"They weren't just making things move for the sake of it. They were applying design thinking to how and why things moved, and I found that to be a revelation."
What inspired you to follow this career path?
I'd previously studied 3D animation at college - but was disheartened by my course and how unprepared I felt for the industry. I was a little aimless after that and ended up working in a restaurant for a couple of years before deciding to become a paramedic.
While waiting for my driving licence to reach 2 years, I did design work that got some attention and I found myself being drawn in. At the time, graphic design seemed more applicable that anything I'd done in 3D. I went to DJCAD and found I was able to merge design with my previous background in animation - and I've loved motion graphics since.
What was your experience of getting into the industry?
During our 4th and final year, we fund-raised enough money for spots to show work at New Blood in London. Off the back of that I was offered a 2-week paid placement with a studio. I moved to London and that placement got extended to 6 weeks before they couldn't afford to take me on permanently. Which was gutting because I really liked the work, the culture and the people there.
I stayed in London for personal reasons and spent the next couple of months searching for a job. I was offered an unpaid placement at DixonBaxi in November - which I was only able to do by blowing all my savings and living with my partner.
I learned a lot being there, and they did cool work. However, after being home for Christmas, I realised how much I missed Scotland. I made the difficult decision not to return and instead searched for work north of the border. This took time as there wasn't as many opportunities, especially around January. I finally got a job with a small studio and stayed there for a year before joining Whitespace.
What were some big opportunities that shaped your career?
I did a placement in Auckland while I was in third year. That was my first real taste of the industry. But aside from working at Whitespace, DixonBaxi was particularly helpful for me because of how much value they put into their motion graphics. They weren't just making things move for the sake of it. They were applying design thinking to how and why things moved, and I found that to be a revelation.
What challenges did you face?
Mostly financial and confidence based. Doing these placements, many times unpaid, was hard going. I'm not from the wealthiest family and I found I was paying to do them! I ended up putting myself into a LOT of debt...to work.
In the end I took a design job below the minimum wage just to get my foot in the door. I’d work late and had trouble feeding myself for the first year - which makes it hard to value yourself a designer. I got my second job mostly off the back of my university work. Once you have a year in the industry, people take you more seriously.
Have you ever had to make a difficult career choice?
Not really to be honest. Each step I've taken has always been upward, rather than sideways.
But if I had to say a one, it would be not returning to my placement at Dixonbaxi. Some designers working there had a similar path to a job - 1-month unpaid internship, 2-month paid internship, then finally a permanent job.
When I decided not to return to London after Christmas and had spent 3 months job hunting with no success. I wondered if I'd blown an opportunity. But I'm happy I made the decision based on what lifestyle I wanted and where I’ve ended up.
Looking back, what opportunities do you wish you had when starting out?
I find this hard to answer because we always had more than I ever thought we would have.
After college we were just dumped out on our own. But at Uni our lecturers worked hard to ensure we all had third year placements in studios, briefs from people in the industry, one on ones with designers and the chance to show work at the degree show and New Blood.
If you could give one piece of advice to your former self, what would it be?
I did well at University, but always had this feeling people were doing me a favour by looking at my designs or giving me a free work placement. Which is such a load of sh*t! What you do has financial value, and you should be compensated for providing it. I took the free placement route, and although it got me there, it wasn’t the easiest on my bank balance or confidence.
I think the best way into the industry is to email studios you like and ask for portfolio feedback/placements. Just ask. Just to meet them, just to build a relationship. Remember, they’ve been where you are. If they're a decent studio, and can spare the time, they'll value your initiative and want to help you. Just type the question and hit send.
Craig Barbour, Motion Designer, Dentsu Creative