We brought together our Design Director Nathan Riley, Lead Designer Jess Caddick and Illustrator Chloe Jackson to discuss their relationship with social media and how this has shaped their work and process.
Where do you draw inspiration from? C: Projects from the broad world of design and not necessarily graphic design itself – for example architecture, textiles, pattern work, illustrations, fine art. It’s interesting to see ideas and unique ways of problem solving from people within different disciplines.
N: For me, inspiration is a lot more literal: I read around and research topics that relate to the project I’m working on at the time. Whilst I may be subconsciously inspired by other areas of design, I tend to focus on digital pieces. Being on the jury of the Awwwards and CSSDA, I spend a lot of time reviewing the latest web projects to grace our screens, it’s hard not to be inspired by the incredible quality of work on those platforms.
J: When it comes to inspiration it’s Pinterest, Pinterest, Pinterest! I like taking one aspect of design that I’ve spotted and then trying to transfer it to a project I’m working on; if I see something nice in a magazine layout, I’ll try to bring it into a piece of web work, for instance. I feel that meshing different forms give work a unique dynamic and this inspires my work. Looking at different sources helps you identify trends as well.
C: I find that if I look at different types of design it’ll take me on a journey which ends up with me being inspired in a way I may not have been expecting and coming across people I didn’t intentionally set out to discover.
N: I think that shows in your design work! It’s always – and I mean this is in a very good way – a bit different.
J: Our processes are a little more organic I think… it’s not a case of just going ‘here are the things I like’.
C: I do worry that if I look at work that’s too similar to the work I do then I’ll end up copying it, hence why I try and look elsewhere.
N: I feel like I absorb so much that it’d be difficult to rip it all off.
Who are some of your favourite current creators? J:Cocorrina! I started following her work and then saw how great she was with social as a graphic designer: she’s excellent at little details like always creating graphics to compliment her regular blog posts. She also has wonderful typography and a lot of personality – all of which means that she’s been able to create her own space and sense of community on her personal website, which I find very endearing.
N: Rather than one specific designer, I tend to be influenced by the collective work that agencies release. Toyfight, who have just released their website, are great and Resn are doing great work too.
C: For me, my inspiration is more illustration-based as I love illustration, and I especially love Micah Lidberg’s work – it’s so colourful and imaginative.
J: This lady in the States, Annica Lydenberg, who goes by the alias of Dirty Bandits, creates lettering on beer bottles and all kinds of objects, using puns as she goes – she’s a really great lettering artist. She recently contributed to the fantastic Drunk On Lettering podcast too!
What does it mean to be a designer today? J: It’s changed a lot! You used to have one set task or talent that was your lane but that doesn’t apply anymore. You have to be multi-talented these days and you have to be able to create more than a graphic; your work has to be more of an experience. It’s harder to capture people’s attention with so much work out there so we have to be more creative, pushing boundaries and extending your work into different mediums.
N: Each part of being a designer is even more elaborate than it used to be: if you want to be a web designer you also need to familiar with typography, have some illustration skill, understand layouts, have some grasp on code… and to be a really good web designer you also need to know animation, interactivity, and how the site looks and feels. A website encompasses so much more than it used to and you need to have a variety of disciplines and understand where they fit into the website.
J: It’s funny because that breadth of knowledge used to be frowned upon; when I was at university they told me not to be a Jack of all trades otherwise I wouldn’t get a job. I loved, and still love, 4 or 5 different elements in design and am happy I get to pursue them as there’s a lot of crossover. It’s almost like collecting scout badges for all the different aspects now!
N: In our agency we like to mix it up and not place people on one task at all times.
C: For example, a bigger agency may employ an Artworker whose job is solely to make packaging look really nice, or another person who will only work on logo design. I very much enjoy being part of a small agency where we get to do a variety of different things within each project.
N: You have to be more of a marketeer these days and know how to present yourself and get yourself discovered too.
J: Lots of designers have online personas to compliment their work too – you’re given a glimpse into their personal lives alongside their design work and you make a connection with that too. I think that’s replaced the idea of Mad Men-style advertising rockstars to be honest.
How does work stand out amongst the constant swathes of content published? N: It has to be clever – I like design that makes me think about it afterwards. Beyond looking good, if it links up with a bigger idea it’ll leave an impression with me.
J: Any design that I’m thinking about 10 minutes later means that it’s been successful.
N: It’s easier than ever to make something look pretty, but it’s a lot harder to have some meaningful thought behind design.
J: It’s also difficult because so much work is considered ‘standout’ these days that it gets lost, which is a bit of an irony from the time we live in. A piece of work will break the mould and then a week later something else will break it again!
C: History will tell us what’s really outstanding: if you look back at music or art, you’ll see what’s remembered: it’s hard to contextualise all this great design work in real time.
N: There’s always something new… it’s amazing but also overwhelming.
Do you think social media has had a positive or negative influence on modern design? All: Both!
J: A big part of it is your attitude towards it: how you let it affect you and how you use it to navigate. It can have a negative impact because it can leave you feeling you won’t be recognised for great work and that can be discouraging, but I’ve since realised it’s the other way around. I now find a lot of social media very inspiring and feel it helps me achieve more and get better at what I do.
N: There are lots of different forms of social media too, beyond Twitter and Facebook. If you’re a designer there are more direct routes like Dribbble that have great communities built around them. It can be hard to motivate yourself to get noticed but the platforms are there if you’re willing to use them. If your motivation extends beyonds likes and instant gratification and is instead focussed on making better work and reaching clients, there’s a lot out there to help you achieve that and you will be recognised. You need to be good and you need to be consistent too! As designers it’s in our nature to strive for approval of our work, usually from the client directly or it’s success with their customers, this naturally bleeds over into social platforms.
C: Social media is great for noticing rising trends too and being aware of what’s happening in your field – as long as you’re not out to copy people.
How has social media helped you? N: It drives me to do more work and push myself, especially when I discover amazing work. It’d be easy for me clock off, go home and not even think about opening Photoshop if I didn’t have so much to be inspired by – but thanks to social media, that’s not the case. If I thought all the work I was doing wouldn’t be seen, it would be harder to be motivated, but now I have platforms to display my work and measure feedback and give feedback to others.
J: A lot of my processes – and the agency’s processes – have been refined through sharing work and having an open dialogue with a creative community. It’s very beneficial! Communities like Dribbble help me feel like I’m part of something bigger than myself too and I want to create alongside it, which is a great driving factor.
N: Social communities in the design world are a bit more interactive and real I think; rather than following a celebrity and reading what they’ve got to say, you’re actively communicating and helping each other (hopefully).
C: I love how the community is global too. I’ve come across agencies on the other side of the world that I may not have discovered otherwise and it’s uplifting to see that there’s beautiful work being made in a variety of places.
N: We’ve all read stories of people landing jobs and clients through social media too and that motivates me to push our work too! If we only put out work that we did in the studio for clients then that’s all we’d get back; I want people to know that our passion extends beyond that. The work that goes out on our social platforms is the work we want to be doing, alongside presenting the work we are doing.
J: More and more people are getting work through social platforms and Instagram is a huge example of this. Lots of lettering artists will hit 40,000 likes or so and they’ll be set! It’s created a new way for people to get work and it’s not to be underestimated. A few years ago you’d have a website with your eight best projects on it and now you have the opportunity to showcase all kinds of work, with your personality threaded into it. A passion project is just as likely to catch someone’s eye as a piece of work you’ve been contracted to do now, which is exciting.
How has social media hindered you? N: I wouldn’t say it’s hindered me, but there is certainly an element of being hooked on the buzz of approval on platforms such as Dribbble and Behance. The need to consistently post work and increase following etc can leave you feeling a little burnt out which is never good.
C: It can also be frustrating when you put hours into a project and you’re proud of it and you see some really lazy work get all the plaudits! Though it does inform you of what’s working so the frustration can be a learning experience too.
J: It’s important not to let it knock your confidence.
N: I try not to get too negative about it as any negative experiences you have through social platforms can be used as a learning experience. Some work will be appreciated and some won’t – you just have to keep working and trying to be a better designer!