Creative Lives — “Every project I work on teaches me something new” – Paul Irwin, senior project manager at DesignStudio

Posted 09 May 2017 Interview by Laura Snoad

Describing his team as the “glue that holds the agency together”, DesignStudio senior project manager Paul Irwin is responsible for developing close relationships with clients, getting under their skin so that subsequent creative work really hits the mark. The studio counts Deliveroo, Airbnb and Nokia as clients, with Paul’s personal career highlight being the studio’s radical redesign of the Premier League identity, which introduced a shocking pink into the footie stalwart’s palette. Although Paul spends 80% of his working day communicating with internal and external teams, his role also requires him to be a master of finances, schedules and budgets; the necessary, if unglamorous, backbone to all the client wooing. 

Paul Irwin

Job Title

Senior Project Manager, DesignStudio (2015–present)

Location

London

Previous Employment

Intern, Project Manager, Senior Account Manager, MSLGroup (2011–2015)

Education

Business Management, University of East Anglia (2007–2010)

Social Media

Inside DesignStudio

Day-to-Day

How would you describe your job?
I’ve never been a fan of the term Client Services, as it seems so one-way. My real job role is to allow creativity to thrive, to allow our clients’ voices to be heard and to ensure projects succeed for both client and agency. I always describe our team as the glue that holds agencies together and clears the path ahead for the creative teams to create the best work possible.

What does a typical day look like?
I only live 30 minutes from DesignStudio; three tube stops from Bow and a ten-minute walk from Liverpool Street make for a relatively easy commute. While a typical day might be spent at our studio, we take every opportunity to spend time with our clients as we develop relationships. That means face-to-face meetings whenever possible, spending days at our clients’ offices to get under the skin of their business and culture. It can mean hosting them at our studio for a number of weeks, so that we can create the most collaborative environment. It can also often mean travelling internationally to ensure we’re able to work collectively as a single team in person with our clients.

How did you land your current job?
When I started searching for a new role, I knew the most important factor was finding a culture and type of work that matched my own ambitions. I was looking for a company that believed brand wasn’t just a logo, but impacted the entire experience, and could make a difference in every aspect of a business. When I met with the DesignStudio team I knew I’d found the agency approach and team that I had been looking for.

“My real job role is to allow creativity to thrive, allow our clients’ voice to be heard and ensure projects succeed for both client and agency.”

DesignStudio's work for Premier League

DesignStudio's work for Premier League

DesignStudio's work for Premier League

DesignStudio's work for Premier League

DesignStudio's work for Premier League

DesignStudio's work for Premier League

DesignStudio's work for Premier League

DesignStudio's work for Premier League

arrow
arrow

How collaborative is your role? 
My entire day is spent interacting and collaborating with people; internal and external alike. Communicating with individuals and teams is 80% of my time. This is a massive reason why I enjoy my job as much as I do.

What are the most and least enjoyable aspects of your job?
Of course, as a PM [project manager] I have to work with spreadsheets, finance, schedules, budgets and so on, but these are essential tasks that make an agency tick. They’re also our tools to help the creative team to function in the most effective way. The most enjoyable is engaging with people, both colleagues and clients, with the sole aim of delivering the best outcome for a project.

What has been the most exciting project of the last twelve months?
Working with the Premier League was definitely a hugely exciting and rewarding project. The scale and impact of the League was something I only came to appreciate once we started working with them. Involved from start to finish, it was a brilliant experience to be a part of a project that made such a visible difference to a business internally and externally.

“Every project I work on teaches me something new; whether it’s expanding my technical knowledge, challenging my presumptions, building (or saving) a client relationship.”

What skills are essential to your job?
Empathy. Communication. Organisation. I believe that empathy is a critical skill to have in this role. Having the ability to understand and share the feelings of a teammate, a colleague, or a client empowers you to be able to find the best solutions, direct the most effective process and understand how to find ways forward at any stage of a project.

Then having the ability to communicate the issue, the solution or the required progress is the second most essential skill. Knowing how, when and what to engage and share with each stakeholder is hugely important in determining the success of a project and a relationship.

What tools do you use most for your work?
MacBook Air; Google Docs; Microsoft Office and InDesign.

Inside DesignStudio

How I Got Here

What did you want to be growing up?
I feel very fortunate to be in a job role that offers so much of what I hoped for when growing up. From a very young age I was interested in ‘advertising’ and I’ve learnt to understand this as a desire to be part of a creative process, which I now get to be a part of every day.

How (if at all) is the subject you studied useful to your current role?
University was essential in teaching me independence, self motivation and the organisational skills that have shaped the capabilities I use on a day-to-day basis as a project manager.

What were your first jobs? 
My first role at MSLGroup was essential to my development and set me on the path I’m on today. Joining an agency that was more of a family than a workplace shaped how I viewed work and design. Starting as an intern in a fast-paced and relentless environment also taught me the skills to react and respond to any project.

“Knowing how, when and what to share with each stakeholder is hugely important in determining the success of a project and a relationship.”

Was there anything in particular that helped you at the start of your career?
The first client services director I worked with was instrumental in passing on her experience. She offered me her time and knowledge to help me learn the process and ways of working. I am so grateful for that opportunity and hope to share that with others.

Was there a particular project you worked on that helped your development?
Every project I work on always teaches me something new; whether it’s expanding my technical knowledge, challenging my presumptions, building a client relationship, or saving one. There’s always opportunity to learn at every stage of every project.

What’s been your biggest challenge? 
I’ve made many mistakes along the way: big, medium and small ones. I know it’s cliché but in my experience, it comes down to how you react and respond that counts. You only learn that something doesn’t work when you experiencing the negative impact on a job, a person, or a project. From there you need to learn and anticipate the same thing in the future.

Paul at work

Inside DesignStudio

Inside DesignStudio

Inside DesignStudio

arrow
arrow

Thinking Ahead

What would you like to do next?
With such exposure to so many brands and businesses, I’ve always wondered about bringing an idea close to my heart to life, so who knows.

Could you do this job forever?
If I was able to always work with super-talented teams and clients looking to make a real difference, I think I just might.

Words of Wisdom

What advice would you give to a young creative wanting to become a project manager? 
Be open to every opportunity and everyone in your office. Everyone has something to offer and the ability to function as part of team internally and externally will be the best thing you can learn.

Posted 09 May 2017 Interview by Laura Snoad
Collection: Creative Lives
Disciplines: Design
Mentions: Paul Irwin, DesignStudio
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 patrons