With a Masters in Engineering already under his belt, Hugo came to Middlesex in the hope of taking his career in a new direction by breaking into the design industry. Since graduating in 2009 with a Masters in Design Engineering, he has built up an impressive portfolio of international work with graphic and interior designers, helping countless companies to realise the potential of their interior and exterior spaces, and is now the Director of his own Limited company. By seizing opportunities as they arise and using innovative and challenging new ideas Hugo has not only managed to break into a competitive industry, but he is climbing quickly to the top.
What inspired you to go into the design industry?
I always had an interest in making things – in both aesthetic and function, whether machine made or by hand. Although I first studied engineering and then worked as a technology journalist for a few years, I still had the same dreams of working as a designer that I did when I was eleven years old.
What is a typical day like for you?
A typical day for me is spent in a studio with a team of designers, either developing concepts or designing to a brief. My work can include sketching, Photoshop, image research, making technical drawings, visualisations, 3D modelling and rendering, and specifying materials and finishes.
What do you find most rewarding about your work? What are the challenges?
The most rewarding aspect of my work is producing something. Even if my work is at the concept stage, just to produce a drawing or render or model that looks great and meets the brief is reason enough to be in this line of work.
There are many challenges working in design, and perhaps the major one is client approval. It's difficult if you have a vision for something and it becomes devalued by having to cater for many different and conflicting requirements. One of the best things I've learned is to let yourself see things from a different perspective. As well as having an understanding of other points of view, it also opens you up to appreciating what others see.
What made you choose Middlesex University and the MSc Design Engineering course?
I wanted a Masters degree in Design to supplement my Masters degree in engineering and this focused on the design aspects that I wanted to learn. The course had a placement too which was attractive because the whole point of postgraduate study for me was to get into industry. I sorted out my own placement at an architectural firm working on a wind turbine which was a lot of fun. It was really useful and definitely helped me get into industry. The location was also attractive because even though it was full time the fact that it was in London meant that I could fit some freelance work in around it.
I really enjoyed learning all the software available during my course. Design programmes are complex and extremely expensive, and having some good tuition on them was indispensable. I also liked the projects which involved designing something from the ground up and then using the workshops to create it. The workshops were one of the best things about the campus and my favourite aspect.
How did you go about building your experience and reputation to a point where you could start your own business, Built Concepts?
I set up my company because I had an opportunity to take on a piece of work that had been in-house at a company where I was employed permanently. The project was exciting to me – a piece of bespoke product design that included lighting and graphics, as well as involving travel to Russia. In order to take on the work I was required to have a limited company and a business bank account. I was advised by my client when I did this, but I was surprised how simple and inexpensive it is to do. Setting up a limited company is something I would recommend for anyone looking to work in the design industry, where opportunities arise that make a limited company a very handy thing to have (including working as a freelancer).
What skills are most important in your industry? How did you go about developing these?
The most important skills to have that you can gain quickly are the technical ones, so software – Adobe Creative Suite, Sketchup, Vectorworks and any of the more capable rendering programs. But the most important skill for a designer is judgement, which is a combination of your natural eye for things, coupled with the experience you gain through working on projects (no shortcuts there unfortunately!).
How did your course and time at Middlesex help you get to the top in your industry?
I would not have been able to get a foothold in industry without the training I gained at Middlesex, and particularly the placement that made up part of the course. I have also since used the expertise of the staff at Middlesex and especially the skills and knowledge of those in the workshop to help me and advise me in my professional work and projects.
What advice would you give to current students or recent graduates hoping to follow a similar career path to you?
Keep plugging away. It isn't easy, but it's important to remember this is not a reflection of you, it's just hard to get into competitive industries. Keep working on small projects, personal projects, and keep up to date and interested in everything that's going on. London is the design capital of the world and walking the streets can be useful experience by itself – if you keep your eyes open.
Don't underestimate the value of the work you do off your own back – personal projects and small projects. As long as you put commitment into your own work it can end up being more interesting to employers and important to your portfolio than paid work you do for companies or clients.
The internet is great, but it's only as good as you are at mining it for all the stuff people are doing out there that is relevant to you and your work. Always click through and follow up – little bits of information are so often relevant elsewhere.
What has been your defining career break or highlight to date?
I had a chance to take on a big project and I took it. I did everything - all of the design, supplier engagement, client management, manufacture and assembly, packaging and quality control. Being able to do that was probably the happiest time of my career so far and I can definitely point to that as being the starting point for everything that's happened since.
In terms of a defining career break, I got a job with a top design agency, Portland Design Associates, largely because of the big project I had taken on previously. I was there for about two years, and it was really my time there that, along with time spent at other agencies since, gave me the experience I needed to go freelance.
What does the future hold for you?
I am happy with things as they are for the time being, largely because of the freedom you get as a freelancer and the opportunity to earn more than you can in a permanent role. I still have my limited company and run my earnings through company accounts, so there is always the opportunity to make more of the business as a full-time operation with expansion in mind.
For more on Hugo's work and Built Concepts Ltd., visit his LinkedIn page.
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