Creative Lives — “Working with people is everything” – art director and senior designer at Halo, Andy German

Posted 18 July 2017 Interview by Marianne Hanoun

Growing up in an all-dancing, all-singing household, it’s no surprise that Andy German went on to study music at university. But it was working at Bath Spa’s concert venues, and designing posters for bands that encouraged him to pick up design magazines and watch online tutorials. Looking for a change of scene, he moved to Bristol in 2013 where he is currently an art director and senior designer at brand agency, Halo. 

Andy German

Job Title

Art Director and Senior Designer, Halo (2013–present)

Based

Bristol

Previous Employment

Volunteer Graphic Designer, Ministry of Stories (2011–2014)
Graphic Designer, JWT London (2010–2013)
Graphic Designer, DUO Boots (March–August 2010)
Freelance designer (2007–2010)

Education

BA Commercial Music, Bath Spa University (2002–2005)

Social Media

Inside Halo

Day-to-Day

How would you describe your job?
My role at Halo is twofold. With my art director hat on, I oversee all of the creative output that comes out of the studio and ensure that it is of a high standard. I am also involved with briefing designers from the beginning of a project and helping them deliver their work by reviewing and critiquing it as they go along.

In my role as a senior designer I work on lots of concept work for identities, packaging, websites, adverts and brochure and magazine layouts. It’s pretty varied but my strengths lie in brand and packaging. After concepts have been signed off by clients I will then oversee the work with our other designers right through to completion.

What does a typical working day look like?
My commute takes about an hour. I travel in by bike and train from a town outside of Bristol. I like having time to myself in the morning to either read, watch TV episodes, do bits of work on my laptop, or play Football Manager like the absolute dude that I am. I work from 9.30am to 6pm, and I’m pretty lucky that I rarely work late – Halo has a good work-life balance.

We start our day with a quick meeting so everyone knows what everyone else is doing, then we get cracking! My days are pretty varied depending on what projects I have on. If there is a big brand project or website, then my most of my time will be taken up with that, but I’m always helping out with other members of the deign team, or signing off work. We often have clients in and I will present work or discuss new briefs with them in the studio, or at their offices with members of our accounts team. Oh, and some of us will play Mario Kart at lunchtime, without fail. We take Mario Kart very seriously. I once put my job on the line for Mario, unfortunately for my bosses, I won.

“I once put my job on the line for Mario, unfortunately for my bosses, I won.”

How did you land your current job? 
I saw the job on the Bristol Media jobs board while I was working in London. I fancied a change and wanted to move my family back to the south west, where I studied. I applied for quite a few roles in the area, but lacked the skills in packaging that quite a few of them required. It’s a bit of an in-joke that Halo were the only agency in Bristol that would employ me…(un)lucky for them, whichever way you look at it!

When applying for Halo, I had quite broad skills and did lots of self-initiated projects, plus I had worked on some big global brands, so I think that put me in good stead. The role also required packaging skills – which, at the time, I had none of – but the guys thought that (as with many disciplines) it’s all about having the right creative approach and skills that can be applied to different disciplines. They took a gamble on me, and it turned out pretty well! I’d also like to think that I’m quite a confident in my abilities and as a person, which must have come through in the interview process.

Where does the majority of your work take place?
I’m in front of my computer 95% of the time, but I’m happy with that as the studio environment at Halo is great. Everyone gets on, we play music, we talk about everything and anything and above all, try to have a good time while we’re doing it. In agencies you need to be quite thick-skinned as everyone likes a joke. At Halo we can get a bit rowdy; if you don’t join here with a nickname, you will get one. Mine are G-dog, G-Money, Legend…take your pick.

How collaborative is your role?
Our studio is very collaborative – ideas can come from anywhere, and as design is very subjective it’s good to have opinions from as many people in the studio as possible. We also like to collaborate with our clients too, and quite often the best work comes when the client is really involved.

“In your career you are going to to encounter a lot of rejection. Patience and being able to keep a cool head is key for any designer.”

At work in the studio

In the studio

In the studio

What are the most and least enjoyable aspects of your job? 
For me, getting to be creative every day is amazing. I work with people who I really get on with, and have fun whilst doing it. There are always things that are less enjoyable than others; filling out time sheets is never fun.

What has been the most exciting project of the last twelve months? 
The rebrand for Butcombe Brewery was a huge piece of work. Zoe Veness, our creative brand manager, ran the project and the account, and everyone on the design and artwork teams worked on it. I worked closely with our creative partner Nick Ellis and was in charge of designing the identity and packaging for the beer and then steering the brand in the right direction.

What skills are essential to your job?
Patience and being able to keep a cool head is key for any designer. In your career you are going to to encounter a lot of rejection. The ideas and designs you have spent hours pouring your heart and soul into will get rejected, but the moment they don’t makes it all worthwhile. Being able to conceptualise ideas is also really important. I can’t spend too long on the finer details in early stages of projects as they might not be right, so it’s good to self-critique as you go along.

“It’s really important to be creating as much as you can, whenever you can. You never know where your next idea will come from.”

Do you run any side projects alongside your job?
Yes, I do work for family and friends, album artwork for bands and artists I know and lots of little personal projects. I think it’s really important to be creating as much as you can, whenever you can. A creative mind never switches off. You never know where your next idea will come from.

You aren’t always going to have the opportunity early on in your career to do the work you want to do, so you should be making that work in your spare time. The bottom line is: if you want to get hired for doing the work you love to do, then you need to do it. It can be fictional personal projects, or little bits of freelance here and there. 

What tools do you use most for your work? 
First and foremost, pen and paper. I have a sketchbook on me at all times and use a light box for quickly sketching ideas alongside cutting boards and double-sided tape for mocking up packaging or brochures. I also use an iMac and a MacBook pro when I’m on the go with Illustrator, InDesign, Photoshop and Font Explorer to manage my fonts.

Halo's rebrand for Butcombe Brewery

Halo's rebrand for Butcombe Brewery

Halo's rebrand for Butcombe Brewery

How I Got Here

What did you want to be growing up?
A rock star, I’m all about the glory!

What influence has your upbringing had on your work?
I’ve always been involved in the creative world; my family are performers and were always singing and dancing round the house, and that’s what I got into from a young age. Performing has given me confidence, especially when presenting internally and to clients. I collaborated with musicians in my teens and early twenties which helped me with my approach to the design process now – working with people is everything. 

How (if at all) is the subject you studied useful to your current role?
Not massively. I studied a music course and wanted to be a musician, but I got to design lots of cool band and venue posters and learnt to deal with musicians – some of whom are the slowest clients and impossible to track down!

What were your first jobs? 
Whilst I was at university, I worked at the uni’s concert and theatre venues running the bar and front of house. I carried on working there after I graduated, and then ran their marketing and booking of artists. Designing the brochureware and posters for the events held there is how got into design commercially. I left there to do freelance design work and then my first actual design job for a company was at DUO Boots where I was their in-house designer, working on campaign designs, catalogues and websites.

“The bottom line is: if you want to get hired for doing the work you love to do, then you need to do it.”

Andy at work

What in particular helped you the most at the start of your career? 
Two people: my friend Kara Ford who gave me the job at DUO Boots and another friend, Lee Casey, who now owns a creative agency called Hatched London, who got me the role at JWT in London. I interned there for a week, then a role came up a few months later. That was all down to Lee. I still won’t stop badgering him for advice, poor guy.

Was there a particular project you worked on that helped your development?
I worked on a rebrand for Toby Carvery whilst at JWT. As an advertising agency, they don’t usually do brand projects. I took the design lead on the project so it was a steep learning curve but fun to be involved in. Looking back now, it wasn’t the greatest project I’ve worked on, but I learnt a lot about how to develop brand ideas from one of my mentors, Iain Cadby, who used to work at Why Not Associates.

What skills have you learnt along the way? 
Having Mac and Creative Suite skills is obviously important as a designer; you need to be able to navigate around your software confidently. But the more important skills that stay with you over time are ones you learn when working on projects, from dealing with other people and stress to juggling different projects at the same time.

What’s been your biggest challenge? 
Probably learning to be a designer. I’m self-taught, so I learnt how to do everything by reading magazines, doing tons of tutorials online, and sharing my work with people and asking them questions.

Is your job what you thought it would be? 
I didn’t really have any preconceptions about what my job would be, as I learnt things as I went along. Things like working late and who to answer to, I just learnt on the job.

Andy at work

In the studio

At work

Future

What would you like to do next? 
My most immediate goal is to buy a house, ha! I’m getting old! But career wise I’m keen to continue learning more and striving to create better work.

Could you do this job forever?
I think my role will change over time, I can’t be a designer for ever. But I would love to for as long as I can! Living and working abroad would be nice.

What do you feel is the natural career progression for someone in your current position?
Probably moving on to a design director role and then creative director.

Words of Wisdom

What advice would you give to a young creative wanting to become an art director and designer?
Listen, ask questions, and stop thinking you know everything. We are always learning new things. I think its also important to immerse yourself in design too. You have to live and breathe creativity in your life to be able to fully understand it and to create the best work you can. 

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