The power of self-initiated projects

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THE POWER OF SELF-INITIATED PROJECTS

Kieron Lewis - Senior Graphic Designer

Name: Kieron Lewis
Age: 29

Current Job title: Senior Designer
Company names: 
• Pulse Brands (full-time),
• LEVILE (freelance)
• Olga & Kay (self-directed)

Creative Sector: Graphic Design

University Attended: Winchester School of Art
Courses Studied: BA (HONS) graphic arts

Website: https://www.kieronlewis.com/

My name is Kieron (Kay)

I’m a graphic designer who has a strong interest within editorial design and self-directed projects. Currently I’m the Senior Designer for Pulse Brands, the freelance Creative Director for Levile and one halve of Olga & Kay.

My first insight into the creative industry was my internship for an advertising agency based in Barbican. I was fortunate to work here every summer, for a few years, whilst studying at college. Back then, I worked on numerous Adobe Flash projects for clients such as, Miss Dior and MasterCard.

Whilst studying at university, I worked on a few self-directed and group-based projects, as well as working on my uni work.

A few friends and I created a magazine whilst studying. This was titled Plog magazine: https://kieronlewis.com/Plog-Magazine. It was a publication dedicated to featuring graduate artwork from various disciplines. Off the back of this project, we gave numerous lectures, created workshops, were featured at Somerset House – Pick Me Up London, and were stocked around a few shops in the UK such as, Serpertine Gallery, Magma and WHSmiths.

Working on this magazine was perhaps one of the most enjoyable and memorable experiences for me. Mainly because we had complete creative freedom with our design direction and also because we met a lot of artists and designers from different universities and not all UK based too, which was great! In fact, all the guys and girls I met during our three-year journey, fed into my final university project.

I do believe that as much as university is a great learning experience, there are certain life skills that you have to actively put into practice yourself, and sometimes it can’t be taught. By doing a self-directed group project like Plog, I learnt the importance of understanding my weakness/strengths as a designer and I also developed basic business skills such as liaising with printers, pitching and dealing with costings.

When I graduated, I was fortunate to be offered a full-time position at my summer placement. This really took away any stress of looking for a job, which allowed me to focus my energy building my portfolio/website and meeting up with new designers for potential collaborations.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in South London, Brixton until the age of 15. My family and I then moved to Surrey, Redhill…Massive contrast in locations, I know!

Is anyone else creative in your family?

My fiancé is a Designer for an Architectural firm. Apart from her creative role, everyone else in my family are heavily focused on law.

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A selection of work by Olga&Kay

Can you tell us about your experience in education?

I was actually studying Video game Design at Southampton Solent. However, it took me a year to realise that this course wasn’t 100% for me. As much as I love the process behind how games are made, my true interest was for Graphic Design, and in particular marketing and branding. I graduated from Winchester School of Art with a 2:1, BA (Hons) in Graphic Arts.

Did you always know what you wanted to do ‘when you grew up’ or are you still discovering that?

I really enjoyed my time during school, and I think from a young age I already knew I wanted to explore the career part of something creative. At the time, I had no idea how to get there though.

Art and IT were my two favourite subjects growing up, so I guess it was inevitable that I would become a Designer.

Currently I’m at a point in my career where I’m really enjoying it and I’m also learning new and interesting skills such a video editing.

What are the main takeaways you have from University?

  • The importance of collaborating with other creatives (especially those in different sectors within design)
  • Being critical of your own work
  • How to articulate and illustrate your rationale, when presenting a piece of work
  • Freshers week…let’s not go there! But in all seriousness, having to cook/look after your space was uncharted territories for me. So, this experience was a great life lesson.

What did you learn during your creative work experience?

I really began to see first-hand how the creative industry and in particular advertising works. The good and the bad sides of it.

I learnt very quickly not to take comments on your work/method of your working, to heart. Everyone has an opinion, and everyone is entitled to disagree. The key thing to remember is that, both parties just want to do their best to achieve a strong deliverable, which both you and the client can be proud of.

Also, one important thing I learnt whilst at work was the importance of keeping everything precise and to the point. Nobody loves waffle, whether speaking it or on emails, and at one stage I was the ‘King of Waffle’!…Not a good look.

levile-event-interviewing-the-cast-of-famalam
LEVILE event: Interviewing with the cast of Famalam - filming curtesy of Olga&Kay

What advice would you give to students who are currently seeking experience or are perhaps nervous about it?

It’s a real hard time at the moment, even more so during the world’s current climate. Until more jobs become available, I would really encourage doing your own self-directed projects – Solo or collaborative.

  • I’ve interviewed a few juniors over the years, and I’m always more drawn to those who clearly have an interest in their craft and you can see this more evidentially in those who do extra work. I’m not saying it’s a must, but it certainly plays in your favour. Especially now that competition will be fiercer than ever.
  • Research, research, research! We’ve all had a bit of time on our hands recently, so use this time wisely to research into various agencies that you admire. Don’t be afraid to be curious or inquisitive.
  • Know your worth! I’m a firm believer in no one should work for free, not even as an intern. Having a basic salary, even if it’s very small, is all part of the experience of working. Getting your foot in the door is important, yes, but making sure that you can making ends meet is just as important (if not slightly more).
  • My golden rule and this rule I’ve applied in every interview I’ve ever had or any pitch I’ve given. We’re all just humans!…Even scary CEO’s. Whichever agency you end up getting experience with, just remember it’s important that they impress you too. You should want to go in, and yet at the same time feel respected. It’s a two-way system, in my head.

How did you obtain your first job?

Through my summer placement. I went back every year for a few years, so once I graduated, I was offered a full-time place.

What did you learn in your first few years of industry work?

  • How to work well with deadlines (keep an eye on my timings)
  • How to communicate and express your ideas clearly
  • I had a better understanding of how certain design programmes work e.g Adobe suite
levile-event-Q&A-session-with-the-audience
LEVILE event Q&A session - filming curtesy of Olga&Kay

Did you encounter any specific barriers when trying to find experience & work?

I’ve been fairly fortunate when it came to seeking experience. I didn’t really have many barriers, and the reason for this may be because of my self-directed and freelance work in my portfolio. It may have helped separate me from the sea of other portfolios.

Looking back – Is there anything wish you had known or done differently?

I wish I spoke up a bit more in team meetings. It’s very easy to be the quiet one, especially when you are in a team, sprinkled with a few confident ones.

I made the mistake of watching Mad Men during my time in advertising. Big mistake! Drinking scotch at 10am, won’t improve your productivity.

What piece of advice would you give to your younger self?

Be brave and ask more questions. There is no such thing as a stupid question, if you don’t know the answer.

“Falling over can be an accident, staying there is optional” – Mike Skinner; The Streets.

You currently work for Pulse Brands in Covent Garden, London. What is your role there and can you describe what a typical working week is like?

My role here is their Graphic Designer and I work alongside my Creative Director to complete all their design collateral. Pulse is a branding, communications & corporate culture Agency who help organisations place purpose at the core of everything they do.

My work primarily involves editorial design, however recently we are exploring more digital content in particular, video editing. No week is the same, which keeps things very fresh. We’re a small team, and since the lockdown we have become closer via our team meeting zooms. We also have big team meeting every Monday morning, which gives everyone the opportunity to share or discuss anything that is on their mind, whether work related or not.

LEVILE-event-audience-laughing
LEVILE event - filming curtesy of Olga&Kay

What do you look for in a junior team member?

The irony is we we’re in the process of interviewing juniors and then BLAM, Covid hits!

  • The main things we tend to look for are:
    Holding a conversation: before we get into work, it’s important that we can feel that there is a good vibe between us. So important!
  • Questions/Research: I’m not the kind of guy to ask certain question to trip you up. I’ve experienced that myself and its horrible. But we do look for those who clearly show an interest in the work we do. By asking relevant questions it shows you’ve clearly researched us.
  • Just a job or career?: Bit of a cliché, but I’m still a believer that if the job you do is a role you are passionate about, you will naturally produce your best work.

What practical and personal skills do graphic design juniors need to have in order to break into the industry?

Basic understanding of Photoshop, InDesign and Illustrator. All three programs work in harmony with each other. The key is to know when to use which program, for certain jobs.

Keeping up to date with industry trends. Whether its visiting exhibitions, reading literature or watching video content, it is so important to keep up to date, as this line of work is very fast paced.

Is there any advice you would like to give to emerging creatives looking for experience and employment opportunities?

Job boards, online ‘zoom’ events, Twitter and LinkedIn feeds are great places to find opportunities and network. In particular LinkedIn – It’s such a great tool! It’s easy to partner up with recruiters and agencies tend to post regularly so you can keep updated easily.

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Brochure design for TedX Euston 2018 by Kieron Lewis

What benefits do you think companies get from taking on interns and apprentices?

Well the main benefit being that companies can have a different and much fresher perspective on their work. Interns and apprentices are usually very keen to learn and the eagerness to their best, are the exact attributes which can help improve a business.

Companies need to always keep in mind that by bringing in an intern or apprentice, you have the opportunity to help develop talent too. 

The only danger to be aware of when your employer takes the p*** (being blunt). I’ve had personal experience with this, and unfortunately as you are just starting out, some may want to exploit that. An example of this could be staying ridiculous hours after work (which is unfortunately common during pitches).

Do you think there is more that could be done to help more young creatives succeed in the industry?

Business need to see the value and believe in the process of why working with Interns and apprentices are a great idea. Until then, try starting side projects, building your portfolios (print/digital) and getting involved with creative blogs. This could even be in the form of blogging.

Platforms like D&AD help to shine a light on emerging talent to the industry, which is great, but more need to exist….like Tern Heads 🙂

You’ve worked on some pretty amazing side projects. Can you tell us a little about each one and how they came about?

TEDx Euston is an event that aims to reflect the ideas and inspired thinking of a new generation of African leaders, presenting to an audience committed to engaging and re-engaging in an active and meaningful manner with the continent.

I got involved with TEDx Euston by responding to their ‘designer vacancy’ tweet. I had already done my research on them and loved their work and ethos. We had a casual interview. Over drinks, I discussed my work, my process, they discussed their ethos and future plans/goals…3 years on, and the rest is history!

I worked alongside designer Tola Ojuolape, to create all the digital and print collateral over the years.

kieron-lewis-at-tedx-2018
Kieron Lewis at TedX 2018
tedx-overview-of-work-by-kieron-lewis
An overview of work for TedX Euston 2018 by Kieron Lewis
kieron-lewis-and-the-tedx-euston-2018-team
Kieron Lewis and the TedX Euston 2018 team

Touch Magazine is the brain child of Olga & Kay and Homeless Heroes Aid.

Olga and I met with HHA over a coffee and we shared our interests in wanting to create a magazine that would change the narrative behind, what it means to be homeless and also help educate young people at the same time.

The first issue was actually with my sister and her friend (both 17 year olds), and we travelled all over London collecting stories and documenting homelessness. This project really opened my eyes and I had a much deeper understanding of how people can end up homeless.

I’d certainly recommend reading the interviews within the mag, so you can see first-hand how the engagement went. See: https://issuu.com/kieronanthonylewis/docs/touch_magazine_issuu for more info!

front-cover-design-for-touch-magazine-by-olga-and-kay
Front cover design for Touch Magazine by Olga & Kay
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Portrait photos of homeless people taken for Touch Magazine by Olga & Kay

As part of your work with Olga & Kay, you have built a relationship with Westminster City Council and held workshops at schools, colleges & Uni’s across London. What have you enjoyed the most about this experience and how do you think the landscape has changed for young people in recent years?

I’ve got a lot of positive experiences and memories since we started O&K back on 2016. My relationship with Olga is a special one! She is a very good friend of mine, who always keeps me grounded. When we have client meetings or do interviews/podcasts together, we always find the right balance and have each-others back. We don’t take each other too seriously, and we feel more comfortable around those who have a a similar mentality. It breaks down barriers and you can have much more open discussion.

Secondly, I’ve really enjoyed the school talks we’ve given over the years. Never in my life I thought I’d be going back to school to give a talk. I do have experience in presenting work to clients/employers but presenting to a hall full of 11-year old’s, is a different ball game. Giving a talk to an audience that young, you really have to tailor it. Documenting your space, was the main talking point within our talk. We asked the pupils questions such, how they feel about the environment, things that have changed and if they were to document their space, how would they go about doing it? (Drawings, photographs etc).

I’ve realised more and more over the years how connected we all are, and even more so through social channels. Keeping in mind the current world situation, we are even more digitally dependent than usual, and this should open many doors to younger people. The ability to collaborate overseas via zoom calls, or conduct virtual workshops are good opportunities to explore.

Human interaction is still very important, and I hope it doesn’t fade away. Perhaps more job interviews for younger people might be conducted outside, which isn’t the worst idea to be honest…and perhaps more relaxing on both parties.

olga-and-kay-giving-a-talk-at-a-london-school
Olga & Kay have built a relationship with Westminster City Council and held workshops at schools, colleges & Uni’s across London

What advice do you give to students with regards to self-initiated projects?

Be open to collaborations. As creatives we want to naturally do our best, but we’re only humans and sometimes to do the best job possible, you need to work with someone who has a different skillset to yours.

Document everything (especially the mistakes). The amount of times I’m approaching the finishing line on a self-directed project and then I need to just pause and take a few steps back and look through my initial process, in order to produce the best outcome possible.

Can you name 3 key moments or decisions that you feel were big turning points for your career or growth as a person and explain why?

  • D&AD New Blood Judge: This happened this month. This whole process has been such a learning curve, and I genuinely feel that I’ve grown as a designer in terms of being critical and providing clear and precise feedback.
  • Winning Creative Pioneers (Institute of Practitioners in Advertising):
    I was able to meet a lot of established creatives who were at the IPA’s winners event and by being featured within the metro newspaper, it actually led to being featured on a few creatives blogs, which has also
    led to getting numerous freelance projects.
  • Starting Olga & Kay: This has opened the door to so many opportunities. The kind of opportunities that wouldn’t have appeared if I just stuck to my full-time. This has also shaped how I work in my full-time career. As a result of meeting clients, presenting work and conducting workshops with Olga, my confidence has certainly improved.

What are your hopes for the creative industry post Covid-19?

People will be more aware of their surroundings and have a better understanding of how diversity can shape businesses.

As a black creative myself, the Black Lives Matter movement has opened up a few more opportunities for people of colour. I hope to see more diversity across the creative spectrum, and that this current issue of discussing BLM does not become a one-off, but more of an on-going topic.

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