Advice for Creative Students – by Ross Middleham

ross-middleham-designer-at-the-met-office

Advice for creative students:

Ross Middleham – Content and Social Lead at Met Office

 

Hello, my name is Ross and I’ve been asked to talk to you a little bit about design in general, how I got into the business and give you some tips as to how you might want to follow your creative career path going forward.

About me:

 

My name is Ross and I work as content and social lead at the Met Office. You might think the Met Office is to do with the police, but it’s actually all to do with weather and climate. I work in-house to oversee design, video and social media and make sure that what we’re producing is awesome.

What does that mean on a day to day basis?

Well, we have over one and a half million followers on our social media channels and we use it to communicate the weather. That becomes particularly important in times of severe weather or when a storm is on the way. And what we’re having to do then is take a very scientific, often quite complicated messages and really tell the story as to how it’s going to impact people throughout the UK, in order to make sure that they’re safe and able to thrive.

We also do a lot of climate work as well and support different communities around the world. We are truly global as an organization.

We work in an open plan office so that we can communicate easily with each other. We work quite like a newsroom in many senses. We’ve got a press office and a content team, which consists of about 10 people. They work very closely with the press office, in order to get the latest information out the door as quickly as possible.

About the team:

 

We have four designers in our team. And they can do all sorts of different bits and bobs, from animation through to static design, print design, digital design, including all social media graphics.

We have three full time presenters who do the forecast videos for TV and social media and then we’ve got a series of video and studio editors.

We consider ourselves as content producers because we need to be able to be good at a bit of everything – this is a real strength of our team actually, and I believe is a really important skill to have when you’re going into the industry.

The team are absolutely obsessed with social media and we need to be because we used to rely on the TV for people to get the forecast but we’re really aware that that world has changed and that people consume their information in all sorts of different ways now, predominantly on the mobile and more often than not via social media.

We need to make sure that we’re in the places that our audience are and that those people can easily consume our information. For example, we need to know if:

  • Something loops on Twitter
  • If it crops on Instagram main feed
  • How long an Instagram story rolls for…etc

To find this information we need to be on social media all the time, looking and learning and living with it.

How did I get into the industry?

 

Well, I’ve always followed what I love doing and it felt like it was the only thing that I could do quite naturally. I always loved drawing as a kid, I wanted to be a cartoonist so I’ve loved “The Beano” since I grew up and felt that I might be a cartoonist one day – that hasn’t happened sadly. But I then went on to study art and design at A levels and then went on to do New Media Design at Bournemouth University, which was all around the early days of user interaction, animation, interactivity, with a bit of graphic design sprinkled in there as well.

From that I went to work at a local design and print agency. And that’s really where I honed my skills around design in general. I was designing predominantly for print at the time, but doing interactive and web stuff outside work. It gave me the skills and ability to manage multiple projects and work to a very fast pace with tight deadlines but most importantly, it honed my customer service skills because some of it required me to be front of house and speak to people face to face and that is really, really important to be able to do that.

I then moved to the Met Office and I’ve been here 10 years – which is scary because that makes me feel super old! It still feels really fresh to me though and my role has changed over that time. I joined as a new media designer looking at interactive technology. I then did some print work and have helped evolve a team of two print based designers up to a team of 10+ content producers creating all sorts of creative material across the whole office.

Top tips that might stand you in good stead going forward:

 

1) So first up, do the best you possibly can at everything

It’s kind of a no brainer but I’ve always felt that this is really important, and I heard it put really well by Spencer at Taxi Studio (a design agency in Bristol). I paraphrase here slightly…

“Even if you’re making a cup of tea for your nan, I expect you to make that to the best of your ability. Like you would if you were making it for yourself, you would make it in the same way for anyone else and you’ll put you put your heart and soul into making it as good as you possibly can”

Basically, do nothing by half measure.

And I believe you need to do that with absolutely everything that you do.

2) Be positive and enthusiastic

I’ve talked to loads of different students and this really stands out when you are talking to or interviewing students. It’s certainly not something to be ashamed of – be enthusiastic and positive about your work and to be interested in it. You don’t have to know all the answers but just the fact that you’re engaged and interested when we’re having conversations is really, really important and really shines through as well.

Positivity is very infectious. People warm to people that are positive. Don’t be afraid to speak and talk. It took me quite a while to learn that but even if you have to force yourself, do it. Confidence, not cockiness, is key.

3) Think about where your designs are going

Really think where that design is going to end up. A lot of the time we see amazing designs from students, but they will only look good the size of a house. When you put them on social media on the mobile phone, you can’t read anything, and they’re not sized correctly, and things crop or there’s too much information to take in when you’re scrolling.

Remember that more often than not, it’s going to end up on a mobile phone so make it look as good as you possibly can for that size.

4) Experiment and have fun

Being at university, being at college gives you a real chance to just try stuff. Try something that you never thought you would be any good at. Give illustration a go and give photography a whirl or even team up with someone else. Bring ideas together and make stuff happen.

Making stuff happen is the key to it and your time to experiment is absolutely now. That doesn’t mean that the fun stops when you get to work, you can still bring that fun but you’re better learning those skills at university and college.

It’s great to be able to specialise in logo design but it really narrows down the opportunities that you’ll find to actually get a job that specialises in logo design. If you’re able to do bits and pieces of everything, that really does broaden your opportunities.

5) Don’t be a jerk

Don’t be an idiot. When you’re being interviewed you want to come across as friendly, engaging and interesting. Never be a jerk at work or in general. Nobody wants to be around an idiot or work with a fool. We spend loads of time with our colleagues, so we need to get on.

Remain positive be interested and show enthusiasm for design as a whole.

I could probably talk to you for ages about what I do, and you are more than welcome to reach out to me with further questions or advice:

Twitter: @rossymids

LinkedIn: Ross Middleham

Instagram: @superdoodledesign

All the best,
Ross Middleham

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