In the penultimate week of Spring term, we had the honour of being joined by two Reading alumni: product designers, Peter Wright and Kelly Batchelor. In this session, both guests shared insight into the ups and downs in their broad and successful careers in an engaging and inspiring talk, really displaying the number of possibilities lying ahead for Reading graduates.
In 2001, Peter joined the University of Reading, attending six different courses in his stay, from Spanish to Maths before settling on the Department of Typography & Graphic Communication. Peter explains he is often motivated by new things and would form a pattern in his career from working in various different companies in a number of roles.
Initially working in advertising, Peter learned to code, and tell stories within client-facing agencies for clients such as Honda and Mercedes. Before it was commonplace, he worked on in-store touch screen experiences for, as well as creating 3d walkthroughs of cars for Audi.
Peters’s next job was unlike any other, working for the London 2012 Olympic Games. The International Athletic federation wanted their creative platform redesigned for opening and closing ceremonies. This would include both physical handout memorial brochures and online services. Here, Peter would get to witness history, attending rehearsals and meeting athletes, as well as planning a photoshoot with the Olympic torch.
Chapter three in Peter’s career took him close to his users, something he really enjoyed experiencing. This was whilst leading design for an internal innovation hub at M&S. He spent time with the most senior people in the company and the Head of Research, discovering what problems they had in order to compose a digital or physical solution. This resulted in having vending machines for hosiery and providing a recipe app for users.
His next posts was at a mental health start up app called Utter, where millions were raised to help build a platform that would allow people to better communicate with people suffering mental health conditions. Peter connected well with this project, as he himself had to have a year out of university in 2002 due to mental health issues. Unfortunately a suitable product market couldn’t be found and the project was eventually with money returned, however, Peter does not rule out revisiting the project in the future.
The challenges wouldn’t stop there for Peter, who’s next projects were at Google, helping small–medium businesses grow on Google Maps. Working for Google brought many career benefits yet proved be a difficult political challenge and, after a year, he joined a different team to work on wearables, specifically the smartwatch system, ‘Wear OS’. The fundamentals of the operating system and third–party applications for mental health and fitness were already in place. However, working on such a small screen (30mmx30mm) with limited memory brought many limitations.
‘Your never bored as long as you’re learning’–Peter Wright
Peter was not prepared to stop learning, and moved on once again, this time to Spotify, the massively popular music streaming application. Most music apps have very similar products and functions to offer, as well as maintaining a similar interface. Peter’s job here was to help differentiate Spotify from the competition. One of the product launches was ‘car thing’, a screen for older cars that do not have Apple or Google car tech built-in. Another was a small physical hardware device that plays music via Spotify.
Maintaining Peter’s trend of working with big companies, he would advance further in his career, his next stop, Facebook. The choice to join Facebook (now Meta), was a conflicting one for Peter regarding design ethics and whether Facebook does more harm than good in the world. However, he joined the team due to the Oversight board team. This team consists of global human rights experts that control content moderation justification over Facebook, reporting content based upon the set policies. Peter describes this team as a kind of Supreme Court for online free speech within Facebook – they would have ethical debates within their team to ensure respect for free expression through independent judgement. As well as spending time on the public facing website, Peter also worked with the Tooling team, helping them be more efficient, and here he would work much closer with the user base, something Peter enjoys. Further duties included data transparency. Peter, believing heavily in ethical design, also believes that all company data should be made publicly available. He would therefore, work across the company to give journalists better access to information regarding how Facebook works. It holds Facebook to account and separates journalism into fact and fiction.
Currently, Peter is redefining and diversifying one of the world’s biggest sites, the de facto for breaking news, Twitter. Meanwhile, Peter also has a sustainable toy company which he founded with his brothers, Playpress. This is a cardboard pop-out construction toy and even has some licensing, for example The Gruffalo.
After graduating in 2014, Kelly had small panic about life, with no solid career plan in place after graduation. Despite that, like Peter, Kelly has had an exciting and varied career that would teach her priceless life lessons and design skills. She had no wealth of technological background, but formed her own career journey, a path outlined in her motivating talk for the department.
For 18 months, Kelly worked for a Junior Designer at the University of Reading’s Design & Print Studio, putting into practice the work she had learnt during her time here. However, she had her heart set on a job in London, and would send out applications for agency jobs, consequently landing a job for Hot Pickle as Junior Designer. This company focuses on food and drink clients, with lots of brands and marketing campaigns, with Kelly working with Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream. She learned new and unusual printing techniques, creating sandwich holders and cut-out signs, and learnt how to wrap a camper van with a Ben and Jerry design. Besides experience, skills and a pay check, the job also provided the benefit of free ice cream.
Whilst working for Hot Pickle, Kelly also worked for Magnum ice cream and lots of print-based designs, yet after 2 years of work, Kelly had no digital work to show on a portfolio besides a few digital banners. She began to get itchy feet, and when she saw the BBC training scheme advertising for people who have little to no UX experience, it was exactly what she was after. As a UX trainee, Kelly learned the fundamentals of UX design and tested with real users and prototypes. The training scheme was a success, working for nine months on BBC Radio, news, weather and music, refining skills, testing users and gaining new experiences as well as working in a great atmosphere seeing lots of celebrities.
After completing the trainee scheme, Kelly became a junior UX designer at BBC Sounds before becoming a middleweight UX designer and returning to the University of Reading to teach what she had learnt to undergraduates for a term. Working at BBC Sounds offered the opportunity to work from scratch, discussing with users about what they would like in the app to help improve it. Some feedback explained that circular images are often linked to live media, thank to things like live Instagram stories. This information would shape the live radio section of the app, highlighting the importance of having communication with the users of what you’re creating. Kelly loved collaborating with other people on a project, but after three years wanted to venture into start–ups, and so became a product designer at Culture Trip.
Culture Trip is a travel app Kelly helped design the app for mobile devices. However, as it was about to launch, the Covid 19 pandemic hit the world. Luckily the app is still standing today despite this and is still successful. But Kelly was already looking for new opportunities, seeing as people could not travel during the pandemic. Whilst searching for new jobs, Kelly came across Gousto, a company that makes recipe kits and sends them to your door as a meal box subscription service.
Kelly became Product Designer at Gousto with the vision to be the nation’s favourite way to eat dinner. Its main focus is to give customers tasty recipes and a seamless experience in every part of the journey. The user journey design team is split into 6 sectors called tribes. Within these tribes are squads. This is to get a very granular and focused, detailing on specific areas of the user journeys – and Kelly dabbled in all of them. Kelly has a rule where she will never allow herself to be bored in a job, if that occurs it’s time to move along.
‘Don’t get too comfy, you’ll become stagnant’–Kelly Batchelor
A mutual lesson from these talks was – say ‘Yes!’. Many new opportunities reveal themselves along a career path, and no-one has to stay in one job forever when there is so much to learn in new settings. Both Peter and Kelly showed this perfectly throughout their career journeys from graduate to esteemed and experienced designers in so many fields. Some jobs are more fun than others, but at the end of the day, the lessons learnt throughout and the relationships forged are priceless.
‘Hearing from both designers about their careers and their advice on how to tackle a career in design was very insightful for me.’ – Part 1 student
‘Interesting telling of their stories, felt very engaging.’ – Part 1 student