By Neil Sheakey

As designers we tend to obsess over the same things – design attributes such as colour, new fonts or beautiful images. We pour over the detail and strive for perfection in our craft. We operate in the same circles and mix in the same socio-professional communities on the likes of Twitter or Instagram. We follow design, we talk design, we live design. It’s who we are as designers. But it also makes us a bit boring.

This is why I always ask interviewees what the last great film was that they saw. Or what their guilty obsession outside of work is, or what they love doing that makes them a little bit geeky (in their own eyes). The reason for this is to understand the person beyond the designer in the interview. What makes them tick, or what gets them excited about the wider world. A little window into who they are and what they’re about.

I feel this is important to know when making a decision about hiring a new designer. Where do their interests or inspirations come from? What other creative outlets do they have? The reason I find this important to know is that I believe that designers are first and foremost creative people and that design is the avenue in which they choose to professionally make the most of their creative abilities.

But this doesn’t mean that this is solely where creativity should be focused, or even stop. A healthy creative work-life-balance is really important. This doesn’t necessarily mean burning the midnight oil on freelance projects or side hustles, but having creative interests and outlets outside of the day-to-day work can be both invigorating and inspiring.

I’ve been asked in interviews and university talks by young designers whether I freelance or take on projects outside of Uniform. My answer is always “no”, often to their surprise. I believe that my creative pursuits outside of work are there as part of my personal wellbeing – a way to exercise the creative mind as well as relax and play. As a creative person I know that I need that freedom to explore and drift creatively on my own terms.

There’s nothing wrong with side-hustles or taking on projects (both freelance and personal) if that’s what you want to do, but I prefer to invest in creative pursuits that aren’t time bound or accountable to others to compliment my role as a designer in Uniform. By having the opportunity to dip in and out of creative endeavours as and when I choose allows me to play and explore in the medium or format that I’m using in a completely free way. I can learn, create, fail and succeed in my own way and on my own terms. Just for me.

Not only is it good for my well-being but it also recharges and helps fuel my creative energy in work too. I found the moment I invested more outside of work, the better I felt in work as well. Making the time to invest in creative passions or to explore new creative outlets can be really rewarding both personally and professionally. This is something that I strongly believe in and is a piece of advice I would offer to any young designer at Uniform or trying to make it in the industry.

At Uniform we’re a mixed bunch and even those of us who don’t have creative roles have creative backgrounds and are into some form of art or craft outside of work. Something that makes working at Uniform really interesting. Not only do we have a broad range of creatives across a wide range of disciplines but so many of our people are creatives at heart too.

Which is why 2020 promises to be a really interesting year – we’re formally introducing a culture of play at the heart of what we do. We’re creating time for people to explore and develop their personal creative interests in work as well. By energising and accelerating people’s opportunities to play and explore we’re also developing better creatives along the way.

So while I’ll still continue to explore my creative interests outside of Uniform in my own way I’m looking forward to trying a few new things in work as well. I just don’t think I’ll get away with a Lego day just yet.

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