Creative Lives — “Factory work made me want to succeed in a creative career” Meet SB Studio’s head of digital, Stephen West

Posted 14 February 2018 Interview by Marianne Hanoun

Using his IT lessons to play around with Macromedia Flash, at fifteen years old, Stephen West was well on the way to a career in the digital realm. Going on to study interactive media design at Liverpool John Moores University, with a little encouragement from supportive tutors, he soon landed a training role at the BBC. Now as SB Studio's head of digital, while there's a certain administrative side to his role, the part that really excites him is getting the chance to research how new technology can enhance existing processes. Here, he reflects on the early part of his career, from battling self-doubt to pursuing a progressive and challenging career, while sharing his suggestions for those interested in doing the same. 

Stephen West

Job Title

Head of Digital (May 2016–present)

Based

Liverpool

Previous Employment

Head of Digital, Listen Creative (2015–2016)
Senior Developer, Listen Creative (2011–2014)
Software Engineer, BBC (2011)

Education

BA Interactive Media Design, Liverpool John Moores University (2008–2010)

Website
Social Media

Stephen West (left) at work

Day-to-Day

How would you describe your job?
Heading up the digital side of things at SB is a mix of making sure that the design team work within the constraints of digital, helping out with the development process, and managing our existing digital clients. The most exciting part of the role involves looking ahead and researching ways in which new technology can enhance our processes and innovate our core digital offer. 

What does a typical working day look like?
Living over the water on The Wirral, my commute takes roughly 30 minutes on the train. A typical day at SB starts by making sure there’s a pot of coffee on. From there a quick check of the emails and it’s back to work on whatever project we have in the schedule. 

We tend to work on projects in blocks until their completion for a really quick turnaround. We don’t often have routine meetings other than to catch up for schedule meeting once a week, where we all get together and discuss project progress and upcoming jobs. On Thursdays we all sit down for a team lunch, where everyone brings something, generally healthy, to the table and we share.

An ideal day is an uninterrupted one, although I’m yet to experience one of those!

What do you like about working in Liverpool? 
Liverpool is an amazing city that feels really vibrant at the minute. In the past few years and ever since gaining Capital of Culture status, the city has transformed. The independent food, music and creative industries have really flourished and we’re now spoilt for choice when planning a day/night out.

SB Studio

How did you land your current job? 
I wasn’t actively seeking another job at the time, but [SB directors] Benji and Nic got in touch with me via LinkedIn. I had heard of SB and admired their work for years, so I jumped at the chance. 

How collaborative is your role? 
We’re such a small team that, generally we’ll all have a chance to work together on the same project throughout. We will occasionally work with trusted, external developers when workload is particularly full-on. 

What are the most and least enjoyable aspects of your job?
Some of the most enjoyable parts of my job are the peak moments in projects; this can range from the initial workshop, when a client begins to realise the true potential and impact that working together will have. 

I’m pretty sure that most will agree that emails are the most tedious of tasks in any creative business. I’m always trying to be less reactionary to email and find myself turning on the ‘do not disturb’ feature throughout the day to prevent distraction.

“My main regret is staying in a job that wasn’t going anywhere. It's important to be challenged enough for your career to progress."

The team at work

Inside SB Studio

What has been the most exciting project of the last twelve months? 
A project for a company we rebranded, called OH, has been the main highlight. The OH website is a platform for the creative community based both in Liverpool and further afield to view opportunities, events and read articles from leading companies in the area. It’s been really rewarding to see a project, for a client and community that I am part of, go from concept to completion and be so well received by its users.

What skills are essential to your job?
Knowledge of UX, UI Design, Development, Leadership and Communication Skills are all essential. 

What tools do you use most for your work? 
Macbook, Notepad, iPhone, Fountain Pen, Adobe CS, Coda, Sharpies and Post-Its!

“Self-doubt is the one big hurdle that I’ve had to overcome. This would manifest in a number of ways, from not sharing work to not speaking out in meetings.”

Inside SB Studio

How I Got Here

What did you want to be growing up? 
I was never really sure what I wanted to be until I was around 15. It was this point that I started getting excited about new technology and playing around with Macromedia Flash in IT lessons when I probably wasn’t supposed to be.  

What were your first jobs?
My very first job was in a local biscuit factory. I spent a summer in between my first year at uni doing really monotonous work on the factory line to fund visits to the pub. It was this job that made me really want to succeed in a creative career more than anything. 

Was there a particular project or person that helped your development at the start of your career?
Peter Kelly, a tutor from LJMU, really believed in me and that made a massive difference in my confidence. He encouraged me to submit some of my work to an interactive exhibition up at Edinburgh University and eventually helped me land my initial training role at the BBC.

Work for OH

Work for OH

What’s been your biggest challenge? 
My main regret is staying in a job that wasn’t going anywhere for too long. I wish I had realised sooner that I wasn’t being challenged enough to progress in my career. 

I also feel that self-doubt is the one big hurdle that I’ve had to overcome. This would manifest in a number of ways, from not sharing work to not speaking out in meetings. I’ve found that the best way to overcome this, aside from practice, was reading and listening to podcasts from industry leaders. 

Is your job what you thought it would be?
I always imagined that my work would be pretty much exclusively behind-the-scenes, with some sort of sales or client liaison team doing all of the communication with the client. Working at relatively small agencies, I quickly realised that my role would be much more client facing that I ever imagined. It’s been great to develop these communication skills. I can’t imagine working anywhere where a client couldn’t just pick up the phone and talk directly to a member of the team.

Inside SB

Words of Wisdom

What advice would you give to a young creative wanting to do the same kind of work?
Don’t spend too much time focusing on learning one specific technology, but rather the core principles around UX, the fundamentals of development and take note of advice from industry leaders. Spend less time filling your portfolio with pretty things and more solving the problems that real clients will face, you’ll be much more employable that way. 

Posted 14 February 2018 Interview by Marianne Hanoun
: Stephen West
Photography: Richard Kelly
Collection: Creative Lives
Disciplines: Graphic Design
Mentions: SB Studio
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