Early this year, the Design Department at Goldsmiths welcomed back a few of its graduates for a series of talks on career paths post-graduation; one of them was Nick Marsh, currently Vice President Product Designer at Lost My Name, a company which sells personalised children’s books.
Lost My Name is a very fast-growing business: it went from 12 to 100 employees since Nick joined, and currently publishes Britain’s best-selling children’s book. Nick’s role is mostly a managing one, and involves answering questions that are vital to the development of the company: “What products should we make? How do we define what market we’re in? What’s the relationship between the story worlds that we have? Should we design all our products ourselves or should we work with outside design companies or outside design teams?” Their model is an unusual one for publishing, as only books which are bought are printed, so the product is constantly improved, much like software.
Nick talked to Goldsmiths students about his own beginnings on the BA Design course, and even showed them his very first website, handled in HTML tables with inlined styles: “I did a lot of different things at Goldsmiths, I did graphics, made some furniture, but later on the course was when I really got into web design”. He joined forces on web design projects with students from other departments, such as Computing and Sociology, in a time where the Internet boom was only just starting to happen. Also while at Goldsmiths, he was an art director and designer for the college magazine [smiths]: “That was really important in terms of doing work outside of the course, real work that was actually made and produced, print design.”
Nick’s post-graduation trajectory included service design studio Engine (with clients such as Phillips and Mercedes-Benz), and Sidekick Studios, his first leadership role, where “we positioned ourselves as helping big companies to behave more like start-ups.” The next milestone in his career was Makeshift, an agency where the designers built “start-ups”, or, more precisely, self-initiated products and apps to solve problems they identified in their own activity; one of them was the events app Attending.io. Throughout all these different challenges, what kept Nick motivated was working on intellectually stimulating projects with good teams: “I find that looking at photos of the different teams [I’ve worked with], they get bigger and bigger, it’s really interesting to take that knowledge of what makes a good design team and put it into practice at another scale.”
What did Nick learn from his time as a Goldsmiths student? “The BA course, when I did it, gave you a very deep foundation for thinking about the design work that you do. Goldsmiths is thinking about the design behind the design, why you’re doing stuff, what it will mean. If you can really make the most of that, it’s a great foundation for being a leader in the world of design.” Other important lessons learned were taking responsibility for one’s own work, and collaborating with people from different fields. “A lot of the projects I did were when I went out and hung out with guys from the Computer Science course, hung out with guys from Sociology, spent time with Fine Arts students, found ways to rally them into the projects that I wanted to do. I would say: since I left Goldsmiths I’ve never done a project by myself, and the best projects are a combination of skills”.
Nick also encouraged current students to use their studies as a safe space to develop themselves, and to look for work, ideas and inspiration by getting out into the world as much as possible. “The more people you meet, the more variety you encounter, the problem of finding an idea for your project just inverts itself completely and becomes the opposite, there are too many ideas, too much to do, which things should we do?”
Most of all, students should not be in too much of a hurry to leave school: “Being on this course and having time to do things that you personally want to do is an extremely luxurious situation to be in. You won’t get to do this again. So in this time, try to figure out what you love doing and do it as much as you can, because this is a short time that you have to explore those ideas. Make sure you’re having fun, it’s a good measure that you’re doing things right.”
You can also (re-)read our first article in this series, with Kirsty Minns from the Future Laboratory.