve got on.
Before COVID-19, my workspace was split between our offices in Covent Garden and the Wellcome Collection Library. Nowadays, my office is my dining room. My fiancé Iria Suárez is also a designer, so for us it was very important to create a working environment that gives us the space we need to focus, but also discuss ideas and projects together. I feel like we’ve got the balance down to a T now! This also feeds into how I time manage myself too. Whether it is my full-time or freelance, I live by folders and calendars, so I always do my best to keep on top of my daily tasks.
What has been the most exciting project of the last twelve months?
The most exciting project I’d say was my work with TEDxEuston. TEDx Euston celebrates the diversity, vibrancy and potential of Africa, as it reflects the ideas, and inspired thinking of those who are committed to engaging meaningfully with the continent and its diaspora.
I worked for three years on everything from business cards, flyers and banners to our main design collateral, the annual magazine. It came to an end in December 2019. It was our 10-year anniversary, and the theme was ‘Legacy’, which seemed very fitting for the occasion. With over 1,000 in attendance, we had comedian Eddie Kadi and Author Chibundu Onuzo as our hosts for the day. Our speakers included some of the most inspiring and engaging talents from the continent including, filmmaker and former director of International film at Netflix, Fun Maduka, architect Elsie Owusu OBE and Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu.
Throughout the three years, the team has become more like a family to me, so I’m very grateful for the opportunity to meet so many talented speakers and work alongside passionate individuals.
What skills would you say are essential to your job?
The main skills which come to mind are:
Patience: Design is very subjective, and when dealing with clients at times, it can be really difficult.
Confidence: Like patience, it can take a while to feel confident. Doing my freelance work has helped me with this, particularly when it comes to managing clients, deadlines and pitching.
An open mind: This is an important one. In the working world, things move very fast and clients can be very demanding, so having the luxury of being open-minded or experimenting can sometimes seem difficult. However, I find that I need to give myself the appropriate headspace before going head-first into a project. Having a few different routes to tackle a brief breathes more life into the final deliverable.
How I Got Here
How do you think your upbringing influenced your choice of career?
My family is very much law-focused; but from a young age, I was interested in comic books and drawing cartoon characters. When I was given a task in class, I’d sometime struggle due to the parameters I would have to work within. But when I was given a task which gave me creative freedom, this is where I tend to thrive. I feel like this way of thinking has stayed with me throughout my life.
Did you go to university? If so, do you feel you need formal education for what you do?
Yes, I attended Winchester School of Art, but I personally feel that you don’t need a formal education to do what I do. Unlike other subjects, where there is usually a definitive answer, design can be subjective and really down to the emotion of the individual.
Education does play an important role in becoming a graphic designer, and I will always be grateful for my university career. The lecturers were great, and I made a lot of friends who I’ve since collaborated with. However, I do believe that passion and an eagerness to learn, will always trump over a formal education. For one, not everyone can afford a formal education, so as an alternative, you can also watch tutorials or attend workshops.
“The plan in my head was: If I can build a good relationship with this agency, when graduation comes, I will already be on their radar.”
After graduating, what were your initial steps?
I was fortunate to have been offered a full-time role as a junior designer in an advertising agency the first week of graduating. I first made contact with the agency a few years earlier, and I was given the opportunity to work there as a summer placement. The plan in my head was: If I can build a good relationship with this agency, when graduation comes, I will already be on their radar. It certainly paid off!
How did you go about landing your first clients or commissions?
I make a real effort to meet with clients early on, rather than over email. When I find a client I want to work with, I’ll contact them to have a coffee and a chat.
A good example of this was my placement at TI Media. I contacted the editor at the time, simply to share a magazine I created and to hear his thoughts on how I could improve it. Once we finished our chat, I was offered a two-week placement, based on the work I showed him.
The best advice I can give is to put yourself out there. But also remember that we’re all human! Don’t get me wrong, nerves still do kick in for me whenever I have a client meeting or attend an interview, but I always try to keep in mind that whoever I’m speaking to is also just human – they get nervous too!
How important would you say social media has been to establishing your career?
It’s important, but I wouldn’t say it’s the main reason for my career. I tend to use LinkedIn, Instagram and Twitter a lot. All three platforms helped when it came to finding a new role or looking for new potential clients.
However, I’ve always been a meet-in-person kind of guy. Social media makes it a lot easier to start a conversation, but the main work should come once you’ve met in the flesh. Now we’re in a weird phase where meeting in person isn’t as straightforward as it was, so if video chats don’t cut it, meeting up in the park for a social distant coffee, can also do the trick.
What’s been your biggest challenge in navigating the industry?
My biggest challenge, and I feel that many can relate, is being taken seriously within the industry. I noticed a considerable difference between the credibility you receive between being a junior and a senior designer.
“It’s important to establish a good working relationship with your colleagues, but it’s just as important to stand up for what you believe in.”
Working within the advertising world was also struggle at times. When you are young and at an agency, you run the risk of being the ‘yes’ person. It’s important to establish a good working relationship with your colleagues, but it’s just as important to stand up for what you believe in. Late night pitches were so common for me, that at one stage that it really had an effect on my mental health. Since moving on from this experience, I’m now much more confident in pushing back (respectfully) with colleagues and clients.
Miscommunication can happen easily, especially if everything is done over email. That’s why it’s important to ask questions if you’re unsure. There is no such thing as a stupid question. I’ve learnt the hard way on numerous occasions that it’s much smarter to ask a question, understand what to do and do it correctly, than to jump on an impulse and get it wrong.
Words of Wisdom
What advice would you give to an emerging creative wanting to get into the same line of work?
You need to enjoy what you do. I will always remember the look on my parents’ face when they came to my degree show. Since their own line of work is so different to mine, they found it hard to understand. But overall, they could see that I was happy with what I produced – and for them, that was enough.
Collaboration is key! Now more than ever, it is so easy to find talented creatives who have project ideas, but might need an extra pair of hands to execute them. Olga and I work well because our skills complement each other. She’s a photographer and I’m a graphic designer. There is always a cross-over, but I always have complete faith that Olga will deliver on a project on the photography front, and vice versa. A good example of this was our Touch Magazine which was created in collaboration with Homeless Heroes Aid.
Finally, it can be hard at times to make ideas come to life without financial backing. Things like Kickstarter help, but can still be challenging. Try to think of smarter and more cost-effective ways to make ideas happen without diminishing the quality of your project. It will always be hard, but it is not impossible, and working with advertisers can usually reduce cost.
Mention Kieron Lewis
Interview by Marianne Hanoun