Creative Lives — Follow your own interests, not just trends: Digital art director Gemma Copeland

Posted 21 February 2018 Interview by Marianne Hanoun

For Future Corp’s digital art director Gemma Copeland, an openness to change and an interest in learning new skills has been imperative to her career journey. Originally from Brisbane, Australia, Gemma credits her time working in The Netherlands with shaping her design process to focus on a more conceptual, research-based approach. A relative newcomer to Future Corp, the London design scene has proven an exciting hotbed for creative talent, with a particularly healthy community housed within the Studio Three building. Here, Gemma tells us about being less of a perfectionist, developing collaborative relationships and learning to enjoy the research process.

Gemma Copeland

Job Title

Digital Art Director

Based

London

Previous Employment

Freelance Senior Digital Designer, London (2017)
Digital Designer, Vandejong, Amsterdam (2015–2016)
Designer, LUST, The Hague (2012–2015)

Education

Master of Design (Futures), (2010–2011)
Bachelor of Design (Visual Communication), Queensland College of Art (2007–2009)

Website
Social Media

Gemma Copeland at work

Day-to-Day

How would you describe what you do? 
I work on the design and art direction of digital projects, usually websites within the cultural, fashion and luxury sectors. We’re a small team of designers and developers so our working process is very collaborative, and we’re usually involved throughout every stage of a project, from the initial concept development until launch.

What does a typical working day look like? 
Future Corp is part of Studio Three, a co-working space in Dalston. It takes me about fifteen minutes to cycle here every day, which I always feel really grateful for – I think it’s the nicest way to start the day. My role is quite broad, so a typical day can involve anything from digital design, research and concept development, to information architecture, feedback sessions with the other designers and developers, or meetings with clients and project management. I really enjoy working in this space, it has a really relaxed atmosphere and there’s always super-talented people around to chat to.

How did you land the job at Future Corp?
I moved from Amsterdam to London at the start of 2017 with the intention of trying out freelancing for a year or so. Future Corp was one of the first studios I got in touch with as I’d been aware of Marc’s work for years and really liked his approach to digital design. I freelanced here for a while and then started full-time in December.

Inside the studio

What do you like about working in London?
I’ve only been here for a year, so I’m still really excited to be in London. I love how international and diverse it is, and how much is going on all the time. I think Studio Three and its extended family is a particularly exciting community to be a part of too.

I do miss the Dutch design world a little, though. I think that the culture there (not to mention the lower cost of living) allows for more focus on self-initiated and experimental projects.

What has been the most exciting project of the last twelve months? 
I’ve only just started here, so the first big client I’m working with is Manolo Blahnik. I’ve been managing the project and working on everything from information architecture to design and art direction, to prototyping and animations.

What skills are essential to your job?
Being able to see the bigger picture and combining a range of disparate elements together into a cohesive whole. Organisation and communication skills are vital, as is the ability to develop good collaborative relationships with both clients and the people you work with. It also helps to be interested in everything, to be excited about what you do and to be constantly learning.

“I think it’s so important for digital designers to have an in-depth understanding the opportunities and limitations of code.”

Gemma with digital designer Yuli Serfaty

Is coding an important part of your work? 
It’s not a regular part of my practice, but I do sometimes use it for personal work or to develop sketches and tools to use within projects. I think it’s so important for digital designers to have an in-depth understanding the opportunities and limitations of code, and to continually stay up to date with the latest developments. However, I also think it’s important to play to your strengths – in my daily practice I’d rather collaborate with talented developers than try to be a developer myself. 

What tools do you use most for your work?
I use Sketch for digital design every single day – we’re huge nerds here and enjoy discovering new plug-ins and developing new workflows. Principle and InVision are also essential, for prototyping ideas and presenting to clients. Arena for collaborative research, Dropbox Paper for ideas and notes, Slack for communicating with the team and clients, and Asana for project management. I try to never open Adobe software.

Gemma’s website design for Müller van Tol, an Amsterdam-based studio for industrial and interior design, designed at Vandejong, 2016

Exhibition design for Death in Venice, an interactive exhibition exploring the relationship between modern architecture and mortality. Designed at LUST, 2014

How I Got Here

What did you want to be growing up?
I always wanted to work in a creative field. When I was really young I wanted to be a fiction writer, then an architect, and later a graphic designer.

How (if at all) is the subject you studied useful to your current role?
I studied graphic design in Brisbane, which was a good basis for what I do now. I think it’s really important to have a strong foundation in basics like typography and layout, a good understanding of art and design history and an ability to think critically and conceptually.

However, I think the most valuable part of my education was the other students that I met while studying. It’s great to have a community of peers that you can bounce ideas off, and who will push you to become a better designer. Together we initiated a couple of projects during our studies – one was a series of events and workshops with the aim to stimulate critical discussion on design, and another was an irregular club night focused on supporting upcoming local and international artists and musicians. Both experiences involved a lot of hard work and organisation, but introduced us to so many interesting people and taught me the importance of initiating projects like these.

“We’re huge nerds here and enjoy discovering new plug-ins and developing new workflows.”

Website and identity design for the Sandberg Institute, a research-focused postgraduate institute in Amsterdam. Designed at LUST, 2013

Website and identity design for the Sandberg Institute, a research-focused postgraduate institute in Amsterdam. Designed at LUST, 2013

Was there anything in particular that helped you at the start of your career? 
I left Australia at the start of 2012 to travel through Europe, and met Thomas Castro from LUST at a design workshop in Breda during the summer. He offered me a position at LUST which shaped so much of where I am today. Working there introduced me to interactive design and coding and taught me the importance of a conceptual, research-based approach to design.

What skills have you learnt along the way? 
Interactive design! There was barely any focus on digital skills or coding in the course I studied, so I’ve learnt most of these skills on the job. It’s really important to continue to learn and adapt as you go along.

What’s been your biggest challenge?
When I was starting out I would be too hard on myself and become paralysed when I thought something wasn’t perfect. I’ve learnt how to relax and enjoy the research and sketching process, and following where that leads, rather than having some fixed endpoint in mind.

Channel surfing on VVatch

Work for The xx

What would you like to do next? 
At the moment I’m just really excited about working with Future Corp. I would also really love to do some more teaching in the future. I ran a few workshops when I was working in The Netherlands and would love to do more of it.

What advice would you give to a young creative wanting to get into the same line of work?
Hard work is important, but so is work-life balance. Always be open to change and learning new things. Be interested in everything, not just graphic design. Follow your own interests, not just trends. Do your own research.

Inside the studio

Want to improve your coding skills? As part of a collaboration with SuperHi, we are offering readers aged 25 and under the opportunity to win a scholarship to their foundation coding courses. Apply here before March 19, 2018.

Posted 21 February 2018 Interview by Marianne Hanoun
Photography: Andy Donohoe
Collection: Creative Lives
Disciplines: Graphic Design, Digital, Design
Mentions: Gemma Copeland, Future Corp
Learn More Sign In

Lecture in Progress relies on the support of patrons and professional members to provide the ongoing insight and advice to the next generation. To help support sign up now or find out more. 

scroll to top arrow-up
share

Become a Member

Lecture in Progress is now free to access. Become a member and receive a number of additional benefits.

Student Member

Free

Alongside a wealth of behind-the-scenes advice and insight into the creative industries, join now to get exclusive access to offers and promotions. You’ll benefit from:


  • Student offers and promotions
  • Two weekly newsletters
  • Bookmark content
  • Shape the future of Lecture in Progress

Professional Member

£35/per year

By becoming a professional member, you’ll be helping us in our aim to support the next generation of creatives. You’ll also get the chance to shape the future of Lecture in Progress, and benefit from:


  • Professional offers and promotions
  • The biannual Lecture in Progress newspaper, delivered to your door
  • Insight reports into creative education and industry
  • Two weekly newsletters
  • Bookmark content
  • Shape the future of Lecture in Progress

Lecture in Progress is made possible with the support of the following brand partners