Posted 15 February 2024
Interview by Nicole Fan
Mention Paolo Orazietti

“Focus on your end goal”: How Elmwood’s Paolo Orazietti went from apprentice to design director

If there’s one thing that Paolo Orazietti has learnt, it’s to never give up – not even when the odds seem stacked against you. His journey into the design industry certainly taught him that: having started his career as an apprentice, he recalls how he needed to work twice as hard to prove himself and learn skills on the job. But all those obstacles only strengthened his ambitions and – after years of hard work and determination – he’s now a design director at global brand and design consultancy Elmwood. Here, he shares what he’s learnt from his unconventional path, how he’s helping talent find alternative ways to break into the industry and why perseverance always pays off.

Paolo Orazietti

Paolo Orazietti

Job Title

Design Director, Elmwood



Selected Clients

Alpro, Heineken

Previous Employment

Senior Designer, Marks R5, 2018–2019
Graphic Designer, Slice Design, 2016–2018
Graphic Designer, Tjarks & Tjarks, 2012–2016

Place of Study

New City College Tower Hamlets


Social Media


What I do

How would you describe what you do as a design director at Elmwood?
Fundamentally, my role is to find new creative solutions for client briefs. That might look like coming up with innovative strategies, blue-sky design thinking, or simply solving a problem, so it varies a lot. My ambition is to constantly challenge our work, move the needle, and change the way people think and interact with brands daily.

On top of that, being a director involves acting as a beacon for the wider team and taking responsibility for the overall work output – especially because I direct a team of creatives that often changes based on the project. For me, it’s important to nurture and build the team so that they have everything they need to succeed and deliver on their briefs.

Lastly, a big part of my role – and something I care a lot about – is building and nurturing client relationships. Not only does this help our business to grow, but it also makes the experience more enjoyable.

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The Elmwood team brainstorming together in the studio

What are the main influences and inspirations behind your work?
The beautiful thing about being a creative is that you can draw inspiration from the world around you. Personally, I get inspired from my love of food and creating new dishes, along with getting outside and being in nature through cycling, hiking, and wild camping. For me, it’s about being present and connecting with the environment as well as the people around me.

Would you say you need any specific training for what you do?
No – I believe that we all have an inner creative that can be nurtured and it doesn’t necessarily have to be taught by others. For example, I didn’t go to university and all the skills I now have were either self-taught, learnt on the job, or picked up from mentors in the industry. All of that came with its challenges, but I strongly believe there is more value in someone’s ideas and imagination over the accolades they may hold.

“I didn’t go to university; all the skills I now have were either self-taught, learnt on the job, or picked up from mentors in the industry.”

What’s been your favourite project to work on from the past year, and why?
Working on the global redesign for Alpro has been my favourite project in recent months. Thousands of people interact with their products everyday, so I was really excited about the opportunity to make an impact in people’s daily lives – especially because driving change in the plant-based sector and helping others be greener aligns with my own lifestyle choices. Alpro was also a great client to work with because they’re very progressive in their thinking, committed to making a real impact on society and always giving exciting new creative briefs.

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Elmwood’s Alpro redesign

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How I got here

What was your journey like when you were first starting out?
If I had to summarise my journey in one word, it would be: perseverance. My choice to pursue an apprenticeship was out of necessity as I couldn’t afford to go to university but aspired to have a career in design. After applying for multiple internships and having no success, I was lucky in the end: someone finally took a chance on me and I seized that opportunity to learn.

A huge learning early in my career was that I had to work harder to prove myself as an apprentice in many situations as compared to those who took the more traditional path into the industry. It makes sense now, but it was hard to accept at the time. Overcoming those barriers and continuing to persevere has led me to where I am today.

My biggest bit of advice would be to never lose sight of your end goal and to have confidence in yourself. You will always have to deal with adversity when treading a different path – but, with focus, you will achieve your aspirations.

“I had to work harder to prove myself as an apprentice. Continuing to persevere has led me to where I am today.”

Was the apprenticeship system then quite different to how it is now?
I’m extremely grateful that I had the opportunity to do a design apprenticeship then because the playing field has significantly changed now. With the government cutting funding for the arts, young creatives have been severely impacted on their journey into art and design.

That’s why a big part of my focus at Elmwood is to help people from diverse and lower socio-economic backgrounds find alternative ways into the industry. We now host workshops for young people at multiple schools in Hackney and give inspiring talks at their school assemblies; we even hope to attend their parents’ evenings to try and help them overcome any barriers they may face.

Due to my background and personal journey, I understand the barriers that young creatives may be facing and have experienced the same struggles and feelings that come with confronting these challenges. That’s why I want to give back and help people with the privilege I now have and the knowledge I have gained.

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Young Hackney celebration event

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School assembly workshop at Stoke Newington School

How did you land the job at Elmwood?
I would love to say that it was just my creative talent, but it wasn’t. While working at a previous agency, I forged a great working relationship with my manager – and when he then went on to work at Elmwood, he put in a good word for me and got my portfolio in front of the right people. Building great relationships, staying positive and being enthusiastic has definitely helped me along my journey.

What has been your biggest challenge along the way?
My biggest challenge was overcoming the multiple barriers early on in my career when I felt most vulnerable. I knew what my end goal was, but the journey there proved to be harder than expected. However, some of the life lessons I learnt include remaining focused, staying true to my ambitions, using every opportunity I had to showcase my talent, allowing my passion and diverse background to shine through, as well as touching the people around me through my work. I now feel proud of my accomplishments, no matter how big or small they are.

Have there been any courses, programmes, initiatives or access schemes you would recommend to get into your sector?
The landscape has changed so much since I was starting out, but in some ways for the better because there are loads more initiatives to help people from non-traditional paths break into the creative industry. Creative Mentor Network, Creative Lives in Progress, Small Green Shoots, The Arena and Where Are the Black Designers? are great platforms to check out, as well as events like Two+Two.

Also, mentoring! Try to find a mentor that can help bridge the gap between the industry and where you are in your journey. Reach out directly to agencies because a lot of them are offering mentoring schemes these days. The people we mentor at Elmwood have experienced a lot more success at getting their foot into the industry.

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Elmwood’s work with Old Mout Cider

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What are some things that you’ve found useful to your work or career, and why?
Mindfulness has helped me a lot. It influences how I approach my work and how I interact with people daily; it’s also helped me acknowledge that I am extremely privileged to be where I am today, earning a good salary and working in an industry that I enjoy. It’s helped me shift my focus away from the things I can’t change or don’t possess to instead appreciate the things I do have.

Also, I think it’s useful to step out of your career bubble and seek inspiration from sources other than design: stay open-minded and be constantly curious.

“Step out of your bubble and seek inspiration from sources other than design.”

What have been your greatest learnings with making money and supporting yourself as a creative?
One of the biggest barriers I faced was apprenticeship wages being too low to meet the standard of living in London. I used to have to work two jobs when I started out: my design job from Monday to Friday, along with two weekday evening shifts at a pub so that I could spend my weekends continuing to pursue other areas of my design career.

I feel lucky that I can now focus solely on design. However, it is a lived reality that young people today are struggling to focus on meeting their career goals while trying to survive by taking on other jobs.

My advice

What’s the best career-related advice you’ve ever received?
Always pursue your dreams and don’t let fear stand in your way. I have always been a dreamer – and sometimes that’s to my own detriment, but it gives me drive and a direction to aim for. I’m a firm believer of trying to achieve your life goals, however hard the journey may seem. The challenge will always be overcoming your personal barriers and staying true to your path, but your determination, focus and effort will pay off.

“Don’t stress over the short-term barriers; focus on your end goal and the steps you need to take to get there.”

What advice would you give someone looking to get into a similar role?
One of my favourite quotes is: “Don’t expect to have a seat at the table, take your own chair.” This is about self-confidence and showcasing what makes you unique. Don’t stress over the short-term barriers; remain focused on your end goal and the steps you need to take to get there.


Elmwood is a Creative Lives in Progress brand partner. Every year, we partner with like-minded brands and agencies to support our initiative and keep Creative Lives a free resource for emerging creatives. To find out more about how you can work with us, email [email protected]

Interview by Nicole Fan
Mention Paolo Orazietti