Illustration and written piece for ACH1EVE Magazine

In February of this year I had the pleasure to have been asked to design the cover of the University of Chester’s ACH1EVE magazine. The University’s publication is sent out to all the Alumni signed up to the network across both a print network and via the email newsletter. For the Spring issue, I was commissioned to illustrate the cover of the digital magazine, and write up a piece for inside the edition. You can find my article on pages 6 and 7.

For the written piece I was looking to describe how my experience had been since leaving the University in 2014. I graduated in November of that year and since then, time has flown. In the piece I provided insight into my places of work when I was based in London, and how this led me to being a freelancer and living in Finland. The main image of the piece shows a mock-up of an interview I wrote for Fault magazine, with the artist Tom Walker speaking with me. Although the piece in ACH1EVE doesn’t feature design work, it was important to show all aspects of my time since the degree course. 

Above: My full illustration piece for the digital cover of ACH1EVE magazine.

The theme of the Spring issue is ‘Women in Music’, with both the printed and digital covers using illustrations under this theme. For the cover design I wanted to create a clean vector illustration which incorporated movement in the artist, and displayed a sense of sound through visual shapes. Basing the main artist silhouette of a live concert image of Tash Sultana, there was a great point of reference for a visually striking and powerful image. Tash is known for her incredible guitar work, so naturally I had the instrument included as part of the silhouette. Using plectrum shapes for central interest; there are also smaller repeated designs masked into the main shape to indicate sound and movement. The shapes ranging from smaller to larger the further away they become from the guitar.

The colours of the illustration were kept neutral in terms of a stereotypical gender palette. The greens, oranges and blues used helped keep this neutral ground whilst using the brighter colours to inject energy, and the darker for stability. The white outline of the artist indicates the movement whilst playing, whilst the “stage” is shown via a green bubble underneath. When used within the magazine cover itself, the illustration has been cropped to sit neatly in the center of the blue frame, in-keeping with the colours used. 

Above: The full digital cover of ACH1EVE magazine’s 2nd issue, featuring my illustration.

Do also check out the wonderful printed cover version designed by Mei Wen Kuang, a current Graphic Design student at the University. There are some insightful articles inside including a piece from Deviate PR, a music PR company in the North West of the UK ran by Holly Royle, a 2019 graduate. Last but certainly not least, I would like to thank my good friend Hayley for coordinating the work and for doing a stellar job of editing the publication. Thank you Hayley and the team – keep up the great work. 

You can download the Spring issue of ACH1EVE magazine with my illustrated cover featured here. Join over 2,000 digital subscribers and 4,000 postal by visiting the website.

The UX Age Gap

Cover image by Stuart Williams (me)

What’s your age? Don’t answer that, in person I wouldn’t ask such a question, but a form would. You know the types of forms you find when signing up to a service or opening an account? Nosey back-ends. It’s important for us to enter our Date of Birth to establish more about the user, to create a more insightful persona on who is using our product or service. We all love more data, but can the UX age gap be optimised?

When a ‘Date of Birth* (*mandatory)’ within a form is served to us, we usually find the quickest way to enter our year of birth when asked (YYYY). Sometimes it’s a field which is a much quicker and efficient experience for the user, as they can type in the exact year they require.

However a problem I’ve come across (and most others have) is that when the year field has a dropdown function, a UI picker appears. Pickers are helpful on the most part, but the content is the issue. The user who has the best UX experience is 120 years of age! I’m sure the oldest person living currently is at the fantastic age of 116 — but I very much doubt they will be using their mobile to apply for an audience spot on Channel 4’s Chatty Man.

The screenshot above shows an example of the native picker within a mobile (iOS in this case) when choosing the year of birth. I was born in 1991, and the first options given are from 1896 onwards — not exactly helpful. Of course a fast scroll will get me there near enough, maybe around 1975 if I’m quick enough, but it’s just not a strong user experience.

In conclusion, I believe there is a clear need for this functionality to change to help enforce a stronger UX pattern. If you want to have native options within your form, the number picker would be most relevant for this purpose. Otherwise, having the empty field will help quicken the filling-out process for the user, especially when the form is long. A well considered and detailed experience within forms will improve your site’s conversion.

This post was originally written and posted on Medium a few years ago.

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3 years on – What I’ve learnt from being a remote designer

Cover image by Stuart Williams (me)

It’s impossible to believe I’ve been remote working for 3 years, but it really has been that long. The in-house agency life is long behind me, and I’m in a much happier place now both mentally and physically.

Since I started contracting for the remote digital design agency Moken in June 2016, it’s been an incredible ride. Not only have I felt like I’ve improved as a designer, but as a salesperson, spokesman for design and most importantly, as a person. When the offer came onto the table to join this new team, I snapped it up. Remote working allows you to control when and where you work, so I was able to make some important life decisions.

The agency life I was accustomed to for 2/3 years prior had taken its toll on my mental health, slipping in and out of depression, with a lack of support or guidance to seek help. Taking a remote role meant I was able to make time to seek professional help, and overcome my issues. 3 years on I’m now based in Finland and I’m healing.

A new life awaits me with new responsibilities, new people and a new language. They say you never stop learning, and this is ever apparent as I try and learn the Finnish language. It has been a huge cultural shock, but I’ve never been happier.

But what impact has my position as a remote designer meant for me personally? I discuss my learnings below with some real insight into my problem solving approaches, and will hopefully be something to look back on in another 3 years.

1/ Listening

You can’t do a design job without listening. I’m a strong listener, even though I’m a little deaf on one side! But it certainly helps to add distance from an issue or query whilst working remotely. By adding distance, I mean stepping away from a point or a question to help devise a response. This is a type of restraint which prevents any subjectivity forming within my response. This also buys me time to write a reply which represents my thoughts better than at the heat of the moment. 

As the design lead on the team, my job is to listen to other members on my team and from the overall team to ensure communication is kept consistent. I tend to hold an approachable style of listening both during working hours and throughout life; this helps me establish a connection with the speaker, and sustain a strong relationship.

2/ Work and life balance

Maintaining a strong work ethic alongside building a life for yourself isn’t easy. I started off in my cramped bedroom in Hackney, trying to support myself. Every day working away on a table which I found in a skip, and a temporary MacBook-to-Monitor set-up. It felt like a dream; the lack of commute time meant I had time to breathe in the mornings, cook a meal every lunchtime, and go to the gym.

I think every designer needs an element of project manager in them, and this is how my role progressed. This added responsibility meant long hours, and lots of them. But as a remote worker, you need to keep a balance and learn when to say “stop”. We all know of burn-out, and I don’t recommend it. The need for rest is real, and it was clear I needed to maintain this throughout my career. 

Who doesn’t love sleep? Sleeping long hours helps reset my brain and makes way for more ideas and a refreshed output each day. Press that “reset” button once in a while, I promise it makes all the difference.

3/ The correct tools for the job

A tradesperson can’t do their job without tools, so why should we as remote designers? There are new tools launched daily for productivity, just check ProductHunt! Slack and Sketch which are an integral part of a remote working designer’s toolkit. With this in mind, I advise to pick the tools you feel most comfortable using. From design software such as Sketch, Figma, Framer and others needed for User Interface design (UI), there are plenty of choices. Communication tool decisions are also crucial to get right, from Slack, Sketch or Google Hangouts, the choices are endless. 

Make sure to manage your subscriptions as a remote worker – especially for tax! I also subscribe to Dropbox to help maintain my personal files across my machines, so nothing gets lost! But we can’t always count on technology, so external hard drives help me back-up my work on a daily basis. Hard drives also allow remote workers to bring their work anywhere, to work anywhere they wish. So as long as you have the right tools for the job, it makes life a lot easier. 

There are always new techniques to learn and new software which becomes an intriguing part of the online design community. It’s hard to keep up! But making time to research into these emerging technologies and beta programs helps me expand my knowledge of the industry tools, and adds a platform for learning.

4/ Make time for development

Like I mentioned in the previous section, learning is an integral part of the remote worker’s ethic. I’ve struggled to make time for this recently but I have a clear amount of set goals which I’d like to hit to help me improve personally and professionally. You can easily forget in the day-to-day that professional development is also as important as quality work. 

Even if it’s a half an hour on a Sunday, making time for your professional development as a remote worker is crucial. Becoming stagnant in a constantly moving design industry can become detrimental to your development. This doesn’t necessarily mean sitting down to read a non-fiction book, or start designing on the next big product, it can also mean reflecting on what your strengths and weaknesses are. Once you’ve identified these, it’s easy to set your goals. Personally I find strengths in user interface design, design thinking and user psychology. 

5/ Meet the team

No physical team next to you, no boardroom meetings, just you and your computer. That’s the remote working life I’ve become accustomed to. It can be lonely, don’t get me wrong, but it also serves its advantages such as being in control of your own thought process, and an environment curated to serve your freelance needs. 

Team meet-ups are rare with remote teams, as someone may be hundreds maybe thousands of miles away on the other side of the world. At every chance however, meeting the team in person is invaluable and can strengthen the bond between team members. 3 members of our team including myself recently met up in Barcelona for the OFFF Festival 2019, and it was super. You gain a whole new perspective on teamwork and what can be achieved through the face-to-face, but also allowing yourself time to get to know the people behind the screen. 

In conclusion

As I work into my fourth year of freelance remote working, I come across a lot of people wanting to make the jump, but can’t bring themselves to do so. My advice is to ask questions, be inquisitive and ask designers who have done the same. My DMs are always open.

With three years behind me, I’m looking to the future; with plenty of ambitional projects in the pipeline, there is lots to do. You forget to make time for yourself amongst the hustle, but having the ability to step back and reflect is just as important as your work.

Keep moving, keep listening. 

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New children’s book ‘The Little Trailblazers’ compiles 21 of the best illustrators and pioneers to help support Unicef

This week saw the release of a new book published by Mendo Books. ‘The Little Trailblazers’ sees an incredible collaboration of 21 internet pioneers and 21 illustrators devise 21 inspirational stories for children between 2-5 years old. When I discovered the book’s release, it immediately sparked my interest due to its stunning visuals and heart-warming purpose; to raise money for Unicef.

Created by Rob Ford, whose previous work involved writing ‘The History Of Web Design’ and is also an avid champion of mental health. This new venture sees “all the profits from the sale of this book will go to help Unicef’s work for vulnerable children around the world”, it reads on Mendo’s shop.

“Small Town Turtle Sisters Take On New York City”, a story by Leslie Bradshaw, illustrated by Paula Araújo Losas.

Haraldur Thorleifsson, founder of the pioneering design agency Ueno notes that his daughter created the illustrations for their contribution (see below).

Illustration by Emma Haraldsdottir, from the story “Mono”, by Haradur Thorleifsson

With a huge wealth of talent involved in the creation of the book, it’s clear that the publication will help inspire the next generation. Be it illustration, ideas and technology, social good or writing, the values which are approached here are nothing short of inspirational.

Illustrators include: Romain Bouchereau, David Pinisha, Simone (Si) Parmeggiani, Astara Bakker, Ronald Vermeijs, Oguzhan Secir, Carolina Pontes, Sofiya Dubinskaya, Doug Alves, WEARBEARD, Turgay Mutlay, Andrew “skooj” Skuja, Greg Hoyna, Amy Lane, Lucile Danis Drouot, Renate Postma, Paula Araújo Losas, Ailisha Sabalburo, Adam Chang, Emma Haraldsdottir, Anita Fontaine.

“The 21 original stories are of empowerment, equality and being your authentic self,” the site reads. With the anonymity that the web provides, this brings a credible and admirable authenticity to the forefront and prevails in its mission to serve as a wealth of inspiration for years to come.

‘The Little Trailblazers’ is out now and available to purchase here –

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How I found my niche as a designer

‘Designer’ could mean anything in this day and age, the umbrella is growing ever larger by the day, and it is hard to keep up. Labelling yourself under a specific design niche has become increasingly popular, with more labels becoming ever more inventive, and moving further away from just being the generic ‘designer’ label. What does this mean in regards to finding your niche as a designer? Does a label define the type of job you want, or is there more to it? I try and answer these questions through speaking frankly about my experience finding my place in the design industry.

When I appeared out of University 5 years ago, I was fresh faced and ready to take on the design industry, taking a single way train journey with my belongings to London. I was taught in Graphic Design, a broad creative degree which could encompass a ton of different job paths which were hinted at during my time on the course. The tutors ensured we left with skills in a variety of specific subjects such as web design, print design, typography, generative design, product design, and meant we had the top level skills to catapult us into a career. Our challenge was to decipher the type of designer we wanted to become, and how to make a living from it.

Being a Jack of all trades and Master of none could be taking on too much, as a specialism may increase your employability and career focus.
‘Jack of all trades, master of none’ illustration. Credit: Jordan Paris.

Asking the key questions to establish your niche

It’s important to ask yourself, “do I enjoy this? Can I do this every day for a living? Will this get me up in the morning?” These are all questions I asked myself as I was trying to find my niche in 2014. Upon interviewing around Central London, not many print agencies were looking for recent graduates or interns, although I had interviewed for some 6 months prior to moving permanently to London. By the time I needed a position, there were none available; so I knew I had to look for something else, looking into the digital design area. I had little experience in this though, so I asked myself, “how was I going to sell my work, which was mostly print?”

If I gained enough knowledge across these fields, I would be able to apply informed insight into the solutions I created.

— Stuart Williams

It became apparent that digital agencies were willing to take on graduates on short-term contracts, so I interviewed for as many as I could fit into a single day, which were 5 or 6. This took persistence and lots of planning until I had 2 to 3 days of solid interviews. On the last morning of interviews, a kind senior designer in a large digital agency in Old Street interviewed me and immediately offered a contract. I knew I could succeed here even though I had never worked as a digital designer, as the people on the team saw the potential and inquisitive nature in me.

Make a decision and run with it

In the first month of working there, I had worked on photographic lead projects, branding, User Experience (UX), User Interface (UI) and video editing; it was a joy. But it wasn’t until the last month of the contract when I needed to evaluate my position in digital design in order to land my next job. I thought that this could lead into many more paths such as content creation, branding consultancy, user experience, media production, photography, or even coding! I had to make a choice, and make it fast.

There was no time to hang around, I had to cover my living costs and move with the job market. The 3 months at the first agency flew by, but it became clear which path I wanted to pursue, User Experience. As a constant flow of work at the first agency, I had tasks amending the British Airways booking app, web banner variants and contributing towards a new e-commerce store. These digital projects lead to a deeper intrigue into user focused products, so I set about researching this niche further. But how would this become reality after the contract end?

The ‘why’ in the design niche

This interest and deeper intrigue into the user experience and user interface niche stemmed from a lesson in University, where my tutor Alan Summers presented on “Finding the Why.” Questioning the design problem/brief and how the audience would interact with your solutions would lead to more meaningful and engaging work. But it wasn’t until I had approached the user experience (UX) subject in the industry did I think that the ‘Why’ would become the most important aspect of my design thinking.

UX as a position within companies was relatively new 4 years ago, and many hadn’t discovered the true value in its output, and its potential for extra insight about their customers. I tailored my portfolio to become 80% digital design based, and user focused, ready to interview for my next position in the design industry. This, plus a successful design interview test brief lead to a full-time position in a user experience agency, where I stayed for nearly 2 years. During my time there it became clear that my design thinking of questioning how the user would interact with my work, would become my strongest asset, and enhance my niche subject.

Turning the niche into an asset

At this agency I was labelled ‘UI/UX Designer’, which added a broad label to my output in the company. But it was far from the truth, as there was so much to be learnt and applied. This label didn’t define my niche, but it certainly provided a platform for exploration. On each brief which came in meant a new challenge under the label User Experience. Working alongside professionals in the sector including cognitive scientists, behavioural analytics consultants, user research specialists and conversion rate optimisation consultants, all meant I could delve into each niche and gain useful knowledge across the UX spectrum. I quickly became an asset to the team, and questioned a lot of the projects leaving the door.

Networking with your design niche

If I gained enough knowledge across these fields, I would be able to apply informed insight into the solutions I created. But most of all, would make me highly employable within the UX sector. I started networking around industry events in the user experience field, including UX Crunch, Conversion Thursdays and many more. The value of networking can’t be underestimated as even grabbing the reading list from the speakers meant further research could be carried out, and sharing the list between others in the same situation meant you could swap and gain further insight. Furthermore, integrating myself into the top industry events meant I could learn from the best, and ask them key questions on the subjects. Workshops lead by the event speakers meant we could challenge our design thinking and techniques, therefore increasing the rationale behind our solutions.

‘Why’ would become the most important aspect of my design thinking.

— Stuart Williams

From attending these events, I discovered the argument between the definition of User Experience design and User Interface design, and it soon became one I would need to tread on to achieve my niche. But it was also one which I found that applied to my job in the agency, and became a confusing part of the job between other members. I knew I could explore both subjects, and focus on becoming the best I can be within that niche. Upon leaving the agency, I had amassed a skillset across both UX and UI that interlinked with cognitive science thinking, conversion rate optimisation techniques and analytical thinking behind user behaviour.

The definition of UX vs UI by design inspiration site Muzli
The definition of UX vs UI by Muzli

Persuing the design niche – in conclusion

Finding my niche wasn’t as straightforward as originally thought. It was an accumulation of my broad portfolio coming out of University, the competitive job market and my intrigue into the subject. It took layers of research, networking and interviewing to test and challenge my niche, but most importantly discover what I enjoyed creating.

Deciding to become a specialist in a pocket of what stemmed from my experience in Graphic Design, meant I could now work with and help solve user problems by improving the experience of users across multiple platforms. Now I have 5 years of experience under my belt within the user experience field, I am no less hungry for further knowledge and insight. Maintaining this niche meant I could apply for specific job postings, advertising myself as a specialist in the industry. My passion for the UX niche keeps me constantly on my toes, and gets me up in the morning with a renewed interest into how the industry moves and changes daily.

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