Creative Lives — Sky News graphic designer Nathan Griffiths on telling stories in a visual language
News production and broadcasting demands input from a huge number of people, working across a range of mediums. Sky News’ graphic designer, Nathan Griffiths, refers to television as a “machine” that requires many working parts, all running smoothly alongside each other for it to function properly. He talks to us about his upbringing in South Wales, how his family’s first, heavy, beige, plastic monitor sparked his interest in computer graphics, and his continued passion for analogue techniques, including painting.
Graphic Designer, Sky Creative Agency for Sky News (2015–present)
Freelance Graphic Designer (2013–2015)
BA Graphic Design, University of Wales Trinity Saint David (2013–2015)
Nathan, photography by Eric Aydin-Barberini
How would you describe your role at Sky?
I’m a graphic designer within the Sky News design team. At its core, it consists of information design and visual journalism. I work with the news production teams on any events, shows or stories that they are covering. What’s great about this is that my role isn’t limited to just one thing. I have the opportunity to work across many platforms and mediums. One day I could be working on a title sequence, the next day I could be working on a set design. Every project can be different, so you really need to be adaptable.
Above everything else, it’s about making sure our visual language across the channel is consistent and clear. I openly call myself a brand guardian – it’s something you have to keep on top of, even if I can become a little obsessive at times.
How collaborative is your role?
Extremely so. There are a lot of people involved in making live TV function smoothly. Along with the design team, who are really hands-on and collaborative, the production teams are very involved. We work with journalists to achieve the right story-telling method, the director to orchestrate it all and even the camera and lighting crew within the studios. TV is a machine and if there isn’t collaboration, it doesn’t function.
Nathan at work
What have been your favourite projects to work on at Sky?
I’m into my politics, so when Theresa May called a snap General Election in 2017, I was ecstatic. Obviously it was a little chaotic with the tight deadline, but it definitely gives you that butterfly feeling in your stomach. I would also say the royal wedding between Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. It was a huge amount of deliverables, and in UHD, which was a first for us. It was just a fun, upbeat event to be a part of. As we all know, news isn’t always rainbows.
“TV is a machine and if there isn’t collaboration, it doesn’t function.”
What are the best and worst things about working at Sky?
The best thing is the exposure and collaboration you get with so many talented people. The agency is large, both in numbers of people and in the scale of work. Being surrounded by that, and with the opportunities available, what’s not to like? The culture in the agency is to really get everyone involved. We put on several events throughout the year – guest speakers, team activities and awards. There’s something for everyone.
It’s hard to pinpoint the worst things. I would probably say the occasional tight deadlines. If you’re working in news, your deadlines are usually set by the news agenda, so if a story breaks unexpectedly, it can become an all-hands-on-deck situation. But we always pull through it.
Inside Sky Creative Agency
What skills and tools are essential to your role?
Like I said previously, news is a machine and if you’re not willing to collaborate or communicate with people, it’s not going to work. Being adaptable is also essential; day to day can be very different, so being able to put yourself in a situation and work on something that is a little bit out of your comfort zone is a positive skill. Also, being able to come up with innovative ideas and push the boundaries.
Working across several mediums means you’ve usually got a lot of software running at the same time. But the tools I use most frequently would be Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, AfterAffects, Premiere Pro and a real-time rendering software for TV called VizRT. My Mac usually takes a good beating on a daily basis.
Inside Sky's newsroom
Do you run any self-initiated projects alongside your job?
Most projects that I work on outside of the day job are to improve my own skills. I research and practice different techniques – anything that can help me do better work. I also love painting. It was the first creative thing I practiced and that has stuck with me, so I paint at any opportunity I get. I’m also looking into letter pressing and screen printing; it’s a possible small business venture in the future.
How I Got Here
Where are you from originally and what did you want to be growing up?
I’m from a valley town in South Wales – an ex-industrial and mining town, so you can imagine it’s no Soho. I wasn’t very good at hard labour, so I did something I enjoyed; art. Luckily my family were supportive of it.
I remember the first family computer we got. It was a heavy chunk of beige plastic, but it really started my passion of computer graphics. I initially wanted to be a designer within the games industry, but then I got into TV and film, which I studied later on. Fast forward a few years and I managed to combine it all!
If you completed a degree, has this been helpful to your work?
Doing a graphic design degree was definitely beneficial. Design has got rules, a history, an entire culture – studying can expose you to all of that. But if we’re talking about it being beneficial in practice, I would argue that it’s not a necessity. I have worked with many talented people that do not have a degree, and Sky Creative Agency has always been accommodating with training. We use specialised kit that you would only be exposed to if you’ve worked within television, so training has always been made available.
Inside Sky's newsroom
How did you land your current job?
The Sky News design team visited my university in my final year. During a workshop, a group of us presented a mobile app we designed in which the user could follow election updates. After the visit, they posted a Junior position, and I jumped at the chance. I would like to think meeting them left an impression, but I think it was a mixture of my design work and my background in studying media production along with graphic design. I think the knowledge of both industries gave me the edge.
What do you feel is the natural progression from your role? And do you have any career goals you can share with us?
The natural progression for me is common for most designers. I aim to become senior and work my way up to head of a department and then eventually director of an agency. I have always been career driven and business minded. Leadership roles have always interested me just because of their ability to create big change and the opportunity to nurture teams around you on a much larger scale.
But on a personal level, I’ve always wanted my design work to be part of a movement and a symbol of change. Something I can look back on in the future and know it helped a good cause.
Words of Wisdom
What advice would you give to an emerging creative wanting to do the same kind of work?
Take every opportunity you can. Speak to as many people as you can. The whole cliché of telling someone to ‘network’ is beneficial. What I’ve found out since working in television is that the industry is relatively small – everyone seems to know everyone. So if you can leave a lasting impression on people, that will follow you around.
“It’s all about getting your foot in the door.”
It’s easy to see work being created around you and think ‘I can’t do that’, but in most cases those people have been working in the industry for years, so try not to compare yourself. Be enthusiastic and apply for positions, even if its work experience or an internship. It’s all about getting your foot in the door.