Flaminia Rossi and Samantha Whetton, owners of Design Print Bind talked to us about running a small studio, what it's like as a freelancer and the communities they are a part of.
In week 5 of the Spring term, Baseline Shift welcomed Typography & Graphic Communication graduate Seniz Husseyin who talked to the students about her experience within the Department and how it shaped her into wanting to work for social change in the third sector. In June of last year Seniz started working with a charity in Reading called Launchpad and she also shared some of her experiences from there.
University and beyond
Seniz started her degree in 2017 and graduated in 2020. In the beginning she was nervous and doubting her capabilities, however she decided to ignore that and not let it get in the way.
Trying to get the best out of her university experience, Seniz joined the Department’s diversity team in her first year when it was first proposed and each year, along with the increasing opportunities from the team, her confidence and passion to continue working for good social causes grew. That really changed her perspective as a designer and shaped her future career choices. It was no surprise for her when she found out that the designer industry is mostly populated by white males and a lot of the history that is taught reflects the same. Learning about the cultures and ideas within design outside of the western canon was an opportunity she couldn’t miss.
For the years she was part of the diversity team, the team was able to help change the curriculum by incorporating more opportunities for diversity and inclusion to be taught such as the Design for Change module. The diversity team has since given presentations at the RUSU Partnership in Teaching and Learning Showcase and Baseline Shift. Being part of the team also allowed Seniz to meet people from all year groups and other departments, conduct two workshops at Tate Modern and create an annual diversity zine.
Seniz believes that these major parts of her university experience have shaped her into the designer she is today and built up her desire to work on projects for good causes or that will help bring change.
‘I am now more conscious of the companies I want to work for or who I apply for.’
The inclusive experience Seniz had at university and her newly formed mindset towards work led her to apply for a marketing internship for the homeless charity at Launchpad Reading.
Seniz describes Launchpad as Reading’s leading homeless prevention charity. She said they provide information and support for individuals, couples and families who don’t have a stable place to live or are at risk of losing their home. They also provide temporary and permanent homes and rebuild lives through activities, supportive education, training and employment. Seniz was also pleased to find out that it was actually founded as a soup kitchen in 1979 by students at the University of Reading.
Wanting to be involved working for a charity, she thought that having new marketing experience would be really beneficial for her design work. Seniz found the internship through the Reading Internship Scheme, which she highly recommends for finding internships or even voluntary work since experience is extremely beneficial and can set one apart, especially at a time when employers are looking for staff with experience.
In the beginning of her career at Launchpad, she also completed a digital marketing and advertising online course because she wanted to make sure she had basic training while working with the Marketing Team.
Seniz initially started at Launchpad as a marketing intern through the Reading Internship Scheme but after three months of working with them she was offered a Marketing Assistant role.
Even though it was marketing, she was hired because of her design background which provided a huge overlap between both industries. Being able to get this marketing experience really helped Seniz improve as a designer too. Seniz was the first designer employed at the small charity and working with them she helped with their website, fundraising campaigns, social media, email newsletters, video editing and other tasks. Even though her title was Marketing Assistant, she did feel more like an in-house designer. If you are a designer, looking to become more business savvy, Seniz suggests learning some marketing knowledge.
‘Design and Marketing are two sides of the same coin, and what binds them together is the primary focus of understanding and appreciating the user or target consumer.’ Design So Journ, ‘The relationship between design and marketing‘ in designsojourn.com, 2010.
Big Sleep Out
The Big Sleep Out is Launchpad’s annual fundraising event and one of the major projects Seniz has worked on within the charity.
The event takes place on world homeless day – 7 October and 2020 was the fifteenth year the charity was running the event. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, the event was made virtual but this was a daunting new challenge for everyone in the team to adapt to a virtual event.
However, because of that, Seniz felt that she was learning and contributing as much as everyone else on the team and created new digital materials that were specific to what people could use in their homes and plan new strategies. The 2020 event saw a big turnout of people from Berkshire which raised a total of over £50,000 that would go towards preventing homelessness in Reading. The sum was actually double their initial target. When creating the items for the event, Seniz worked with a logo created by an external designer to create all other materials for the event. Part of the promotion for the event was getting the word out to the public, so Seniz had to create large scale work with a visible call to action.
Other materials she designed include the event programme booklet, flyer design and social media banners, all of which were vital. She made sure the text in these was easy and visible to read while keeping engagement throughout.
Seniz aimed to make all of these consistent whilst also adjusting to the specifications. She also designed downloadable content that participants could use to create more recognition and support for the charity, such as the event pack.
Working through a pandemic
A big part for Seniz within this role was working through a pandemic. While new, it did come with some advantages. Knowing that everyone is going through it together for the first time actually made staff grow as a team. They learned new skills such as how to adapt in constant changing circumstances and within unknown times. Working from home also meant she had to do less travelling.
Some challenges included having most of the charity’s events cancelled, and when adapting to the new online way of doing things, there wasn’t enough time to plan it out properly. Starting a new job this way did feel overwhelming but Seniz never felt left out.
Seniz is no longer working for Launchpad but some of her last projects for the charity included designing some of the external and internal signage at a new Life and Skill centre called Launchpad 135.
Another thing she was also working on was the charity’s brand refresh which included all publication materials. Overall she hopes to continue her career in the sector.
Seniz said if there is anything she would want us to take away from her presentation it would be to make use of everything the Department offers and pursue our interests in designing for good causes. Being able to see first hand how her work helped people through feedback and client stories was so motivating and she certainly didn’t have this mindset in first year but the Department really did help introduce her into this lane through certain modules and projects. Her advice is to grab all the different opportunities we have because they can open many doors and she definitely recommends being a part of these even if it is out of our comfort zone.
‘It was nice to see how someone with a similar path and experience to me has gone on to do cool stuff and make a career. Very comforting especially that she managed it in this current chaos – shows how far hard work actually gets you!’ – Part 3 student
‘I always value the talks from past students because I feel like there’s a bit of a gap between uni and working in my head so it’s valuable to learn what others did afterwards to make that step.’ – Part 1 student
In week 4 of the Spring term, Baseline Shift had the pleasure to host a talk by Achilles Gerokostopoulos – a graduate of the department who has lots of experience in software, tech and corporate communication. Currently working at the Irish National Lottery in Dublin, Achilles’ career involves working in design teams which is what he talked about in the session.
Working in a team is the alpha and omega of design at the moment
Achilles’ career path is a very interesting one. He graduated from The University of Reading’s Typography & Graphic Communication department in 2004 and found work in various aspects of design after that. At first he was very interested in editorial design; working for art directed magazines such as Esquire in Greece while also doing some design consulting for newspapers. In fact, one of the newspapers he worked on in Greece – Eleftheros Typos, was awarded Best Designed European Newspaper in 2007. After the Greek economy crashed Achilles decided to move to Amsterdam where he got into tech design. There, he worked as a design director in the gaming sector and a while after he began a freelance career in design consultancy which led him to Dublin. At the moment he has just begun working as a design lead for the Irish National Lottery.
Through these numerous jobs Achilles gained a lot of knowledge on how teamwork happens and what it is like to work in product development – ‘One of the likeliest industries you might be absorbed in’, he says. That is why he decided to tell our students a bit more about design in product development as well as the inner circles and relationships between design teams, developers, businesses and users.
With the rise of digital businesses, design is emerging again
From his experience, Achilles suggests that more and more businesses are going digital. During this process they realise the importance of design and how it will help them develop further in the digital sphere. He also mentioned that old companies have recently bought design companies to have them as in-house teams, the trend of working with or alongside designers when developing a business is on the rise. This results in an increase of designers being absorbed in the business industry early on in their professional careers and working with stakeholders, businesses, users and development commonly.
Achilles continued with a graphic (shown below) of the core stakeholders in product design. He stated that any product starts with users and their needs.
‘In product development a lot of your work will be finding out as much as you can about the users.’
Then there is the business – it is set up to address a particular user or consumer need, and usually sells that as a product or service.
And finally, development – they are the group of people that are called upon to implement and produce the business’s idea.
‘Design sits at the intersection of all these.’
Working in product development, Achilles says, there will be people whose needs you’ll be needing to address and you have to balance a lot of people’s wishes and needs.
Design has two major sets of functions
Achilles explained how digital product development design can be seen to perform two major sets of functions.
First are the exploratory functions which mainly deal with exploring and defining the problem space. Designers answer questions such as: What needs to be designed and why? Some common practices in the process feature creating workshops, conducting user research, collaborative ideation and process / journey mapping.
Second are the prescriptive functions which deal with translating the requirements into specifications and design assets that development can implement. This includes design specifications, graphic design, interaction design, and design system development.
Once you understand these functions, Achilles said, especially in larger companies, you get to the organisation of the design teams which perform these functions most effectively within the context of a company or organisation.
From his experience Achilles suggests that there are two broad models for design in product development.
The agency model: where the design resources are concentrated and function like an internal agency – centralised design organisation using waterfall development, and the embedded design model: where design resources are distributed across various product teams, using agile development. Of course, these are only two edges of a full spectrum of models since companies differ in their implementation of design teams and one can definitely recognise some that are in between but Achilles points these two main ones out.
Achilles thinks that both models have their advantages and disadvantages, and largely depend on the structure of the company – the larger the company with a number of development teams, the more likely they’ll be using the embedded model.
Communication and coordination
After going over the different models, Achilles continued by describing the methods we can use to coordinate design efforts. He suggested that in either model, there will be several kinds of stakeholders and the designer is in the center. He showed a graphic where these are displayed in concentric circles by proximity of concerns to the Designer.
Design systems and common rituals
In order to communicate and coordinate with the stakeholders, Achilles recommended the use of design systems and common rituals.
Design systems consist of a common set of approaches to particular design problems, a common repository of design assets for use by all designers, a well maintained design documentation and a fully developed pattern library. Being a rather old concept, Achilles said that from his experience they have been an absolute necessity for most editorial design, especially newspapers. He also mentioned that recently there have been a lot of new tools emerging to help the development and use of digital design systems.
Common rituals, on the other hand, Achilles said, are one the easiest parts of the process, but also the one most commonly neglected. They, however, are very important in order to help the team and stakeholders with knowledge transfer, create a more cohesive team, promote spontaneous communication and avoid repeating the same mistakes.
What should you do?
To end his presentation Achilles decided to give some tips to our students if they ever find themselves being the new designer in a product development team. His three main insights were ASK, CODE, CHANGE.
First is to never be afraid to ask questions, Achilles said. As a young designer there will be a lot of things you don’t know, and you won’t come out of university fully formed. He suggests that your first job should be a learning experience.
Second, in a product design environment it is essential that you understand how technology works. Especially the closer you are to the visual design. You don’t need to become an expert but it helps to understand the underlying systems, but also some more abstract concepts. This will help with communicating with developers, but it will also greatly improve your design skills.
And third is to not be afraid of change. Life happens, things get thrown in your way and you’ll need to adapt. When things don’t work, and your circumstances aren’t conducive to your happiness, change your circumstances. It’s not easy, it’s not always fun, but it’s better than staying still.
Here is a document with some useful links Achilles suggested for students interested in this topic to look through: Links
‘I really liked the general view of the sort of workflow for designers in the future, the small bits and pieces that you can only get from a designer who has been in the market for a while with a diverse background.’ – MA student
‘It was great to hear such professional insight on the real models of businesses concerning designers.’ – Part 1 student
Baseline Shift is a series of design talks, events and workshops organised by a team of students for students at the department of Typography & Graphic Communication for the duration of the Autumn and Spring term. These talks happen on a weekly basis – every Wednesday, and are usually led by guest lecturers who are professionals in the subject. They aim at helping students expand and redefine their understanding of what a designer is, and what design can do.
I joined the team in the summer before the beginning of my third year at the department which made my job a bit challenging but also very engaging because of the ongoing pandemic. Since in-person teaching and events were limited to a minimum, the team had decided that all the talks for the upcoming year would be happening online.
These talks had already been happening for a few years now so the team and I were provided with guidelines which were written by past students who had been working on Baseline Shift.
As a team we organised a few initial meetings between ourselves and the client – James Lloyd. These happened over the summer and we discussed how the new online events would commence in the upcoming year, what changes we might introduce to the guidelines and the talks, and how we would make them digital friendly, as well as discussing potential speakers we might invite.
In the first stages of the job we had to do a lot of research on how we might introduce new alterations to the branding as well as strategies for promoting the events online and in the department so that students would be aware of the importance and benefits of the sessions and come to our talks. We also had to look up potential speakers and suggest four whose talks we believe would be meaningful and engaging for students in different years – from Part 1s up to MAs. Since Welcome week was beginning on the 21 September, we had to get everything done and signed off by James by the 18.
Working as a team, we managed to decide on speakers, rethink Baseline Shift’s branding, including poster design and screen graphics, talk about roles in the team during the year and set up all of the promotional materials in one single InDesign file for ease of use.
For speakers, I suggested four, but after a unanimous decision we only picked one of mine, which was the Bulgarian graphic and motion design Studio Four Plus who later went on to give a wonderful presentation.
For changes in the branding, I personally worked on creating animations for Baseline Shift’s Instagram story, animations for Baseline Shift’s Facebook posts and an animation to be played on the department screen. All of these you can see below.
After organising a plan of action, the team started splitting into roles. We had two main ones: Promotion – two team members responsible for the creating and posting of promotional materials, and Attendance and blog writing – two team members responsible for attending Baseline shift (run on Blackboard Collaborate this year) to run, gather from and document the sessions each term.
In the spring term I was grouped with another member of the team to do promotion, which meant I had to overlook the designs she created for every weekly event, make sure one of us posted promotional materials on Facebook and Slack (for MA students) on Monday and Instagram story on Tuesday, update the department screen graphics every Wednesday, take down and put away the old posters and print, cut and hang the posters for the new session on Wednesday.
I also voluntarily handled all speaker contact in the duration of my time on the team which gave me the opportunity to make some lasting contacts within the design industry as well as improve my communication skills.
After a successful spring term, the team decided to meet up during winter break to talk about changes in the roles for next term as well as some updates on some of the branding material. We were looking for a new message for the department screen stating that Baseline Shift sessions would be back soon to be played during the break. I worked to create a new message which you can see attached below, however we decided that there was no need for such a message since there was no one in the department during that time.
For the second term, the whole team switched roles so that everyone could experience every part of the job, which I believe was smart. That meant it was me and my partner’s turn to attend the sessions and write blog posts afterwards. We decided that at first I would be leading the sessions and taking notes while she would also be taking notes but write the blog posts afterwards which I then overlooked.
I really liked this role since it challenged my fear of speaking in public, however having all talks online over Blackboard Collaborate made it a bit easier. Also, my camera did not need to be switched on which was great! I even got a few emails back from our guests saying that I had done ‘excellent chaperoning’.
For some of the sessions me and my partner switched our attendance roles and she was the one leading the session while I had to write the blog posts. To be honest, this role was a bit more challenging but I’ve always had a problem with writing which I also managed to challenge working on this job and even slightly overcome.
I really enjoyed being part of the Baseline Shift team and am even sorry that I was this late in joining and was only able to do it for one year. I believe this is a job that allows students to develop a range of skills from design and professional communication to public speaking and writing. I would recommend this job to anyone even slightly interested in developing their professional skills in all of these and other directions as well as to people looking to expand their contacts in the design world.
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