11th March 2020
We caught up with award-winning, Stafford College Graphic Design Lecturer, Dave Holcroft, on life as a designer and how he got into teaching...
Q: How did you get into Graphic Design?
Like most kids I had a childhood of using my imagination, drawing characters and inventing adventures for them to go on, however sport dominated my youth and I would almost certainly have picked GCSE PE but for an injury and a twist of fate which led to me to pick Graphics as a subject. I immediately loved the problem solving and creativity of Graphics and to the disappointment of some of my academic subject teachers, I never really looked back from choosing to study a BTEC Level 3 in Graphic Design at college. The rest is history!
Q: How do you juggle work/life balance?
I wouldn’t describe my work life balance as a juggling act. There are aspects of teaching that can sometimes be laborious, but I love my job and when it comes to being in a classroom it’s difficult to see what I do as work. I get to plan and prepare exciting projects and guide young designers in creating their own design work. I’d happily do that outside of work and indeed do, as my children are really interested in what I do and are already sitting with their Dad to design monsters, logos and powerpoint presentations!
I’ve also recently qualified as a cricket coach and run the U8’s cricket team at Uttoxeter. I’ve been volunteering and helping out for a couple of years because my little boy has been getting into the sport, so it’s been great to apply my skill set as an educator with my passion for sport. Aside from that I’m a massive fan of modern board games and have formed a small gaming group with some of my friends and colleagues to play once a week.
Q: Tell us about which artists influenced your work and how you started as an artist?
Graphic Design is a different beast than Art and I think we’re a bit like the Chameleons of the creative world. Our designs change and adapt to our clients’ needs and we borrow techniques from across the art and design spectrum to help us achieve this. If I need to get hands on and create something messy with inks then I’ll do it. If I need to take a photograph I’ll do it. If I need to make a model or render something on the computer I’ll do it. That doesn’t stop us from having our own preferences and mine is generally to let the idea speak for itself. This means clever concepts and clean design so I naturally gravitate towards modernism and design agencies like Pentagram.
Q: What brands have you worked with in the past?
The biggest project I ever worked on was for Alton Towers when I worked for ‘Dinosaur Creative Communications’ in Manchester. We won a massive pitch to completely redesign the map and all of their accompanying brochures and leaflets. It was a huge challenge and stretched us as a creative team, but it was great to see everyone pulling together and getting the payoff of seeing the work out there being used by the public. I’ve also worked on projects for Madame Tussauds, Wagamama, Co-op, Selfridges and Boddingtons Brewery.
Q: Tell us about your work with OMB and how you got involved?
One Minute Briefs was something I came across on Twitter 6 or 7 years ago and I thought it would be a useful tool for students to practice quick idea generation. The first time I used it in a workshop with degree students, I decided to do it alongside them to support the exercise. I ended up winning with that first entry and have been hooked ever since. As it has grown (now over 22,000 followers on Twitter), I was invited to be one of the founding board members to help make decisions and increase its profile further. I’ve had some amazing opportunities through One Minute Briefs including: working with the iconic Pentagram design agency in London; helping the NHS Choir beat Justin Bieber to Xmas number 1 and working on briefs for brands like WWF, KFC and Adobe.
Q: What qualities does a great designer have?
My favourite quote that I like to use is “The best creatives know stuff about stuff”. I first heard this from my Creative Director, Mark Beaumont at Dinosaur and it has always resonated with me as it’s true. The greatest tool that a Graphic Designer possesses is their brain, because so much of what we do is actually about solving problems rather than making pretty pictures. The more knowledge of the world you have then the more you have to draw upon in order to come up with innovative concepts. Anyone can learn how to use Photoshop, but it’s your ideas that make you unique. Aside from that, perseverance, good communication skills and an eye for detail are all things that come in quite handy.
Q: How do you stay abreast of the latest trends?
It’s not difficult to stay up to date with industry developments as there is so much information available. I’m quite active on Twitter, which provided you follow the right kind of people, gives you a really good insight into what agencies and designers are getting up to. I’m still active as a freelancer and do take on commissions when I get chance as well as engaging with daily advertising challenges via One Minute Briefs. College itself is also a great way for me to stay sharp as I often run live briefs with students, which means I’m dealing with clients in a graphic design capacity rather than a teaching capacity. It’s also worth mentioning that I put a lot of time into getting guest speakers in and organising visits to design agencies. I sometimes think I get more out of these than the students as these visits often inspire new ways of delivering up-to-date techniques and projects.
Q: What challenges have you faced in your career and how did you overcome them?
When you’re not ‘at the coalface’ of industry it’s easy to feel out of touch, particularly when you teach a vocational subject like Graphics. You can definitely start to suffer from a lack of confidence and feel like you are inferior to people designing on a daily basis. I was probably starting to feel like this around 6 years ago so I set myself the challenge of trying to win an industry award. Through engaging with One Minute Briefs and working on freelance projects I eventually realised this dream in 2017 when I entered The Drum’s Chip Shop Awards and not only won ‘Best Charity Ad’, but also went on to pick up the Grand Prix, winning the main prize ahead of a room full of design and advertising agencies. It was a proud moment to stand on stage collecting my award and begin my acceptance speech with the words “I am a teacher”. This got a huge applause on the night and caused quite a stir in the following weeks as someone from outside the industry had never won the award previously. To prove it wasn’t a flash in the pan, I entered again in 2019 and won the ‘Best Press Ad’ category, proving that teachers really can “do”.
Q: What advice would you give to your 15 year old self?
First and foremost, follow your passion and do the things you enjoy doing. If you enjoy what you’re doing then you will inevitably get good at it as you put the time and effort into your practice. Secondly, it would be to think big. Everything that has ever been achieved started off as a dream or an idea. If you work hard enough at making those things a reality then you stand a much better chance of reaching your goals.
Q: Why did you decide to become a teacher?
I absolutely loved college and decided then, that after working in industry I would one day like to return and give something back. Post 16 education is such an important time in a young person’s life as it’s the transition from being a child to becoming an adult. It’s also when they start to make serious choices about what they want to become in future. Spending time in a room with like-minded young people who are hungry to learn about a subject that I’m passionate about is not a chore, it’s a privilege and a pleasure. I always had the ambition of enjoying going to work and I feel lucky to have achieved that as there’s no other job I’d rather be doing.
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Dave with his Chip Shop Award for Best Press Advertisement back in 2019.