I sat down with our designer Connor Ghosh to find out what it’s been like to learn design from the ground up in a creative agency.
Who are you?
Hi, I’m Connor – I’m a designer at Chaptr. I’ve been here for about 4 years now, having learned design from the ground up in that time. I love design, music and sport (especially football). I’m a massive Leeds United fan despite growing up locally in Southampton.
What does being a designer at Chaptr look like?
Predominantly we’re web designers so we specialise in UX and UI design, but the nature of working for an agency means we do a little bit of everything. Branding, illustration, animation – generally most things across print and digital, we’ve likely done it. Sometimes, especially in my early career, I’d get thrown in the deep end and end up watching YouTube tutorials on how to use Adobe After Effects for example, but that’s probably the best way to learn quickly.
I’m a digital designer, but I do lots of stuff. Let’s go with that.
Cool. What do you do for fun?
I really love music, and play a couple instruments to a fairly average standard. If I had to massively generalise, I guess I’d say I like indie rock kind of stuff, with a little alt or heavy thrown in there too. I also play football and manage my pub team.
What’s your story with Chaptr?
Well, I came to the end of A levels – had no work experience, no real direction on what to do with my life, and no money; things were going great(!). Joe was a family friend and offered me a 3 month internship with no real intention of it becoming anything – just something to help me figure out what kind of environment was right for me. It was just general helping out in the office, whatever I could do to be helpful. When the three months were over, they asked if I was interested in staying on, and for the next 18 months I was working both paid and unpaid days, just learning and training in anything I could that they had a use for. At that point, Joe and Matt sat me down and said “So… what do you actually want to do? Where do you see yourself long-term? What do you genuinely like doing?”
I was honest and said that I really loved design. It was what I enjoyed the most when I was helping out, and something I thought I could be good at. Nearly 3 years down the line, here I am! Still with a lot to learn, but I feel like that’s part of what being a designer is; I don’t know if you ever really master anything, it’s all about continuous learning. I’m really proud of my accomplishments so far, and I love doing what I do. I know it’s not the most common way of getting into design, but I’m still here, so I guess I’m not doing anything that badly.
How do you learn from the ground up?
First – learn how to not take criticism personally. I look back at designs from two months ago and think “Oh god, what was I thinking? That wasn’t good enough to even consider”, let alone stuff from the beginning of my career. But – think of it the other way; if you’re willing to critique, learn, and move on, you’re doing yourself a real service. You’re improving.
For me, pretty much every single project has been trial and error, over and over again. Where I didn’t go to university, I didn’t get a grounding in design theory that a lot of other designers will have when they come into their first role. So, I had to pick up books and online tutorials etc in my own time – you have to put those hours into learning the things that can be learned. Take the resources you can, keep trying, and learn from your mistakes.
I think a lot of my early mistakes were from trying to run before I could walk – I’d see things on Awwwards or SiteInspire and think “that’s so cool, I should do that”, overcomplicating things when I wasn’t even getting the basics right. Feedback, good or bad, is so important – remember your mentors and colleagues are only ever trying to make you better at your job, so listen to them. Learn from your mistakes and take autonomy when it comes to you.
What’s the most fun thing you do in your job?
Being given a blank canvas and letting your ideas run wild. Perhaps this sounds a bit cliché but I love that first bit where you’re racking your brain for ideas and inspiration, but nothing’s confined. It’s exciting and freeing to see a page come together.
Do you have any work you’re really proud to have been a part of with Chaptr?
I’m proud of a lot of stuff. I feel really lucky that I can associate myself with some of the clients we’ve worked with – Universal Music, Novak Djokovic Foundation, John Hansard Gallery – even if my part in those projects was pretty small, to be trusted to go to meetings and talk to those people makes me really proud.
Being really ambiguous; I think the stuff that’s upcoming and yet to be released is the best. We’ve got a client called Nonstop Snow who I’m really proud to be working with; not just the design work, but the building of a relationship with that type of client is really cool. Plus, looking at that project shows me how far I’ve come in terms of earning autonomy which is cool. Anyway – watch this space.
You’ve got an intern now, how’s that for responsibility?
I know! It’s really nice though, a lot of his strengths are areas I can certainly learn from, and vice versa – I do feel like I’m able to impart wisdom, especially when it comes to stuff that isn’t really covered in higher education. I feel like we bounce off each other really well, which is exactly what you want from a relationship like that.
Do you find many differences between yourself and your path into the working world compared to people that took the more traditional route?
I think there’s a difference, primarily between people who are fresh out of university, college, whatever. Of course I’m not taking anything away from those who’ve gone down that route – but when you’ve spent a really long time in the world of theory, you feel like everything you make has to hit those big ideas – different schools of thought and everything. Whereas, once you’ve been working for a little while (working for clients) you realise that sometimes being a great designer isn’t always about making great designs… When people are paying you, you really need to listen to what they’re saying. Thinking about user experience is another thing that some designers fail to fully grasp straight off the bat. As designers it’s so easy to go mad and make every design as artistic as possible. But sometimes it’s about hitting that perfect niche of design that looks great, but is also clear and easy to understand and use. There are occasions when you need to be disciplined and think about the practicalities of your design. I feel like you get a better grasp on things like that when working with real clients on a daily basis.
Not to say that one route is better than the other – it’s just something I’ve noticed from working alongside people. I mean, it’s one thing for a lecturer to give you feedback, and another to have a client tell you they hate what you’ve done! I feel like you learn about compromise and collaboration a lot quicker out in the field.
What’s the best advice you’ve been given?
Practically? Make duplicates of whatever you’ve done, back up your folders, and don’t delete something in the moment just because you don’t like it. It sucks to lose your work because your computer unexpectedly dies, but it’s even worse when you delete something you’ve spent time on because you’re frustrated or whatever. You might come back three/four versions later and think “maybe I was onto something there…”, it’s really disheartening. So don’t delete what you’ve done – get to a certain point, save it to a separate artboard so you can come back to it.
As far as more “philosophical” advice? During times when I’ve been stressed out, or doubted myself – because we all go through times where we doubt our own abilities – people have just told me “you’ll be ok.” Doesn’t really mean anything does it? But I’ve been really lucky to work with people who have had their work appear on sites that I go to for inspiration and that – so having those people just say “relax, you’re good, you’ll figure it out” is genuinely really helpful and reassuring.
What challenges have you found in your career?
Stuff that faces every designer – the battle between client wants/client needs, the direction you want to take it, and how you meet in the middle. You get your dream clients that say “look, we’ve hired a creative agency; we trust you to be creative and give us something we wouldn’t have been able to make on our own”, that kind of freedom is great. But you get some clients that have such immoveable ideas of what they want – and that can be hard. Of course just because a client has strong ideas of what they want doesn’t mean the design has to be limited – but there are rare occasions when you think “why did you even come to a creative agency!” So I definitely think that jostle between particularly strong client wants and your own ideas can be a challenge and reaching that end design that everyone is happy with can really test your patience. It’s all part of being a designer though, and I wouldn’t change it!
Another challenge is just keeping on top of trends, pushing myself in every design and delivering something that meets the kind of standards we hold ourselves to at Chaptr. I want to be making things that push boundaries, you know? I want to get to a point in my career where I’m making stuff that other people look at and think “wow, this is really something special.”
Any sites for young designers wanting to keep on top of trends?
Yeah, I’ve got a bookmarks bar of them on my desktop that I check every morning, so they’re a good place to start. Awwwards, Dribbble, siteInspire, Behance, Land-book, Collect UI, SiteSee, Design Inspiration. Instagram’s also an amazing tool that everyone can access – just scroll through and explore different tags, when you find someone you like – there’s your inspiration.
It might sound cliché, but it’s kind of a mindset you find yourself in. You’ll start paying more attention to fashion, paying attention to the odd interior design show, thinking about how to rearrange your room and that. It’s kind of a joke but I think there’s a reason there’s a stereotypical “designer” look, where we all dress the same, and hang out at the same types of bars – y’know? I think designers can’t quite help but letting that aspect of your work into your personal life in that way.
If you weren’t working in design, what would you be doing?
I’d have gone to university to do History, that was the vague plan when I was in school. It was a subject I liked, and it just seemed to click in my brain. I had no idea what I would be doing after the degree. The dream was to do a Tony Robinson and go make Time Team or something, I don’t know. I guess I would have ended up as a history teacher. Or maybe a librarian.
You’d be a cool librarian.
Thanks man, that’s very kind of you. Can I reiterate that I’m really quite glad I turned out to be a designer and not a librarian?
Sure. What’s your favourite TV show?
It was Game of Thrones up until that last season. I guess I’d say Family Guy. It’s picked me up when I’ve been down countless times in my life. It’s so dumb, and I love it. Honourable mentions go to South Park and The Simpsons.
Know any jokes?
Man walks into a bar. Ouch. (I’m not a naturally funny man).
Thanks for reading. Want to learn more about our weird little team? Why not read all about Ewa the developer here.