The older you get in this industry and the more experienced you get, the more you want to start working for yourself. I have lost count of the amount of people i have worked under, who dont really know what they are doing.
Please give us a brief bio of yourself.
Hi. My name is Ross Mawdsley, and i am currently a Creative Director at AMAZE, based in Manchester, England. I previously worked at Code Computer Love in Manchester as a Group Creative Director, and prior to that, i was a Senior Art Director in New York for 7 years at ID Society.
What do you do for inspiration?
I find inspiration from many many things. Movies, Computer games, comics, photographs. I rarely look at other websites for inspiration. Never have done really. I can take more inspiration from an amazing TV commercial, than i can from a website. Seems odd really, considering 90% of the work i do is digital, but i have always been this way.
Please list 3 of your favourite sites.
I dont really have any favourite sites at the moment. To be honest, i find the internet pretty dry at the moment. There is a lot of repetition. People tend to just copy everyone else, and it can be a pretty saturated place. I was much more influenced by it in the early days of my career. The stuff that was happening around 98 / 99 / 2000 was way more interesting than it is now. Everything was new, and fresh, and anything seemed possible. i was hugely influenced by 2 sites really. Firstly, i'd say it was Matt Owens 'VolumeOne' website. This blew my mind everytime he produced a new volume, and it gave me the idea to produce my own flash narrative series... which was called 'Simian'. The second site, again, which hugely influenced me was Arnaud Mercier's 'ElixirStudio'.
What do you regard as being your biggest achievement?
In my career, i have had a lot of highs and lows. Winning a Webby was pretty big, and i always like winning FWA's (as its purely a peer thing). Being invited to write a chapter for the New Masters of Flash annual in 2002 was also pretty big, as i was in pretty esteemed company.... Hoss Gifford, Limmy, Erik Natzke. But i guess the biggest achievement so far was the new Lexus European Website. It is something i have been driving to do ever since i started on the account (2 years ago) and i dont think i have ever worked as hard on a single project before, as i have on this one. I stuck to a single vision from day one, and fought long and hard to see it through. I think that is why i am so happy with it. It proved to me that if you fight hard enough for something, you can be victorious.
How many hours do you work each week?
If you look at my timesheets, it will say 37.5 hours a week. But in reality, the truth is closer to 60. I dont think you will find many designers or creatives who clock in and clock out of work 9 - 5. If they do, i think they might be in the wrong job. Everyone i have ever worked with, who is any good.... always puts in more hours than they are supposed to. If you dont want to continually improve something, or continually question what you have done, then you are not doing your job properly.
How do you relax or unwind?
I find it hard to relax and unwind these days. I am either thinking about work. actually working, or spending time with my family (i have 2 young daughters) and so actual relaxing time is few and far between. In the past i used to spend a lot of time painting, whether it be mixed media using acrylics, or dabbling in spray can work. When i was younger, i also used to produce my own personal work (primarily the 'simian' website) as a way of relaxing... even though it used to consume weeks / months of my time to produce a volume. Looking back, i miss having the time to just experiment with my own personal projects, but sometimes life just gets in the way.
If you weren't working on the internet what would you be doing?
I would be a traditional graphic designer. I have always been interested in graphic design, and i started out in graphic design (print). I only made the move into digital (around 1996) as i wanted to start bringing my designs to life, and i was introduced to shockwave and flash, and so my eyes were well and truly opened.
What's your favourite part of your job? What's the hardest part of your job? What do you do when you get stuck?
The favourite part of my job, is concepting. Coming up with the initial idea or concept. I love this. It's what keeps me up at night, and it's what makes me come into work everyday. The hardest part, and this has always been my problem, is seeing a job through. I get bored quite easily. I love starting a job, but when it gets into the day to day pixel pushing (which luckily i do less of now) i can get quite bogged down and depressed. Keep focused and motivated, can be very tricky on a long job (6 months plus). When i get stuck, i tend to walk away from the project or my desk for a bit. Get outside, go for a walk, get a coffee. If i sit staring at my computer, i will get nowhere. If i take my self away from the work... whether it be for 1 hour, or 1 day, i know that when i come back, i will be fresh, and can look at the problem with fresh eyes.
If there are any pivotal experiences/decisions you could point to that helped shape your career, what would they be?
There's been a few...
The first was probably deciding to drop out of university. I was doing a product design degree, and while i was designing new products or concepting new ideas, i loved it, but when we started learning about stresses and strains, and maths and physics, i started to drown. I was much more interested in pure design, and graphic design in particular. I took the plunge to drop out, and i bought myself a mac and a copy of photoshop (with my student loan) and i set about teaching myself how to use photoshop. I consumed as much information as i could, and i spent every spare moment learning how to recreate work that i had seen (mostly attik work and MeCompany posters). I learnt more in 1 year, than i had in 3 years at uni.
Probably the most important lesson i have learnt happened when i was working at the time for an ego-maniac. He was an MD of the company, but in his head, he was executive creative director, strategy director, chief technical manager... you name it, he thought he was it. Everything i did, was wrong, or nor good enough. He made me question my ability every day, and he made me hate my job. People who know me, know that my job, is my hobby. I would do this for free if i could. I love doing it. So when you have someone constantly belittling you, or someone who is never ever satisfied, it is hard to continue to fight. Getting through this, and coming out stronger the other side, has made me realise that you should never ever let someone intimidate you. If you believe something is right, you should fight tooth and nail for it. If you dont believe in yourself, no one else will. Funnily enough, i have spoken to a lot of other creatives who have worked for the same guy, and every single one feels or felt the same way, so i guess i am not alone. And lastly, every one of them has gone on to bigger and better things. So i guess we have all learnt the same lesson.
Who do you rate as being the top 3 design companies
Quite a tough one this. There are lots of companies that i admire, and lots of freelancers that i think produce incredible work.
Right now, my favourite 3 are probably
Has winning FWA awards helped you in any way?
Yes, massively. I have been lucky enough to win 3 now. Each one, has helped in a different way.
The first one i won, was for Tao Restaurant in New York (http://www.thefwa.com/site/tao-restaurant/q=Tao) I was asked to do a concept for this site, as part of my interview process to work in New York. Considering this concept, went on to win an FWA, and also secured me the job in NYC, i would say it was pretty successful.
The second one, was for my personal project Simian. (http://www.thefwa.com/site/simian-v6/q=simian). It was a really good feeling wining this one, as it made all the hard work and time spent worthwhile.
The latest one, for the new Lexus Website, is maybe the most important one. I spent over 1 year working on this project, and it was a long hard year. There were a lot of times, where i questioned what we were doing. Is it any good? Will people like this? I think winning this award, has gone some way to making me feel like we have done a good job. Its not perfect, but it is getting better every day.
When dealing with major clients, how difficult is it to meet the needs of such wide target audiences?
Incredibly difficult. The clients i work for now are either global, or pan european accounts. And so the sign off process is mind-boggling. There are so many levels of people to go through, that it can quite often become a nightmare. For pan european accounts (lexus) you can also add in the added difficulty of different markets (countries). The site has to work for 35 different markets (countries). So you essentially have 35 clients to please. Throw into the mix that the site needs to work in 27 different languages, and i think you can see where i am going.
Sometimes i dream of the days of flash microsites for 1 market. It was so much easier then.
Have you written any books, if not do you plan to?
I have had my work featured in a lot of books, and magazines. I suppose the only one i have actually written (contributed to) was the new masters of flash annual 2002. This was a pretty cool experience, and i really enjoyed the process.
I do feel that i have a book inside me. I guess a lot of designers are the same. I have been in this industry for over 16 years now, and i have seen and learnt a lot of things. I would love to try to impart some of this 'knowledge' for other up and coming designers, so they dont have to learn the hard way like me.
What are your views on design/graphic school. Do you think someone can get into the field without educational experience in a school environment?
I 100% believe that you do not need an education to get ahead in this industry. For me, design skills and sensibilities are way way more important than what school did you go too, or what grade you got in your degree. When i hire someone, the last thing i look at, is what degree do they have. To be honest, all i care about is the work they can produce. If you are good enough, you get hired. If you've been to school or not, who cares.
For me, i actually believe you are born with a talent to design. I dont think you can be taught it. You can be taught certain things, about typography, or about grids, or how to use colours etc, but i think you either have the eye for design, or you dont.
I dropped out of school, and worked my way up from the bottom, so i obviously have a skewed view on this, but i genuinely do not care about degrees. If i was hiring a new junior designer, i would avoid anyone from a 'multimedia' course or anyone who says they are a 'web designer'. Give me a graphic designer any day. At least they know how to design.
How difficult do you find employing the right people in a world where everyone calls themselves a web designer?
Very very difficult. It is even more difficult for me, as we are based in Manchester, so we have a limited resource pool. It is incredibly difficult to attract talent to move up from London etc, even though we have some incredible clients (Lexus, Toyota, Coca-Cola, Dyson etc etc).
Over the years, i have found it harder and harder to employ good people. There are way too many 'bad' designers out there. I think i am similar to a lot of other people in my position, where you start to use the same people over and over again (freelancers) and you tend to surround yourself with people who you can trust. Good designers are hard to find.
What does the future hold for your company, or you as a person?
I have been saying this for the last 10 years, but i want to start my own company. I know i can do it, and i have the experience to do it, but like a lot of people, everytime i am ready to do it, something gets in the way (babies, moving house etc etc). The older you get in this industry and the more experienced you get, the more you want to start working for yourself. I have lost count of the amount of people i have worked under, who dont really know what they are doing. If i could have my time again, i would have started my own company in 2002 instead of moving to NYC. My personal site was getting a lot of attention, and i had won some awards, and been featured in a lot of books and magazines, and so the time was probably right to branch out and set up a shop... but, in the words of john Lennon 'life is what happens when your making plans'.
What is the most expensive thing you have bought in the last week?
What type of overcoat do you wear when Flashing, basically are you a labels man?
Sadly yes. I am a product of eighties Liverpool... so go figure. I love my classic adidas trainers, and Berghaus jackets. Right now, i love fjallraven, and so that is my overcoat label of choice. I also love Acronym... but i can't afford to buy their stuff anymore.
Any parting shots or pearls of wisdom?
Believe in yourself.
Learn as much as you can from people you respect.
Fight for what you believe in.
Don't let the man grind you down.
Dont be cocky or big headed when you start out (believe me, way too many of you are....) You need to earn that right.