Creative Lives — Getting things started: Co-founder and Director at Warriors, Beth Wilson

Posted 27 September 2017 Interview by Marianne Hanoun

When Microsoft Excel is your saviour, you can’t help but see beauty in numbers. Just ask Warriors and GDFS co-founder and director, Beth Wilson, whose love of numbers initially put her on the path to becoming an accountant. But after a short stint on a business degree, she decided to swap digits for design at Edinburgh College of Art, where she ended up meeting fellow founder, James Gilchrist. Numbers still play an important part in the day-to-day running of the studio and festival, where the freedom of being self-employed can be curbed by the sacrifices involved in running two companies. While Beth can’t imagine working long hours forever, the job itself is definitely for the keeping (at least, when she’s not being professionally ghosted.) She shares some of her industry insights, tells us about her aspirations to start a golf travel business and why you should always listen to your mum. 

Beth Wilson

Job Title

Director, Warriors (2014–present)

Based

Glasgow

Education

BA Graphic Design, Edinburgh College of Art, (2011–2014)

Website
Social Media

Inside Warriors Studio

Day-to Day

How would you describe your job?
A plate spinner: my role is to keep everything moving! For Warriors and Graphic Design Festival Scotland, I take care of the administration, finance, project management, task-lists, responding to emails, business development, starting projects, dealing with clients, staffing and everything and anything else. Basically, all the unglamorous work. I also do some design work when I can!

What does a typical working day look like?
Everyday can be different, whether it’s working from home or in the studio, until seven at night or three in the morning, however, the average day of work is around 11 hours. At 10am, I’ll check emails, social media and our WhatsApp ‘Team Supreme’ group chat messages. I’ll drive to the studio around 12pm, eat lunch, catch up with James and Victoria and start the working day! We work Mondays and Fridays from home, as we often achieve more by working separately two days per week. This also saves time and money on travel and keeps everyone in a sweet mood! I recently had to keep track of my day for a project for Adobe’s Hovering Art Directors partnership organised by It’s Nice That.

I’m not sure if we have the life-work balance completely right. We work more hours per week then any of my friends or family, however it certainly helps that I love what I do and most days are a pleasure. Week days and nights are completely dedicated to work, however the Saturday morning off is an absolute blessing. The freedom attached to self-employment makes up for this though, being able to take a holiday whenever you want, golf on a Tuesday afternoon and, travel the world in a moment’s notice is beautiful. 

How did you land your current job? 
As co-founder of both Warriors and GDFS, I was lucky enough not to interview for the role. 

Inside the studio

Where does the majority of your work take place?
40% of my work takes place in the studio and the other 60% at home. The majority of the day is sadly spent in front of the computer with bouts of discussion with James (director), Victoria (studio manager) and Anthony (junior designer). The studio environment is great, however when concentrating on specific tasks such as invoicing, accounts and proposals, I find it easier to work in isolation with no distraction or conversation. Lonely, but very productive!

How collaborative is your role?
I complete most of my work alone. I run decisions, updates and communications for projects past the Warriors crew on average 10 times per day either face-to-face, via telephone or Facebook messenger depending on where in the world we are working. Sometimes it’s just a 10 second conversation: do you agree? Yes or No? I enjoy that we all have our individual missions, with moments of input, critique and inspiration from each other.

"GDFS was a make-believe college project that nobody – including ourselves – thought would actually happen.”

What are the most and least enjoyable aspects of your job?
The most enjoyable part of my job is the successes. It feels great when you work hard, dedicate time and energy on something and it pays off. The amount of interesting people we have met through both Warriors and GDFS is also incredible, and many of them have turned into close friends. I also think me and James are incredibly lucky to have met each other, work in sync, have complimentary skills and generally get on pretty well. And likewise, now with Victoria and Anthony. Good bunch of troops!

The worst part is spending time on proposals, funding applications, costings, meetings, conversations and emails which are either unsuccessful or when the person responding ‘ghosts’ you. (Ghosting is “the practice of ending a personal relationship with someone by suddenly and without explanation withdrawing from all communication.”) You have to give a little to get a little. 

One of the worst parts of running a design studio is when you agree a certain amount of work with a client and then they suddenly change the boundaries and expect more work to be done for free. The sweet design project then becomes a project of dreaded conversations, emails and negotiating, and gets to the point that you would rather just pay them to go away. I hear myself saying to James, ‘Is this too harsh to write back?’

Graphic Design Festival Scotland branding

Graphic Design Festival Scotland branding

Graphic Design Festival Scotland branding

Poster exhibition at Graphic Design Festival Scotland

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What has been the most exciting project of the last twelve months?
The launch of the GDFS programme and its new brand identity and website. This was months and months in the making, and it feels so exciting and refreshing to share it with the world. We worked with Daniel Ibbotson, Laura Flynn, Tony Dunworth and Gabriel Durnan from Graphical House along with Craig Jardine and James Collings from Infinite Eye. We received a fantastic response this year, and ticket sales are also reflecting this, which is certainly taking the pressure off.

What skills are essential to your job?
Stamina, Passion. Determination. Planning. 

Do you run any side projects alongside your job?
As we run two business, sadly self-initiated projects always fall to the bottom of the priority list. I’ve been threatening to launch a golf travel business for months, but I’m yet to persuade the Warriors crew. This would combine my three loves of design, golf and making money! I love to start things.

What tools do you use most for your work?
Microsoft Excel is my saviour. I use it for all our finances, yearly accounts, ticket sales and funding applications. I find numbers beautiful. The truth, dependability and fact that you know the answer is correct is highly satisfying. We use Google Docs for time sheets, task lists and general information sharing. It’s a great way to keep track of what everyone is doing and is always accessible. No worries about the forgotten notebook ever again. I genuinely couldn’t live without either of these. Gmail, the Adobe Suite and an Apple notebook are high on the list too.

Inside Warriors Studio

Inside Warriors Studio

How I Got Here

What did you want to be growing up?
Golfer; entrepreneur; publican; accountant. (This changed with age and motivation.) I love golf. I love starting things. I love the bevy. I love numbers and money.

What influence has your upbringing had on your work?
My upbringing has certainly not contributed to my choice of industry. I come from a very uncreative and uncultured family from a working-class west-coast area of Scotland. Although my family are not creative, they are hard workers this is instilled in me as a ‘must have’ quality. My Dad believes that you make your own luck, and that hard work is always rewarded. He could make money whilst people were sleeping and sell sand to the Arabs! It’s always good to get his take on things and he has without a doubt passed down the Jim Wilson wisdom.

"After graduating I truly believed that the studios who were creating the most interesting work would be making the most money.”

How (if at all) is the subject you studied useful to your current role?
Before studying Graphic Design at Edinburgh College of Art (ECA), I completed a brief stint at Strathclyde University studying Accounting, Finance and Economics. The mentality of the business course and their obsession with spreadsheets has certainly became useful.

Graphic Design at ECA concentrated on thinking, problem solving, process and professional development. I doubt we would be in the position we are without the foundation built on the course. More importantly, me and James would never have met. Or maybe, the golf travel company would be a reality? Who knows.

Inside Warriors Studio

What were your first jobs?
I didn’t complete any work placements or internships in the creative industries prior to founding Warriors Studio and Graphic Design Festival Scotland. Blissfully naïve. I did work in a bookies prior to and during art school; although highly entertaining, shocking and eye-opening, it’s not very useful for a CV in the creative industries. 

What in particular helped you the most at the start of your career? 
Just prior to launching Warriors and GDFS, we entered the Deutsche Bank Creative Awards which thankfully, we won. We received £10,000 to start a creative business, without which the two organisations wouldn’t exist. GDFS was a make-believe college project that nobody – including – ourselves thought would actually happen. The money allowed us to organise GDFS 2014, which was the start of the Warriors journey and battle. 

Was there a particular project you worked on that helped your development?
In the first year or two of Warriors we pissed a lot of people off. We had a serious problem with ownership. We completely forgot that the client was part of the process and they were actually paying money for our services. We had tunnel vision and wanted to create fresh, innovative, beautiful, sometimes weird designs and were unwilling to compromise on this. When a client wanted something changed, it was a battle to the death. I remember discussing this with Adrian Carrol, Director of D8 and him repeatedly telling us to pick our battles. Since then, we have become more focused on client relationships and getting through the year without pissing people off. 

“You need to walk the walk, talk the talk, and be a great business person to be highly successful in this industry.”

GDFS identity 2017

What skills have you learnt along the way?
After graduating I truly believed that the designers and studios I felt were creating the most interesting work would have a huge team of staff and be making the most money. In the beginning, we hoped that producing good work would be enough for huge brands to approach us. Sadly in our industry, this isn’t the case, and the small interesting studios often don’t get approached to work on the big juicy projects. I have learnt that you need to walk the walk, talk the talk and be a great business person to be highly successful in this industry. We are learning how to be more business. Approach people. Sell your skills. Showcase your value. Measure impact. 

What’s been your biggest challenge?
Being poor in the first two years of setting up both businesses has been the biggest challenge. It’s incredibly difficult when you are working all hours of the day trying to get things moving, but you can’t afford your lunch or train to the studio. I remember going to London to take part in a conference and crying down the phone to my mum that I had no money for the tube and I was coming home to get a part-time job in a call centre. My mum said to me, “Beth, you’re not getting a shite part time job! Keep the faith. You will get through this. We will get through this.” And we did, and now I can afford lunch. Listen to your mum, she’s always right. 

Is your job what you thought it would be?
To be honest, I had no expectations of what James and I were about to start in 2014 or the role I would take in both Warriors and GDFS. Our job roles have developed naturally through individual skill sets and preferred tasks. We constantly adapt and learn new parts of the job when we have to, that’s what starting and running a business is all about. My biggest misconception was thinking that other designers and studios knew what they were doing and why they were doing it, all the time. I believe that everyone has moments when they have no idea what they are doing, riding the wave, learning as they go and making it up. Learning and understanding this allows you to say ‘yes’ to everything.

Beth at work

Thinking Ahead

What would you like to do next?
I have always been interested in working with young people, supporting them to make good decisions and empowering them to believe that anything’s possible. After achieving everything I believe is possible with GDFS and Warriors, I would like to teach in a secondary school in an area of Scotland, where young people could benefit from a Warrior. 

Could you do this job forever?
I could certainly do the job forever but not the number of hours we work. You have to give up a lot of time with friends, family and doing the things you love when you run two businesses. I don’t want to be on my death bed, regretting that I didn’t golf more, spend more time in the pub and enjoy quality time with my loved ones. Moving type about a page, sending out billions of emails, creating proposals for potential clients and worrying over ticket sales for GDFS seems very pedantic when I think about my limited time on earth. 

What do you feel is the natural career progression for someone in your current position?
Passing on knowledge and guidance to future generations feels like a natural progression to me. The natural progression would be to grow the Warriors team and build a larger client base, whilst expanding the audience and attendees of Graphic Design Festival Scotland. I don’t look to the future, and concentrate my energy on one year at a time. January 1st is always daunting. 

Words of Wisdom

What advice would you give to a young creative wanting to be in your line of work?
Anything is possible. If you have a dream project, business idea or can see an opportunity, the only thing stopping you from making it successful is yourself. Hard work is rewarded. Learn as you do. If you don’t know what you’re doing, Google it. If you can’t find the answer on Google, make it up. 


This interview is part of a feature on Warriors Studio.

Posted 27 September 2017 Interview by Marianne Hanoun
Photography: Peter Holliday
Collection: Creative Lives
Disciplines: Graphic Design, Design
Mentions: Beth Wilson, Graphic Design Festival Scotland
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