How to make it in the creative industry
Garrick Hamm is Creative Partner & filmmaker at London-based agency, Williams Murray Hamm. WMH specialise in re-inventing or inventing brands.
Garrick is a graphic design hero of mine and in this interview, I discover how he started his impressive career, what he looks for in a junior designer, and what piece of advice he would give to his younger self.
(The text in this blog has been edited from the video interview below for easier reading)
Who creatively influenced you in your early life?
I grew up in Somerset, so I know bird song better than most people that I meet. People in my studio test me and I always pass.
My dad was a helicopter engineer and my mum worked in fashion and has Italian heritage. She’s got a certain amount of style, position and hot headedness to her that I don’t have, but my daughter does!
So, I guess you could say I was the combination of an engineer who enjoys meticulously working out how something works, mixed with someone who wouldn’t settle for no, and had a particular sense of style – So actually when I think about the two of them coming together, that kind of makes a designer really.
I am dyslexic so I’ve always been very hot wired for images and not for the written word. Academically I did struggle a bit and my old man used to sit me down and help with ideas on posters and things that I was doing – which I loved. He was so clever at them and that was what gave me the of buzz of understanding how an idea could work and suddenly you have that sort of Eureka moment.
To be fair in the family, it was my sister who said that I should go to art school because she’d already gone to university. She could see that the only thing I was really any good at was drawing.
What creative subjects did you study?
I went to Yeovil art school for two years, which was fantastic. Then on to Somerset college of arts to do graphics.
My education was probably sort of short and unremarkable really. I knew that I had to get a certain number of grades to get into art school and that’s what worked towards and I got luckily.
To me, education is there to find out what you are good at – what you love. It also helps you to work out how to get on with people and how to get on with it. We’re all just trying to find something that we want to get out of bed for and make a career of.
How did you find freelance work or work placements?
I used to do all the invites for the college and wedding invites which I loved doing.
When I was at Somerset, I was lucky enough to get on well with one of the lecturers who I ended up working with during the summer. His name was Nero Lumbini and he really did take me under his wing and gave me pads, pens, paper and a folio which I didn’t have. I used to go to his house and help him. I don’t think I was terribly good at helping, but I think liked having somebody young and enthusiastic around. I don’t think it was terribly talented, but I did have enthusiasm.
Nero went on to work at Clark shoes one or two days a week and he managed to get me a sort of internship with them. That was my first exposure to a proper creative studio, and I loved it. I loved the people there and even though it was 30 years ago now, I remember the atmosphere and I remember them coming up with ideas and involving me in things.
It was run by a guy called Ian Wills who is the father of Ryan Wills who runs Taxi Studio in Bristol. I can still see his cheeky smile now!
He was so warm and friendly, but driven and good and clever. He was winning stuff at D&AD with Pentagram and their campaigns were great, but he was just a normal person and he loved to laugh.
I suppose, wanted to be like him because he was clever but also nice and warm and charming with it. He gave me a lot of enthusiasm and encouragement when he didn’t need to.
When did you know what you wanted to do as a career?
Compared to them – I didn’t really know what I was doing. And I guess actually I am still on that journey. I started drawing French curves and futuristic cars at my kitchen table and then I got into packaging and did that for five years and then I helped my boss set up a company with Martin Lambie-Nairn and that moved on.
I think as creatives, if I look back on the people that I find inspiring, they were always moving. It’s is not that they wanted to give up what they were doing, but they were always adding things to it.
What would your advice be to nervous students who are currently looking for work experience?
I don’t think they should be nervous about it. I think they just need to be sure that they want to do it, you know, and I would say grab an annual – don’t go on the internet cause once you get on it, you’ll lose yourself. Get a design annual or advertising annual and look through it.
Look at the work that makes you fizz and wish you’d done it. Try and work out how they did it and then write the names down of the people and companies that created it – then closed the book and go, “Actually, that’s what I want to do”.
If that doesn’t give you that feeling, then don’t do it, because design and advertising is a labour intensive career and you can’t just ‘sort of’ want do it – You have to be driven. Don’t be nervous. Find the courage to find the people that you want to be with and work for, and then find a route to them.
What did you learn in your first few years in the creative industry?
Well, the first one was actually probably the hardest to take, which was, I wasn’t as good as I thought I was. I was one of the golden boys at college because I got a job before college finished – which was great – and then I turned up at Michael Peters, which was full of brilliant designers, and I suddenly realized that I was not in that league.
I have to say, I really had a hard time adjusting to that. During that first year, I had to work out how I could be creative within quite a…not stressful because it was fun, and the people were lovely…but there was stress brought on me by myself. I had some iconic designers around me, and that was quite frightening.
So the way I got around it was to go in on a Sunday because I could relax and I could just do what I needed to do and not have this fear. And that was one of the ways that I coped with it and I still do it. Now, if I have to come up with something, I try and do it on a walk or a run or mowing the lawn or doing whatever. I think that I also realized how much hard work we used to do. I got into the studio one morning, thinking I was on time, but I was actually an hour early because I didn’t put my clock back.
Not only that, but the studio was half already full!
So I had been going in half an hour early, thinking that was good, not realising that most people were already there a whole hour early! And my boss didn’t used to leave until about 8. So it was a 12 hour day. But I realize now that that’s what I needed to understand and do in order to move up.
I think the reality hits that it’s not that easy. It’s like training for anything – running or swimming. If you want to achieve the heights and have the best people around you, you do have to put the time in.
Hence you need to have the drive and the love, to want to do it well.
That’s the one thing that I can’t give my designers or the graduates that I speak to. I can’t give them that drive. I can help to make them better designers. I can give them work that they want to do to make them shine. I can give them all sorts of inroads to award shows and judging. I can make sure that their career path is going in the direction that they want to go in. And I can help them with ideas and making their ideas better and crafted. But if they don’t really want to do it – I can’t keep coaxing them.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
I think the first one would be, learn to spell!
That would have been a really good one if someone had pulled me up on that. And I think, just relax and it will be all right. That’s what I would say to any graduate is just relax. You’ll get there. If you want to get there, it will work itself out.
What achievements in your career are you most proud of?
The first was getting my job at Michael Peters after some work experience there. That was a massive walking on air moment that I’ll never forget.
The second was winning our first pencil, well actually any pencil! We’ve only won three, but all of them have been memorable because the work I think was truly outstanding for us.
Also being president and education chairman of D&AD for four years was a high point for me.
How did you transition from graphic design to film?
I was always interested in film and my dad was quite instrumental in that. We used to watch a lot of films together and so my early film school was sort of with my dad.
I always knew I loved films and I always knew that I had an inner want to understand how they worked. I was lucky enough that my ex-boss (Glenn Tutssel) started a new company called Brand Union with Martin Lambie-Nairn, who was the master of TV brand identity.
So I got to work with Martin and the directors as a sort of junior director. That’s where I realized that you could not only come up with an idea, but that you could make it move, you could light it, you could score it, you could have sound effects etc, and suddenly a bike that had one speed, suddenly had five!
What do you look for in a junior designer?
In our company we look for somebody who is quite versatile because we have a versatile client base. I think being a flexible designer or creative is probably a good idea. We’ve had to be flexible as a design agency because there isn’t so much of one thing going around anymore. Clients want us to be able to handle more of their brand nowadays.
I always said that you only need about eight pieces of really strong pieces of work in your portfolio. And I think if you’re in doubt about anything in there, then you need to take it out. It’s a piece of advice that I didn’t heed myself.
I remember when I got my film job, Glenn Tutssel, who was very complimentary about my portfolio, said at the end on the interview: “You know what, you need to take this piece of work out”. And it always stuck with me. He said, “I kind of see you in a different light because you put that piece in”. My lecturer was also in two minds about it and I didn’t really listen to him if I’m really fair. Don’t put stuff in that you’re doubtful of.
Have a piece of print, have a piece of work that shows that you can really good handle on craft and typography. I need people that have ‘the want’ to understand design. I realise now that design courses don’t necessarily polish junior designers as well as they might have done 30 years ago. But I’m more than happy to help them, and my designers are more than happy to help them.
Don’t waffle too much about the brief in your interview because, as designers, we’re used to looking at creative work. I don’t need a 10-minute intro – I can get it. It just needs to be very simple, otherwise by the time you finished talking about it, I’ll be on another page.
If you’ve come up with an idea and it’s singular, and it’s just one thing, spend the weekends making it bigger. If you’ve got a good idea, then make it into a brand rather than just one piece. Show how you can grow an idea. I think ideas are very important.
We had a chap that I hired. His portfolio was pretty good, and he was delightful. He made worlds inside of matchboxes during his weekends and then he used to film them. As soon as I saw that, I knew he ticked all the right boxes.
Your portfolio is like your apprenticeship. You can do it.
I need you to show me that beating heart because that is what’s going to drive you and your career along.
How should designers present their work and themselves during an interview?
Just try and be natural and try and be yourself. Don’t stress about meeting people. In the end, they’re the same as you and me. They probably like eggs, chips, and beans down in the cafe once in a while like everybody else. They’re normal.
If I look back on the iconic people that I’ve worked with, like Martin Lambie-Nairn, he was just normal!
Be as relaxed as possible and engage with them like you would engage with your friend at the pub.
Ask them about stuff and interview them as much as they’re interviewing you.
Really do your homework and understand the person that is sat in front of you as much as possible before you meet them. What has he/she done? What has their company done?
There is no excuse for turning up to an interview having not done that homework when you can easily spend an hour Googling it. The more revision you do, the more confident you will feel during the test.
What I love is somebody who wants to work for us. Somebody wants to work for me. And when I ask the question, “where do you want to work?” The answer should always be “Here”
It might not be! You might have four or five places on your radar, and I understand that. But don’t tell your interviewer that. In that moment, there’s only one place you want to work and that’s the place that you’re interviewing at.
If you hire someone, you are making an investment by training them up. You want to know they’re not going to move on after one year.
What creative skills should you have once you graduate to fit into a professional studio environment?
I think it’s helpful if you’ve got one prominent skill, whether that’s in print design, After Effects, moving image, or a bit of Cinema 4D. Something that sort of elevates them a bit.
Probably one of the last graduates that we took on from a work placement had a really good diverse portfolio, but she had a bias in moving image. I needed a designer that could help me and move us all in that direction. And that helped her to differentiate herself from the rest.
What advice would you like to give to students and graduates during lockdown?
Just have a bit of faith that it will all go back to normal. In 2008 / 2009 we had some really bad recessions and I know that there were plenty of young graduates that didn’t get a job for probably two years. I’m not saying that that’s the case now, because it’s not, there are people hiring, there are busy studios – we’re really busy at the moment. But I think opportunities will come back and if you’re not on placements, still do your networking, still try and get emails to people and still try to get people looking at your portfolio.
Use this time to get your portfolio done. What could you make even better? Use this time to get prepared and have faith because in the end, graduates and young people are the lifeline of our business. We need them as much as they need us – if not more!
They bring enthusiasm, they bring new ways of doing things. They bring everything that we probably lose as we get older. They are vital and they are really important and they need to know that.
What advice would you give to companies who are considering hiring interns for the first time?
I think they need to pay them. I can’t believe that people still don’t. The world is an expensive place and if you haven’t got an infrastructure of money behind you, that’s cutting out an awful lot people who just can’t afford to do it.
Employers need to pay them and care for them and make sure they know what their role is. Make sure you sit down and tell them what is expected of them – don’t get annoyed with them in four or five days’ time if they’re not doing what you thought they were doing. Set them some parameters and sit down at the end of the week and give them some feedback on how they’ve done.
Put them at ease and say “Hi”. I often catch our interns out because they often don’t know who I am and I’ll have a chat with them in the kitchen and then a day later, they’ll go “Oh, I didn’t realize!”
To be honest, Martin taught me that skill. He would just talk to all of the youngsters that came in and just put them at ease. And I think that’s what we should all do.
I would also say to interns – don’t disappear out the door at 5:31, just because that’s the time that you went to be finishing, because you’re not going to get a job like that. Be enthusiastic and make the most of the time you have there. If another designer is stuck and they’re on a pitch and you don’t know it, the last thing you want to hear is “Where’s the graduate gone?”
What could the industry and education could be doing to help more young people into creative careers?
Yeah, that’s a good one. I think that an apprenticeship scheme where the government maybe picks up half of the initial fee would be good. That would make it more affordable for industry to take somebody on and to give them that leg up, because in the end, all of the juniors that we’ve ever employed have been off of the back of work placements with us. That’s the truth of it. We’ve got to try and help youngsters get into that placement scenario where the government help subsidize that by 25% or something to help encourage the employers to take the youngsters on.
I think within education, there needs to be smaller class sizes. I just don’t think they’re getting the tuition that they could get or should get. And I don’t think they have enough time in the studio. I don’t think they have enough time in the college. I’ve got a niece who’s doing an art foundation course and they’re in college two days a week – this is nonsense!
It’s an art foundation, it’s an apprenticeship. You need to be there five days a week. How are you going to do printmaking and ceramics, and lino cutting at home? They need to be around real lecturers.
At the moment there are too many people in the classroom for the lectures to go round and it’s showing. And that’s not the student’s fault. I just think that there should be a change back to having more face-to-face learning from your master. You need to be in and around them as much as you can.
What are your hopes for the creative industries post COVID?
I have high hopes that people will be invigorated and want to embrace creativity. I think clients will hopefully want to be a bit braver. Now that they’ve had a bit of reflection time, they might realise that there may be a different, better, more creative way of answering all sorts of problems and that the UK is really good at that.
We’re really good at producing creatives, even though I’ve talked about the colleges that could be slightly run differently. I think that clients need to grab hold of that and use it for their businesses. Use it to differentiate themselves and not follow the herd – not do the same stuff.