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Stories from Design Bridge: Designer turned Strategist

‘Stories from Design Bridge’ is an on-going series of blog interviews with people from different teams, Studios and backgrounds, uncovering what life is really like working at Design Bridge. Next to tell her story is Marie-Clotilde Gandy, who is working in a very different role to the one she was in when she first joined us…

Marie-Clotilde Gandy

Hello Marie! What do you do at Design Bridge?
So I am a Designer turned Strategist.

Moving from Design to Strategy is a fairly unusual career path. Tell us your story.
I first trained in Graphic Design and quickly specialised in Branding and Packaging, graduating from the ENSAAMA in Paris, France (where I’m from). When I crossed the channel a few years back (OMG already 8 years!) it was guided by love, but I did have a strong ambition to become a Packaging Designer and work for an agency listed on the Design Week Top 100. That was my benchmark, nothing less.

I put a lot of energy into interning in as many award-winning agencies in London as I could whilst studying for my BA at the Surrey Institute. I was driven by the goal of having a job for when I graduated, as well as polishing my English. After graduation, I was welcomed here at Design Bridge as a freelance Designer in our (then much smaller) Studio for almost a year. I loved it to bits but, opportunities and timings being what they were, my first full-time role ended up being at a competitor agency the following year.

I learned a great deal as a Designer during the 3 years I worked in London, but I also discovered that design agencies had Strategy departments, focusing almost exclusively on structuring and nurturing concepts and helping to simplify, clarify propositions and inspire design teams to solve client briefs. I realised that this is where I belonged (more than in the design studio).

How did you make the move?
I have always been fascinated by semiotics, meanings and design thinking as a problem solving approach. As I wanted to be involved in earlier phases of work, and always had an ambition to do a Masters degree, I resigned from my job and enrolled in a 1 year full-time Masters Degree in Marketing and Creativity at a top European Business school.

It was a challenge to be studying again, and to be the Designer amongst very smart business graduates. But it was also an enriching experience. It was a true melting pot of nationalities and experiences, and it allowed me to gain the experience, confidence and credentials to move from Design to Strategy. Then I got a little lucky. I had always stayed in touch with people at DB and, one thing leading to another, I got to meet with Hugh (Brand Strategy Director) who offered me the opportunity to intern with the Strategy team during my year of study. By the time I graduated, I had been offered a full-time position so the transition has been ideal.

Marie Graduation

Spot Marie!

Now that you are fully immersed in the world of Strategy, how do you think your background as a Designer influences your work now?
I truly believe that the ability to conceptualise visually also helps you to conceptualise verbally, and vice versa. It’s like the two faces of a coin; it goes hand in hand. And so the relentless ambition that one has to craft visually and get things right no matter what simply stays the same when it comes to thinking and words. It’s a character trait more than anything else, I think.

Being analytical, thorough and having great attention to detail, but also thinking laterally, borrowing from parallel categories, and cross-referencing from a variety of places when approaching a problem, are traits that definitely come from my working process as a Designer. However, I think these have flourished since becoming a Strategist – it’s my daily gymnastics!

What differences (or similarities) have you noticed?
As a Designer I always had a good eye for detail and a natural instinct for layout and visual flow. This also helps me now as I have to present information and visually simplify things that might, at first, appear complicated.

The tools and outcomes are obviously different for Design and Strategy, but the path and attitude have lots of similarities. The challenge – whether it’s designing a beautiful and intricate pattern, rationalising a complex portfolio or decrypting research documents – requires determination and a problem-solving attitude. And so does looking for a creative hook, working out the nitty gritty details of a problem, or dialling information up and down. It doesn’t matter if you’re using words or visual cues. Both clearly function together to achieve the best possible solutions for clients, produce amazing design work, and create unique and compelling brand positioning and identities. I think the main difference between Designers and Strategists is how loud you need the music in the background when you’re working!

What advice would you give to other people wanting to move into a Strategy role?
I would say go for it, make it happen. My one piece of advice would be that whether you’re a Designer, a Writer, a Linguist, a Business Graduate, whatever, ensure that you bring along as many skills from previous experiences as possible. There are certain tools and techniques that you will have to learn as a Strategist, but what I think is most important is that people working in Strategy can wear more than one hat, so having extra skills and knowledge to draw from will give you a clear advantage.

Thanks Marie!

If you’re interested in a career in one of our Studios in Design, Strategy or a different team altogether, check our Careers page for the latest opportunities in Amsterdam, London, NYC and Singapore.

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