Director, Built Concepts
MSc Design Engineering, 2006
What made you choose Middlesex University?
I needed to do a conversion course after my engineering degree at Oxford and I wanted to do a degree that had a design element to it, but I couldn't really afford it. When I applied the course was funded by the ESPRC so that was a big consideration for me. Middlesex also had a good reputation in the design industry so it satisfied my requirements from that point of view, and I lived in London so it was easy to get to as I could just get the tube.
What attracted you to your course and made you apply?
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 in the middle 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.
What aspects of your course did you enjoy most?
I really enjoyed using all of the computer software. Design programmes are quite complicated 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.
What were the facilities like in your department?
The facilities were good overall, especially because the technicians who worked there were excellent in terms of the tuition. There were a lot of different pieces of kit to use but there was always someone who was an expert at using them and they were always willing to help you out so you could make the best use of all of the equipment.
What is your fondest memory of life at Middlesex?
It's hard to say what my fondest memory of Middlesex is. I quite enjoyed spending time with the other guys on the course and the attitude of the tutors too who were switched on, enthusiastic and encouraging. The grounds were great and the setting was really conducive to study. I think getting to use all of the equipment was probably my favourite aspect of it though.
What one piece advice would you give to a prospective student interested in studying at Middlesex?
Make the most of your connections while at university and capitalise on the fact that you're a student while you still are. You will have time to work on your own projects under your own steam - make sure you do the best work you can. Employers will definitely be interested, and it may well be the thing that sets you apart from the crowd.
How did your course and time at Middlesex help you get to where you are professionally today?
I wouldn't have been able to do everything that I've done since without having the experience from Middlesex. I don't think I would have got the introduction to industry without the course and everything that has happened since then, although there has been some graft on my part, probably wouldn't have come if I had not taken the course.
What made you choose the industry you work in and what are its pros and cons?
I always wanted to do what I am doing now, ever since I was a kid when I was obsessed with Lego. I always wanted to build and solve problems and marry the aesthetic with the technical feasibility of actually making something.
Pros: The design industry is massively rewarding when you're involved in an exciting project.
Cons: It's hard to get in there in the first place because there is a lot of competition and it is often not well paid. You can earn good money in the long run but don't expect to get rich quick.
How did you get your first foot on the career ladder?
After the placement that I did during the MSc I got a portfolio of work together, a lot of which was stuff that I had done in my spare time, and I carted a book around some firms until one of them took me on. I was there for about six months and then took a project in Moscow on my own, which wasn't exactly easy but was the first major step on the career ladder.
What has been your defining career break or highlight to date?
I got a big job in Moscow off my own back and I had three people working for me. I did everything; all of the design, supplier engagement, client management, the whole thing from start to finish. Being able to do that was probably the happiest time of my career so far and everything I've had since has come as a result of that.
My biggest break probably then came in 2008 when I got a job with Portland Design Associates. It was and still is a top flight design agency and again, I was selected both because of my training and the projects and work I had undertaken. I was there for about two years and that, along with time spent at other agencies since, has given me the experience I needed to go freelance.
What are the top three tips you would give to current students and recent graduates who are looking for a similar career to yourself?
Keep plugging away. It isn't easy and it won't get easier, but that is not a reflection of you.
Don't underestimate the value of the work you do off your own back. As long as you put commitment into your own projects they can end up being more important in your portfolio than work you do for clients.
The internet is great, but it's only as good as you are at mining it for all the stuff people are doing that is relevant to you and your work. Always 'click through' – if you see a link somewhere make sure you follow it up.
What one piece of advice would you give to the 17/18 year old you?
Be more focused, do the MSc earlier and follow your instincts.