Creative Lives — Work with people, not against them: Supple Studio’s design director, Philip Skinner

Posted 25 July 2018 Interview by Marianne Hanoun

When Philip Skinner graduated from Falmouth University, he was a self-confessed ‘headstrong graduate’. But after roles at studios Purpose, Turner Duckworth and Magpie, he soon learned the value of being open-minded. For Philip, design is now a never-ending learning curve – a mindset that aids him in his current role as design director at Supple Studio in Bath. Being part of a small company affords him the flexibility to mix creative spontaneity with meticulous time management, working on everything from strategy to scribbling down ideas. Here, he chats first jobs, working in Bath and the thrill of seeing your work in print. 

Philip Skinner

Job Title

Design Director, Supple Studio (2017–present)

Based

Bath

Previous Employment

Designer, Magpie Studio (2014) 
Designer, Turner Duckworth (2012)
Designer, Purpose (2008)

Education

BA Graphic Design, Falmouth University (2005–2008)

Website

Philip

Day-to-Day

How would you describe your job? 
As design director, I support Jamie in running projects and helping to ensure that everything is as good as it possibly can be. Working at a small company, I’m able to be hands-on throughout the whole creative process, whether that’s working on brand strategy and positioning, scribbling out ideas (good and bad) or spending a couple of days crafting illustrations.

What does a typical working day look like? 
At Supple we manage to do great work without having to work crazy long hours and weekends. On a day-to-day basis we work normal office hours. This allows me to fit in all the good stuff around work, like spending time with my daughter and keeping up a (minimal) exercise regime. In London I always loved cycling to work, and Bath has been no different (albeit with some killer hills). I find it really clears your head at both ends of the day.  

My day kicks off with writing a good list – looking at everything that needs doing and making a plan for the day. For me, doing great design is equal parts creative spontaneity and meticulous time management. We don’t have project managers here at Supple, preferring to deal directly with our clients, so naturally a fair part of the day is spent responding to and writing emails. However this does allow us to build good working relationships with our clients. Beyond that, no working day is alike, and that’s the beauty of the job. Every job is different and requires you to step into a new world, learn new things and respond accordingly.

I’ve always enjoyed coming up with ideas, so my ideal day is doing that. There’s nothing quite as difficult, tiring and rewarding as a day spent trying to nail that original concept.  

“There’s nothing quite as difficult, tiring and rewarding as a day spent trying to nail that original idea.”

Inside the studio

What do you like about working in Bath?
Living in Bath provides a good balance: it’s big enough that it’s got good restaurants, events and culture, but small enough that the countryside is never far away. Bath and Bristol are so close that the creative scene blends together nicely; organisations like WEDF put together cracking events and speakers that ensure that you never feel like you’re missing out. Sometimes I miss the eclectic, creative craziness of East London, but living out of London just means you look for inspiration elsewhere. This often brings about quite unexpected results.

How did you land your current job? 
I followed Supple Studio for several years while I was working at Magpie. I was very impressed with the burgeoning folio of great work. When I decided to move to Bath, I was really keen to work with Supple, so following my dad’s mantra of ‘don’t ask, don’t get’, I simply phoned up Jamie and asked for a job.

I was incredibly fortunate that Jamie decided to take a chance and bring me on board. I’ve worked with some great agencies in London, which definitely gave me a certain advantage, but I think it was my sheer enthusiasm to work with Supple that landed me the job.

How collaborative is your role?
All our projects are carried out collaboratively at Supple, both internally and externally. There aren’t any egos here; it’s all about doing the best work possible. When working on concepts we use our supersized whiteboard and some good old fashioned post-it notes to share and build on each other’s ideas. From my experience, the best ideas come about through talking through ideas. What seems a mediocre idea can quick evolve and grow when you have a few heads on it. 

Inside the studio

Inside the studio

Inside the studio

What are the most and least enjoyable aspects of your job?
I’ve always been more of an ideas-led designer, at my most comfortable in a brainstorm or scribbling in a layout pad. Whilst I enjoy the rigour of a baseline grid, doing pure layouts is an area which doesn’t come quite so naturally to me. 

A good work-life balance is central to Supple, and I think a key part of its success. Good design comes from a life well lived – and a company that enables this is going to reap the benefits. 

What has been the most exciting project of the last twelve months? 
One of the most exciting jobs we worked on recently was a campaign for Film 4 to promote the Summer Screen series of events. Carried out at breakneck speed, with great ideas and working collaboratively with a client who truly values the power of design, it had all the hallmarks of a great project. 

We worked closely with Tim Fellowes, design director at 4Creative, to bring the campaign to life. Tim knows the Channel 4 brand inside out, and worked with us to deliver a campaign that not only answered the brief, but also had that distinctive Channel 4 feel. Working with Channel 4 has been a dream since art college, and it never grows old seeing your work printed supersize across London.

What skills are essential to your job?
Being a team player, having a positive attitude, and being a good listener. 

What tools do you use most for your work?
Pen, paper, layout pad, post-its, a separate pad for writing lists and the standard Adobe creative suite.

Work for Film4's Summer Screen campaign

Work for Film4's Summer Screen campaign; illustration by Tishk Barzanji; retouching by Rob Ison; art direction by 4Creative

Work for Film4's Summer Screen campaign; illustration by Tishk Barzanji; retouching by Rob Ison; art direction by 4Creative

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Work for Film4's Summer Screen campaign; illustration by Tishk Barzanji; retouching by Rob Ison; art direction by 4Creative

How I Got Here

What did you want to be growing up?
Due to an untimely obsession with trains, as a young child I wanted to be a train driver. Apart from that, I can’t remember my future career really taking up too much of my thoughts (I was obviously having too good a time being a kid). 

Whilst I’ve doodled and scribbled for most of my life, like most people in our school system I didn’t realise that you could make a good living from it until much later. It was only when I went into the creative madness of an art foundation that my mind was opened. 

What were your first jobs? 
As a teenager I worked as a pizza boy, in a video shop, a post office and the venerable love-hate institution that is Argos. On the surface these might seem irrelevant to my current job, but I think that working in any job lays the groundwork for later success, teaching you time management, working with people and problem solving. 

When I graduated I was lucky to quickly land a job at Purpose, but I still carried out a previously arranged internship at Turner Duckworth. This paid dividends when four years later they got in touch to offer me a job.

“Like most people in our school system I didn’t realise that you could make a good living from it until much later.”

Philip and some of the team

What’s been your biggest challenge? 
As a headstrong graduate, I quickly learnt that you had to be open-minded to advice, criticism and to learn from people with more experience. Design is a learning curve that never stops.

Is your job what you thought it would be?
Falmouth has a strong steer on preparing you to work in the industry, so the transition felt quite natural after I graduated. What I wasn’t prepared for was the speed at which everything happens. You have to find ways of working fast without sacrificing quality, and being confident in your decision making. 

Inside the studio

Words of Wisdom

What advice would you give to a young creative wanting to do the same kind of work?
Be open-minded, be prepared to learn, change and evolve. Don’t forget that you could be in this job for fifty-odd years, and that your journey is only just beginning. 

Make mistakes. Be confident, but stay humble. Be enthusiastic and keen to work on the best jobs, but be equally enthusiastic when faced with working on the not so good ones. Work with people, not against them. Always see the opportunity in everything. Be positive and most of all have fun – it will show in your work and relationships along the way.

Posted 25 July 2018 Interview by Marianne Hanoun
Photography: Morgane Bigault
Collection: Creative Lives
Disciplines: Graphic Design
Mentions: Philip Skinner, Supple Studio

In the Studio With

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