Creative Lives — “Am I really getting paid to do this?” Supple designer Sherilyn Dykes talks misconceptions, fun and fears

Posted 24 July 2018 Interview by Indi Davies

“My biggest misconception was that it wouldn’t be fun,”  says Sherilyn Dykes, as she reflects on her graduate expectations of working life. “But if you’re not having a laugh with each other, you’re going to find it hard.” Still occasionally finding herself in disbelief at how enjoyable her work is – think crafting giant sweets from cellophane – it was a chance meeting through a friend that led to her current role as a designer at Bath’s Supple Studio. But even with five years’ experience under her belt, Sherilyn still admits to suffering a level of imposter syndrome. We find out how she’s learning to overcome her biggest challenges, and how working in Bath compares to London.

Sherilyn Dykes

Job Title

 Designer, Supple Studio (2015–present)

Based

Bath

Previous Employment

Designer at Fivefootsix (2013–2015)

Education

BA Graphic Design, Falmouth University (2010–2013)

Website

Sherilyn with the Supple team

Day-to-Day

How would you describe your job?
It’s all hands on deck. We all do a bit of everything – we’ve got no project managers so we manage everything: ideas, emails, client meetings, commissions, print costs and the designing itself. We all have to be the whole package, but we all bring different strengths to the team, making us stronger as a whole. 

In the last year we’ve completed a number of briefs where we have chosen not to commission an illustrator and I’ve done the illustrations in-house instead. I’ve loved these projects, it feels like a little break from design and [senior designer] Katie then brings them to life with her animation skills!

What does a typical working day look like?
We start at 9.30am and leave at 6pm every day, with a leisurely lunch hour in the middle – no extra hours unless something is really kicking off. This is really refreshing coming from London, where pretty much every designer works late. We start Mondays by going through the job list so it’s clear what we’re all working on, then you crack on and organise your time efficiently. 

I am very lucky to live in a house and area that I adore, which I think is very important. I’m surrounded by woodland, fields and even a lake! All I can hear is nature, all I can see is green. Starting and ending the day somewhere peaceful really helps clear my head and keep me grounded.

“[Not working] extra hours is really refreshing coming from London, where pretty much every designer works late.”

Supple Studio is set in a Georgian building in Bath

Inside the studio

What do you like about working in Bath?
There is so much I love. Mainly that you can be in the centre of Bristol, Bath or in the countryside in a 10-minute drive. Not to mention the creative scene around here is thriving. I find that Bath and Bristol’s creativity is pretty different, so there’s great variety. There is also the perfect amount of stuff going on, whereas I found that there was almost too much to see in London.

Bath is an expensive place to live, but there’s a reason for that – it’s beautiful, and being able to be in London in an hour and a half makes it a great place for business. 

How did you land your current job?
I was working in London at Fivefootsix, which unfortunately had to close its doors. Looking back, even though it was incredibly sad, it was the best thing that could have happened because it got me out of London. I was never a huge fan of it, coming from Falmouth University and being a lover of the countryside. But the idea of moving away from my friends and starting over was scary. 

I was applying for jobs in London and in Bristol, but then a friend of mine got chatting to Jamie [Ellul, Supple’s founder] at an exhibition. He said he needed a new designer but was struggling to find anyone in the area, or anyone wanting to move to Bath. I remember urgently sending my portfolio on my way back from Bestival on the train, and that was that. I think the fact I was prepared to make the move helped, but I also like to think Jamie enjoyed me and my portfolio!

Inside the studio

Inside the studio

Inside the studio

How collaborative is your role? 
Extremely collaborative. We don’t really split off into teams because there’s only five of us, so everyone helps with everything. Externally we have a relationship with Jim Davies for copywriting, and we work with various illustrators. It’s always amazing to watch them bring their unique styles to a project. 

What are the most and least enjoyable aspects of your job? 
Most enjoyable is the start of a project. Jamie gives us the briefing and then we usually cover our white board with key words for the project. With post-its and pens at the ready, we get down as many ideas as we can. We don’t filter any thoughts (something you might think is shit may lead someone’s mind to another idea). We mark the ones we think are worth pursuing and all start visualising and developing our ideas. 

“Being able to hold something you’ve designed, see it in a shop window and buy it is something every designer dreams of.”

What has been the most exciting project of the last twelve months? 
The Creative Shopkeeper – it was a 288-page hardback book on creative and independent shops all around the world. This project presented a lot of firsts for me, which naturally meant I learnt loads. I worked closely with the author Lucy Johnston, who was great to work with, and the publishing company, Thames and Hudson. 

Sometimes this was tricky when they had opposing opinions, but the content was an absolute dream to work with. Being able to hold something you’ve designed, see it in a shop window and buy it is something every designer dreams of.

What skills are essential to your job?
Idea generation. Our agency, along with all good agencies, are all about the idea. Organisation helps too. 

What tools do you use most for your work?
My Mac and the Adobe suite, Illustrator being my favourite programme to work in. Then the three Ps: pens, paper and post-its.

‘The Creative Shopkeeper​’, published by Thames and Hudson

‘The Creative Shopkeeper​’, published by Thames and Hudson

‘The Creative Shopkeeper​’, published by Thames and Hudson

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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How I Got Here

What did you want to be growing up? 
The first job I remember wanting to do was designing cars. My favourite thing was road trips (and still is). When I was a kid we used to drive instead of flying to our holiday destinations, and my Dad and I bonded over cars endlessly. Realistically I was never going to be a car designer – I’m terrible at maths and actual drawing, so I narrowed it down to wanting to design and create.

I don’t think I knew about graphic design until I got to school, but I remember drawing over the letters on cereal boxes, tracing big type and bubble writing. I also remember making a couple of quid in the playground, selling drawings of people’s names and Pokémon. Once I discovered design, my path was clear.

“When you’re at university, people in industry seem like celebrities. But it seems so silly to put them on big pedestals, as it makes it scarier.”

What were your first jobs?
My first internship was at Smith & Milton in Bristol in my second year. It was useful in so many ways, mainly just to see how a design agency works. It was a small team, so it didn’t feel too daunting, and they were all lovely, welcoming people. 

One of the logos I drew up for them is actually live, and I’ve seen it in Bristol. As a second year, obviously that felt incredible! They treated me like an equal, and this was useful, because when you’re at university, people in industry seem like celebrities. This can feel intimidating, but now I’m here it seems so silly to put them on such big pedestals, as it makes the whole thing scarier. They are just human beings that have been doing it longer than you.

Phillip and some of the team

Inside the studio

Was there a particular project or person that helped your development?
If I had to say one person, I’d say Mr Adam Ding, my senior designer at Fivefootsix. When I’d make silly mistakes, he had a way of turning everything into a joke. He used to say things like, “That’s shit, you need to…” I’d respond better to that, because it didn’t feel serious. I think it’s a good way to go about work and life in general. Don’t take everything so goddam seriously. 

Obviously there is a time for seriousness, but I think for the most part it’s good to keep a level head and have fun when you can. Adam was also very meticulous, his artworking skills are insane! But I’d say every single person at Fivefootsix and my previous internships made me the designer I am now. Not to mention the guys I work with now.

What’s been your biggest challenge?
My biggest challenge is myself. Sorry to go all deep, but it’s true. I’ve made many mistakes and learnt from all of them along the way. But my biggest challenge is accepting that I’m good enough to be here.  

“When you work with incredible designers, it’s hard not to compare yourself, but you have to learn not to.”

I still doubt myself daily, which means I could be much more confident at times, and confidence is key. I have to remind myself that I am here for a reason, and I bring something to the studio. When you work with incredible designers, it’s hard not to compare yourself, but you have to learn not to. But at the same time, a little self-doubt makes you strive to be better!

Is your job what you thought it would be? 
My biggest misconception was that it wouldn’t be fun. That it would be all serious because it was a job in the real world. But I’ve met friends for life, and I’ve made some amazing memories. 

I have a lot of days when I’m sat there doing a totally random task for a project and I think, is this really a job? Am I really getting paid to do this? For instance, wrapping postal tubes in cellophane to look like giant sweets. I guess I thought the fun would end with uni, but it doesn’t.  

Sherilyn with founder Jamie (far left) and senior designer Rebecca Skinner

Sherilyn at work

Words of Wisdom

What advice would you give to a young creative wanting to become a designer?
Don’t just jump at the first studio that offers you a job. I say this because I truly believe that the most important thing is relationships. You’ll be working as a team every day, so it’s important to respect and enjoy each other’s company. 

Coming from university, all you want is that same feeling you had when you were studying, when you and all your mates are working into the wee hours together on your final projects. The truth is, when you find the right studio, that’s exactly what it feels like – and what it should feel like (with a few extra responsibilities).

You could be doing the best design in the world, but if you’re not having a laugh with each other, you’re going to find it hard. When you go into a potential workplace ask yourself: Is this the whole package? And make sure you’re yourself and speak up. Have confidence and don’t be afraid to laugh or join in on the banter when you’re on a placement – people notice that just as much as your design skills. 

The design world is very small; people talk. So if you make friends with them, even if the studio you’re at aren’t looking for someone, they might have friends who are, and they’ll be more than happy to give you contacts. So don’t be afraid to ask!

Posted 24 July 2018 Interview by Indi Davies
Photography: Morgane Bigault
Collection: Creative Lives
Disciplines: Graphic Design
Mentions: Sherilyn Dykes, Supple Studio

In the Studio With

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