A day in the life of a... Lead Digital Creative
Published: 01 May 2013 By Chris Lake
Will Aslett is Lead Digital Creative at The Good Agency, based in London. Here he explains what he does for a living, and what a typical day looks like.
Please describe your job. What does a Lead Digital Creative do?
To put it simply, my duty as Lead Digital Creative is to lead the creative ideas side of our digital wing at The Good Agency. I take on the responsibility of joining the dots between offline and online, collaborating with my other creative colleagues and tech savvy team mates.
Some would say I draw the internet. I would say I craft pixel perfect designs and conceptualise exciting ways for brands and good causes to interact with people.
Digital doesn’t just mean ‘the internet’ though like it did way back when, now it’s anything with a screen on it. I like to bring traditional design elements to the table, sketching, drawing, introducing animation as well as introducing disruptive (in a good way) uses of social media and new emerging resources to increase brand broadcast across the digital cosmos.
Whereabouts do you sit within the organisation? Who do you report to?
I report directly to our Creative Director and Head of Digital. I use ‘report’ loosely as it’s more like catching up and collaboratively discussing briefs as a senior peer, proactively bringing ideas to the table as well as a cup of tea - you have to look after your seniors.
Physically, I sit on the second floor, more commonly referred to as ‘the creative lair’ where copywriters, art directors, designers, tech, planners and strategists reside along with the senior creative team running the Good ship. I’m the guy with thick glasses, a beard and a Wacom graphics tablet - the look of a modern creative in London, a sea of beards and a spectacle or spectacles.
Early on in my time at Good, our Head of Art thought the Wacom graphics tablet was a thing of witchcraft, but after a couple of lessons she’s definitely warmed to it as a great piece of technology rather than something from Harry Potter.
What kind of skills do you need to be effective in your role?
Fundamentally and unsurprisingly, I think a solid foundation in design is essential - an idea is just a creative thought until it’s visualised in some way, so it’s incredibly important to have a skill set that allows you to take a sketch, to scamp, to full design. To complement that, dabbling with code is also a beneficial skill as it solidifies an understanding of what it is you are creating. I think these practical skills and hands on approach allow a person to form methods of best practice and conduct them wisely. With these in place you’ll be able to articulate ideas much more proficiently to clients. Client collaboration is key, working with them on briefs and gaining their trust. You don’t want scare them off with ideas that don’t work and have no weight.
People skills are a given, but it’s sometimes nice to reiterate this by way of the phrase ‘work hard and be nice to people’ - it’s simple and it works.
Tell us about a typical working day…
I feel like I’m in a unique position to say that there is no ‘typical working day’ at Good. Sure, we have project structures that you get used to, but let’s look at the last couple of weeks for example. I’ve been involved with pitches, conceptualising and creating key visuals, overseeing builds of projects, laying out pixel perfect designs, writing online brand guidelines rationalising the design methodology, ice breaker workshops with new exciting clients, free for all conceptual sessions, IA, UX and wireframing how we’re going to save the world. Being a Lead Creative is a fully loaded experience but that’s part of the appeal, it keeps everything fresh.
Studio time wavers, as is the way in the creative industry. I think it’s a force of habit that once you’re into an idea, you want to nourish it and bring it up in the right way before you send it off. High standards wibble the structure of a working day too. I recall a recent moment where I was in pitch mode and decided that a storyboard for an ad that I had drawn wasn’t good enough, so I spent the majority of a weekend working it from scratch until I was satisfied.
Hopefully a whole bunch of creative peeps are nodding in agreement with me now, having been there themselves.
What kind of goals do you have? What are the most useful metrics and KPIs for measuring success?
I’m intrinsically motivated on projects by accomplishing goals such as hitting milestones, getting initial ideas signed off so that we can actually start to craft designs and surprising and exceeding expectations internally and client side. Success is achievement.
A parallel to this, the extrinsic motivators, are probably the most rewarding part of being at a studio like Good. Our ideas have the power to change a life, to save a life, so when we create a campaign for a brand and see an audience positively react to it, it’s as near to magic as you can imagine.
The traditional methods for measuring clicks, taps, conversions, captures and signs ups are still in place and are extremely important for our clients, but I think the real success for them is seeing a human response within all sorts of modern cultural demographics.
I’m a world away from illustrating and animating cows in my previous life and am very excited to use these familiar ways of nurturing a brief for brands doing good in the world.
What are your favourite tools to help you to get the job done?
The most important element you can have as a creative in the quest for great ideas is a sketchbook and an open mind. Oh and a pencil. Documenting your thoughts will act as fuel for projects later on and there’s nothing worse than having a great idea and then not being able to capture it on a piece of paper.
Then when it comes to actually crafting the work my happy place is sat down with a nice cup of tea, my iMac, Wacom graphics tablet, working in perfect harmony with Photoshop and Illustrator. I’m on the verge of investing in a Cintiq at the moment, which for those not particularly au fait, is a big digital drawing board that you draw and sketch straight onto.
What do you love about your job? What sucks?
The development and birth of an idea, all from a scribble in a meeting. I love that. An exaggeration perhaps, but often it’s like the big bang where loads of elements are fused together to create something amazing.
I love being able to collaborate with a multitude of different people with differing backgrounds and skills to make great worthy ideas come to life. It’s a very exciting kinetic process; one minute I’ll have an idea that’s on the cusp of greatness, the next minute it’s a real thing being prototyped by our tech team all because of an incredible insight that our planners have been able to inject into the mix.
Nothing sucks per se, but sometimes the creative process can be exhausting. I’m one of those people that can’t switch off. Outside of studio life I like to get involved with lots of personal briefs and collaborations as an illustrator and animator. As well as that I write as an Industry Voice for Design Week. Let’s just say I have a great supply of midnight oil back in my home studio.
How did you get started in the digital industry, and where might you go from here?
Around six years ago I was featured in Computer Arts magazine, which acted as a springboard for me into my first role as a junior designer in a Shoreditch-based studio. Since then I’ve progressed through smaller boutique studios and spent some time within one of London’s larger global advertising agencies.
I’d always been proactively involved with a community of designers and illustrators outside of my studio life, most recently writing about design in the press. One day, I offered up my own time to a charity to do a pro bono animation for them. During this time I had a moment of clarity and realisation that I wanted to use my talents for good causes, to save and improve the lives of other people around the world. Needless to say, when the opportunity at Good of Lead Digital Creative appeared I was in a place in my head where it made perfect sense and I haven’t looked back since.
I’ve always been inspired by the lives of the great Alan Fletcher and late Hillman Curtis. One day I’d like to see myself with a creative legacy much like them. In fact, even if it’s just a fraction of the size of their achievements I’ll be very happy.
In the distant future, where cars will be flying, we all have timeshares on Mars and people hoverboard to work in tin foil suits with burgundy cravats, I’d like to be creative head in an agency formed of like minded talented misfits, a collective in fact. Or maybe I’ll leave digital and go 100% analogue as a nomadic carpenter.
Who knows, as long as I’m creating something, I don’t mind.
Do you have any advice for people who want to work in the digital industry?
Don’t wait for something to happen. Make something happen. The digital industry is a fast moving creature, evolving even at this very second. When you wake up tomorrow morning and pull back the curtains the landscape will look completely different. As a digital creative it’s important for us to keep pace with this evolution and ride the wave so that our clients don’t drown in the sea of change. Are you still with me on this sea analogy? Good. Get involved, see what’s fresh and how you can use new exciting platforms for your brand effectively. If you don’t, in these fast moving times, then you’re going to get lost at sea.
Complementing that piece of advice, I would urge an aspiring digital creative (in fact any creative, regardless of level or medium) to become a sponge. Soak up everything. Look at new ways of doing things. Want to make your image move? Learn some animation. Want to create a short? Learn how to edit. The ideas aren’t coming along? Go for a walk, sketch a mountain, free wheel down a steep hill on a bike. Try out new things and you’ll be surprised at what it will do for your creative approach and moreover, your career prospects.
Which brands do you think are doing digital well?
This is very difficult to narrow it down really as there are a wealth of great digital projects out there. It’s in my nature to be a bit of a magpie, having a good perusal and look around for inspiring bits and pieces - thank goodness for Pinterest - so rather than specify particular brands doing interesting stuff, I’ll pass on some really neat pieces of content that have made me excited recently.
http://www.gifmemoreparty.com - a majestic video pool party experience.
http://paranorman.com - perfect site for a perfect movie, lots of depth and tactile interactions.
http://blacknegative.com - a showcase site for fullscreen media and video.
http://everylastdrop.co.uk - your daily web parallax fix.
http://hoverstat.es - bookmark this, a brilliantly currated site of experimental UI design.
http://www.dontfeartheinternet.com - a lovingly crafted site by Jessica Hische & Russ Maschmeyer introducing code to non-designers.
If you would like a Day In The Life profile then by all means throw your hat into the ring by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, and be sure to put your job title in the subject line. PS - I have had plenty of requests from agency folk, so I especially want to hear from brands / client-side people!