Creative Lives — Greenspace’s senior designer Luke Mcilveen on outside-the-box thinking

Posted 03 May 2018 Interview by Arielle Bier

Holding both a bachelors and a masters degree in graphic design, Luke Mcilveen made an enticing candidate for London creative agencies after finishing school. However, pursuing his interest in Dutch design, he decided to take a different route, and boarded a ferry headed to Amsterdam, soon landing a job at branding and design company Vbat: “As a designer you’re told to think differently, so I did.” Now back in London, after a round of freelance and full-time positions, a mix of luck, patience and hard work secured him a role as a senior designer at Greenspace. Luke shares some of his experiences – including learning to value the process of experimentation and letting killer ideas take flight. 

Luke Mcilveen

Job Title

Senior Designer, Greenspace

Based

London

Previous Employment

Senior Designer, Brand Union (2015–2018) 
Freelance Senior Designer, Handsome Brands, Fitch, Brash Brands (2014–2015) 
Middleweight Designer, Vbat Amsterdam (2012–2014) 
Junior-Middleweight Designer, OneNineFour Studio (2011–2012) 

Education

MA Graphic Design, Sunderland University (2009–2010)
BA Graphic Design, Leeds Metropolitan University (2006–2009)

Luke at work

Day-to-Day

How would you describe your job?
As a Senior Designer my job is to make great creative work. Whether it’s a visual identity, digital, moving image or spatial project, my aim is the same – to create bold work, underpinned by intelligent ideas. Obviously, there’s all the other stuff that’s part and parcel like meetings with clients, presenting, working with talented third parties and mentoring junior designers.

What does a typical working day look like?
I get to the studio between 9 and 9.30am. I’m fortunate to live close to the studio, so my commute is short. Once caught up on emails, I check in with Lee and the team. I tend to jump around designing, thinking, making and doing whatever is needed. We work until 6 or 6.30pm on a normal day, and continue until later if we have presentations to prepare for. We work hard but it’s important not to cane it everyday, you don’t make great work like that. You have to enjoy what you do.

What do you like about working in London?
Working in London as a designer is pretty cool. It’s a mash-up of people and cultures, and because of that, you’re spoilt for inspiration, working alongside the best talent in the world. It’s a place where you bump into your design heroes in the local boozer.

However, the industry is changing a bit with good design studios popping up all over the place, and with Brexit, who knows what will happen to London. I think it will always remain an exciting place for designers, but I also think it’s healthy to have plenty of competition from the many cool studio’s popping up in places like Manchester, Leeds and Glasgow.

“We work hard but it’s important not to cane it everyday, you don’t make great work like that.”

Greenspace work showreel

How did you land your current job?
I worked at a big studio in Clerkenwell for years and wanted a change. I’d been meeting nice places and had a few offers. I turned down some big names, which was a really hard thing to do, but they didn’t feel quite right. I knew I would find something even better if I held out. I heard of Greenspace through a recruiter and remembered the amazing work they did for Brawn GP, Zaha Hadid and Honda. I liked the idea of working on projects with longevity. I sent in my folio and had a few meetings with Lee, the Creative Director, and then the two founders Lene and Adrian. I was excited about putting my mark on a great studio and could tell they were all ambitious, talented and nice people. 

How collaborative is your role?
I work with everyone from designers, strategy and project managers to external typographers, animators, interior designers, digital folk and printers on a daily basis. We all work together as a team to make great work and solve problems. If we don’t have the specialist skills in the studio, we bring them in.

What are the most enjoyable aspect of your job?
I have the chance to change people’s behaviour and make the world a more beautiful place. I try not to take it for granted. I love trying to do something different each day. My dad worked in the shipyards from when he was 15 years old. That’s proper graft, so I can’t complain.

Work created while at Brand Union for Race Against Dementia, by Sir Jackie Stewart. Custom Typeface by Colophon Foundry, 2016

Work created while at Brand Union for Race Against Dementia, by Sir Jackie Stewart. Custom Typeface by Colophon Foundry, 2016

Work created while at Brand Union for Race Against Dementia, by Sir Jackie Stewart. Custom Typeface by Colophon Foundry, 2016

What has been the most exciting project of the last twelve months?
I haven’t been at Greenspace for very long, so the projects I’m currently working are under wraps. At my previous agency, I worked on a big project for International Airline Group, the company behind British Airways, Aer Lingus and Vueling. We created a stripped back identity for a new airline called Level, inspired by modernist aviation graphics found in military planes. I’d like to do a few more airlines in my career.

What skills are essential to your job?
Creative thinking is the most essential skill to my job, without it, you would be screwed. Most decent designers can make something look good, and obviously, everything has to look lovely, but the best people I’ve worked with come up with killer ideas that make you think, ‘I wish I had done that.’ There’s often no process to finding it, and I am not sure it can be taught. Communication is also vital – if you have a great idea, you need to get it across with clarity and confidence. 

What tools do you use most for your work?
InDesign, Illustrator, Photoshop, After Effects, and of course, a sketchbook and markers. I’m getting into using Sketch for websites and experimenting with Cinema 4D when I can.

Work created while at Vbat Amsterdam for Amsterdam Gay Pride. Creative director: Graham Sturt, 2012

Work created while at Vbat Amsterdam for Amsterdam Gay Pride. Creative director: Graham Sturt, 2012

Work created while at Vbat Amsterdam for Amsterdam Gay Pride. Creative director: Graham Sturt, 2012

How I Got Here

What did you want to be growing up? 
Half of my family were musicians, interior designers and antique dealers. The other half were grafters, shipyard workers, miners and nurses. Both sides influenced me – being creative but liking problem solving.

I failed most of my A-levels other than the creative courses, but I loved making things, so I did a graphics degree. I enjoyed it and continued to do a masters at Sunderland University straight after, whilst working part-time in a photography studio and doing freelance work. It was really hard but I’m glad I did it, it gave me more time to experiment.

What were your first jobs?
I did some placements in London, but I wanted to do an internship at a studio in the North after graduating. I had my eye on a studio called OneNineFour and sent in a folio. They gave me my first break with a six-month internship. Soon after, I was hired as a junior designer and worked there for nearly three years with clients including The Baltic Art Gallery, Newcastle University, DJs and cool club nights. It was a great introduction to the industry.

After a while, I fancied a change. As a designer you’re told to think differently, so I did. I got on a ferry with my girlfriend to Amsterdam, with enough money to last six weeks, and sent out loads of folios. I always loved Dutch design, and fortunately I bagged a great job at a studio called Vbat, one of the largest agencies in the Netherlands. I learned a lot working for global clients and loved living in Amsterdam for those few years. 

“Most decent designers can make something look good, but the best people I’ve worked with come up with killer ideas that make you think, ‘I wish I had done that.’”

Inside Greenspace

The team at work at Greenspace

Was there a particular person or move that helped your development at the start of your career?
There are loads of inspirational people who helped early in my career – all of them were top designers but equally down to earth. I like that. I hate pretentiousness. When I first moved to Amsterdam I was given a great project – rebranding Amsterdam Gay Pride. It’s the largest event of its kind in Europe and turns the city centre into one flamboyant party. The client chose my vision and it was amazing when it launched and the city was covered in my work. 

What’s been your biggest challenge?
Early in my career, I would refine design work too quickly without exploring different creative routes. After working alongside a number of really good people, I changed how I worked and started experimenting early-on in a project. This way of working helped me produce more interesting results, think differently and consequently, create stronger work.

Is your job what you thought it would be? 
When I first started out, I thought graphic design was more a traditional craft job – typesetting, designing identities, making posters... But it’s actually much more diverse and exciting – you can create much more, whether in pixels, print or in a physical environment. 

Inside Greenspace

Inside Greenspace

Words of Wisdom

What advice would you give to a young creative wanting to do the same kind of work?
Work with the very best people you can, the people you admire. If you feel out of your comfort zone, don’t worry, that’s a good thing. Keep exploring, ask lots of questions and don’t feel locked down by heavy process.

Don’t just design because it looks good or you’ve seen it before; understand the problem and use creativity to solve it. Avoid working at places that limit creativity with boring politics. Work hard and be humble, no matter how good you are, no one likes a show-off.


In March 2018, Greenspace became a Lecture in Progress agency patron. Their support helps us keep what we do possible.

Posted 03 May 2018 Interview by Arielle Bier
Photography: Andy Donohoe
Collection: Creative Lives
Disciplines: Design
Mentions: Greenspace, Luke Mcilveen
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