Aisling Callaghan, Design

I'm Aisling, and I'm a graphic designer

Describe your job

Working in the design department of an advertising agency means your days and weeks are varied – turnaround time on projects can be pretty fast so you’re rarely on a project for long stretches of time, although it does happen occasionally. That means one day I could be designing icons or illustrations, the next I could be animating, and by the end of the week I could be working with type layouts.

At the beginning of a project I’ll be briefed by a creative team who are responsible for coming up with the overarching idea(s). They’ll run through some of these and share rough visuals and design references with me, and we’ll discuss how they want the project to look and feel. I’ll initially explore a broad range of design options which are then honed down periodically in creative and client reviews to reach a finished design that everyone is happy with. This process could take place over the course of a few days or a few weeks, depending on the project and the deadlines we have to work to.

What are the most important skills you need to do your job?

As a designer some of the most important skills you need are obviously the ability to creatively problem-solve and to be able to use the necessary programs, but when you’re working in a larger agency it’s often the more abstract skills that are the most helpful.

Designers come into contact with almost every single other department in the agency and you will probably end up working closely with the entire creative department at some point, so some degree of flexibility is needed to accommodate different working styles and creative preferences.

Other than that, the ability to approach briefs with an open mind and a desire to do things a little differently from the norm can go a long way in creating work that feels authentic and distinctive.

I left school and...

I completed an art foundation at Camberwell College of Arts and went on to do a Graphic & Visual Communication Design degree at the University of Leeds, taking a year out between my second and final year to do an internship at a small design studio back in London. After graduating I decided to take a short break from design and worked an admin job for about 6 months, and then went back to the design studio I interned with as a full-time designer.

After just over a year I took another break to travel around Japan. When I got back I signed up for a portfolio masterclass which was being hosted at an advertising agency in London, left the masterclass with a one month internship at the agency which quickly turned into a full-time job in the design department, and I’ve been working there ever since!

I’m most proud of...

Every year on Instagram, designers, illustrators and visual artists can take part in an annual event called 36 Days of Type (official Instagram: @36daysoftype), where they share their visual take on the letters of the alphabet over the course of 36 days.

In 2018 I decided I wanted to use the event to commemorate my time in Japan so I designed each letter to represent a place, person or thing I experienced on my travels. It took me way longer than the 36 days to complete but it was a true labour of love, with many weekends and late nights after work spent crafting and animating each letter.

You can view the full animated set on my Instagram.

Before I started my career, I wish I knew…

Your job you.

Your job doesn’t have to define you as a designer, particularly if you’re not currently in a role that fulfils you creatively.

This is probably true of lots of job roles but particularly for people in creative roles the work that you do can often feel personal and intrinsically linked to your identity, and in many ways it is – whatever you create often has a little bit of you and your personality or style in it.

But your job won’t always, and might never, completely fulfil you creatively (unless you are very lucky and have landed the unicorn of jobs) and feeling like the success of every working day is an accurate measure of your worth as a designer can end up being detrimental to your self-esteem and mental health.

Work ebbs and flows and there will be good days and bad days – there will be work you enjoy and work you can’t wait to see the back of, work that resonates with and inspires you and work that you never really quite ‘get’, work you can take your time to do it justice and work that you just have to do the best you can with the short time you have. And none of this necessarily reflects on your worth or skill.

I think if I’d understood this earlier on in my career I would have spent much less time feeling inadequate, like I was awful at my job or questioning whether or not I even wanted to be a designer anymore when my job felt tough and uninspiring, or I was struggling with creative block.

A good work/life balance, unapologetic rest when you need it and making sure that there are things that fulfil you creatively outside of work if necessary are all good ways to help keep yourself feeling creatively refreshed, and to prevent your creative identity from being eclipsed by your job if it’s not currently in line with who you are or aspiring to be as a designer.

A mistake I made which you can avoid repeating is...

I think this is a common one but I spent a lot of the early years of my career crippled by the shame of not always knowing what I was doing, and as a result I often didn’t ask for help when I really needed it.

I wish I could go back and tell myself it is 100% okay to not know everything, and it’s absolutely okay to ask for help (top tip: this is true in all aspects of life!).

Everyone has to start somewhere, and anyone currently in a more senior role to you has been where you are right now and should have no qualms with giving you a helping hand up.

The truth is, even now I often feel like I barely know what I’m doing. This is probably a combination of a healthy dose of imposter syndrome but also the fact that I’m still learning and ideally always will be, teaching myself new techniques, programs and processes as I move through my career.

Learning shouldn’t stop just because you’re not in formal education anymore! The design industry is always changing so there will always be things you can be doing to improve your skills and add to your knowledge.

So, what’s next?

I am currently teaching myself how to use Cinema 4D which will (when I finally get the hang of it) allow me to bring my work into 3D/CGI territory - I’m excited to see how that will influence my style and the sort of work I’ll be able to create over the next year or so and beyond.

Thinking more long term, I’d like to open my own design studio and work for myself one day, which will hopefully give me more autonomy over my work process and the type of work that I do.

Beyond that, I have no idea! I have always been a creative person and I’d like to think that I’ll always be designing and making things, but life is unpredictable and there’s so much I haven’t learned or tried yet that could take me in a new direction.

Here's my:

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