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How to become a: motion graphics and realisation designer

As part of a series on different jobs in design studios Design Week interviewed Fahud Ahmed, a Senior Realisation Designer in our London Studio, to find out more about his background, what his day-to-day job entails, and to share some advice for others looking to work in a similar role. If you missed it the first time round, here is Fahud’s interview…

What exactly is a realisation designer?
My role is quite a hybrid one. It’s a combination of what might be called a motion designer, interaction designer and brand experience designer — it’s about using creativity to bring a brand to life, usually through animation or digital interaction, and thinking about how brands connect with consumers across different channels.

What’s your educational background?
I think the early stages of my education are a little different to most designers. As someone who was quite academic at school, I had to persuade my sixth form college (and fairly traditional Asian parents) to take a leap of faith and let me study graphic design and media studies at A-level, without a GSCE in art. I even made a makeshift portfolio out of MySpace profile layouts I had designed for music influencers, back when MySpace was all the rage.

I then struggled to get accepted onto design courses at university as they were adamant that I needed a GCSE in art (which still baffles me), so the only option was to do a foundation course in art and design. I managed to get onto the course at Ravensbourne University London, and this was where my creative journey really took off as I was exposed to so many different design disciplines. This is where I discovered my love for motion graphics, and I stayed on to study this as an undergraduate degree.

What’s your career journey been so far?
During my second year of motion graphics at Ravensbourne, one of my tutors nominated me for the Design Bridge bursary scheme, which I won. I completed my summer internship in the London studio between my second and third university years, which I loved and where I learnt a lot. I was then offered a new role in the realisation team (hence where my job title came from) when I had finished my degree. I joined the team officially in August 2015 and I’ve been here ever since.

What first got you interested in realisation design?
I didn’t really know about realisation until I came to Design Bridge, but I soon figured out that it was essentially a collaborative team of people with a wide range of skills, all of which are about bringing brands to life.

What does a typical working day look like for you?
Every day is different, really. One day I could be storyboarding and animating content or editing films for social media, another I could be creating a prototype for an app.

My day normally starts by searching for the latest great work in the industry, and reading about emerging trends and technology that could influence how I work.

After this, my official work day starts around 9am. Sometimes it will begin with an ideation session for a new project with design teams, where we’ll dissect a client brief, work out the scope of work, and hold brainstorming sessions to generate ideas. I might then move onto creating storyboards for some of these ideas. These could be simple sketches that I discuss with the wider team, or working up an idea in more detail using Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop, so that we can present it to the client.

In the afternoon, I might be working on an animation, or building a prototype for a brand experience idea, or creating wireframes for a digital experience, like an app.

This usually involves mapping out user journeys, thinking about what they will experience, and how they interact with it — what happens when they click here? How should this part animate? What does the transition from this step to the next step look like? What might it sound like? A prototype is just a stripped-down version of the idea so that clients can get a sense of what the finished result will be.

I use a variety of programmes to do all this — After Effects, Photoshop, Illustrator, InVision, Adobe XD, Cinema 4D and Framer are my current go-tos, but I’m always looking for new tools to play with.

I don’t always work on client-facing projects. There’s a lot of behind-the-scenes work, so sometimes I’ll be working on a film for a new business pitch, trying out some new software, or creating slides for internal company presentations to share the latest projects I’m working on with everyone else.

There are also a lot of meetings — project kick offs, creative reviews, sharing progress with clients. I’m normally done around 6pm.

What are your main day-to-day tasks and responsibilities?
There are so many! Research and tech trend spotting, brainstorming with the wider creative teams, editing films, animation, creating storyboards and wireframes, putting together presentations — there’s never a dull moment!

I’m also a mentor for Creative Mentor Network, so some days I might be taking a little time out of the studio to meet my mentee to catch up, check out some of his latest work, and talk through any issues he has. I find being a mentor really fulfilling and I’d recommend it to anyone.

How creatively challenging is the job?
The main challenge for me is ensuring that, whatever the execution might be, we always have the core brand story at the centre of every idea. Sometimes you can have a great idea for execution, but it has to be right for the brand and audience.

We have a great studio culture and I’ve always felt that I have the creative freedom to run with an idea if I really believe in it.

How closely do realisation designers and graphic designers work?
We work very closely and collaboratively! I work with everyone in the studio across a broad range of clients. A graphic designer will create the static visual identity, and a realisation designer will then take that and make it move or transition or find a new way for someone to interact with it. Sometimes it’s simply animating a logo so that it can be used across applications such as brand films and advertising, other times it could be creating an app or digital experience so that consumers can engage with a brand more deeply.

What strengths do you need to be a good realisation designer?
Strong motion design skills are key, as is the ability to clearly visualise an idea and then translate it into a working prototype so that others can understand how it will come to life.

Also, an eye for opportunity — being able to think about how a design idea can become more, and how you can make that happen, even if it’s not part of the original brief. Some of my favourite projects have come about this way. Inquisitiveness, creative thinking and the ability to think about the specific consumer are all important.

What are the best parts of your job?
Being given the creative freedom to experiment and come up with ideas that will be heard and considered. Knowing that you don’t have to be in a senior role to share your opinion or pitch an idea is really empowering.

The opportunity to have fun and run with creative ideas is also a thrilling part of my job, and I love feeding off everyone else’s ideas too.

What are the worst parts of your job?
I think the worst parts are probably similar to any other person working in the creative industries — tight deadlines, working within a budget, having to address lots of client feedback, the odd late night to get the job done. But it all feels worth it in the end when you see the project you’ve been working on out in the world. That’s very satisfying.

If you were interviewing for a junior realisation designer, what would you look for?
A portfolio that demonstrates great creative thinking, the ability to articulate ideas clearly and effectively, and strong design execution skills are all a given.

Someone with an eye for moving image and motion design, and a solid understanding of how movement can tell engaging stories, plus a natural interest in how the digital world is evolving and what that means for brands.

And, of course, someone who is like the rest of the team — inquisitive, creative and a storyteller who can see the fun in the work.

What advice can you offer people considering a job in realisation design?
I don’t feel that you need a creative degree to work in a job like mine. There are plenty of resources you can use to learn many of the practical skills — I think YouTube tutorials have taught me half of what I know about animation — but you do need to have creative talent and a love for design.

Saying that, university did help me meet different people and expand my creative thinking, and it does open networking opportunities. But the creative industries are now opening their doors to talented people in other ways – D&AD New Blood SHIFT is a great example, so that’s something to consider.

The best advice I’ve ever been given is: “If you don’t ask, you don’t get”. If you approach 10 agencies you’ll have a better chance of getting a response than if you approach just one or two, but make sure you do your research and put in the effort.

When it comes to your covering letter, one size does not fit all. Tailor your message and show a genuine interest — it really shows when someone has just copy-and-pasted the same text and sent it out to 50 agencies!

Show your very best work in your portfolio, and the diversity of what you can do. It’s better to have a couple of amazing projects that you can confidently talk through rather than lots of average work that you can’t.

Show your sketches, work in progress and your experiments as they can be a good way to demonstrate your creative thinking, and how you approach a challenge and arrive at a solution. The way we work is idea first, craft second. Never lead with execution, always think about brand purpose first.

Networking is really important. Meeting people not only boosts your confidence, it also widens your net of potential opportunities. Events run by Glug and D&AD are a good starting point, but keep an eye out for other talks, exhibitions and events.

Having all-round knowledge is also vital, so keep on top of trends, industry news and new tech. Regularly check out featured work on creative hubs like Behance and Vimeo, read Design Week, Creative Review, Wired and Computer Arts, use Instagram to follow inspiring creative accounts, look at the work that wins D&AD pencils and learn why it has won — there is so much out there to absorb and spark ideas. The more you immerse yourself in the wider creative world, the better.

This interview was originally published on Design Week.

Check our Careers page for the latest opportunities to join Fahud and the team.

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