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Nurturing a new-born level of creativity: managing a creative career and being a parent

One mum and one dad from our London Studio share their experiences of how becoming a parent can shift your perspective as a creative…


Holly Kielty

Creative Strategy Director

“The thing is, now that you have a child, work just can’t mean as much to you.”

Of all the ‘wisdom’ I’d heard from well-meaning friends after I’d given birth, this left my jaw hanging. Because my career was, in many ways, my first born. I loved it, nurtured it, watched it grow. I was not about to abandon it.

My son’s arrival was one of the most painful and surreal episodes of my life, and my first weeks of motherhood were spent in the NICU of Norwich hospital, wandering around like a kind of drugged-up Alan Partridge. What followed was the exhaustion all mothers experience coupled with further operations, post-natal depression and a crippling level of guilt. And unexpectedly, I found my career meant more to me than ever before.

Returning to work meant a return to me. Being back among my peers made me hungry to be at my very best, even when my body was tired or my mind was distracted by phone calls from nursery regarding my son’s absent shoes (oops). Researching human behaviours took on even more interest as I watched a tiny mind develop at home. Sustainable design seemed all the more important as I considered the next generation’s future.

My discipline has shifted more vehemently to what will truly make meaningful connections with people and help brands grow in today’s unique climate. I now have a deeper empathy for colleagues, clients and consumers that I sometimes lacked before, and I’ve learnt to communicate and trust my gut instinct much more avidly and urgently than ever.

This is in no way saying that those who aren’t parents are in any way lacking. Far from it. My colleagues at Design Bridge make being me possible. Their creativity, their communication skills and their support inspires me every day and gives me a whole new level of appreciation for the work they put in. They don’t patronisingly call me a ‘working mum’ (what even is that? Do we call men with kids ‘working dads’?). I’m one of the team, and being out of the office one day a week never leaves me feeling ostracised. Because they know that when the creative mind is at ease, it works better. Child or no child.

As a result, I would urge those considering parenthood or returning to work after parental leave to think positively – don’t doubt your abilities – instead see an opportunity to enhance different skills.

Loving my son in no way lessens my love for being a Creative. If anything, it simply enhances it.

Ian Watts

Ian Watts

Design Director, currently on paternity leave

My decision to take parental leave when my baby was born wasn’t necessarily the expected one, but it’s the right one for my family. Parental leave just makes sense. My wife runs her own business, Squirrel Sisters, and has limited flexibility on the time she can take away, so it’s more practical for me to become the primary carer. Bonding with my baby and supporting Sophie in the upheaval of the early months is both utterly exhausting and magical, so I’m keen to experience it fully, rather than sporadically or from a distance, no matter what the emotional and physical toll may be.

I’m lucky that Design Bridge is forward-thinking. My decision has never been challenged. My colleagues see that parents have a great ability to multi-task, manage people and use their time wisely – and that’s of huge benefit to the company. I can go on parental leave knowing that it won’t negatively affect my development, and I’m lucky to have support in what is really a relatively new concept.

Unlike expectant mothers, my body isn’t changing, but my mindset certainly is. I’m hyper-aware that this is going to be a unique experience, one which will open my eyes to how women have traditionally adapted to the new parental role. It’s a massive learning curve, but the idea of acquiring new skills, different from the ones I use as a designer, feels both intimidating and thrilling.

As a designer, I think you’re always on a mission to stay curious and the journey into parenthood feels similar. When you’re a Design Director, so much of your day is spent dealing with subjectivity. What interests me about parental leave is how much of it will be spent being objective – what does the baby need? How can I respond in the correct way? Six months on a very different and demanding ‘project’ (for want of a better phrase) will no doubt give me new, transferable skills as well as developing ones I hope I already possess. Calmness under pressure. Patience. The ability to multitask. Perhaps it’ll be the more emotional and empathetic skills that will come more to the fore? I’ll let you know.

An extended period of time ‘off’ is sure to inspire me in ways in which I don’t yet understand. I’ll no doubt be looking at the world completely differently. Solving problems differently. Understanding people in a new way. And didn’t Dieter Rams maintain that if you don’t understand people, you don’t understand design?

I’m already optimistic about returning to work a more well-rounded designer and person, and I’m grateful to have an employer that sees my parental leave as an opportunity for positive development. I may be the first man to do it here, but I sincerely doubt I’ll be the last.


Would you like to join Holly, Ian and the rest of the team? Check our Careers page for the latest opportunities.

Lead image taken from our New York Studio’s brand identity design for KinderCare, the largest childcare provider in the US,.


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