Creative Lives — Anyways creative Sylvia Witter on how she interned her way into industry
As a creative at London-based agency, Anyways, you’ll find Sylvia Witter working on everything from strategy and design to concept development and art direction. In Sylvia’s mind, the position was a lucky find: “there aren’t many places that do this kind of cross-category creative work”, she tells us. Having decided against university, Sylvia initially interned her way into the industry – proving that there is no one way of doing things. Here, she reflects on her career journey so far – from early influences involving Argos-catalogue mood boards and pixel dolls, to the value of finding real purpose alongside your day job.
Midweight Creative, Anyways Creative (March 2019–present)
Midweight Designer, MadeThought (2018–2019)
Midweight Designer, Rosie Lee (2017–2018)
Junior Creative, Harrimansteel Amsterdam (2015 – 2016)
Junior Creative, Harrimansteel London (2014 – 2015)
Livity, MadeThought, Anyways Creative, Rosie Lee, Studio Juice, HarrimanSteel, Construct London, Liberty
Sylvia, photography by Jamie A Waters
How would you describe your job?
I am a creative at Anyways Creative – that title is often hard to pinpoint, so maybe best described as a multidisciplinary designer or an art director. I do a mixture of strategy, design, concept development and art direction.
The thing that sets my job apart from my previous roles is the breadth and variety of project outputs. Luckily for me, there aren’t many places that do this kind of cross-category creative work – from strategy to execution. This is only made possible through cultural understanding, critical thinking, and collaborative skills and being comfortable with killing your darlings. Being precious over your own idea is the opposite of what we do here; collaboration is at the heart of it all.
“Being precious over your own idea is the opposite of what we do [at Anyways]; collaboration is at the heart of it all.”
Another great thing about working at Anyways is that the entire business (The HudsonBec Group) has a purpose: “enabling creativity to thrive”. I see myself as a bit of a philanthropist and constantly striving for purpose, which has previously left me feeling unfulfilled in corporate and strictly profit-driven environments. Working at Anyways enables me to be part of a purpose: diversifying the industry from within. Having taken a non-traditional route into my current position, I feel very strongly about this. The creative landscape becomes stronger when there is diverse talent. It is important to make sure we carve space for everyone.
What does a typical working day look like?
Pre-Covid, I would normally spend Monday to Friday with a bunch of real humans who have become great friends. Now we’re screen based, and in and out of video calls, but the relationships we built in person mean we can continue to make great work, even if we’re behind screens. There’s no egg-shell-stepping and everyone lays their cards out on the table because we’ve spent so much time together in person.
What do you like about working in London?
Living and working in London is right for me – it’s home. I am currently very happily settled in Peckham. I’ve worked in a few different places but my current commute is 98% less stressful than my previous commute to central London. The thing about London is that everyone is on the same page about being on completely different pages. Don’t get me wrong, my mind often daydreams of the Los Angeles or Miami heat; loading up on $1 fish tacos on my drive home from work and having friends with pools. Reality check: I need to learn to drive and swim first before I get too carried away, but my US passport will get some use eventually.
“There’s no egg-shell-stepping and everyone lays their cards out on the table because we’ve spent so much time together in person.”
How did you land your current job?
I freelanced at Anyways a couple of times and we built a solid relationship as friends and co-workers. As soon as I saw the full-time role being advertised, I applied for it. After answering a brief and two follow-up interviews, I was offered the job. The brief was already being developed in the studio, and I happened to have responded in the exact way they did. I think my previous experience with Nike and Converse, and my well-rounded youth and cultural understanding gave me a distinctive edge.
What has been the most exciting project of the last twelve months?
The most exciting project of the last twelve months was working on the Depop Space at Selfridges. I worked alongside a senior designer, junior designer, project manager and digital art director. We also commissioned and collaborated with Rifke Sadleir on the microsite and Anna Burns on the physical space itself.
What skills are essential to your work?
Communication, humour and at least a few nerdy obsessions. Sometimes it also takes being ruthless and less sentimental over your ideas.
The Depop Space at Selfridges
The Depop Space at Selfridges
The Depop Space at Selfridges
Do you run any side projects alongside your job at Anyways?
For the past two years I’ve been co-hosting a pop-up dating night called ‘Love Lockdown’ (thanks for the inspiration, Kanye). I creative direct the brand world, from visuals to in-your-face copy. The challenge was getting a certain crowd to a speed dating event, (the kind who usually wouldn’t be seen at a speed dating event). Luckily, they come in droves and we sell out every time.
This side project is temporarily on hold considering the current global crisis, but I’m seeing this as an opportunity to take a different (much slower) approach to productivity. I do feel there is a pressure to be always on, and this is giving me much-needed perspective. A lot of ‘content’ is still happening, and everyone is at saturation point. I am of the opinion that if it you should only add to the noise if it’s necessary. Let those whose voices need to be heard the loudest do the talking at this time.
What tools do you use most for your role?
My MacBook Pro, my phone and Instagram. Instagram is a whole living, breathing landscape, especially when looking for collaborators.
Work for Depop with Anyways Creative
How I Got Here
What did you want to be growing up?
A scientist and a jazz musician, playing my saxophone around the world. Later I wanted to be an architect. Once my parents told me I had to be good at maths to be an architect, I gave up on that pretty quickly. I fantasised about being an interior designer; even as a kid I was putting together mood boards from Argos catalogue clippings. I dabbled with the idea of being a journalist, too. Sometimes I have too many ideas for my own good!
What influence has your upbringing had on your work?
I was an only child, and pretty independent as my parents were very busy people. My dad (English) worked in antiques and my mum (Lithuanian) worked as an interpreter and translator. They definitely influenced my view of the world.
I had a lot of free time on my hands, and so I found myself obsessively researching. As a young teenager I’d spend a lot of nights sitting there looking for images on Tumblr, coding my Piczo site, and using Microsoft Paint to change the outfits on 2000s-era pixel dolls whilst listening to sketchy MP3s on Limewire. I discovered gigs at about 15 and I became consumed with different genres and ways of being.
2000s-era pixel dolls
Starting out, what were your initial steps?
My circumstances never brought me close to higher education. I was offered a conditional offer to study anthropology and media at Goldsmiths, however my terrible grades meant I never made the cut. I managed to bag an internship at a music agency and then got a job as a studio assistant. I basically interned my way into the creative industry.
About three years ago, I decided to give it all up and applied to train as a hairdresser. I was so spooked by the change that I never went to my first day at work. After a run of experiential and exhibition design, I felt I’d boxed myself in as one type of creative. I began to set myself goals. I diversified my portfolio, and I made a conscious effort to acquire the skills I needed. I looked at my strengths and weaknesses and worked from there.
How important would you say social media has been to establishing your career?
Social media has played little to no part in establishing my career. I have never, and will never, take it seriously. If anyone follows my social media accounts, all they will see is reposted memes and stories of me and my friends.
What have been your biggest learnings with making money as a creative?
I am terrible at budgeting! The best thing I did was hire an accountant that actually knew how to communicate with me.
Nike “The Ten” at Rosie Lee
Could you do this job forever?
Yes, but, I really care about finding a way to give back by using my privilege to inspire young people into taking alternative routes into the industry. I think eventually I will find a purpose that lives side-by-side with my creative career.
What do you feel is the natural career progression for someone in your current position?
People in my position naturally progress to senior creative, but people also side-step into slightly different fields or specialisms; strategy, content, art direction, to name a few.
Words of Wisdom
What advice would you give to an emerging creative wanting to get into the same kind of work?
Rejection is part of the process. Not everyone will want you and not everyone will understand you. You shouldn’t see it as a failure if someone doesn’t like you, for whatever reason. It’s like dating – you just know what’s right for you, and they know what’s right for them. Also, knowing when to move on if something isn’t serving you any more takes courage and strength. Much like a break up – it’s a power move knowing when to pack your bags.
Create a development plan: work out who, or where you want to be, and find a way to get there. What is it about being a creative that excites you? Do you have a practical understanding of what that actually entails?
Analyse your strengths and weaknesses; don’t kid yourself about who you are. Learning any skill is like starting a new instrument. To begin with you have no clue, then it starts to come more and more naturally. If you’re genuinely committed to something and you spend long enough at it, it will come to you.
Sylvia, photography by Jamie A Waters