What led you into design?
Skateboarding. It’s fearless creative culture inspired me to start making stuff. I managed a skate shop called Sumo in the mid 90’s. I made fanzines about the local skate scene and gave them away to anyone interested. This brought me to the attention of a local design agency called The Designers Republic. These guys were making exciting art for record covers and creating branding and advertising for the fashion, arts and gaming industries. We became friends. After studying graphic design they employed me and threw me in at the deep-end with lots of amazing projects and clients. That’s how it all began.
What does a typical day look like?
I live in Sheffield but I work in London and Salford, so a typical day begins either on a train down to the capital, or in my car driving over the Peak District National Park. My days are mostly filled with meetings, presentations and running workshops or design sprints.
To give you some context, our UX Design department employs over 200 designers, researchers, writers and accessibility specialists. They’re assigned to different products, (News, Sport, iPlayer etc), but collaborate to produce a coherent and joined-up user experience. As UX Principal I move around the business facilitating the very best design thinking and output. I also help introduce UX design to students at a number of Universities in the UK, and speak at conferences all over the world. It’s fair to say that I love my job. I’m always learning and improving my own practice as a design leader. And working for an organisation with a strong public purpose is very rewarding.
What’s your workstation setup?
We have a hot-desking policy at the BBC, so we drop down wherever needed. Here are some pics of our offices in Salford and central London.
Where do you go to get inspired?
I can be inspired by anything, anywhere.
What product have you recently seen that made you think this is great design?
The best design considers people and the environment. I was recently impressed with Just Water - its filtration system and plant-derived packaging. My son Henry is a fan of actor/rapper Jaden Smith who is one of the company’s founders. This has made it a cool product for young people, but also one with an eco-social purpose. A powerful combination.
What pieces of work are you most proud of?
This is always a hard question to answer, but I’ve two pieces I could single out – one I designed, and another I designed to happen.
The first is my contribution to a group exhibition at the Design Museum in 2007. Fifty designers were invited to depict a year in its life of the typeface Helvetica. I was given 1996, the year scientists cloned a sheep which they named Dolly. My response was a simple line drawn cross-section of a pregnant woman hosting a sheep foetus. It’s an unsettling yet elegant illustration. I called it Hello Dolly and deliberately didn’t use any Helvetica.
The second is the BBC’s corporate typeface called BBC Reith. When I joined in 2014 I was seeking ways to move the BBC’s visual identity forward. A new font would help do this – one with a range of styles and weights. This would afford our designers and our output a broader range of expression. At that time we were mostly using Helvetica and Gill Sans. Both were designed 100 years ago for print and don’t perform well on modern digital screens. Plus they were costly to licence. So having our own digitally-fit typeface would fix accessibility issues and save money. After much stakeholder engagement and research we commissioned Dalton Maag to design our new font family. We began implementing BBC Reith across our services in 2017. Its performance and aesthetics continue to test positively with our users. This was a thoroughly rewarding project for all involved. And for me personally, my proudest achievement to-date.
What design challenges do you face at your company?
The BBC is transforming into a truly internet-fit proposition. As we do this we face many challenges - from updating our technical infrastructure to reshaping our creative practices. But design thinking helps change culture and drive innovation. Our designers are collaborating more with editorial, marketing and programme-making colleagues. A large part of my role as Principal is to facilitate such collaboration.
What music do you listen to whilst designing?
Any advice for ambitious designers?
Good communication skills are so important - they make you attractive to clients, employers and colleagues alike. Learn to present your work confidently. Rehearse! Don’t overdo it, or show off. Just be honest and open. Gone are the days of the “TA-DA!” presentation. So share your process and your experiments, and include data that supports your thinking. Being transparent and driven will help instil confidence in your client.
Anything you want to promote or plug?
Learn more about our design practice at the BBC here:bbc.co.uk/gel. And you can follow me on Twitter, although my tweets are often daft and rarely about design. But don’t let that stop you.