“Surround yourself with people better than you” Sam Wilkes, packaging creative director at LOVE
Despite initial hopes of a career as a stuntwoman, Sam Wilkes ended up accumulating a whopping 17 broken bones to her name. Luckily, a homework assignment as a teenager had already got her thinking about packaging design as a back-up career. Starting out as a junior designer at Iceland Foods, today the Manchester-based creative heads up agency LOVE’s packaging department. Jumping (this time, metaphorically speaking) between eight to ten projects on any given day, she cites the agency’s recent redesign of ice cream giant Häagen-Dazs as a recent highlight. Always thinking about her next adventure (a triathlon and theatre course are next on the horizon), Sam tells us what inspired her love of travel, and why the potential to learn on the job should take priority over more ‘glamorous’-sounding roles.
Packaging Creative Director, LOVE (2015–present)
Creative Director, Design Bridge, Amsterdam (2010–2015)
BA Graphics, University of Wales (2000–2002)
How would you describe your job?
I’m creative director of packaging, or professional plate-spinner. It’s my job to deliver outstanding creative work, inspire and develop the team of amazing designers and spot the potential for something special in every brief!
What does a typical working day look like?
I’m an early bird so I am usually the first one in the office. I live about five miles from the city so I either run or cycle into work, which definitely wakes up the senses! I’m usually sat at my desk by 8am, checking emails before everyone comes in. It’s my ‘doing’ hour, where I can get ahead before it kicks off at 9am. On a normal day I check in with my team (who’s doing what) and then have meetings and presentations with clients. Normally on a typical day I can jump in and out of 8 to 10 different projects.
How did you land your current job?
LOVE approached me out of the blue; I had worked on a cross-agency collaboration with them on a project with my previous agency about three years ago. They had remembered me, so I must have made a good impression!
“Surround yourself with people better than you. I always feel inspired because I work with talented people.”
Where does the majority of your work take place?
Nearly everything happens in the studio. Though I am rarely at my desk – I’m always walking about and catching up with the teams. The studio environment always has a buzz about it, people using break-out spaces to meet up, or talk on the sofas. It’s a casual but productive studio.
How collaborative is your role?
Incredibly collaborative. The one piece of advice I was given years ago was to surround yourself with people better than you. I always feel inspired because I work with talented people. We’re also really lucky in that we get to work with outside collaborators, photographers, illustrators and artists, which means we’re always learning something new.
What are the most and least enjoyable aspects of your job?
The most enjoyable thing has to be winning pitches and seeing all your hard work come out in market; it’s the most amazing feeling. The least is working to convince a client who isn’t as open as you are. I’d say time sheets are the most mundane parts of the job.
What has been the most exciting project of the last twelve months?
A new brand design overhaul for Häagen-Dazs and a redesign of their core packaging. The brief was to make the packaging an object of desire, and bring to life all Häagen-Dazs’ extraordinary recipe textures, colours and sensations. As part of the design process we invited 13 artists from across the world, each with a distinct style, to create a unique illustrated pattern for each Häagen-Dazs flavour. From 3D illustrators to flat graphic artists and textile designers, each was paired with the flavours that felt most connected to their work.
What skills are essential to your job?
Communication – people aren’t mind readers, so you need to make sure you’re clear in what you want. Also leadership in conviction, and being true to your ideas.
Do you run any side projects alongside your job in your spare time?
What spare time?
What tools do you use most for your work?
Often designers can be too quick to jump on a Mac. I do a lot of mind mapping, plotting out my ideas on paper with a pen (sometimes these are very detailed, sometimes they are quick).
"At the end of the day it’s about what you’re learning, don’t worry if you don’t have the most glamorous job.”
How I Got Here
What did you want to be growing up?
Believe it or not – a stuntwoman! But after breaking 17 bones I don’t think I was cut out for it! I was lucky enough at 15 to realise I wanted to be a packaging designer after doing a school homework project.
What influence has your upbringing had on your work?
I have lived on my own since I was 15, so I’ve been independent since early on. This gave me the courage to develop an opinion and to push myself. I’ve always been keen to explore and also spent a few years in the Middle East, which opened my eyes to different cultures.
How (if at all) is the subject you studied useful to your current role?
I was lucky in that I was always pretty single-minded about where I was going. I wanted to be a graphic designer, so I studied design.
“A good idea doesn’t need to rely on a computer. Of course, you have to keep up with the latest software but you can never replace the ability for conceptual thinking.”
What were your first jobs?
My first job was in-house at Iceland Foods as a junior designer. I was very lucky and managed to get a job before I left uni. It gave me a huge foundation into the insight of a brand and I got to work across a number of channels, advertising, packaging and retail. At the end of the day it’s about what you’re learning, don’t worry if you don’t have the most glamorous job.
What in particular helped you the most at the start of your career?
My first mentor was Maxine, who made a huge impression on me. She had travelled all around the globe to LA and Dubai, and gave me the bug for adventure and travel.
Was there a particular project you worked on that helped your development?
All projects have value and you learn something new and different from each one.
What skills have you learnt along the way?
Lucky for us, a good idea doesn’t need to rely on a computer. Of course, you have to keep up with the latest software but you can never replace the ability for conceptual thinking.
What’s been your biggest challenge?
Not believing in myself enough, but this is often the case with designers; we always want to do the best we can. But if we don’t make mistakes how can we learn?
Is your job what you thought it would be?
Yes and no. I remember sitting with John Rushworth of Pentagram and watching him say yes or no to every question, travelling round the world for jobs and thinking that’s what I want to do! What I wasn’t expecting was the huge responsibility you have for the younger generation of designers. People management is hard!
What would you like to do next
A triathlon and a theatrical costume course – not at the same time! More inspirational talks for young women getting into the industry; I really enjoyed the talk I did in March at MMU about empowering women in the workplace. I’d like to do more judging within the industry, it’s always exciting to see the work of up-and-coming designers.
Words of Wisdom
What advice would you give to a young creative wanting to become a creative director?
Never give up, don’t be too cocky (we all have to start somewhere) and be kind – you never know who you are going to bump into on the way up or down!
This article is part of a studio feature on LOVE.
Interview by Marianne Hanoun
Photography by Richard Kelly
Mention Sam Wilkes
Mention Iceland Foods