Alan Chu is a Graduate Designer from renowned creative agency, DigitalLBi. Alan shares his journey from college, university through to landing his all important first job at DigitasLBi.
Describe the path to where you are now
Every time I describe my path I think about the time when I was 14. For work experience I was trying to find places to work and I really wanted to do something creative, but I didn’t want to do what a lot of my fellow friends were doing, retail work and all that. I wanted to get into something creative but I wasn’t too sure where and how.
A charity called The Ideas Foundation came to my school and offered a two weeks work experience where across the first week I worked on a project promoting my local town, Woolwich, which is, by reputation not a great place. After the second week I started at Leo Burnett advertising and it was crazy learning about all these new roles that I had never been exposed to before because in school they don’t teach you about any of these creative roles.
"I wanted to get into something creative but I wasn’t too sure where and how."
Since then I became part of Scholars Council, who are a youth advisory board for the Ideas Foundation. We represent young people, help run projects, do presentations and are ambassadors on behalf of the Ideas Foundation. I helped them run the Creative Media Camp, being a co-project manager across 2 years for it. I began building a portfolio - bringing together experiences working in the creative industry, projects working with young people, not necessarily designing stuff, but just anything creative and by doing so it gave me kind of substance to my applications to university.
I applied to study graphic design, but I was going the year before the tuition fees were set to rise, so doing creative courses I had to do a foundation, but then I couldn’t afford to do a foundation and pay the extra £9000 so I had to just go for it – the best decision I ever made.
"It was crazy learning about all these new roles that I had never been exposed to before..."
I got a place in Bournemouth University of the Arts to study BA (Hons) Graphic Design. I studied hard, slept late, drank loads of coffee and then graduated. While still working with The Ideas Foundation doing other projects, I managed to get other connections and meet new people, which gave myself confidence to get out there. And then luckily a couple of months after I graduated I applied for a job at DigitasLBi and got a job as Graduate Designer, and 8 months later I’m still here.
What attracted you to design?
When I was around 14 or before, I saw the Cadbury’s Gorilla advert on TV and that got me really excited about advertising and creative industries. It was just an advert that was so different to everyone else and it advertised it so deliciously, so creatively and it kind of didn’t need to actually mention the brands name until the end of the advert.
It was something that I found connects with you emotionally and began to interest me. How to connect with your audience in an emotional and social way - understanding how people react and how they tick then bringing that to design.
How did you land your job at Digitas LBi?
So after university you are panicking, thinking I now need to find a job. I searched through tonnes of websites, a handful of blogs and all these people to contact. So I picked out all of those and then narrowed down the top places where I wanted to be.
I applied to all these places and one was the DigitasLBi application, it was really simple actually, it’s advertisement was literally just ‘if you like being creative or making hacks happen, or hacking things’ then I was like ok, seems interesting, looked at their website and what caught me was that most of their work was based around emotional impact and storytelling.
Weeks later I got an email asking if I wanted to interview as they really liked my portfolio. Interviewed by Abi and Simon, who are my creative directors and both amazing people, I presented my portfolio and explained my processes and thoughts. Within two days later I got the job, as a Junior Designer, and to get that after graduating felt like finally three years paid off. I started in September, and been here ever since.
Could you talk us through your typical day?
I get into the office in Brick Lane, which is surrounded by lots of creativity. We all sit in teams so its very collaborative. In the morning we all stand up and explain what we did the previous day and what we hope to do that day, so everyone gets a little grasp of where each other is at and also if they think anything is missing or have anything to say on what is going to happen in the next couple of days.
"If sometimes you feel stuck there are places in the building you can walk it off, get a breather..."
After that we all get given our roles, we work together with UX, thinking about will this work, will that work, and then because its so collaborative everyone is just bouncing ideas off each other. And if sometimes you feel stuck there are places in the building where you can walk it off, get a breather, go into the terrace area and get some inspiration. It’s just really nice and you don’t feel so restricted.
Whats the best part of your job?
I think what makes me most happy is the exploration stage, only because you get the chance to discuss ideas with creative people and if you have an idea and somebody says ‘oh that’s great, but maybe we could add a bit of this’, then each time you add a little magic.
"Making the stuff is perfecting it whilst the whole exploration process is more energetic."
Making the stuff is perfecting it whilst the whole exploration process is more energetic, more collaborative and fun.
Whats the worst part of your job?
The worst part of my job is early mornings and I guess if the client has lots of feedback and changes to make, when you just want to get it done, and there are late nights, but I think thats about it.
Do you have any mottos or rules that you live by?
It’s not really a rule in life, more of a motto, but since I’ve been designing at DigitasLBi I’ve been re-evaluating my role as a designer, because at university you’re fresh and you just want to design. But then you question why you want to design, what is my purpose as a designer, then realised the way to be creative is to be curious and when I say that I mean always asking why.
"My motto is always ask why and always be curious."
That way you can push for things getting better, you can push for things working in a different way. My motto is always ask why and always be curious.
What piece of advice would you give to someone thinking about a career in design?
Often when it comes to graphic design a lot of people ask why you do design and some people say ‘because I want to make things pretty’ and okay that’s good, but I feel that’s not the main thing about being a designer. My advice for someone going into design is to really evaluate why you want to be a designer in the first place.
Tons of people can make things pretty, most designers can make everything pretty, but the best designers are also able solve problems or change the way people think in a certain way, and not just in print. You have to be able to be versatile in what you do and respond to change, because you are working in a world where change is happening constantly.
IF YOU COULD SHARE A DESK WITH ANYONE, WHO WOULD IT BE?
I would like to sit next to Alan Watts. Throughout university he got me through some really stressful times because he’s such a motivational speaker. He’s philosophical without the cliche and is just somebody who doesn’t teach you but remind you of the way to look at little things. It’s the gentle reminders that give you a positive outlook in life, which in return reminds me how design can be used positively and purposefully.
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