In my last post I mentioned that while I was in Liverpool, I was lucky enough to be able to visit the Smiling Wolf – Now Tokyo Wolf, studio.

As I mentioned, a few days before my trip to Liverpool I rattled off a few emails to some local design agencies on the off-chance I’d be allowed to check out what the professionals were doing. I wasn’t really banking on anyone replying but I knew someone who knew someone in Smiling Wolf so I may have name dropped a little. I can’t say that this definitely did or didn’t help, but no-one else got back to me so draw your own conclusions. Either way, their studio manager Andy replied and I was allowed to go around for a nosey.


I may have had a few issues getting in, the first was google maps telling I needed to lap the block three times before making me aware of a small side street I should have taken. I didn’t need to actually take the side street but it did reconfigure and give me an arrow that didn’t keep moving as I walked towards it. bridgeofdeathLooking back, it was clearly just a test to see if I was worthy, ‘to go further, you must answer these questions three’ – super glad I didn’t have to answer any riddles or cross the Bridge of Death (Monty Python, anyone?)

The next issue came in the building design – it was beautiful, All high polished chrome and blinding yellow accents. That and the lack of door handles. Anyway, Andy greeted me at the studio door and showed me around the space. It is huge, the kind of size and decor that you picture professional artists living, eating and sleeping in. I was told that they were still new in the building and that they were starting the decorating planning between all the projects they had on.

Honestly, the bare concrete floor and plain walls interspersed with pictures and posters had a charm that won me over immediately. derelicteThe ceiling had all the makings for a false/drop ceiling but no tiles in place, the whole studio had this kind of ‘derilique’ (Zoolander? No? Ok..) feel that if they told me was purposeful, I’d have totally believed them. In case you can’t tell – I was in awe, but the fact that I work from a spare room that hasn’t been decorated in years may have had something to do with that. The longer I stayed, the more I felt that the decor was conductive to their work. A blank canvas teasing out genuine, artistic design from their minds – although I bet its freezing in the winter.

Following Andy around the space revealed two separate meetings at one end, where they meet with clients – the only two rooms to be fully decorated. Both surrounded with glass and you could just about see the docks, you can see why they chose this location for the studio with such visually pleasing views. I later saw one of their interns working on some vinyl designs to decorate the glass between the rooms and studio. Intricate vector patters to give the impression of privacy whilst also not detaching the rooms from the rest of the studio. If I ever get to the stage of having my own studio, I’d totally make the same decision.

After quizzing Andy further (apparently once I’d summoned up to courage to ask questions, I couldn’t stop) he revealed a little faux room, segregated off by books shelves, a long table with drawing boards positioned at either end. Their breakout space. When new jobs come in, they take the time to assemble around the table and hash out initial ideas before looking at each others strengths and work loads and then breaking up the work amongst themselves.

Good news everybody! My dream job exists Blog One

So, now I’m on a roll with my questioning I decide to ask Andy for any tips on how to get into agency design, mostly because now I know my job exists – I need to get there. But being the sharing, kind, attractive guy I am, I’ll let you all in on what I found out.

Research the company. Design agencies, In house offices and everything in between all work differently. Edit your cover letter, CV and portfolio to each one when applying. There’s no good presenting how good your mailer’s are if the company doesn’t believe in physical advertising (over online). Make sense?

Find a name. If you’re going to write/email/post things to the company – don’t just write ‘to whom it may concern’ these get discarded super quick. Lets be honest, if you can’t take the time to find out who you need to talk to, should they spend the time for you? No.

Typography. This is something professional designers can spot from a mile away. Bulk standard type is a no no, take those extra minutes to fix that leading, give it a kern and notice the difference. Personally, I think this is something that gets missed often with the average student designer when presenting visuals. Listen: Typography is a visual as well. Taking the time to fix it shows an eye for detail and a mind for organisation. Do it.

Talk to people (Network). Smiling Wolf is in Liverpool, I’m in Nottingham. The realism of me working in Liverpool is pretty slim, it’s a long and costly commute, but I still wanted to talk to them. Something I couldn’t do without talking to someone else (see above about how I got into the studio). I still wanted to see what was going on in their studio, why? Not only because they are hugely more experienced and further along in the business department, but because neither of us know where we are going to be in five years. Perhaps I move further north, perhaps Smiling Wolf open another studio in the midlands. Maybe I’m at a networking event somewhere else and they send a representative – someone else to talk to, maybe even introduce you to others. There are hundreds of possibilities that could open up from just chatting to people, but here’s the tip. Don’t look for that when you talk to people. Look at them, talk to them and learn about them. Networking events are full of people who shove a card in you’re in hand within five minutes of the conversation – what does that say? Personally, it means they have little care in who gets their card and more in just getting rid of their cards – hardly professional, right? Check out my talk with Geoff from Hilllangdell (Blog Three) where he talks about being genuine, how you may not get a hundred job offers but the few that do offer you work will be genuinely interested in you taking it.

On top of that, anyone who is willing to offer you honest criticism about your work, to actually take the time out of their life to give you advice on yours is well worth keeping around.

Networking is not looking at relationships and thinking ‘what can I get’. It’s talking to someone, getting to know them and thinking ‘what can I give you’. Ever heard the saying ‘you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours’? The sentiment is right, but in reality the ordering is wrong. People are far more like to keep you in mind if you’ve done something for them first.

Be selective in your portfolio. This loosely relates to the researching companies you apply for tip. But to go further: start strong, end stronger, stay applicable. Put a real interesting, attention grabbing piece of work at the front of your portfolio. Start strong: Make that good impression employers are always talking about. End stronger: once an employer has flicked through your work, the last page is usually where they hover. Whether its to talk about it or if the just place it down the table. During an interview, you’ll want to build up as the conversation grows. You don’t want to start the conversation with a massively in-depth piece of work, instead build up to it throughout the interview and end on it. Stay applicable: everything In your portfolio should be of relevance to the company you’re applying for, advertisers aren’t interested in your packaging so much.

Additionally, professionals will often know HOW you did your work. Illustrator, Photoshop etc. instead, focus on why you did the work, why you decided to put the tag line at the bottom, why you chose a certain typeface or colour scheme.



You can see why I felt this deserved its own post – possibly my longest to date. My visit to Liverpool was incredibly beneficial to me both physically by increasing my texture library (some of you may have noticed I’ve made use of one of them in the banner for this post) and professionally in meeting Andy and the team with their great advice. Hopefully any readers I may have will also glean some useful information as well.

Until next time.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s