What did you want to be growing up?
I’ve always been good at writing and art, so I knew I’d end up doing one of those. I’ve always felt the need to be in control of the way things look or are written, obsessively editing essays and changing colours and fonts in Microsoft Word, or learning crude html to customise my MySpace page as a teenager. Pretty obviously a graphic designer, really.
How (if at all) is the subject you studied useful to your current role?
I studied graphic design, and still often work using skills I learnt at university. It was a very small art school in a scruffy ’60s tower block, but the attitude of the place and the staff was what attracted me. It taught me to be aware of the industry but not to be afraid of operating outside of it. It also taught me how to learn, be hardworking and inquisitive, and, as we were subject to some experimental teaching practice, it sparked my interest in education.
What were your first jobs?
I did a few internships while studying and shortly after graduating, but I realised by process of elimination I didn’t really like any of them. I worked at a letterpress studio, a few design studios, a big advertising agency. I love Sheffield’s design scene and very nearly moved there to try and get a job, but a few months after graduating I was offered a job at an experimental new design agency within my old uni. It was low pay, 50/50 design work and teaching school-aged kids (with no prior experience) so it was a steep learning curve.
We got involved in the established design world and had a lot of fun – we met Ken Garland, Jonathan Barnbrook, Adrian Shaughnessy, and organised a lecture by Greg Quinton for D&AD North. Chris and John were also employed there and we realised that if we wanted to carry on doing this kind of job, we’d have to invent it and start a studio.
Was there anything in particular that helped you the most at the start of your career?
Meeting Dan Russell was really fortunate for us. We met at just the right time, at a student event in Leeds that we were asked to speak at. He gave an improvised, calm, yet completely radical lecture about making your own job instead of waiting around for one and invited us into a community he was part of. This led to getting our first studio space in a near-derelict Victorian mill. We worked there rent free, but when it rained, it rained indoors, and there were gaps between the floorboards the size of pound coins.