Em Storey didn’t have a normal journey to being a graphic designer. She initially studied Media, Culture and Society at university before taking on a Masters in Graphic Design. But, nope, she didn’t become a designer then. She spent eight years working as an account/project manager in the industry before coming to the realisation that she wanted to be on the creative side of things. That’s where Shillington came in. Em enrolled for the three month full-time course and came out the other end with an amazing portfolio. A few months and some freelance projects later, she did exactly what she set out to achieve and became a Junior Designer at NU Creative.
We caught up with Em almost a year since she started at Shillington to talk about her career change within the industry, how she found the course and the joys of having a studio dog.
You were working in the industry as an account/project manager for 8 years before enrolling at Shillington! Why did you decide to take the plunge and become a designer?
I really enjoyed my time working in account management. I learned a huge amount about how agencies function, how to get under the skin of what clients need from a creative team and how to deliver this for them. During this time I was also lucky enough to work closely alongside designers and creative directors and my admiration for the creative process grew and grew. As time went on and I became more senior, I felt I was becoming more removed from the creative work and was missing it hugely. I spent some time reflecting on the areas of my work which I enjoyed most and what gave me the most satisfaction. And, quite naturally, this led me to consider the wild idea of shifting my focus entirely and seeing if I had what it takes to embrace a fully creative role.
Honestly, it was a terrifying prospect to consider retraining after having built a career in client services, and I had no idea where to start or if it was even possible. That’s where Shillington was the perfect fit for me.
Back in 2009, you studied for an MA in Graphic Design. How did the Shillington course differ from a more traditional university setting?
The MA was a very different learning environment to Shillington. I think traditionally students doing an MA would have already studied a BA in Graphic Design, but (again) I had taken a slightly different route in. The MA was a great place to explore high-level conceptual thinking and also to experiment and play, without restriction, with your own personal creative practice. I got a huge amount from this, but I felt like I came away without the fundamental technical skills that I needed at that time to become a designer.
This is where Shillington really stands out, in that there is a huge focus on developing very practical skills and learning how to apply these in an studio-like environment.
How did the Shillington course build on any existing skills you already had from your time in the industry?
From my time working in project management, I already had a pretty good understanding of how to interrogate a brief, how to approach a creative challenge and the processes that take you through a project from start to finish. The Shillington course really helped me build on that knowledge, but from a designer’s perspective—enabling me with all the skills I needed to fulfil the brief.
How was your Shillington experience? Did you form any close bonds with your classmates in the three months you studied with us?
I absolutely loved my time at Shillington.
It was immensely challenging, but every day it felt like you had achieved something huge, which is so important when you’re so far out of your comfort zone.
You also meet people from such varied backgrounds and walks of life and everyone has very different reasons for coming to Shillington.
You collaborate with classmates a lot throughout the course, so you get to know everyone very well, and by the end you really get close with everyone and very much rely on their support and encouragement! It very much feels like you’ve all gone through a huge life-altering experience together, as a team, so the connections you forge are sure to last!
What was your favourite brief you worked on during the course? Tell us your process!
Without a doubt, the Campaign brief was my favourite project. It was probably also the hardest, for me at least. This is one of the last projects you do on the course so, by this point, you’ve amassed a huge amount of knowledge and skills and this is the project where you bring a lot of that together. It’s also a largely self-defined brief, which is a wonderful opportunity—if not a little daunting at the time.
In terms of my process, at Shillington you learn how to approach what feels like a mammoth task in very manageable chunks. It starts with a research stage where you:
My brief was to raise awareness for postnatal mental health conditions, in particular postpartum psychosis. And I defined my campaign mission was to: Raise awareness and understanding of what postpartum psychosis is, potential symptoms and encourage open conversation about the condition.
After the research phase you can dive into establishing concepts which respond to your brief. You learn lots of ways to approach this and I think most people quickly realise which techniques work best for them. For me, I started by mind-mapping the key themes around my ‘problem’ and then drilling down further and further until I ended up with the most important and valuable themes that I knew needed to be incorporated into my concept.
After my initial mind-mapping stage, I’d come up with 3 core values for my campaign which would support and drive all my creative and strategic decisions as the campaign was developed.
These core values were:
Having these clearly defined themes leads you nicely onto to mapping out the audience journey, where you consider how people will engage with your campaign, and then the creative stage. Here I developed visual mood boards for multiple areas of my campaign—tone of voice, colour, typography, layout and format. These mood boards become really valuable as you progress with sketching out ideas for how your campaign will come together, in terms of the visual aesthetic, the content and messaging.
The final stage is design, where you bring together all of the previous stages of work to create all the elements of your campaign, across the full spectrum of printed and digital touch-points.
You landed a job as a Junior Designer at NU Creative back in December. How have your first few months at the job been? What have you been working on?
I’ve been loving my new role and feel very privileged to be able to do what I do now.
As a junior at NU I’m lucky enough to work on a whole variety of projects for lots of different clients and every day is completely different! I’ve been working on concepts for new websites, brochure layouts, social media posts, environmental graphics and have even been lucky enough to work on some bespoke type designs to submit as part of the 36 Days of Type challenge over on our Instagram! The variety of work I get to do is really great and I feel like I’m learning and growing as a designer.
Has it been different settling in to a studio as a designer rather than one of your previous roles?
It certainly is a very different role, but it has been much easier than I expected. I feel like I’ve settled in quite easily to this new role and I’m lucky enough to be surrounded by a lot of incredibly experienced and talented designers who are always very supportive and ready to offer guidance or advice. And I still work very closely with clients, which means I get the best of both worlds in a lot of ways!
We also see from NU’s website you’ve got a pretty special Welfare Officer, Molly—how is it having a studio dog?
Ah Molly is the best! She never fails to put a smile on your face, and always gives you a wonderful welcome to the studio every morning! If you ever need a break from your screen, she’s always up for a play or a cuddle!
What would you say to someone who is skeptical about studying at Shillington? Any tips?
I would say that if you’re considering the transition into becoming a designer, then Shillington is absolutely the way to go. For me it was perfect as it allowed me to completely shift my career in a very focused way, over a very short period of time.
The techniques and processes you’ll learn are hugely valued in the real-world of graphic design. I use all of the skills that I learned at Shillington every day in my role now.
I’ve also been told on numerous occasions that Shillington graduates really stand out from the crowd in what is a hugely competitive market for junior designers, so that’s a huge advantage over other programmes.
If you’ve decided to take the plunge, then my advice would be to throw yourself in and fully embrace the fact that at times it will be hard, but the reward is so worth it!
Want to study graphic design at Shillington? Learn more about our 3 month full-time and 9 month part-time course in New York, London, Manchester, Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane.