“I couldn’t have imagined a job being so enjoyable” – Meet MTV UK’s senior designer Rosie Skinner
With a degree in graphic design from Falmouth, Rosie soon brushed off an early interest in advertising, realising how hard it was to sell something you don’t believe in. Having worked as a designer in broadcasting ever since, her work now takes her from puppy-filled shoot days to overseeing rebrands with external creative studios. Starting at MTV as a senior designer in 2016, Rosie Skinner admits that the first year of any job is always the hardest; “you just have to throw yourself into everything.” Learning not to take feedback personally, mastering high-pressure situations and staying flexible are all things she’s perfecting, in a role that has brought her creative freedom and genuine friendship.
Senior Designer, MTV UK (2016–present)
Designer, BoxTV – which includes The Box, 4Music, Kiss TV, Magic and Kerrang (2013–2016)
Falmouth University, Graphic Design (2007–2010)
How would you describe your job?
I work on the longer-term graphics projects for any of the MTV channels and VH1. This includes channel rebrands, show graphics packages and rebrands, series launch graphics, including onscreen and key art for Geordie Shore and Ex on the Beach. I also art direct the graphic work that we outsource to other studios.
What does a typical working day look like?
Usually I’ll work from 9.30am until 6pm. Once I’m in I’ll catch up with Marko, our production manager, about the work that’s coming up. I’ll help to assign the newest jobs to a designer and flag any issues that there might be. I’ll run anything that needs sign-off by my creative director Kate, and then I’ll get on with whatever project I’m working on myself.
Soon I’ll be working on this year’s Brand New, where we shortlist 10 artists that we think will be big next year. This will include updating last year’s title sequence design and working with a promo producer (who cuts the promos) to add graphics. Our sign-off process is pretty easy with everything being approved by my creative director, sometimes in addition to another department.
“The MTV house style allows you to have fun and doesn’t take itself too seriously, which is something I have always admired.”
What do you like about working in London?
We work with some amazing design studios so it’s great if they’re nearby and can pop in to show us what they’re working on. We also work within a really multinational team which I think would be less likely elsewhere. There are design talks that happen pretty regularly around town, and are great to get some extra insight. The downsides are that it’s expensive, the commute is packed and Camden at lunchtime is a tourist-filled nightmare!
How did you land your current job?
I just found the post online and applied. I didn’t hear back for a couple of months so I presumed that I hadn’t made the cut. I think my previous experience at 4Music got me to the first stage, and then I was insanely enthusiastic in the interview because I love the brand so much. The MTV house style allows you to have fun and doesn’t take itself too seriously, which is something I have always admired. I did a lot of research before I came for the interview by watching the channel religiously. It was vital that I had an opinion about the design of the channels, and also what the brand represents now… It’s not the same as it was in the ’80s and ’90s.
How collaborative is your role?
Internally, no matter what I’m working on, I’ll always check in with my creative director throughout any project. On rebrands we work quite closely together which is good because we come from different creative backgrounds, and it’s good to get a different viewpoint on things.
What are the most and least enjoyable aspects of your job?
At the beginning of the year creative studio WeAreSeventeen rebranded The Official Charts for us. It looks beautiful and they did an incredible job, but the amount of assets that had to be made for it was insanely extensive. This type of work can be quite complicated and monotonous. The most enjoyable aspect of my job, apart from the team, is the freedom to design whatever I want. People here are so open to trying new things, so I never worry about sharing my work.
What has been the most exciting project of the last twelve months?
We rebranded MTV for Christmas last year, and the concept included recreating classic Christmas music videos with dogs. We had to do a shoot with a mini dachshund, two pugs, an English bulldog and an array of puppies. They were incredibly well-behaved and it’s the best shoot I’ve ever been on. Creating all the extra assets for the channel with the footage was great fun too.
What skills are essential to your job?
Good communication skills are something I’m focusing on developing as I become more senior. Explaining your ideas and getting concepts across successfully is hard and sometimes; I forget that people can’t see into my head.
Being flexible is also key as a lot of the time here people don’t realise what they want until you’ve shown them something, so you have to be patient and allow for this period of development.
“Explaining your ideas and getting concepts across successfully is hard and sometimes; I forget that people can’t see into my head.”
Do you run any side projects alongside your job?
More recently I’ve been experimenting with my own stuff. I’m restricting myself to very quick designs (spending half an hour to two hours on something). This is because I’m less likely to produce anything if I place emphasis on it being ‘perfect’. It’s more fun when I don’t put any pressure on myself and it’s just about playing with an idea or software.
What tools do you use most for your work?
Photoshop, Illustrator, After Effects, InDesign and occasionally Cinema4D.
How I Got Here
What did you want to be growing up?
I wanted to do something in advertising until I realised how hard it is to try and sell something that you don’t like or believe in.
My mum always took me to art galleries when I was young and encouraged me and my sister to be creative. I also had a great art teacher in secondary school who introduced me to more commercial artists like Claes Oldenburg and Roy Lichtenstein, who I loved. This helped me to see how I could create art without having to be a stereotypical ‘artist’ in a paint-splattered gown and beret.
How (if at all) is the subject you studied useful to your current role?
My degree was a really good foundation for understanding the fundamentals of design and communication. It was also good for exploring what I enjoyed most, like animation.
What were your first jobs?
Thanks to a uni project I managed to get a year’s internship at NBC Universal, where I was working mainly on the SYFY channel. It was a really great introduction to television and a crash course in After Effects. We also did loads of low-budget shoots in the office, which was a great way of learning that the budgets don’t have to be massive to make something look good – it definitely doesn’t hurt though.
“I have come home some nights and really beaten myself up for not handling situations better... It’s just important to use it as a lesson and move on.”
Was there anything in particular that helped you at the start of your career?
Loads of people have been really supportive, but after NBCUniversal I interned at a place called Wyld Stallyons where Chris Sayer, one of the founders, completely took me under his wing. It was a tiny company with only four permanent staff, and Chris tried to teach me everything he knew in three months and really gave me the confidence to find my first permanent job. My art director at Box, Francois Cassin, was also crucial in my development and really encouraged me to think outside the box and just enjoy playing and the creative process.
Was there an early project that helped your development?
I worked on a campaign for The Box called #CrossTheBox (made fully with Cinema 4D) which persuaded the audience to vote in the general election. It was a real learning curve and involved character design, which I’d never tried before.
The MTV EMA branding was also great in stretching my ability to manage my time and work over multiple jobs at once. Even the really mundane stuff, like checking assets for broadcast, challenges me to keep a positive attitude and find ways to enjoy it.
What skills have you learnt along the way?
I’m definitely not the most advanced at software and sometimes I feel quite behind when it comes to that sort of stuff. I’m currently learning more about managing people and larger projects. As I gain more responsibility I need to be able to keep calm when stuff gets busy and stressful. I have come home some nights and really beaten myself up for not handling situations better. But I think when everyone’s under a lot of pressure, people are lot more forgiving of you than you are of yourself. It’s just important to use it as a lesson and move on.
What’s been your biggest challenge?
I think the biggest challenges were in my first year. Everything since then has seemed like a natural progression, but in your first year you really have no idea what you’re doing and just have to throw yourself into everything. I wish I had been less precious about my work and more open to understanding feedback. I think I lost a lot of time being defensive and procrastinating through fear which is clearly not useful at all. Trying and failing gets you further than doing nothing at all, because you will have learnt along the way. It seems really obvious but it doesn’t come naturally to me.
“Feedback on your work is never personal, and you have to learn to be flexible and willing to try other people’s suggestions even when you don’t agree.”
Is your job what you thought it would be?
Even though I have a lot of freedom in what I design, you still always have to satisfy a client of some sort, even when you’re an in-house designer. I think that’s something you have to wrap your head around when you first come out of uni. Feedback on your work is never personal, and you have to learn to be flexible and willing to try other people’s suggestions even when you don’t agree.
On a positive note, I don’t think I could have ever imagined a job being so enjoyable. Working with people you consider friends is the best thing about it. When it gets super-stressful we generally just end up laughing about how ridiculous it is.
What would you like to do next?
I really want to develop my personal work and do more illustration, but it’s just making the time to do it.
Could you do this job forever?
Yes, as long as my job continues to have as much variety as it does, but it might just be for a different brand in the future. My best friend is a print designer and we’ve toyed with the idea of setting up our own studio in the future, which is an exciting prospect. I’m still learning though, so that wouldn’t be for a few years away yet.
What do you feel is the natural career progression for someone in your current position?
I’m not really sure, I haven’t worked that out yet. In MTV the creative director is the next position up, but they usually come from a promo-production background, rather than design.
“Attitude is everything. If you’re enthusiastic, willing to listen and give it your all you will succeed.”
Words of Wisdom
What advice would you give to a young creative wanting to do the same kind of work?
Attitude is everything. If you’re enthusiastic, willing to listen and give it your all you will succeed. Everything else can be learnt and people will be willing to teach you, as long as they want to have you around. Honestly I can’t stress that enough. Lap up every opportunity that comes to you because there’s always something to be learnt.
Interview by Indi Davies
Photography by Andy Donohoe
Mention Rosie Skinner