Bringing non-digital experience into the digital team. It’s an advantage

I’m Gail. I’ve been a graphic designer for over 20 years and up to now I’ve worked predominantly in pedestrian signage systems, exhibition and information design projects.

These projects have mostly involved the ordering and arrangement of words (typography) and mapping systems on physical products to help orientate and direct people around cities and spaces.

A picture of Gail Mellows
Gail Mellows

But at the Co-op in the digital team I’m developing typographic guidance for designers and helping them create clear typographic hierarchies without using lots of different sizes and weights (which creates visual noise and makes things harder to read and understand).

In past projects this is what I’ve done in the context of displaying information on physical products in physical environments. Now I’m applying it to information on-screen.

Why am I now working in digital?

Just over 2 years ago I moved from London to Manchester with my partner and daughter. After looking at the design industry in Manchester, I wondered where I fitted into this young, predominantly male, techie and advertising-led industry in which I had few established professional relationships.

I decided to explore other ways of applying what I’d spent years doing

I came across the Ladies that UX group. The first meet-up I went to happened to be at the Co-op in Angel Square. A number of women from the digital team at the Co-op were speaking about their roles and how they had come to be there.

The panel were really encouraging about trying new things career-wise and taking a chance. Ben Terrett was also there and described the principles behind the development of Co-op digital products and services.

There were lots of parallels with my approach and ethos. At the end of the event, feeling pretty nervous, I approached Andrew Travers to talk to him about what I’d been doing.

I’ve now been at Co-op Digital for 2 months

I started by looking at how typography is being used across various products and services and using this information to develop specific typographic guidance for the use of Co-op’s new typeface, Avenir Next. The size, position, colour, juxtaposition, vertical and horizontal spacing of type has a very practical job to do as well as fundamentally conveying the character of Co-op.

For the team that work on our brand I’ve been developing ways of sharing information and best practice for using type, imagery and colour across digital and non-digital applications.

I’ve also had the opportunity to work on the Wills digital service.

It’s a steep learning curve for me

I spend a lot of my time moving bits of type up and down so that they look good as well as make sense as content (familiar ground) and wrestling with things like ‘the fold’, ‘screen real estate’ and CSS modules (unfamiliar ground).

I like the fact that the Digital team at the Co-op is actively encouraging women to work with them and offers flexibility around work and family commitments.

There’s been an open and positive reaction to me bringing my non-digital experience into the digital team. It’s seen as being an advantage.

Gail Mellows
Designer

How I became a Junior Designer.

The decision

I was 18 and it was my second year at college and I had a decision to make. Do I go to university and rake up a debt, which I will more than likely be paying off for the rest of my life or do I attempt to find a Junior Designer role? Living in a small town made the idea of searching for a job quite daunting, as it would mean I’d have to travel quite far to find a relevant job role.

After leaving college and making the decision to opt out of the university route. I spent several months sat at home learning as much as possible, every day I would wake up, turn the computer on and learn. My interest in design kept me going throughout my search for a job. Finding the right job was key, I wasn’t really bothered about the salary, it was all about finding the correct place to hone my design skills.

Developing my design and code knowledge

Without knowing what was required at a job interview I decided to start building up my portfolio (the obvious thing to take to a design interview), I created several showcases/brand guidelines along with website designs and uploaded them to Behance.

Not only did I develop my visual design skills by doing this I also started to gain a better understanding of why I did things. I looked into implementing a design process and how it could help me showcase my design work to a potential employer. Browsing the internet, mostly Reddit, I found several resources which massively helped me understand the bare essentials of design and ultimately a UX process. I also asked a lot of questions. Asking questions to someone who already has a place in this industry is arguably one of the best things to do as a young individual looking to pursue a career in something design related.

Define a simple process

Having a process in place before starting any project is key, carrying out a project from start to finish is great. Yes admittedly, 18 year old me wanted to design and build things that looked nice without having to do all the hard work and preparation before hand. I then suddenly realised it’s not all about the end product, to a potential employer they want to see how you got to that end product. So, if you design with thought and process you will easily be able guide them through your work step by step. I defined a really simple process to help me out.

My process whilst at college:

Create > Iterate > Done

My process after using that magical thing called Google:

Research > Plan > Explore > Create > Iterate > Test (repeat the last two steps over and over again)

Of course this process is quite broad and doesn’t really dig down in to the full process behind a project but this was all I needed as a young designer to finally start carrying out my own projects effectively. Using this allowed me to explain to a complete stranger my thought process behind each design decision. Designing with thought makes the designs a whole lot better (obviously).

When browsing the web I stumbled upon something that was the holy grail of design process for anyone who was starting out in the world of design.

(https://uxchecklist.github.io/)

Using this I was able to develop my none existent process as seen above which I used to carry out projects.

Make stuff

My first ever ‘proper’ project was a Counter-Strike Global Offensive website, I carried the project out accordingly to my process above from start to finish. I then published it on Medium so that I could explain my thoughts and decisions to whoever I was getting interviewed by.

Once I was confident enough in my own design abilities I then started looking for a job, finding a junior role at a company that you believe will open up doors for your future is like trying to find a needle in a hay stack.

Finding a job

I spent just over 4 months browsing the Internet in search for a job, finally I found a job post, “Junior User Experience Designer at The Co-operative”. Straight away I applied. A couple of weeks later I was asked to come in for an interview. This was my first ever interview and I was extremely nervous (I was interviewed by Ben Rieveley and Matt Tyas).

On arrival I was told that I was one of 3 people out of 80 that was chosen for the interview based on the work sent over via the application process. That was a huge achievement for me as my hard work was finally paying off.

The interview was fairly straightforward, simple questions about UI/UX and a few extra questions about dev stuff, luckily enough I had also spent those months outside of college developing my code knowledge. A week later I got offered the job and of course I said yes!

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So, what do I do at Co-op?

I’m a junior designer, my work day consists of learning, helping out with design tasks and asking too many questions, I also drink a lot of coffee.

Working under some of the best people in the industry (Ben Terrett, Mike Bracken) has really pushed me further to better myself.

What has helped me?

Here are a few things that I have learnt from being at Co-op (I’ve been here for 7 months).

1. Asking questions is good

Since starting here I don’t think that I have gone a day without asking a question. Learning the little things at a young age is essential to developing your knowledge, don’t stop asking!

2. Don’t be scared to fail

It is okay to fail! No one’s perfect, everyone makes mistakes, the best thing you can do is learn from those mistakes (cliché I know).

3. Learn something new every day

If you’re fortunate enough to have spare time, spend that time productively by either reading a design related book or even make something.

4. Set up a process and strive towards goals

To be effective, get yourself in the correct place and set goals, discuss them with your colleagues, they may be able to help you achieve your goal a lot quicker. For example:

  • Develop knowledge of Agile working (flexible way of working)
  • Be able to manage time efficiently
  • Create something I’m proud of

5. Be positive

Offer your help, let people know that you are willing to pick up design tasks. They are aware that you’re young! Don’t let stressful work bring you down, being happy helps you and your team produce a higher quality of work.

6. Design with purpose

Whenever you’re designing things, make sure you have evidence and reasoning behind why you’ve done things a certain way.

7. Being nervous is fine

It’s completely okay to be nervous, everyone at some point in their lives has been nervous about something. In my case I was nervous about presenting my design ideas to 30 people, some being stakeholders and senior managers.

8. Some extras

Here a few extra little tips that could help you out as a young designer, I myself have tried a lot of things but here’s what worked for me!

  • Listen to design podcasts
  • Get involved with the local design community (in my case Manchester)
  • Tweet at people who you aspire to be like, ask them questions
  • Read books, lots of books
  • Copying isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it helps you develop your own taste over time

Stephen Hannon

Digital Designer wanted

Hello, me again.Image of Ben Rieveley

I mentioned that there’d be more jobs coming soon, well here’s another great opportunity to join our growing band of digital co-operators.

Our ambition is bold: to re-create the Co-operative for a digital era, and demonstrate a different way of doing business for an increasingly connected community. To achieve this we need to ensure the visual impact of our digital services communicates our brand whilst meeting our users’ needs.

Photo of Co-op Design Studio team

We need you to produce, creative, coherent and consistent design across all digital channels for our family of businesses. You’d be joining our Manchester based design studio and support the Digital team by providing the visual design that helps us communicate our message and deliver a truly user-centric service to our customers online.

If you are a naturally creative person with a keen sense of business context this could be the job for you. You’ll need to be passionate but not precious, a collaborator with the confidence to present and explain ideas to both the digital team and colleagues throughout the business.

If you’re interested then take a closer look on our jobs board and submit your CV.

Have a great weekend!

Ben

Find me on twitter @barthelmess