Creative Lives — Ellie Polston, Graphic Designer at Build, on creating dynamic design and meeting deadlines

Posted 08 March 2017 Interview by Marianne Hanoun

Designer Ellie Polston’s career began on train platforms – commuting into London from Essex. After graduating from Leeds Beckett University’s Graphic Art and Design course in 2015, she went on to intern at London agency Prophet where she worked on projects for Samsung and Electrolux before joining Leeds-based branding and creative agency Build. With a client list that includes an array of local and international brands, she’s since designed bee houses and created window displays. We talk to Ellie about interning, life as a designer and why leaving home turned out to be the best move.

Ellie Polston

Job Title

Graphic Designer, Build (April 2016
–present)

Based

Leeds

Previous Employment

Design Intern, Prophet, London (2015)
Resident Designer, The Tetley, Leeds (2015–2016)


Education

BA Graphic Art & Design, Leeds Beckett University (2012–2015)


Website
Social Media

Inside the studio

Day-to-Day

How would you describe your job?
I’m a graphic designer at Build. My responsibilities often change depending on the project – sometimes I’ll work alongside Michael on everything from the research, initial concepts and ideas for a project all the way through to presentations, refinements and finally, deliverables. At other times I’ll dip in and out of projects when needed. 


What does a typical working day look like?
8.30am to around 5.30pm are my usual working hours, but if there’s something that needs finishing in time for a deadline, I’ll stay until it’s done.

My commute takes about 30 minutes, (a fraction of what it would take me to get into London!) I drive into Leeds and then take a short walk over the canal, getting to the studio just after 8.30am. Usually the first thing I do is make coffee! I’ll then go through my emails before getting started on work. Every day is different because projects vary, but my ideal working day is one where everything runs smoothly despite pressure from impending deadlines.


How did you land your current job?

I was working at The Tetley, a gallery and events space, as the resident designer when my university tutor, Justin Burns informed me that Build were on the lookout for someone to join their team. So I sent my portfolio and kept my fingers crossed. After being invited to come into their Otley-based studio and nervously showing them my work, they asked me to come back! I was the sole graphic designer at The Tetley which came with a certain level of freedom and responsibility. It proved to be a real advantage because I had real-life examples of marketing campaigns in my portfolio that were solely my own – I wasn’t just artworking somebody else’s ideas.

Work completed while at The Tetley

Work completed while at The Tetley

Work completed while at The Tetley

Work completed while at The Tetley

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Where does the majority of your work take place?
Most of my work takes place at my desk, either scribbling notes or drawings in a sketchbook, notebook or at the computer. I’d say 90% of my working day is spent on the computer.

How collaborative is your role?
I work closely with Michael on anything design-related, but we often sit down as a team to brainstorm and discuss ideas. Externally, I regularly communicate with clients, printers and web developers.

What are the most and least enjoyable aspects of your job?
The most enjoyable aspect of my job is having a finished piece of work come back from print or go live on the site for everyone to see. It’s even better when you receive positive feedback from a client. With regards to the least enjoyable part of my job, that’s a tricky one. It can be a little frustrating trying to ease a client out of their comfort zone – it’s sometimes difficult to explain that the way their competitors do something isn’t necessarily the right way for them.

“I went from wanting to draw portraits to creating something that fits a purpose, resolves a problem and still looks visually interesting.”

What has been the most exciting project of the last twelve months?
I thoroughly enjoyed working on the most recent Stow Brothers direct mail campaign. I worked on four illustrations of iconic buildings in Walthamstow, London. We also created a set of images for social media and as a window display for their Walthamstow office. All of my family grew up in the area, with my grandparents still living there today – so it was exciting for them to walk down their local high street and see our work.

What skills are essential to your job?
Good communication skills are essential to figure out what a client wants from a brief. You also need to be able to present, demonstrate and explain how an idea can be executed, which can be difficult if they’re not as aware of the possibilities or limitations of design. Being organised is also important in order to meet deadlines. Finally, you definitely need to have a passion for it!

Would you say your work allows for a good life-work balance?
I am fortunate to be in a role that I am passionate about, so even if I did have to work on a project outside of normal working hours I’m more than happy to do so. I’m privileged to be working alongside a relaxed and supportive team who ensure that we all have a good working environment and quality of life.

What tools do you use most for your work?  
I use an iMac 27inch for pretty much everything. I also have an iPhone 6. For design work I’ll use Adobe Creative Suite including Photoshop, InDesign and Illustrator. As a studio we’ve just started using Streamtime, a project management app. I’ll sometimes use Microsoft Office programmes, too.
 I’m currently using a sketchbook from Fred Aldous and a leather A4 lined notebook from Paperchase. Most of my pens and pencils come from good old Wilkinsons!

Brand identity for Walthamstow estate agent, The Stow Brothers

Brand identity for Walthamstow estate agent, The Stow Brothers

Brand identity for Walthamstow estate agent, The Stow Brothers

Brand identity for Walthamstow estate agent, The Stow Brothers

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How I Got Here

What did you want to be growing up?

When I was about six my mum bought my sister and I name badges with ‘teacher’ and ‘beautician’ written on them for Christmas; the beautician career choice was short-lived, although I do still love the idea of teaching. But I’ve always wanted to be an artist or do something creative. I went from wanting to draw portraits to creating something that fits a purpose, resolves a problem and still looks visually interesting. Graphic design ticked all of those boxes, so that was my decision made.

How (if at all) is the subject you studied useful to your current role?

I studied Graphic Art and Design, but my course was slightly different to a ‘normal’ graphic design course. We were encouraged to work with a wide multitude of disciplines such as film, photography and animation, especially in our first and second years. This really gave me a chance to explore and experiment with different mediums. I may not be using those practices in my everyday role, but I like to think that the course broadened my creative thinking. While I thoroughly enjoyed creating short films and working on photoshoots, I made sure that all of my final year projects were graphic design focused. I wanted to graduate with a portfolio that was ready to take out into the big wide world of employment.

What were your first jobs?
My first internship was at Prophet, a brand, marketing and strategy agency based in Covent Garden in London, where I stayed for three months, working on projects with brands such as Electrolux, KPMG, Triumph and Samsung. Although the majority of the work was artworking, creating presentations and retouching images it allowed me to improve on my Creative Suite skills and the speed at which I get stuff done. It was also my first insight into a large agency. It showed me that, (for now at least) I prefer working within smaller teams.

During my time at Prophet I was also freelancing for The Tetley where my friends and I had previously won a competition to design their festive marketing campaign. Through this I developed a really good relationship with their marketing manager which secured me the Resident Designer role. I worked with the marketing team to produce a whole range of exhibition collateral including marketing material, books and stationery. It was a valuable experience learning how to work to tight deadlines and with a small budget and liaise with suppliers and printers.


“I love getting involved with every part of the process, from researching to finding a manufacturer.”

Was there anything in particular that helped you at the start of your career?  
My third year tutor Justin Burns countlessly reviewed my portfolio and was always on hand to share his advice. He also introduced me to both The Tetley and Build, so I owe him a massive thank you!

Was there a particular project you worked on that helped your development?

One of the early projects I worked on at Build was the Stow Brothers’ sponsorship of the Walthamstow 2016 Garden Party. We designed a bee house that children could build themselves. It was challenging as it was the first time I had designed a three-dimensional product, let alone something that could be built by children.

What skills have you learnt along the way?
My timekeeping and organisational skills have improved significantly since leaving university. Whilst I would never consider myself as disorganised, I have picked up tips and tricks to help me work as efficiently as possible. As a student there are very few time pressures, you have the freedom to spend weeks perfecting a project, so it helps to learn how to adapt your approach for employment.

Is your job what you thought it would be? 

It’s probably better than what I expected! It’s so varied that you couldn’t possibly get bored. I like that how it involves working with a number of different people – something I really missed while working at The Tetley. I love getting involved with every part of the process, from researching to finding a manufacturer. It’s taught me that even though my core responsibility as a graphic designer is to create something visually dynamic, there are so many other things to consider such as budgets, materials and deadlines.

Ellie at work

Ellie at work

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Thinking Ahead

What would you like to do next?
I’m so happy to be working at Build that I haven’t even considered a change! Although in the distant future I would love the chance to travel and see the world. 

Could you do this job forever?

Yes. I’m fortunate to be involved in amazing projects with an array of clients from incredibly talented, local businesses to household and international brands. Working for a studio who I have always admired and respected is pretty much a dream come true.

Words of Wisdom

What advice would you give to a young creative wanting to become a graphic designer?
Make sure you grab every single opportunity that comes your way and intern as much as you can. Internships not only teach you invaluable technical and creative skills but also make it clear what kind of studio you are best suited to. Don’t be afraid to take risks, either. It’s easier said than done, but don’t take on projects purely for financial gain, and ask yourself whether it would be an asset to your portfolio. With so many talented designers coming out of university and an unequal amount of opportunities, it’s not easy – but the perseverance and hard work will eventually pay off!

This article is part of our In the Studio With feature on Build.

Posted 08 March 2017 Interview by Marianne Hanoun
Photography: by Sophie Stafford
Collection: Creative Lives
Disciplines: Graphic Design, Design
Mentions: Build
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