Gareth Hughes — Designer & Creative Director

July 29, 2020

Facets of Life

Recently, I started drawing rocks. I know. It’s kind of weird, but I think there are a few surprising reasons why.

Last summer, during a flight to Tokyo, the excitement of returning to my favourite place on earth had my inspired to make something, anything, as a way to pass the 14 hour flight. I sat there with a fairly new iPad in hand. Ready to draw, without any ideas.

Eventually I settled for irony. To use my new digital tool to draw one of the earliest tools of humanity, the sharp flint known as a “handaxe”.

I quickly realised it’s possible to draw these rock forms in many ways, but most importantly, there is no right way to draw a rock shape. Which perfectly alleviated my worry of drawing something perfectly. Drawing is not a strength of mine.

What's nice about being beckoned by these objects is they aren’t inspired by something I saw online like many 'inspirations' which find their way into my subconscious these days. It’s quite likely rooted in growing up in the Welsh countryside. Surrounded by mountains, forests and, well, rocks. Slate mining has shaped the landscape for many areas in Wales. You often drive past aqua lagoons surrounded by shimmering hills of black slate. Untouched for decades.

As a creative director working on digital experiences, I suffer the same fate as many: projects can take a long time to bear fruit or unreleased for the public to see. Drawing allows me to make at least something fairly quickly. If only scratching the itch of creation momentarily. Drawing these rocks are also something I can improve over time. Returning to old sketches with a fresh gaze. Adding details or approaching an idea in a new way. Becoming more ambitious with each attempt.

Environmental context influences when I draw rocks. Sketching them doesn’t take up any brain power beyond the initial idea. It’s a free flowing process chipping away at getting the lighting right. So moments where I don’t have the time or space to drop into the creative flow, but still want to make something are perfect opportunities. All sketches have been made watching Netflix, during a flight or train journey.

If you’re a creative person, who has similar moments to create but don’t know where to get started, maybe you just need to find your rock equivalent, unique to you. For now, these facets are merely doodles which I enjoy drawing to help pass time and create without concern. Who knows, maybe these doodles will lead to something much bigger someday.

See more sketches on my instagram

Thanks for reading.


August 19, 2019

Advice for Creative Students & Grads

Originally posted October 2015 following The Dots Master Class evening with AKQA. An opportunity for students and grads the chance to exhibit and discuss their portfolios. The Dots held a Q&A with the mentors and I thought I’d share mine.

What advice would you give someone breaking into the industry?
I studied graphic design so my portfolio consisted of mostly print and branding projects, but by the end of university I wanted to work in digital. The only seemingly relevant digital pieces were self-initiated. Somehow they were enough to land the job I wanted, but I knew I had to learn quickly to keep it.

Confidence plays a defining role in almost every aspect of what we do. My advice would be to not be afraid of jumping into a role you’re not feeling confident about. It’s unlikely you would ever be fully prepared for an opportunity if you’re challenging yourself.

Where do you see digital going in the future? Any trends you’d recommend focusing on?

Trends in design and technology are two different things. It’s not easy, but try not to follow design trends. Sometimes centred text over an image isn’t what answers a brief.

Trends surface and stagnate seemingly every month. What’s hot a month ago soon becomes cliché and boring.

As for trends in tech, it’s great practice to find and test new technology. In fact, at AKQA we have a team doing just that. But it shouldn’t be forced into an execution just to put something out there that feels current. This doesn’t benefit anyone and most likely doesn’t answer the brief.
Digital is playing an increasing part in our lives. Not necessarily improving them. Trends can be blamed for sometimes fuelling the creation of things we don’t need.

Understand what trends are happening right now and use them as a guide. They set the bar, but it’s up to you to see things in a different way and push them higher by solving problems and asking the right questions.

Was there a pivotal point in your career — that you could use to give advice to others? OR In hindsight was there something that you would have done differently?

After graduating I had the choice between a large, well-paid agency. Or a small agency working on exciting projects.

I followed my gut and chose the smaller agency. The benefit of being part of a tight-knit team meant I had so much responsibility. The opportunity to learn quickly. Something which doesn’t happen when dropped into a huge agency machine.

The one downside I found with a smaller agency is the lack of opportunity to grow. Once I felt like I maxed out what I could learn, I made the move to London where opportunity waited. I feel like I should have moved sooner.

What do you look for in a digital designer?
There are more designers than ever, but standing out isn’t difficult. Elaborate stunts go down well with some Creative Directors, but a simple link to a portfolio just works. Currently, it’s just refreshing to visit a portfolio which is simple to navigate and doesn’t hijack my scroll.

“There are more designers than ever, but standing out isn’t as difficult as you'd think.”

Potential employers are usually time scarce. The less time they spend trying to navigate your portfolio, the more time they will probably end up spending on it. It seems obvious but even experienced designers get carried away with how the portfolio looks over how it works.

I aim for a variety of project types in my portfolio, so it’s something I look for. In fact, I prefer projects which aren’t digital design but show art direction in a different form such as film, fashion or photography.

Crucially, a team member’s personality should carry enthusiasm, not ego. Our small team is growing with the best talent we can find. Everyone brings their own background and personality to the team, which feels fresh and motivating. There’s no room for egos to get in the way of producing quality work.

Thank you so much for reading. I hope this makes some of the decisions which lie ahead a little easier.


© 2021 Gareth Hughes